August 14, 2018 Special Dispatch No. 7624

Yemeni-Egyptian Liberal Dr. Elham Manea: The Arab Countries Are Responsible For The State Of The Palestinian Refugees; If The Right Of Return Materializes, It Will Apply Only To A Few Tens Of Thousands

August 14, 2018
Egypt, Palestinians, Yemen | Special Dispatch No. 7624

Following her recent visit to Israel, Dr. Elham Manea, a Yemeni-Egyptian writer, human rights activist and women's rights activist who resides in Switzerland, began publishing a series of articles titled "If We Are Not The Emissaries of Peace, Who Will Be?" In the series, posted on the liberal website, she addresses various aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and describes her impressions of Israel.[1]

In the first article in the series, she addressed the criticism that was directed at her for visiting Israel and the claim that her visit indicated a lack of sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians. She wrote that, unlike many of her critics, she has visited Palestinian refugee camps in the Arab world and is keenly aware of the Palestinians' suffering; however, she places the blame for their situation on the Arab countries, which have perpetuated their refugee status under the pretext of protecting the right of return. She called on the Arabs to recognize that Israel is a reality, and that if the right of return is ever realized, it will apply only to the remaining Palestinians who actually fled their homes in 1948, who number in the tens of thousands, and not to their descendants, who according to Dr. Manea "currently number five million." The latter, she said, will have to return to the territories of the Palestinian state, or else settle in their current countries of residence.
Dr. Elham Manea (Source:, July 20, 2017)

The following are excerpts from her article:[2]        

"I went to Israel on a research and learning trip that taught me a great deal and I do not regret it. Most people from Arab states who visit Israel do so in secret... because our societies force us to lie and be hypocrites. [They make us] afraid to say what we really believe, to utter sincere words, or to openly do what we want. [This fear] sometimes drives us to curse those we love.

"[But] I am neither a liar nor a hypocrite. I publicized [my trip to Israel]. So why the criticism? Do you think I do not understand the meaning of the [Palestinians'] pain and loss?... That I do not empathize with them? How many of you have visited the refugee camps in the Arab countries? I have visited several as part of my work as a journalist and academic, and burned with the pain of the disgraceful reality [I saw there]... You know who I cursed then? [I cursed] the Arab countries that force them to live in homes like cages or dungeons, on the pretext that granting them permanent residence will lead to their naturalization and undermine the 'right of return'...

"Lebanon denies the Palestinian men and women the most fundamental right to a dignified existence... This reality of the discrimination against them is well known and familiar in many Arab countries... I still remember  how the authorities in the Arab [states] humiliate Palestinians when they enter and leave the country. Anyone who travels is familiar with this reality... Have any of you thought to take to the streets and protest against it, and demand a change to this racist discrimination? Or is it easier to focus [the blame] on Israel?

"In Lebanon, energetic efforts are underway to change this situation, despite the difficulty [of doing so]... One of the proposals that may amaze you... is based on the rationale that many who deal with this issue quietly understand. I understand and respect the right of return. But those who comprehend [this issue] know that when the return to Israel occurs, it could possibly apply [only] to the remaining Palestinian men and women who actually left their villages and lands or were driven from them in 1948. They numbered no more than 750,000, of whom [some] 50,000 are still alive. It is the fate of their descendants, who currently number five million, which is the [main] issue. Many have come to the understanding that these people will return to the new Palestinian state that will be founded as part of a comprehensive peace agreement, or will receive compensation and settle in the Arab countries where they currently reside, or outside them in the new world.

"Please do not hasten to curse me harshly, because those who work in this field know what I am talking about. Did you not hear the criticism directed by Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis at UNRWA during his official visit to Jordan in May 2018, when he said that UNRWA had become part of the problem in the region because it perpetuates the refugee camps, and that more efforts must be made to integrate the refugees in other countries instead of giving them [false hopes] of returning to the Palestinian lands? Switzerland is known for its staunch neutrality and its commitment to peaceful conflict resolution... When its foreign minister makes such a statement, it is worth noting...

"You think I am whitewashing Israel, but does it need whitewashing? It has its bright sides and its dark sides, and I am well familiar with both. You object that I must say I visited Palestine, not Israel, but [the fact is that] I visited Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. I am staunchly in favor of the two-state solution, even though everyone thinks that calling for it today is delusional. When a Palestinian state is established, I will refer to it as Palestine. Israel exists. It has a right to exist, just as the Palestinian state I am demanding has a right to exist. I am not saying this out of generosity. All the peace talks mentioned negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians and spoke of [Israel's] withdrawal to the 1967 borders. Nobody is talking of the 1948 [borders]. Perhaps you find the claim that Israel does not exist reassuring, but I consider it irrational. It will not change the reality which is recognized by international law and by the international community.

"We must insist on the establishment of the Palestinian state... and on a halt to the settlements... [We must insist] that U.S. President Donald Trump has no right to change the legal status of Jerusalem, and most importantly, that Israeli Arabs be treated as equal to Israeli Jews. But in doing so, we must understand the mentality of Israel, which fears for its security – and not without reason, since it is surrounded by Arabs who think that 'Judaism' is a curse." 


[1] For more about Dr. Elham Manea's visit to Israel, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7607, Yemeni-Egyptian Liberal Dr. Elham Manea: 'I Went To Israel And Don't Regret It'; Peace With It Is Possible, August 6, 2018.

[2], August 3, 2018.

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