Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – As Maya Angelou wisely advised, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
Members of the Israeli government have been quite candid about their plans for the civilian population of the Gaza Strip, so candid that one has to wonder whether the current campaign is actually aimed at destroying Hamas (which everyone knows to be unlikely) and whether it is really intended to ensure the further ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. Some 70% of the families in Gaza are refugees from southern Israel, expelled there by Zionist militiamen in 1948. Now they will be displaced again.
Michael Hauser Tov reports in Haaretz that government cabinet member Avi Dichter, gave a news conference on Saturday where a reporter asked him if the pictures of Palestinians fleeing from north to south Gaza didn’t remind him of the 1948 exile of 750,000 Palestinians (out of the 1.3 million in Palestine), which in Arabic is called the “Nakba” or calamity.
Dichter gamely replied, “We are now rolling out the Gaza Nakba. From an operational point of view, there is no way to wage a war – as the IDF seeks to do in Gaza – with masses between the tanks and the soldiers.”
So he is admitting that the civilian population has to be displaced in order for the Israeli Army to wage its campaign on Hamas fighters. As with all guerrilla movements, Hamas intersperses itself among the general population to make itself a harder target.
Another reporter asked if this was the Gaza Nakba. Dichter agreed: “Gaza Nakba 2023. That’s how it’ll end.” Pressed later if the exiled Palestinians of north Gaza would ever be allowed to return to Gaza City, he replied, “I don’t know how it’ll end up happening since Gaza City is one-third of the Strip – half the land’s population but a third of the territory.”
Dichter a security cabinet member and Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, is an old-time member of Israel’s far right Likud Party, which has its roots in the fascist thought of Ze’ev Jabotinsky between the wars. He formerly served as head of Israel’s domestic spy agency, Shin Bet. He is also a former minister of Home Front Defense. Dichter is not some Jewish Power crazy mouthing off. He is a man of the ruling party, the Likud, who has held some of the highest security positions in Israel. He was certainly revealing the thinking in the Likud circles of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
What is striking is that Dichter and other Israeli politicians who are talking about a “second Nakba” are suddenly admitting that there was a Nakba in 1948. For decades Israeli propagandists denied that the Palestinians were deliberately ethnically cleansed, despite internal Hagana memos that ascribed 80% of the displacement of Palestinians from British Palestine (which became Israel) as having been caused by Zionist paramilitaries. There was no master plan to inflict this ethnic cleansing, but as Benny Morris argues, the Zionist project of creating Israel would have been impossible without it.
After 1967, when Israel seized Gaza and militarily occupied it, Israel became obligated to follow the 1949 Geneva Conventions on the treatment of occupied populations, which were intended to forestall atrocities committed by the Nazis and others. The Geneva Conventions forbid forcible transfer of occupied populations. That is, the current Israeli displacement of a million Palestinians from north to south Gaza is a war crime. The Israeli government has long thumbed its nose at international law, however.
Informed Comment reported last week that Israel’s Minister of Heritage Amichai Eliyahu agreed with a journalist that exterminating the Palestinians of Gaza by nuking them was “one way to do it.”
And yet, there is still a debate among pundits in the United States about whether the current war on Gaza can correctly be called a genocide. The Israeli government is telling you that they want to commit a genocide.
Meanwhile, Orly Nor at +972 Magazine points out that the extremist Minister of Finance, Bezalel Smotrich, published a manifesto six years ago. It said that in the Palestinian West Bank, Palestinians would be given a choice between living on their land “in an inferior status” or emigrating abroad, but in either case would have to relinquish their national ambitions. (Wouldn’t “inferior status” imply Apartheid?) He wrote that “If, instead, they choose to take up arms against Israel, they will be identified as terrorists and the Israeli army will set about ‘killing those who need to be killed.’ When asked at a meeting, in which he presented his plan to religious-Zionist figures, if he also meant killing families, women, and children, Smotrich replied: ‘In war as in war.’”
Although Smotrich originally mainly had his eye on colonizing the West Bank and stealing land from Palestinians there, his plans are now being applied to the Gaza Strip. Innocent civilians there are being killed or displaced, with about a million of them made homeless in the past month. Smotrich is not only minister of finance but also has authority over aspects of the governance of the West Bank.
Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir wanted Gaza civilians to be treated like terrorists and shot down en masse, but was rebuffed by Netanyahu and other cabinet members, according to The Times of Israel. As is clear from the death toll of over 11,000 Palestinians killed in Gaza during the past month, Netanyahu doesn’t actually object to murdering large numbers of innocent noncombatants, but he is wilier than genocidal monsters like Ben-Gvir, in being sure to talk to the outside world in soothing tones.
About the Author
Juan Cole is the founder and chief editor of Informed Comment. He is Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History at the University of Michigan He is author of, among many other books, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace amid the Clash of Empires and The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Follow him on Twitter at @jricole or the Informed Comment Facebook Page