Palestinians flee south.
Palestinians migrate towards Rafah in the southern part of the city due to intense Israeli attacks in Khan Yunis, Gaza, on December 05, 2023.
(Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Expelling Palestinian Families Is Not the Solution—It Never Was

The ongoing expulsion of Palestinians is the central injustice that must be addressed if we are to achieve peace.

In an interview I recorded in 2012, Israeli veteran Hava Keller recounted the day in 1948 that she drove to the town of Beersheba to assist an Israeli military unit. They greeted her with the words, “Wonderful! You came just in time. Tomorrow we are throwing out the Arabs from Beersheba. You are going to help.”

She and her fellow Israeli soldiers each held a gun, “so nobody will try and run away and all of them will go into the cars and go to Gaza. They are in Gaza until today.”

I agree with those who call upon Americans to hold Israel to the same standard as every other country. It is unjust to demand more of one country than we demand of others. At the same time, holding Israel to the same standards means we can’t ignore its crimes against humanity. The crimes committed against Israel on October 7 were horrific - but in no way do they justify further war crimes. And that’s what is happening right now.

Turning a blind eye to crimes against humanity is not the answer.

Not only are we currently witnessing the killing of thousands of women and children, but we are also watching the largest expulsion in Palestinian history: more Palestinians have been displaced from their homes since October than in the last hundred years combined. This is a war crime. Forcing Palestinian families out of their homes isn’t the solution to this tragedy; it’s the cause of it. And America has been turning a blind eye to it for far too long.

Beersheba is far from the only place where Israelis expelled Palestinians in 1948. Seventy percent of Gazans are refugees or descendents of refugees. In 1948, over 80% of the Palestinian population fled from the land that became Israel. Some fled out of fear of being attacked. But in many cases, Israelis launched operations with the express purpose of expulsion. To give just one example, in November 1948, an Israeli military unit received orders to go to several villages, then “gather the inhabitants, load them onto vehicles and expel them to Gaza.”

In another interview, Mordechai Bar-On, who served as a company commander in 1948, described a different method of forcing Palestinians out of their homes. They would begin with a “short barrage of either light mortars or three-inch mortars” and then, “we gave a one-minute coordinated shot of whatever weapons we had and stormed.” Upon entering the homes, “there was still coffee on the pot. You could see that people lived there until a few minutes ago.”

1948: Creation & Catastrophe

Initially, the Palestinians who lived in those homes would stay nearby. But Bar-On made it clear that, “if they tried to come back, they were shot at. And eventually, they decided to leave altogether … moving toward the Gaza Strip.”

In the 1967 war, the Israeli military displaced another 300,000 Palestinians. But even outside of wartime, the Israeli government places heavy pressure on Palestinians to emigrate. Checkpoints, concrete walls, home demolitions, arrest without charge - the list of coercive tools is long. Adding to those tools is the violence committed by Israeli settlers in the West Bank, which has long been tolerated by the Israeli government. In the documentary My Neighborhood, Yonatan Yosef, spokesperson for Israeli settlers in Sheikh Jarrah, explained the goal of settler attacks on Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem: “All this area will be a Jewish neighborhood. We are not finish[ed with] the job. We are going to the next neighborhood, and after that, we’ll go more.”

Yosef went on to say, “I see this as a continuation of the Zionist project. The return to Zion. Is it at the Arabs’ expense? Yes. But our government institutions were also built at the expense of Arabs who lived here. And so was the state itself.”

Over the past two months, Israel has once again used its military to force Palestinians out of their homes. And yet again, Israeli leaders are asking for Palestinian families to uproot their lives and flee. "I welcome the initiative of the voluntary emigration of Gaza Arabs to countries around the world," Israel’s finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich said. This is the same politician who, just two years ago, turned to Arab members of Israel’s parliament and said, “You’re here by mistake, it’s a mistake that [Israel’s founding father] Ben-Gurion didn’t finish the job and didn’t throw you out in 1948.”

And an MP from Israel’s ruling party recently expressed her desire that the families of Gaza (who she called “monsters”), “will fly to the southern fence and enter Egyptian territory." She gave one goal to her country: “Erasing all of Gaza from the face of the earth.”

In addition to killing over 20,00 human beings—70% of whom are women and children—Israeli bombs have now damaged or destroyed more than 60% of homes in Gaza. Many of those bombs were paid for with American tax dollars. And our country repeatedly defends this slaughter in the United Nations.

The ongoing expulsion of Palestinians is the central injustice that must be addressed. Turning a blind eye to crimes against humanity is not the answer. It’s time for America to stop applying a different standard to Israel. That’s the only path to peace.

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