Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported today that it will publish an interview with
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Monday evening in which he states that Israel
will expel tens of thousands of Palestinians after it completes its
“security fence.” Mr. Sharon said in the interview that “[Israel has] a
difficult problem with those who are illegally exercising [what they
perceive] as their right of return, by infiltrating into Arab cities and
villages within Israel.” The Israeli prime minister is referring to areas
within the 1967 borders which are populated mostly by Palestinian Arabs who
are Israeli citizens.
In the interview Sharon complains that in the absence of a completed “fence,” the illegal Palestinians who are found within Israel and deported, are liable to return again. Sharon further states that when the fence is completed it will then be much more difficult for those who are deported to return, and at that point the government will be much more vigorous in pursuing Palestinians who are illegally residing in Israel. Sharon specifically said that the number of illegals are in the tens of thousands.
It has been widely reported in the Israeli media that the Prime Minister has given numerous interviews, all of which are designated to be released shortly before the Passover holiday, in which he threatens the life of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. However, the threat to expel Palestinians from within Israel could, in the long run, prove to be even more provocative than the threat against Arafat. It has long been thought that Sharon does not believe that killing or even expelling Arafat is in Israel’s best interest. It is also widely assumed that he will honor his promise to the Americans not to harm or deport the Palestinian leader. However, threatening Arafat is considered a sure-fire way for right-wing Israeli politicians to please their constituents.
Unlike threats against Arafat, the problem of thousands of “infiltrators” living in Israel proper has not been widely articulated as a pressing problem. Some Palestinians from the territories are known to be living in Israel in order to avoid the burden of traveling daily through the checkpoints on their way from the territories. But the idea of identifying tens of thousands of Palestinians for deportation will surely kindle fears of indiscriminate and illegal transfer for many Israeli Arabs citizens. Unlike killing Arafat, which would cause an immediate international incident, transferring large numbers of Palestinian Arabs citizens could be accomplished in a gradual manner under the cover of removing illegal residents, and thus avoid any international condemnation.
The term “infiltrator” was widely used in the early 1950s when many Palestinians illegally crossed the same border from what was then Jordanian territory. Some came to harvest crops from land which they once owned, some came to visit relatives and some came with the goal of permanent return to the land from which they were exiled. Although only a minority of those who illegally crossed into Israel came to commit crimes against Israelis, the word “infiltrator” became synonymous with “terrorist.” The Israeli military response to those who illegally crossed the border has been described as indiscriminate and disproportionate by some Israeli historians. The army commander in charge of the campaign against the infiltrators was a young Army officer then known as Alex Sharon.
The Sharon interviews will be published and broadcast in the Israeli media on Monday in connection with the celebration of the Passover Holiday. Passover commemorates the ancient Jews’ liberation from their oppression by the Egyptians.
Ira Glunts first visited the Middle East in 1972, where he taught English and physical education in a small rural community in Israel. He was a volunteer in the Israeli Defense Forces in 1992. Mr. Glunts lives in the Madison, New York, where he operates a used and rare book business. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Articles by Ira Gluntz