The Growing Clamor for Ethnic Cleansing
The Growing Clamor for Ethnic Cleansing
(AMMAN -- August 27, 2002) -- An Israeli organization has published detailed plans for the "complete elimination of the Arab demographic threat to Israel" by forcibly expelling all Palestinians, including Palestinians in the occupied territories and Palestinian citizens of Israel from the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea within a 3-5 year period.
Gamla, a group founded by former Israeli military officers and settlers, published these recommendations on its website in a nine thousand word manifesto titled "The logistics of transfer," penned by Boris Shusteff last July 3. The mass ethnic cleansing of every Palestinian, the author argues, is "the only possible solution" to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and is "substantiated by the Torah." (www.gamla.org.il/english) Gamla receives tax deductible contributions from a New York-based charity that claims that its goal is greater Arab-Jewish tolerance.
The manifesto recognizes that Israel will never win widespread support for expulsion, but argues that it needs "only a modicum of support from its closest ally -- the United States," in order to carry out the plan.
Under the plan, Israel would launch an information campaign and increase economic strangulation of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip to force them to leave "voluntarily." One measure would be to deprive Palestinians of employment, literally starving them out (one could say that this policy is already being implemented). Palestinian citizens of Israel would face complete apartheid and religious coercion as Israel would "pass a law that will stipulate in some form that non-Jewish citizens of the state, while retaining full and irrevocable civil rights, will have no ability to participate in Israeli political life." Failing that, the paper continues, "Israeli Arabs can be given one more option - to convert to Judaism if they prefer to stay put."
At the same time, Israel will try to convince the international community to establish a Palestinian state far away from Israel and the occupied territories (in Iraq or Saudi Arabia). The author writes that:
"Israel must make clear to the world community that, if a decision cannot be made within 3 to 5 years to establish a state for the Palestinian Arabs in some viable location, she will be forced to start the forced expulsion of Arabs into Jordan and the Sinai."
The expulsion plan provides details about how this will be done, in lightning military strikes:
"As an example, the relocation of a small settlement (1,000 people) can be completed within a 48-hour period, similarly to a military border-crossing operation. Israel will supply the relocated community with temporary housing, water and electricity (providing tents, a generator, water cisterns, etc.). The abandoned settlement must be completely demolished level with the ground."
While Israel moves to implement the complete annexation of all the occupied territories, it would, according to the plan, have to subdue the population by carrying out war crimes and crimes against humanity if any Palestinians try to resist:
"Any attempts on the part of the Arabs [Palestinians] to carry out sabotage or terrorist activity must be immediately suppressed in the most brutal way. It is possible, for example, to implement a suggestion by Harvard Professor Alan Derschowitz, an American liberal lawyer. With slight modification, it works as follows: Israel issues a warning that, in a response to any terrorist attack, she will immediately completely level an Arab village or settlement, randomly chosen by a computer from a published list. The essence of the idea is to make the Arabs completely responsible for their own fate, and to make it clear that terrorism will not be merely tolerated, but will be harshly punished. Along with the world community, the Arabs will know precisely what will result if they attack Jews. The use of a computer to select the place of the Israeli response will put the Arabs and the Jews on a level footing. The Jews do not know where the terrorists will strike, and the Arabs will not know which one of their villages or settlements will be erased in retaliation. The word "erased" very precisely reflects the force of Israel's response. The Arabs residing there will be evicted without compensation, all houses and buildings completely demolished, and the settlement itself, with the help of bulldozers and any other necessary equipment, will be leveled into a large field. After the appearance of several such fields the Arabs will lose any desire to commit terrorist attacks and the number of Arabs wanting to leave Eretz Yisrael will certainly increase."
The only precedent for such a chilling and methodical approach to ethnic cleansing would be the industrialized elimination of Jews planned and carried out by Nazi Germany.
Are these words merely the ramblings of an extremist group carrying no wide influence, or do they represent another step in legitimizing discussion of a once taboo idea gaining broad-based support in Israel and amongst some American Jewish organizations?
Gamla claims that it is "in the forefront of the battle for the land of Israel, organizes activities, participates in demonstrations, and publishes articles, posters and stickers for that cause," and that "most of its activities are coordinated and joined with other grassroots organizations of the national camp."
One of the group's three founders is Elyakim Haetzni, one of the first and most prominent West Bank settlers who lives in Kiryat Arba settlement near Hebron. Another was the late Lt. Colonel Shlomo Baum, a founder of Israel's notorious Unit 101, which with the young Ariel Sharon as its leader carried out the brutal massacre of dozens of civilians in the Palestinian village of Qibya in 1954, among other atrocities. The third, retired Colonel Moshe Leshem, also a longtime spokesman for the settlers, has a show on Israel's settler radio network "Arutz 7" along with Haetzni.
Gamla receives tax-deductible contributions from Americans through a New York-based charity called PEF Israel Endowment Funds (www.pefisrael.org) which states that its was established in 1922 by Justice Louis Brandeis and Rabbi Stephen Wise. Among its stated purposes is "promoting greater tolerance and understanding between religious and secular communities and between Arabs and Jews." Under this liberal guise, the organization appears to be channeling funds to a group advocating the total destruction of a nation -- in other words, genocide.
The Gamla website also frequently publishes and promotes the writings of Daniel Pipes, a professional Arab-basher, and ubiquitous guest on American television talk shows.
Within Israel, Palestinians are viewed as a "demographic threat" across the political spectrum, the only difference being on how to deal with this threat. For traditional leftists, "separation" is the preferred option, while among the right-wing outright expulsion is gaining support. The debate about the "demographic threat" is carried out in overtly racist terms. In summer 2001, Haifa University professor Arnon Sofer, renewed Israeli anxieties about the fertility of Palestinian women with a study predicting that by 2020 non-Jews will be a majority west of the Jordan River. "Some Israelis say," according to The Chicago Tribune, "that ticking below the surface of the violent confrontation between Arab and Jew is a silent bomb, a demographic bomb." Their solution is to adopt a "Chinese rule" limiting the number of children Palestinians are allowed to have. ("Birthrates alarm Israel," Chicago Tribune, April 21, 2002)
While lamenting that only the Moledet party, founded by the assassinated Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi, openly advocates expulsion, the Gamla paper takes heart that recent opinion polls in Israel put support for some form of 'transfer' at 46% and in some cases 60% depending on how the question is posed.
According to Professor Majid Al-Haj of Haifa University, the struggle of Palestinian citizens of Israel is no longer primarily about achieving equality with Jews within Israeli society, but has reverted to a more basic struggle simply to remain in their homeland against a rising tide of pro-transfer sentiment being freely expressed in Israeli Jewish society. Al-Haj, one of the few true Arab experts on Israeli society, speaking recently at the Jordan University Center for Strategic Studies, cited as an example the infamous conference in the Israeli town of Herzliya in November 2000, just months into the Intifada. At that meeting, more than three hundred prominent Israeli intellectuals, former and sitting generals and politicians, former prime ministers, and Israel's past and sitting president openly discussed ideas including "exchanges of population," limiting the democratic rights of Palestinian citizens, forcing Palestinian citizens to sign a document recognizing Israel as a Jewish state as a condition of retaining their citizenship, and the primacy of Israel's "Jewish" over its "democratic" character.
The transfer idea is gaining ground because the common conception that Jews should live separately from everyone else provides room for it to flourish. Today there are almost no Jewish voices in Israel calling for Palestinian-Israeli coexistence on the basis of full equality regardless of religion or ethnic affiliation. One of Israel's leading lights on the left, novelist A.B. Yehoshua, while not supporting transfer, regards co-existence between Palestinians and Israelis as a thing to behold with horror. "Two people in one state," Yehoshua warned, "is a threat to our existence. Anyway, we did not come to Israel to live in a bi-national state, but in a Jewish state." ("Israel is losing the demographic race," Israeltoday.co.il) This view is typical of the Israeli left, the vast majority of which only supports some form of Palestinian statehood as a mechanism to preserve Jewish primacy. While in most countries that practice it, democracy is understood as a mechanism to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority, among Israeli liberals democracy is only valuable as a tool to maintain the tyranny of a Jewish majority over a Palestinian minority without the embarrassment of having to adopt formal apartheid or advocate ethnic cleansing. We must be clear that the concern for maintaining a Jewish majority is about preserving power and privilege, not about protecting cultural identity, heritage and religious practice. Those can be much better protected, and enhanced in a multi-ethnic society where freedom of religion, speech and association are guaranteed to all. At least that is what good Americans are brought up to believe.
The "demographic threat" comes not only from Muslim Palestinians, but also from Christians. Last June Haaretz reported that Dr. Asher Cohen of Bar-Ilan University had discovered that already Israel's Jewish majority is "only" seventy two percent, far less than the eighty one percent claimed by official figures. This difference is accounted for by the high rate and relative ease of assimilation of Christians from the former Soviet Union and guest-workers into Israeli society, something that in most other countries claiming to be liberal democracies would be seen as a desirable trend. In response to Cohen's findings Israel's Interior Minister Eli Yishai declared that "Clearly it's impossible to bar the arrival of couples in which one of the members is Jewish, but we should see to it that families that are completely Christian do not come here --including people who go to church on a regular basis." ("Demographic balancing acts," Haaretz, June 13, 2002)
This anti-Christian war cry was recently taken up by Israel's Sephardi Chief Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron and his Ashkenazi counterpart Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, who warned that "seventy percent of the new immigrants to Israel are professed non-Jews, with no connection to Judaism." In a joint statement, the two clerics concluded, "We cannot continue to bring entire Christian families to Israel." (Chief rabbis call for revision to be made in Law of Return," Haaretz, August 25, 2002)
The view that non-Jews, including the indigenous Palestinians, are a mortal threat, a cancer, a bomb to be defused, echoes precisely the language of racists and ethno-nationalists everywhere. Only the claim of Israeli exceptionalism, and misuse of the memory of the Nazi holocaust, has protected Israel from the censure it deserves for allowing such views to flourish. The sheer breath-taking hypocrisy is encapsulated by the Israeli government with Moledet ethnic cleansing advocates amongst its ranks condemning European countries like France and Austria for allowing racist parties to grow too powerful.
A few years ago it would have been easy to dismiss the Gamla document as the work of marginal extremists. But in today's Israel, where pro-ethnic-cleansing ministers sit in the cabinet, and even those who would not support transfer are opposed to co-existence and equality, it is a worrying sign. Most of the brutal measures Israel carries out today with nary a word of concern from the outside world would have been unthinkable two years ago, including the mass starvation of millions of besieged Palestinians. It would not be surprising to see some of the measures proposed in the expulsion manifesto adopted piecemeal as Israel's swing to the far right continues unchecked.
The Gamla document is notable not because it raises ideas that no one else in Israel is talking about, but rather because it tries to take a generalized and growing clamor for transfer to the next level -- detailed formulation of a specific program for the expulsion of the Palestinians around which political support and action can be organized. Extremists such as Gamla are closely tied with 'mainstream' politicians, and by running ahead of them can test the waters and introduce ideas that the mainstream is not yet ready to fully embrace.
It may not even be necessary for a majority of Israelis to support expulsion for it to be carried out since the settler movement -- from which Gamla emerges -- has managed to wield disproportionate influence on all Israeli governments, especially that of Sharon. For example, while polls show that the majority of Israelis are in favor of removing settlements in the occupied territories, the settlements continue to grow, absorbing a disproportionate chunk of Israel's budget even while unemployment and poverty within Israel itself are spiraling. Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is waiting in the wings for Sharon to fall, has mortgaged himself even more to these elements.
The expulsion plan's author may not be entirely deluded either, when he banks on American support. Last May, Dick Armey the most senior Republican in the United States Congress openly advocated the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians on MSNBC's Hardball, while the usually bland USA Today newspaper published a February op-ed by one Emanuel Winston calling for the "resettling" of the Palestinians in Jordan. Neither of these calls elicited the slightest protest from mainstream commentators and politicians in the United States. As extreme as President Bush's support for Israel has become, it appears moderate next to that of so-called Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who stated recently that Israel should be able to keep the "so-called occupied territories" because it won them fair and square in a war. When Hillary Clinton, New York's "liberal" Senator, visited Israel earlier this year, she was hosted by and warmly embraced Benny Elon, the leader of the Moledet ethnic cleansing party.
The Sharon government's egging on of the United States to bring forward its attack on Iraq cannot be motivated solely by fear of Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction," since Israeli intelligence assessments downplay the actual threat from the devastated Iraqi armed forces. It may not be far-fetched to speculate that some within Israel would see a regional war as the only opportunity to carry out a round of expulsions, and delay the day when the "demographic bomb" explodes.
Theodor Herzl, writing Zionism's founding tract, "The Jewish State" recognized that his dream of taking over Palestine could not be fulfilled without transfer. Herzl famously declared "We shall try to spirit the penniless [Arab] population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it employment in our country." Recent scholarship by Israelis and others, and fifty four years of the lived reality of Palestinians bear uncontestable witness to the fact that mass expulsion has always been part of Israel's strategy and practice. Whether it will become so again is anybody's guess, but the warning signs are there to be heeded.
Vice-president of the Arab-American Action Network and a well-known media analyst, Abunimah regularly writes public letters to the media, coordinates campaigns, and appears on a variety of national and international news programs as a commentator on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is one of the founders of The Electronic Intifada. Ali Abunimah contributed to The New Intifada: Resisting Israel's Apartheid (Verso Books, 2001).