Commentary: Zionism Facing the Challenges of the Intifada

Commentary: Zionism Facing the Challenges of the Intifada

Sometimes we wonder how Israeli society can remain immune to the daily pictures of destruction, killing and collective punishment in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories in this intifada. We
wonder about the mechanisms by means of which Israeli society can perceive itself as the victim of aggression while the arrogance of power is endorsed publicly and widely.

The key to understanding current Israeli attitudes towards the Palestinian intifada lies in a propaganda mechanism which has been employed by the Zionist leadership in times of crises since the early days of the Zionist colonization of Palestine: The Israeli people are told that the "crisis is existential, a question of to be or not to be." The notion of the "existential crisis to Zionism" is shared by part of the Israeli leadership and the mainstream media

  Historically, this notion, and the type of slogans,misinformation and demagogy it engenders, has had catastrophic results for Palestinians, individually and collectively.  Today again, Zionism's "existential crisis" gives rise to public talk about a "demographic threat" deriving from the presence and growth of the Palestinian population. Military force, collective punishment, delegitimization and denationalization of Palestinians
are seen as justifiable remedies in the short term, while proposals of transfer and ethnic segregation feature high in Israel's public debate over practical long-term solutions. While the notion of the existential threat to Israel must be seen in part as a reflection of wide-spread Nihad Boqaee. BADIL Staff and member of Shabibeh/Hadash Israeli confusion and frustration, it is important to understand its impact on, and its explicit and implicit aims with regard to the Palestinian intifada.

The Demographic Threat Discourse:

A Prelude to Palestinian Expulsion and Segregation "Jewish immigration," "Jewish settlement," and "Jewish labor" have constituted the key elements of Zionist colonisation of Palestine since the late 19th century. Demography and geography of the land were to be transformed by these means from an Arab land part of the Turkish empire into a "homeland" of the Jewish people, and they gave rise to expulsion ("transfer") plans already in the early stages of Zionist presence in Palestine. In 1948 the Zionist movement succeeded to  build the "Jewish

"We must expel Arabs and take their places […] and if we have to use force, then we have force at our disposal - not in order to dispossess the Arabs of the Negev and Transjordan, but in order to guarantee our own right to settle in those places." David Ben-Gurion: A letter to his son Amos, 5 October 1937. Shabtai Teveth, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs.

"The Hebrew State will discuss with the neighboring Arab states the matter of voluntarily transferring Arab tenant farmers, workers and fellahin from the Jewish State to neighboring states. For that purpose, the Jewish state, or a special company […] will purchase lands in neighboring states for the resettlement of all those workers and fellahin."

David Ben-Gurion, Protocol of the Jewish Executive meeting of 7 June 1938, Jerusalem, confidential; vol. 28, no. 51, Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem. "I also would want the Arabs out of the country and my conscience would be absolutely clear."
Golda Meir, at that time leader of the Histadrut, in a debate at the World Convention of Ihud Po'alei Zion I August 1937.

national state" by virtue of the expulsion of more than 800,000 Palestinians from their homes and the total destruction of more than 500 Palestinian localities in Palestine.

The "demographic threat" discourse remained on the Zionist agenda also after the establishment of the state. It has been employed regularly in order to encounter phenomena, which were perceived as an existential threat to Zionist control, not only in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories, but also against Palestinian citizens of Israel. In this context, the creation of a Palestinian minority in Israel is seen as an unfortunate result of the fact that the Zionist agenda could "not be completed" in 1948. Palestinian citizens of Israel are perceived as a "natural" part of the Palestinian people and as "aliens" in the Jewish state, whose citizenship status can be ignored.

Efforts to denationalize Palestinians date back to the 1950 Israeli Law of Nationality, they were accompanied by policies aimed at re-shaping their identity. Israel's failure to severe the ties of "its" Palestinians from the larger Palestinian experience and identity and to erase their awareness of basic rights, has triggered a new government-led public campaign aimed at restricting the freedoms of the Palestinian  community inside Israel.

The second Palestinian intifada and the related crisis in Jewish-Palestinian relations inside Israel were identified by the Zionist leadership as yet another "existential crisis."

"We have no inclination of dispossessing Arab citizens in the Galilee. But I would advise the Arab citizens in the region not to radicalize their attitudes in order not to bring about another tragedy like the one that befell the Palestinian people in 1948. Even if we do not want it, it may reoccur."
Ariel Sharon, then Minister of Agriculture, at a conference of the Likud's municipal division in Kiryat Gat, December 1980.
"You don't simply bundle people on trucks and drive them away […] I prefer to advocate a positive policy, like enhancing the level of technical education in the [occupied] areas to create, in effect, a condition that in a positive way will induce people to leave …"
Ariel Sharon, in an interview in 1988.
Israel's military campaign against the intifada has given rise to a new campaign of de-legitimization of Palestinians inside Israel, mainly based on their alleged links to terrorist operations, while Zionist Israeli society has proven incapable of distinguishing between political solidarity and actual involvement in suchoperations.

Israel's current public  iscours about the Palestinian "demographic threat" must therefore be seen as a yet another campaign aimed at preparing the ground for expulsion, segregation and derived measures, such as "land swaps" and administrative transfer directed against the Palestinian people both in the 1967 occupied territories and inside Israel. Segregation, a "Humane" Alternative to Expulsion?


Part of those sharing the notion of the "demographic threat" support separation from the Palestinians as the preferred solution. Most of Israeli society does not reject the establishment of a Palestinian "state", if Israel will continue to control its external borders and maintain its colonies in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories. This proposal is not guided by the search for real Israeli- Palestinian reconciliation and a durable and just peace, but by the search for continued direct and indirect Israeli control. Segregation is perceived as an epeople while maintaining control over the land.

"It is forbidden to have mercy with them […] Evil ones, damnable ones. May the Holy Name visit retribution on the Arabs' heads and cause their seed to be lost and annihilate them."
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Shas movement, 2001.

The expansion of Israeli colonies throughout the period of the Oslo process, the continuation of land confiscation and the doubling of Israel's settler population in this period must be understood in this context. Also segregation is a concept applied to both Palestinians in the 1967 occupied territories and to Palestinian citizens of Israel. Restrictions of access of Palestinian citizens to so-called state land, as well as the exclusion of Palestinians from renting and purchasing homes in predominantly Jewish residential areas have served to keep the Palestinian population of Israel within limited and ethnically homogenous geographic areas. Recent legislative initiative, such as MK Haim Druckman's  law bill, are rooted in the Zionist ideology of segregation and in policies which have shaped Israel's demography and geography for the past 54 years.

In the meantime: Israel's Demographic Threat Discourse in the Service of Pragmatic Aims The danger of Israel's current demographic threat discourse and related expulsion and segregation proposals must not be under-estimated. In the meantime, however, the latter must be seen also as serving an immediate and pragmatic aim. The debate about the "demographic threat" to the Jewish state constitutes an effective propaganda tool. Itffective means for getting rid of the Palestinianhas served to efine the parameters of public discussion (and political negotiation) about a possible solution to the Palestinian refugee question, and has re-created a broad public Jewish consensus against the return of Palestinian refugees in the context of Israeli-Palestinian peace.  If the Jewish state is "threatened" already by those Palestinians present inside Israel and in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, how could anyone expect Israelis to consider recognizing the right of return of five million Palestinian refugees …?

 "Marketing" Population Transfer - I
Gamla, which was founded in 1994 to lobby for continued Israeli occupation of the Golan, West Bank and Gaza Strip, has crafted a framework for the transfer of Palestinians from the occupied territories. The plan appears on the organizations website ( Excerpts appear below. "It is possible, for example, to implement a suggestion by Harvard Professor Alan Derschowitz, an American liberal lawyer. Israel issues a warning that, in a response to any terrorist attack, she will immediately completely level an Arab village or settlement, randomly chosen by a computer from a published list.

The essence of the idea is to make the Arabs completely responsible for their own fate, and to make it clear that terrorism will not be merely tolerated, but will be harshly punished. The use of a computer to select the place of the Israeli response will put the Arabs and the Jews on a level footing. The Jews do not know where the terrorists will strike, and the Arabs will not know which one of their villages or settlements will be erased in retaliation. The Arabs residing there will be evicted without compensation, all houses and buildings completely demolished, and the settlement itself, with the help of bulldozers and any other necessary equipment, will be leveled into a large field. After the appearance of several such fields the Arabs will lose any desire to commit terrorist attacks and the number of Arabs wanting to leave Eretz Yisrael will certainly increase.

Israel will need to develop something like a timetable for the transfer to take  lace, establishing certain time windows within which various stages of the transfer should be completed. This information should, of  ourse, be shared with the rest of the world. It is most favourable for the entire transfer process to be as quick as possible,hopefully not to exceed a 5 to 8 year time period.Also Israel's ethnic segregation policies have served an immediate and pragmatic aim. Applied duringthe current intifada they have proven to be an  ffective mechanism of collective punishment of the Palestinian people in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, where Palestinian villages, town and refugee camps have been transformed into isolated Bantustans.

While the right-wing Zionist leadership is yet waiting to see whether a likely US-led war against Iraq will provide an opportunity for the implementation of a new wave of large-scale Palestinian expulsion and segregation, and while asolution according to Zionist terms is not yet an immediate option, the Israeli coalition-government plays on winning time in order to affirm, step-bystep, its control over more Palestinian land. The frantic debate about Israel's "existential crisis" and the "demographic threat to the Jewish state" triggers the internal consensus and the international support necessary in order to avoid facing the real challenges of peace, while the demand for Palestinian leadership change serves as the pretext that allows Israel to postpone indefinitely the end of its military campaign.



Population Transfer and Human Rights


 The term "transfer" implies purpose in the act of moving a population; however, it is not necessary that a destination be predefined. The State's role in population transfer may be active or passive, but nonetheless contributes to the systematic, coercive and deliberate nature of the movement of population into or out of an area. Thus, an element of official force, coercion or malign neglect is present in the State practice or policy. The State's role may involve financial subsidies, planning, public information, military action, recruitment of settlers, legislation or other judicial action, and even the administration of justice.

Population transfer has been conducted with the effect or purpose of altering the demographic composition of a territory in accordance with the policy objectives or prevailing ideology, particularly when that ideology or policy asserts the dominance of a certain group over another. The objective of population transfer can involve the acquisition or control of territory, military conquest or exploitation of an indigenous population or its resources. State action based on such reasons has not only caused suffering to the vulnerable people and communities, but has often proved to be unmanageable in the long run. The consequences of population transfer, particularly involving deepened ethnic conflict, environmental degradation, resistance and even secession, may ultimately affect the very foundation of the state itself.

The Human Rights Dimensions of Population Transfer, including the Implantation of settlers, Preliminary Report prepared by Mr. A.S. Al- Khawaswneh and Mr. R. Hatano, Commission on Human Rights, Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, Fortyfifth Session, 2-27 August 1993. Item 8 of the provisional agenda, E/CN.4/Sub.2/1993/17, 6 July 1993

"Marketing" Population Transfer - II
MK Benny Alon, leader of the right wing Moledet party travelled to the US during the summer to lobby Jewish organizations, US Senators and Congressmen to support the voluntary transfer of Palestinians to the East Bank of the Jordan River. The eight-page glossy seven-part plan calls for the nullification of the Oslo Accords, resettlement of Palestinian refugees in their countries of residence with the help of an international fund, and the establishment of a Jordanian -Palestinian state with Amman as its capital. Under the plan, Palestinians in the West Bank  and Gaza would receive Jordanian-Palestinian citizenship and could opt to remain in their homes. Those who violate the terms of the plan "will be expelled to their state on the other side of the Jordan river. The plan was presented to a handful of Congressmen and Senators. (Jerusalem Post, 27 June 2002)

Israeli Academics Warn of Population Transfer
We, members of Israeli academe, are horrified by US buildup of aggression towards Iraq and by the Israeli political leadership's enthusiastic support for it. We are deeply worried by indications that the 'fog of war' could be exploited by the Israeli government to commit further crimes against the Palestinian people, up to full-fledged ethnic cleansing. The Israeli ruling coalition includes parties that promote 'transfer' of the Palestinian population as a solution to what they call "the demographic problem". Politicians are regularly quoted in the media as suggesting forcible expulsion, most recently MKs Michael Kleiner and Benny Elon, as reported on Yediot Ahronot website on September 19, 2002.

In a recent interview in Ha'aretz, Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon described the Palestinians as a "cancerous manifestation" and equated the military actions in the Occupied Territories with "chemotherapy",suggesting that more radical "treatment" may be necessary. Prime  Minister Sharon has back this "assessment of reality." Escalating racist demogoguery concerning the Palestinian citizens of Israel may indicate the scope of the crimes that are possibly being contemplated. We call upon the international community to pay close attention to events that unfold within Israel and in the Occupied Territories, to make it absolutely clear that crimes against humanity will not be tolerated, and to take concrete measures to prevent such crimes from taking place. The Middle East & North Africa Email List, To subscribe to the MENA Info List, please add your email address: