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Ethnic Cleansing: Past, Present and Future

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  • World View <ummyakoub@yahoo.com>
    Ethnic Cleansing: Past, Present and Future by Ran HaCohen December 30, 2002 http://www.antiwar.com/hacohen/h-col.html There is a puzzling paradox about
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      Ethnic Cleansing: Past, Present and Future

      by Ran HaCohen

      December 30, 2002


      There is a puzzling paradox about Holocaust denial: those who deny
      it are precisely the ones who would have supported it. I couldn't
      help thinking of this paradox when I heard that American university
      professors have recently been accused of anti-Semitism (!) for
      signing a document warning against Israeli intentions to drive out
      masses of Palestinians, possibly during a American attack on Iraq.
      It seems that those likely to support such a crime are precisely the
      ones who so vehemently deny that Israel might be contemplating it.

      In Israel itself, however, the idea of "transfer" – the common
      euphemism for ethnic cleansing or mass deportation – is discussed
      openly. Several political parties support it; one of them is in
      Sharon's cabinet. They may speak of "voluntary transfer", but
      Minister Benny Elon has been quite explicit about what they mean
      by "voluntary": It's like a man who refuses to give his wife a
      divorce, he said. According to Jewish law, the defiant husband can
      be jailed and slashed until he – "voluntarily" – complies. (If you
      wonder why Israel is turning Palestinian life into hell, this – not
      the futile "war on terrorism" – is the answer.)

      Gamla, a group founded by former Israeli military officers and
      settlers, offers a detailed plan for forcibly expelling all
      Palestinians, both from the occupied territories and the Palestinian
      citizens of Israel, within a 3-5 year period. This may be too long
      for some: there are persistent reports that Ariel Sharon has ordered
      his forces to prepare to drive hundreds of thousands of Palestinians
      over the border into Jordan, possibly on the day the United States
      conflict starts against Iraq. Sharon has recently rejected an
      official Jordanian request that Israel issue a public declaration
      opposing the "Transfer" of Palestinians (Ha'aretz, 29.11.02).

      As recent Jewish history shows, the way from mass-deportation to
      mass-murder is a dangerously short one. Recall that Hitler's death
      camps were his second-best "solution" for the Jewish "problem": at
      first, the Third Reich intended "just" to deport (or "re-settle")
      the Jews to wherever possible – Palestine, Eastern Europe,

      How come – in a poll conducted last April – 44% of Jewish Israelis,
      a people that suffered both deportation and extermination, support
      similar measures against the Palestinians? One possible answer is
      that people do not learn from History, or learn the wrong lessons. I
      don't think it is the answer in this case. The fact is that Israelis
      and Israel-supporters do not refuse to learn from History: they deny
      History. The denied historical pattern keeps duplicating itself, and
      won't stop until its denial is stopped.

      Ethnic Cleansing: The Past

      What people fail to recognise is that Israel owes its very existence
      as a Jewish State to massive ethnic cleansing. The overall picture
      is undisputed: In 1948, there were about 600.000 Jews in Palestine.
      The number of Palestinians driven out from the territory taken by
      Israel in 1947-1949 is estimated at 600.000 to 720.000 (says the
      nationalistic Israeli historian Benny Morris in his authoritative
      The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem); about 100.000
      Palestinians, a.k.a Israeli Arabs, remained. Without driving most of
      the Arabs out, then, or without prohibiting their return after the
      war, no Jewish majority could have been established.

      This information is not part of the Israeli collective
      consciousness. Israelis confronted with it would deny it, often out
      of true ignorance. Everybody in Israel knows that many Arabs left in
      1948. There is some controversy among laymen about whether they fled
      the war zone spontaneously ("their own fault"), were encouraged to
      leave by Arab leaders, or were expelled; experts agree that all
      three factors played a role. Older people still remember "that Arab
      village down the road, that was erased once the inhabitants left".
      But the extent of the Palestinian exodus, especially in proportion
      to the Jewish population, is virtually suppressed.

      The Price of Denial

      When denial is no longer possible, Israel-supporters faced with this
      information tend to take refuge in an accusation like "so you deny
      Israel's right to exist". This procedure is logically, morally, and
      practically wrong.

      Logically wrong, because what was born in sin does not necessarily
      lose its right to exist. Some people claim we were all born in sin,
      yet they do not demand that we all commit suicide. Few people would
      deny the crimes committed against Native Americans, yet I never
      heard that the US should be dismantled because of them.

      Morally wrong, because recognising historical facts should not
      depend on their political implications. One cannot deny a fact
      simply because one does not like its consequences.

      And, finally, practically wrong, because if Israelis were aware of
      the ethnic cleansing of 1948, they would not be so eager to try this
      abortive "solution" once again. I doubt how many Israelis would
      think repeating the crime is a good way to peace, if they were aware
      of the fact that the hundreds of thousands driven out in 1948 have
      now grown into millions of refugees along Israel's borders, whose
      hatred towards Israel and whose desire to return home have been
      nurtured by decades of humiliation and discrimination in Lebanon,
      Syria or Jordan.

      Just like we demand the Arabs to recognise the Holocaust,
      recognising the ethnic cleansing of 1948 is a precondition to
      reconciliation. As long as most (pro-) Israelis deny it, Israel is
      in danger of repeating it. Since Israel's political system is run by
      former generals responsible for the ethnic cleansing of 1948, since
      the military echelon is run by their devoted disciples, warnings of
      Israel's intentions to repeat the crime in the (possibly near)
      future should be taken very seriously.

      The Present

      Having said that, one must stress that debating the past and warning
      of the future should not distract from the present. At this very
      moment, slowly but steadily, ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the
      occupied territories is taking place. As Ta'ayush activists Gadi
      Algazi and Azmi Bdeir write,

      "Transfer isn't necessarily a dramatic moment, a moment when people
      are expelled and flee their towns or villages. It is not necessarily
      a planned and well-organized move with buses and trucks loaded with
      people, such as happened in Qalqilyah in 1967. Transfer is a deeper
      process, a creeping process that is hidden from view. […] The main
      component of the process is the gradual undermining of the
      infrastructure of the civilian Palestinian population's lives
      in the territories: its continuing strangulation under closures and
      sieges that prevent people from getting to work or school, from
      receiving medical services, and from allowing the passage of water
      trucks and ambulances, which sends the Palestinians back to the age
      of donkey and cart. Taken together, these measures undermine the
      hold of the Palestinian population on its land." (Ha'aretz,

      This "small-scale" ethnic cleansing has its own secret language. You
      need some initiation to decipher it, but it's in the paper all the
      time. It happens when Palestinian neighbourhoods, along the Egyptian
      border in Rafah for example, are turned into a battle zone: the
      inhabitants obviously flee; Israel then quickly demolishes their
      houses. Protest is soothed by Israel's hypocritical claims that
      the houses were empty.

      Ethnic cleansing happens when Israel connects the Jewish settlement
      of Kiryat Arba with that of Hebron by a promenade which cuts the
      heart of Palestinian Hebron and necessitates the demolition of
      scores of Palestinian houses along the route, described
      as "uninhabited", as being "shelter to terrorists" or as "belonging
      to rich families living elsewhere".

      Ethnic cleansing happens when Israel builds a security fence on
      Palestinian fields, cutting them from their owners; the farmers
      cannot access their land and are forced to find their living

      Ethnic cleansing happens when settlers terrorise the Palestinian
      village of Khirbet Yanun, break into houses destroying whatever they
      find; last October, only two old men were left of the whole village,
      the rest of its population had taken refuge in the neighbouring town
      of Akrabeh.

      Ethnic cleansing is the motivation behind every new acre taken by
      Jewish settlements, behind "security zones" and "by-pass roads",
      behind fences and military outposts. It is behind every siege and
      closure, aimed at reducing Palestinian movement to their immediate
      surroundings, confining them to their enclave, to their town or
      village, to their house. The fenced Gaza Strip is already
      termed "the great prison" by its own inhabitants; last week, Israel
      once again cut it into three separate zones.

      All these things are taking place here and now, some reported, some
      not. The struggle against "transfer" should therefore involve a
      concerted effort on all fronts: against plots to drive out
      Palestinians in the future, against their strangulation in the
      present, and for making the ethnic cleansing of 1948 (and since)
      part of our collective consciousness.



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