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The “Transfer” of Palestinians Out of Gaza Is Not a “Voluntary Migration”

A retired IDF leader said Israel’s goal is a humanitarian crisis to make Gaza “a place where no human being can exist.”

Palestinian children inspect damage to their homes caused by Israeli airstrikes on January 3, 2024, in Rafah, Gaza.

Part of the Series

Instead of the sounds of fireworks to ring in the new year, the people of Gaza, struck by fear, were kept awake by the rumbles of explosions and bombs being dropped on them from the sky — a reminder to Palestinians of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s words the day before that there is no end in sight to the bombardment, which he said will continue “for many more months” to come.

Palestinians have known all along that the real objective of Israel’s horrendous assault on Gaza is emptying the Strip of all Palestinians and the return of Jewish settlements. After nearly 90 days of relentless bombardment and a lackluster effort on the part of the Israeli government to negotiate the release of the hostages taken by Hamas, it has become clear even to Israelis that Netanyahu’s declared goals of “dismantling Hamas, returning our hostages, and ensuring that in Gaza there will be no one that threatens Israel” are nothing more than a cover for the government’s “transfer” plan.

The first phase of the transfer plan commenced with the carpet bombing of northern Gaza and an evacuation order telling Palestinians to leave the area — one of the most densely populated in the world — and move to southern Gaza “where they will be safer.” But no sooner had they reached southern Gaza than bombs started to rain on them again — in Beit Lahia, Khan Younis, Maghazi, and other heavily populated residential neighborhoods.

Nowhere is safe in Gaza; nowhere to hide from U.S.-supplied 2,000-pound bombs. The 2.3 million inhabitants of the Strip are now squeezed into an even smaller over-crowded, open-air prison that is a third of the size of the previous one they were forced to evacuate from.

The “transfer” — or “voluntary migration” as some Israeli officials are calling it — is now being promoted as the humane solution for the people of Gaza who now populate a parcel of land that has been rendered completely unlivable, a fulfillment of a promise made by several Israeli government officials after the October 7 Hamas attack. Recall Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant saying, “We are fighting human animals, and we are acting accordingly.… We will eliminate everything — they will regret it.” Or retired Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland telling Israeli media, “Creating a severe humanitarian crisis in Gaza is a necessary means to achieve the goal. Gaza will become a place where no human being can exist.”

After his return from a recent visit to the besieged Gaza Strip, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini told the Global Refugee Forum in mid-December that the people of Gaza “are running out of time and options, as they face bombardment, deprivation, and disease in an ever-ever-shrinking space.” Also speaking at the forum, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi called for an immediate ceasefire and an end to the siege to allow for sufficient aid. Grandi said, “Every time I go back (to Gaza), I always think it cannot get worse, but every time I see more misery, more grief, more sadness, and have the feeling that Gaza is not really a habitable place anymore.”

In a lead editorial in the Israeli daily Haaretz, Knesset member Danny Danon was reported as saying, “We have to make it easier for Gazans to leave for other countries.… I’m talking about voluntary migration by Palestinians.” He added that he thinks that “the Arab states have a duty to help the Palestinians. They should have the decency to help instead of making inflammatory speeches.”

But Danon’s “transfer” idea — especially as he calls it “voluntary” — is not uncommon. Other Israeli officials who have made public calls in support of the idea of “transfer” include Knesset member Ram Ben-Barak who published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal and Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel who wrote an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post. Even Netanyahu said during a meeting of Likud Knesset members that, “Our problem is countries that are willing to absorb them, and we’re working on this.”

Paula Gaviria Betancu, the United Nations special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, said Israel is “working to expel” the civilian population of Gaza: “The only logical conclusion is that Israel’s military operation in Gaza aims to deport the majority of the civilian population en masse,” Gaviria Betancur said.

In essence, the Palestinians of Gaza are now being shopped around to see who would take them. According to Israel’s Channel 12 news and a December 31 article in The Jerusalem Post, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair met with Netanyahu and war cabinet minister Benny Gantz to discuss Blair’s role in finding countries to receive Palestinian refugees from Gaza.

While Blair denied this report, writing in a response that these claims “are incorrect,” Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir published a statement on Sunday, welcoming the reports of Blair “heading a task force that will promote the emigration of Gaza residents to other countries around the world.… This is a morally just step to take, first and foremost for Gaza border residents, and for all of Israel,” the minister said. He added that such initiatives are a “necessary component of the real solution to the ‘day after.’”

The United Nations special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, said Israel is “working to expel” the civilian population of Gaza.

How can anyone claim that Palestinians fleeing for their lives are doing so “voluntarily” after their homes have been demolished, their neighborhoods flattened, their children maimed or killed, and they were left to die with no food, water, electricity or medical help? And why do President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken remain silent in the face of this ongoing mass murder and these outrageous “transfer” claims? Didn’t we hear Biden say repeatedly that he opposed “forced displacement” and supports the “two-state solution?”

Biden Won’t Condemn the “Transfer” Because the U.S. Is Financing It

U.S. complicity in the genocide is undeniable: Every aircraft used and every bomb dropped on Palestinian civilians is at least partly paid for by U.S. taxpayers. The U.S. has used its veto power to crush a UN Security Council resolution that called for a ceasefire. The U.S. and Israel now stand isolated among the nations of the world.

What will Biden do now? Will he allow the “transfer” to take place on his watch? Can’t he see that the intensified raids on Palestinians in the West Bank are also part of Israel’s “transfer” strategy — that West Bank Palestinians are being subjected to daily terror and harassment by Israeli soldiers and armed settlers in order to force them to leave? So many lives have been ripped apart. So many more will suffer and die from hunger and infectious diseases alone as families and children face the harsh cold winter weather and endure the unsanitary living conditions. Does Biden really think that this will end Palestinian resistance or make Israelis safer? Or is he — as the highest recipient of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s campaign donations since 1990 — bound to tow the Israeli line without question?

While Blinken just authorized a $147.5 million sale of 155mm high-explosive artillery munitions to Israel by bypassing congressional review, millions around the world are rising up in support of Palestinians and demanding an immediate ceasefire and an end to the genocide.

In an extraordinary demonstration of pro-Palestinian solidarity, Djibouti has declined to participate in the U.S.-led naval coalition Operation Prosperity Guardian in the Red Sea, which aims to thwart Yemeni operations on Israeli-linked vessels transiting the crucial maritime route. Yemen said the Ansar Allah attacks in the Red Sea will stop when aid to the Palestinians is allowed into Gaza. Djibouti’s foreign minister, Mahmoud Ali Youssouf, affirmed that his country does not condemn the attacks from Sanaa in the Red Sea and the Bab el-Mandeb, considering them a “legitimate relief for the Palestinians.” Youssouf concluded by saying, “If Palestine does not find relief elsewhere, may God bless the relief provided by the Yemenis.”

South Africa took a principled position by filing an application instituting proceedings against Israel before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, concerning alleged violations by Israel of its obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the “Genocide Convention”) in relation to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

According to the application, “acts and omissions by Israel . . . are genocidal in character, as they are committed with the requisite specific intent . . . to destroy Palestinians in Gaza as a part of the broader Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group” and that “the conduct of Israel — through its State organs, State agents, and other persons and entities acting on its instructions or under its direction, control or influence — in relation to Palestinians in Gaza, is in violation of its obligations under the Genocide Convention.”

The applicant further states that, “Israel, since 7 October 2023 in particular, has failed to prevent genocide and has failed to prosecute the direct and public incitement to genocide” and that “Israel has engaged in, is engaging in and risks further engaging in genocidal acts against the Palestinian people in Gaza.” South Africa requests the court to indicate provisional measures in order to “protect against further, severe and irreparable harm to the rights of the Palestinian people under the Genocide Convention” and “to ensure Israel’s compliance with its obligations under the Genocide Convention not to engage in genocide, and to prevent and to punish genocide.”

How can anyone claim that Palestinians fleeing for their lives are doing so “voluntarily” after … they were left to die with no food, water, electricity or medical help?

In the days and weeks to come, it is my hope that many countries will back up South Africa at the ICJ by filing “Declarations of Intervention,” similar to those filed in February 2022 by 32 countries supporting Ukraine in the case of Ukraine v. Russian Federation.

The year 2023 will be remembered as the year when Israel was enabled by the U.S., U.K. and the EU to ethnically cleanse a people as we watched the genocidal horror unfold in real time. It will go down in history as the year people of the world witnessed mass killing, mass destruction, mass starvation, mass oppression and mass dehumanization of Palestinians, as well as mass public outcry and support for Palestinians — but no permanent ceasefire.

History has taught us a lesson: Palestinians won’t back down in the face of terror and oppression at home while their voices are being silenced abroad. They have shown the world how to exist with dignity and resist with courage.

In 2024, Palestinians and their supporters — especially the younger generation — will continue their struggle for justice until the time comes when Palestinians are able to live in their homes, on their land, and be able to thrive like the rest of humanity — in peace, stability, freedom and equality, and without fear.

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