While the world has been busy with the specter of a major war in the Middle East, the American public has been getting very little news coverage about the Palestinians and the continuation of the oppressive Israeli measures. As the world comes closer to the war on Iraq which now appears imminent, many of us are more concerned not only about the major loss in civilian lives in Iraq but also about the potential tragedy that is expected to unfold in the West Bank and Gaza.
Credible analysis about the true motives behind the war and the real objectives of the Bush Administration has confirmed that Israel has a vested interest in the looming war on Iraq and that Israel is expected to reap major gains from the war. In his article “The US Gameplan for Iraq” former CIA political analyst for 29 years, Bill Christison, gave a complete analysis of the apparent and hidden objectives from the almost certain war on Iraq. He classified and analyzed all the reasons being discussed by the media and the public, and explained that the true reasons were the oil and the present administration’s desire for world domination, including domination of the Middle East by Israel, the US surrogate power.
One of the obvious reasons that has not been mentioned by most analysts, however, is the diversion from (or cover up for) what Israel is doing in the West Bank and Gaza, and from what it plans to do. In an article titled “As the world focuses on Iraq, the bodies pile up in Gaza” (the Independent, February 23, 2003) reporter Justin Huggler asks pointedly from Gaza “Is the Israeli military taking advantage of a time when the world is not paying attention to what is going on here, when media coverage is focusing on Iraq, to step up its campaign in the occupied territories?” The answer is obviously ‘yes’ and Huggler explains that the restraints imposed on Israeli repression against the Palestinians have in the past come from world public opinion only. That public opinion is now busy elsewhere.
A more important reason for concern is what Israel might be planning for the Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza. Academic observers and analysts of the question on Palestine, both in Israel and in the United States, have warned about a potential major disaster if Israel makes good on threats being vocalized by Israeli extremists regarding further ethnic cleansing; many extremists in the government, and most settlers, have threatened to expel Palestinians from population centers in the West Bank and Gaza across international borders into Jordan and Egypt. These academics and observers have warned that as the world gets more pre-occupied with the war on Iraq, the Israeli military will manufacture excuses to conduct another in a series of ethnic cleansing steps which started in 1948. In her article titled “Threats of Forced Mass Expulsion” (Le Monde Diplomatique, February 19, 2003), Amira Hass, the only Israeli reporter who lives in a West Bank city (Ramallah), confirms that the idea of “transfer” of Palestinians forcibly or through enticement is gaining momentum across the political spectrum of Israeli society. Amira Hass asserts “Some 73% of those who live in the Jewish settlements, euphemistically known as development towns, believe that Israel should encourage its Arab population to leave. This rises to 76% among Jews from the former Soviet Union and to 87% among religious Jews.” In the same article, Amira Hass further confirms that mini transfers have indeed already started:
The presence of military pacifists in the occupied territories has not prevented “mini-transfers”. Faced with non-stop harassment from their 500 Jewish neighbours and a round-the-clock military curfew designed to protect settlers, many Palestinians have moved out of the ancient city of Hebron. In the northern West Bank 180 Palestinian villagers in Yanun were forced to abandon their homes and relocate after increased harassment from the neighbouring Jewish settlement of Itamar. Other expulsions have taken place because of the construction of Israel’s infamous wall. Though such “mini-transfers” have come to the attention of the Israeli public and resulted in demonstrations, the loss of land and homes over the past two years has left the Palestinians feeling dispossessed.
Considering this growing acceptance of the “transfer” idea within Israeli society, and the fact that the world will soon be even more pre-occupied with the war on Iraq and the problems that the war will create, Israel could be expected to uphold its reputation of committing further atrocities and manufacturing excuses to justify them. It should be expected that such atrocities will include the “transfer,” at least through increased harassment by the settlers and at most by the Israeli authorities with the backing of the occupation forces.
President Bush continues with his efforts to try to appease the Arabs and Moslems by promising democracy for the Iraqis when he “liberates” Iraq and a state for the Palestinians where Israel must stop building settlements. Apparently this is the best he can do, to stop Israel from building settlements. It is unknown how he plans to do that or whether he plans to ask, or beg, Sharon the “man of peace” to stop, just like he asked him in April 2002 to withdraw the Israeli forces from the West Bank “without delay.” President Bush is making promises to people who do not believe or trust him. If he wanted to build some trust with the Arabs and Moslems, President Bush knows how to regain his credibility; he would ask Sharon to pull his troops out from the West Bank immediately and end the Israeli occupation regime.
As the world gets closer by the day to a devastating war on Iraq, the world community, including President Bush, must be mindful of the actions of the Israeli settlers and the Israeli military in the West Bank and Gaza. The world, especially the Middle East, does not need and can not withstand another human tragedy in the form of a few million refugees. The Palestinians have been victimized through frequent transfers and ethnic cleansing since 1948. The world has the responsibility to insure that Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza will not suffer the agony of yet another major transfer from their ancestral homeland.
MICHAEL S. LADAH is an Arab American who lived and worked in various parts of the Middle East. He is the author of “Quicksand, Oil and Dreams: The Story of One of Five Million Dispossessed Palestinians.” He may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org