Itamar Ben-Gvir’s claim that “his rights outweigh those of Palestinians” comes as no surprise. The Zionist movement and its racist state Israel have been brutal from the beginning with the aim of taking as much Palestinian land as possible with the fewest number of indigenous Palestinians on it. Zionists have always known that the only way to accomplish that goal is through forced population transfer. This is a crime so severe that it is deemed a war crime and a crime against humanity by the Rome Statute. As far as Zionism is concerned, though, it is its proud ideological foundation.
The establishment of a Jewish state on land with a predominantly non-Jewish population has been carried out by forcibly displacing the majority indigenous people. Today, nearly 70 per cent of the Palestinians worldwide have been forcibly displaced by the Israeli regime, or are their direct descendants. The idea of “transfer” in Zionist thought has been traced rigorously by Nur Masalha in his seminal text Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of “Transfer” in Zionist Political Thought, 1882–1948, and is encapsulated in the words of Israel Zangwill, one of the early Zionist thinkers who, in 1905, stated, “If we wish to give a country to a people without a country, it is utter foolishness to allow it to be the country of two peoples.”
Yosef Weitz, the former director of the Jewish National Fund’s Land Department, was even more explicit when, in 1940, he wrote: “…it must be clear that there is no room in the country for both peoples… the only solution is a Land of Israel, at least a western Land of Israel without Arabs. There is no room here for compromise… There is no way but to transfer the Arabs from here to the neighbouring countries… Not one village must be left, not one [Bedouin] tribe.”
Rights and ethics were not to stand in the way, or as David Ben-Gurion argued in 1948: “The war will give us the land. The concepts of ‘ours’ and ‘not ours’ are peace concepts, only, and in war they lose their meaning.”
The essence of political Zionism, therefore, is summarised aptly as the creation and fortification of a specific Jewish national identity, the takeover of the maximum amount of Palestinian land, and the assurance that the minimum number of non-Jews remain on that land while the maximum number of Jews are implanted upon it. In other words, political Zionism from its inception has necessitated population transfer, notwithstanding its brutal requisites and consequences.
However, the Zionist movement and Israel have tried to mask that reality by seeking to appear modern, democratic and enlightened, rather than murderous, supremacist and authoritarian. In his novel The Old New Land, Theodor Herzl portrayed the Jewish state as a beacon of light in which the indigenous Arabs are similar to Man Friday in Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, and are given an identity and purpose through making them helpful servants who, if properly instructed, are able to stay as minors in the newly-created Utopia.
In reality, the goal of the Zionist movement was always to create a country exclusively for Jews. To this end various tactics leading to ethnic cleansing were applied ranging from mass deportations in 1948 and 1967 to a subtler strategy which is known in Zionist terminology as “silent transfer”. This is “silent” in the sense that Israel tries to avoid international attention by displacing small numbers of people on a weekly basis. The strategy has been applied predominantly in the past few decades by creating untenable living conditions that basically push the Palestinians to leave their homes.
Silent transfer is embodied in the State of Israel’s laws, policies and practices. The most significant of these cover governance and enforcement of residency rights; land rights; the regulation of natural resources; the application of justice; law enforcement; and the status of Zionist para-state actors. Israel uses its power in such areas to discriminate, expropriate and ultimately to forcibly displace the indigenous non-Jewish population from the land of historic Palestine.
The Israeli land-planning and zoning system, for example, has left 93,000 Palestinians in East-Jerusalem with little option but to build without proper permits from the state because 87 per cent of the land is off-limits to Palestinians for their own use, and most of the remaining 13 per cent is already built up. The Palestinian population of Jerusalem is growing steadily, and has had to expand into areas not zoned for Palestinian residence by the state of Israel. All those homes are now under the constant threat of being demolished by the Israeli army or police, which will leave their inhabitants homeless and displaced.
Another example can be seen in the decision of the Israeli Supreme Court in 2012 to prohibit Palestinian citizens of Israel from marrying Palestinians from elsewhere and living together in the self-styled Jewish state. The effect of this ruling has been that Palestinians with different residency statuses — such as Israeli citizen, Jerusalem ID, West Bank ID or Gaza ID, all issued by Israel — cannot live together legally on either side of the Green (1949 Armistice) Line separating Israel from the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. They are thus faced with a choice of living abroad, living apart from one another, or taking the risk of living together illegally. Such a system is used as a further means of displacing Palestinians and thereby changing the demography of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory in favour of Jews.
Another example is the Prawer Plan from 2013 and 2017, which called for the forcible displacement of tens of thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel due to a land allocation policy which imposes “unrecognised” status on at least thirty-five Palestinian villages in the Naqab (Negev) Desert. Israel deems the inhabitants of those villages to be illegal trespassers and squatters, and they face the imminent threat of displacement, despite the fact that in many cases, their communities predate the state of Israel itself.
However, we can see that this policy has been abandoned gradually by Israel to make room for a more aggressive version. Today, Israeli ministers openly discuss the takeover of Muslim and Christian holy places. The aforementioned far-right National Security Minister Ben-Gvir has declared that the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied Jerusalem is under Israeli control. Another extreme far-right official, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has called for the erasure of whole villages, not least the Palestinian village of Huwara. Moreover, the deportation of large parts of the non-Jewish population was discussed by several state officials planning to “move” Palestinians to Sinai from 2014 onwards. It seems as if Israeli Zionist leaders, more than 75 years after the creation of the Zionist state, are trying to demonstrate to their own constituencies and to the world that, like it or not, they will complete the Zionist vision in their lifetime.
In the past couple of years, Israel has adopted laws to further curtail public freedoms; to demonise all forms of legitimate Palestinian resistance as “terrorism”; and to denounce all international supporters of Palestinian rights as “anti-Semites”. Examples such as the Nation-State Law can be seen as an effort to lead the Israeli political system openly into a majoritarian and authoritarian direction. This law is, in effect, simply the codification of existing Israeli practices, in particular the section proclaiming that the right to “exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel” is solely for Jews. In doing so, it exposed to the world the hypocrisy that Israel claims to be both a democratic and exclusively Jewish state. The law basically declares that if there is a clash between the Jewish and democratic character of the state, the former takes precedence over the latter. So much for the mantra that Israel is the “only democracy” in the Middle East.
Although in practice the law did not change the actual fabric of the state or the inferior status of Palestinians, it was important for Israeli leaders to prove their commitment to the Zionist cause. Consider, for example, the recently-passed amendment of one of Israel’s central apartheid laws —the Village Committees Law of 2010 — that allows neighbourhoods and villages up to 700 households to reject non-Jews moving in, so that the fabric of the Jewish community is preserved. This leads naturally to communities made up exclusively of Jews. What’s more, in five years from now, it will grant Jewish-controlled admission committees power beyond the current limit of 700 households in all Israeli-controlled areas and cities throughout historic Palestine. The Zionist state, it seems, is no longer concerned about exposing its ugly apartheid face.
To further illustrate the current changing climate, in 2012 the former president of the Israeli Supreme Court, Asher Grunis, declared that “human rights are not a prescription for national suicide,” referring to Palestinian rights and needs. At the time, this was seen clearly as an extreme right-wing view, but in today’s unmasked apartheid reality Grunis would be regarded as a liberal for linking human rights to Palestinians in the first place.
While Zionist institutions, including the Israeli Supreme Court as well as all governments in Israel, have advanced the Zionist goal of colonising all of Palestine, a shift from a hidden and subtle colonial system to a more overtly aggressive apartheid is clearly happening.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.