Thursday, June 20, 2013

Talking Point Combat: The Alsace-Lorraine Precendent

I was reading Wikipedia the other day (actually looking for the peace treaty that ended World War II), when I came across a fascinating little tidbit of history from that time. I realized that it makes a very effective talking point for battling the "right of return" argument. Let's take a look, shall we?

In the aftermath of World War II article, under Germany, there's this intriguing little paragraph (emphasis mine):
"In the west, Alsace-Lorraine was returned to France. The Sudetenland reverted to Czechoslovakia following the European Advisory Commission's decision to delimit German territory to be the territory it held on December 31, 1937. Close to one quarter of pre-war (1937) Germany was de facto annexed by the Allies; roughly 10 million Germans were either expelled from this territory or not permitted to return to it if they had fled during the war."
What do you know? After the Germans engaged in hostile, aggressive war, they a) lost territory and b) the civilians that left the territory the Germans lost were not allowed to return. And that's actual, pre-war, historical German territory that was lost and never to be seen again, not conquered territory that was returned to its rightful owners. How interesting!

And yet, there are no refugee camps inside Germany for these 10 million homeless Germans and their descendants. No one considers them to be refugees. They don't get their own UN refugee organization looking after them. The Germans don't commemorate that event every year with a "Disaster Day" and demand sympathy from the world. Probably because they know that they wouldn't get any.

So the question you should be asking any Palestinian supporter is: why are the Palestinians better than the Germans? Like the Germans, they launched an aggressive war with the expressed purpose of taking the territory of others. Like the Germans, they lost. And like the Germans, one of the consequences of losing was the loss of territory and personal property. So why do the Palestinians get tons of benefits from their loss, but the Germans, despite losing their war just three years earlier, do not? Why are they above suffering the consequences of their actions? Are the Palestinians better than the Germans? More entitled? More special perhaps?

To this you will probably hear the "international law" card. Namely, that there was no international law in 1945 but there was in 1948 when Israel was founded and therefore Israel must follow the law while the Allies (the creators of that international law) didn't have to. And therefore annexing Germany and expelling 10 million Germans was legal because it was not illegal. How perfectly convenient.

There are a couple of problems with this argument, however. First of all, international law is a two way street. It is also against international law that to try and commit genocide and to wipe out a UN member state. When the Arabs entered the war, they looked at international law and decided "no thanks, it isn't for us." And so, having foregone the restrictions of international law on their behavior, they have no right to demand its protections. Either then or now.

Alternatively, you can just point out that the Fourth Geneva Convention, the one that pertains to this situation, was created in 1949. If the Allies are allowed to do whatever they want because the international law forbidding them from doing so didn't exist yet, then the same thing applies to the Israelis.

There has been an historical precedent set in the 1940s, when you lose a war, you lose territory and property. If you don't lose territory and property, then you are a lucky exception. Perhaps 60 years later, the Palestinians can finally stop whining about it.

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