It’s not every day that you get the chance to prevent a crime against humanity.
This is one of those times.
For several months now, those of us following events in Israel-Palestine closely have been hearing increasingly disturbing reports. Americans returning from the Palestinian Occupied Territories reported that the Israeli government appeared to be preparing to “transfer” the Palestinian population; in other words, to forcibly remove them from their homes and transport them elsewhere.
Israeli parliamentary members began more and more openly to advocate such expulsion, and parties that actively promote transfer were included in the ruling coalition. A renowned Israeli historian suggested that the region would be much more peaceful today if all of Israel’s original inhabitants had been forced out in 1948, instead of only 60 percent. The implication was clear: it was not too late to remedy this lapse.
A major Israeli daily reported that the military was studying the tactics that had been used by Germany in the Warsaw Ghetto, looking for tips on how to control an unwanted, violently rebelling population. Palestinians sent out emails describing Israeli soldiers going from house to house, counting the occupants–“taking inventory of us,” as one person wrote.
Here in the U.S. more and more supporters of Israel began openly debating the merits of “transfer.” Gamla, an American support organization for Israel, published a 9,000 word article entitled “The logistics of transfer.” The author argued that “the only possible solution” to the Palestinian Question was transfer of the Palestinians, and claimed that ancient Judaic literature substantiates this tactic. A group in New York fought to name a street after the Israeli government minister who had most ardently urged such “cleansing.”
For a number of months I ignored this mounting evidence. Keeping track of the daily cycle of Israeli fatal and mutilating violence, followed by violent Palestinian retaliation, was already a chillingly full-time endeavor. That this tragic two-year period of violence could turn out to be but the “calm” before the storm was beyond my ability to contemplate.
But now, 178 Israeli academics and over 1,000 American professors have written two letters to the world community forcing us all to consider just such a possibility. And unlike many other writers, they are calling “transfer” by its real name: ethnic cleansing.
In letters released on the internet they write: “We are deeply worried that “the ‘fog of war’ [during an invasion of Iraq] could be exploited by the Israeli government to commit further crimes against the Palestinian people, up to full-fledged ethnic cleansing.”
They call on all of us to prevent this: “to make it absolutely clear that crimes against humanity will not be tolerated, and to take concrete measures to prevent such crimes from taking place.”
For that is what “transfer” is: a crime against humanity. It is what Hitler espoused; what Milosevic urged. It is the getting rid of people of the wrong kind… of the wrong race, the wrong ethnicity, the wrong religion… the wrong people. It is, by its very nature, violent, racist, cruel. It is the uprooting of human beings from their land, their homes, their heredity, their lives; a ripping out, by the very roots, of an entire culture.
It is like the violent uprooting of a vast, rolling prairie–stalk after stalk ripped from the earth… each stalk another man, another child, another woman. Some survive, many do not. Some die quickly, others wither slowly, invisibly; in hardship, grief, despair. In 1948, when over 700,000 Palestinian men, women and children fled their homes, one Red Cross worker at the time wrote: “No one will ever know how many children died.” This is “transfer.”
I refuse, any longer, not to pay attention. I refuse to stand by while evil renames itself and is entertained in respectable society. I refuse to remain silent while the filthy is perfumed and the unthinkable thought. I refuse to become guilty, through my inaction, of complicity with atrocity.
The world has looked away before, too often, and in too many places. To its eternal shame.
ALISON WEIR lives in Sausalito, California. She is the executive director of If Americans Knew and is a contributor to THE NEW INTIFADA (Verso press) and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.. She traveled extensively throughout Gaza and the West Bank in winter, 2001, as a freelance reporter, and has given presentations on the Middle East on Capitol Hill, the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine, and numerous other venues throughout the United States and Canada. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org