It might be true, the late PM Yitzhak Rabin said — and the full quote is required, because it was often taken out of context — “that the best solution for Gaza would be for it to drown in the sea, but since that is not possible, a solution must be found.”
You see, the second part of the quote is essential as one ponders a growing trend on Israel’s right: To propose that Gazans ought to just leave the area. “Countries around the world should offer asylum to Gazans seeking relocation,” two Israeli members of Knesset, one from the centrist Yesh Atid, wrote in The Wall Street Journal. “The international community can … provide one-time financial support packages to Gazans wishing to move …”
It is an important idea because of what it says about the current state of affairs. I’ll try to explain with five quick comments:
First: The idea of convincing Palestinians to move elsewhere is an old idea that is now gaining momentum in right-wing circles. One right-wing columnist wrote: “Israel has only two choices: either to control the Gaza Strip with military rule, or to move its population to another place … There is no third solution that would allow Israelis a decent life on this land.” An editor of a right-wing intellectual magazine wrote: “This population’s removal from Gaza is… not the exile, but the completion of the move that began in the War of Independence.” You can agree or disagree with these writers, but you must notice them. Such ideas mean something.
Second: The fact that these ideas are circulating indicates a breaking of a psychological barrier. Thirty years ago, when minister Rehavam Ze’evi spoke about the relocation of Palestinians, many Israelis considered him a pariah. They thought such an idea was immoral. Recent events forced us to rethink these once-preposterous ideas. And it’s not that Israelis lost their desire to behave morally. They were forced to adjust their standards to a reality in which the standards of Hamas also exist. So, while the Prime Minister of Canada can speak after October 7 as if the same rules apply to Israel’s and Canada’s challenges (“even wars have rules. All innocent life is equal in worth”), we know this is not exactly true. An extreme situation opens the door to ideas that were once considered extreme into the mainstream.
The current reality is truly unbearable, and it is not easy to find a practical way out of it. And no, rehashing the old Two State Solution cliché is not a more practical solution. It’s just a different kind of fantasy.
Third: If we stay with psychology, the relocation theme also indicates how difficult it is to come up with a realistic solution to the current reality. Rabin understood this when he said that the idea of Gaza drowning is tempting but impractical. In today’s Israel there are those who have reverted to fantasy and condemning them is easy but superfluous. The current reality is truly unbearable, and it is not easy to find a practical way out of it. And no, rehashing the old two-state solution cliché is not a more practical solution. It’s just a different kind of fantasy.
Fourth: Part of the discourse on Gazan relocation is an understandable and justifiable provocation against the rest of the world. If it is so important for the Prime Minister of Canada to protect women and children in Gaza, he is welcome to hand them Canadian visas. They could move to the sparsely populated provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Of course, Canada will not do such thing. When Justin Trudeau rebukes Israel, it is not because he cares about Gazans, it is because he cares about appearing righteous, and leaving Israel with the daunting challenge of living in reality.
Fifth: Is the idea truly unrealistic? To answer this question, we must define the “idea.” Is it realistic to assume that Canada will take in masses of Gazans? The answer is no. Is it realistic to assume that Gazans will leave willingly? Here we must ask what willingly means. The two Israeli MK’s mentioned in their WSJ article that Austria and Sweden took in masses of refugees from Bosnia during the Yugoslav wars. Were these refugees leaving willingly? Yes, they agreed to move because the other option was a massacre. The same is true for the quarter of a million Syrians who willingly moved to Germany. They agreed to move to a progressive Western country in order to escape the killing fields. This does not happen in Gaza because Israel is neither Syria nor Serbia. Israel does not kill innocent Gazans indiscriminately.
Is the idea of Gazans leaving a good idea? It is a convenient idea for Israel, to which the Gazans would respond by proposing that it is Israelis who ought to relocate (in fact, that is the ideology of those thinking Zionism is a colonialist project). So, in the world of fantasy, one can imagine many things. But in a realistic world, Gazans are still here, we are also here, and neither are going anywhere.
Where was God on October 7 is a question that some Israelis ask. I tried to respond by referring to other disasters:
The Holocaust was mentioned by relatively many Israelis as an event that weakens faith in God … Only among the ultra-Orthodox was there a majority, not a large one (56%), who said that the Holocaust was a faith-strengthening event. Perhaps because it is very difficult for them to say about anything that it weakens the faith. But among the religious, who all believe, about a third said that the Holocaust is an event that weakens faith (31%). And among the traditionalists, about 40% said so. And among the secular, a significant part of whom obviously do not believe, two-thirds said so. Which may also indicate the reaction of the Jews in Israel to October 7. Where was God? Some will be tormented, some will say that his ways are mysterious, some will say that he is simply doesn’t exist.
Security and/or separation is what Israelis believe in. Peace – not so much. Not with the Palestinians, and not as long as they want us all dead.
David Lilienfeld wrote: “It seems likely that American opinion supporting a ceasefire is likely to hit levels Biden can’t ignore in about a week. After that, I don’t know that Biden will have any way of resisting calling for a ceasefire.” My response: 1. It is now a week after, and (as I write) Israel still fights. 2. Biden’s view is crucially important, but it’s not the only important factor as Israel’s ponders its options.
Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.
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