Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Palestinians’ Geographical Divide Distracts from Reality of Ethnic Cleansing

Despite the geopolitical division of Palestine into the territories of Gaza, the occupied West Bank, and Israel proper, Israel’s policy of forced displacement of the Palestinian people plays out in all areas, with different violent scenarios leading to one common outcome. This outcome, one of ethnic cleansing culminating in the current genocide, has long been the Zionists' plan and has been normalised by the international community.

Palestinians ethnic cleansing
A Palestinian woman stands next to the rubble left in the aftermath of an Israeli raid on the Nour Shams refugee camp near Tulkarm, Occupied West Bank on Sunday, April 21, 2024. Wahaj Bani Moufleh / Middle East Images / Middle East Images via AFP

Author: Ramona Wadi
Edited by: Erik Prins


Reports on Israel’s violations of international humanitarian law against the Palestinians often focus on the territory where they live. The relentless Israeli assault on Gaza; raids in the West Bank; forced displacement of Bedouins from the Naqab, and so on.

While each of those geographical contexts has its own set of characteristics, this divide obscures a complete view of the bigger picture: a system of settler-colonial violence, ethnic cleansing and genocide in the whole of historic Palestine.

In this article, we will explain how Palestinians have become a target of this system and how the divisions forced upon them have exacerbated their expulsion.

A History of Displacement

The unfolding Israeli genocide in Gaza has two precedents.

During the 1948 Nakba, 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from Palestine and around 15,000 massacred. At the basis of the Nakba was the Plan Dalet of March 10, 1948, which gave details of the operations which Zionist paramilitaries were to carry out to ensure the destruction of Palestinian towns and villages, as well as the expulsion of Palestinians from their land.

The document instructed the Zionist paramilitaries to destroy Palestinian villages by planting mines and setting fire to the buildings. As the text continues,

“In the event of resistance, the armed force must be destroyed and the population must be expelled outside the borders of the state.”

Looking at Gaza today, the Plan Dalet regains relevance as it reveals that the Zionist ideology’s ultimate aim was to expel the Palestinian population from its land. The Israeli army, which was formed by incorporating the paramilitaries under a state institution after the Nakba, is reenacting the same tactics in Gaza at a pace much faster than that of 1948. Ever since, Israel’s military has been further strengthened by heavy US support to the tune of $3.3 billion annually, besides the guaranteed Qualitative Military Edge (QME) as established by US law in 2008.

Palestinians surrender to Israeli forces in Ramla on July 12, 1948. Ramla was captured a few days after Lydda during the Israeli military offensive “Operation Danny “. The city had an Arab-majority population, but most of the remaining inhabitants were driven out, expelled or fled during the 1948 Nakba.

Another ideological precedent for the genocidal assault on Gaza can be traced back to the 1967 war, known as the Naksa among Palestinians. In September 1967, just after the Naksa, Israeli settlers established the first settlement, Kfar Etzion in the occupied West Bank near Hebron.

In 1968, with the Israeli government’s permission, Kiryat Arba was established, and when Likud came to power in 1977, settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank became a matter of priority. This was in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949), ratified by Israel in 1951, which explicitly forbids the deportation or forced transfer of civilian populations.

Israel in its displacement effort focused on Gaza due to the higher proportion of Palestinian refugees than in the occupied West Bank, according to Anne Irfan in her book Refuge and Resistance: Palestinians and the International Refugee System (2023). At a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, the director of Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics warned, “If the [occupied Palestinian] area remains in our hands, then you’ll have less trouble from those in the West Bank than in the Gaza Strip. Because in Gaza they’re presented for all the world to see as refugees.” Israel saw them mainly as “troublesome” agitators.

Israel employed three tactics to displace Palestinians from Gaza. Israel first attempted to forcibly displace Palestinians to Jordan – a move the Palestinians and the Jordanian government opposed. Next, with approval from then US President Lyndon Johnson, Israel set up emigration offices in Gaza for Palestinians, encouraging migration to Australia, Canada and Brazil, which elicited little success. In the 1960s, Israel decided it would force Palestinians in Gaza to live in substandard conditions, thus forcing the population to leave the enclave.

As Palestinians rebelled against Israel’s tactics, Israel forcibly displaced and dispersed 38,000 Nakba refugees to the Sinai, Dheisheh refugee camp in the occupied West Bank, and elsewhere in Gaza under Commander Ariel Sharon in the 1970s. In August 1971 alone, 16,000 Palestinians were targeted by Sharon’s military contingent in a bid to eliminate the Palestinian Liberation Army from Gaza, which was the militant wing of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO).

By the 1970s therefore, Israel had already differentiated between Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

Despite this differentiation, reinforced in the so-called peace process, Israel’s human rights violations across occupied Palestine target the entire Palestinian population. Palestinians anywhere in the occupied Palestinian territories, as well as those now residing inside Israel and stripped of their identity by being referred to as “Israeli Arabs”, are all victims of the earlier Zionist colonial violence. Linked to Israel’s decades-long plan of forced eviction of the indigenous Palestinian population, this violence has now morphed into genocide, starting from Gaza.

From the 1947 Partition Plan to the 'two-state solution'

Upon the recommendations of the UN Special Committee on Palestine, the UN General Assembly adopted UN Resolution 181 on 29 November 1947, which detailed the Partition Plan. The Plan ended the British Mandate over Palestine and turned out in favour of Zionist colonisation, which met opposition from mainly Arab and leftist UN members.

Palestinians had rejected the 1947 Plan and it was not until 1988 that PLO leader Yasser Arafat traded armed resistance for diplomacy, recognizing Resolution 181 and declaring the establishment of the State of Palestine. Later that year, Arafat also recognized Israel’s right to exist as enshrined in Resolution 242 (1967) which requested “respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force”.

Palestinians ethnic cleansing
Palestinian refugees in a camp in Gaza, where the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) provided them with food, 1954. Palestine Archives Snark / Photo12 via AFP

Since 1947, the two-state paradigm has driven several so-called peace initiatives based on international consensus about an independent Palestinian state existing alongside Israel. Three of the most prominent initiatives were the Madrid Peace Conference (1991), the Oslo Accords (1993, 1995) and the Arab Peace Initiative (2002). These initiatives all failed to take into consideration that Israel’s ongoing settlement expansion, a policy which was not affected by the UN’s non-binding resolutions, hampered a viable future Palestinian state.

Western powers have long aided and abetted the colonisation of Palestine, but the Trump administration’s unilateral concessions towards Israel were the final blow to the viability of that state. While the Abraham Accords promised to temporarily halt Israel’s plans for annexation in return for the normalisation of relations with Arab states, in reality de-facto annexation continued. Trump’s successor Joe Biden, who brought no real change from Trump’s policy, granted Israel impunity to carry out a genocide against the Palestinian population in Gaza.

This relentless assault on Gaza is part of a continuous cycle of Israeli aggressions against the Strip, each leading to varying states of destruction and internal forced displacement of the Palestinian population. This cycle, and the crippling Israeli blockade, have been normalised by the international community, focusing on the humanitarian impact while denying Palestinians their political rights.

The international community’s adoption of Israel’s security narrative, as well as the failure to recognize the 2006 electoral result in favour of Hamas, resulted in the distinct association of Gaza with resistance, refugees and alleged terrorism, and the occupied West Bank with diplomacy, economic prosperity and state-building.

However, as Israel pursues genocide, and the Palestinian Authority is further weakened both financially and politically, the pretence of distinction loses its power. In the aftermath of Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that the PA also eventually seeks Israel’s destruction. By extending this narrative to the occupied West Bank, it could give him a pretext to destroy the territory, subjecting Palestinians to the same violence as Palestinians in Gaza.

The Illusion of Palestinian State-building

As part of the above-mentioned two-state paradigm, the West Bank is seen as a model of Palestinian state building. However, as in Gaza and elsewhere in Palestine, the reality of Israeli apartheid Palestinians are living in, denies them equal rights, let alone their own state.

Kareem Rabie, anthropologist at al-Shabaka, sums up the inequalities behind the international community’s statements about the occupied West Bank and Palestinian state-building.

“The Ramallah that has emerged over the past twenty-five years or so is not an escape from the occupation, but the outcome of its dynamic of uneven development and purposeful fragmentation … As Ramallah grows, in specific directions, along narrowing paths, Palestinian life and possibility are diminished elsewhere.”

Palestinian elites adopt settler-colonial policies, aided by the PA, while the majority of Palestinians remain economically deprived and under threat of forced displacement.

Rawabi is one example of this class division among Palestinians which disrupts the concept of Palestinian resistance, serving selective economic prosperity.

In 2009, the PA confiscated land from villages north of Ramallah for a $1.5 billion private city, which elite Palestinians purchased for investment purposes. In terms of land expropriation and the exclusion of most Palestinians from the project, Rawabi mirrors Israel’s colonial settlements, according to Rabie.

The difference is that land usurpation was committed from within, and also in a way that the PA’s donors can term as an economic investment that is fruitful to the statebuilding project to which Ramallah is bound.

Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank, however, are already under the perpetual threat of forced displacement as a result of Israel’s settler-colonial expansion.

Some communities are constantly under threat of demolition. A case in point is Khan al-Ahmar, which is left fighting displacement on its own. Israel sees the area as the remaining link in territorial contiguity for the occupied West Bank. Israel’s attempts to empty Sheikh Jarrah (in occupied East Jerusalem) of its Palestinian inhabitants is another example which garnered international attention.

Furthermore, Palestinians are subjected to nightly raids, violence and humiliation at checkpoints, restrictions on free movement, detention, torture and imprisonment by Israel and the PA.

Updated statistics by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem show that under cover of genocide in Gaza and as a result of settler and state violence Israel, since October 2023, forcibly displaced 1,046 people from villages in Area C of the occupied West Bank.

The international community is aware of the threats posed by Israel’s colonial expansion. Various non-binding UN resolutions have declared the illegality of Israel’s settlements and diplomats visited areas of the occupied West Bank slated for eviction.

However, while the international community has condemned settlement expansion as a threat to implementing the two-state paradigm, it fails to hold Israel accountable. Meanwhile, it sticks to the two-state paradigm, despite the fact that the Oslo Accords “never explicitly declared that the negotiations would result in the establishment of a Palestinian state,” as Michelle Pace and Somdeep Sen write in the book ‘The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank: The Theatrics of Woeful Statecraft’ (2019).

As Israel’s genocide in Gaza dominates the news, Israeli state and settler violence in the occupied West Bank is less scrutinised. Yet, Israel’s airstrikes on the Jenin refugee camp in July 2023, repeated in October, November, January and March 2024 are one brutal example showing that wherever Palestinians are, they are always a target for destruction by Israel.

Jenin’s mayor Nidal Obeidi described the Israeli airstrikes as “a real massacre and an attempt to wipe out all aspects of life inside the city and the camp”. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres refused to speak of the airstrikes as a war crime, despite Israel’s actions in Jenin being similar to what it is carrying out in Gaza. Although on a smaller scale, its justification was the same: to eliminate the Palestinian resistance – “terrorists” in the Zionist narrative – from Jenin.

In keeping with the narrative previously reserved for Gaza, the Israeli army claimed that Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad were using a mosque as “a terrorist compound”.

Extending Colonial Violence through the PA

The PA’s participation in state building efforts, as alluded to above, plays into the settler-colonial oppression and violence which Palestinians encounter daily, and which puts the experiences of Palestinians under Israeli colonialism and military occupation, almost on a par.

The PA is also a common oppressive factor to Palestinians in both areas. While Palestinians in the occupied West Bank face the PA’s violence through its security services, in 2017 the PA imposed economic sanctions on Gaza. It started with halting payments for electricity, as part of its manoeuvres to force Hamas to relinquish its political power in the enclave. Such a move not only reflects the political divide in Palestinian politics but also the divide imposed by the international community between Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

Alongside Israel’s raids on Jenin, the PA’s crackdown on the Palestinian resistance in the occupied West Bank is also ongoing. Its security forces are trained by the CIA and mostly serve the purpose of quelling any resistance to PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, who has been facing growing unrest particularly after the murder of Nizar Banat.

Palestinians are confronted by Palestinian Authority security forces as they protest during a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on January 10, 2024. Blinken’s week-long trip in the region was aimed at calming tensions across the Middle East, amid the relentless Israeli assault on Gaza. MARCO LONGARI / AFP

In the aftermath of October 7, the PA’s security forces targeted Palestinians demonstrating against Israel’s massacres in Gaza. They fired live ammunition and used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the crowds, killing a seven year old Palestinian girl in Jenin with a bullet to the chest.

In April 2021, Abbas cancelled the first Palestinian legislative elections in fifteen years, using Israel’s refusal to allow Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem to vote as the pretext. Having done so despite opposition from Palestinians, this was another indication of the PA being part of the same colonial system the Palestinians are subject to.

The US, meanwhile, has been urging Israel to prevent the PA’s complete collapse and to release the withheld tax revenues which amount to $150 million per month. In July 2023, Israel’s Diplomatic Security Cabinet voted in favour of a series of measures that would prevent the PA from collapse on the condition that Abbas “ceases anti-Israeli activity in the international-legal diplomatic arena, the incitement in its media and education system, the payments to the families of terrorists and murderers, and the illegal construction in Area C.”

However, the Biden administration’s concern with Abbas’s authority is not linked solely to the occupied West Bank. In November 2023, Biden penned an op-ed declaring that “Gaza and the West Bank should be reunited under a single governance structure, ultimately under a revitalised Palestinian Authority, as we all work toward a two-state solution.”

While Netanyahu has opposed the return of the PA to Gaza, Abbas, on the other hand, has expressed his willingness to take on the role. “Gaza is an integral part of the State of Palestine, and we will assume our full responsibilities within the framework of a comprehensive political solution,” Abbas stated in November 2023.

With the defunct two-state as the predominant framework in diplomatic discourse despite the unfolding genocide in Gaza, the US and the PA are holding on to its facade. February 2024, the PA met with US officials including CIA director William Burns, during which talk of moving towards a two-state “solution” was rehashed. The US has kept up a narrative of enabling the PA to assume a leadership role in Gaza to prevent Israel from occupying the enclave.

So far, the differentiation between the PA and Hamas has contributed to how the occupied West Bank and Gaza are perceived. If the PA returned to Gaza, Hamas would be politically weakened or dismantled. What would visibly emerge, however, are the similarities in terms of violence which Palestinians face in Gaza and the occupied West Bank as a result of Israeli violence and PA collaboration.

Israeli Colonialism and the Appropriation of the One-State Solution

Israeli colonialism is a process the international community normalised when it recognised Israel’s existence and turned the Palestinians into a humanitarian project. The unfolding genocide in Gaza cannot be separated from this process which started with the first colonial settlements in the late 1800s in Palestine and which ultimately led to the 1948 Nakba.

A group of Palestinian women get upset after Israeli authorities demolished houses at Umm al-Hiran village in Bir Sabaa, al-Naqab (Beersheba, Negev) on January 18, 2017. Mostafa Alkharouf / ANADOLU AGENCY / Anadolu via AFP

The Abraham Accords, which paused annexation but failed to halt settlement expansion, have cemented the apartheid rule Palestinians are living in. It is a derivative of settler-colonialism in Palestine and the ultimate aim of expelling the indigenous Palestinian population.

As Israel’s apartheid system remains largely unchallenged, the one-state reality as conceived by Israel – a Jewish state in which Palestinians are either killed or expelled, or else living under an apartheid system as an inconsequential minority – has also been normalized.

As world leaders cling to the two-state politics while allowing Israel to commit genocide, it is clear that Israel will never allow two states to emerge, even if one state is demilitarized and therefore still under colonial measures. Despite diplomatically urging a two-state “solution”, the US, on its part, supports Israel’s aim by stating that it aims for an “over-the-horizon process that includes a vision for a demilitarised Palestinian state,” in the words of its ambassador to Israel Jack Lew.

In the context of the Gaza genocide, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres justified the two-state as a move that will hinder “extremists” from retaliating, thus validating Israel’s narrative of purportedly eradicating terrorism.

However, Palestinians have also conceptualised a one-state solution for both peoples living in a single democratic state. This option, which would require decolonization, continues to meet opposition from the international community.

The one-state as envisaged by Palestinians dates back to the fifth session of the Palestinian National Council, when it stated,

“The objective of the Palestinian people behind the bitter struggle in which it is engaged for the liberation of and the return to its land is to set up a free and democratic society in Palestine for all Palestinians, including Muslims, Christians and Jews.”

At the same time, they rejected international impositions that would hinder the Palestinian right of return.

As Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza continues, and state and settler violence in the occupied West Bank flourish under its cover, the Palestinians’ concept of a single democratic state is being vanquished at a time. If the international community fails to stop genocide, Israel’s one-state reality, based upon the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population, will remain the dominant narrative.

Fanack Water Palestine