Reality of ethnic cleansing
Tony Greenstein argues that despite its military might the Zionist state is losing the propaganda war
As Israel resorts to the only thing it knows - the murder of Palestinians, bombing and mass destruction - it is worth looking at the background to what is happening.
It can be summed up in a nutshell: the continued colonial momentum towards ethnic cleansing and the racial purification of Jerusalem, symbolised by the attack on al-Aqsa mosque on May 7. Despite the false accusations of ‘anti-Semitism’ directed at anyone who dares raise their head in support of the Palestinians, the truth about Israel and what a ‘Jewish’ state means is becoming more widely understood.
2021 opened with B’Tselem, which began life in 1989 as a liberal Zionist organisation and is now Israel’s principal and most respected human rights organisation, issuing a statement: ‘This is apartheid - a regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea’.1 Then there is Human Rights Watch, a conservative human rights organisation, which is close to the state department and whose agenda is in many aspects subservient to US foreign policy. Nonetheless it brought out a 231-page report, entitled ‘A threshold crossed: Israeli authorities and the crimes of apartheid and persecution’.2 Kenneth Roth, its executive director, said in a press release:
Prominent voices have warned for years that apartheid lurks just around the corner if the trajectory of Israel’s rule over Palestinians does not change. This detailed study shows that Israeli authorities have already turned that corner and today are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.3
Gradually the power of Israeli hasbara (propaganda) has lost its lustre. No matter how many times the Zionist lobby and its sycophants cry ‘anti-Semitism’, the daily reality of land confiscations, ethnic cleansing, settler and police violence is winning out. We even saw Emily Maitlis on BBC Newsnight - usually the flagship of Israeli hasbara - giving the Israeli ambassador, Tzipi Hotovely, a grilling. Hotovely is a religious nut on the far right of Likud, who had previously given her support to the fascist anti-miscegenation group, Lehava.4
In March Israel held its fourth general election in two years and once again there was political stalemate. Two-thirds of the Knesset - some 80 seats - now belong to the far right. The two Labour Zionist parties - the Israeli Labor Party and Meretz - gained just 13 seats between them. When you consider that in 1949 in Israel’s first general election the two ‘left’ Zionist parties, Mapai and Mapam (now Meretz), won 65 out of 120 seats, you can see the extent of the decline. Indeed March saw a marked improvement over the previous election, in which these same two parties gained just six seats.
The first rule when forming a government coalition in Israel is that no Arab party can be included. Indeed no coalition can even be allowed to rest on the support of Arab parties ‘from the outside’. What probably led to the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1993 was the fact that the Israeli Labor coalition that backed him rested on the support of the communist Hadash, a largely Arab party, to get support for the Oslo accords through the Knesset.
Israeli politics is often seen through the prism of support or opposition to Binyamin Netanyahu, its criminal, longest-serving prime minister. For sure, Netanyahu is desperate to avoid being convicted for fraud, but in my view it is a mistake to reduce everything to his individual fate. The crisis in Israeli politics goes much deeper.
Netanyahu’s party, Likud, is far and away the largest party in the Knesset, holding 30 seats, a quarter of the total number. His coalition can count on 16 votes from the two religious Zionist parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, and, thanks to Netanyahu acting as a midwife to the amalgamation of three far-right parties, Tkuma/Religious Zionism, the Judeo-Nazi Otzma Yehudit, and Noam, a virulently anti-gay party, he has a further six votes, making 52 out of 120 in all. Then there is Blue and White, led by former chief of staff Benny Gantz, which is currently part of Netanyahu’s coalition with a further eight seats.
The opposition is equally divided and disparate. It consists of the remnants of Labour Zionism with 13 seats; Yamina - a religious Zionist party led by Naftali Bennett with seven seats; Yisrael Beiteinu, a secular far-right Russian party, led by Avigdor Lieberman (also seven seats); New Hope, another far-right party, led by former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar (six); and the ‘centrist’ Yesh Atid, with 17 seats. The only thing that unites the opposition to Likud is a hatred of Netanyahu, so the ‘leftwing’ Meretz is happy to sit in the same coalition with Avigdor Lieberman, who previously talked of drowning thousands of Palestinian prisoners in the Dead Sea.
The problem for Netanyahu’s Zionist opponents is that the three far-right parties are unwilling to rely on the support of an Arab party and religious Zionism is unwilling to rely on the support of the conservative Arab Ra’am party with its four seats. Which is why a fifth election in two years now beckons!
But, if Israel lacks a functioning government, there is a racist consensus among all Zionist parties, and that is that Israel’s Palestinians need to be confined to as little land as possible. That is why in the 73 years of Israel’s existence not one Arab town or community has been created, whereas literally hundreds of Jewish ones have - 93% of Israeli ‘national’ land is reserved for Jews via the Israeli Land Authority and the Jewish National Fund. Palestinians, some 20% of Israel’s population, are confined to about 2% of the land.
Throughout Israel’s existence there has been a continuous process of confiscation of what is left of the Palestinians’ land. This has been achieved through the use of two laws - the 1950 Absentee Property Law, which should have been called the ‘Legalisation of Theft of Palestinian Land Law’. It meant the creation of the Orwellian term, ‘present absentees’. Palestinians could have moved just a mile down the road to avoid hostilities; they could, as happened to the villagers in Kafr Bir’im and Ikrit, have moved out at the suggestion of the Zionist militias, after having been promised they could return after the current hostilities had ended, and they were still classified as ‘absentees’. This was supplemented by the 1970 Law on Legal and Administrative Affairs, which stipulated, among other things, that Jews who lost their property in East Jerusalem in 1948 could reclaim it.5
In 1948, as a result of the ethnic cleansing and war that accompanied Israel’s birth, Jews who lived in East Jerusalem relocated to West Jerusalem and took over the property of Palestinians who had fled. The 1970 law allowed them to reclaim their original property in East Jerusalem. However there was no equivalence. The 45,000 Palestinians who lost their property in West Jerusalem had no right to reclaim it. Why? Because Israel is a Jewish state. And that is why in a nutshell it is inherently a racist state.
What sparked off the current crisis was the continued ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in East Jerusalem by Jewish settlers. Through a variety of legal tricks,6 those who have been living for over 70 years in Sheikh Jarrar are facing eviction after the courts ruled against them. We have to remember that Israeli courts are colonial institutions. Their rulings are based on acceptance of the idea that Israel is a Jewish state and they operate within a Zionist consensus, which holds that Palestinians are there on sufferance. They do not recognise international law and in this they are backed up by the United States and the Biden administration.
It is not even the original Jewish inhabitants of these properties who are attempting to return to them. They have already been compensated with ‘abandoned’ Palestinian property. The title to their properties has been bought up by Zionist settler companies.
Although East Jerusalem has been annexed to Israel, its Palestinians have not been granted Israeli citizenship. Instead they have been given ‘permanent residence’. Except that it is not permanent and can be revoked at a stroke. For example, a Palestinian who leaves Israel to study abroad and does not return within seven years will effectively become stateless. Anyone accused of ‘disloyalty’ can have their residence status removed or if they want to marry a Palestinian from the West Bank then they will have to move, because you cannot bring your partner to live in Jerusalem. You can vote in local, but not national, elections. Your services are markedly inferior to those of Jewish citizens, even though Palestinians are expected to pay the same taxes.
What lies behind the current ethnic cleansing is Jerusalem’s 2020 Master Plan - one of the main aims of which is to “maintain a solid Jewish majority in the city” by encouraging Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem. There have been three such plans for Jerusalem: as well as the Master Plan, the Marom Plan and the ‘Jerusalem 5800’ project. Each of these plans reinforces the other through one common goal: to increase the number of Jewish residents and reduce the number of Palestinians living in Jerusalem. Details of each master plan can be read in the article, ‘Which Jerusalem? Israel’s little-known master plans’.7
Although the Israeli government pretends that the ‘eviction’ of Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrar is a “real-estate” problem, the reality is clear.8 As Jerusalem’s far-right deputy mayor, Aryeh King, has openly stated, seizing Sheikh Jarrah homes is part of a wider colonisation strategy. It is “the way to secure the future of Jerusalem as a Jewish capital for the Jewish people”.9
Israel unilaterally annexed occupied East Jerusalem in 1980. It has, to date, expropriated from Palestinians nearly one-third of the land in East Jerusalem, and built 11 Jewish-only neighbourhoods on them.10 The permanent resident status of at least 14,700 Palestinians from East Jerusalem has been revoked. To date Israel has facilitated the settlement of more than 200,000 of its Jewish population in East Jerusalem. It has also cut the city off from the occupied West Bank, to which it has been historically closely connected, using both settlements and the apartheid wall.11
All this is the background to the attack by Israeli police on worshippers at the al-Aqsa mosque on the holiest day of Ramadan, injuring over 300 Palestinians. Gun-toting police thugs invaded the mosque, firing stun grenades and sound bombs and beating all and sundry.12 This followed the provocation at the Damascus Gate, when the steps that lead down from the entrance were barricaded by the police, preventing Palestinians sitting down and enjoying their meal. Palestinians in Jerusalem have no say over their own affairs or any autonomy, proving the maxim that Israel is a democratic state for Jews and a Jewish state for Arabs.
The attacks on Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount), which is the third holiest site in Islam, cannot be separated from the ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem. The goal of the Jewish settlers is to demolish the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Golden Dome and replace them with the Third Temple, at which Jewish messianic extremists will once again be able to sacrifice live animals to their god - messianism has been the handmaiden of the settlements in the attempt to enforce the rule of Jewish law in Israel.
While this is not well known, there are signs from the Israeli chief rabbinate at the entrance to the Temple Mount forbidding observant Jews from entering. This is not out of any concern for Islam, but because it is forbidden for observant Jews to go there in case they trespass on the ‘Holy of Holies’ - the preserve of the high priest who had access to god. The Jewish settlers see the Temple Mount as simply another stage in their desire to Judaise Jerusalem and evict the indigenous population.
Now Hamas in Gaza has decided to offer solidarity by firing rockets into Israel. As I write, it seems that these rockets are no longer the peashooters of 2014. If Richard Silverstein’s Tikun Olam blog is to be believed, Iranian cruise missiles have been imported into Gaza via tunnels from Egypt. If this is correct, then we are entering a new ball game. The destruction of a bus in Tel Aviv and other reports suggest that deaths in future attacks on Gaza may not be so one-sided.13
In which case we may see a new invasion of Gaza, with all that that portends.
See ‘Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in Jerusalem: the full story’: aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/sheikh-jarrah-neighborhood-in-jerusalem-the-full-story/2233523.↩︎
Israel’s foreign ministry said on May 7 that Palestinians were “presenting a real-estate dispute between private parties as a nationalist cause in order to incite violence in Jerusalem”: aljazeera.com/news/2021/5/7/al-aqsa-worshippers-protest-palestinian-evictions-in-jerusalem.↩︎
See, for example, this video on Sheikh Jarrar: youtube.com/watch?v=rJr5w_TKUww. Also: youtube.com/watch?v=L7iSlWMv1uU&t=1s.↩︎