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Slow Motion Ethnic Cleansing

By Uri Avnery

Counter Punch
09 October, 2003

In his final speech in court, Marwan Barghouti, the Fatah leader on trial, issued a resounding warning: If Israelis do not adopt the Two-States Solution soon, Israel will disappear. The whole country will become one state, and in this state the Palestinians will soon constitute the majority.

I don't know whom Barghouti talked with before using this argument. Probably it was Israeli left-wingers, who are convinced of the brilliance of this stratagem.

And indeed, it could be very convincing. Shimon Peres and people like him have been using it for a long time. It is based on the following reasonable assumptions:

* If there is one thing on which 99% of Israelis are united, it is the will to live in a state with a solid Jewish majority, whose language and culture are Hebrew.

* This is deeply imbedded in the collective consciousness, partly as a reaction to the persecution of the Jews, the Holocaust and anti-Semitism in countries where Jews were a minority. Of course, all other peoples want the same, too.

* To the vast majority of Israelis, the idea of a bi-national state, which means the elimination of the State of Israel, represents the loss of all they have achieved in the country since the first settlers came in 1882.

Therefore, the advocates of this tactic say: don't come to the public with slogans of peace, reconciliation and hope. That will not work. The Jewish public hates the Arabs and does not trust them.

Instead, let's take the feelings of hatred and racial prejudice and use them for a good end. Tell the public that the idea of "two states for two peoples" is the only way to save our state. If it is not realized, the State of Israel will fall apart, a bi-national state will emerge and the Jews will become here, too, a fast-shrinking minority. Like the Whites in South Africa, they will gradually leave the country. After all, if we have to be a minority, then why in a poor Arab country, as Palestine is liable to become, and not in Canada or Australia?

Marwan Barghouti is not the only one who uses bi-nationalism as a scarecrow. Lately, several Palestinian spokespersons have been waving this flag--not because they believe in it, but in order to frighten Israelis into accepting the Two-States plan, which is the only realistic peace plan on the agenda.

I warn against this tactic. It is very dangerous.

It may seem that there are only two possibilities: One state in the whole country, which will necessarily be bi-national, or an Israeli state in a part of the country, inside the green Line, next to a Palestinian state. But there is a third possibility: An Israeli state in all of the country, from which the Palestinian population will be expelled. Few Israelis speak of this openly, but a great many think about it.

Good people ignore this alternative because they do not find it thinkable. They imagine Kosovo-style ethnic cleansing: driving millions out in one big dramatic sweep. They console themselves: "The world won't stand for it! Sharon wouldn't dare!"

But there are other ways to implement ethnic cleansing: not dramatically, but slowly, daily, even routinely. Like, for example, what's happening now in Bethlehem.

It works like this: Pressure is put on property-owners. They are told: It's better for you to sell us your properties now, before the authorities come and expropriate them for security reasons. (In this case: the security of the near-by Rachel's Tomb). Very high prices are offered. They are promised that a new life will be arranged for them in Canada or Australia, far from the Palestinian organizations that might kill them as traitors. After some time, and after the sellers are safely out of sight, the sale is disclosed to the public. Palestinians tenants are driven out and a new Jewish neighborhood arises.

These methods have served the "redeemers of the soil" (in Zionist terminology) for the last 120 years. The tempo can be increased rapidly. The more hellish the life of the Palestinians becomes--for security reasons, of course--the more the Israeli leadership hopes that the Arabs will go away "voluntarily".

Therefore, the idea of "one state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan" cannot be used to frighten Arab-hating Israelis. They see it only as another reason to put up more settlements all over the West Bank, in order to make sure that Israel will dominate the area. As for the Palestinian population - well, Ariel Sharon and his ilk have a lot of experience in dealing with them.

As a matter of fact, there is no need for such tricks to support the idea of Two States. It speaks for itself. Slowly and surely it is convincing the Israelis, as it has convinced the "Quartet" and the world community. Those who doubt this should see the statement of the 27 combat pilots (who are now 30, after two left under pressure and five new ones joined).

The "pilots of conscience", who come from the mainstream of Israeli society, are the swallows that announce the spring (as the Hebrew saying goes). People are fed up with the occupation, fed up with the oppression, fed up with the war.

There is no need to convince the Israeli public that peace is worthwhile. But they must be convinced that peace is possible. In this respect, people like Barghouti can do a lot. And people in Israeli must learn to listen to what they have to say.

Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom




Uri Avnery