In just three weeks, more Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli bombing in Gaza than have all children in all of the world’s conflict zones since 2019. This includes the war in Ukraine. The more than 3,300 deaths of Palestinian children have come as entire neighborhoods have been reduced to rubble, crushing innocent residents and neighbors.
To the militant government of Israel, which includes a finance minister who doesn’t stint at applying the word “fascist” to himself, a racist supremacist defense minister who recently declared Palestinians to be “animals” and a corrupt prime minister, Palestinian lives simply do not matter.
In the U.S., meanwhile, many mainstream institutions, from the federal government to media outlets, contort themselves into ever more acrobatic positions to rationalize and justify Israel’s mass killing. For weeks, we have heard that information is not coming out of Gaza, but social media captures it all — a Palestinian father carrying bags full of his now-eviscerated children’s limbs, Palestinian parents writing their children’s names on their torsos in black ink for easy identification, a Palestinian Al Jazeera journalist and Gaza bureau chief discovering that his wife, 15-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter were killed by an Israeli air raid.
As Israel’s assault gains momentum, the scope of the violence has become obvious. On Tuesday, more than 500 people were killed in an Israeli airstrike on the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza.
This week, the news site Local Call released the full contents of a leaked Oct. 13 secret document in which Israel’s Ministry of Intelligence outlined the planned expulsion of the Palestinian population of Gaza to northern Sinai in Egypt.
The document reads like a twisted manifesto, detailing a recommendation to evacuate Palestinians out of Gaza and establishing “tent cities and later more permanent cities in the northern Sinai that will absorb the expelled population.”
So far, Israel has forcibly evicted more than a million Palestinians from their homes, internally displacing them and rendering them refugees inside a concentration camp. Israel committed this war crime while raining bombs on the people as they fled from their homes, another war crime. Now, those seeking safety in southern Gaza are being further pushed closer to the Egyptian border.
This is the definition of ethnic cleansing. According to a 1994 United Nations report, ethnic cleansing occurs when one group of people removes “by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas.”
Francesca Albanese, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights abuses in the occupied territories, has identified Israel’s actions as ethnic cleansing as well, saying on Oct. 14: “Israel has already carried out mass ethnic cleansing of Palestinians under the fog of war. In the name of self-defense, Israel is seeking to justify what would amount to ethnic cleansing.”
But the same definition means that Israel has been committing ethnic cleansing for more than 70 years. For decades, Palestinians have screamed “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” from the rooftops. My parents, both Palestinian refugees, recall their families’ stories of displacement in the Nakba of 1948, in which over 700,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes and homeland, and the Naksa of 1967, in which over 300,000 Palestinians fled Israeli terror. But their screams have continuously fallen on deaf ears.
Official Israeli policy asserts the disappearance, displacement and expulsion of almost half the Palestinian population was merely a coincidence, a voluntary decision by over a million Palestinians to move away. In 2006, Israeli historian Ilan Pappé corrected this narrative in a book titled “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.”
“What happened in Palestine was by no means an unintended consequence, a fortuitous occurrence, or even a ‘miracle,’” he said. “Rather, it was the result of long and meticulous planning.”
Israel’s commitment to creating an ethnostate has never been a secret aspiration. It’s one that Israeli officials openly express with callous disregard. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his September speech at the United Nations, displayed a map that depicted the full annexation of all remaining Palestinian land into Israel.
The recently leaked document shows that we are watching the realization of that aspiration. Palestinians are living out a perpetual nightmare of compounded cruelties — the cruelty of having no access to water, electricity, food and medicine; of being evicted from their homes and having their homes stolen by settlers chaperoned and protected by armed Israel Defense Forces soldiers; of being turned into refugees inside an open-air prison; of being sleep-deprived from the never-ending tremors, vibrations and explosions from endless bombs; of playgrounds and hospitals being blasted to rubble; of children being buried alive under the weight of their own collapsed bedrooms.
Most cruel of all is the cruelty of the world pretending this is a justified act of self-defense by an occupying nuclear-armed power.
We all bear witness to this campaign of cruelty. We all bear witness to the slow-motion ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people, fully endorsed by much of Western liberal democracy. We all bear witness to the deafening cries for help from Gaza.
Like any witness in a courtroom, we are all being called to testify by our conscience.
It is time to take the stand. It is time to take a stand.
(The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)