In a news article on March 6, it was reported that "Swiss profited from wartime dealings with the Nazis and pocketed the assets of Holocaust victims." In fact, Switzerland was not the only country. Poland, Hungary, Sweden, Austria, and France did the same and mechanisms to return those assets to the survivors are being created.
Israel has a similar problem. But Israel didn't just profit from "wartime dealings," it has literally stolen a whole country. Towns and villages were taken over complete with their contents. The loot included furniture, household and personal effects. Even the Palestinians who remained in areas controlled by Israel were not spared from spoliation. For not being at their place of residence they were classified as "present-absentees." Israel, then, issued the Absentee Property Regulations of 1948 to seize their properties.
[This is how Rev. Naim Ateek of Beisan tells the story of his family: "It was ten years later, on Israel's Independence Day in 1958, when Israeli Arabs were permitted on that day only to travel freely without military permit, that my father took us all to Beisan. Israeli Jewish families were living in Palestinian homes."]
Munir Fasheh's story: "I was born in Jerusalem in 1941. Like most Palestinians we were driven from our home in 1948. In 1967, three weeks after the war, I went to see it. When I knocked on the door a woman came out. I told her that I had been born in the house and would like to see inside. She said in a trembling voice, 'We did not take it from you. The government gave it to us. You can go talk to the government.'"
It is about time that the government of Israel admits its guilt and returns what it has stolen to their rightful owners.
March 26, 1997
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