A senior Israeli official from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government admitted on Saturday that the Gaza Strip is a “ghetto” and that Israel must reduce the enclave’s Palestinian population ― the latest example of Israeli authorities plainly stating their goals for the future of Gaza and Palestinians.
In an interview with Israeli Army Radio, ultranationalist Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said that his “demand” was for Gaza to stop being a “hotbed where 2 million people grow up on hatred and aspire to destroy the State of Israel.” He did not specify why Palestinian civilians in Gaza would aspire to destroy Israel.
According to a translation by Haaretz, the Religious Zionism party chairman also said that Israel must occupy and resettle Gaza in order to regain security.
“If we act strategically, they will emigrate and we will live there. We won’t let 2 million stay. With 100,000 or 200,000 Arabs in Gaza, the ‘day after’ debate will be different,” Smotrich said, as translated by an Israel analyst with the nonprofit Crisis Group. “They want to leave, they’ve been living in a ghetto for 75 years.”
Comparing the plight of Palestinians to the suffering of European Jews during the Nazi regime has been a taboo subject, though human rights organizations and scholars have drawn similarities between the two struggles, particularly after Oct. 7. Just days ago, South Africa launched a case at the top United Nations court accusing Israel of carrying out the genocide of Palestinians in Gaza.
Earlier this month, prominent Russian American journalist and writer Masha Gessen was almost not awarded the prestigious Hannah Arendt prize in Germany after they published an essay in The New Yorker comparing Gaza to the Jewish ghettos of Nazi-occupied Europe.
“For the last seventeen years, Gaza has been a hyperdensely populated, impoverished, walled-in compound where only a small fraction of the population had the right to leave for even a short amount of time ― in other words, a ghetto,” they wrote in their Dec. 9 essay. “Not like the Jewish ghetto in Venice or an inner-city ghetto in America but like a Jewish ghetto in an Eastern European country occupied by Nazi Germany.”
“Presumably, the more fitting term ‘ghetto’ would have drawn fire for comparing the predicament of besieged Gazans to that of ghettoized Jews,” they continued. “It also would have given us the language to describe what is happening in Gaza now. The ghetto is being liquidated.”
This is not the first time Smotrich has spoken offensively of Palestinians. In March, the minister delivered a speech in Paris claiming that there is no Palestinian “nation,” “history” or “language.” In February, he called for a Palestinian town in the occupied West Bank to be “erased” after Jewish settlers rampaged through it in response to a shooting attack that killed two Israelis. Immediately after the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, he reportedly told fellow Cabinet members that “it’s time to be cruel,” even if it means killing hostages in Gaza in the process.
But Smotrich is not the only Israeli official saying the quiet part out loud about Gaza. Several of the country’s lawmakers have made comments appearing to support a second Nakba (when Palestinians were expelled from their homes and land en masse 75 years ago) in Gaza in order to feel a sense of security after the war.
Last week, lawmaker Danny Danon told Kan Bet radio that it would be humane for Israel to “make it easier for Gazans to leave for other countries.” Intelligence Minister Gila Gamiliel published an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post last month suggesting that Western nations should take in Palestinians from Gaza as an act of “voluntary resettlement.”
Netanyahu himself has made similar comments, telling members of his right-wing Likud coalition at a meeting last week that the mass expulsion of Palestinians out of Gaza would be a positive outcome of the bombardment.
Nihad Awad, the national executive director for the Muslim rights group CAIR, released a statement on Sunday demanding that the Biden administration condemn the “latest open call for the ethnic cleansing of Gaza.”
“Our nation’s leaders must finally acknowledge what has long been known and demonstrated daily by Israel’s genocidal actions,” Awad said. “That Israel’s racist government seeks to ethnically cleanse Gaza by slaughtering tens of thousands of civilians and making it unlivable for those it does not kill.”