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Israel’s peers warn against displacing Palestinians in Gaza to places like Canada

OTTAWA — Countries traditionally aligned with Israel are warning its right-wing government against contemplating a displacement of people who live in the Gaza Strip, as Israeli officials repeatedly suggest Canada could take in Palestinians.

This week, Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said his country should “encourage migration” of Palestinians from Gaza and re-establish Jewish settlements there, echoing similar comments from National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller is condemning remarks from both politicians as “inflammatory and irresponsible,” while French President Emmanuel Macron calls them “unacceptable” comments.

Last month, members of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party reportedly discussed countries willing to accept Palestinians in Gaza as refugees.

The report by the Israel Hayom newspaper, which has not been independently verified by The Canadian Press, cited unnamed sources as saying a member of the Knesset had pointed to Canada, mentioning its new program offering limited visas to relatives of Canadian citizens who are seeking passage out of Gaza.

Immigration Minister Marc Miller said in a social-media post last week that he has never discussed the transfer of Gazans out of the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory, and his office did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.

During the first month of the latest Israel-Hamas war, an Israeli government ministry drafted a proposal to transfer all 2.3 million Palestinians living in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip into Egypt and have them resettled into other countries.

The memo specifically noted that Canada’s “lenient” immigration practices could make the country a target for resettlement. Israeli officials have confirmed the document’s veracity but said the proposal is not government policy.

In November, Ram Ben Barak, former deputy director of intelligence agency Mossad, told Israeli television in November that for Palestinians, “it’s better to be a refugee in Canada” than to live in Gaza.

University of Ottawa professor Thomas Juneau said the recent statements by Smotrich and Ben Gvir amount to “openly advocating for ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.”

Last month, the United Nations special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Paula Gaviria Betancur, warned that Israel appears to be seeking to permanently alter the composition of Gaza’s population.

“As evacuation orders and military operations continue to expand and civilians are subjected to relentless attacks on a daily basis, the only logical conclusion is that Israel’s military operation in Gaza aims to deport the majority of the civilian population en masse,” Gaviria Betancur wrote in a Dec. 22 statement.

Israel’s government spokesman Eylon Levy responded by saying that his country asked Palestinians to move to a humanitarian zone within the Gaza Strip, from which Hamas then launched rockets.

“We want civilians to be protected in areas where Hamas is not already using them as human shields,” Levy said on social media on Dec. 26. 

“The only people encouraging the mass displacement of Gazans are those who falsely label most of them ‘refugees’ and indulge their dreams of relocating into Israel through violent struggle, instead of living in peace alongside us.”

The war began after Hamas militants stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing an estimated 1,200 people and taking about 240 hostages.

Gaza has been under almost constant bombardment since then, with local officials saying Israel’s military response has killed more than 22,300 people.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 3, 2024.

— With files from The Associated Press.

The Canadian Press

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