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From Gaza to Congo: Zionism and the unlearned history of genocide

January 9, 2024 at 2:30 pm

Palestinians leave their homes and migrate to safe areas with their belongings due to ongoing Israeli attacks in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza on January 06, 2024 [Ashraf Amra/Anadolu Agency]

Thousands of miles separate Uganda and Congo from the Gaza Strip, but these places are connected to Palestine in ways that traditional geopolitical analyses would probably fail to explain. On 3 January, though, it was revealed that the far-right Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu is actively discussing proposals to expel millions of Palestinians to African countries, in exchange for a fixed price.

The discussion about expelling millions of Palestinians from Gaza has supposedly entered mainstream thinking in Israel since 7 October. However, the fact that this discussion remains active over three months since the start of Israel’s war against Gaza indicates that the Israeli proposals are not an outcome of a specific historical moment, such as Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, for example.

Even a quick glance at Israel’s historical records point to the fact that the mass expulsion of Palestinians — known in Israel as “transfer” — was, and remains, a major Zionist strategy which aims at fixing the apartheid state’s so-called “demographic problem”.

Long before fighters from Al-Qassam Brigades and other Palestinian movements stormed the fence separating besieged Gaza from Israel on 7 October, Israeli politicians discussed on many occasions how to reduce the overall Palestinian population to maintain a Jewish majority in historic Palestine. The idea was not only confined to Israel’s extremists in the cabinet today, but was also discussed by the likes of former Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman when he suggested a proposal in 2014 for a “population exchange plan”.

READ: 100 lawyers in Chile call on ICC to probe Netanyahu for war crimes in Gaza

Even supposedly liberal intellectuals and historians have supported this idea, both in principle and practice. A top Israeli historian, Benny Morris, regretted in an interview with the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz in January 2004 that Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, failed to expel all Palestinians during the Nakba, the catastrophic event of murder and ethnic cleansing that led to the creation of the state of Israel on top of Palestinian towns and villages.

Further proof that the idea of “transfer” was not concocted on the spur of the moment is the fact that comprehensive plans were produced immediately after 7 October.

They include a position paper published by the Misgav Institute for National Security and Zionist Strategy think tank on 17 October, and a report released three days later by the Israeli news outlet, Calcalist, which outlined a document proposing the same strategy.

That Egypt, Jordan and other Arab countries openly and immediately declared their total rejection of expelling Palestinians was an indication of the degree of seriousness of those official Israeli proposals.

“Our problem is [finding] countries that are willing to absorb Gazans,” said Netanyahu on 2 January, “and we are working on it.” His comments were not unique. Far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has said that, “What needs to be done in the Gaza Strip is to encourage emigration.”

It was then that Israeli official discourse adopted the term “voluntary migration”. There is nothing “voluntary” about 2.2 million starving Palestinians facing genocide as they are pushed systematically toward the border region between Gaza and Egypt.

READ: Israel starving 2.2m people in Gaza: Israeli rights group

In its legal case submitted to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the government of South Africa included the planned ethnic cleansing of Gaza by Tel Aviv as one of the main issues listed by Pretoria, which accuses Israel of genocide.

Due to the lack of enthusiasm on the part of pro-Israel Western countries, Israeli diplomats are circling the globe looking for governments which are willing to accept ethnically-cleansed Palestinians. Imagine if this behaviour came from any other country in the world; a country that murders civilians — children, women and men alike — and then shops around looking for other states to accept the survivors in exchange for cash.

Not only has Israel made a mockery of international law, but it has also set the bar at a new low for despicable behaviour by any state, anywhere in the world, at any time in history, ancient or modern. Nevertheless, the world continues to watch, support — as in the case of the US and the UK — or protest gently or vehemently, but without taking a single meaningful step to stop the bloodbath in Gaza, or to block the possibility of truly terrifying scenarios that could follow if the war does not end, and end soon.

There is one thing that many people might not know, though: the Zionist movement, the ideological institution that established Israel, had considered the suggestion to move the world’s Jews to Africa and establish their state there, prior to the choice of Palestine as the “Jewish national home”. The so-called “Uganda Scheme” of 1903 was raised by Theodor Herzl, the atheist journalist who founded political Zionism, at the Sixth Zionist Congress. It was based on a proposal put forth by British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain. The scheme eventually fell through, but the Zionists continued to shop around for some other place before, finally — to the misfortune of the Palestinians — settling on, and in, Palestine.

If we compare the genocidal language of Israel’s leaders of today, and study their racist references to Palestinians, we can see a major overlap with the way that Jewish communities were perceived by Europeans for hundreds of years. The sudden Zionist interest in Congo as a potential “homeland” for Palestinians further illustrates the point that the Zionist movement continues to live in the shadow of its own history, projecting European racism against Jews through Israel’s own racism against innocent Palestinians.

Israel’s Minister of Heritage Amihai Eliyahu proposed on 5 January that Israelis “must find ways for Gazans that are more painful than death.” We do not need to struggle to find similar language used by German Nazis against Jews in the first half of the 20th century. If history does repeat itself, it has an odd, and unkind way of doing so.

We have been told that the world has learned from the mass killings of previous wars, including the Holocaust and other World War Two atrocities. Yet, it seems that the lessons have largely gone unlearned. Not only is Israel now assuming the role of the mass murderer, but the Western world also continues to play the role assigned to it in this historical tragedy. Western leaders are either cheering Israel on, protesting politely, or doing nothing at all.

READ: UN body calls for independent probe into Israel’s targeting of journalists

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.