Israel’s Approved Ethnic Cleansing, Part 1

Edward S. Herman

Israel’s treatment of
the Palestinians has always presented a moral problem to the West, as that
treatment has violated every law and moral standard on the books. Some 750,000
Palestinians were driven from their homes in 1948-1949, and since then scores
of thousands more have been pushed out by force, their houses demolished or
taken over by Israeli Jews (not Israeli Arabs). Under the supposed “peace
process” following the signing of the Oslo Agreement in September 1993, a UN
Special Report of November 13, 2000, says that “In the past seven
years…Israel’s confiscation of Palestinian land and construction of
settlements and bypass roads for Jewish settlers has accelerated dramatically
in breach of Security Council Resolution 242 and of provisions of the Oslo
agreements requiring both parties to respect ‘the territorial integrity and
unity of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.’ Since 1993 the settler population in
the West Bank and Gaza has doubled to 200,000 and increased to 170,000 in East
Jerusalem.” The report also describes and condemns the demolitions of
Palestinian houses, the diversion of water to Israeli cities and settlements,
the policy of closures that has damaged Palestinian social and economic life,
and the “widespread violation of their [Palestinian] economic, social and
cultural rights” both within Israel and in the occupied territories. It also
assails Israel’s use of excessive force against Palestinians and hundreds of
Intifada killings, “most of them unarmed demonstrators.”

The settlements
have been made in territory outside of Israel, technically “occupied” by
Israel and subject to international law that clearly prohibits dispossession
and settlement by the “belligerent occupying power” (the Palestinians are
“protected persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949; violations of
that Convention, including dispossession and settlements, are “war crimes”).
This systematic violation of international law has been going on for several
decades, just as the creation of new “facts on the ground” in brazen violation
of Article 31(7) of Oslo has proceeded since 1993, but as the United States
does not object, and in fact has supported these law and agreement violations
by massive economic and military aid, and by vetoing any hostile UN actions
(it has used the veto an estimated 60 times to give Israeli ethnic cleansing
and law violations free play), international law is inoperative.

The contrast
with Kosovo is dramatic and enlightening. In that case also international law
was inoperative, but only because intervention allegedly to protect the Kosovo
Albanians would have been excessively constrained by adherence to legal
niceties such as the UN Charter. International observers, already agreed to by
Yugoslavia, were not enough—a full military occupation by NATO forces was
required. In the case of Israel and the Palestinians, however, as Israel
naturally does not want foreign observers, let alone UN military forces to
protect the Palestinians, the United States defers to Israel (as it did to
Indonesia in East Timor) and refuses to support even an observer presence
without the ethnic cleanser’s acquiescence. We may note also that NATO’s
forcible occupation of Kosovo took place in Yugoslav territory, whereas the
U.S. defers to Israel (and for 25 years to Indonesia) in reference to its
performance in illegally occupied territory where the indigenous population
has long been subjected to serious abuses condemned by overwhelming UN


State, Brutal Occupation

The racist
discrimination in pushing out Palestinians in favor of Jews is cruel and
scandalous. Amnesty International (AI) notes in discussing Israel’s policy on
demolitions that “The Palestinians are targeted for no other reason than
because they are Palestinians” in a system where “the family may only have 15
minutes to take out what belongings they have before the furniture is thrown
into the street and their home bulldozed” (AI, Israel: Home Demolitions,
December 8, 1999). Israeli author Israel Shamir, writing in the Russian
Israeli publication RI in December 2000, says that Israelis “are taught
they belong to the Chosen People, who are uber alles. They have been
indoctrinated in belief that the Gentiles are not fully human, and therefore
can be killed and expropriated at will.” The U.S. Jewish observer Eduardo
Cohen says that “traveling through Israel I encountered a deep, widespread and
racist contempt for Arabs,” based on the belief that Arabs “didn’t share the
same faculties of thought and reason that ‘civilized human beings’ possess” (OR,
October 18, 2000).

Before the
Final Solution was decided upon by Hitler during World War II—and in 1940
Himmler was still referring to “the Bolshevik method of physical extermination
of a people” as “un-German and impossible”—there was active discussion in Nazi
official circles of how alien peoples in occupied lands should be handled to
best serve German interests. Partly, it was a matter of space needs—in 1940
Hitler claimed that “the Jewish question really was a space question,” and
Jews and others were expelled in Vienna and elsewhere to provide housing for
Germans. There was much debate in 1940 about the desirability of forced
emigration and resettlement, of bringing some of the racially valuable to
Germany for assimilation, but with a remnant population “that would serve as a
reservoir for migrant labour to Germany” (quoting Christopher Browning’s
summary of this debate).

Similar debates
have taken place in Israel between the “hardliners” on the one hand, who have
favored forcible “transfer” and the “mass deportations of Arabs from the
territories” (Netanyahu), and the “moderates” on the other hand, who want to
rely on the now traditional methods of slow but steady dispossession and
encouraging “voluntary” exit by impoverishment. The moderates also recognize
the service of the impoverished alien population in providing a reservoir of
migrant labor for Israel.

Israel Shamir
compares the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians in Intifada II unfavorably
to the anti-Jewish pogroms in Czarist Russia, where the casualties were much
smaller and where, after the pogrom, “all writers and intelligentsia condemned
the perpetrators. In the Jewish state, a few dozens gathered on the
demonstration in Tel Aviv, while the Hebrew Writers Union supported the pogrom
of Gentiles.” Shamir goes on to say that Israeli racism is “not less
wide-spread and poisonous” than that of the German Nazis, citing a number of
genocidal opinions of Russian-Israeli Jews and stating that today: “The Jewish
state is the only place in the world possessing legitimate killer squads,
embracing a policy of assassinations, and practicing torture on a medieval
scale. But do not worry dear Jewish readers, we torture and assassinate
Gentiles only.”

In Israeli
publications it is repeatedly pointed out that the army does not kill Jews,
only Gentiles. Phyllis Bennis notes that in 1982, when Israeli forces killed
an Israeli Jewish protester against the war in Lebanon, there was such an
enormous outcry that his name—Emil Grunzweig—is remembered even today. But
when a Palestinian is killed by Israelis, this is hardly newsworthy and only
body counts are given—“we never hear their names, who their parents and
children are, what they did for a living” (Max Elbaum, Interview with Bennis,
“For Jews Only: Racism Inside Israel,” ColorLines, December 15, 2000).
It has also been pointed out by AI that “Israeli security forces repeatedly
resorted to excessive use of lethal force in circumstances where neither their
lives nor the lives of others were in imminent danger, resulting in unlawful
killings.” But AI notes that the Israelis are expert in non-lethal crowd
control, citing July-August 1999 riots “policed without resort to firearms.”
But they note that here it was ultra-orthodox Jews rioting, so as in the case
of settler violence the use of lethal force is ruled out, to be used only on

dissident Uri Avnery describes how, when the Israeli army several months ago
would not allow Palestinians to harvest their olives in an orchard bordering a
Jewish settlement, where a 14-year-old Palestinian boy had recently been shot
and killed when alone in the orchard with his father, the villagers sent an
SOS to Avnery and his group to come so that their presence would preclude
shooting (“Olives, Stones and Bullets,” Ha’aretz, November 18, 2000).
Many old olive trees had already been cut down, and ancient terraces
destroyed, “apparently to enable the army to shoot without hindrance.” But the
Avnery group did its job—their Jewish presence enabled some olives to be
picked without the threat of shooting. Avnery noted that the settlers were
free to move and travel at will, under heavy army protection.

The well-known
Israeli journalist Amira Hass recently described in detail the growing racist
cruelty “characteristic of every occupation regime…that intensified during
the Oslo years because of the gap between the fine talk about a ‘peace
process’ and a reality.” (“The Mirror Does Not Lie,” Ha’aretz, November
1, 2000). The new Intifada is a popular uprising that “is a final attempt to
thrust a mirror in the face of Israelis and to tell them: ‘Take a good look at
yourselves and see how racist you have become’.” She focuses on the Israeli
occupation of Hebron, writing: “How perfectly natural that 40,000 persons
should be subject to local curfew for more than a month in the Old City of
Hebron in order to protect the lives and well-being of 500 Jews…. How
perfectly natural that 34 schools attended by thousands of Palestinian
children should be closed down for more than a month…while the children of
their Jewish neighbors…are free to frolic as usual in the street among and
with the Israeli soldiers stationed there…. The protracted curfew imposed on
Hebron and the way in which their curfew has been accepted in Israeli eyes as
such a natural event convey, in a nutshell, both the entire story of Israeli
occupation of Palestinian land in general and the essence of the kind of
Israeli thinking that has developed in the shadow of obvious military
superiority.” Hass also discusses the freedom of settlers to travel, versus
severe restrictions on Palestinians; the well-built highways for settler use,
constructed on lands expropriated from Palestinian villages; the limitations
imposed by the occupying authority on Palestinian development of their own
communities, while the Jewish settlers get expedited treatment and subsidies;
and the discrimination in water use with days and even weeks “without running
water in the faucets of Palestinian homes” while their Jewish neighbors
“experience no problems or shortages as far as their water supply is

Jeff Halper,
Professor of Anthropology at Ben Gurion University, and head of the Israeli
Committee Against House Demolitions, states that, having seized control of
West Bank/Gaza water supplies, Israel and the settlers now give themselves 6.7
times the water they allow the Palestinians (870 million cubic meters per
annum for themselves, 130 million cubic meters for the Palestinians). He also
points out that under the Oslo “peace process” Israel has uprooted some 80,000
Palestinian-owned olive and fruit trees and much farmland “for Israeli
construction and ‘security’,” with some 10,000 trees removed just since the
beginning of the recent uprising. Israel has been constructing some 300 miles
of highways and bypass roads to serve the settlements, but which divide the
West Bank into tiny islands and prevent the free movement of Palestinian
people and goods. With its military control and superior force Israel has
imposed lengthy and devastating “closures” on Palestinian movement that has
created widespread poverty and hunger. (For further details, Halper, “The
‘Peace Process’ As Seen From the Ground,” February 12, 2001.) The per capita
GDP of the Palestinians in the occupied territories has fallen drastically
under the Oslo “peace process,” surely by more than 25 percent.


for Lebensraum

Since 1967 some 8,500
Palestinian homes have been demolished, 1,200 of these since the Oslo
agreement of 1993 (with 5,000 people made homeless, including 2,000 children).
Israel demolishes Palestinian homes on the slightest provocation—“security,” a
youngster in the household throws stones at an Israeli soldier—but it does
this mainly as part of a systematic program to provide space for the “chosen
people.” In December 1994, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, a former chief rabbi of Israel
and the Israeli armed forces, urged the armed forces to refuse to obey orders
to remove Jewish settlers from the West Bank, citing the law of Moses and
asserting that “The command to settle the land of Israel is greater than all
the commandments put together” (Los Angeles Times, January 3, 1994).
This is consistent with the focus of Zionist ideology on “redemption of the
land” of Palestine, which should be held only by Jews; land held by non-Jews
is “unredeemed.” Israeli human rights activist and scholar Israel Shahak
claims that this exclusivist ideology, aiming at minimizing the number of
non-Jews in the “Land of Israel,” is inculcated in Jewish school children in
Israel (Jewish History, Jewish Religion; Pluto, 1994). “A state built
upon the principle of the purity of nation and race can only be honored and
respected by a Jew who declares his belonging to his own kind.” Thus spoke Dr.
Joachim Prinz, a Zionist rabbi, in a book entitled Wir Juden (We Jews),
published in 1934 and celebrating the victory of Adolf Hitler and the defeat
of liberalism in Germany. Later Prinz became a central figure in the World
Zionist Organization, and Shahak shows that the ideology Prinz espoused
remains a powerful force in Israel.

stone throwing can mean demolition. On the other hand, if a Baruch Goldstein
slaughters 29 Palestinians, his home is not demolished. In fact, a memorial to
this mass murderer was erected near his home, although destroyed by the army
under court order in 1999, and significant numbers within Israel honors him.
At his memorial service in 1994, Rabbi Yaacov Perin stated, “One million Arabs
are not worth a Jewish fingernail.” As Amira Hass contends, this mindset has
grown under the occupation, where the military superiority, abuse of the
inferiors, and fear that they might not remain quiet, has made for an
increasingly racist perspective that now characterizes the majority of the
Jewish population of Israel. Speaking of Israeli attitudes toward the
intensified repression in 1996, David Hoffman reported that “few Israelis have
objected to going back to the old methods against the Palestinians; many, in
fact, have complained that the reaction was too timid” (WP, March 15,
1996). Phyllis Bennis states that “The majority of Israeli Jews are willing to
accept the killing of Palestinians and collective punishment of the
Palestinian people as justified state policy.”

Within Israel,
the Jewish state and Jewish National Fund, which own over 90 percent of the
land, for decades have reserved it for Jews. A recent High Court ruling in
favor of an Israeli Arab couple wanting to buy a house in Katzir in the
Galilee that had been reserved for Jews has called this tradition into
question, but the breadth of effect of this decision remains to be seen. In
any case, the sizable (18 percent) Arab minority are legally second class
citizens, without “nationality rights,” that have included not only land use
but also access to public and private employment and credit, and many other
privileges that are limited to Jews. Arab citizens may also be killed if they
protest, and 14 of them have already died in Intifada II, in contrast with
Israeli Jewish citizens, who can protest without fear of the application of
lethal force.

Jews living in
distant countries can come to Israel and immediately obtain rights denied Arab
citizens, and of course the Palestinians expelled from their homes in Israel
have no rights to return or compensation. In the Negev, where the indigenous
Bedouin have been blocked from grazing their flocks, the state has allowed
Jewish farmers to occupy the land, build on it, and then have their seizures
recognized retrospectively in a process of “Judaization” of the land (Orit
Shohat, Ha’aretz, March 27, 1998). This is structured racism, and a set
of policies, which if applied against Jews in Italy or France would
justifiably cause a furious outcry.


Aggression, and the Intifadas

Israel has used torture
on a systematic basis against Palestinians for decades, the New York Times
noting matter-of-factly in 1993 that Israel’s torture victims were running to
400-500 per month, but that Israel was “rethinking” the merits of its
“interrogation” practices (Joel Greenberg, “Israel Rethinks Interrogation of
Arabs,” August 14, 1993). Again, if this was being done to Jews on a
systematic basis in some country, the outcry would be deafening, but here also
an Israeli practice condemned everywhere as barbaric is treated in very low
key ways and brings about no negative policy responses from the United States
or international community. This has permitted Israel to thrive, to command
massive international aid, and to be given regular accolades as a model
democracy, despite its long record of being “the only state in the world to
effectively legalize the use of methods which constitute torture or
ill-treatment” (AI, “The Israeli government should implement the High Court
decision making torture illegal,” September 6, 1999).

Israel can invade other countries freely, bomb them at will, and kill
civilians there with a free hand without penalty. Each time it has invaded
Lebanon, killing many thousands of civilians and deliberately creating large
refugee populations, this has led to no substantive responses whatever on the
part of the United States and its allies, and the mainstream media have
reported these de facto aggressions with great understanding of Israel’s
position and alleged “security” needs. Even mass slaughters of civilians are
permissible for Israel, as in the case of Ariel Sharon’s admitting the
Christian Phalange to the Sabra-Shatila camp in 1982 where 2,000 or more
Palestinian women, children, and old men were butchered in cold blood. We may
recall the official and media outrage at the alleged massacre of some 40
Kosovo Albanians by the Serbs at Racak in January 1999—a massacre which may
never have occurred, as shown in a belatedly released analysis of the forensic
findings on the bodies in Forensic Science International [116: 171-185,
2001]—and recall also that the figure 2,000 has been widely accepted as the
total of killings on all sides in Kosovo in the year preceding the NATO
bombing of Yugoslavia. But in the case of the 2,000 purely civilian victims of
Israel, the international outcry was modest and resulted in no penalty or
constraint on Israel’s ability to kill. Israel was also free to organize and
maintain a proxy army in South Lebanon to serve its post-invasion “iron fist”
cross-border policies. If done by Libya such an arrangement would be condemned
as sponsorship of international terrorism, but again, both the sponsorship of
a terrorist army and the numerous “iron fist” killings were not condemned by
the United States or its allies and this approved international terrorism
could proceed at the terrorist’s discretion.

occupation has produced two “Intifadas,” both rooted in the severity of
Israel’s abuse of Palestinians in the occupied territories. In the first,
which lasted some five years, over a thousand Palestinians were killed and
many thousands were injured. The West did not intervene at all in this process
even though Israel’s abuses were in violation of UN resolutions and
international law; U.S. economic and military aid to the ethnic cleanser did
not shrink, and Israel was therefore free to kill and repress with no apparent
limit. The same has been true in the case of the second Intifada, which began
in September 2000. Israel has so far killed about 400 Palestinians, injured
thousands, and escalated the brutality of its army’s repression in the
occupied territories in a genuine anti-civilian war, preventing Palestinians
from working, harvesting crops, and obtaining medical care. But again the
United States supports Israel without limit and the international community in
general does nothing substantive for the victims.

Yasar Arafat
has asked for UN intervention to protect the Palestinians who have been under
harsh military attack and Amnesty International has called for international
observers. But Israel is against this, the United States supports Israel, so
no protection is forthcoming. As noted earlier, the contrast with Kosovo, and
the consistency with U.S. (and British) deference to Indonesia’s rights to
ethnically cleanse East Timor in 1999 and earlier, are enlightening. It was
also noted that Israel’s and Indonesia’s violence and ethnic cleansing have
taken place in illegally occupied territory, whereas Yugoslavia’s occurred
within its own borders and in territory where international observers had
already been admitted.

But all of this
is of no account as Israel and Indonesia are prized U.S. client states,
Yugoslavia is not. In the former cases, therefore, “ethical foreign policy”
and the new dedication of the international community to the protection of
defenseless people against ethnic cleansing are suspended. Daniel Jonah
Goldhagen has claimed that not only Germans but also the Serbs had cultural
qualities giving their countries a bent toward ethnic cleansing and genocide.
But he has had nothing to say about any Israeli cultural penchant that causes
them to treat Palestinian Gentiles harshly, although Eduardo Cohen, Israel
Shamir and Israel Shahak, and the words of Netanyahu and Rabbis Shlomo Goren
and Yaacov Perrin, suggest that this should be rich Goldhagen terrain. No
outcries over this case of real and sustained ethnic cleansing have been heard
from Susan Sontag, David Rieff, Geoffrey Robertson, Bernard Kouchner, Vaclav
Havel, Michael Ignatieff, and the rest. This is officially approved ethnic
cleansing, the Palestinians are “unpeople” (John Pilger’s word) or “unworthy
victims,” and Israel’s longstanding and savage operations can proceed at their
expense without impediment.


The Coming

Israel has had a free
ride as an ethnic cleanser in part because Jews, as victims of the Holocaust,
have been treated gently and claimed special security rights as erstwhile
victims. But as noted, like the Germans, the Jews, or rather an important
segment of Jews, have claimed to be a chosen people with superior rights to
contested land. Add to this the protection given by the United States to their
implementation of these rights by force, and a dangerous amalgam is put into
play that has in fact led to increasingly abusive behavior that feeds on
itself. With Ariel Sharon, a terrorist, war criminal, and longtime advocate of
“transfer” and policies of force, now head of the Israeli state, and with his
accession warmly greeted and “rock solid” U.S. support of this terrorist
assured by President Bush, there is every reason to fear a shift from mere
brutal ethnic cleansing and a “moderate” bloodbath under the moderate Barak to
a more massive bloodbath and war under the “tough warrior” Sharon.

Part 2:
“Israel’s Approved Ethnic Cleansing: U.S. Official and Media Protection.”