Displacing a Nation

The Hamas-Israel War has devastated Gaza and displaced its people. It could result in expulsions in the West Bank over time. It is about the dispossession, displacement and devastation of a nation.

By the end of December, over 21,000 Palestinians, some 70 percent of whom are women and children, have been killed in the Hamas-Israel War (although these figures are likely to be gross underestimations) and 1.9 of the 2.3 million Palestinians displaced. If the Israeli offensive would last a year, which is the tacit goal of Israel’s far-right government, over 100,000 Palestinians would be dead by October 7, 2024. As talks continued on hostage deals and hundreds of thousands marched for peace in world capitals, the war has continued, despite a truce and loud calls for lasting ceasefire.

It is a dramatic narrative. But it is about the proximate causes of October 7, which has been in the cards for years. Yet, ultimately, it is about longstanding ethnic cleansing and the effort to control huge offshore oil and gas reserves.

Secret memorandum on the Gazan population transfer

Barely a week after the Hamas attack on October 7, Israel’s Intelligence Ministry prepared a secret memorandum. It is this Ministry that oversees the Mossad and the Shin Bet, under the prime minister. In the 10-page memo, three options regarding the Palestinian civilians were predicated on “the overthrow of Hamas” and the “evacuation of the population outside of the combat zone”:

  • Option A: Population remains in Gaza under Palestinian Authority
  • Option B: … but under local Arab authority.
  • Option C: Population is evacuated from Gaza to Sinai.

Of these three options, the memo recommended C: the forcible transfer of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents to Egypt’s Sinai, as the preferred course of action. In the Ministry’s view, Egypt, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Canada would support the plan financially, or by taking in Palestinian refugees as citizens.

Secret Memorandum by the Israeli Intelligence Ministry

Two weeks later, the memo was leaked to the media. It sparked an international firestorm over the “advocacy for ethnic cleansing.” Yet, the option was promoted by the Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel who claimed that members of the Knesset across the political spectrum were backing it. In regional view, it was a pipe dream nobody bought.

Certainly, the early stages of the Israel’s counter-offensive, “Operation Iron Swords,” reinforced the view that a population displacement is now at the forefront.

From “targeted killings” to mass exterminations

Two days after the Hamas offensive, IDF Spokesperson Daniel Hagari stated that “the emphasis is on damage and not on accuracy.” What followed was the Israeli army’s expanded authorization for bombing non-military targets, the loosening of constraints regarding expected civilian casualties, and the use of an artificial intelligence system to generate more potential targets than ever before.”

The presumably “targeted killings” have absolutely nothing to do with ground realities as Gaza has morphed into a “mass assassination factory.” As even US intelligence has acknowledged, almost half of the Israeli munitions dropped on Gaza have been imprecise “dumb bombs.”

Since October 7, the strategic objective, which the Biden administration has tacitly accepted, has been to destroy Gaza’s infrastructure, exterminate its people and undermine its future.

As Prime Minister Netanyahu struggled to downplay the memo, the leak worsened Israeli-Egyptian tensions. Meanwhile, a pro-Likud think-tank outlined “a plan for resettlement and final rehabilitation in Egypt of the entire population of Gaza.”

But truth to be told, the transfer option isn’t exactly news. In Israel, such agendas had been disclosed already over three decades ago – and they were first implemented decades before.

Ethnic cleansing since 1947

Since the late 1980s, Israeli “new historians” – including Benny Morris, Ilan Pappé, Avi Shlaim and Simha Flapan – have revised Israel’s role in the 1948 Palestinian expulsion and flight. In contrast to their precursors, they argued that ethnic cleansing triggered what the Palestinians call the Nakba (“Catastrophe”); that is, the displacement and dispossession of Palestinians, and the devastation of their society. Even prior to these historians, the Nakba had been described as ethnic cleansing by many Palestinian scholars such as Rashid Khalidi, Adel Manna, and Nur Masalha.

What divided the Israeli new historians was the question whether the catastrophe was intentionally planned or collateral damage of the 1947 UN Partition Plan and the 1948 Israeli Independence. The damage idea was promoted by Benny Morris; the intentional interpretation by Ilan Pappé. Morris relied primarily on Hebrew sources; Pappé used both Hebrew and Arabic sources.

In light of historical evidence, ethnic expulsion has accompanied Jewish colonization in the Palestine ever since the 1880s and the beginning of the modern Zionist movement, as Pappé has argued with documentation. These expulsions were not decided on an ad hoc basis, as mainstream historians claimed. Instead, the Palestinian displacement and dispossession constituted ethnic cleansing, in accordance with the Plan Dalet (Plan “D”), drawn up in 1947 by Israel’s future leaders, such as David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of the nation. In this view, the aim has always been, and still remains, “to take over as much of Palestine as possible with as few Palestinians as possible.”

Today, the Palestinians in Israel, Occupied Territories, neighboring Arab countries and worldwide are the descendants of the 720,000 out of 900,000 Palestinians who once lived in areas that became Israel.

Ethnic cleansing in stages – before the 2023 Gaza War

In the pre-British Mandate map, the Palestinians comprised some 90% of the total population and the Jews the rest. In the 1947 Partition Plan, the UN granted 55% of Palestine to the new Jewish state and 45% to the non-contiguous Arab one, whereas Jerusalem was to be under international control. By the 1948 Israeli independence, the Jewish forces had already expelled some 750,000 Palestinians while capturing 78% of the historic Palestine. The remaining 22% was split into the West Bank and Gaza Strip. During the 1967 War, Israel occupied all historic Palestine and expelled another 300,000 Palestinians.
* Consolidated maps from Al Jazeera

From demographic displacement to economic objectives

After a month of systematic devastation in Gaza, Netanyahu’s far-right defense minister Smotrich stated that the “voluntary migration” of Palestinians in Gaza is the “right humanitarian solution.” Israel would no longer put up with “an independent entity in Gaza.”

Meanwhile, Netanyahu lobbied European leaders to help him persuade Egypt to take in refugees from Gaza, without any success, even while he was downplaying his own Intelligence Ministry’s preferred proposal to “evacuate” all Palestinians. By contrast, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said his country rejected any attempt to justify or encourage the displacement of Palestinians outside Gaza.

In the UN Security Council, ethnic cleansing was defined in 1992 as “a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas.”

It is this kind of demographic displacement that has motivated the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians particularly since 1947. But the current efforts at population transfers, whether from Gaza or the West Bank, are no longer dictated by only demographic goals. Since the 1990s, ethnic cleansing seems to have also been motivated by economic objectives.

Dr. Dan Steinbock is the founder of Difference Group and has served at the India, China and America Institute (US), Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (China) and the EU Center (Singapore). For more, see https://www.differencegroup.net.

 The original 7,400-word analysis was published by The World Financial Review (December-January issue), see https://worldfinancialreview.com/displacing-a-nation-what-led-to-and-caused-the-gaza-israel-catastrophe/