Israel prepares for more West Bank ethnic cleansing

A new Israeli military order will enable the deportation of tens of thousands of Palestinians from the occupied West Bank or their imprisonment for up to seven years. Military order No. 1650, which was enacted on April 13, amends a 1969 military order known as the Order Regarding Prevention of Infiltration. This defined an “infiltrator” as anyone entering Israel from an “enemy state”, such as Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon or Syria.

The amended order defines an “infiltrator” as “a person who entered the area unlawfully ... or a person who is present in the area and does not lawfully hold a permit”. “Infiltrators” can either be deported from the West Bank after 72 hours or jailed for seven years. In addition, “infiltrators” who may have legally entered the area but did not have an approved “permit” from the Israeli military commander can still be jailed: “[W]here an infiltrator has proven his entry into the area was lawful — he shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of three years”.

According to the Gisha Legal Centre for Freedom of Movement, one of 10 Israeli human rights organisatios that are challenging the new order, it creates a presumption that every person is an “infiltrator” unless he or she can prove that both his or her entrance to and presence in the West Bank were approved by the military commander or relevant Israeli authorities. A briefing paper issued by Gisha says the amended order “could seemingly apply to everyone: bearers of Palestinian identity cards, residents of east Jerusalem, Israeli citizens and foreigners”. However, Gisha notes that the order most likely will apply to three main groups: Palestinian residents who hold Palestinian ID cards with Gaza addresses; persons “without status” (mainly spouses of Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank) and non-Israeli foreign nationals working or living there.

Tens of thousands threatened

According to the Palestinian Office of Civilian Affairs in Ramallah, there are approximately 25,000 people with registered Gaza addresses living in the West Bank. In 2003, Israel began to prohibit Palestinians with Gaza addresses on their IDs from being in the occupied West Bank, even if they had been residents there for many years. It also began arresting Palestinians who had a Gaza address and removing them to Gaza against their will.

Gisha noted that Israel’s removals policy contradicts its obligations under the 1993 Oslo Accords, which recognised the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as a “single territorial unit”, where Palestinians listed in the Israeli-controlled Palestinian Population Registry may lawfully reside. Gisha’s executive director, Sari Bashi, told Aljazeera news agency on April 13 that the order was “part of a series of steps implemented by Israel to empty the West Bank of Palestinians, especially by removing them to Gaza … There are tens of thousands of people at risk, who pose no security threat whatsoever”, but the new order will “mak[e] it criminal for them to be present in their own home”.

A spokesperson for the Israeli government, Mark Regev, tried to present the amended military order as protecting Palestinian rights. Regev told Aljazeera on April 13: “What we’ve done here is we’ve strengthened the rights of people who face such deportation by creating ... an independent judicial oversight mechanism, which makes sure there are checks and balances and that the legal rights of people are protected”. Regev went on to say that, previously, people served with deportation orders could be deported the same day, but under the amended order they had a 72-hour appeal period.

Israeli human rights organisations have disputed Regev’s claims. According to an April 11 media release by the organisations challenging the order, there is a distinct “possibility that some of the deportees will not be given an opportunity for a hearing before being removed from the West Bank as, according to the orders, the deportation may be executed within 72 hours whereas it is possible to delay bringing a person before an appeals committee for up to eight days”.

History of ‘exclusivity’

The new order is the latest step in Israel’s attempt to ethnically cleanse the region of its indigenous population, the Palestinian people. According to the UN, the forcible transfer of a people so as to render an area “ethnically homogeneous” is illegal and constitutes “ethnic cleansing”. Under international law, ethnic cleansing is designated a crime against humanity.

Israeli historian Ilan Pappe notes in his 2006 book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine that the drive for “Jewish exclusivity” in Palestine has been a central tenet of the Zionism. Now known as “transfer” in Zionist terminology, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine was first advocated by the founder of political Zionism, Theodor Herzl. In 1895, Herzl wrote in his diary: “We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it employment in our own.”

Israeli Zionist historian Benny Morris notes in his 2004 book The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited that Herzl and other Zionist leaders of his time did not discuss or write about “transfer” publicly. By 1936, however, Zionists leaders had become more publicly outspoken about the “transfer” or ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. Speaking to the British Peel Commission in 1937, David Ben Gurion, head of the Jewish Agency and the Israeli state’s first prime minister, argued that Jordan (then known as Transjordan) should be opened up for the “transfer” of Palestinians in order to make way for Jewish settlement in Palestine. At the 20th Zionist Congress in 1937, he advocated the “transfer” of Palestinians from the Jezreel Valley (near Haifa), the Sharon Coastal Plains and other areas of Palestine, saying “Transfer is what will make possible a comprehensive settlement program”.

In 1940, Yossef Weitz, the head of the “settlement department” of the Jewish National Fund in Palestine, wrote in his diary, which was published in 1965, that the “transfer” of the indigenous Palestinian population “does not serve only one aim — to reduce the Arab population — it also serves a second purpose by no means less important, which is: to evict land now cultivated by the Arabs and to free it for Jewish settlement”. According to Weitz, “the only solution is to transfer the Arabs from here to neighbouring countries. Not a single village or a single tribe must be let off.”

Plan Dalet

In 1948, in the months before the UN partition plan for Palestine was to be implemented, Plan Dalet was drawn up by Ben-Gurion and other Zionist leaders. According to Ilan Pappe, Plan Dalet was the “blueprint for ethnic cleansing”. It resulted in more than 500 Palestinian towns and villages being either destroyed or depopulated, in what became known to the Palestinian people as al Nakba (the Catastrophe). More than 1 million Palestinians were forced to flee their homes, with at least 750,000 being forcibly expelled to other countries (such as Lebanon and Jordan), while another 150,000 became internal refugees inside the borders of the newly formed Israeli state.

In a 2004 interview with Haaretz newspaper, Morris noted: “A Jewish state would not have come into being without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians. Therefore it was necessary to uproot them. There was no choice but to expel that population. It was necessary to cleanse the hinterland and cleanse the border areas and cleanse the main roads. It was necessary to cleanse the villages from which our convoys and our settlements were fired on.”

In 1954, Israel enacted the Prevention of Infiltration Law, in order to prevent the Palestinian refugees in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria from re-entering Israel. The law allowed their re-expulsion, as well as the expulsion of the 150,000 internally displaced Palestinian refugees if they attempted to return to their villages or towns. The 1969 Order Regarding Prevention of Infiltration was an extension of the 1954 law. It was designed to prevent the return of Palestinians who had fled the West Bank at the time of its June 1967 conquest by Israel.

The new military order is a further indication that the Israeli rulers have no real intention of agreeing to an independent Palestinian state, that their ultimate objective remains Zionist control over the whole of historic Palestine, with the indigenous Palestinian population reduced to living in a series of isolated cantons surrounded by large-scale Israeli settlements and under continued Israeli military control.