Separation or ethnic cleansing? Israel’s encaging of Gaza aims to achieve both
The following is taken from a talk delivered at the Conference for the Right of Return and the Secular Democratic State, held in Haifa on June 21.
In 1895 Theodor Herzl, Zionism’s chief prophet, confided in his diary that he did not favour sharing Palestine with the natives. Better, he wrote, to “try to spirit the penniless [Palestinian] population across the border by denying it any employment in our own country … Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.”
He was proposing a programme of Palestinian emigration enforced through a policy of strict separation between Jewish immigrants and the indigenous population. In simple terms, he hoped that, once Zionist organisations had bought up large areas of Palestine and owned the main sectors of the economy, Palestinians could be made to leave by denying them rights to work the land or labour in the Jewish-run economy. His vision was one of transfer, or ethnic cleansing, through ethnic separation.
Herzl was suggesting that two possible Zionist solutions to the problem of a Palestinian majority living in Palestine — separation and transfer — were not necessarily alternatives but rather could be mutually reinforcing. Not only that: he believed, if they were used together, the process of ethnic cleansing could be made to appear voluntary, the choice of the victims. It may be that this was both his most enduring legacy and his major innovation to settler colonialism.
In recent years, with the Palestinian population under Israeli rule about to reach parity with the Jewish population, the threat of a Palestinian majority has loomed large again for the Zionists. Not suprisingly, debates about which of these two Zionist solutions to pursue, separation or transfer, have resurfaced.
Today these solutions are ostensibly promoted by two ideological camps loosely associated with Israel’s centre-left (Labor and Kadima) and right (Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu). The modern political arguments between them turn on differing visions of the nature of a Jewish state orginally put forward by Labor and Revisionist Zionists.
To make sense of the current political debates, and the events taking place inside Israel and in the West Bank and Gaza, let us first examine the history of these two principles in Zionist thinking.
Continued . . .