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Canada's Role in the 'Right of Return'

by David Bedein, Media Research Analyst

Jerusalem - A cardinal principle of the Arab information campaign against Israel since the inception of the Jewish state 53 years ago has focused on the plight of Palestinian Arabs who left their homes and villages while seven Arab armies invaded the new Jewish state.

Following the 1948 war, United Nations Resolution 194 was enacted to assure Palestinian Arab refugees that they have the "inalienable right of return" to the homes and villages they left in 1948. Under the premise and promise of the inalienable right of return, the United Nations and neighbouring Arab countries have confined Palestinian Arab refugees to the squalor of UN refugee camps to this very day.

Indeed, a UN refugee aid agency, UNRWA, was created, whose purpose is not to rehabilitate and resettle refugees, but instead to prepare them for the return to their homes of 1948, whether they still exist or not.

This principle has even been adapted by the Palestinian Authority, which has forbidden Arab refugees from moving into homes and villages in the West Bank or Gaza because that would violate their right to return to Jaffa, Haifa and more than 500 villages inside pre-1967 Israel.

In December, 2000, the Palestinian Authority issued a new 56-page illustrated brochure, Witness to History: The Plight and Promise of Palestinian Refugees, with an introduction by PLO spokeswoman Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, promoting the right of Palestinian Arab refugees to repossess the 531 villages they lost in 1948, even if those villages have been absorbed by Israeli cities, collective farms or woodlands.

That the PA would issue such a brochure calling for the implementation of UN "right of return" Resolution 194 is not surprising.

What is surprising is that the brochure was funded and distributed by the Canadian government, through its Canadian Representative Office in Ramallah. This office, which I have had the opportunity to visit, acts as a de facto Canadian embassy to the Palestinian Authority. Last May, when I met with Tim Martin, the chief representative and his assistant John Laine, they both indicated they understood the Palestinian commitment to the idea of the "right of return," and they handed me the April 2000, booklet printed by the PA on the subject.

Mr. Laine went on to describe in great detail (and with great pride) how the Canadian government was actively trying to help with job training programs in these refugee camps.

A year later, it would seem Canada's mandate has been expanded from helping reduce Palestinian refugee unemployment to helping fan the flames of a Palestinian refugee war to conquer all of Palestine.

The brochure, replete with pictures of suffering Palestinian Arab refugees over the years, calls Israel's "denial of the right of return" a continuing breach of international law, while defining the entire history of the Middle East conflict in terms of the "Palestinian dispossession and will to survive." The 1948 war is defined as if Israel's purpose was to kick out Arabs, without mentioning that seven Arab armies invaded the new Jewish state with the support of local Palestinian Arab villagers.

UN refugee education is described in innocuous terms, "their lifeline to the future," without any mention of the schoolbooks published by UNRWA that encourage a new generation to liberate all of Palestine.

Canada is the gavel holder for the refugee working group that was established to negotiate the future of Palestinian Arab refugees under the Oslo process in 1993.

By publishing "Witness to History: The Plight and Promise of Palestinian Refugees", Canada appears to have taken a partisan PLO position that will compromise any constructive role the country may play in solving the tempestuous refugee issue of the Middle East peace process.

David Bedein is Media Research Analyst and Bureau Chief, Israel Resource News Agency, Beit Agron International Press Center, Jerusalem.

This article ran in the National Post of Canada on march 23, 2001

Canadian Officials Confirm:
Their Government Financed "Right of Return" Brochure
JTA wire story

Montreal, March 25 (JTA) Canadian officials have confirmed that their government financed a brochure calling for Palestinians to realize the "Right of Return" by taking back homes and property lost inside Israel during Israel's 1948 War of Independence.

An official with Canada's Foreign Affairs department, however, denied charges that the Canadian government took a leading role in producing "Witness to History: The Plight and Promise of Palestinian Refugees."

The brochures were printed by an nongovernmental organization run by prominent Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi, which receives funding from the Canada Fund for Local Institutions, the official said.

The 56 page, illustrated brochure calls for Palestinians to repossess the homes they lost in 1948. The Palestinian insistence that refugees and their descendants of some 3 million to 4 million people in all have the right to return to homes lost in the fighting that surrounded the birth of the State of Israel helped sink peace talks under the last Israeli government.

Israel sees acceptance of the Right of Return as demographic suicide, and the Palestinian insistence on the Right of Return as a veiled call to eliminate the Jewish state.

An article by that ran over the weekend in Canada's conservative National Post newspaper, claimed that the brochure was "published and distributed by the Canadian government."

According to Bedein, the inside page of the brochure states that the Canadian government was responsible for publishing and distributing the document through its Canadian Representative Office in Ramallah. The brochure features an introduction by Ashrawi calling for the Palestinian return to 531 villages lost during Israel's War of Independence, many of which no longer exist.

Carl Schwenger, a spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Ottawa, stressed that "our take is different" than Bedein's.

Schwenger noted that Canada has been a consistent backer of U.N. Security Council Resolution 194 which recognizes the Palestinians' "inalienable right of return" yet supports attempts to solve the Palestinian refugee problem by settling them elsewhere in the world.

Canada remains the gavel-holder for the working group established under the Oslo process in 1993 to negotiate the future of Palestinian refugees, Bedein notes.

"To imply that this office" in Ramallah "handed the brochure out is incorrect," Schwenger said. "And they also did not advocate the positions in the brochure. In fact, the Foreign Affairs Minister" John Manley "was burned in effigy by pro-Palestinian protesters for suggesting that some refugees might wish to come to Canada."

The brochure was published by Ashrawi's Palestinian Institute for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy, Schwenger said, which received "between $1,000 and $10,000" toward publishing costs from the Canadian fund.

Ashrawi's stated proposal was to promote UNRWA, a U.N. agency established after the 1948 war to care for Palestinian refugees — as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, Schwenger said.

Canadian legislator Irwin Cotler, a noted human rights advocate, said he had recently returned from a visit to the Canadian Representative Office in Ramallah, which acts as a de facto Canadian Embassy to the Palestinian Authority.

Cotler met there with the office's chief representative, Tim Martin, and an assistant, John Laine. In his article, Bedein accuses the pair of "helping fan the flames of a refugee war to conquer all of Palestine" through their backing of the Palestinian cause.

During his March 9 meeting with Martin and Laine, Cotler said, he saw a book on IsraeliPalestinian peace negotiations.

"There was but one copy and I asked them if I could borrow it," Cotler recalled. "They gave it to me, but were concerned that they might be seen as distributing it."

In addition, Cotler said, "they referred as well to another booklet — the one in question, I assume, which they also stressed they did not publish or distribute."

According to a source close to the issue, however, Martin and Laine's Palestinian sympathies are so pronounced that they likely will be replaced by the summer.

This story ran on the March 26, 2001 wire of the JTA, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency

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