Back Commentary & Analysis Action is essential to prevent another round of ethnic cleansing in Palestine

Action is essential to prevent another round of ethnic cleansing in Palestine

MEMO CommentaryAn ominous political storm is gathering across Palestine and the Middle East following the announcement of an Israeli military order due to come into effect this week. The order will pave the way for the expulsion of tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank on the pretext that they are "infiltrators" or "illegal" residents. If enacted, this may well lead to the largest single act of ethnic cleansing conducted in Palestine since 1948.

The timing of this announcement by the Israelis could not be more cynical. It coincides with the 62nd anniversary of the 9th April 1948 Zionist massacre of 254 Palestinians in the village of Deir Yassin. When Jacques de Reynier, head of the International Red Cross visited the village on 11th April 1948, he found 150 bodies thrown into a cistern. Of the total number killed, 145 were women, 35 of whom were pregnant. The massacre at Deir Yassin created a climate of fear and panic which triggered the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homeland. An Israeli historian has since described this as "the ethnic cleansing of Palestine".

This current plan to expel thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank must be seen in the context of Israel's efforts to create an exclusive "Jewish state" in all of historic Palestine. A statement from the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) Spokesman's Office was brutally explicit: "The IDF is ready to implement the order, which is not intended to apply to Israelis, but to illegal sojourners in Judea and Samaria." International law regards Jewish settlers as "illegal sojourners" across the occupied West Bank. If the Israeli military does not recognize the West Bank as Occupied Territory and chooses to refer to it in biblical terms, that is irrelevant in legal terms. The fact is, if this order is carried out, it would not simply be a violation of Palestinian rights but also a war crime and a crime against humanity.

Expulsion of a native population from its homeland is so morally depraved and repugnant that the Nuremberg Tribunal declared it to be a war crime and a crime against humanity. Article 6(b) of the 1945 Nuremberg Charter defines war crimes in part as follows:

"War Crimes: namely, violations of the laws or customs of war. Such violations shall include, but not be limited to... deportation to slave labour or for any other purpose of the civilian population of or in occupied territory..."

Likewise, Article 6(c) of the Charter defines crimes against humanity as:

"Crimes against humanity: namely... deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population..."

Similarly, the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War states unambiguously:

"Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive." (Article 49)

This move by the Israelis should be regarded very seriously indeed. The army which issued the order is not an ordinary army; it emerged in 1948 out of a number of terrorist organisations, including the Irgun, headed by Menachem Begin, and the Stern Gang which attacked Deir Yassin in April 1948. As such, this announcement should be rejected and resisted in its entirety by all those involved in the search for peace, especially the Palestinian Authority, which has failed to protect its people since its establishment two decades ago. The world community must reaffirm its rejection of ethnic cleansing, given the horrors of the 20th century and the deliberate codification of laws to prevent this practice.

The massacre carried out at Deir Yasin in 1948 did not extirpate the national aspirations of the Palestinians and no similar policy will succeed today, especially now that the true character and objectives of the Zionist project are known. The international community must act, and act quickly, to make sure that another round of ethnic cleansing in Palestine is prevented before it can even begin.


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