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Israel: 'population transfer' gains currency?


Israel's ultra-reactionary foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, a vocal advocate of "transfer" of the Palestinians, stars in a very gloomy analysis in The Economist on Jan. 18, "Might they want to join Palestine?" The title refers to Israel's Arab citizens, and the subtitle tells us: "Avigdor Lieberman's radical ideas for population transfers are gaining ground." Actually, in Lieberman's politically correct formulaitons of the "transfer" concept, he insists he is talking about transfering land by tweaking the border between Israel and the Palestinian state, not transfering populations. This is transparent hypocrisy. One favorable comparison he has drawn for his proposal, Cyprus 1974, actually did involve massive forced population transfers—and leaves a bitterly divided island nearly two generations later. Others have been bolder. The now happily retired MK Benny Elon pushed a maximalist transfer program—all the Palestinians from the West Bank across the river into Jordan—and won support frominfluential US politicians for this blatantly illegal scheme. John Derbyshire in National Review in 2002 called for this future for the Palestinians: "Expulsion from the West Bank and Gaza, those territories then incorporated into Israel.... Would expulsion be hard on the Palestinians? I suppose it would... Do I really give a flying falafel one way or the other? No, not really."

But these ideas have been at least perfunctorily denounced in polite society in Israel—until now, it seems. The Economist begins by discussing Harish, an Israeli town on the Green Line, where city planers have already drawn up maps placing some of the Arab-majority suburban municipalities across the border in the West Bank. Then we get to who is plugging this at the national level. Exceprts:

Ten years ago, when Mr Lieberman first proposed moving Arab-populated Israeli towns near the present border into Palestine in exchange for Jewish settlement blocs in the Palestinians' West Bank being incorporated into Israel, he was branded a racist firebrand. Liberals accused him of promoting the forcible "transfer" plan, akin to ethnic cleansing, proclaimed by a rabbi, Meir Kahane, who vilified Arabs while calling for a pure Jewish state.

Today, however, even some doveish Israeli left-wingers find such ideas reasonable. And when Mr Lieberman recently again proposed swapping Jewish-populated lands for Arab ones, not only did Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, stay silent, but American mediators declared that the foreign minister had joined the peace camp of those seeking a two-state solution. "No one will be expelled from his home, or have his property confiscated," says Mr Lieberman. "We’re just talking about moving the border." On his Facebook page, he recently mocked Arab parliamentarians who protested against the idea, teasing them as "lovers of Zion" for wanting to stay in Israel.

But a recent poll in a liberal Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, found a growing number of Arabs backed it, too. Whereas 80% had decried it five years ago as another stage in the nakba, or catastrophe, as Arabs call their dispossession by Israel in 1948, over a third were now reported to be in favour.

Many reasons have been aired. Israel's policy of letting its Arab, but not its Jewish, citizens holiday and work in the West Bank's Palestinian cities has strengthened ties between Arabs on both sides of the current border. And some of Israel's secular Arabs are keen to shed their Islamists, whose wellspring lies in Wadi Ara, part of the area Mr Lieberman wants to swap.

But the main reason Israel's 1.7m Arabs increasingly identify with Palestine is the mounting rejection they face in Israel. Mr Lieberman's dreams of casting them off and Mr Netanyahu's drive for global recognition of Israel as a specifically Jewish state are alienating many of the more than 20% of Israelis who are Arabs.

This growing sense of ostracism has been reinforced by actions. Israel’s national bus carrier skirts Arab towns while serving Jewish outposts. The government builds industrial zones for Jewish towns but rarely for Arab ones. Though signposts are in Arabic as well as Hebrew, they are often spelt wrong. "We thought we were citizens in a democracy," says Makbula Nassar, a fiery broadcaster on Radio Shams, an Arabic radio station in Israel. "Despite decades of dispossession, communal violence was minimal. But we discovered that we were always considered the enemy." 

The unacknowledged fact is that Israel has been building apartheid both sides of the Green Line. Apartheid is inherent to the very architecture of the settement infrastructure on the West Bank, complete with apartheid garbage dumps, while East Jerusalem now has apartheid parking lots. Within Israel, the pending Negev development plan forsees apartheid housing developments, effected through forcible transfer of the local Bedouin population. Place names are being "Judaized" to erase the Arab past in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The demand that the Palestinian leadership officially recognize Israel as a "Jewish state" is mirrored in proposals by the ruling coalition to officially make Israel "Jewish first" and democratic second, and to change the Citizenship Law mandating fealty to a "Jewish state." The existing Citizenship Law already has apartheid elements where marriage rights are concerned, with new provisions being pushed for citizenship revocation of perceived disloyal elements. As with the original South African apartheid, there are criminal penalties for dissent against this system.

Some see a slow process of "transfer" in the day-to-day functioning of the occupation, aimed at making life unliiveable for Palestinians on the West Bank. Just over the past 24 hours... Israeli forces injured five Palestinian protesters with rubber-coated steel bullets and unleashed tear-gas on dozens more while dispersing weekly Friday protests across the West Bank. The worst violence was at the towns of Bilin, al-Masara, Kafr Qaddam, and Tuqu—all facing enclosure of their lands by settlements and the "Apartheid Wall." (Ma'an) Six Palestinians, including a child, were injured in clashes that broke out after a group of Israeli settlers tried to raid Beit Ummar village near Hebron. The local popular resistance committee said that Israeli forces attacked a funeral procession in the village as dozens of settlers, some armed, gathered near the cemetery. (Ma'an) Clashes between Palestinian youth and Israeli forces spilled over onto Bethlehem's Manger Street, after two weeks of daily confrontations in nearby Aida refugee camp. Israeli forces fired tear gas at rock-throwing protesters nearRachel's Tomb. (Ma'an) Israeli forces also shot and injured two Palestinian youths in clashes with protesters at Eizariya east of Jerusalem. (Ma'an)

And the Israeli army fired live rounds and tear-gas at protesters near the border fence with the Gaza Strip, wounding two Palestinians. The some 300 demonstrators were protesting against Israel's destruction of farmland for its 300-meter "buffer zone." (AFP) The day before, four children and a woman were injured in Israeli air-strikes on the Gaza Strip, apparently targeting a base used by Hamas' military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades. The air-strikes, the latest of several over recent days, were in response to five rockets fired from Gaza, all of which were reportedly intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome missile shield. (Ma'an)

We're skeptical of the notion of Palestinians making common cause with Avigdor Lieberman, and we think that most understand how "transfer" across the Green Line would set a precedent for the more ambitious transfer across the Jordan River. Zionism has divided the Palestinian Arabs into five populations (Israel, West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon and the greater diaspora), and we're glad to see them reforging a common identity—but it would be better if they could do so, in alliance with post-Zionist Jews, to demand a single secular state in all of historic Palestine.

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