Another Nakba? Israeli Intel Ministry Proposes Expelling Every Palestinian in Gaza to Egypt

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Israel is facing growing international condemnation for its 28-day assault on Gaza. More than 9,200 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza over the past four weeks, including at least 3,800 children, this according to the Health Ministry in Gaza.

On Thursday, a group of U.N. experts released a statement to express their, quote, “deepening horror” over Israel’s repeated airstrikes on the Jabaliya refugee camp, the largest in Gaza, that have killed at least 195 people in recent days. The group of experts said, quote, “The Israeli airstrike on a residential complex in the Jabalia refugee camp is a brazen violation of international law — and a war crime. Attacking a camp sheltering civilians including women and children is a complete breach of the rules of proportionality and distinction between combatants and civilians,” they said. Residents in Jabaliya say entire sections of the refugee camp have been leveled.

HASSAN AHMED RAYAN: [translated] The area has been completely destroyed. There are no Hamas fighters here. These are all civilians. They are all innocent people. No resistance here. There was a bakery here and houses. One of them had 100 people inside, and another had 50 people. This is destruction. This is a war against God and his prophet. It’s a war of extermination.

AMY GOODMAN: As Israeli troops encircle Gaza City and intensify its aerial bombardment, there are growing questions over Israel’s long-term plan for Gaza. One Israeli government office, the Israeli Ministry of Intelligence, has proposed the permanent transfer of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. In a document dated October 14, the small governmental body stated the forced displacement of Gaza civilians to Egypt would, quote, “yield positive and long-term strategic results.” It lays out a three-stage process — the establishment of tent cities in Sinai and the opening of a humanitarian corridor, followed by construction of permanent cities in northern Sinai, and the creation of a, quote, “sterile zone of several kilometers … within Egypt” — and says, quote, “The return of the population to activities/residences near the border with Israel should not be allowed,” unquote.

Many Palestinians in northern Gaza have refused to follow Israeli orders to vacate their homes, out of fear they will never be allowed back. It’s unclear how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or his Cabinet have responded to the proposals, but the Biden administration has publicly opposed plans for the mass transfer of Palestinians. Secretary of State Tony Blinken is in Israel today, where he’s reportedly seeking a humanitarian pause to the bombing. Blinken is also planning to travel to Jordan, where he’s expected to assure Jordan that the U.S. opposes transferring Palestinians to Egypt or Jordan.

For more, we’re joined by Yuval Abraham, an Israeli journalist based in Jerusalem who reports for +972 Magazine and Local Call. He helped expose this proposal in his piece headlined “Expel all Palestinians from Gaza, recommends Israeli gov’t ministry.” Yuval has also reported on the growing number of attacks on Palestinians by Israeli soldiers and settlers in the occupied West Bank. He joined us Wednesday during a rainstorm in Jerusalem. I asked him to talk about how he knows the document from the Israeli Ministry of Intelligence is real.

YUVAL ABRAHAM: I know it’s true because I verified it in front of the Intelligence Ministry. And as you said, Amy, it’s a document that essentially asks the question: What will happen to Gaza’s civilian population after the war? And this Intelligence Ministry writes policy pieces and shares them with the defense establishment inside Israel. And, I mean, as you have mentioned, the 10-page document goes quite into detail and explicitly recommends this process of forced transfer. It also recommends to frame it in front of the international community as a humanitarian necessity, as something that is better than the alternatives that it poses in the documents, which is that the population will stay and die in their tens of thousands.

Now, I think it’s important to stress that this ministry is a small ministry. Despite its name, it does not actually deal with classified information, and it is not actually responsible for an Israeli intelligence organization. And it is not considered a very consequential or influential ministry in Israel. However, this is an official state document essentially recommending the government to carry out an ethnic cleansing of Gaza. And it has been written in a time when these ideas are making their way into the Israeli mainstream public discourse and to Israeli media.

I think, Amy, you know, a lot of us, a lot of people in Israel, are feeling shock. They feel a need that things will not return to the way they were before October 7th. They talk about security, especially after all of the atrocities that were committed by Hamas on October 7th, and the people who were illegally kidnapped and taken to Gaza and the murders. And I think we have politicians who have no political vision for the future. And they are, unfortunately, using this sense of wanting security to commit horrible and terrible war crimes in Gaza and killing already more than 3,000 children.

And I think this document and this bombing campaign are both a reflection of a worldview that only has force in its disposal to try and deal with a political problem. And the dangerous thing about this worldview is that it always fails. And when it fails, there are calls to use more force and more force. And if you push this worldview to the extreme, you will eventually end up with ideas like the ideas that we are reading about in this document.

And that’s why — and this is the final thing that for now I will say — that’s why, you know, as an Israeli, it’s very, very important for me to stress that I don’t think we can have security if Palestinians do not have freedom. And if we do not have a long-term political vision for the future that will end the situation where I have rights and freedom of movement and a way to vote, and Palestinians who are living next to me don’t, we are not going to have security. And I am very worried that — you know, I feel that this war on Gaza will not bring us security, and it will end, even if we topple down Hamas, by killing so many Palestinian civilians, we will create the next Hamas. And I don’t think it’s — I think this killing is unjustifiable. And I worry that the next war will come, and they will say, you know, “It didn’t work. Now we have to use even more force and even more force.” And even though this document right now might not seem feasible, I think this is the dangerous route that we are currently in. And this is why it’s so important to contextualize things and talk about a long-term political solution to the problem. And our leaders are not doing that right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Yuval, can you talk about where this document comes from, who it went to and how real it is?

YUVAL ABRAHAM: Yes. So, this document came from the Intelligence Ministry, which has a very small budget. And it seems like they have initiated it. They usually send out their documents to the Israeli different government offices and to intelligence organizations and the Israeli security establishment.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about what it means to have exposed it, and how they’re responding?

YUVAL ABRAHAM: Yeah. You know, for me, this is very, very worrying and troubling, because the government has not really acknowledged the paper at all. And none of us really know what the endgame of the government is in Gaza. I think in Israeli media, it has been downplayed as something that is going to harm Israel’s legitimacy for the war abroad. A lot of people are not taking it very seriously. This ministry is not considered, as I said, a very influential ministry. But we did not hear any clear and cut rejection of the document by the government. And yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what the right-wing Israeli Misgav Institute is, who has a similar proposal?

YUVAL ABRAHAM: Sure, yeah. It’s a very interesting and strange story. So, this right-wing think tank called Misgav, which is headed by Meir Ben-Shabbat, who was — he’s a very close associate with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and he’s a very senior former Israeli security figure. And they published, a little over two weeks ago, a report that has the same identical conclusion, that Israel needs to transfer, forcibly transfer, all the civilians in Gaza, in Gaza to Egypt.

And this report was authored and written by Amir Weitmann, who is also a Likud member and an associate of Gila Gamliel, which is the Likud member who heads the Ministry of Intelligence, who wrote a report with the same conclusions. Now, these connections between the Likud and the right-wing think tank are also apparent because a month ago the Ministry of Intelligence has hired this Misgav Institute to carry out research as a freelancer for the government ministry.

Now, officially, the Ministry of Intelligence — you know, I’ve spoken to sources there — they’re claiming, you know, “This document, we completely stand behind the recommendation, and we offered it independently.” If you asked me, it’s very clear that there is a mix here between the government ministry and this extreme right-wing think tank. And it all seems to be coming back to different sorts of officials in the ruling party, the Likud.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about the role of Egypt? Earlier this month, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said he would reject the forced displacement of millions of Palestinians into Sinai, which is Egypt. This is what he said.

PRESIDENT ABDEL FATTAH EL-SISI: [translated] Egypt rejects any attempt to resolve the Palestinian issue by military means or through the forced displacement of Palestinians from their land, which would come at the expense of the countries of the region. The idea of displacement of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to Egypt simply means that a similar situation will occur by the displacement of Palestinians from the West Bank to Jordan. This means that the idea of a Palestinian state that we are discussing and that the international community is discussing will no longer be possible.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s what President Sisi said, the Egyptian president. And this just came in from Ynet. Middle East Eye reported on the Israeli news outlet, saying, “Israel is proposing writing off a significant chunk of Egypt’s international debts through the World Bank to entice the cash-strapped Abdel Fattah el-Sisi government to open its doors for displaced Palestinians.” Again, that’s according to the Israeli Ynet news site. Yuval?

YUVAL ABRAHAM: Wow. Yeah, I mean, it’s clear that the fact that Egypt is refusing to open its borders is one of several reasons why this forced transfer plan will not manifest. You know, I think that it is a feasible scenario, if they do open their borders and tens or hundreds of thousands of Palestinians leave Gaza, that at least some of them will not be allowed to return. This has happened in 1967 and 1948.

And the document, which, by the way, you can read in full on the +972 Magazine website or the Local Call website, actually deals with this. It says — it reads in the document that Egypt will have an obligation under humanitarian law to allow for Palestinian civilians to flee and enter and find refuge in its territory. And it calls on enlisting the United States and other Western countries to pressure Egypt to do this. Now, you know, everything — we’re in a situation of extreme fog, and it’s unclear how this will develop, but the fears are completely justifiable.

AMY GOODMAN: Yuval, I want to thank you for bearing through this rainfall in Jerusalem. But I wanted to go to another piece —

YUVAL ABRAHAM: Yeah. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to another piece that you’ve written, saying, the headline, “Settlers take advantage of Gaza war to launch West Bank pogroms.” While the U.S. government, before Hamas’s surprise October 7th attack that killed up to 1,400 Israelis — the U.S. government, Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, something like 10 days before, said the Middle East is quiet now, and we can move on to other issues. But, in fact, in the West Bank, it was the deadliest year in years, right? You had more than a Palestinian a day being killed either by the Israeli military or Jewish settlers. And now, since October 7th, Israeli settler attacks have resulted in at least 115 Palestinian deaths, more than 2,000 injured, nearly 1,000 others forced to flee their homes. Can you talk about what it’s like to be in the West Bank, this increased Jewish settler violence? And also, you have a friend who was the target of the violence?

YUVAL ABRAHAM: Yes, yes, Amy, of course. I mean, I’ve just received a text message 123 Palestinians have been already killed in the West Bank since the beginning of the war, and seven of them have been actually murdered by Israeli settlers. And I spend a lot of my time in the West Bank, specifically in a region called Masafer Yatta, which is a region in the southern edge of the West Bank, a community of villages that for decades have faced really intense pressure and violence from the Israeli army, that constantly destroys their homes and refuses to give them permits, and from settlers that have been attacking them. And I think what is happening now is that settlers and soldiers are using this chaos of the war to continue and to end sort of this forced transfer.

And it was extremely horrifying to be there over the past few nights. We’ve had incidents where settlers entered one village — it’s called Susiya. They grabbed a boy and his father, and they told them, “You have 24 hours to leave the village, or we are going to murder everybody in the village.” We had an incident where one settler went down to the village and actually shot a Palestinian who was standing next to the mosque. There are incidents of torture, of abuse, of humiliation. And it’s happening every night. Like, I stayed up last night with a family. They’re not sleeping. And everybody is just — like, we see the settlers entering the village.

And I think that, you know, according to human rights organization, Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, 13 Palestinian communities have already been displaced in the West Bank due to this settler violence. And yeah, and it will just increase and increase as long as the war continues, the bombing on Gaza continues and this situation continues.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, the national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, this is a man who, what, in the last 15 years was convicted in Israeli court of being — supporting a terrorist organization and inciting violence against Palestinians. He announced the purchasing of 10,000 rifles for Israelis in West Bank settlements. Can you talk about what that means? Has that been carried out? And what supporting settler violence — what that means, particularly now?

YUVAL ABRAHAM: Yeah, of course. So, what is going on right now is a complete inability to even differentiate between who is a soldier and who is a settler. Is it a settler that is in reserves? Is it a settler that received a weapon from Ben-Gvir and put on, you know, his army uniform? Are these soldiers? There is a complete confusion. And we are seeing a lot of, quote-unquote, “independent settler initiatives,” where they are putting on soldier uniforms and going into villages and harassing Palestinians. This is happening all over Area C. This is the way the military refers to it, which is essentially all of the open territories in the West Bank, where there are 180 small Palestinian villages and all the Israeli settlements. And Israel’s policy for many years has been to try to forcibly evict these 180 communities.

And I think now with many more settlers receiving weapons, with all of these incidents of murder and threats, this eviction is taking place. And I think, definitely, the arming of so many people is part of that process, which is, you know, understood in Israeli society also as a response to October the 7th, the need of people to be armed to be able to defend themselves. At least in the West Bank, these weapons are used to evict Palestinians from their homes.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, how have Israeli activists and international charities been involved in supporting Palestinians in the West Bank?

YUVAL ABRAHAM: So, I’m not sure about international charities. I mean, I know that a lot of them have supplied these communities that are at risk of forced transfer, little homes that you can live in, because Israel always comes and destroys their homes. They can’t get building permits. And it was extremely ironic. Like, I was in a village called Zenuta, in this area of Masafer Yatta, two days ago, and the residents were dismantling all of these homes using their own hands. And they were essentially leaving the village. I spoke to a 70-year-old person who told me that — you know, we drank tea, and he said, “This is probably the last time I will drink tea in this place that I grew up in.” So, these international organizations — you know, all of this support is now just being dismantled by the residents, who are afraid for their lives.

I think what we, as Israeli activists, are trying to do there — and this is also not always working, but the fact that we are Israeli, the fact that we speak Hebrew, gives us a certain privilege. And when these attacks happen, we try to deescalate the situation. We try to make sure that the settlers that are attacking the village see us, that we are first, that we can film them, that there are journalists here. We try to talk in Hebrew. But things — you know, death is now everywhere, and things are deteriorating really, really quickly. And I feel like all of the things that we were previously doing are now not working.

And, you know, again, I have to ask the world to wake up, to call for a ceasefire. If we continue to destroy Gaza like this, it will destroy us, as well. We will not have security in the future, and it will destroy the West Bank and the possibility of ever living here in equality and in peace between Israelis and Palestinians. So it’s time to change course and talk about the political issues at hand.

AMY GOODMAN: Yuval Abraham, an Israeli journalist based in Jerusalem who reports for +972 Magazine and Local Call. We’ll link to his article “Expel all Palestinians from Gaza, recommends Israeli gov’t ministry.”

When we come back, we speak to Josh Paul. He recently resigned from the State Department in protest of the Biden administration’s policies on Israel and Palestine. Back in 30 seconds.

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