The central graphic element in this poster is an old fashioned miftah (Arabic: key) bearing a Palestinian flag as an identifier. The tip of the key is tinted in green, symbolizing that it is meant to fit into the green keyhole made up of the letters T, I, and N in the word Palestine that appears across the bottom of the poster.
The “key of return” holds a particular significance in modern Palestinian history.
When Israeli and Arab armies clashed during the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948, many Palestinian civilians were caught between opposing military forces. Thousands fled to nearby hills, valleys, and other towns to escape immediate or anticipated attack.
Israeli sources say that families that fled were told to do so by Arab
leaders who ordered them out of the line of fire. Palestinian sources
say that Palestinian civilians fled out of panic and fear, because they
were keenly aware of what had recently happened at Deir Yassin, a Palestinian
village that was the site of a massacre by pre-state military cadres that
occurred on April 9, 1948.
In any event, many of the fleeing Palestinians took the key to the front door of their homes, believing that they would be able to return when conditions were safer.
Few of these Palestinians could have imagined then that more than fifty years later they would still be living in squalid refugee camps either in the West Bank, Gaza, Israel, or any of the many distant Arab lands that came to host the Palestinian diaspora. None could have imagined that their flight marked the beginning of the largest refugee crisis the world has ever known.
To this day, thousands of Palestinian refugee families proudly display the miftah to the front door of their homes in Palestine (often along with ancient land titles and deeds dating back to Ottoman times). They raise their children to believe that they will someday be able to return home, to put that very key in the door, and to open it.
Many of the Palestinian villages invaded, occupied, or emptied in the various wars fought since 1948 have since been demolished by the Israeli army for a variety of reasons such as to create new farmland, to clear land for new housing for Israelis, or — as some say — to destroy evidence that Palestinians ever lived there. Thus for many Palestinians, the dream of turning the key to a particular door has become impossible. The symbolism, however, remains.
Israelis have argued that since Palestinians left under the instruction of their leaders, they have no right to return. Many Americans may well be confused by this logic. Even if civilians did flee because military commanders ordered them to do so, is that reason to deny them the right to go home? Was flight reason enough to destroy whole villages?
All of Israel’s wars with Arab and Palestinian forces have generated vast numbers of refugees and/or internally displaced persons. Irrespective of how one chooses to interpret the intentions of the Israeli government, the fact remains: millions of Palestinians have lost their homes, farms, and communities in the course of Israel’s emergence.
Israel’s antagonistic policies toward the Palestinians sit uncomfortably with many Americans because they see in its expansionist practices and policies — largely supported by U.S. administrations since Harry Truman — as a contemporary re-enactment of the blackest pages of their own colonial interactions with indigenous Americans, from Thomas Penn’s infamous “Walking Purchase” of 1737 to the Trail of Tears, the massacres at Sand Creek and Wounded Knee, and the troubled, shameful relationship the U.S. government has even today with indigenous Americans.
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Questions for A New
1) Is a key that fits into a lock tangible evidence of ownership? If not, what is evidence of ownership?
2) When a lock is destroyed, what is the value of the key?
3) One of the most contested questions in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations is the “right of return.” Israel offers all Jewish people the right of return to Israel and citizenship. However, the country is opposed to offering a right of return to Palestinians, for fear that so many will take up the offer that Israel will lose its Jewish majority. To what extent is Israel’s opposition to a Palestinian right of return valid, grounded in reality, and fair?
4) Israel practices “collective punishment.”
If a Palestinian is accused or convicted of acts against Israel and its
occupation, the Israeli government demolishes the family home (and sometimes
neighboring homes, too). In what ways is this practice related to the
destruction of villages emptied by Palestinians who fled in 1948?
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