The power of words: Israel's claims of ethnic cleansing

The power of words: Israel's claims of ethnic cleansing
5 min read
12 Sep, 2016
Comment: In recent speeches, Netanyahu has taken to using the term "ethnic cleansing" to support Israel's misleading narrative, writes Ramona Wadi.
Israel has victimised itself by co-opting the rightful claims of Palestinians [AFP]

A recently released video of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's diplomatic rhetoric has purportedly irked US officials, with his tirade regarding opposition to settlement expansion gaining momentum in Israel.

Stating that "Israel's diversity shows its openness and readiness for peace", Netanyahu goes on to call criticism of settlement expansion "outrageous" - and compared the minimum standards required by international law with "ethnic cleansing".

In his state visit to the Netherlands, Netanyahu also complained about Palestinians wanting a Palestinian state that is not comprised of Israeli settlers. In what is effectively a convenient reversal of narratives, he portrays Palestinians as the oppressor power, instead of a colonised and dispersed population - the result of Zionist colonisation and ongoing ethnic cleansing to achieve the aim of "Greater Israel".

The speech itself stirred controversy elsewhere. Haaretz reported that Netanyahu's arguments corresponded to a 2009 document attributed to US political consultant Frank Luntz, who worked with Ron Lerner, Israeli ambassador to the US, back in the 1990s.

The document, entitled, The Israel Project's 2009 Global Language Dictionary, is said to partly state "that ethnic cleansing is the best argument in response to the settlement issue, when it comes to the US public".

Other parts of the document deal with the lack of clearly defined borders as a prerequisite in influencing public US opinion: "Americans agree that Israel has a right to defensible borders. But it does you no good to define exactly what those borders should be."

The same twisted rhetoric is applied to the Palestinian right of return, in which Luntz advises that Israelis should frame this legal right as a "demand", in order to expand the colonial narrative into claims similar to those Netanyahu is now making.

Clearly, there are no qualms about eradicating definitions in order to further manipulate the narrative for colonial gain and expansion.

Diplomatic opposition and acquiescence

US State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau issued a statement that read in part, "We believe that using that type of terminology is inappropriate and unhelpful."

Ahmed Majdalani, an adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, declared, "It's Netanyahu who conducts ethnic cleansing every day in Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories by announcing (new) settlement units … The settlements are an ongoing war."

The Prime Minister of Israel decided to go a step further in creating an imagined reality

Needless to say, both statements missed the point, as did the previous Middle East Quartet report, which cited settlements as an obstacle to peace, but refrained from committing itself to linking the current international law violations with its historical precedents.

The statement which provided the most accurate description of Netanyahu's dangerous antics came from Joint List Chairman MK Ayman Odeh, who stated: "The Prime Minister of Israel decided to go a step further in creating an imagined reality… Now he's trying to rewrite history by explaining that the settlements aren't an obstacle to peace - and even compares the Arab minority in the state to the settlers."

The UN's silence over the issue continues to expose the international institution for what it is - an organisation thriving upon human rights violations and their glorification, including through the slandering of a colonised population.

Ethnic cleansing and historical memory

According to a 1993 UN Commission, ethnic cleansing is defined as "the planned deliberate removal from a specific territory, persons of a particular ethnic group, by force or intimidation, in order to render that area ethnically homogenous".

Given the differences between ethnic cleansing and genocide, it is clear that the current trend of forced displacement of Palestinians is proving to be of less concern to the international community. Netanyahu has played upon this knowledge and reversed the narrative to foment further discord.

It is important to remember that, whether for or against Netanyahu's words, the departure point of all political actors involved in the farcical negotiations is the two-state paradigm. There is no talk of Israel's colonial presence as an illegality, while the PA is unable to function autonomously due to its collaborative and dependent structure.

There is no talk of Israel's colonial presence as an illegality

Given these pitfalls, Netanyahu is assured that no amount of criticism will dent Israel's plans for further expansion. As a result, if Israel is granted impunity over the forced displacement of Palestinians - which has become the indirectly acceptable violation to which the international community is partial - settlers are automatically exempt from any punitive measures.

Historical memory, therefore, continues to suffer a massive betrayal as the obligation to remember has now been turned into a quest for widespread alienation. Rectifying the present circumstances for Palestinians is an impossible feat, without there being recognition of the indignities heaped upon the indigenous population, in order to establish a thriving colonial entity.

It is precisely the refusal to designate Israel an illegal, colonial existence which gives Netanyahu ample space for disseminating his perilous gibberish. If the international community retained any sliver of responsibility, it would hold both the colonial state and settlers accountable for the irreparable damage done to Palestinians.

It would allow Palestinians the freedom to determine their concept of state away from international impositions, instead of allowing Netanyahu and his complicit settlers the privilege of altering language and politics.

Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger specialising in the struggle for memory in Chile and Palestine, colonial violence and the manipulation of international law. Follow her on Twitter: @walzerscent

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.