Israel is ethnically cleansing the Gaza strip

17 October 2023
D Taylor

We often hear about the “slow motion” genocide of the Palestinians. This month, the Israeli government pushed the fast forward button.

In the midst of a relentless aerial bombardment of Gaza that has already killed thousands, the IDF has ordered a million residents of the northern Gaza Strip, including the entirety of Gaza City, to leave or face something even worse. The warnings were given in leaflets dropped from the sky and automated phone calls, while Israeli tanks continue to mass north of Gaza. The world is witnessing an ethnic cleansing.

Israeli authorities are open about it. “Gaza must be smaller at the end of the war”, Gideon Sa’ar, a member of Israel’s emergency cabinet, said on television three days ago.

We’ve seen this before, and every Palestinian and every Israeli knows it. The shelling, the cutting of vital services, the terrifying “friendly” leaflets warning Palestinians to leave their homes for their own safety: these are the methods by which Zionist forces originally expelled the majority of Palestine’s indigenous population and stole their land in 1948. This is the routine observed by Palestinian historian Saleh Abd al-Jawad in his study of four villages wiped out by Zionists in 1948:

“Typically, a village would be surrounded on three sides and then shelled in order to compel its people to flee. To that end, a safe passage or corridor would be left open ... Those who stayed behind and had not fled by the time the Israeli troops arrived were harassed until they did so. For the most part, such harassment would involve killing a select group of young men—a clear ‘message’ needing no further clarification.”

By these means, or worse—the violence, Abd al-Jawad believes, was generally worse in southern Palestine, around Gaza—the Palestinian families of what is now southern Israel were expelled from their villages and driven into the Gaza Strip. “What remains of some of these villages lies within 10 miles of the Gaza boundary”, writes Sarah Helm in the Guardian. “Some refugees can even see their land through the fence.”

The parallels with the past are obvious, and understood inside and outside Israel. “We may be looking at mass slaughter”, liberal Israeli journalist Gideon Levy wrote in Haaretz. “Large numbers of Israeli soldiers would be killed pointlessly. Residents of Gaza would face a second Nakba, the first signs of which are already apparent on the ground.” For the country’s right wing, that’s the point. “Right now, one goal: Nakba! A Nakba that will overshadow the Nakba of 48”, wrote Israeli MP Ariel Kallner.

By ethnically cleansing Gaza and acquiring the land for Israel, Netanyahu and his government might be able to claim a victory. The logic of Israeli politics demands that the oppression of Palestinians be worsened for the Israelis to be seen as winners.

Where are they meant to go? Gaza is one of the most densely populated and under-resourced places on earth. The Israelis have boxed its residents into a tiny patch of land, blockaded them, and bombed them. Now they have ordered them on a forced march to nowhere.

“There are severely ill people whose injuries mean their only chances of survival is being on life support, such as mechanical ventilators. So moving those people is a death sentence,” a WHO spokesperson told Al Jazeera. At the time of writing, the Israeli military claims that it has induced half a million people to flee.

The impact, according to a statement from the UN Relief Works Agency: “The scale and speed of the unfolding humanitarian crisis is bone-chilling. Gaza is fast becoming a hell-hole and is on the brink of collapse”.

Perhaps the Israeli hope is that the sheer number of fleeing Palestinians, and the chaos created by the war, will force Egypt to open its border and absorb hundreds of thousands of Gazans. Since the first Nakba of 1948, Zionists have dreamed of Palestinians simply disappearing into the Arab countries of Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt.

So calls for “safe passage”—or even for Egypt to open its border with Gaza—can miss the point.

Of course, evacuees should have safe passage: on top of everything else, Israel is bombing and killing the families who followed its evacuation order. And Egypt’s dictatorship never should have helped enforce the siege on Gaza. But most of all, Israeli’s terroristic attack on the people of Gaza must end.

If Israel’s bombardment continues, and if it is supplemented by the bloodbath that a ground invasion will entail, “safe passage” and an open border in Rafah are part of the same old process of ethnic cleansing. Israel wants Gazans to choose between death and exile.

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