Analysis & Opinions - Agence Global

Ethnic Cleansing Cannot be Ignored

| Mar. 14, 2008

BEIRUT -- At the summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Dakar, Senegal, March 13, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that the Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem, "are facing an ethnic cleansing campaign through a set of Israeli decisions such as imposing heavy taxes, banning construction and closing Palestinian institutions in addition to separating the city from the West Bank by the racist separation wall."

The ethnic cleansing accusation is serious, but not new. It is galling to Israelis, but pivotal for Palestinians. President Abbas is Israel's and America's preferred peace partner, though a peculiarly inefficient one after more than 40 years in politics. Yet for him to charge Israel with ethnic cleansing at the level of a global Islamic summit suggests that the issue deserves to be examined in some depth. Peace-making and eventual coexistence require that the core claims of both sides be put on the table and examined fully.

For Palestinians, the modern conflict between Arabism and Zionism -- since the birth of modern political Zionism in 1896 or so -- has always centered around the expulsion of indigenous Palestinian Arabs from their ancestral lands by Jewish colonial settlers who came from abroad, threw out as many Palestinian Arabs as they could, and created the Jewish state of Israel. The land of British-mandated Palestine that had been roughly 93 percent Arab and 7 percent Jewish around 1900 has become today about 85 percent Jewish Israeli and 15 percent Palestinian Arab.

Such wholesale transformation of a society from one majority population group to another does not happen naturally or organically over such a short period of time. Resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict demands coming to grips with the Palestinian and Israeli narratives, and reconciling them as far as possible. Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestinians -- via massacres, terrorism, laws and organized military action -- is a serious historical accusation against the pre-state Jewish-Zionist military organizations; for many Palestinians it also remains a continuing and mortal threat.

Anyone interested in this issue should read an important but disturbing short book by the British journalist and author Jonathan Cook, who has reported from Israel and Palestine for the Guardian and other respected European newspapers for many years. He now lives in Nazareth, and knows Israeli and Palestinian societies intimately.

His book, Blood and Religion: The unmasking of the Jewish and democratic state (Pluto Press, London, 2006, 155 pp.), explores in depth, and with many detailed analyses of specific incidents, his central thesis that, "Israel is beginning a long, slow process of ethnic cleansing both of Palestinian non-citizens from parts of the occupied territories that it has long coveted for its expanded Jewish state, and of Palestinian citizens from inside its internationally recognized borders."

Cook believes Israel's strategy reflects its widespread sense of being subjected to two simultaneous threats: the physical threat of terror attacks from Palestinians in the occupied territories, and two demographic threats to the 'Jewishness' of the state -- the far higher birth rate of Palestinians that will eventually make them a majority over Jews in the region, and the continuing Palestinian demand for a right of return of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were expelled in 1947-48 -- and their several million descendants.

Physical and demographic dangers are not easily distinguishable for Israelis, Cook argues, and Israel has responded with a racist ideology that emanates from the concept of Israel as a Jewish state, rather than a state of all its citizens. Israel does not treat its Palestinian citizens as full-fledged nationals with equal rights, but as "citizens without a nationality... more akin to permanent residents."

Israeli laws, policies, police behavior, political platforms and public pronouncements -- all documented in detail -- indicate that Israel, "is preparing to create a phantom Palestinian state out of the space it leaves behind after disengaging from Gaza and building its series of walls and fences across the West Bank. Once this process is complete, Israel hopes to transfer the citizenship rights of its Palestinian minority to the new state."

Cook raises important issues and makes very serious charges against the state and people of Israel, with much credible evidence to support his accusations and analyses. President Abbas' charge this week of Israeli ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem accentuates the Palestinian perception of being threatened by ethnic cleansing as a continuing threat, not a moot or distant historical issue.

These are existential, life-or-death matters for Palestinians and Israelis alike. They deserve dispassionate, in-depth discussion, to ascertain the truth as far as that might be possible. Jonathan Cook's book is a good place to start -- because the world should have learned by now how dangerous it is not to examine such serious charges when the matter at hand falls within the ugly realm of crimes against humanity and other such deviance, inhumanity, and criminality.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Khouri, Rami.“Ethnic Cleansing Cannot be Ignored.” Agence Global, March 14, 2008.