We Have Let Israel Dispossess, Displace and Ethnically Cleanse Palestinians for Decades

by Malia Bouattia

2 July 2020

As the Israeli government prepares to annex parts of the West Bank, it is important to remember that the process of land dispossession, displacement and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians has been going on for decades. In fact, the whole of Palestine was annexed in all but name in 1967, when Israel took over what is now called the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt).

Since then, settlements, Israeli-only roads and the targeted displacement of communities in the fertile Jordan valley have integrated the oPt into Israel’s state infrastructure. At the same time, movement of workers, capital and companies across the green line have integrated the oPt into Israel’s economy. Meanwhile, Gaza continues to be punished for having dared elect an opposition, through a blockade that slowly strangles its population.

There is then a historical logic in the fact that, following its formation in May, the Netanyahu-Gantz unity government sealed their alliance with the announcement that formal annexation plans would commence on 1 July. Empowered by Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’, Israel is set to seize the Jordan valley where 50,000 Palestinians are currently living, integrate many of its illegal settlements and extend its annexation of East Jerusalem. All of this is of course in direct contravention of international law. It is, however, the outcome of over five decades of systematic work, silently overseen and effectively supported through favourable trade deals, military equipment, and diplomatic cover by the United States, European Union, and their hangers-on. 

Furthermore, to ensure the avoidance of any doubt, this extension of Israel’s control (not of its borders, of course, as Israel does not recognise them, presumably for occasions like this) will not be accompanied by the extension of greater rights for Palestinians who continue to live under military rule. Netanyahu declared that those living in soon-to-be annexed areas of the West Bank will not be given Israeli citizenship. It is important to keep the ratio between the colonisers and the colonised carefully balanced, to mitigate the so-called demographic threat. There will be no increase in the number of Palestinian citizens, voters, or potential trade union members. At best, their highly exploited labour, which already enriches Israeli companies, will continue to be called upon, but only as conquered subjects.

The impact on the three million Palestinians living in the West Bank will be catastrophic. Loss of land – especially in the Jordan valley – will be bad enough, but in addition to this, real fears exist that the move will be accompanied by so-called population transfers – a euphemism for further ethnic cleansing. Again, one would do well to remember that Israel has form here also. Over 700,000 refugees were expelled in 1948, and they were joined by at least another 300,000 in 1967. They continue to be barred from returning to their homes and lands – once more in contravention of the international rights of refugees. For them, the prospect of the right to return will be further undermined by this move.  

Prime minister Netanyahu, when asked about the annexation during an interview with Israel HaYom, did not forget to thank his imperial sponsor. He stated: “[At] the heart of the Trump plan are foundations we have only dreamed about”. With the upcoming elections in the US, however, the Israeli government is conscious that it may not have long to run with this free pass. Now is the time to capitalise on the moment.  

All Israeli governments, from the left and right, even while negotiating a so-called peace plan in the 1990s, continued developing settlements, transferring settlers (roughly 750,000 today), and building its apartheid wall. Create ‘facts on the ground’ as Israeli doctrine has it, then wait for the opportunity to formalise them. Its moment has come.

Not only has Israel received official backing from the US, but across the world rightwing governments, media outlets and thinktanks have waged a merciless campaign against Palestine solidarity. Several countries and US states have moved – with differing levels of success – to illegalise the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) which endangers their continued political and economic relations with Israel. All the while, Palestine solidarity activists and pro-Palestine politicians are dragged through the mud, vilified and humiliated. 

The latest case in the UK, in which Rebecca Long-Bailey lost her post in the shadow cabinet and was branded a supporter of antisemitic conspiracy theories, was, sadly, illustrative of this tendency. Long-Bailey was sacked simply for sharing an interview with Maxine Peake in which, amid a lengthy interview covering many other subjects, the actress alleged Israeli institutions had trained US police officers in the technique used to kill George Floyd. While this specific claim remains unsubstantiated, there are many examples of Israeli officials offering training to US police forces.

It is crucial, therefore, that in the face of this further extension of Israeli colonisation and the dispossession of Palestinians, we recognise its long term roots, and focus on its long term solution. As citizens of a state with close political, economic and military links with Israel, there is a lot we can do to undermine its ability to continue with impunity. It is crucial that we respond to the BDS movement’s call to put pressure on our government, companies and institutions to cut all links with those that continue to profit from and/or perpetuate violations of Palestinians’ basic human rights until justice is done.  

The recent launch of a new network, Apartheid off Campus, is an important example of how we can mobilise collectively. Students identified the specific ways in which British universities participate in normalising Israeli crimes – including, but not limited to, investment in arms companies – and have launched a national campaign calling on university managers to stop using their fees in this way. Similar initiatives can and should be replicated across the UK.

The current moment is a horrendous one for Palestinians, but it has not come out of nowhere. It is the outcome of decades of inaction and complicity by our governments and companies. This moment should serve as a reminder of what happens when we fail at committed, organised internationalism. And it must spur us back into action. 

Malia Bouattia is an editor at Red Pepper.

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