In the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Which Side Is Really Committing Ethnic Cleansing?

Mahmoud Abbas
Mahmoud Abbas / Getty Images
January 3, 2019

Anti-Israel activists and commentators often say the Jewish state commits ethnic cleansing, if not outright genocide, against the Palestinians. Even senior officials at the United Nations—but I repeat myself—have accused Israel of such crimes, as have prominent figures in Western media and academia. These voices are actually correct in a general sense: one side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does use policies to achieve ethnic cleansing. It's just not Israel.

On Monday, a Palestinian court in Ramallah sentenced a Palestinian-American to life in prison with hard labor, after just a one-week trial. What was the heinous crime? Issam Akel, a resident of east Jerusalem and a U.S. citizen, was found guilty of selling property to Jews, specifically a house in the Old City of Jerusalem to a Jewish Israeli organization. The Palestinian Grand Criminal Court said he attempted "to cut off a part of the Palestinian land and [add] them to a foreign country." Now the Palestinian Authority (PA) is planning to extradite Akel to the U.S. amid heavy pressure from Washington to release him, according to reports. But many details of the possible extradition remain unclear.

Akel's sentencing came a week after the PA announced that it had foiled attempts to sell lands and houses in the West Bank and east Jerusalem to Jewish buyers. The PA's security forces said they arrested 44 Palestinians involved in the transactions, adding that at least three of the suspects had already been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

Under Palestinian law, selling or attempting to sell land to Jews is a crime, punishable by hard labor, imprisonment, and even execution. In recent weeks, Palestinian religious authorities have repeatedly warned that anyone who engages in such deals will be accused of "high treason."

The PA not only forbids selling land to Jews, but also encourages murdering Jews. Indeed, the PA rewards terrorists who carry out attacks against Israelis, allocating hundreds of millions of dollars of its budget each year to pay these criminals and their families. According to a report by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, the PA set aside $330 million in its 2018 budget to pay security prisoners and their families, as well as so-called "martyrs," those killed while perpetrating an attack. For those imprisoned, the more severe their crime, the higher their financial reward.

Palestinian leadership also refuses to accept Jews' right to self-determination. The PA does not recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, and therefore does not view Israel as a legitimate state. On numerous occasions, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has said that the Palestinians will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state, thus rejecting the basic premise of a two-state solution: two states for two peoples, one Arab and one Jewish.

Taking a step back, ethnic cleansing is, generally speaking, an organized attempt by an ethnic or religious group to remove a different ethnic or religious group from a given area or territory through expulsion or murder. The PA forbids the sale of land to Jews, encourages and rewards the murder of Jews, and refuses to accept the existence of a Jewish homeland. It endorses attacks, both physical and political, against Jewish civilian communities in the West Bank (i.e., Israeli settlements), and has refused multiple peace offers from Israel to become a state. The clear logical conclusion is that the PA wants no Jews in a future Palestine. How is this not an attempt at ethnic cleansing?

Accusations of ethnic cleansing against Israel, however, would be laughable if they were not so vile, so full of visceral hatred. Such claims are also obviously false and easily refuted. First, 1.878 million Arabs currently live in Israel, 20.9 percent of the country's total population. These Arabs enjoy full rights as Israeli citizens, living in a thriving democracy. Many even take to the streets to protest Israel's policies toward the Palestinians, without fear of punishment. Moreover, recent polls indicate that the Arabs will again have the third largest party in the next Knesset, Israel's parliament. Ethnic cleansing would mean expelling or killing Arabs, not embracing them.

In the West Bank, Palestinians effectively run and control their own government. Yet many Palestinians still try to work in Israel, where they earn much higher wages. Furthermore, by all estimates, the Arab population in the Palestinian territories has skyrocketed since the founding of Israel in 1948—in other words, literally the exact opposite of ethnic cleaning or genocide. In fact, the Palestinians themselves claim that Arabs will soon outnumber Jews in the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Regardless of the truth of such claims, victims of ethnic cleansing would not make them in the first place.

So next time someone accuses Israel of committing ethnic cleansing, ask a very simple question in response: What about the Palestinians?