Israel's war on Gaza, its continued colonisation of the West Bank, and its construction of the apartheid wall represent the third wave of ethnic cleansing in Palestine since the establishment of Zionist state, Israeli academic Tanya Reinhart told 250-strong meeting in Melbourne on October 12.
The first wave of ethnic cleansing was what Israel called its "war of independence" and Palestinians called al-Naqba (the catastrophe), explained Reinhart, who is professor emeritus of linguistics and media studies at Tel Aviv University. The second naqba followed the Israeli conquest of the West Bank and Gaza in the war of 1967.
Reinhart told the meeting, which was organised by Women for Palestine, that the third naqba, which is happening today, is "a massive project of ethnic cleansing but one which was not being reported by the Western media".
The resistance of the Palestinians and global solidarity movements meant that the ethnic cleansing would not follow the historical pattern of Palestinians being driven across the border. Rather, there is an "unparalleled" process in which 400,000 Palestinians are being confined to a network of open air prisons divided by checkpoints, bypass roads, ever expanding Israeli settlements and the tortuous route of the apartheid wall.
Deprived of land or means of commerce, the Palestinian population is being made dependent for subsistence on the good will of the Israeli rulers, who control all access between the Palestinian enclaves and the outside world as well as between the enclaves.
Reinhart said that, following the January 2006 election victory of Hamas, Israel stepped up the killing of Palestinians, by direct warfare in Gaza and through the "starvation blockade" imposed on the Occupied Palestinian Territories, with the full cooperation of the West.
The purpose of this, she said, was not to target Hamas but to convince the Palestinian people that the only way they could remain in Palestine was by accepting their status as prisoners. She described this as a policy of as ethnic cleansing because it denied the Palestinian nation of its right to its own independent economic life.
She dismissed what she called the West's "three conditions to be met before Palestinians could eat again". Two of the conditions — renouncing violence and recognising Israel had already been met by Hamas, which had declared a unilateral ceasefire a year before winning the elections and, in 1998, proposed a two-state solution as a basis for negotiations.
Israel, on the other hand, had not only intensified its violence against the Palestinians but "refused to recognise Palestinians' right to exist", Reinhart explained.
The third condition, abiding by previous agreements, is an impossible demand for the Palestinians to meet while Israel refuses to abide by its side of these agreements.
The building of the apartheid wall, the expansion of the settlements and bypass routes and the de facto annexation of 40% of the West Bank by Israel were contrary to the 1993 Oslo accords, Reinhart explained.
Hamas had warned since the Oslo accords that part of the Israeli strategy was not to recognise any elected Palestinian leadership as a negotiating partner while simultaneously trying to provoke fighting between different Palestinian factions. The blockade, which prevents payment of Palestinian public sector salaries, is partly aimed at provoking a coup against the Hamas-led government by sections of the Palestinian Authority's security apparatus.
Reinhart said that Israel had suffered a significant defeat in its July-August war against Lebanon. Not only had Hezbollah militarily prevented Israel's attempt to reoccupy Lebanon south of the Litani River (and destroyed the myth of Israeli military invincibility in the process), the sheer scale of the Zionist state's brutality had turned international public opinion against Israel.
Reinhart said that a majority of Israelis now support dismantling the settlements in the West Bank and withdrawing to the pre-1967 borders. Because of this, all the mainstream Israeli parties lied to the Israeli people by claiming they supported withdrawal from the Occupied Palestinian Territories during elections then blaming their policy reversals on the need to win the parliamentary votes of small extreme right-wing settler and religious parties.
Leyal Aksu reports that 200 people attended a public meeting addressed by Reinhart in Canberra on October 11. Reinhart stressed that the struggle for Palestinian liberation is not just a local struggle but an international one. "The world needs to realise that Israel's policies are a threat to world peace and security", she said, adding that the Palestinian people's determination to struggle and resist kept the spirit to achieve world peace and justice alive.