Israeli settlers call for 'colonisation of Gaza'

January 31, 2024
Palestinians inspect bombed out buildings in Gaza, October, 2023. Photo: WAFA News Agency with APAimages (CC BY-SA 3.0)

At least 27 Israeli lawmakers and government officials, including 12 ministers, participated in the “Conference for the Victory of Israel — Settlements Bring Security” held in occupied East Jerusalem on January 28. The event, which was attended by thousands of Zionist colonial settlers, rabbis and settlement “activists”, called for the building of Jewish-only settlements in Gaza.

“God willing, we will settle and we will be victorious,” declared Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich.

Since October 7, Israel’s bombardment and military operations in Gaza have displaced at least 1.7 million of the 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza, pushing people further to the south of the Strip in what has been condemned as an explicit act of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Joining Smotrich at Sunday’s conference was Israel’s Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is himself a settler from the illegal Kiryat Arba settlement in the occupied West Bank. At least 700,000 Israelis live in illegal colonial settlements and outposts across the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israeli settlers are often armed and have been responsible for fatal violence against Palestinians the West Bank, with a surge in attacks reported since October 7.

Speaking at the conference on January 28, Ben-Gvir stated that it was time to “return to Gush Katif and northern Samaria” — referencing a bloc of 17 settlements built in southern Gaza and four settlements in the West Bank, respectively. In the face of the Palestinian resistance uprising during the second Intifada, Israeli forces removed settlers from these areas as part of the Occupation’s “disengagement” plan in Gaza in 2005, after 38 years of direct occupation.

It is important to note here that while Israel withdrew its illegal settlements from Gaza, the Strip is still recognised as a territory under Israeli occupation: “by virtue of the control exercised over, inter alia, its airspace and territorial waters, land crossings at the borders, supply of civilian infrastructure, including water and electricity and key governmental functions such as the management of the Palestinian population registry”.

Meanwhile, Smotrich and Ben-Gvir stated that they had opposed the removal of settlements, with the latter stating that if Israel did not want “another October 7, we need to return home and control the land”.

Both ministers, who are members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, joined six lawmakers in signing the “Covenant of Victory and Renewal of Settlement”, vowing to “grow Jewish settlements full of life” in Gaza. The conference also displayed a map of 21 planned settlements in Gaza, including those to be built atop Palestinian towns including in Khan Younis and Gaza City.

Supporting genocide

Sunday’s conference was organised by the Nachala settlement group and the Samaria Regional Council from the occupied West Bank. Nachala has already set up six settlement groups of 400 families who are willing to establish and occupy settlements in Gaza.

“Oslo is dead [referring to the Oslo Accords and the Two-State solution framework]. The policy of expulsion and disengagement has led us down this path, with the repercussions still unfolding,” declared Samaria Regional Council’s head, Yossi Dagan, amid cheers from the crowd.

“They will move … so we don’t give them food, we don’t give the Arabs anything. They will have to leave. The world will accept them,” said Israeli settler “activist” Daniella Weiss. Such remarks echo the genocidal statements made by Israeli leaders and military spokesperson — “to create a humanitarian crisis in Gaza” and to turn it into a place where people “will not be able to live”— documented in the case brought by South Africa against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

“Only the people of Israel will settle … and will rule the entire Gaza Strip,” Weiss stated in a speech.

Similar sentiments were repeated by Israel’s communications minister, Shlomo Karhi, who said “‘voluntary’ is at times a state you impose [on someone] until they give their consent,” as quoted by Israeli newspaper, Haaretz.

As per the ICJ’s initial decision on January 26, in which it concluded that it was plausible that Israel was committing acts of genocide in Gaza, Israel is currently under orders to take all measures to prevent genocide and to prevent and punish direct and public incitement to genocide in relation to Palestinians in Gaza.

The push for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Gaza has also been sinisterly vocalised through the language of “voluntary emigration” and “humanitarianism”, including by Ben-Gvir and Smotrich. “We need to return home, to rule the territory, and yes, also to offer a moral and logical solution to the humanitarian problem: encourage emigration and a death penalty law [for those convicted of terrorism],” Ben-Gvir stated on Sunday.

Not a fringe movement

Back in October, Israeli news website Local Call reported on a document from the Israeli intelligence ministry outlining “alternatives for a political directive for the civilian population in Gaza”. Among the methods, or Alternative C, was the evacuation of the population of Gaza to Sinai, barring the return of the population “to activities or residence near the Israeli border”.

Apart from settlements, there has also been talk of carving out buffer zones in Gaza. Israel already occupies 35% of Gaza’s agricultural and around 15% of its total area through the establishment of illegal “no go” or buffer zones. Israel has enforced open-fire regulations in these zones, despite never clarifying to Palestinians where areas were off limits. Between September 2005 and May 2022, at least 87 Palestinians had been killed inside these buffer zones.

The deaths of over 20 Israeli occupation soldiers last week as they were demolishing buildings in central Gaza has been linked to attempts by Israel to create a buffer zone by razing infrastructure and farms along Gaza’s border.

Ben-Gvir announced on January 29 that he had written to Netanyahu demanding that he order the defense minister and Chief of Staff to shoot at anyone who entered the security zone established beyond the border line in northern Gaza.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has denied Israeli plans to occupy Gaza, including a video statement released a day before the ICJ hearings earlier this month. While members of his Likud Party had called for “encouraging” migration from Gaza on Sunday, Netanyahu indicated that his opposition to the “resettlement” of Gaza had “not changed”.

Amid condemnations of the event from within the Netanyahu-led government, a statement from the Likud invoked “freedom of speech” in relation to the statements made at the conference, while adding that the PM had “made it clear that the decisive decisions are made in the cabinet and the government”.

Despite attempts to distance Netanyahu’s government from the conference, and the broader attempts to isolate such views as “fringe”, the fact that the event was attended by lawmakers and cabinet ministers should not be dismissed lightly, Mustafa Barghouti from the Palestinian National Initiative, told Al Jazeera, “These are the people who are making the policy in Israel and they were calling for complete ethnic cleansing of the people of Gaza.”

[Reprinted from Peoples Dispatch.]

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