Opinion |

A Future Palestinian State Doesn't Have to Be 'Ethnically Cleansed' of Jews

Why ‘ethnic cleanse’ when Jews and Arabs are living peaceably together in the State of Israel?

Moshe Arens
Moshe Arens
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Young Israelis, opponents to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan, cry as they stand in front of Israeli border policewomen near the fence of Kfar Maimon July 19, 2005.
Young Israelis, opponents to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan, cry as they stand in front of Israeli border policewomen near the fence of Kfar Maimon July 19, 2005.Credit: AP
Moshe Arens
Moshe Arens

Ethnic cleansing is the forced removal of ethnic or religious groups from a particular territory with the intent of making it ethnically or religiously homogeneous. That’s the generally accepted definition of the phrase, and there are no differences of opinion on that, or for that matter on whether ethnic cleansing is abhorrent in the civilized world.

Unfortunately, ethnic cleansing is being carried out at this moment in parts of Iraq and Syria. Shi’ites are getting rid of Sunnis and Sunnis are getting rid of Shi’ites, and both are getting rid of Christians.

So why did Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent use of that phrase cause such an uproar? Is it because he referred to Judea and Samaria, a territory that the proponents of the “two-state” solution envisage as part of the future Palestinian state? Is it because many consider the presence of Jewish settlers in this area illegal and an obstacle to peace, and therefore view their removal as something positive and refuse to consider it ethnic cleansing?

Let’s look at the facts. An act of ethnic cleansing was carried out in the Gaza Strip 11 years ago when all Jewish settlers were forcibly removed from their homes. But that was a case were Jews uprooted Jews, you’ll say. Does that make it any less a case of ethnic cleansing?

The objective of that “disengagement” was to leave the Gaza Strip without Jews. But the objective was to advance the peace process, you’ll argue. Still, that’s the claimed objective of almost everyone who engages in ethnic cleansing. Leave behind a homogenous population and you'll avoid future conflicts, they insist. That may be true in some cases, but can that justify ethnic cleansing? Does the end justify the means?

So how about the immediate subject of the debate that followed Netanyahu’s recent statement – Judea and Samaria (or the West Bank if you prefer)? There, in Gush Etzion on May 13, 1948, two days before the declaration of the State of Israel, ethnic cleansing in the area may have begun. When the settlers, attacked by Jordan’s Arab Legion and irregular local Arab fighters, surrendered after resisting for more than a week, over a hundred were massacred, and the rest were taken prisoner and sent to Jordan. The four Jewish settlements were destroyed.

Destroyed they remained until Jewish settlers returned to the area after the Six-Day War. No Jew was allowed to live in Jordan, including in the areas of the West Bank that were annexed to Jordan after the war. In the fate of the defenders of Gush Etzion, the Jewish community saw the fate that awaited them if the Arabs had succeeded in their attack.

Settlers cry before Israeli police remove them from the Neve Dekalim settlement in the Gush Katif bloc in the southern Gaza Strip, August 17, 2005.Credit: Reuters

Nowadays, some people claim that the settlements in Gush Etzion are illegal and constitute an obstacle to peace. That’s a claim directed at all Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, based on the assumption that this area should be reserved for the establishment of a Palestinian state, and this state should be a homogeneous Arab state. It can’t be argued that the removal of the Jews there would not be an act of ethnic cleansing.

Underlying the opposition of many who object to Jewish settlements in the area is the assumption that Jews and Arabs cannot live peaceably together and should therefore be separated. The more extreme proponents of this view, like Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, would like to “export” some of Israel’s Arab citizens to the future Palestinian state by moving the border and transferring the territories where they live to that state. This is presumably a more humane form of ethnic cleansing.

They all need to be reminded of the obvious – that Jews and Arabs are living peaceably together in the State of Israel, and if ever a Palestinian state were to be established existing side by side with Israel in peace, there is no reason it shouldn’t contain a Jewish minority. As a matter of fact, such a minority might actually prove an economic asset to that state. So what’s all the fuss about?

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