by Boris Shusteff

Mon, 12 Jul 2004 03:00:27 -0700 (PDT)


Few will argue with the assertion that today we live in an age of political correctness. Nevertheless, let us try to free ourselves from this preconceived notion and soberly observe the situation. Whether we like it or not, among all the different solutions available for resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, we must consider the option of Arab transfer. It is quite possible that transferring the Arabs out of the West Bank, Gaza and Israel proper can cut the Gordian knot of the unending conflict once and for all.


 Why transfer? From Israel’s standpoint, the answer is simple. It is a very realistic way to separate the Jews from the Arabs. It is an extremely painful and at the same time very pragmatic method by which the Arabs themselves will bear the consequences of their wild hatred of Jews and their non-acceptance of Israel. It is an excellent way to preserve Israel as a Jewish state. And perhaps most importantly, it is the only solution that can have a long-lasting effect, thus enabling peace.


 Let us first note that, while in the first half of the 20th century, “population transfer used to be accepted as a means to settle ethnic conflict, today forced population transfers are considered violations of international law” (1). Does this mean that we should not talk about transfer? On the contrary, if at one point transfer was acceptable to the world community, why is it not possible that it will again become accepted as a legitimate method of resolving ethnic conflicts?


 Population transfer was once “considered a drastic but ‘often necessary’ means to end an ethnic conflict or ethnic civil war.” (1) However, after the Nazi atrocities and the forced deportation and expulsion of civilian populations associated with them, the Charter of the Nuremberg Trials of German Nazi leaders “declared forced deportation of civilian populations to be both a war crime and a crime against humanity. … Underlying … the trend to assign rights to individuals, thereby limiting the rights of states to make agreements which adversely affect them.” (1).


 Let us pause for an obvious question. What are the most sacred of the rights that an individual possesses? Most would agree that these are the rights to life, security and dignity. It is exactly these rights that are enshrined into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That means that if by its actions a state “adversely affects” these rights, it violates international law. The opposite is true as well. If a state acts in order to guarantee the preservation of the rights of individuals to life, security, and dignity it acts inside the margins of international legitimacy. But then how should we look at a situation in which the rights to life, security, and dignity can only be achieved by means of transfer? How would we deem transfer if, after forceful relocation to Jordan, ending decades spent in substandard conditions, the Palestinian Arabs were finally able to attain decent lives, in security, and with dignity?


 This is not an empty question, since transfer is still employed in the international arena for resolving ethnic conflicts. For example, in the 1990’s “The United Nations took steps that, while not intended to constitute population transfer, given the weakness of UN forces in the area led to the transfer of population” (1) within the boundaries of Yugoslavia. That means that just a couple years ago, the forced transfer of a population took place under the auspices of the UN and “one immediate result … was a sharp decline in ethnic violence in the region” (1).

 And it was a real full-scale transfer. Hundreds of thousands of people were expelled or left on their own. As a result today in Croatia more than 90% are ethnic Croatians. In Kosovo the overwhelming majority of the population are ethnic Albanians. It is important to note that the process of population migration did not stop with the suspension of military hostilities. For instance, before the arrival in June 1999 in Kosovo and Metohija’s Municipality of Urocevac of the Kosovo Force (KFOR), a NATO-led international force responsible for establishing and maintaining security in Kosovo, there were about 60,000 Albanians and 20,000 Serbs living in this municipality. As of November 3, 2003 only 12 (!) Serbs remain there. The rest were expelled and sought refuge in the regions with predominantly Serbian population, thus transforming Urocevac into a mono-ethnic Albanian region.


 This means that in reality, population transfer remains a way of resolving ethnic problems, in spite of loud proclamations to the contrary. Stefan Wolff, an English Professor of Political Science, and one of the foremost specialists on the subject of ethno-politics, recently wrote a paper discussing the pluses and minuses of population transfer. The work is extremely important for this discussion, and we will therefore refer extensively to his paper.


 After a thorough investigation of many instances of transfer that involved the forceful relocation of tens of millions of people, Wolff writes,

 “…The previous case studies have illustrated that forced population transfers can contribute, although to differing degrees, to the internal stability and external security of the states involved, achieving, for the most part, two essential objectives – to avoid internal ethnic strife and to prevent external minorities from being used as instruments of irredentist foreign policies” (2).


 It is exactly internal stability and external security that have been desperately sought by Israel for more than 56 years. And the Palestinian Arabs have been, and continue to be used by the Arab world precisely “as instruments of irredentist foreign policies.” Would it not be reasonable to expect that the transfer of the Arabs could resolve these seemingly irresolvable issues?


 Certainly, relations between Jews and Arabs after the Arab expulsion would be extremely tense. According to Wolff’s study, “bilateral relations between expelling and receiving states have often been poisoned for decades as a consequence of an expulsion, especially when unresolved issues of compensation and restitution remain” (2). But aren’t relations between the Arabs and Jews already exceptionally bad?


 In essence, Arab hatred toward Jews today is already at such a high level that the transfer of the Arabs will only marginally increase it. It is even more important to understand that Arab hatred is directed not toward Israelis, but toward Jews. And it is spread not only by the Palestinian Arabs, but by all Arabs. For a good example, let us listen, to Sheikh Abdur-Rahman al-Sudais, the preacher at the Grand Al-Haraam mosque – the most important mosque in Mecca, at the very heart of Islam. He said on February 1, in his sermon,


 “Read history and you will understand that the Jews of yesterday are the evil fathers of the Jews of today, who are evil offspring, infidels … calf-worshippers, prophet-murderers, prophecy-deniers... the scum of the human race whom Allah cursed and turned into apes and pigs... These are the Jews, a continuous lineage of meanness, cunning, obstinacy, tyranny, licentiousness, evil, and corruption...”


 Such pronouncements can mean only one thing: Arab hatred towards the Jews is irrational, and does not really depend on the Jews’ actions. Whatever the Jews do, they will remain for the Arabs “the scum of the human race whom Allah cursed and turned into apes and pigs.” Therefore if Israel expels the Arabs from Judea, Samaria, Gaza and Israel proper the Arabs’ loathing of the Jews can hardly increase. It is essentially impossible to be more scornful of Jews than the Arabs already are.


 Lest we assume that it is always preferable not to carry out population transfer than to implement it, there is ample evidence to the contrary. As Wolff explains,


 “Avoiding population transfers has had even more disastrous long-term consequences in at least one case – the German dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in 1938/39, and has resulted in ethnic tensions, occasionally escalating in violence in other cases – such as in post-1990 Transylvania and southern Slovakia” (2).


 It’s important to remember that within the two words “disastrous consequences” are contained the violent and barbaric deaths of over 50 million people who perished in World War II. And the first step in the direction of war was the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. In truth, avoiding the expulsion of the Arabs is similar to the rejection of the transfer of the Sudeten Germans. Could it be that Israel today, as Czechoslovakia did then, walks along the road to disastrous consequences?

 Knowing the history of the conflict, it is very doubtful that the festering wound of the Arab-Israeli confrontation can be healed without separating the Jews from the Arabs.


 Unfortunately, the way that Ariel Sharon, Israel’s current Prime Minister, is trying to achieve this separation – by means of a loudly proclaimed transfer of Jews out of Gaza and four communities in Samaria – is not even a quarter-measure.


 There are two main issues that make the transfer of Jews completely useless. First, this sidesteps the issue of the Israeli Arabs, a problem, of which an overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews are acutely aware. In a survey conducted in the beginning of January, 71% of Jews agreed with Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement, that “the Israeli Arabs constitute a demographic danger.”


 Honestly speaking, the situation is very grave for Israel, if it intends to remain a Jewish state. Data presented at a workshop held in January at Tel Aviv University showed that “in the past 15 years, the number of mosques in Israel has increased four and a half times, from 80 in 1988 to 363 in 2003.” The Arab population in the meantime increased only by one and a half times, meaning that the islamization of Israel’s Arab population grew 300%.


 Along with the growth of the Arab population all over the country, there is a visible tendency towards an increase in the Arab population in the capital of the Jewish state. A struggle for the capital itself is taking place. According to the Jerusalem Center for Israel Research, while in 1967 the fraction of Arabs in Jerusalem constituted 26%, now the Arabs make up 33% of the city’s inhabitants.

 In the December 10, 2003 issue of Ha’aretz, Israel Harel wrote about several other very troubling facts.


 “The percentage of Arab pupils in the first grade, a crucial indicator for what can be expected in the near future, is 32.5. Moreover, about 58.8 percent of Israel's Arabs are under the age of 24, while among Jews the proportion is only 38 percent. These figures clearly show that the Jewish population is growing older and its fertility is declining. The Arab population, on the other hand, is young and its fertility is on the rise - and is certainly not declining. The average Israeli Arab family has 5.26 members while the average Jewish family has only 3.13 members.”


 Knowing all this, it becomes clear that Israel’s demographic threat originates not from the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza, who are in any case not the citizens of the Jewish state, but from the Israeli Arabs. And therefore the transfer of Jews (even if we forget about the terrible harm that will be inflicted on the Zionist idea itself) does nothing to eliminate this threat.


 A second issue that makes Sharon’s plan of transferring Jews completely illogical is the issue of Arab irredentism. It should be clear to anyone with a modicum of logic that since the Arabs view Israel as “occupying” ALL of Palestine, they will consider Israel’s voluntary retreat from ANY part of Palestine as a victory. Sharon’s withdrawal will serve as obvious proof that Israel can be forced to relinquish more land, since she has done it before. The precedent set by the Jews’ abandonment of Gaza will only increase Arab desire to gain more from Israel.


 At the same time, we should not miss the point that the world community has met Sharon’s plan of transfer of the Jews with the utmost enthusiasm. Support from western democracies for transferring Jews out of Gaza is almost unanimous. This means that supporters of Arab transfer have a unique chance to bring the issue that they champion to the fore, for open discussion. If transfer in general is legitimate, then transfer of Arabs must be considered legitimate as well. If a transfer of Jews is possible, then a transfer of Arabs is possible too.


 One of the main principles in Sharon’s disengagement plan states: “The stalemate dictated by the current situation is harmful. In order to break out of this stalemate, the State of Israel is required to initiate moves not dependent on Palestinian cooperation.”


 But then why it should be a transfer of Jews? Doesn’t a transfer of Arabs also fall into the same category of “moves not dependent on Palestinian cooperation?” And if public support is in question, the latest study carried out by the University of Haifa's National Security Research Center should put those concerns to rest. The data show that “A full 63.7% believe in what is known as transfer, and said that the government should encourage the emigration of Israeli-Arabs from Israel.” Therefore we have every reason to ask: If transfer is needed, why not transfer the Arabs?

 Forced Population Transfers: Institutionalised Ethnic Cleansing as the Road to New (In-) Stability? The European Experience (Stefan Wolff, Department of European Studies, University of Bath/UK)


Boris Shusteff is an engineer. He is also a research associate with the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies.

Freeman Center <>

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