As the death toll and the destruction in Gaza mount, so do the voices in Israel that demand the expulsion or the elimination of the Palestinian population in the besieged enclave.
For nearly three months, Israel has been waging a relentless war against Hamas, the Islamist group that rules Gaza, in response to its rocket attack on Oct. 7 that killed more than 1,200 Israelis, the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust.
Israel claims that its military campaign, which has killed more than 20,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and displaced nearly 90 percent of Gaza’s 2 million people, is aimed at restoring its security and deterrence, and at freeing the Israeli hostages held by Hamas.
But for many Israeli politicians and pundits, the war is not enough. They want to see Gaza wiped off the map, and its inhabitants either driven out or annihilated.
These calls for ethnic cleansing are not marginal or fringe, but mainstream and influential. They come from senior members of the ruling coalition, such as Gideon Saar, Naftali Bennett, and Avigdor Lieberman, who have openly advocated for the “transfer” or the “relocation” of Gazans to other countries, and for the “conquest” and the “elimination” of Hamas.
They also come from prominent media outlets, such as the Jerusalem Post, which published an editorial titled “Transfer is not a dirty word”, arguing that the only way to ensure long-term quiet on the Gaza border is to encourage the mass emigration of Gaza’s residents.
They also come from public figures, such as Rabbi Dov Lior, the chief rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, who issued a religious ruling that allowed the killing of innocent civilians in Gaza, and called for the “cleansing” of the land from the “wicked ones”.
These calls for ethnic cleansing are not new, but they have become more explicit and more widespread in the wake of the Gaza war, reflecting a growing sense of frustration, anger, and hatred among many Israelis, who see no end to the conflict and no hope for peace.
They also reflect a deep-rooted ideology of Zionism, which views the land of Israel as the exclusive and eternal homeland of the Jewish people, and the Palestinians as a foreign and hostile presence that must be removed or subdued.
These calls for ethnic cleansing are not only morally reprehensible and legally criminal, but also strategically foolish and politically suicidal. They will not bring security or stability to Israel, but only more violence and resistance. They will not solve the Palestinian problem, but only worsen it. They will not end the conflict, but only perpetuate it.
They will also isolate and alienate Israel from the international community, which has condemned its disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force in Gaza, and has called for an immediate ceasefire and a political solution based on the two-state formula.
They will also undermine and endanger Israel’s democracy, which is already under threat from the erosion of the rule of law, the suppression of dissent, and the incitement of racism and extremism.
The only way to end the cycle of bloodshed and suffering in Gaza and Israel is to end the occupation and the siege, and to respect the rights and the dignity of the Palestinian people. This is the only way to ensure the security and the prosperity of both peoples, and the peace and the justice of the region.