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AUSTIN, Texas--One way to cover up a crime is to find a benign term that hides the violence and cruelty of the act. Such is the case with "transfer," an idea increasingly being put forward in Israel as a solution to conflict with the Palestinians.
Transfer conjures up images of a worker reassigned to a new office, or a slip allowing a rider to change buses for free. But transfer of the Palestinians would be nothing less than ethnic cleansing.
The main public proponents of this have been on the far right of Israeli politics, such as the Moledet Party, which refuses to recognize Palestinian rights. But in a poll earlier this year, 46 percent of Israelis supported transfer of Palestinians out of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, while 31 percent favored transferring Israeli Arabs out of the country.
As Israeli author Tanya Reinhart argues in her new book "Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948," there has long been planning for "the second half of 1948" by some Israeli politicians, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
The phrase refers to the 750,000 Palestinians who fled or were driven from their homes during the 1948 war, which ended with Israel controlling 78 percent of Palestine that existed under the British Mandate (compared with 56 percent under the U.N. partition plan in 1947). Now some Israelis ponder whether can they take 100 percent.
A military campaign to achieve that had been unthinkable, but many now believe that under the cover of a U.S. war against Iraq, Israeli soldiers would be free to finish the job.
I say "finish," because a slow ethnic cleansing is already under way, primarily through the systematic destruction of the Palestinian economy; when people cannot make a living, many will leave. A study for the U.S. Agency for International Development released in August showed that one-fifth of Palestinian children were malnourished, due to dramatically lowered Palestinian incomes and disruptions of food distribution because of the tightened Israeli occupation.