Informed Comment / September 3, 2023
Ann Arbor – I heard Noam Chomsky speak in my youth about the press coverage of the Middle East in the United States, and as I remember it he at one point remarked that it was sometimes the regional newspapers, such as the San Francisco Chronicle that had the most honest headlines. In contrast, there was often a common spin on a story in The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the wire services.
That principle has played out this week on an international level. Belgium’s Minister of Development, Caroline Gennez, said in an interview that “Entire villages are being wiped off the map by the Israelis” in the Occupied Palestinian West Bank.
The Israeli ambassador to Brussels lambasted the remarks as “libel.”
To her credit, Ms. Gennez has stood her ground. And she should, since she is right.
Around the same time she was giving that interview, Israeli journalist Oren Ziv was reporting in the Israeli magazine +972 that “‘It’s like 1948’: Israel cleanses vast West Bank region of nearly all Palestinians …. In mere months, entire Palestinian communities between Ramallah and Jericho have been chased out by settler violence and state policies — paving the way for a total Israeli takeover of thousands of acres of land.”
Ziv demonstrates that the area stretching east from Ramallah toward Nablus, an area of about 58 square miles, has been emptied of Palestinians. At the same time, 10 illegal squatter outposts have been established by Israelis on privately-owned Palestinian land. These armed squatters have attacked Palestinian hamlets and destroyed orchards, leading to the exodus of the indigenous population.
Ziv says that in August of this year, Al-Qabun‘s 88 residents were expelled from their homes by militant squatters. In May 2023, the 200 inhabitants of Ein Samia took apart their own houses and fled relentless squatter attacks. Last year in July, the 100 residents of Ras al-Tin had been forced out. in 2019, two Palestinian clans were expelled from the area near the Taybeh Junction.
So what Gennez said is perfectly accurate. Moreover, the rate of ethnic cleansing, illegal Israeli squatting, and squatter violence against the indigenous is accelerating under the current extremist Israeli government.
The four examples Ziv gave are, moreover, not at all the end of the story. The Israeli High Court is permitting the israeli army to expel the 1,000 residents of the hamlets that make up Masafer Yatta, which the Israeli military arbitrarily designated a “fire zone.” Three days ago the army confiscated several civilian automobiles, leaving the population with no way to shop for groceries, as a further step in the expulsion.
Not only is Gennez correct that the Israelis are wiping out entire Palestinian villages but these actions constitute a grave war crime in international law, which forbids the forced transfer of occupied populations just as it forbids the bringing of people from the Occupying Power’s home country into the occupied territory.
The Geneva Convention of 1949 on the treatment of occupied populations was intended to forestall episodes such as the German occupation of Poland during WW II, when indigenous Poles were expelled and replaced by Germans brought in to Aryanize the country. The language of the 4th Geneva convention in this regard was also brought into the Rome Statute finalized in 2002, which underpins the International Criminal Court.
Juan Cole is the founder and chief editor of Informed Comment ; he is Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History at the University of Michigan and the author of, among others, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace amid the Clash of Empires and The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam