By accusing Palestinians of attempting to ‘ethnically cleanse’ Jews, Netanyahu is not only distorting history, he is actively delegitimizing both the Palestinians and the Israeli Left.
By Na’aman Hirschfeld
“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.” These words were written by Moshe Arens in an op-ed published in Haaretz last month.
Arens went on to ask: “So why did Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent use of that phrase cause such an uproar?” After all, he argues, several ethnic cleansings have been carried out against Jews in Eretz Yisrael in the past, the last and largest one during the disengagement from Gaza, “when all Jewish settlers were forcibly removed from their homes. But that was a case where 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.”
The questions raised by Arens should be addressed, because like Netanyahu’s claims, they are only made possible by a substantial lack of knowledge among Israelis about what “ethnic cleansing” actually is, and its relevance to the Israeli-Palestinian reality.
So what is ethnic cleansing? The Final Report of the Commission of Experts Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 780 (submitted in May 1994) — a seminal document vis-a-vis the definition of the term, asserts that ethnic cleansing:
The violent means used in ethnic cleansing include: “murder, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, extra-judicial executions, rape and sexual assaults, confinement of civilian population in ghetto areas, forcible removal, displacement and deportation of civilian population, deliberate military attacks or threats of attacks on civilians and civilian areas, and wanton destruction of property.” And since these acts are part of a coherent policy, the report asserts that: “Those practices constitute crimes against humanity and can be assimilated to specific war crimes. Furthermore, such acts could also fall within the meaning of the Genocide Convention.”
Following this definition, it is clear that Arens’ assertions are simply wrong: the violent events he describes could be considered as war crimes, but they were in no way instances of ethnic cleansing, i.e. of a coherent policy meant to “cleanse” an area of Jews. The only case of an explicit policy to remove Jewish civilians...Read More