Israel May "Transfer" Palestinians During the War
By WILL YOUMANS
[CounterPunch - 9 October 2002]
In 1989 Benjamin Netanyahu told students at Bar-Ilan
"Israel should have exploited the repression of the
demonstrations in China, when world attention focused on
that country, to carry out mass expulsions among the
Arabs of the territories."
Many commentators and the Palestinian public in general
are worried that the Israeli government will not miss
the opportunity with impending war on Iraq.
Around one hundred Israeli academics wrote a letter
warning that talk of transfer, a sanitized term for
ethnic cleansing, is increasing within mainstream
political discourse in Israel. The letter warned that
the "Israeli ruling coalition includes parties that
promote 'transfer' of the Palestinian population as a
solution to what they call 'the demographic problem'".
It cited a recent interview in Ha'aretz, by chief of
staff Moshe Ya'alon. He discussed the possible need for
a special "treatment" in the occupied territories. Prime
minister Sharon supported his "assessment of reality."
The letter also mentioned that, "escalating racist
demagoguery" in Israel "may indicate the scope of the
crimes that are possibly being contemplated."
In August, 2002, Ali Abunimah published an expose on
Gamla, "a group founded by former Israeli military
officers and settlers." Its website featured a technical
paper entitled "The Logistics of Transfer," which calls
for Israel to ethnically cleanse all of the Palestinian
territories as "the only possible solution." Besides
offering instructional suggestions, it provides a
theological justification for those not convinced by the
More mainstream voices have considered it in
disturbingly acquiescent tones.
On October 3rd, the Guardian featured an essay by the
prominent Israeli historian Benny Morris on the history
of the concept of transfer as a political tool in
Israel-Palestine. Morris seemed to also write this in
response to the more frequent discussion of transfer as
an option. He cited "Shmuel Eliahu, the chief rabbi of
Safad" who "called for the transfer, to 'Jordan, the
Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union, or Canada,'
of Arabs who are unwilling to accept Israel as a Jewish
He points out that as shocking as this may seem, even
Arab and British officials once considered transfer an
acceptable political necessity. He quotes a few private
statements of Jordanian and Iraqi officials to that
Morris is warming us up to the idea to the idea of
transfer. Since it was a historical option, his essay
suggests, it may make sense now. He speculates,
"perhapstoday's Middle East would be a healthier, less
violent place" if Israel had dispossessed all of the
Palestinians in 1947-48, as opposed to only the "700,000
of Palestine's 1.25 million Arab inhabitants."
He wrote that ethnic purity would have been the
"historically calming result." The logical and unstated
conclusion is that the opportunity to achieve purity
still remains. Thus the article leaves as its end where
it started: that transfer is an option.
That a highly revered historian who helped tarnish
Israel's founding myth that the Palestinian refugees
were self-created now flirts with ethnic cleansing so
comfortably proves that ethnic cleansing is becoming
increasingly accepted as an acceptable route in the
If Israel plans on displacing Palestinians during the
campaign against Iraq, it will be carefully implemented
in order to not upset American designs on Iraq.
Premeditated plans in the absence of an overt pretense
would be piecemeal - Israel's long preferred way of
shifting populations. After all, hundreds of thousands
of refugees pouring into Jordan may force Jordanian
officials to disallow American use of Jordanian
airfields, for example.
Displacement en masse could happen after Iraq falls.
Observers have speculated that western Iraq may provide
a place for Israel to expel Palestinians to. It would
give Israel somewhere to dump the Palestinians and would
happen after Iraq's chemical arsenal had been fully
Transfer could also appear to be a natural response to a
"mega-terrorist" attack or if Saddam Hussein launches
enough missiles at Israel.
The probable starting point for a program of ethnic
cleansing would center on the new security wall complex
Israel is building in and through the outskirts of the
West Bank. With a 5-6 meter-high fence, trenches, mine
fields, a sand patch to detect footprints, watchtowers,
and an electrified fence, this complex will snake around
the inner portions of the Palestinian side of
green-line. So far, 43 miles of it has been built. In
the end it will run the entire length of Israel's de
facto border with the West Bank (a map of the project is
available at B'Tselem's website).
The long and winding complex drops deep into parts of
the West Bank in order to bring settlements into the
Israeli side of the wall. So far, 10,000 Palestinians in
8 towns and villages have also fallen on the west-side
of the wall, separated from the rest of the West Bank,
according to a report by the Israel human rights group
B'Tselem. Also, "thirty-five Palestinian families
residing along the northern edge of Bethlehem are
expected to remain on the northern side of the barrier
in south Jerusalem, due to the decision to include
Rachel's tomb inside the barrier."
Besides the fact that this impinges on Palestinian
lands, involves the bulldozing of homes and farmlands,
separates families, violates the basic rights of
mobility and work, and further disjoints Palestinian
rootedness in the land, it leaves in limbo the fate of
over ten thousand Palestinians. They could be the most
attractive targets for ethnic cleansing.
On a practical level, all of Israel's security
mechanisms, from the checkpoints, curfews, and closures,
to this new wall, regard all Palestinians as potential
terrorists. Given the broadness of most of these
arrangements, will Israel really allow over 10,000
Palestinians to remain on the other side of this wall?
The wall complex is immensely popular in Israel and
moves to bolster its efficacy will be well received by
Israeli officials know that it will give the
Palestinians even more to be angry about. The Financial
Times reported that farmers have lost direct access to
their fields, people's homes have been commandeered for
military use, and schools and other edifices have been
demolished just for being too close to the wall
At a deeper level, Israeli officials across the
ideological spectrum read the Palestinians as a
demographic threat. That is, by their very existence
Palestinians challenge Israel's dominant historical
mythology. They are the noxious foot-note to Zionism's
colonizing slogan that declared Palestine "a land
without people for a people without a land."
However, the extent of any forthcoming ethnic cleansing
is indeterminable. It could be limited to the more than
10,000 Palestinians who escaped containment by Israel's
wall security complex, or it could be the "full-fledged
ethnic cleansing" the 100 Israeli academics warn of.
Further ethnic cleansing is a realistic possibility
given the centrality of transfer in Israel's history.
Benny Morris affirms what every Palestinian knows: "The
idea of transfer is as old as modern Zionism and has
accompanied its evolution and praxis during the past
century." Other circumstances point to transfer as well:
Israel is in an economic and political crisis, the
ruling coalition is made up of parties calling for
transfer, Sharon is running out of ideas and his raison
d'etre is not peaceful diplomacy but military action
premised on Israel's security obsession.
Like the massacre at Tiananmen Square, the next war on
Iraq may be a period of relaxed international scrutiny
of Israel's actions. Already we have seen Israel use the
wake of the September 11th attacks to enhance its
operations against the Palestinians by extending and
aggrandizing its violent incursions into Palestinian
populations. Sharon's comment that "the concern now is
not about a few Scud missiles, but suicide bombers
everywhere" offers no solace.
The contemporary path to the moment of transfer is paved
with Israel's recent expulsions of the Palestinian
fighters who were in the Church of Nativity, and
families of suicide bombers. Reports that Iraq
facilitates suicide bombs and would encourage them more
in the event of an attack further links the war on Iraq
with Israeli security. When combined with Israel's
security premise that all Palestinians are potential
terrorists, this formula hints at the Palestinian
"demographic threat" that once left Golda Meir sleepless
at night and now serves as the subject of obsession for
Israeli conferences and nervous policy analysts.
The Israeli academics' letter calls for "the
international community to pay close attention to events
that unfold within Israel and in the occupied
territories." International activists must "make it
absolutely clear that crimes against humanity will not
be tolerated." It also recommends, "concrete measures to
prevent such crimes from taking place."
Anti-war activities should include messages to this
effect. Anytime an Israeli spokesperson takes questions,
they should be asked about this. This idea must enter
into the media via op/eds, letters, and so on. Confront
and deluge congressional representatives with this
suspicion. The goal should be to force Israeli
spokespeople to take a position now and to recognize
that the world will be watching them. Activists should
establish our own preemptive doctrine. Let's act now,
and not react after Israel has established new facts on