Next year in Gaza?
A. Is the annexation of the West Bank imminent?
“Yesha Council”[i] and "My Israel"[ii] have recently circulated a propaganda video clip as part of a campaign addressing the old Israeli-left argument, that "if a two-state solution is not established soon, Israel will lose its Jewish demographic superiority". In the clip they demonstrate how by deducting the estimated Gaza Strip population from their demographic calculations, the Jewish majority can remain safe and sound between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, even if Israel were to annex the West Bank.
This campaign may indicate a new direction for the Israeli right-wing given the way Israeli right-wing commentators, researchers, mathematicians, journalists, bloggers, activists, political groups and prominent public figures have quickly adopted and rejoiced over this new trophy.
The general trends described are admittedly partially true[iii] (although biased and misleading[iv]). Indeed, the Palestinian fertility rate in the West Bank seems to be declining slowly,[v] and given the intensifying violence and oppression by the army and settlers, there is significant Palestinian emigration (which often means that those who leave lose the right to ever return).[vi] Yet the claim that the Jewish majority is "assured", or only expected to increase "to our advantage", is erroneous, since it would take a while before for the two population-growth-rates equal or turn in favour of the Jews.[vii]
B. Are the settlers really giving up Gaza?
Nevertheless, these are of minor importance. The key question is whether this is merely another ploy in the service of perpetuating settler presence in the West Bank, or genuinely a new argument by the settlers to concede the Gaza Strip in order to annex the West Bank. So far, Yesha Council is still ambivalent on the issue. On the one hand, it deducts Gaza's population from its calculations, but on the other, it includes the strip in its maps, illustrations, clips, and in its official title (Yesha is the Hebrew acronym for 'Yehuda, Shomron ve-Aza' – Judea, Samaria and Gaza). Thus, Gaza is both "here" and "there", present and absent, visible and disappearing upon necessity. One moment the settlers justify control over the West Bank as possible while maintaining an ethnic Jewish majority, but the next moment, this reason no longer suffices for conceding the Gaza Strip.
That said, if more right-wing politicians were really to break free from both this ambivalence and the Gaza Strip this would be a new development. They would probably justify it by claiming to be nurturing and hanging on to the "dream" of return to Gaza as an object of yearning (consequently, future generations would desire to return to Gaza, not Jerusalem – which could lead to a rewrite of the old toast: ” to next year in Gaza!”’).
Speculation aside, as long as their hearts and tongues are at odds, any concessions they appear to make are nothing but a pretext for the annexation of more land. The Gaza Strip, like any other substance, serves as verbal clay in the hands of the potter, another tenet in the blind vision which has always guided Gush Emunim [the Bloc of the Faithful http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gush_Emunim , the messianic political movement that first founded the settlement project]: starting from the conclusion of our need for the settlements, and only then nourishing it with any available reason, divine or mundane, true and false. Hence the Gaza Strip, until recently sacred land, can also easily become a land of lepers, concentrating the natives we wish to ignore.
C. Here, sweet secular Israelis…we have a treat for you…
Hoping to sweet-talk secular audiences, the makers of the video selected Golan Azulai as presentor. Azulai is a religious settler and a broadcaster on the settler's radio station "Galey Yisrael", but he appears with a chic beret instead of a settler-yarmulke, and lots of secular and modern-traditional Israelis love it. Spiritual but also timely and of the people; simply adorable.
For the same reason the video also forsakes the messianic "truth" and "eternity" discourse, and replaces "God willing" with the one thing Israeli mainstream understands best: the language of demographic control. A "Jewish majority" is the ultimate Zionist obsession (at least since the 1940s). The Zionist body politic - from the growing party led by Lieberman to the diminishing leftovers of Meretz - has always been afflicted by ethnic hegemony-hysteria and an unresolved desire to reconcile the Jewish state with a positive self-image and a democratic ethos. The video capitalises on this desire, not hesitating to encourage the mendacious impression many Israelis have of Palestinians (errr…sorry, I mean, of Arabs; according to this milieu, the Palestinian people does not exist) willingly emigrating. (They even go so far as to include an animation of Palestinian Arabs departing from Ben Gurion international airport, which in reality they’re not even allowed near!)
D. "Arabs, go to Gaza!": Vox Populi Becomes Policy
What started out as a tactical argument in favour of the status quo is now spinning out of control and rapidly becoming an end in itself. New groups have become convinced and are persuading others that the West Bank has to be annexed, and even possibly enfranchised (the rights of the Arab minority in Israel are limited anyway), and the Gaza Strip abandoned. The Golem has turned on its creator.
The proponents of annexing the West Bank without the Gaza Strip are hoping to their position will gradually take hold in Israeli public discourse. After all, this is palatable music for Israeli mainstream ears, because it adopts their good-old logic: "in order to maintain the essential Jewish majority, we are compelled to allot a portion of the land, as small and meaningless as possible, to which millions of Palestinian will be confined, through our indirect control, perhaps with meaningless self-governance". The new plan not only advocates a segregation similar to former PM Ehud Barak’s familiar "We’ll be here, and they’ll be there" plan, but also makes a more practical and lucrative (and violent) suggestion: for the price of Gaza we get all the rest.
If this new and improved unilateral Disengagement Plan becomes the new neo-Zionist agenda, we must remember that, in fact, there is nothing new about it. Since the creation of the Gaza Strip by Israel, it has always functioned as a large impoverished refugee camp, a stubborn living monument to the various expulsions from 1947-1952. Its creation produced an artificial ethnic majority in the remaining land, using the factitious demographic reality to pass as a democracy, and tautologically legitimise the new “democratic” state.
Prime Minister Levi Eshkol: "Regarding the Arabs of Gaza, I would like to hope that they will go away from [Greater] Israel [including Gaza]".
Prof. Roberto Bachi, director of Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics: "How?"
Eshkol: "I am looking for people who will find a solution to this".
Bachi: "You cannot expel. You can only encourage emigration […but] to assume that this would solve the problem would be a dangerous illusion".
(A discussion on “The refugees in Gaza”, December 1967, Israel State Archive. Quoted by Tom Segev 2005).
This piece is based on a post originally published n Hebrew and translated into English by Ofer Neiman.
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