Ghada Hashem Talhami. Palestinian Refugees: Pawns to Political Actors.

AuthorNassar, Jamal R.
PositionBook Review

Ghada Hashem Talhami. Palestinian Refugees." Pawns to Political Actors. New York: Nova, 2003. 227 pages, Hardcover, $59.00.

The Palestinian struggle cannot be comprehended without some understanding of the issue of Palestinian refugees. After all, their plight has become one of the most enduring refugee cases of our time. Israel's refusal to acknowledge its responsibility for this plight of the Palestinian refugees has also become a classic case of communal denial. Professor Talhami has written a new book that is destined to become a classic on the issue of Palestinian refugees. In 1948, Palestinian society was devastated with the departure of more than three-quarters of its population into refugee camps in neighboring states. With the rise of the State of Israel, those refugees became not only homeless, but also stateless and, at least initially, powerless. Their plight was originally viewed as a humanitarian case, but, in time, it became clear that it is also a national one. Today, the struggle of the Palestinians for justice is as much a struggle for the rights of the refugees as it is for statehood. For Israel, on the other hand, the refugees represent a reminder of the danger that surrounds its borders. Its constant cry is for their resettlement in distant areas as far away from Israel's borders as possible.

Talhami's book was inspired by the need to record Palestinian refugees' political history. In that, the book is extremely successful. Relying on early State Department dispatches, Israeli Foreign Office correspondence, accounts and statements of refugee movements, Professor Talhami documents a vivid political history of the refugees that will become essential to scholars and students of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Her methodical research and extensive bibliography of documents, web sites and secondary sources are all must see for any researcher on the subject. In sum, the book provides a fascinating window onto the politics of Palestinian refugees. Talhami's first chapter delves into "The Theory and Reality of Refugee Law" and concludes that the Palestinian refugees pose a difficult case "that defies classification under the rules of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees" (p. 8). This chapter also argues that while refugee law allows for the right of return, Israel has effectively blocked its...

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