Ethnic cleansing?

Binyamin Netanyahu’s video might have caused outrage, but Zionism still has friends in high places. Tony Greenstein comments

In a Facebook video posted over last weekend,1 Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu claims that calls for a Palestinian state and the dismantlement of the settlements amounts to ethnic cleansing!

It is reminiscent of the joke about the boy who, having killed both his parents, falls on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan. No greater supporter of ethnic cleansing is there than Netanyahu. This year alone over 600 homes have been demolished in the West Bank, because they have been constructed ‘illegally’ in ‘area C’ by Palestinians. All construction by Palestinians in area C is deemed to be illegal, since planning permission is rarely, if ever, granted.

Likewise virtually all Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank is nearly always legal, because permission is granted and, even when it is not, the legal proceedings to evict armed settlers from Palestinian land is so protracted that it is rare indeed that a settlement outpost is demolished.

Israel itself was built on the basis of ethnic cleansing. It could be no other. When the United Nations decided, in 1947, to divide Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state, via resolution 1818, it allocated 56.5% to the Zionist settlers who constituted one-third of the population, and 46.5% to the two-thirds of the population who were Arabs.2

The only problem, from the settlers’ perspective, was that nearly 40% - some 325,00 - of the population living in the ‘Jewish’ state were Arabs. This was unacceptable to the Labour Zionists who ran the Zionist government-in-the-making before the days of formal independence in May 1948. Between the passing of the United Nations resolution in November 1947 and June 1 1948 - just 16 days after the declaration of independence - at least 300,000 Arabs had already been expelled from the Jewish state and those areas of the proposed Arab state which had already been conquered.3 In the ensuring war nearly half a million more Palestinians would be made into refugees.

Palestine could only become a Jewish state if the vast majority of its citizens were Jewish. With a 40% non-Jewish minority and a vast disparity in birth rates, the Zionist settlers would have been in a minority unless they resorted to expulsions. They faced a choice between ethnic cleansing or an openly apartheid state. The problem with the latter was that it would have made it difficult, as South Africa later proved, for Israel to have received the unstinting political backing of the western powers.

Netanyahu calling the dismantlement of the settlements ‘ethnic cleansing’ is like saying the same thing about any form of western colonialism. It makes a mockery of the term. Using the same logic, opposition to the German settlement of the Reichsgau Wartheland, or Warthegau - the area of Poland that Nazi Germany annexed between 1939 and 1945 - should also be considered ethnic cleansing by Netanyahu and the Zionist movement. Just as in the West Bank, Polish and Jewish inhabitants were expelled into a Polish reservation: the ‘general government’. (Although it has to be said that many Poles were made, under the most spurious logic of racial jiggery-pokery, into what was effectively honorary Aryans. No matter - the principle remains the same.)

What Netanyahu deliberately misses out from his accusation, of course, is that the opposition to Jewish-only settlements is not because their inhabitants are Jewish - they could be Americans (many are), Christians or Polynesian - the objection is to the fact that they are settlers. It has nothing to do with their ethnicity, religion or lack of one. It is the same response that indigenous populations have made, whatever part of the world it is.

The synthetic outrage from the Obama administration, which has funded and supported the settlement projects, vetoing any condemnation at the UN security council, is because the United States - though it understands Netanyahu’s intention’s very well - would prefer that he kept quiet about them. That is the real outrage surrounding what Netanyahu has said.

We all know what his views are: the true hypocrisy is that of Obama, Theresa May - and, of course, supporters of Zionism in the Labour Party like Owen Smith and Tom Watson.


1. www.youtube.com/watch?v=G8CUFSHB114.

2. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_depth/middle_east/israel_and_the_palestinians/key_documents/1681322.stm.

3. See M Tessler A history of the Arab-Israeli conflict Indiana 2009.