On Monday, a senior Israeli government official told reporters covering Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Ukraine that Israel has been promoting Palestinians’ “emigration” from Gaza. Airports within Israel have already been selected and talks with potential host countries have already taken place. The source said that Israel was prepared to subsidize the endeavor, but was unable to find countries that would commit to absorbing the “immigrants.”
Given the timing of the announcement – election season – the veracity of the details should probably be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism. However, it is appalling to think that after years of neglect and deliberate pressure, including 12 years of a suffocating closure openly designed to bring Gaza residents to their knees, Israel would attempt to leverage the hopelessness it created to empty Gaza of its population. Inevitably, it raises a real concern over a possible transfer of population under occupation, a breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The forcible transfer of a population is considered a war crime.
The money that the state has reportedly allocated to encouraging and funding the depopulation of the Strip could obviously be better spent on steps that would alleviate the economic situation in Gaza. Israel could build an additional commercial crossing in the north of the Strip, which the Ministry of Defense decided on years ago but never implemented, or upgrade the west Negev road leading to Kerem Shalom Crossing, an approved project that the government decided to cancel, according to reports from earlier this week. The money could be spent on improving Gaza’s infrastructure or incentivizing trade of Gaza-made goods – all goals the government has ostensibly supported in the past. There is also a lot that Israel could do to improve living conditions in Gaza without spending a shekel: Just remove sweeping restrictions on movement so Palestinian residents of Gaza can lead normal lives. The Israeli government does not have the best interests of the civilian population in mind, despite its occasional face-saving rhetoric.
In fact, not only does Israel eschew the responsibilities that come with holding extensive control over millions of Palestinians, it exerts inordinate efforts, every day, to obstruct the ability of Palestinians to fulfill every day needs and rights. We have to ask ourselves what it means if Israel is willing to put money into flying people abroad, but fights tooth and nail to prevent Palestinians living in Gaza from reaching the West Bank, even if they were born there, and even if they have relatives or a job waiting for them there.
It’s clear this has something to do with Israel’s annexationist goals vis-à-vis the West Bank, an idea that might have once been considered fringe that is fast gaining traction within Israel’s ruling party. Israel would love nothing more than if Palestinians just disappeared, but any sustainable solution to the conflict cannot come at the expense of fundamental human rights and certainly not on the back of war crimes.