Israel and the Threat of Transfer

The threat of “transfer” of Palestinians “is a real danger and not just a bunch of empty slogans,” Dr. Haidar Abdel Shafi, an 83-year-old refugee and a Palestinian activist based in the Gaza Strip, told the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz in an interview published April 5.


“[T]he desire to transfer us has roots in the past, and in the history and ideology of certain Zionist circles, which have never given up hope of attaining this goal. This danger still exists at the start of the third millennium,” Dr. Shaafi said. “I will tell you frankly: In the present situation, I would not rule out the danger of a [population] transfer. We the Palestinians must regard the danger of a transfer as a potential option.”


“The Sharon government has stated publicly that it wants to crowd us into about 50 percent of the territories Israel occupied in the June 1967 war — that is, about an eighth of the area of historical Palestine — and to dictate to us how we should conduct our lives. Can you call such a thing a state? Israel wants us to become a nation of refugees, a nation that it will continue to rule, and is hoping that, out of despair, we will reach the conclusion that we can no longer live here.”


Seeking to shore up his right-wing base and to boost his popularity (which has risen from 45 percent to 62 percent approval during the latest onslaught in the West Bank), Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has feted the fanatical National Religious Party (Shas), led by Effi Eitam, a former general and “a messianic nationalist who has talked of ‘transferring’ Palestinians out of the West Bank” (New York Times).


Eitam refers to Palestinians in Israel, who make up 20 percent of the population, as a “cancer.”


“I can definitely see that as a consequence of a war, not many Arabs will remain here,” Eitam was recently quoted as saying in the Financial Times.


Sharon is in negotiations with the leader of the Moledet party, former Israeli Tourism Minister Benny Elon, to bring back National Union-Yisrael Beiteinu faction into his governing coalition. Elon is another of the many Israelis now openly calling for the “transfer” of Palestinians, a euphemism for mass ethnic cleansing.


“We must not fear bringing up again the idea of a transfer and of open discussion of the various possibilities that it offers,” Elon said on Israeli public radio. Moledet has purchased billboard space in Tel Aviv to promote its message that “Only transfer will bring peace.”


Sharon does not object to Elon’s proposal, his spokesman, Ra’anan Gissin, explained, only its practicality: “If the Palestinians would have a change of heart and move elsewhere, OK, but Sharon realizes transfer cannot be done because of the stance of the Israeli public. What Elon is saying is not something that today seems possible.”


However, a March 2002 poll by the survey by the Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies showed that 46 percent of Israelis would support forcibly expelling Palestinians from their homeland (Ha’aretz, March 12).


As Israeli troops continue their deadly attacks on Bethlehem, Hebron, Jenin, Salfit, Beit Jala, Nablus, Tulkarm, Qalqilya, and other Palestinian population centers, Palestinians fear the worst. “In each city,” the New York Times reported on April 4, “the [Israeli] army [is] proving more intense, ruthless and thorough than in any prior incursion, including the raids last month.”


The U.S. government’s “war on terrorism” has created the context for the brutal assaults on Palestinians currently being undertaken by the Israeli army — and for the possibility of another massive transfer of Palestinians.


Israeli officials repeatedly claim that they, like the Bush administration, have the right to do whatever it takes to “fight terrorism.”


Defending Israeli aerial, sea, and land assaults that claimed more than 40 Palestinian lives on just the one day of March 8, 2002, Sharon said, “We have a responsibility to defend our citizens, like any other country, including the United States.”


Further drawing out the parallel to the “war on terrorism,” Sharon called PLO leader Yasser Arafat “our [Osama] bin Laden.”


The fanatical Uzi Landau, Israel’s public security minister, made an explicit connection to the Bush administration’s policies: “You don’t negotiate with terrorism, you uproot it. This is simply the doctrine of Mr. Bush that we are following.”


In response to the muted statements of President George Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell calling for “restraint,” Israel has only escalated its attacks, knowing full well it can buy more time for its campaign against the Palestinians and that the U.S. government has no intention of cutting off its military, economic, and diplomatic pipeline.


The only way to change this brutal equation is through protest — internationally and crucially in the United States. Without massive public protest, as the journalist Robert Fisk points out, “The United States will do nothing to stop [Israel].”


Those of us in the United States outraged by the U.S./Israeli war on the Palestinians should stand up and be counted in Washington, D.C., on April 19-22, when thousands will be marching in solidarity with the Palestinian people and against the U.S. war on terrorism that provides its cover.



Anthony Arnove is the editor of “Terrorism and War,” a new collection of interviews with Howard Zinn (Seven Stories). He traveled to Palestine in July 2001.

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