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February 8, 2003

War on Iraq Double Disaster for Palestinians


by Ramzy Baroud

In the case of an American war on Iraq, Palestinians will not be watching for a "smart bomb" heading their way, but for the Israeli army forcing them out of their homes. This possibility is of greater danger that one might think.

It is seldom that the international community has stood in the face of Israel and halted its plans, whether invading Arab land, "transferring" civilian populations, destroying a refugee camp or ending a siege imposed on a church. These violations have been repeated time and again, and were almost entirely cloned during the ongoing Palestinian uprising: the reoccupation of the West Bank, the "transfer" of many Palestinian residents in the northern West Bank villages, destroying much of the Jenin refugee camp and the siege on the church of the Nativity (one ought to mention that many mosques were destroyed or burnt to the ground by Israeli troops in the last two years. Such news seems to be of lesser significance in the Western media).

"Transfer", an euphemism of ethnic cleansing is one of these terms with a non-threatening sound and catastrophic results. There is no need to examine the sounding of the word however, since history has clearly detailed the meaning of the expulsion of Palestinians from their ancestral homeland, and the massacres that often accompany it.

To ease the process of expelling Palestinians in 1948 so that the Jewish state might obtain a "demographic" advantage, many massacres took place, in Tantura, Deir Yassin, Beit Daras and many more. Innocent Palestinians were slaughtered in the streets and in their homes. 418 villages were destroyed, and over 750,000 Palestinians were driven out of their land, some at gunpoint while others fled for their lives as Zionist gangs bombarded every Arab population center.

But the expulsion of Palestinians was hardly the clean sweep Israel had hoped for. Israelís outright Jewish majority was still threatened by the mere existence of Arabs, whether those remaining inside the borders of the newly established Jewish state, or by the refugees and the original inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza. On the eve of the 1956 Sinai war campaign, Israel was busily finalizing a plan to expel Palestinians who remained, from northern Israel, an area known as the Little Triangle. Now Israelís Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was then a colonel. The celebrated warrior reportedly ordered his subordinates to investigate how many buses it would take to transfer 300,000 Palestinians out of northern Israel. The plan didnít go through, not until 1967, when once again Israel took advantage of war to transfer up to 300,000 Palestinians from the West Bank.

Slower, but real expulsion has continued to take place since 1967. Day after day, Palestinians find themselves without land or shelters as Israeli Jewish settlements illegally expand in the Occupied Territories. The process is painful to watch and becomes more painful when one realizes that the international community seems not to care. According to a recent study by the Israeli group "Peace Now", the United States is the main source of funds to these settlements, in defiance of United Nations resolutions and the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Israel uses every chance to expand the settlements and to drive Palestinians out. The number of Palestinian homes demolished is on the rise, this time no longer a scattered demolition here and there, but concentrated attempts where entire neighborhoods and villages are razed forever. Just in the last month alone, scores of homes and shops were destroyed in Nazlit Issa, Tulkarm, Hebron and Nablus. With such wanton destruction and the expulsion of the inhabitants of the lands, Jewish settlements expand. Thousands of acres of fertile Palestinian land in Nablus and Hebron and elsewhere had to be destroyed so that Itmar and Kyriat Arba might grow, along with their fancy villas and swimming pools.

The resurfacing fear of "Transfer" is not an illusion created by Israelís dreadful habit of expelling Palestinians at times of wars, wars created precisely for that purpose. But the expulsion of Palestinians is no longer a far off possibility championed by the infamous Meir Kahane and Rehevam Zeevi. In an opinion poll on March 2002, administered by the University of Tel Aviv, 46 percent of Israeli Jews support the "Transfer" of Palestinians, while 60 percent favored "encouraging" Palestinians to leave on their own. The "encouraging" of Palestinians to leave might have been taken by heart by Jewish settlers near the Yanoun village in the West Bank. The settlers would raid the village every night and open fire at Palestinian homes, theyíd chase them out of their lands and let their vicious dogs loose throughout the villages. It was indeed encouraging enough, as the villagers packed their belongings and left Yanoun on October 18, 2002, in a scene that was almost an identical depiction of the black and white photos of Palestinians being driven out of their towns and villages in 1948.

While the fear of expulsion continues to haunt entire communities in the West Bank, in particular Palestinians in the Yatta area where 750 families are threatened to be removed from their villages, the building of the enormous "security wall" to separate the West Bank and Israel was constructed precisely to alienate dozens of villages and to trap the residents between the "green line" and the West Bank, in the midst of giant walls of concrete and barbed wire. Itís only a matter of time before thousands of Palestinians find themselves "transferred" from these areas, for their existence would soon be cited as a "security threat" for Israel.

Sharonís own cabinet now includes some of the most vibrant pro "transfer" politicians in Israel, and the subject has become so popular that some of the so-called new historians are offering it as a "solution" to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Benny Morris is one. Itís Ilan Pappe, one of Israelís most respected academics that found the most suitable description for this: The "demons of the Nakba (the Arabic word referring to the Palestinians Diaspora of 1948) have returned to haunt Israel." I am afraid that these "demons" have never abandoned Israel in the first place.

Despite the urgency of protesting the war on Iraq, the international community, human rights organizations, activists from all over the world must pressure Israel and its main backer, the United States government, to halt any plans to expel Palestinians out of their land in the Occupied Territories whether in the case of war or not. Israel must be held accountable for its own actions and cannot be left to ravage Palestiniansí lives whenever a chance arises as a form of experimentation to resolve its "demographic problems".

If attention continues to be diverted from the Palestinian question, the world will awake one day with another million Palestinians carrying their belongings and seeking tents and water at some Arab countryís border. Itís our moral responsibility to stop this ghastly ethnic cleansing, before it starts, although as far as the residents of many Palestinian villages in the northern West Bank are concerned, "transfer" has already begun.


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  • Ramzy Baroud is editor-in-chief of the Palestine Chronicle. His book The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle is now out in paperback.

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