This existential terror is no overreaction to Israel’s brutal battle against Hamas, it is bolstered by an Israeli policy paper leaked last week that set out the conditions for expelling the Palestinians from their homeland after decades of plots and aspirations sketched out by extremists in Israel.
Some of those extremists had just been welcomed into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s radical right-wing coalition government—just as Hamas gave them the opportunity to strike.
Many residents of Gaza thought the first warning that ethnic cleansing was underway came when the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) responded to the horrific Oct. 7 attacks by ordering the civilian population of Gaza City and the northern half of the Strip to evacuate their homes and head south towards the Egyptian border.
Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, said Israel’s Oct. 11 demand for over a million Palestinians to flee south within 24 hours was both impossible and illegal under international law. Israel said it was a humanitarian move to safeguard civilians.
Despite widespread fears that they would be permanently displaced just as they were during the war of 1948, known to Palestinians as the Nakba (Catastrophe), and again in 1967, many obeyed the order and headed south. This did not protect them from a continued aerial bombardment from Israel, which is estimated to have killed more than 10,000 people since Oct. 7.
Last week, the worst fears of many Palestinians appeared to be confirmed by the leaked Israeli Intelligence Ministry Policy Paper written on Oct. 13, which calls for Gazans to be permanently relocated to the Sinai.
The secret policy paper—which is purely advisory—laid out a potential plan to build semi-permanent refugee structures in the Egyptian desert while lobbying for political and financial support from the international community, specifically the U.S.
Lawmaker Ofir Kassif, the only Jewish member of the Hadash political faction, told the Daily Beast that he had no doubts there was a long-term Israeli plan to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from both the West Bank and Gaza, even if it was done gradually and in stages and not in one fell swoop.
“I saw the document from the Intelligence Ministry and I translated it into English. It is very clear from the document why the intelligence office said it was in the interests of the Israeli government to clear Palestinians from the Gaza Strip,” said Kassif.
“Israel has been carrying out pogroms against the Palestinians for years. I’ve repeatedly warned the IDF in letters about ethnic cleansing being carried out in the West Bank but I received no response and have been ignored.”
A separate report from the Israeli think tank, the Misgav Institute for National Security & Zionist Strategy, which is headed by Netanyahu’s former national security advisor, Meir Ben Shabbat, suggested that now was a great chance to push the Palestinians out of their homeland.
The Misgav report, which was published on Oct. 17, argues in favor of exploiting the current war to evacuate the whole Gaza Strip in coordination with the Egyptian government. The paper has the sub-title “There is at the moment a unique and rare opportunity to evacuate the whole Gaza Strip in coordination with the Egyptian government.”
“There is no doubt that in order for this plan to be enacted, many conditions need to exist in parallel. At the moment, these conditions exist, and it is unclear when such an opportunity will arise again, if at all,” the report continues. “There is a need for an immediate, viable plan for the resettlement and economic rehabilitation of the entire Arab population in the Gaza Strip, which sits well with the geopolitical interests of Israel, Egypt, U.S.A. and Saudi Arabia.”
Even before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, which killed more than 1,400 people, Netanyahu appeared at the U.N. General Assembly in September to show a “new map of Israel” which appeared to eradicate Gaza and the West Bank, showing only Israel in its place. A similar map was posted—and then deleted—by an official Israeli X account last week.
This weekend, far-right Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu—who was suspended from cabinet meetings for saying a nuclear bomb was “a possibility” for Gaza—suggested that Palestinians “can go to Ireland or deserts” if they want to avoid the fighting, after the Irish government criticized the bombing.
Earlier, Ariel Kallner, a member of parliament from Netanyahu’s Likud party, called for a Nakba which would overshadow the Nakba of ‘48, on social media after the Hamas attack.
While former Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said people in Gaza should evacuate their residences and relocate to the Sinai Desert in Egypt.
Lieutenant-Colonel (Reserves) Yohanan Tzoreff, a former Arab Adviser to the Israeli Civil Administration in the Gaza Strip, and a researcher with the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv, told The Daily Beast that he did not believe the extremists in government advocating ethnic cleansing would get their way.
“Maybe some of the extremists in the government talk about this option and feel it’s a good opportunity to push Gazans out of this area but I can tell you the Intelligence Ministry means nothing in Israel and their paper is not an official policy,” said Tzoreff, who was also a translator for former Israeli premier Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat during the Oslo Accords.
“All Israel’s security is under the control of professional people who work in specific security organizations such as the Mossad and the domestic intelligence agency The Shin Bet,” he said. “There is no intention to reoccupy the Strip, there will be no refugees, and everyone will be able to return to their homes.”
But Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and leader of the Palestinian National Initiative party, remains unconvinced.
“The Israelis can’t deny that they are carrying out ethnic cleansing because it is so well documented,” Barghouti told The Daily Beast.
“Netanyahu also stated that this was the second war for Israeli independence. I think what he meant was that this was the second Nakba.”
The 1948 Nakba, which is known as the War of Independence in Israel, resulted in at least 800,000 Palestinians either fleeing their homes or being driven out by Israeli forces.
Israel originally denied that its forces had forced Palestinians out but subsequent research and the release of classified Israeli documents has shown that there was a pattern of expulsions.
In the aftermath of the Six-Day War in 1967, there was another exodus of around 300,000 Palestinians when Israel made a series of territorial gains including the occupation of the West Bank.
Though the idea of expelling Palestinians has never been adopted as Israeli government policy since then, it has never gone away.
In 2004, prominent Israeli historian Benny Morris shocked many by suggesting that the Israeli founding father David Ben Gurion “should have done a complete job” and carried out the full ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, saying it would have led to less conflict in the ensuing decades, in an interview in Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
Morris said that a “transfer and expulsion” policy was inevitable, it was only a question of time, and timing. He argued that in “normal” times, such policies may be immoral—but in “apocalyptic circumstances,” they may be both moral, “reasonable,” and “even essential.”
During the 2014 Gaza-Israel war Moshe Feiglin, who was then part of Likud and deputy chair of the Knesset, sent Netanyahu a public, seven-point proposal for the ethnic cleansing of Gaza. He repeated the genocidal advocacy in 2018, according to quotes collated by campaigning news site Mondoweiss.
Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said, during a session of the Knesset in 2021, that Ben-Gurion “should have finished the job” and expelled all Palestinians from Israel (Palestine) after the 1948 war.
Smotrich, who is a settler and lives in an illegal Israel settlement in the West Bank, also called for wiping out a West Bank Palestinian village while claiming there was no such thing as Palestinians.
In 2017, Smotrich unveiled his plan for the full annexation of the West Bank, under which Palestinians would be denied voting rights and those who object would face deportation.
Barghouti told The Daily Beast that he didn’t believe Israel’s denials of ethnic cleansing because they had never allowed evicted Palestinians to return home, including the refugees from 1948.
“Have they allowed any Palestinians who were displaced in the 1967 war to come back? Never.”
He also pointed to the current violence being perpetrated by Israeli settlers against Palestinians and their eviction from their homes in the West Bank with the support of the IDF as ongoing evidence of ethnic cleansing.
“Twelve communities in the Hebron, Jordan Valley and Ramallah areas were evicted from their homes prior to the war, with another community evicted subsequently,” said Barghouti.
Since Oct. 7, Israeli security forces and settlers have killed more than 140 Palestinians in the West Bank. “Additionally, more than 800 adults and children, were forcibly driven from their homes following settler violence,” said Israeli rights group Yesh Din.
In a Nov. 1 report, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OHCA) said Israeli settler violence had increased significantly, from an already high average of three incidents per day earlier in 2023 to seven a day now.
Tzoreff admitted the Israeli settlers in the West Bank were out of control.
“There is anarchy in the West Bank. This is one of the biggest tragedies of the Israeli political establishment that we haven’t been able to reach a political agreement with the Palestinians and the rightists have succeeded to the degree they have,” Tzoreff told The Daily Beast.
The serious violence against, and ethnic cleansing of, Palestinians in the West Bank has fallen below the international community’s radar due to the Gaza bombardment.
On Oct. 29, Yesh Din and 30 Israeli Human Rights organizations called on the international community to stop the surge in settler violence, supported by the state, which leads, and will lead to the forcible transfer of Palestinian communities from the West Bank.