Since the 1948 Nakba when Israel was created in the historic land of Palestine, which resulted in the ethnic cleansing of more than 700,000 Palestinians from their homeland, successive Israeli governments have continued to propose political and demographic plans for the displacement of more Palestinians from the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and from within Israel itself. This is all with the aim of creating an ethnically pure “Jewish state” emptied of its indigenous population.
Although the majority of these plans were destined to fail, this hasn’t deterred Israel. A few days ago, another plan was unveiled which seeks to encourage Palestinians to leave the Gaza Strip. Israel will open its airports to facilitate this migration and make other travel arrangements to whichever countries are willing to host them. A senior Israeli official stressed that this matter was proposed several times in cabinet meetings, and the government has tried to convince some countries to host Palestinians, but without any success.
Palestinian and Israeli reactions suggested that this is related to the US “deal of the century”. If it is, why did Israel reveal the details now, and which countries have been approached to take Palestinians from Gaza? There are also questions about whether this would be considered as a resettlement of Palestinian refugees, or “merely” emptying Gaza of its inhabitants. What is Hamas’s position on this, and the PA’s in Ramallah? Indeed, what do ordinary Palestinians think about it.
According to Israel’s Minister of Public Security, Gilad Erdan, the government has discussed the displacement of Palestinians from Gaza on five occasions, but it was felt to be unfeasible. The leader of the New Right party and former Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, believes that such displacement is at the top of Israeli interests. She has called for anyone who wants to migrate from Gaza to be allowed to do so. Apparently this is because she believes that Gaza is overpopulated, so it is time for Israel to wake up and let people go.
The Palestinian factions have condemned this displacement policy as very dangerous. It should be seen, they insist, in the context of the eventual “transfer” of all Palestinians from their homeland. The theory is that Israel, with US support, wants Palestinians to migrate and obtain other nationalities so that they forget about their rights as Palestinians. It is yet more ethnic cleansing by any other name.
Like its predecessors, this Israeli plan will also fail, because Palestinian perseverance will continue to come to the fore, despite the unjust siege and Israel’s shoot-to-kill policy, ongoing displacement and house demolitions. They will remain steadfast until they achieve liberation and fulfil their legitimate right of return.
The real danger to the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip is the repetition of the mass expulsion that occurred in 1948, but this can only be achieved through a comprehensive war against Palestinian civilians in the territory, under the diplomatic, political and military cover of the United States and some Arab countries. This would make the Rafah Border Crossing the main route to safety in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Israel’s thinking is that the Palestinians can leave Gaza for the Sinai, ending at stroke any chance of a Palestinian state, or even quasi-state, coming into being and posing a strategic threat.
It is a fact that the Zionist ideologues who planned and created the state of Israel always knew that they would have to displace the indigenous population in Palestine. The first Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben Gurion, believed that the Arabs shouldn’t be there, as did American Jews. He made it his objective to ensure that the Palestinians live in an Arab country.
Moreover, Israel’s Operation Yohanan (1949-1953) intended to provide farms for “Arab Israelis” in Argentina, specifically Christians living in the Galilee. This was followed by a plan to provide jobs for Palestinians in Europe, which needed workers after World War Two. It received support under the US Marshall Plan, but neither plan was implemented and both had disappeared by the mid-1950s.
Similar proposals emerged after the 1967 Six Day War, geared towards the Palestinians in the newly-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. In 1968, the Israeli Foreign Ministry prepared a plan whereby the movement of Palestinians from Gaza to the West Bank, and some to Jordan, would be facilitated, leading to their onward migration to other parts of the Arab world. The intention was for this to appear to be spontaneous, rather than on the orders of Israel. The “El Arish Plan” included the development of projects such as water desalination plants, energy production and factories that would provide jobs for the Palestinians who would move to the Egyptian-Sinai town, but they did not leave.
Also in 1968, a US Congressional Committee considered a plan for the voluntary displacement of 200,000 Palestinians from Gaza to a number of countries, including West Germany, Argentina, Paraguay, New Zealand, Brazil, Australia, Canada and the United States. The plan was never put into effect, not only because the Palestinians did not agree to emigrate, but also because those countries did not agree to host them.
In the same year, the Israeli army collected thousands of Palestinian youths and transported them in hundreds of buses to the Egyptian side of the Suez Canal; Israel occupied the Sinai side from 1967 to 1982. The Israelis then offered money to anyone who would leave Gaza. In 1970, Israeli General Ariel Sharon wanted to empty Gaza of its inhabitants by moving them to El Arish so that he could put an end to the resistance and solve the overpopulation problem in the coastal enclave, where 400,000 Palestinians were then living.
As part of its efforts to encourage migration, Israel claims that 35,000 Palestinians left Gaza last year, although this did not make a dent in the population. That is hardly surprising, given that there were more than 57,000 births in the territory in 2018.
The idea of the “transfer” of Palestinians from their homeland is entirely consistent with the racist Jewish Nation State Law. Gaza may be the focus at the moment, but Israel’s eye is also on the displacement of the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. Its expansion of illegal Jewish settlements is all part of this plan.
Removing the Palestinians from the Gaza Strip makes sense from Israel’s colonial-expansionist perspective, but it will require close coordination with major countries such as the US, Russia and the members of the EU, as well as places closer to home like Egypt. It is ironic that the proposals put forward by the likes of Rabbi Meir Kahane in the 1970s and 1980s, for which he was banned by Israel for being too extreme, are now being discussed in mainstream political circles.
Israel is aware that Western countries have enough problems with migrants on their borders and do not want to add to these. Why do Israeli politicians, therefore, believe that they will now agree to host tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees as part of a new plan to help the state of Israel? Whatever the answer is, rest assured that Israel is still planning to displace even more Palestinians than it has already.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.