NGO that wants Palestinian refugees let into Israel is barred from Ramallah for being Israeli
Anti-normalization protests force cancellation of workshop on the practicalities of the ‘right of return’
Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel
Zochrot, a radical Israeli NGO that advocates the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees to the State of Israel, has been forced to cancel a workshop in Ramallah due to Palestinian anti-normalization pressure placed on the organizers.
Eitan Bronstein, Zochrot’s spokesman, told The Times of Israel on Wednesday that his organization was invited by a Quaker-run social club in Ramallah to present a counter-mapping project, dealing with the practical aspects of Palestinian return to abandoned villages within Israel.
The event, advertised on Facebook, garnered more than 100 RSVPs within hours, Bronstein says. But some Palestinians protested that an invitation had been extended to an Israeli organization, however sympathetic to Palestinian goals, considering it an unacceptable instance of “normalization” with Israel.
“Most Palestinian reactions continued to support the event,” Bronstein said. “Dialogue with an organization that supports the right of return and Israeli recognition of the Nakba is not only not ‘normalization,’ but it is moreover vital to create a common Israeli-Palestinian discourse among those who object to the current regime of separation.”
He said the event was nevertheless canceled due to the organizers’ sense that “the atmosphere that was created was not conducive to such an important discussion.”
Israeli governments of all shades have rejected the Palestinian demand for a “right of return,” which would give millions of descendants of Palestinians who lived in what is today Israel the right to “return” — undermining or reversing Israel’s majority Jewish demographic. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has remained formally committed to the demand, while also sometimes stating that Israel cannot be expected to accept an influx of millions of Palestinians.
According to its website, the main goal of Zochrot is “to bring knowledge of the Palestinian Nakba to Jewish-Israeli people.” (Nakba is a term widely used for the “catastrophe” of the events in 1948 surrounding the establishment of Israel.)
“One of the basic assumptions of our work is that the Nakba is the ‘ground zero’ of the Israeli-Palestine conflict,” the website states. “Awareness and recognition of the Nakba by Jewish-Israeli people, and taking responsibility for this tragedy, are essential to ending the struggle and starting a process of reconciliation between the people of Palestine-Israel.”
“In recognizing and materializing the right of return lies the possibility for Jews and Palestinians to live in this country together,” the website adds.
Bronstein expressed hope that the event would be rescheduled, and added a word of understanding for his boycotters.
“We are disappointed by the cancellation, but understand that the suspicion of many Palestinians towards any contact with Israelis is based on many years of experiencing oppression. Therefore, we will not forgo efforts to continue the debate on return of refugees in various methods.”
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