"Transfer" from Gaza is the Hamas war's biggest taboo

POLITICS: “Transfer” from Gaza is the Hamas war’s biggest taboo



The massacre by Hamas of 1,200 Israelis last October 7 triggered the Israeli army’s invasion of the Gaza Strip to eradicate Hamas, demolish its military infrastructure and liberate 240 hostages from captivity.

Nearly 28,000 Palestinians have died in the months since, according to the Hamas-run health administration. And Israel’s military operations have displaced hundreds of thousands more. The result: The Hamas assailants are increasingly portrayed as victims in a manipulative twisting of the truth. In its 1988 Covenant, Hamas made its goals clear: “To raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.” If not destroyed, the war of Hamas against Israel will continue without end.

One solution to Hamas’ intractable violence has been the transfer of Gazans from Gaza. In November, Israel’s Right-wing Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called for upwards of 1.8 million Gazans to “voluntarily” leave the Gaza Strip, while last month Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanhyu was reportedly in talks to resettle Gazan to locations as far flung as Congo.

The idea of Arab population transfer is nothing new. Indeed, resettlement touches upon Zionism’s century-long predicament with its Arab neighbors. Stalwart Zionists – Theodore Herzl,  Chaim Weizmann, David Ben-Gurion – favored encouraging Arab migration to nearby countries during the period around Israel’s independence. Approximately 500,000 Arabs fled Israel amid the turmoil of 1948; another 250,000 left the West Bank for Jordan in the decades that followed. 

Confounded by a large hostile Arab population within the territorial additions that followed 1967’s Six-Day War, Israeli political leaders, Levi Eshkol and Moshe Dayan, promoted Arab emigration to nearby Jordan and even distant Latin America. Although no plan was ever enacted, today, some half a million people of Palestinian origin make their home in Chile. 

In recent years, Israel’s security establishment began to revisit Gazan resettlement following a series of brief, yet bloody, battles with Hamas. According to the noted Israeli television commentator Ohad Hemo, who specializes in Arab Affairs: “The dream of every youth in Gaza is to emigrate [to the West].” An estimated 250,000 – 350,000 young Palestinian men already have since Hamas overthrew the ruling Palestinian Authority in 2007.  Some departed permanently, while others left for temporary work in European countries.

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has openly advocated for transferring Palestinians from Gaza. AFP via Getty Images

The possibility of Palestinian emigration on a significant scale has its historical roots in similar cases during times of great conflict across the globe. Wars catalyzed flight for Bosnians to Austria in the 1990s, and Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh nearly three decades later. Millions of Afghans, Syrians, and Ukrainians, became refugees amid trauma and upheaval of wars and invasion in their own lands.

David Ben-Gurion (on the right with Albert Einstein) encouraged Arabs to depart from the newly-created State of Israel back in 1948. Bettmann Archive

The case of Gaza is similar – yet different. The embattled UN agency UNRWA, for instance, has helped ensure that generations of Gazans would remain refugees in their own land, regardless of the changing world around them. Gazan refugee camps, housing some 155 UNRWA facilities, became a breeding ground of hatred of Israel and, as recently revealed by Israeli forces, a storehouse for arms caches. The camps were also a convenient political tool, a symbol of Arab efforts to exercise their “right of return” to abandoned homes lost in 1948. Weaned on a diet of Islamic fanaticism and rabid Jew-hatred, Hamas-run Gaza is not the kind of neighbor Israel should – or even could – tolerate in the long term.  

The beleaguered UNRWA agency has created generations of Palestinian refugees in Gaza and around the Middle East. dpa/picture alliance via Getty Images

Despite those hundreds of thousands who’ve already left, the international community is intent on denying Gazans the choice of emigration – even if it might extricate them from a life of despair and hardship.  

Canada has expressed a willingness to accept some Gazan refugees, while the Muslim republic of Chechnya within the Russian Federation accepted roughly 1,200 Gazan refugees early this year. Nations in Africa and South America, said Israeli Parliament Member Danny Danon in December, are also willing to open their doors, though some have requested financial compensation. And potential relocation plans to Egypt have been also discussed. If only the West would let them.

A scene of squalor in Gaza post-October 7th. AFP via Getty Images

Last month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken exemplified this illogical moral posturing when he said during a visit to Jerusalem that the United States “rejects the settlement of Palestinians outside of Gaza.” Similar sentiments were shared by leading EU and UK politicians, while Europe’s borders are being tightened to prevent a surge of Gazan migrants to nations already overflowing with refugees.

The idea of Palestinian emigration remains the great ‘elephant in the room’ as war rages in Gaza. But few dare discuss it honestly. As he allows millions of illegal immigrants to cross into the US,  President Biden opposes a  similar ‘world without borders’ for Palestinians that might offer them a new life, as well.

Sec. of State Anthony Blinken has made clear that the Biden Administration is wholly opposed to any form of population transfer from Gaza. via REUTERS

Perhaps the greatest irony lies in the population transfer that has already taken place in Gaza – of 8,000 Israeli Jews forcefully expelled by their own government during its departure from the Gaza Strip in 2005. This was a move the US supported, viewed as a step toward regional reconciliation and peace. Nearly two decades later, a transfer in reverse is seen by Washington as a violation of human rights. The contrast combines a moral sham with political recklessness — perpetuating a seemingly intractable conflict instead of pushing to resolve it.  

*Dr. Mordechai Nisan, a retired lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and author of numerous books on Middle East history.



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