Martin Sherman

Into the fray: Gaza-A gigantic shift in the Overton Window

What once was unthinkable is now moving to the center of mainstream thought

Consideration should be given even to the heroic remedy of transfer of populations…the hardship of moving is great, but it is [still] less than the constant suffering of minorities and the constant recurrence of war.” Former US President Herbert Hoover–“Great Humanitarian”, in The Problems of Lasting Peace

The abandonment of the Gaza belt settlements has shown unequivocally that there will eventually be either Jews in the Negev or Arabs in Gaza – but not both. That is the brutal choice facing Israel’s decision-makers – the true “day-after” dilemmaThe War in Gaza, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 11, 2014.

Recently, on Nov. 1, Ram Ben-Barak, a senior MK in the left-leaning Yesh Atid faction and prospective contender for the Head of the Opposition in place of Yair Lapid, appeared on a panel on the popular Channel 12.

“The dream of every young Gazan”

Quoting an unidentified senior Hamas member as saying: “the population of Gaza is made up entirely of refugees“, Ben Barak went on to assert: “…so if all of Gaza is made up of refugees, let’s disperse them around the world. There are 2.5 million people over there [If] each country will take twenty thousand people – 100 countries… It’s humane, it’s obvious. They are refugees anyway…It is better to be a refugee in Canada than a refugee in Gaza. If the world really wants to solve the problem, it can solve it.”

Endorsing Ben Barak’s contention, respected expert on Arab affairs, Ehud Hemo. commented: “The dream of every young Gazan is to emigrate.”

For anyone not well-versed in the ins and outs of Israeli politics, it is difficult to convey the enormity of the change such an utterance represents—coming as it does from a distinctly dovish politician, who once declared that he viewed favorably the prospect of having an Islamist-Arab as deputy head of the Mossad—a position he once held himself.

Somewhat alarmed at the ruckus his “blasphemous” words aroused, Ben Barak tried to walk them back. Apologetically, he tweeted: “Anyone who thinks I have joined the ranks of the extreme right can relax. My intention was to build a coalition of states and international funding to allow Gazans, who want to leave, to be absorbed in them…to give them an opportunity to flee the Hamas regime of fear, that used them as a [human] shield.”

A humane and historical imperative

This of course is a classic example of a distinction without a difference.

Indeed, three decades ago, I called for the removal of the population of Gaza, precisely to avoid the kind of tragedy that has now befallen them. I wrote: “This is not a call for a forcibly imposed ‘racist’ transfer by Israel but rather for an initiation of an appeal to enlist international support for the rehabilitation elsewhere of the hundreds and thousands of refugees. They are victims of war, held hostage…by those purportedly committed to their welfare“. I urged the then-government to “devote its efforts to marshaling international efforts in support of this humane and historically imperative enterprise“.

I challenge anyone to find any daylight between my suggestion then, and Ban Barak’s amended proposal today.

Moreover, the much-maligned Rehavam “Gandhi” Ze’evi, arguably the standard bearer of the “extreme right”, proposed encouraging voluntary Arab emigration by means of—inter alia—monetary grants for the emigrants—which is uncannily similar to the left-leaning Ben Barak’s formula.

Interestingly, similar sentiments were also expressed in other, perhaps unexpected, quarters.

For example, on October 18, The Hill, a well-known US political website, reported that Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf suggested that the UK would be willing to take Gaza refugees displaced during the war between Hamas and Israel.

International calls to take in Gazan refugees

According to Yousaf, himself married to a Palestinian with family in Gaza, “Scotland is willing to lead the way for the rest of the U.K. and is willing to be the first country in the U.K. to take those refugees.” He warned however that “[b]ecause of the numbers, the world should be involved,” and urged countries in the Middle East, Asia, Europe, the United Kingdom and America to open their doors to refugees from Gaza.

According to The Hill report, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) expressed the view that the region’s partners should help Palestinian refugees but that the US should acknowledge its “historic role” in accepting refugees. Likewise, Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) told the New York Post that the United States “should be prepared to welcome refugees from Palestine” but cautioned that it must ensure that none of them are members of Hamas.

Significantly, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 78 percent of participants said they agreed that “American diplomats should actively be working on a plan to allow civilians fleeing fighting in Gaza to move to a safe country.”

Just as noteworthy was the fact that Daniel Gordis, arguably the epitome of -centrist moderation, chose to circulate on his widely read blog “Israel from the Inside“, the contents of a Hebrew Op-Ed (by Yehudah Yifrach),  extolling virtue and necessity of inducing Arab emigration.

Growing public sentiment

While Gordis refrained from endorsing such a policy, he certainly did not explicitly oppose it, noting that it reflects growing public sentiment in Israel, and poses a challenge to those who oppose it, to produce a more cogent alternative.

Quoting the article, Gordis presents the author’s view: “…there is no point in capturing the Gaza Strip without moving its population to a different place, where it will live under a different rule and a different organizing narrative. From a rational perspective, this is the only solution that will allow the state of Israel to uphold its most elementary obligation—the promise of sa[f]e life for its citizens.

The article continues: “This…presents Israel with an enormous challenge—the ethical justification (both domestically and internationally) of a national process of encouraging Gazan migration. This will be an overwhelming undertaking, for the West has come to think of encouraging migration as the gravest of sins. The West is going to have to undergo a conceptual revolution, it is going to have to understand that this solution is both the most moral and the most humane option.

The author explains:”… if the existence of a Hamas population threatens the existence of the Jewish state, then defending the Jewish state by way of moving the enemy population beyond a threatening distance is a moral act. …If I endanger my people, that is not [an act] of morality, but of moral corruption…

An act of “pure grace” 

The article then warns of the moral iniquity of inaction:” Murder, pogrom and the slaughtering of Jews wherever they may be, are an absolute evil that should never be tolerated. A pogrom is a sin not only if you are the attacker; it is a sin even if you are the victim and you failed to prevent the attack when you could have…”

As for the non-belligerent Gazans, the article enumerates the benefits: “Moving the Gazan population would be the most humane and ethical step for the residents of Gaza themselves. A baby born there is born into a black world where there exists nothing but murder and blood, poverty and ignorance. The Gaza Strip is a cursed land without a future, without hope, without a dream. If there are in the Gaza Strip “innocents”, the only way the Western world can grant them the option of a sane life is to dilute them among other populations that live normal lives, go to learn and to work and earn an honest wage. That sort of normalcy will never be possible for them within the Gaza Strip. For the “innocent non-combatants,” this would be an act of pure grace.”

Hobson’s choice for Zionism?

Of course, the cogent question is if Arab migration is ruled out, what is the future policy that Israel is to adopt?

Clearly, the two-state option is no longer feasible in any foreseeable timeframe, while “conflict management”, which merely gave the Gazan terror groups respite to regroup, rearm and redeploy, is now totally discredited by the events that unfolded last month. Moreover, the one-state option is a blatant non-starter which, at best, will lead to the Lebanonization of the country, with all the inter-ethnic strife that would inevitably accompany such an ill-advised measure.

As for the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip, this was one of the cornerstones of the 1993 Oslo Accords—blatantly flouted by the Palestinian Arabs right from the get-go, over a decade before Hamas seized control of Gaza.

But quite apart from the manifest difficulty in attaining such demilitarization, there are no less acute difficulties that would arise if, in fact, it were achieved. After all, if Israel were to effectively and permanently disarm any future regime in Gaza this would inevitably cripple its ability to impose law on any recalcitrant elements in the population—especially given the Jihadi forces in the adjacent Sinai Peninsula.

Accordingly, if one’s point of departure is that Israel is to remain a viable nation-state for the Jewish people, no other policy appears to have any practical feasibility or moral superiority. Indeed, it is Hobson’s choice for Zionism.

Clearly then, the origins of the ongoing catastrophe that has befallen the Palestinians—never mind the Jews—can undeniably be traced to the obstinate refusal to recognize this inconvenient fact.

The shifting Overton Window

It is thus hardly surprising that the idea of Arab migration is now emerging not as radical right-wing extremism – but rather as sound political science that is becoming an increasingly mainstream viewpoint. Moreover, it is becoming clear that, as the public rejoicing at the recent Judeocide indelibly underscores, the population of Gaza is not the victim of Hamas; but the crucible in which Hamas was formed and from which it emerged.

Accordingly, this dramatic shift in the Overton Window on Gaza is rooted in the growing awareness that the only way for Israel to determine how Gaza is ruled—and by whom—is to rule it itself. The only way for Israel to rule Gaza without the burden of having to rule over “another people” is to remove that “other people” from the territory over which it is obligated to rule.

About the Author
Dr. Martin Sherman is founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies a member of the research team of the Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF)-Habithonistim, and a participant in the Israel Victory Project. . He served for seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli Defense establishment, and was a ministerial adviser to Yitzhak Shamir's government. Sherman also lectured for 20 years at Tel Aviv University in Political Science, International Relations and Strategic Studies. He holds several university degrees: a B.Sc. (Physics and Geology), an MBA (Finance), and a PhD in political science and international relations. He was the first academic director of the internationally renowned Herzliya Conference and is the author of two books, as well as numerous articles and policy papers on a wide range of political, diplomatic and security issues. Sherman was born in South Africa and has lived in Israel since 1971.