The ‘Gaza Nakba’ must be prevented
It is inaccurate to claim that the ongoing Israeli attempt to displace many or even all of the Palestinian refugees in Gaza to Sinai is a new idea compelled by recent circumstances. Displacing Palestinians — or, as it is known in the Israeli political lexicon, “transfer” — is an old idea; as old as Israel itself.
Historically, population transfer has been more than a mere idea, but an actual government policy with clear mechanisms. In May 1948, Yosef Weitz, director of the Jewish National Fund’s Land and Afforestation Department, was entrusted with setting up the Transfer Committee to oversee the expulsion of Palestinian Arabs from their towns and villages. In other words, while Israel was still concluding its initial phase of ethnic cleansing, it initiated another phase, that of transfer — the results of which are well known.
Even many of Israel’s so-called liberal intellectuals continue to promote the idea, either proactively or in hindsight. “I don’t think that the expulsions of 1948 were war crimes,” Israeli historian Benny Morris said in an interview with Haaretz in 2004. “I think he (Israel’s founding father David Ben-Gurion) made a serious historical mistake in 1948 ... If he was already engaged in expulsion, maybe he should have done a complete job ... You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. You have to dirty your hands.”
Morris was referring to the Nakba, which began in earnest in December 1947 and did not conclude until 1949. After that, Israel’s ethnic cleansing took on a different form; that of a slower campaign aimed at rejigging the demographic map of the newly founded Israel in favor of Israeli Jews and at the expense of Palestinian Arabs.
Several campaigns targeting the Palestinian Arab communities that remained in Israel after the Nakba were initiated under various guises. Though not a single community had survived the Israeli government’s demographic onslaught, Palestinian Bedouins received the lion’s share of displacement — a campaign that continues to this day.
The slow ethnic cleansing of the West Bank is considered to be the center of Israel’s ongoing colonialism
After the war of June 1967, mass expulsion resumed once more. About 430,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced, especially from areas originally occupied in 1948. Over the years, hundreds of thousands of Jewish Israeli settlers have taken the place of the displaced Palestinians, claiming their land, homes and orchards as their own.
In fact, the slow ethnic cleansing of the West Bank is considered to be the center of Israel’s ongoing colonialism in the Occupied Territories. And, from an international law perspective, it is one of its greatest war crimes, as it represents a stark violation of international norms. “The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies,” Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states. It also prohibits “individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory.”
To claim that the recent calls for the mass expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza is a new event, compelled by the violent episode of Oct. 7 and the subsequent genocide in Gaza, is both inaccurate and dishonest. This claim ignores the fact that Israel, as a settler-colonial project, was founded on the concept of ethnic cleansing and that Israeli politicians have never stopped talking about the mass displacement of Palestinians, even under supposedly “normal” circumstances.
For example, in 2014, then-Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman tried to rebrand the old transfer strategy using not-so-clever new language. “When I talk about land and population exchange, I mean the Little Triangle and Wadi Ara,” Lieberman said in a statement, referring to the predominantly Arab regions in central and northern Israel. He insisted: “This is not a transfer.”
This context is critical if we wish to truly understand the story behind the enthusiastic return of the language of ethnic cleansing.
On Nov. 11, Avi Dichter, Israel’s agriculture minister and former head of the spy agency Shin Bet, specifically called for another Nakba. “We are now rolling out the Gaza Nakba,” Dichter said in a TV interview. We can easily extract the following information from his statement: Israeli officials are very familiar with the term “Nakba” and, thus, what befell the Palestinian people 75 years ago — ethnic cleansing and genocide — and they remain unrepentant.
However, this was not a statement said in anger. A leaked government report dated Oct. 13, six days into the war, suggested the mass transfer of Gaza’s population to the Sinai desert. Four days later, an Israeli think tank known as the Misgav Institute for National Security and Zionist Strategy published a paper calling on the Israeli government to take advantage of this “unique and rare opportunity to evacuate the whole Gaza Strip.”
The displaced Gazans remain steadfast and will not allow for another Nakba to take place, no matter the cost
It makes little sense to assume that such extensive reports were conjured up in their entirety in a matter of days. It takes years of planning and discussions for such complex schemes to be prepared so that they become worthy of official consideration.
This is not the only evidence that the displacement of Palestinians in Gaza was not an urgent strategy propelled by recent events, as Palestinians in the West Bank, who were not involved in the Oct. 7 operation, have also found themselves under the threat of expulsion. This prompted Jordanian Prime Minister Bisher Khasawneh to state that Amman considers any attempt to displace Palestinians a “red line” and, in fact, a “declaration of war.”
Though Arab and international pressure has, thus far, failed to slow the Israeli death machine in Gaza, Arab countries have spoken firmly against any Israeli attempts to displace Palestinians.
For now, the majority of Gaza’s 2.3 million inhabitants, most of whom are refugees from historic Palestine, are internally displaced within that tiny piece of land, denied water, food, electricity and, in fact, life itself. But they remain steadfast and will not allow for another Nakba to take place, no matter the cost.
The so-called Gaza Nakba must be rejected, not just through words but also through solid Arab and international action to prevent Israel from taking advantage of the war to expel Palestinians out of their homeland — again. They must also work to hold Israel accountable for its war crimes, past and present, starting with the original Nakba of 1948.
- Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books, and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. X: @RamzyBaroud