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With one viral video, Netanyahu rewrote Israeli history

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a YouTube address (Screenshot).

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a YouTube address (Screenshot).

“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:

… is a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas… [The] purpose appears to be the occupation of territory to the exclusion of the purged group or groups.

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 from a territory was the disengagement from Gaza.

Adolescents at the settlement of Shirat Yam on evacuation day (IDFonline/Flickr)

Adolescents at the settlement of Shirat Yam on evacuation day (IDFonline/Flickr)

Yet, the term “ethnic cleansing” is clearly false here as well. The displacement of the Jewish population during the disengagement was initiated and carried out by the State of Israel – the sovereign national ethno-religious entity to which the displaced population belongs as equal citizens. Furthermore its purpose was not the occupation of a territory but the exact opposite: the cessation of military occupation. Moreover the displacement was the result of a democratic process which included the participation of the displaced population and its supporters. Therefore it was a legal and legitimate action within the civil framework (the state) shared by both the displaced population and the displacing party. This is also true of the means of displacement, which included legally delimited, non-lethal coercion, employed only when other means failed, and with the full recognition that the displacement — be it willing or coerced — is injurious to the displaced population, as reflected in the restitutions given to the displaced.

In fact, anyone who understands the term “ethnic cleansing” simply would not use it in relation to the disengagement, unless that person was interested in creating negative propaganda. Such an effort was evident in the campaign conducted by those who opposed to the disengagement, which tried to rebrand the disengagement as the “uprooting” – a choice that is clearly evident in Arens’ text. Since that period, the hegemonic Israeli Right has been hard at work ingraining in the Israeli public collective consciousness the myth of “The Banishment from Gush Katif” — a myth modeled as a traumatic narrative, which following Israeli tradition, promotes political and economic interests and demands through self-victimizing demagoguery.

This is also true of Netanyahu’s viral video. As the “New Historians” showed, the most significant act of ethnic cleansing in Israeli-Palestinian history was planned and carried out by Israel against the Palestinians during its War of Independence – what came to be known as the Nakba. Yet the reality of ethnic cleansing is not in the past: following the aforementioned definitions, it is possible to assert that Israel continues to carry out ethnic cleansing in some areas of the occupied territories, specifically in areas near Jewish settlements. Netanayhu’s argument that the Palestinians wish to ethnically cleanse Jews was, in effect, meant to turn the tables on the Palestinians and simultaneously whitewash the settlements.

Decades after the ethnic cleansing of al-Sindiyana, all that remains are stones scattered on the Carmel mountainside. (Noam Rotem)

Decades after the ethnic cleansing of al-Sindiyana, all that remains are stones scattered on the Carmel mountainside. (Noam Rotem)

This is a calculated and particularly nasty maneuver in the propaganda war Israel is conducting against the Palestinians and the BDS movement. However, this maneuver is not aimed only or even primarily at international audiences. In fact, Israeli state propaganda, and Netanyahu’s in particular, is first and foremost directed at the Israeli public. It is part of the Right’s far-reaching revisionist effort, meant to delegitimize both the Palestinians and the Israeli Left in the intra-Israeli discourse, by positioning them as enemy forces bent on ethnically cleansing “us” — the Jews.

The discourse engineering efforts taking place in contemporary Israel, manifest throughout the public sphere, follows the classical Orwellian maxim: “Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” The cynical and instrumental rewriting of the past, as well as the extensive employment of negative propaganda, are clear markings of fascism.

Na’aman Hirschfeld is a PhD candidate at Humboldt University of Berlin’s Institute of Cultural Studies. This article was first published in Hebrew on Haokets. Read it here.

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    1. Grandpa Frost

      1. There is no occupation. Judea and Samaria (misnamed as the West Bank) are not under the legitimate sovereignty of any state and therefore cannot be considered occupied.
      2. Israeli government is heavily pressured by the International Community to forcibly remove the Jews from their historical homelands of Judea and Samaria. Thus, even if such an atrocity is carried out by Israeli hands, such an action will be undertaken at the behest of hostile foreign entities. Therefore, it still constitutes ethnic cleansing. Furthermore, systematic acts of terrorism perpetrated by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and other organizations against the Jewish population is “a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas… [The] purpose appears to be the occupation of territory to the exclusion of the purged group or groups.” If the Jews are ever forced to leave Judea and Samaria, this displacement will certainly be a consequence of the above mentioned terrorism and will in fact constitute ethnic cleansing.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “There is no occupation…[the occupied territories] are not under the legitimate sovereignty of any state”

        Nonsense, Grandpa. One marvels at the tireless propensity of hasbarists to simply make up outlandish things to suit them. Military occupation is effective provisional control of a ruling power over a territory which is not under the formal sovereignty of that entity. The West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza are not under the sovereignty of Israel. It is most definitely an occupation. All law of occupation, as governed by the Geneva Conventions of 1949 therefore apply. And Israel has violated those laws flagrantly, every day, for 49 years and running. The Geneva Conventions apply to any territory occupied during international hostilities. It makes no difference, furthermore, whether you call it an “invasion”, “liberation”, “administration” or “occupation” or whatever you call it. Because the law of occupation is primarily motivated by humanitarian considerations, it is solely the facts on the ground that determine its application. It is about the protection of human beings at the mercy of hostile armies. It is not about states and their rights or the supposed absence of states and their supposed lack of rights. Israel is militarily occupying territory over which it is not sovereign. Case closed. There is no way around this. I can say the sun rises in the West 10,000 times and it is still going to come up in the East tomorrow. Endless obfuscations will not change these truths.

        “…atrocity… undertaken at the behest of hostile foreign entities…”

        Now that’s a good one! We had a good laugh at this one over at Ben’s house. It takes blame-externalizing and victimhood-asserting to new levels or perversity. Gets the shameless hasbara of the month award! Wow.

        Reply to Comment
        • Grandpa Frost

          Ben, thank you for looking up the Wikipedia definition of “military occupation.” However, you have purposefully omitted a part of that definition. Let’s read the definition in full, shall we? “Military occupation is effective provisional control of a certain ruling power over a territory which is not under the formal sovereignty of that entity, without the volition of the actual sovereign.” Now, that changes things, doesn’t it? Since Jordan renounced its claim to Judea and Samaria and Egypt renounced its claimed to Gaza the “actual sovereign” is non-existent. My point stands, there is no occupation! This negates every following claim you have made because those claims are based on a false premise. It is funny, that you implicitly call me a “hasbarist.” I wear it as a badge of honor! The word “hasbara” means explanation in Hebrew and clearly thanks to the “endless obfuscations” of the anti-Israel movement a lot of hasbara is needed! Case in point your incomplete definition of “military occupation”.

          Also… It’s rather unfortunate that you find atrocities amusing. But, it is rather typical and quite telling about the moral character of the “critics” of Israel!

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “without the volition of the actual sovereign”

            “Now, that changes things, doesn’t it?”

            Oh Grandpa, I don’t find atrocities amusing, I find you amusing. I rather think you know your objection is illogical and changes nothing and negates nothing. If a sovereign does not exist, it cannot grant volition or consent. Therefore, Israel has in its possession no granting of the volition of a sovereign power.

            (Jordan ceased to be the actual sovereign in 1967 and neither Jordan nor any other power on Earth of any legal standing ever, obviously, granted consent, legal or otherwise, to Israel’s belligerent occupation. If Israel for one second thought otherwise it would have promptly annexed the territories and it did not. Jordan continued to pay salaries and pensions and provide various services to the territories. In 1974 King Hussein relinquished his claim to speak for the Palestinians and moved to recognize a Palestinian state independent of Jordan. Many political and procedural moves followed with Hussein declaring his aim of helping the Palestinians establishing their own independent state.)

            My argument stands. Unmolested and in full. Furthermore, even if you had somehow negated or even slightly gainsaid the first section of my argument, and you did not, it would not follow that you had undermined the main point that I made, and that anyone who actually cared about the actual human beings on the ground involved—something which on the face of it cannot be said to describe you—would instantly recognize: “ Because the law of occupation is primarily motivated by humanitarian considerations, it is solely the facts on the ground that determine its application. It is about the protection of human beings at the mercy of hostile armies. It is not about states and their rights or the supposed absence of states and their supposed lack of rights. Israel is militarily occupying territory over which it is not sovereign. Case closed. There is no way around this.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Grandpa Frost

            Ben, I’m sorry, but you are playing semantic games here and not coming up with an actual argument. You say: “If a sovereign does not exist, it cannot grant volition or consent. Therefore, Israel has in its possession no granting of the volition of a sovereign power.” The existence of a military occupation implies the existence of a sovereign. Since, the sovereign does not exist, neither does the occupation. The state of Israel cannot ask the permission from an entity that does not exist.
            If one were to use your “logic”, it would be illegal for humans to set up bases on the moon, because there is no sovereign lunar government to grant us permission to do that. I am sorry, but it makes no sense whatsoever.
            You say: “Jordan ceased to be the actual sovereign in 1967 and neither Jordan nor any other power on Earth of any legal standing ever, obviously, granted consent, legal or otherwise, to Israel’s belligerent occupation.”
            Jordan was NOT the sovereign power in Judea and Samaria. Most of those territories were designated to be an Arab state by the 1948 UN partition. The Jews accepted the partition and the Arabs rejected it. The Arab state was not created and Jordan occupied Judea and Samaria illegally. Israel on the other hand, won Judea and Samaria in a defensive war. Since the Arab state never came into existence, there is no sovereign power. And since, Israel acquired the territories legally in a defensive war, Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria, as well as all of the Jewish communities there are completely legal under international law.

            Reply to Comment
          • Duh

            The British prevented Palestine from becoming sovereign after WWI all the way up to 1948 while colonial settlers increased their population and militarized, a process that didn’t take place in Transjordan, Lebanon, Syria or Iraq. The Palestinians who became refugees from the ’49 armistice boundary are rightful citizens of the post-Mandate entity, making Israel illegitimate for denying them citizenship as well as preventing freedom of movement for those who remain in British Mandate Palestine west of the river.

            And who would have accepted the UN partition save those who stood to gain from it? The whole world had the example of the Munich Agreement to go on.

            Reply to Comment
          • Grandpa Frost

            Duh says: “The British prevented Palestine from becoming sovereign after WWI all the way up to 1948…” Did they now? I’d be curious to know who was the leader of this Palestinian independence movement? In fact, can you name even one Arab leader who explicitly identified himself as as a Palestinian, let alone call for independent Palestine before 1964. Duh says: “…while colonial settlers increased their population and militarized…” Do you know the definition of a colony? All colonies are set up on someone’s behalf, ie Britain, France, Germany, Italy. And who did these “colonial settlers” represent? Never mind the fact that they were/are the ONLY people in the region with identifiable historical and cultural connection to the land. Duh says: “The Palestinians who became refugees from the ’49 armistice boundary are rightful citizens of the post-Mandate entity…” For starters, those people were NOT called “Palestinians” back then. They were called “Arabs” ,”Arab refugees” etc. As I pointed out the Palestinian identity did not exist before 1967. Now, why did some of the Arabs flee? Is it not because at least 5 Arab armies committed an act of aggression by invading the nascent state of Israel? There is no precedent in human history, when the winning side in a military conflict, a victim of aggression no less, was made responsible for the enemy’s refugees. Duh continues: “making Israel illegitimate for denying them citizenship as well as preventing freedom of movement for those who remain in British Mandate Palestine west of the river.” Illegitimate according to what law? You know, there was another refugee crisis in 1948 and subsequent years. This crisis was much greater in scope. It was the Jewish refugee crisis. The Jews were forced to flee ALL Arab countries and abandon their property. Contrast that with Israel, where there’s a 1.5 strong thriving Arab minority. Now, if we use your logic, then all the Arab countries which the Jews were forced to free from are illegitimate! Duh says: “And who would have accepted the UN partition save those who stood to gain from it? The whole world had the example of the Munich Agreement to go on.” They accepted the partition because they were following international law, as opposed to the other side that blatantly violated it. And your attempt to compare Israel to Nazi Germany is not even worth commenting on.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Grandpa, your words are revealing and afford the occasion to clarify something, for the millionth time, until the next hasbarist tries again to obfuscate it. And they will try. You are offering a poorly worded variant of a long discredited argument accepted by no serious, objective legal scholar–a legal gymnastics trick that has only ever enticed those trying very hard to be convinced. And no country on Earth, bar none, except Israel itself, has accepted the argument. This trick should be entitled, “The I Want To Have It Both Ways Argument.” That is, Israel wants to treat the territories as “occupied” for the purpose of not granting citizenship to the Arab inhabitants of those territories, but it wants to treat the territories as “not occupied” for the purposes of grabbing the land and mistreating the Arabs persons there in violation of the Geneva Conventions. In 1967, Theodore Meron, Israel’s legal counsel for the Foreign Ministry, in a top secret memo, bluntly told Israel’s leaders that the settlements were flat out illegal, contravening the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Conventions. Israel’s leaders hence knew this from the start and they know it today. Gershom Gorenberg further explains what this meant and to what “having it both ways” purposes Israel put these legal realities. Because, despite what Meron warned them about, Israel to this day has tried to sustain this duplicitous double standard and it is why none of it adds up in Israel’s favor in the view of anyone with integrity:

            “Mr. Meron took note of Israel’s diplomatic argument that the West Bank was not “normal” occupied territory, because the land’s status was uncertain. The prewar border with Jordan had been a mere armistice line, and Jordan had annexed the West Bank unilaterally. But he rejected that argument for two reasons. The first was diplomatic: the international community would not accept it and would regard settlement as showing “intent to annex the West Bank to Israel.” The second was legal, he wrote: “In truth, certain Israeli actions are inconsistent with the claim that the West Bank is not occupied territory.” For instance, he noted, a military decree issued on the third day of the war in June said that military courts must apply the Geneva Conventions in the West Bank. There is a subtext here. In treating the West Bank as occupied, Israel may simply have been recognizing legal reality. But doing so had practical import: if the land was occupied, the Arabs who lived there did not have to be integrated into the Israeli polity — in contrast to Arabs within Israel, who were citizens. Eshkol and other Israeli leaders knew that granting citizenship to the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza Strip would quickly turn Israel into a binational state. In effect, the Meron memo told Eshkol: you cannot have it both ways. If the West Bank was “occupied” for the Arab population, then neither international law nor Israel’s democratic norms permitted settling Jews there.”
            http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/10/opinion/israels-tragedy-foretold.html?_r=0

            Reply to Comment
          • Grandpa Frost

            Ben,
            1. Our disagreement is not about what Israel’s position is or is not, but whether the reality of the occupation exists. I am offering a valid argument which you failed to disprove. The occupation is a myth, plain and simple.
            2. The international community has a long and easily demonstrable record of anti-Israel bias and its position is irrelevant at this point of history. Once the international community comes to grips with the global intifada that is taking place around the world, there is a good chance it will amend its position to something far more reasonable.
            At this point, I have to stop our debate unless you come up with a valid to argument as to why the occupation actually exists.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Grandpa, the occupation is a very brutal reality for millions of people every single day. (And painstakingly documented in the pages of this magazine with on-the-ground verisimilitude, sobriety and integrity. There’s nothing like true authority and nothing so glaring as its absence. Do you even read it?) Your blithe denial of this reality is heartless and emblematic of a supremacist/judeofascist cast of mind. For you would never ever deny this reality if Jews were subjected to it.
            You have disproved nothing. Saying that you have is not an argument. I am quite comfortable letting the foregoing stand and have others decide. “At this point, I have to stop our debate” has the air of losing the game, picking up your marbles and stomping off the playground. Be my guest.
            As for an “easily demonstrable record of anti-Israel bias,” actually the reverse has been demonstrated. Larry Derfner as well as Lorenzo Kamel have convincingly shown in these pages that the bias runs the other way. The Europeans give Israel a pass they give nobody else:
            http://972mag.com/the-worlds-blatant-double-standard-in-israels-favor

            Reply to Comment
          • Carmen

            ‘the moral character of the critics of israel’? And the character of israeli gov’t is moral? WRT Palestinians, such moral declarations as mowing the lawn, putting Palestinians on a diet, break their bones, bomb Gaza back to the stone age, Palestinians have no culture, Palestinians are wild beasts and
            “When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle.” Raphael Eitan, Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defence Forces, New York Times, 14 April 1983;
            “There was no such thing as Palestinians, they never existed.” Golda Maier Israeli Prime Minister June 15, 1969;
            Ben Gurion also warned in 1948 : “We must do everything to insure they ( the Palestinians) never do return.” Assuring his fellow Zionists that Palestinians will never come back to their homes. “The old will die and the young will forget.”;
            “We have to kill all the Palestinians unless they are resigned to live here as slaves.” Chairman Heilbrun of the Committee for the Re-election of General Shlomo Lahat, the mayor of Tel Aviv, October 1983.
            “We must do everything to ensure they [the Palestinian refugees] never do return” David Ben-Gurion, in his diary, 18 July 1948, quoted in Michael Bar Zohar’s Ben-Gurion: the Armed Prophet, Prentice-Hall, 1967, p. 157.
            “Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because geography books no longer exist. Not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahlal arose in the place of Mahlul; Kibbutz Gvat in the place of Jibta; Kibbutz Sarid in the place of Huneifis; and Kefar Yehushua in the place of Tal al-Shuman. There is not a single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population.” Moshe Dayan, address to the Technion, Haifa, reported in Haaretz, April 4, 1969.
            “We walked outside, Ben-Gurion accompanying us. Allon repeated his question, What is to be done with the Palestinian population?’ Ben-Gurion waved his hand in a gesture which said ‘Drive them out!'” Yitzhak Rabin, leaked censored version of Rabin memoirs, published in the New York Times, 23 October 1979.
            Rabin’s description of the conquest of Lydda, after the completion of Plan Dalet. “We shall reduce the Arab population to a community of woodcutters and waiters” Uri Lubrani, PM Ben-Gurion’s special adviser on Arab Affairs, 1960. From “The Arabs in Israel” by Sabri Jiryas.
            http://www.whatreallyhappened.com/WRHARTICLES/palestinians.php#ixzz4M5VNEWPw

            You must be so proud.

            Reply to Comment
          • Grandpa Frost

            Carmen, thank you for making my case for me.

            Reply to Comment
    2. If there is a real concern the US may not veto a constructive UN Security Council resolution supportive of two states, Netanyahu’s pitch (in English, no less) may be intended to provide a critical talking point against such a resolution and perhaps box in the US Presidential candidates on this issue prior the election.

      Let’s see if Trump goats Clinton on this issue and how Clinton responds.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Duh

      Let’s try to put it more succinctly: Israel is an illegitimate state created from occupation of 78% of Palestine by the Zionist paramilitaries in 1948 and has occupied the remaining 22% since 1967. All of Palestine from river to sea is occupied territory.

      Reply to Comment
      • Grandpa Frost

        According to who? And by the way, historical Palestine also includes all of Jordan and parts of Syria and Lebanon. You know what it doesn’t include? The Palestinian people. The Palestinian identity is very recent, it only emerged after 1967.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Ben

      By the way, Gramps, this is not to distract from the main point above, but your incidental moon analogy is also revealing. From several angles. It’s reeks of that “land without a people for a people without a land” fabrication. As if the coastal plain and the West Bank the Zionists found were the far side of the moon and uninhabited by real human beings. So anything goes. It suggests something like your unconscious dismissal of the Palestinians as human being worthy of the same protections as Jews. (Remember, the law of occupation is primarily motivated by humanitarian considerations, it is solely the facts on the ground that determine its application. It is about the protection of human beings….) And I guarantee you that if, let’s say, the United States or Russia were to try to colonize the moon, set up settlements, rule over it, and tell other countries and other peoples to butt out (“it’s all mine!”) that they would not hear the end of it. The absurdities multiply….

      Reply to Comment