is a puzzling paradox about Holocaust denial: those who deny it
are precisely the ones who would have supported it. I couldn’t
help thinking of this paradox when I heard that American university
professors have recently been accused of anti-Semitism (!) for
document warning against Israeli intentions to drive out masses
of Palestinians, possibly during a American attack on Iraq. It
seems that those likely to support such a crime are precisely
the ones who so vehemently deny that Israel might be contemplating
Israel itself, however, the idea of "transfer" – the
common euphemism for ethnic cleansing or mass deportation – is
discussed openly. Several political parties support it; one of
them is in Sharon’s cabinet. They may speak of "voluntary
transfer", but Minister Benny Elon has been quite explicit
about what they mean by "voluntary": It’s like a man
who refuses to give his wife a divorce, he said. According to
Jewish law, the defiant husband can be jailed and slashed until
he – "voluntarily" – complies. (If you wonder why Israel
is turning Palestinian life into hell, this – not the futile "war
on terrorism" – is the answer.)
a group founded by former Israeli military officers and settlers,
offers a detailed plan
for forcibly expelling all Palestinians, both from the occupied
territories and the Palestinian citizens of Israel, within a 3-5
year period. This may be too long for some: there are persistent
reports that Ariel Sharon has ordered his forces to prepare
to drive hundreds of thousands of Palestinians over the border
into Jordan, possibly on the day the United States conflict starts
against Iraq. Sharon has recently rejected an official Jordanian
request that Israel issue a public declaration opposing the "Transfer"
of Palestinians (Ha’aretz, 29.11.02).
recent Jewish history shows, the way from mass-deportation to
mass-murder is a dangerously short one. Recall that Hitler’s death
camps were his second-best "solution" for the Jewish
"problem": at first, the Third Reich intended "just"
to deport (or "re-settle") the Jews to wherever possible
– Palestine, Eastern Europe, Madagascar.
come – in a poll conducted last April – 44% of Jewish Israelis,
a people that suffered both deportation and extermination, support
similar measures against the Palestinians? One possible answer
is that people do not learn from History, or learn the wrong lessons.
I don’t think it is the answer in this case. The fact is that
Israelis and Israel-supporters do not refuse to learn from History:
they deny History. The denied historical pattern keeps duplicating
itself, and won’t stop until its denial is stopped.
Cleansing: The Past
people fail to recognise is that Israel owes its very existence
as a Jewish State to massive ethnic cleansing. The overall picture
is undisputed: In 1948, there were about 600.000 Jews in Palestine.
The number of Palestinians driven out from the territory taken
by Israel in 1947-1949 is estimated at 600.000 to 720.000 (says
the nationalistic Israeli historian Benny Morris in his authoritative
The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem); about 100.000
Palestinians, a.k.a Israeli Arabs, remained. Without driving most
of the Arabs out, then, or without prohibiting their return after
the war, no Jewish majority could have been established.
information is not part of the Israeli collective consciousness.
Israelis confronted with it would deny it, often out of true ignorance.
Everybody in Israel knows that many Arabs left in 1948. There
is some controversy among laymen about whether they fled the war
zone spontaneously ("their own fault"), were encouraged
to leave by Arab leaders, or were expelled; experts agree that
all three factors played a role. Older people still remember "that
Arab village down the road, that was erased once the inhabitants
left". But the extent of the Palestinian exodus, especially
in proportion to the Jewish population, is virtually suppressed.
Price of Denial
denial is no longer possible, Israel-supporters faced with this
information tend to take refuge in an accusation like "so
you deny Israel’s right to exist". This procedure is logically,
morally, and practically wrong.
wrong, because what was born in sin does not necessarily lose
its right to exist. Some people claim we were all born in sin,
yet they do not demand that we all commit suicide. Few people
would deny the crimes committed against Native Americans, yet
I never heard that the US should be dismantled because of them.
wrong, because recognising historical facts should not depend
on their political implications. One cannot deny a fact simply
because one does not like its consequences.
finally, practically wrong, because if Israelis were aware of
the ethnic cleansing of 1948, they would not be so eager to try
this abortive "solution" once again. I doubt how many
Israelis would think repeating the crime is a good way to peace,
if they were aware of the fact that the hundreds of thousands
driven out in 1948 have now grown into millions of refugees along
Israel’s borders, whose hatred towards Israel and whose desire
to return home have been nurtured by decades of humiliation and
discrimination in Lebanon, Syria or Jordan.
like we demand the Arabs to recognise the Holocaust, recognising
the ethnic cleansing of 1948 is a precondition to reconciliation.
As long as most (pro-) Israelis deny it, Israel is in danger of
repeating it. Since Israel’s political system is run by former
generals responsible for the ethnic cleansing of 1948, since the
military echelon is run by their devoted disciples, warnings of
Israel’s intentions to repeat the crime in the (possibly near)
future should be taken very seriously.
said that, one must stress that debating the past and warning
of the future should not distract from the present. At this very
moment, slowly but steadily, ethnic cleansing of Palestinians
in the occupied territories is taking place. As Ta’ayush
activists Gadi Algazi and Azmi Bdeir write,
isn’t necessarily a dramatic moment, a moment when people are
expelled and flee their towns or villages. It is not necessarily
a planned and well-organized move with buses and trucks loaded
with people, such as happened in Qalqilyah in 1967. Transfer is
a deeper process, a creeping process that is hidden from view.
[…] The main component of the process is the gradual undermining
of the infrastructure of the civilian Palestinian population’s
lives in the territories: its continuing strangulation under closures
and sieges that prevent people from getting to work or school,
from receiving medical services, and from allowing the passage
of water trucks and ambulances, which sends the Palestinians back
to the age of donkey and cart. Taken together, these measures
undermine the hold of the Palestinian population on its land."
"small-scale" ethnic cleansing has its own secret language.
You need some initiation to decipher it, but it’s in the paper
all the time. It happens when Palestinian neighbourhoods, along
the Egyptian border in Rafah for example, are turned into a battle
zone: the inhabitants obviously flee; Israel then quickly demolishes
their houses. Protest is soothed by Israel’s hypocritical claims
that the houses were empty.
cleansing happens when Israel connects the Jewish settlement of
Kiryat Arba with that of Hebron by a promenade which cuts the
heart of Palestinian Hebron and necessitates the demolition of
scores of Palestinian houses along the route, described as "uninhabited",
as being "shelter to terrorists" or as "belonging
to rich families living elsewhere".
cleansing happens when Israel builds a security fence on Palestinian
fields, cutting them from their owners; the farmers cannot access
their land and are forced to find their living elsewhere.
cleansing happens when settlers terrorise the Palestinian village
of Khirbet Yanun, break into houses destroying whatever they find;
last October, only two old men were left of the whole village,
the rest of its population had taken refuge in the neighbouring
town of Akrabeh.
cleansing is the motivation behind every new acre taken by Jewish
settlements, behind "security
zones" and "by-pass roads", behind fences and
military outposts. It is behind every siege and closure, aimed
at reducing Palestinian movement to their immediate surroundings,
confining them to their enclave, to their town or village, to
their house. The fenced Gaza Strip is already termed "the
great prison" by its own inhabitants; last week, Israel once
again cut it into three separate zones.
these things are taking place here and now, some reported, some
not. The struggle against "transfer" should therefore
involve a concerted effort on all fronts: against plots to drive
out Palestinians in the future, against their strangulation in
the present, and for making the ethnic cleansing of 1948 (and
since) part of our collective consciousness.
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