Who is a Jerusalemite?

Bilal Al-Hasan

August 12, 1997

The government of Israel knows a great deal about the Palestinian territories, but it pretends that it knows nothing. Israel knows about the mountains and water resources in Palestine, historical sites beneath the Al-Aqsa mosque, Jewish holy places, Shuhada' street in Hebron and the high rises which overlook it. Yet at the same time, the government knows nothing about the Palestinians living in these areas. Therefore, it keeps asking, "Who is the Jerusalemite? Who is the refugee? Who is the displaced person? Who is the Palestinian?" The government has not yet been satisfied with any definition. The government asks who the Jerusalemite is, in order to push Jerusalemites out of the city. It asks who the displaced person is in order to prevent the displaced from returning to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The government asks who the refugee is in order to prevent refugees from returning to their own land, from which they were expelled, in 1948. It even asks who the Palestinian is in its bid to destroy the Arab character of Jerusalem. Over the past three years, Arab and Israeli delegations have met six times to discuss who the displaced person is. The delegations have not found an answer to this question. The Committee for the Return of the Displaced met for the first time on a political level in Amman in March 1995. Thereafter, the committee met another five times on various levels without reaching a definite answer on the definition of 'the displaced person,' whose identity remains unclear. Is the displaced person someone who was expelled during the 1967 war? Or is he someone who was absent during the 1967 war and did not come back? Is the definition of the displaced person limited to him only, or does it include his family? If the wife is not a displaced person, ought she belong to her husband or be separated from him? These are some of the theoretical questions which are always raised. Some practical questions ought to be posed. How can the number of refugees be estimated without establishing a special committee solely for that purpose? Should that committee be on a local or international level? A few days ago, the Israeli government apologized for not being able to attend the meeting of the quadrilateral refugee committee, scheduled to take place in Bethlehem Sunday, December 8. Israel refused to give permits to some of the Palestinians who were due to attend. Consequently, the PNA suggested that the meeting should be held in the Gaza Strip in the presence of Arab delegations from Cairo and Jordan. Israel sent a letter to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, asking for the postponement of the meeting. Surely an end should be put to these trials and tribulations. The refugee file must be closed. Some reply angrily to the Israeli stance saying: "The Israeli position is an expression of the Netanyahu government." But these people are forgetting that the foundation of the quadrilateral refugee committee was made during the time of the Labor government. The committee's first six meetings took place under the Labor government. The 'who is a displaced person' question was created by Shimon Peres, not by Benyamin Netanyahu. The Netanyahu government is merely completing the policy of the Labor government. The Likud party is unable to change the question, its policy is to cancel the whole debate. Issues like the redeployment of the Israeli forces from the occupied city of Hebron, unrestricted movement, Gaza International Airport, such matters steal the limelight. Everybody forgets the issue of returning refugees, yet it is integral to the whole process.