One way to cover up a crime is to find a benign term that hides the violence and cruelty of the act. Such is the case with “transfer,” an idea increasingly being put forward in Israel as a solution to conflict with the Palestinians.
Transfer conjures up images of a worker reassigned to a new office, or a slip allowing a rider to change buses for free. But transfer of the Palestinians would be nothing less than ethnic cleansing.
The main public proponents of this have been on the far right of Israeli politics, such as the Moledet Party, which refuses to recognize Palestinian rights. But in a poll earlier this year, 46 percent of Israelis supported transfer of Palestinians out of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, while 31 percent favored transferring Israeli Arabs out of the country.
As Israeli author Tanya Reinhart argues in her new book “Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948,” there has long been planning for “the second half of 1948″ by some Israeli politicians, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
The phrase refers to the 750,000 Palestinians who fled or were driven from their homes during the 1948 war, which ended with Israel controlling 78 percent of Palestine that existed under the British Mandate (compared with 56 percent under the U.N. partition plan in 1947). Now some Israelis ponder whether can they take 100 percent.
A military campaign to achieve that had been unthinkable, but many now believe that under the cover of a U.S. war against Iraq, Israeli soldiers would be free to finish the job.
I say “finish,” because a slow ethnic cleansing is already underway, primarily through the systematic destruction of the Palestinian economy; when people cannot make a living, many will leave. A study for the U.S. Agency for International Development released in August showed that one-fifth of Palestinian children were malnourished, due to dramatically lowered Palestinian incomes and disruptions of food distribution because of the tightened Israeli occupation.
Life for Palestinians means constant harassment at checkpoints. Olive trees, central to agriculture there, are bulldozed by Israeli troops who claim they provide cover for snipers. Palestinian homes are demolished, supposedly because Palestinians build on their land without appropriate permits, which Israel will not give them. This fall the residents of the Palestinian village Yanun chose to leave rather than continue to endure the property destruction and assaults from Israeli settlers from nearby Itamar.
As Effi Eitam of the right-wing National Religious Party has put it, if Palestinians find “the situation so hard and so dangerous that they prefer to move to some other part of the world,” well, he will shed no tears.
The plan appears to be working. According to the Jerusalem Post, by August this year about 80,000 Palestinians had left the West Bank and Gaza, a 50 percent increase over last year.
If this ethnic cleansing — either the slow version or expulsion by Israeli soldiers — is successful, another term may come into play: genocide. The crime of genocide is generally associated with mass killing, but international law defines genocide as acts intended “to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” One of the five types of acts is “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”
Creating conditions “so hard and dangerous” that they drive people off their land is a way to eliminate the Palestinian people. Not all the Palestinians need be killed; once completely dispersed in other countries, they will cease to be a recognizable group that could press a claim to that land.
Is the world ready to accept that kind of genocide as a solution to the conflict?
No doubt the world is not; for years there has been a consensus on a diplomatic settlement that calls on Israel to withdraw from illegally occupied territory in return for peace. The key is whether the United States will allow it.
For years the United States — which supplies Israel with diplomatic support, military assistance, and at least $3 billion a year in economic aid — has backed Israeli power and called it a “peace process.” Unless we demand that our government press for peace rooted in justice, this process will be the end of the Palestinian people.
Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and author of “Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream.” He can be reached at [email protected].