Ethnic Cleansing


Ethnic cleansing: the expulsion, imprisonment, or killing of an ethnic minority by a dominant majority in order to achieve ethnic homogeneity[1]

American Expansionists & Zionists

While the analogy, like all historical analogies, between the situation of Palestinians and Native Americans is not exact, there are strong parallels between the attitudes of many white Americans and Zionist Israelis.

Former Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren in an interview about his Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present explicitly compared the US and Israeli experience:

This goes back to the time of the Puritans, to the 17th Century. The Puritans had appropriated the biblical narrative. They saw themselves as the new Israel. They had escaped bondage in England, in Egypt, you know? They crossed the Atlantic Ocean, which was their Sinai. They inherited a promised land, which was the New World.

Native Americans and native Palestinians are similarly excluded from his narrative.   After the American Revolution, the biblical rationale for white Americans expansion was embellished. In the 1823 case of Johnson v. M’Intosh, the US Supreme Court ruled that the US had inherited Britain’s claimed sovereignty over native lands whose people were merely occupants and therefore had no legal or moral rights over the lands they inhabited. White people were obligated to develop and reap the full bounty of the land. The reservation system was developed to remove Natives from the path of white settlement, Manifest destiny, an idea first popularized by newspaper editor John O’Sullivan starting in 1845, proclaimed that it was the destiny of the U.S. to expand its territory over the whole of North America and to extend and spread its political, social, and economic influences.  At the turn of the 20th century Teddy Roosevelt added:

In “The Winning of the West,” Roosevelt celebrated the “spread of the English-speaking peoples over the world’s wasted spaces.” … “The European settlers moved into an uninhabited waste…the land is really owned by no one…. The settler ousts no one from the land. The truth is, the Indians never had any real title to the soil.” … “The world would probably not have gone forward at all, had it not been for the displacement or submersion of savage and barbaric peoples as a consequence of the armed settlement in strange lands of the races who hold in their hands the fate of the years.”[2]

Similar themes resonated among Zionists. As early as the 19th century, Christian Zionists spoke of “a people without a land for a land without people”.   The idea of land redemption and development was enshrined in Israel’s Proclamation of Independence which declared, “Pioneers… and defenders, they made deserts bloom[3]built villages and towns, and created a thriving community controlling its own economy and culture… bringing the blessings of progress to all the country’s inhabitants.” [4]

In his seminal 2001 book, Sacred Landscape: The Buried History of the Holy Land since 1948, Benvenisti explains the purpose and consequence of such a narrative:

The Arab was “not only the son of the desert but also the father of the desert,” in the famous words of Major C.S. Jarvis – the British governor of Sinai – which were adopted by the Zionists. And thus the fallahin [non-nomadic Palestinians] – tillers of the soil for generation upon generation – could easily be transformed into “bloodthirsty desert savages,” who not only sought to annihilate the Jewish community but also were guilty of turning Eretz Israel – flowing with milk and honey – into desolate desert. In the textbooks for a course in Knowing the Land, the Arabs are portrayed as being responsible for the ecological ruin of the entire country: they destroyed the ancient farming terraces, thereby causing soil erosion and exposing bare mountain rock; because of them the streams were blocked and the coastal valley became a land of malarial swamps; their goats ravaged the ancient forests that had covered the Land; with their violent feuds and their murderous hostility toward all agents of progress, they turned the Land into a perpetual battlefield.

Hence the Zionists did not rob the country’s inhabitants of their land; they redeemed it from desolation.[5]

The Nakba (catastrophe) in 1947-49 resulted in the expulsion of more than 700,000 Palestinians, the leveling of over 400 towns and villages, and the seizure of approximately 4,244,776 acres of Palestinian land.[6]   Incredibly, Zionists were able to propagate the myth that Palestinians had abandoned their land and homes voluntarily. In the 1980s, the Israeli ‘New Historians” undercut this myth, though the most honored of them, Benny Morris, has still concluded that ethnic cleansing took place during the Palestinian exodus, but that “there are circumstances in history that justify ethnic cleansing… when the choice is between ethnic cleansing and genocide—the annihilation of your people—I prefer ethnic cleansing.”[7]

In 1969 Golda Meir, in the face of newly emboldened Palestinian resistance, added her own twist, “There was no such thing as Palestinians. It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country from them. They did not exist.”[8]

The 1967 war led to the takeover of the West Bank and Gaza (as well as the Golan Heights). Today there are over 600,00 settlers on 150 settlements (and 119 ‘outposts’); 42% of the West Bank is controlled by settlement, and 86% of East Jerusalem is controlled by settler or Israeli state government.[9]

Netanyahu has used the same rationale for Jewish settlements on the West Bank as well as displacing Palestinians in other parts of Israel:

In 2011, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, addressing the World Zionist Organization in Jerusalem, connected Zionist land redemption to the ongoing illegal colonization of the West Bank. “We are settling and developing the land – it is possible to see towns in Ariel, Ma’ale Adumim and Gush Etzion,” he said “But we are also obligated to develop all parts of the country – the Galilee and the Negev.”[10]

Israeli & American Walls

And then there is the wall (or walls). Lacking American wide-open spaces, Israelis have resorted, in the name of security, to a series of walls to limit Palestinian mobility as well as African immigration.   There are three walls that Israel has built or is building—on the West Bank (begun in 2002), along the Sinai border with Egypt (built in 2012), and along the border with Gaza (built from 1994-96, rebuilt from 2000-2001currently being deepened).

The best known of these is the wall inside the West Bank.

85 percent – is, or is planned to be, built within the West Bank, not along the Green Line or the 1949 Armistice Line, the border between Israel and the Palestinian West Bank recognised by the international community. This annexation accounts for nearly 10 percent of the West Bank and includes prime agricultural land and strategic water reserves. At one point, the wall cuts 22 km deep into the West Bank. The wall has also separated Palestinian towns and cities from Jerusalem, Palestine’s economic, cultural and religious centre.

Israeli NGOs BIKOM and B’tselem stated in a report published in 2005:

“[It] is clear that contrary to the [security] picture portrayed by the state, the settlement-expansion plans played a substantial role in the planning of the Barrier’s route. The report shows that not only were security-related reasons of secondary importance in certain locations, in cases when they conflicted with settlement expansion, the planners opted for expansion, even at the expense of compromised security.”

In 2009, Yuval Diskin, then head the Shin Bet, said that the wall didn’t need to be completed as Israeli military intelligence was sufficiently robust to thwart any Palestinian attacks from the West Bank.[11]

A December 2003, Resolution ES-10/14 was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in an emergency special session. The resolution included a request to the International Court of Justice to render an advisory opinion. The International Court of Justice concluded that the barrier violated international law.[12] On 20 July 2004, the UN General Assembly accepted Resolution ES-10/15 condemning the barrier with 150 countries voting for the resolution and 10 abstaining; 6 countries voted against: Israel, the US, Australia, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau.[13] The US and Israel rejected both the verdict and the resolution.

The Red Cross has declared the barrier in violation of the Geneva Convention. On February 18, 2004, The International Committee of the Red Cross stated that the Israeli barrier “causes serious humanitarian and legal problems” and goes “far beyond what is permissible for an occupying power”.[14]

On the other hand, one of Trump’s first statements as President praised the wall as a precedent for his wall on the Mexican border.   Speaking to Fox News’s Sean Hannity, “A wall protects. All you have to do is ask Israel. They were having a total disaster coming across and they had a wall. It’s 99.9 percent stoppage.”[15]  As a candidate Trump defended ‘racial profiling’ “Our local police — they know who a lot of these people are. They are afraid to do anything about it because they don’t want to be accused of profiling,” Trump said on Fox News on Monday. Trump pointed to how Israel used profiling and “done an unbelievable job.”[16] “Both walls, in the guise of security, promote ‘ethnic purity’: Jewish Israel and white America. Palestinians are terrorists; Mexicans “rapists and criminals; those from Syria (fleeing a brutal civil war), Libya, Iran, Yemen, Chad, and Somalia (as well as North Korea and Venezuela) as potential ‘sleeper’ terrorists.

Israel’s wall on the Sinai is intended to keep out East African migrants. By 2012, 60,000 desperate Africans had entered Israel. The wall has significantly impeded migration since then. Now Netanyahu has called for the deportation of those inside Israel.[17] While there is some opposition to this move inside Israel[18] almost 2/3 of Israelis support the deportations.[19]

Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People

On July 18, 2018, by a vote of 62-55 (with 2 abstentions) the Israeli Knesset passed the ‘Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People” as part of its Basic Laws (Israel’s quasi-Constitution). This Nation State law contains the following provisions:

The State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, in which it fulfills its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination; and that the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique [italics added for emphasis] to the Jewish people.

Jerusalem, “complete and united”, is the capital of Israel.

This section defines Hebrew as the official language of the State; it gives the Arabic language a special status in the state.

The State views the development of Jewish settlements as a national value [italics added for emphasis] and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation of such settlements.

Knesset member Avi Dichter, the law’s sponsor, asserted, “We are enshrining this important bill into a law today to prevent even the slightest thought, let alone attempt, to transform Israel to a country of all its citizens.”[20] Responding to Arab legislators who objected to the proposed basic law, he added “The most [italics added for emphasis] you can do is to live among us as a national minority that enjoys equal individual rights, but not equality as a national minority.”[21]

The secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Saeb Erekat, described the law as a “dangerous and racist law,” which “officially legalizes apartheid and legally defines Israel as an apartheid system”.[22] Heads of Israel’s Druze community petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court in protest against the law and 100 Druze reservists complained that though having fought in Israel’s wars for generations, the bill relegated them to second-class status.[23]

This law seems less of an innovation than an official ratification of the direction of Israeli policy. If the law seems to be in contradiction to Israel’s democratic pretensions; it is based on a peculiarly Israeli distinction:

The policy is reinforced by the implications of the distinction made in Israel between “citizenship” (ezrahut) and “nationality” (le’um): all Israeli citizens enjoy the former, but only Jews enjoy the latter. “National” rights in Israeli law signify Jewish-national rights.” [24]

Thus there is Israeli citizenship, but no Israeli nationality, just Jewish nationality. The law may seem superfluous given this already legally enacted distinction, but it functions to further alienate Palestinian Israelis, fire up Israeli nationalists, and to rein in the Israeli Supreme Court, seen by the Israeli right as deviant in a few rulings.

Whether the Knesset’s affirmation of Israel as an apartheid state—further institutionalizing a clear distinction among its inhabitants based on race and religion—meets with serious international condemnation or not remains to be seen.

In both Israel and the United States, the incitement of a racist nationalism undermines and exposes the fragility of democratic institutions. Nations can strive for ethnic purity or for true democracy; but they cannot achieve both. [25]

[1] See

[2] Quoted in

[3] The desert blooming myth is explored in

[4] Quoted in

[5] From

[6] See

[7] See Shavit, Ari. Survival of the Fittest? An Interview with Benny Morris. Logos. Winter 2004

[8] Quoted in

[9] See

[10] From

[11] See

[12]  Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory Archived 2010-07-06 at the Wayback Machine., International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion, July 9, 2004.

[13] “Resolution ES-10/15. Advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem”. United Nations News Centre. 2 August 2004.

[14] See “Red Cross slams Israel barrier”BBC News. 18 February 2004.

[15] See

[16] See


[18] See


[20] “Knesset passes Jewish nation-state bill into law”. 19 July 2018 and “‘Why has Netanyahu pushed through the Jewish Nation State bill now?'”. The Independent. 20 July 2018.

[21] “Israel passes nationality bill into law”. Ynetnews. 19 July 2018.

[22] See

[23] “Druze IDF officers protest against Nationality Law”. Ynetnews. 25 July 2018.

[24] Quoted in

[25] Though a herrenvolk democracy, a democracy for a master or superior race, has precedents in the US, South Africa, as well as Israel. See , , and White Supremacy: A Comparative Study in American and South African History by George M. Fredrickson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981).