Israel has planned to depopulate Gaza for decades.
During the Nakba – the mass expulsions leading to and following Israel’s establishment in 1948 – about 200,000 Palestinians from the surrounding district became refugees in Gaza.
About 70 percent of Gaza’s population are refugees as a result of the Nakba. They have firmly rejected subsequent efforts to uproot them.
The efforts have come both from Israel and from international bodies.
In the 1950s, the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) proposed a plan to Gamal Abdel Nasser, then Egypt’s president. Under it, 250,000 acres would be allocated to Palestinian refugees, who would be resettled in the northern Sinai.
The plan was called off following protests. Among those who played a prominent role in the protests were Ahmad al-Haj.
Al-Haj still lives in Gaza City’s Beach refugee camp. He lives in a rented home as he thinks that buying a house of his own in Gaza would mean accepting his refugee status as permanent.
Before the Nakba, Al-Haj lived in the village of al-Swafer al-Sharqia. As he was uprooted from his original home, he still regards his refugee status in Gaza as temporary.
Israel’s military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank began in June 1967. Soon after the occupation started, Yigal Allon, then Israel’s labor minister, recommended “transferring” – a euphemism for expulsion – the people of Gaza to the Sinai en masse.
At the time the population of Gaza was approximately 400,000. Israel saw this population as a threat, whereas its “transfer” would ensure that no Palestinian state would be established based on boundary lines preceding the 1967 occupation.
In 1969, the Israeli government approved a secret plan from the spy agency Mossad to send large numbers of people living in Gaza (especially young men) on a one-way trip destined for Latin America.
The scholar Hadeel Assali had a relative who was tricked into emigrating through this plan. Assali has documented how the people in question were promised jobs that would pay substantial salaries.
Paraguay’s government was complicit. It received a $350,000 payment from Israel as part of the plan.
The existence of the plan was exposed in 1970 when two of these refugees opened fire at the Israeli embassy in Paraguay.
In 1971, Ariel Sharon, an Israeli general who later became prime minister, forced 12,000 Palestinians out of Gaza, sending them to the Sinai.
Israel has always viewed Palestinian refugees as a threat to its own existence.
That explains why Israeli forces broke into Khan Younis and Rafah refugee camps in Gaza during the early 1950s. Israel killed. a few thousand Palestinians, on the pretext that some refugees had “infiltrated” Israel, seeking a return to their homes in historic Palestine.
In 1956, Israel attacked Egypt through a deal arranged stealthily with Britain and France. The once dominant imperial powers were aggrieved at Nasser’s decision to nationalize the Anglo-French Suez Canal Company, an important player in international trade.
Now – in October 2023 – Israel is waging a genocidal war against Gaza.
More than a million people have been ordered to evacuate their homes in northern Gaza – including Gaza City – and move “further south.” Some Israeli political figures have talked about moving Palestinians into the Sinai.
Understanding why Israel would issue such an order requires a brief examination of Gaza’s history.
In 1948, Israel failed to occupy the Gaza Strip due to the fierce resistance of its people.
The fact that 70 percent of Gaza’s population are refugees explains why Israel views the coastal enclave as a threat. Israeli policy makers know only too well that these refugees will return back to their towns and villages – now inhabited by Israelis – one day.
Some of Gaza’s inhabitants actually live in refugee camps set up a short distance from what used to be their towns and villages. That is why Israel always wanted to get rid of the Palestinian refugees in Gaza.
The Israeli evacuation orders of 2023 are a continuation of the depopulation process started by Zionist forces in 1947 and 1948.
Then, Zionist militias would encircle villages in the area surrounding Gaza and give refugees the option of fleeing in just one direction.
That direction? Further to the south. To Gaza.
Israel has cut off water this month in an attempt to push Palestinians out of northern Gaza, including Gaza City. By doing so, Israel reminds us of what Zionist militias did in 1948.
Then, they destroyed and in some cases poisoned water wells in the district surrounding Gaza – a district comprised of 34 villages – pushing Palestinians to leave their homes.
Destroying hospitals and bakeries – at least 10 bakeries have been destroyed so far – and sources of income is a continuation of Zionist practices to which Palestinian refugees have been previously subjected.
Targeting schools and shopping centers and imposing an electricity and internet blackout reveal Israel’s mentality. Israel wants to make life impossible for Palestinian refugees so that they leave Palestine.
But that is not going to happen.
Palestinians in Gaza are very clear. They will not relive the Nakba.
Israel might use its lethal force to destroy Gaza. It might kill a lot of Palestinians. It might make a lot of Palestinians homeless.
But the majority of Palestinians have made their minds up. As people in Gaza put it, heaven is closer than the Sinai.
Yousef M. Aljamal is a non-resident scholar at the Hashim Sani Center for Palestine Studies, Malaysia. He has written and translated a number of books. Twitter: @YousefAljamal