Israel: ‘population transfer’ gains currency?

Israel's ultra-reactionary foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, a vocal advocate of "transfer" of the Palestinians, stars in a very gloomy analysis in The Economist on Jan. 18, "Might they want to join Palestine?" The title refers to Israel's Arab citizens, and the subtitle tells us: "Avigdor Lieberman's radical ideas for population transfers are gaining ground." Actually, in Lieberman's politically correct formulaitons of the "transfer" concept, he insists he is talking about transfering land by tweaking the border between Israel and the Palestinian state, not transfering populations. This is transparent hypocrisy. One favorable comparison he has drawn for his proposal, Cyprus 1974, actually did involve massive forced population transfers—and leaves a bitterly divided island nearly two generations later. Others have been bolder. The now happily retired MK Benny Elon pushed a maximalist transfer program—all the Palestinians from the West Bank across the river into Jordan—and won support from influential US politicians for this blatantly illegal scheme. John Derbyshire in National Review in 2002 called for this future for the Palestinians: "Expulsion from the West Bank and Gaza, those territories then incorporated into Israel…. Would expulsion be hard on the Palestinians? I suppose it would… Do I really give a flying falafel one way or the other? No, not really."

But these ideas have been at least perfunctorily denounced in polite society in Israel—until now, it seems. The Economist begins by discussing Harish, an Israeli town on the Green Line, where city planers have already drawn up maps placing some of the Arab-majority suburban municipalities across the border in the West Bank. Then we get to who is plugging this at the national level. Exceprts:

Ten years ago, when Mr Lieberman first proposed moving Arab-populated Israeli towns near the present border into Palestine in exchange for Jewish settlement blocs in the Palestinians' West Bank being incorporated into Israel, he was branded a racist firebrand. Liberals accused him of promoting the forcible "transfer" plan, akin to ethnic cleansing, proclaimed by a rabbi, Meir Kahane, who vilified Arabs while calling for a pure Jewish state.

Today, however, even some doveish Israeli left-wingers find such ideas reasonable. And when Mr Lieberman recently again proposed swapping Jewish-populated lands for Arab ones, not only did Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, stay silent, but American mediators declared that the foreign minister had joined the peace camp of those seeking a two-state solution. "No one will be expelled from his home, or have his property confiscated," says Mr Lieberman. "We’re just talking about moving the border." On his Facebook page, he recently mocked Arab parliamentarians who protested against the idea, teasing them as "lovers of Zion" for wanting to stay in Israel.

But a recent poll in a liberal Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, found a growing number of Arabs backed it, too. Whereas 80% had decried it five years ago as another stage in the nakba, or catastrophe, as Arabs call their dispossession by Israel in 1948, over a third were now reported to be in favour.

Many reasons have been aired. Israel's policy of letting its Arab, but not its Jewish, citizens holiday and work in the West Bank's Palestinian cities has strengthened ties between Arabs on both sides of the current border. And some of Israel's secular Arabs are keen to shed their Islamists, whose wellspring lies in Wadi Ara, part of the area Mr Lieberman wants to swap.

But the main reason Israel's 1.7m Arabs increasingly identify with Palestine is the mounting rejection they face in Israel. Mr Lieberman's dreams of casting them off and Mr Netanyahu's drive for global recognition of Israel as a specifically Jewish state are alienating many of the more than 20% of Israelis who are Arabs.

This growing sense of ostracism has been reinforced by actions. Israel’s national bus carrier skirts Arab towns while serving Jewish outposts. The government builds industrial zones for Jewish towns but rarely for Arab ones. Though signposts are in Arabic as well as Hebrew, they are often spelt wrong. "We thought we were citizens in a democracy," says Makbula Nassar, a fiery broadcaster on Radio Shams, an Arabic radio station in Israel. "Despite decades of dispossession, communal violence was minimal. But we discovered that we were always considered the enemy." 

The unacknowledged fact is that Israel has been building apartheid both sides of the Green Line. Apartheid is inherent to the very architecture of the settement infrastructure on the West Bank, complete with apartheid garbage dumps, while East Jerusalem now has apartheid parking lots. Within Israel, the pending Negev development plan forsees apartheid housing developments, effected through forcible transfer of the local Bedouin population. Place names are being "Judaized" to erase the Arab past in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The demand that the Palestinian leadership officially recognize Israel as a "Jewish state" is mirrored in proposals by the ruling coalition to officially make Israel "Jewish first" and democratic second, and to change the Citizenship Law mandating fealty to a "Jewish state." The existing Citizenship Law already has apartheid elements where marriage rights are concerned, with new provisions being pushed for citizenship revocation of perceived disloyal elements. As with the original South African apartheid, there are criminal penalties for dissent against this system.

Some see a slow process of "transfer" in the day-to-day functioning of the occupation, aimed at making life unliiveable for Palestinians on the West Bank. Just over the past 24 hours… Israeli forces injured five Palestinian protesters with rubber-coated steel bullets and unleashed tear-gas on dozens more while dispersing weekly Friday protests across the West Bank. The worst violence was at the towns of Bilin, al-Masara, Kafr Qaddam, and Tuqu—all facing enclosure of their lands by settlements and the "Apartheid Wall." (Ma'an) Six Palestinians, including a child, were injured in clashes that broke out after a group of Israeli settlers tried to raid Beit Ummar village near Hebron. The local popular resistance committee said that Israeli forces attacked a funeral procession in the village as dozens of settlers, some armed, gathered near the cemetery. (Ma'an) Clashes between Palestinian youth and Israeli forces spilled over onto Bethlehem's Manger Street, after two weeks of daily confrontations in nearby Aida refugee camp. Israeli forces fired tear gas at rock-throwing protesters near Rachel's Tomb. (Ma'an) Israeli forces also shot and injured two Palestinian youths in clashes with protesters at Eizariya east of Jerusalem. (Ma'an)

And the Israeli army fired live rounds and tear-gas at protesters near the border fence with the Gaza Strip, wounding two Palestinians. The some 300 demonstrators were protesting against Israel's destruction of farmland for its 300-meter "buffer zone." (AFP) The day before, four children and a woman were injured in Israeli air-strikes on the Gaza Strip, apparently targeting a base used by Hamas' military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades. The air-strikes, the latest of several over recent days, were in response to five rockets fired from Gaza, all of which were reportedly intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome missile shield. (Ma'an)

We're skeptical of the notion of Palestinians making common cause with Avigdor Lieberman, and we think that most understand how "transfer" across the Green Line would set a precedent for the more ambitious transfer across the Jordan River, and Israeli annexation of the West Bank. Zionism has divided the Palestinian Arabs into five populations (Israel, West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon and the greater diaspora), and we're glad to see them reforging a common identity—but it would be better if they could do so, in alliance with post-Zionist Jews, to demand a single secular state in all of historic Palestine.


  1. Knesset passes bill distinguishing Muslim and Christian Arabs

    The Knesset on Feb. 24 approved a controversial law, whose ultimate aim, according to its sponsor, is to distinguish between Muslim and Christian Arab citizens and to increase involvement of Christians in Israeli society. Critics slammed the law, sponsored by MK Yariv Levin (Likud), as an attempt to "divide and conquer" the country's Arab population.

    The law demands a change in the makeup of the public advisory council which is appointed under the 1988 Equal Employment Opportunities Law, expanding that panel from five representatives of groups that promote workers' rights, to 10, which will now include Christian, Muslim, Druze and Circassian representatives. The law passed by 31 to six votes, even though Equal Employment Opportunity commissioner Tziona Koenig-Yair clarified in a committee discussion of the legislation two weeks ago that she opposed it and that she viewed it as superfluous—"in the same way that I wouldn’t be interested in separate representation for Lithuanian Haredim and [Sephardi] Haredim."

    Haim Katz, chairman of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, introduced the law in the plenum, saying, "The aim is to look after populations that have a hard time in the labor market and to give them a representation on the advisory committee."

    But opposition MKs weren't convinced. "Perhaps we should also divide the Jewish population into Poles, Yemenites and Moroccans?" asked Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On. (Ha'aretz, Feb. 25)

    1. Israel creates ‘Aramean’ nationality

      The Jerusalem Post reports Sept. 17 that Interior Minister Gideon Saar has ordered that the Israel's population registry recognize a separate "Aramean" identity. "Christians who identify with the ancient people can decide to register as Arameans instead of Arabs," the report reads, linking it to the above-cited law passed in February that identifies Christians as a minority group separate from Arabs, and gives them their own, unique representation on the Advisory Committee for Equal Opportunity in Employment Commission.

      "Arameans" presumably refers to speakers of Aramaic, which is indeed the indigenous tongue of many Christians in the Middle East—but not in Israel, where Christians today overwhelmingly speak Arabic. A Sept. 3 Haaretz story on the Arameans is headlined "Israeli Christian community, neither Arab nor Palestinian, are fighting to save identity." But the text actually airs some skepticism about this identity:

      Roughly 130,000 Christians live in Israel, the vast majority of whom identify as Arabs. They are a tiny minority among the estimated 1.65 million-strong, overwhelmingly Muslim Arab population of the country, whose loyalty to the state is sometimes called into question, especially during the recent war in the Gaza Strip.

      Along with members of the Aramean community who do not want to be identified as Israeli Arabs because they don't consider themselves "Arab," there are many others who reject that label, but for very different reasons: They prefer to be called "Palestinian citizens of Israel" rather than "Israeli Arabs," as the Jewish majority tends to define the entire group.

      A promoter of the Aramean identity is the Israeli Christians Recruitment Forum, a movement founded two years ago by Father Gabriel Nadaf, a Greek Orthodox priest from Nazareth.

      Nadaf has been condemned widely and even had his life threatened for what many Arabs perceive as cooperating with Israeli government efforts to drive a wedge between Christians and Muslims. Moreover, the warm embrace Nadaf and supporters have received from the ruling Likud party and right-wing organizations – because of the community's desire to show its loyalty to the state – has created deep ambivalence among Israelis on the left, concerned about whom this unlikely alliance might be serving.

      We are always reluctant to tell people that they don't exist. But, at least, it seems the "Arameans" are being manipulated in a divide-and-rule strategy…

  2. Lieberman slams Palestinians over Nakba protest

    Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on May 7 denounced as a "fifth column" thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel who joined a demonstration calling for the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

    Around 10,000 protesters, many waving Palestinian flags, joined a rally in northern Israel on remember 530 villages from which some 760,000 people fled or were expelled following the creation of Israel in 1948. The rally took place as Israel marked its 66th Independence Day.

    "Those who marched with flags of the Palestinian Authority demanding that it not give up on the right of return, are a fifth column whose aim is the destruction of Israel," Lieberman told army radio.

    He also addressed the demonstration on his Facebook page. "To those Arabs that took part today in the 'Nakba Day' procession and waved Palestinian flags, I suggest that next time they march directly to Ramallah and they stay there," he wrote. (AFP)

    1. Palestinians shot dead at Nakba rally

      Israeli forces shot and killed a young Palestinian man and a teenage boy May 15 during a protest rally marking the 66th anniversary of the Nakba west of Ramallah in the central West Bank. (Ma'an)

  3. Israeli lawmakers push Hebrew-only bill

    A group of right-wing Israeli lawmakers are proposing a bill to make Hebrew the sole official language of the state of Israel. The bill, which has the support of Knesset members from the Likud, Yisrael Beytenu, and Jewish Home parties, would break from current law, which mandates that Arabic as well as Hebrew must be used in a wide variety of official functions, including in the court system, government ministries, and official government forms and announcements. That law dates back to the period of the British Mandate. Under the proposed bill, highway signs would still have to include Arabic. (Times of Israel)

    1. Arrests in arson attack on Jerusalem bilingual school

      The Shin Bet and police arrested three members of right-wing Israeli organization for their role in a suspected hate-crime attack on a Jerusalem school in which both Jews and Arabs study. The detainees are suspected of arson and spraying anti-Arab graffiti in the Max Rayne Hand in Hand bilingual Hebrew-Arabic school in Jerusalem and have been held in custody since Dec. 6. The group is part of the Lehava organization—whose main goal is to prevent inter-faith marriages between Jews and Muslim or Christian Arabs. (YNet, Dec. 11)

  4. Israeli court approves apartheid housing developments

    The Israeli high court on Sept. 17 upheld the "Admissions Committees Law," which allows rural towns in the Negev and Galilee to reject Palestinian citizens of Israel and other marginalized groups from residing in them on the basis that they are "unsuitable" for Jewish communities. Israeli civil and human rights organizations condemned the ruling as legalizing segregation. Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, filed a petition against the law in March 2011, arguing that it violated Israel's prohibition against discrimination. In a press release after the high court dismissed the petition, Adalah said: "This law is one of the most racist pieces of legislation enacted in recent years, the primary objective of which is to marginalize Arab citizens and prevent them from accessing housing on ‘state land’ in many communities. The court’s decision upholds one of the most dangerous laws in Israel." (EI, Sept. 18)

  5. Middle East’s only democracy to abandon democracy?

    Billionaire casino mogul and conservative donor Sheldon Adelson spoke at a Los Angeles conferece of the Israeli-American Council: "The purpose of the existence of Palestinians is to destroy Israel. Palestinian narrative created the Palestinian narrative." With refreshing honesty, he added that Israel would not be able to survive as a democracy: "So Israel won't be a democratic state, so what?" he asked Saban, adding that democracy, after all, is not mentioned in the Torah…"

    To wild applause, Adelson said he and top Democratic funder Haim Saban said Adelson should buy the New York Times together in an effort to bring more "balance" to the newspaper's coverage of Israel and the Middle East. (Haaretz, Nov. 9)

  6. Knesset bill on de facto annexation

    Palestinian official Nabil Shaath said Nov. 9 that a proposed Knesset bill to apply Israeli laws to West Bank settlements was dangerous and aimed to eventually annex the territory.  “The [Palestinian] Authority completely opposes applying the Israeli law to settlements in the West Bank because this creates a political context where these settlements become a part of Israel,” Shaath said. “Israel is disregarding all international pressure and carries on with its occupation projects." 

    Israeli media reported that an Israeli ministerial committee on legislation approved a proposed bill that would apply all laws passed by the Knesset to the settlements. The proposed law would require the head of the Israeli army's central command to publish all new laws as a military regulation so that they would apply equally to settlements in the West Bank.

    Israeli justice minister Tzipi Livni, who opposed the bill, said that “the real goal behind the bill is to normalize an abnormal situation—occupation crawling under the cover of discussing rights." Meretz chair Zehava Galon added: “The Knesset is seeking to assume the jurisdiction of the military commander of the territories.” (Ma'an)

  7. Israel PM backs Jewish ‘nation-state’ bill

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Nov. 16 gave his approval to a controversial bill that would make Israel the nation-state of the Jewish people. A ministerial debate is to now to take place, during which the members will discuss whether the bill can codify Israel's definition as a Jewish state in the country's Basic Laws, as well as whether the bill can place Israel's democratic character below its Jewish nature and strip Arabic from its status as the official language. The bill was first introduced in 2011 by Ze'ev Elkin and Avi Dichter. Netanyahu had previously proposed his own version of this legislation in May. He stated that it was time for the country's courts "to recognize the aspect of our being the nation state of the Jewish people."

    From Jurist, Nov. 16. Used with permission.

  8. Israel Cabinet approves draft of Jewish ‘nation state’ law

    The Cabinet of Israel on Nov. 23 approved draft legislation that would officially define Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. The controversial law, titled "Israel, the Nation-State of the Jewish People," passed the Cabinet 14 to 6, and will now proceed to the Knesset. The bill has been heavily criticized by two parties who are members of Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government. Cabinet members from the Hatnua and Yesh Atid parties voted against the bill, and could be fired by Netanyahu or leave the current governing coalition; either scenario would spark elections. Netanyahu has previously endorsed hard-line versions of the bill, but has indicated that he will amend the draft in order to moderate the law before any final vote of Knesset.

    From Jurist, Nov. 24. Used with permission.

  9. Israel: draconian anti-terror bill introduced

    New "temporary" legislation being pushed by Likud will allow instate an eight-step plan to deal with the recent wave of terror and unrest in Israel. The plan—spearheaded by MK Yariv Levin, who said he formulated the bill at the behest of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—will purportedly give the security establishment the tools it needs to create "real deterrence." Under the law:

    1. Israeli Arabs caught engaging or cooperating with terror will automatically lose their citizenship—or Palestinian Authority residency, in the case of Palestinians.

    2. After completing their prison term, convicted terrorists will be deported from Israel.

    3. Funerals for those killed during attempt terror attacks will be barred. The bodies will not be transferred to their families, but buried at an unknown location, without ceremony and without future access for their families.

    4. Terrorists' houses will be destroyed within 24-hours of the attack.

    5. Detained stone-throwers and those found to be "inciting terror and violence" will be "held in remand" until the completion of legal procedures against them.

    6. The same measures will be taken against those who wave an "enemy flag" during protests, including the Palestinian flag. Anyone convicted at the end of their remand will lose their social welfare benefits and driving license for a 10-year period.

    7. Families of convicted terrorists will lose their citizenship and will be deported to Gaza should they express support for their relative's deed. Support, according to the bill, can be expressed through public or social media.

    8. The state will be empowered to close businesses and printing presses that print posters or propaganda that support terror or terrorists. (YNet, Nov. 26)

  10. Arab lawmaker barred from Knesset run

    MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad) and Yahad candidate Baruch Marzel cannot run for seats in the next Knesset, Israel's Central Elections Committee voted Feb. 12. According to Basic Law, Knesset candidates may not run if they reject Israel as a Jewish and democratic state or incite armed conflict against the country.The majoiry on the Central Elections Committee asserted that Zoabi said the kidnapping of three teens in Gush Etzion last summer was not an act of terrorism, and joined the 2010 Gaza flotilla. Such disqualifications are brought automatically to Israel's High Court of Justice, which has ruled overwhelmingly against similar cases—including those of both Zoabi and Marzel—in past elections. (JP)