A senior member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has suggested that it would be better for Palestinians in Gaza to leave for other countries, as he believes Gaza cannot survive as an independent entity. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who leads one of the religious nationalist parties in Netanyahu’s coalition, supports the call made by two Israeli parliament members in a Wall Street Journal editorial. The article argued that Western countries should accept Gazan families who wish to relocate.
These remarks have sparked concerns in the Arab world, as many fear that Israel wants to drive Palestinians out of the land they hope to establish a future state on, echoing the mass displacement of Palestinians during Israel’s creation in 1948.
Smotrich stated in a press release, “I welcome the initiative of the voluntary emigration of Gaza Arabs to countries around the world. This is the right humanitarian solution for the residents of Gaza and the entire region after 75 years of refugees, poverty, and danger.” He believes that the Gaza Strip, which is small and lacks natural resources, cannot sustain itself and that Israel cannot accept the existence of an independent entity in Gaza.
Smotrich made these comments during Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip, a blockaded coastal enclave governed by Hamas. The region is home to around 2.3 million people, most of whom are refugees from previous conflicts.
Palestinians and leaders of Arab countries have accused Israel of attempting another “Nakba,” referring to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the 1948 war that accompanied the establishment of Israel. Arab leaders have stated that any efforts to displace Palestinians would be unacceptable.
The Israeli military launched the Gaza operation in response to an attack by Hamas gunmen on October 7. The gunmen infiltrated southern Israel, killing approximately 1,200 people and taking around 240 hostages back into Gaza. Israeli officials have vowed to destroy Hamas and rescue the hostages.
According to Palestinian health authorities, over 11,000 Palestinians have been killed during the weeks-long Israeli bombardment of Gaza, resulting in significant destruction and damage to the enclave.
The Israeli military has instructed residents of northern Gaza to evacuate their homes and move to the southern end of the Strip for safety. They have been assured that they can return once the situation stabilizes.
Israel withdrew its military and settlers from Gaza in 2005 after a 38-year occupation. Netanyahu has stated that Israel does not intend to have a permanent presence in Gaza, but it will maintain security control for an indefinite period. However, there is limited clarity about Israel’s long-term intentions, and countries like the United States have emphasized that Palestinians should govern Gaza.
This article was written by James Mackenzie and edited by Mark Heinrich.