[News] Ethnic Cleansing and Israel's Racist Discourse

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Dec 1 12:37:59 EST 2006


Ethnic Cleansing and Israel's Racist Discourse

By Ramzy Baroud

Al-Jazeerah, November 30, 2006

“The term ethnic cleansing refers to various 
policies of forcibly removing people of another 
ethnic group. At one end of the spectrum, it is 
virtually indistinguishable from forced 
emigration and population transfer, while at the 
other it merges with deportation and genocide.”

According to this definition, and others 
including those emerging in the 1990s, following 
the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, Palestinians 
have been and remain victims of a determined and 
unwavering ethnic cleansing policy that began in 
1947-48 and continues until today.

However, it is important that when we examine the 
subject of ethnic cleansing in Palestine, we take 
into account its various dimensions, one of which 
is the accompanying racist discourse, which has 
become part and parcel of Israel’s ethnic cleansing policies.

Any act of collective punishment ­ whether ethnic 
cleansing or genocide or any other ­ is often 
preceded and or adjoined by a racist discourse 
that dehumanizes the victim and justifies the 
crime on baseless grounds, a concoction of lies 
and fibs that may appeal to national or religious 
psyches, but fails the test of law, morality or 
basic human norms and expectations.

Without such discourse, which depicted the 
original inhabitants of Palestine as cancerous, 
subhuman and a nuisance in the face of 
civilization and progress ­ as defined by the 
founders of the Zionist movement ­ it would not 
have been possible to carry out a systematic 
campaign of murder and ethnic cleansing in 
1947-48, which saw the killing of an estimated 
13,000 Palestinians, the forcible eviction of 
850,000 and the depopulation and subsequent 
destruction of nearly 500 villages and 
localities. Without such a racist discourse it 
would have been difficult, to say the least, to 
carry out scores of preempted massacres, 
including Deir Yassin, Tantoura, Abbasiyya, Beit 
Daras, Bir Al-Saba’, Haifa and so forth.

Were it not for a decided campaign of 
institutionalized racism that occurred on such a 
large scale and which is maintained until today, 
it would have been impossible and implausible to 
gun down scores of innocent people after lining 
them up against the crumbling wall of the old 
Tantura mosque in May of 1948, or to bulldoze the 
home of a crippled man in Jenin in April 2002 
without giving his mother the chance to evacuate 
him. Or to describe as a “great success” the 
killing of 14 civilians, including children when 
a one-ton Israeli bomb slammed into their 
apartment building in the Zeitun neighborhood in 
Gaza in July 2002. Or the wanton murder of 19 
people, most of them women and children of the 
same extended family in Beit Hanoun earlier this 
November. But according to Israeli officials, 
every other method has been tried, and failed. 
“With murderous, bloodthirsty terrorism that 
wants to wipe you off the map, you have to 
respond accordingly: Wipe it out,” as Ben Caspit 
commented following the brutal massacre of Beit Hanoun.

But if what purely motivates Israel is the fear 
of its own annihilation, then, how can the 
Zionist state’s morally flexible supporters 
explain Israel’s continuous colonization of the 
West Bank and Jerusalem? According to a 2004 
Foundation for Middle East Peace report, the 
total settler population in the West Bank and 
East Jerusalem has neared 420,000: 220,000 
settlers in the West Bank and 200,000 in East 
Jerusalem. Expectedly, the number stands at a much higher figure.

New settlements are being erected while existing 
settlements are ever-expanding. According to a 
recent report drafted by the PLO’s Negotiations 
Affairs Department, Israel approved tenders for 
690 new settlement units in two major east 
Jerusalem settlements: Ma’aleh Adumim and Beit 
Illit. The housing units could accommodate up to 2,800 new Jewish settlers.

If the idea was indeed to shield Israel from 
Palestinian attacks, then why is 80 percent of 
the wall being built on ethnically cleansed 
Palestinian land? Why encircle the Palestinian 
population of the West Bank from east and west, 
and those of Qalqilia from all directions? Why do 
thousands of Palestinian schools kids have to 
stand for hours in front of their gated villages 
to acquire permission from an Israeli soldier to 
allow them access to their schools and back?

Ethnic cleansing is indeed back on the Israeli 
political agenda, as Avigdor Lieberman, an 
Israeli politician who has for long advocated the 
ethnic cleansing of the Arab inhabitants of 
Palestine, was recently appointed as Israel’s new 
deputy prime minister. One of his early ideas 
since the new post, aside from sending 
Palestinians packing, was the killing of the 
entire leadership of the elected Palestinian 
government. “They...have to disappear, to go to 
paradise, all of them, and there can’t be any 
compromise,” he told Israeli radio last week.

The unfortunate reality is that Israel’s campaign 
of ethnic cleansing, though it might have changed 
tactics and pace throughout the years, has never 
stopped and is now more active than it has been 
for decades. It’s also clear that the adjacent 
racist discourse that made such a policy 
sustainable for six decades is also at work, 
making advocates of war crimes heroes in the eyes of most Israelis.

Moreover, amid unabashed American backing of such 
policies and almost total silence or helplessness 
of the international community, Israel knows that 
the success of its colonial project in the West 
Bank is dependent on the element of time.

What’s even more disheartening is the fact that 
Palestinian infighting is distracting and wasting 
energies that should be put to work to provoke 
and sustain an international campaign against 
Israeli atrocities. Infighting over governments 
that have no sovereignty, the lacking of any 
national cohesion or consensus or a clear 
political program that unifies Palestinians at 
home and in diaspora around one political and 
national agenda, will certainly ensure the 
success of the Israeli program and further 
contribute to the racist discourse that sees 
Palestinians as incapable of taking on the task 
of leadership and self-determination.

-This article is based on a speech delivered by 
the author at a London conference entitled: 
“Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine: Methods and 
Consequences” and broadcast by Al-Jazeera television.

-Ramzy Baroud’s latest book is The Second 
Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s 
Struggle (Pluto Press) is available at Amazon.com 
and in the United States from the University of Michigan Press.

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