Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The chief characteristic of the current Israeli government of PM Binyamin Netanyahu is the inclusion in it of elements that were shunned in Israeli politics until recently — the Kahanaists, who are militant racists and Greater Israel expansionists and who, unlike most other right wing forces in Israel, openly proclaim their allegiance to fascist principles. The group was on the State Department terrorism list not so long ago.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich of Religious Zionism and Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir of Jewish Power have enormous influence because the Netanyahu government would fall if they pulled out of the governing coalition. Moreover, their demands for the most part are things that anyway suit Netanyahu, a more pragmatic and wily right-winger, and he is glad to have the cover of his political partners “forcing” him to carry out policies that the rest of the world sees as abhorrent.
Watching what Ben-Gvir and Smotrich say about Gaza is therefore important, both because they have a lever on policy and because they have very big mouths and say things openly that savvier figures on the Israeli far right keep to themselves.
The radio station of the Israeli army broadcast remarks of Bezalel Smotrich: “The correct solution for the Gaza Strip is to encourage voluntary emigration to the states that agree to take the refugees.”
The leader of the extremist Religious Zionism bloc said, “Israel will rule permanently to guarantee security through the permanent presence of armed forces on the land and the establishment of Jewish settlements.”
According to The Times of Israel, Smotrich said in the interview with Army Radio, “We need to encourage immigration from there. If there were 100,000-200,000 Arabs in the Strip and not two million, the whole conversation about the day after [the war] would be completely different.”
He went on to ventrioloquize the Palestinians: “They want to leave. They have been living in a ghetto for 75 years and are in need.”
Bezalel Smotrich. Courtesy Israeli Government/ Wikipedia.
Journalist Masha Gessen in a New Yorker article said that the Israeli mass bombardment of Gaza resembled the liquidation of a ghetto by Nazi forces, and the Heinrich Boll Foundation in Germany withdrew its support for the award to Gessen of the Hannah Arendt Prize. Yet here is a cabinet minister of the Israeli government saying much the same thing. Those in Germany and elsewhere who tried to cancel Gessen should apologize to them.
Ben Gvir, for his part, said on X, as reported by the Gulf Arabic press, “We must reinforce the solution of encouraging the emigration of the residents of Gaza, since it is correct and just and moral and humane.”
Yes, and no doubt that is how Stalin saw the forced migration of millions of Soviet subjects that he imposed. The Soviet expulsion of 1 million Poles at the end of WW II was no doubt also a very humane policy.
Ben-Gvir added, “We have partners around the world whom we can help with absorbing the emigrants.” He did not say who these partners were, and they don’t appear actually to exist.
He added, “Encouraging the emigration of the inhabitants of Gaza will allow us to return to Gaza the residents [settlers] in its envelope and the residents of Gush Katif to their homeland.”
Note that Ben Gvir only dignifies the Palestinians of Gaza as “residents,” whereas the mainly European Israeli settlers who tried to colonize the Strip after 1967 are described as yearning to return to their “homeland.”
Although the Gaza strip is the densest habitation on earth, and the Israelis had chased thousands of Palestinians there from their homes in what became southern Israel, after Tel Aviv seized the Strip in 1967 it began establishing squatter-settlements in Gaza for Israelis. Some 8,000 ended up living there, stealing resources from the already impoverished Palestinian refugees. In 2005 right wing leader Ariel Sharon assessed that these squatters could not be effectively protected by the Israeli army, and so he withdrew from the interior of Gaza and brought the squatters out. Smotrich and others on the extremist right wing were apoplectic. But Sharon was clearly correct: October 7 showed that even Israeli settlements near Gaza on the Israeli side of the fence were not safe.
Israel did not cease occupying Gaza in 2005, since it retained control of the Strip’s air and sea and controlled what went in and out of the territory. From 2007 it has imposed a severe economic embargo.
In contrast, the announced plan of Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant is to ethnically cleanse northern Gaza, which has largely been reduced to rubble by concerted Israeli aerial bombardment of civilian buildings and infrastructure. The north, he thinks, will then serve as a buffer zone between the Palestinian population and the Israeli. Obviously, putting Israelis into northern Gaza would remove the barrier and so spoil Galant’s plan.
Ethnically cleansing northern Gaza is a war crime. Moving Israelis from the metropole into a militarily occupied territory is a war crime.
The Biden administration, which abetted the ethnic cleansing, has made noises about not wanting to see a complete expulsion of the Palestinians from Gaza. But it seems clear by now that the Israelis can do as they please, and Biden will pat them on the heads and say, “Well done.”