Occupied East Jerusalem – Israel is keen on bringing in Ukrainian Jewish refugees for the purpose of maintaining Jewish demographic “supremacy” over the Palestinian population, academics and analysts say.
Since the outbreak of the war with Russia on February 24, the Israeli government has called on Ukrainian Jewish refugees to immigrate to Israel and removed bureaucratic hurdles to secure their arrival as quickly as possible.
“We call on the Jews of Ukraine to immigrate to Israel – your home,” Israel’s Ministry of Immigration and Absorption said in a statement on February 26.
So far, at least 100 Ukrainian Jews arrived on two flights, one from Kyiv and another from Odesa. Some 300 others will arrive on three flights on Sunday. Government officials said some 10,000 are expected to arrive in the coming weeks.
On Sunday, the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division – which is funded by the Israeli government and falls under its direct control – announced the building of 1,000 housing structures for Ukrainian Jewish families in both Israel and settlements in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories.
“Israel is seeing in the Ukraine crisis a real opportunity to bring Jewish people to increase the number of Jews in Israel,” Lana Tatour, professor of settler-colonialism and human rights at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, told Al Jazeera.
“While it is important to recognise that there is a real refugee crisis in Ukraine,” which “everyone has a duty to care for”, Tatour said it must be noted that “Israel is not opening its borders for Ukrainian refugees – it is opening its borders for Jewish Ukrainian refugees.”
Officials originally said some 200,000 Ukrainian Jews are eligible to immigrate under Israel’s 1950 Law of Return and gain Israeli citizenship under 1952 legislation. However, new restrictions on who will be considered Jewish were announced on March 1, making it unclear how many will be allowed in.
Six stations for processing immigration applications for Jewish refugees along the Ukraine border in four countries have been set up – in Poland, Moldova, Romania and Hungary. Immigrants are provided with meals and temporary housing in neighbouring countries before being flown to Israel, where they are also afforded temporary housing, including in hotels.
“This is not a humanitarian act that Israel is carrying out. Israel is a settler-colonial state. It is a state that is obsessed with demography and ensuring demographic superiority by Jewish people over Palestinians,” said Tatour.
In reports released recently by international rights groups, Israel’s laws and policies surrounding demography were documented as part crimes against humanity in a system of apartheid, under which Israeli officials can be held criminally liable.
“Since its establishment in 1948, Israel has pursued an explicit policy of establishing and maintaining a Jewish demographic hegemony and maximising its control over land to benefit Jewish Israelis while minimising the number of Palestinians and restricting their rights and obstructing their ability to challenge this dispossession,” rights group Amnesty International said in a report last month.
Israel was established as a “Jewish State” in 1948 on what was then-British occupied Palestine. It came into existence following decades of mass European Jewish immigration from the 1880s onwards facilitated by the Zionist movement and Western governments, with the public aim of creating a Jewish state.
Prior to the British occupation of Palestine in 1918, the Jewish population stood at three percent. Between 1922 and 1935, the figure rose from nine percent to nearly 27 percent, and by 1947 – because of facilitated immigration and Nazi persecution – it increased tenfold, up to 33 percent.
In 1948, the state was established by force, in a violent process of ethnic cleansing by Zionist militias, in which 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their homes, also known as the Nakba, or “catastrophe”.
Today, Israel’s laws allow any Jewish person from any country in the world the ability to move to and gain Israeli citizenship in historic Palestine – even if they or their ancestors never stepped foot there or have no connections to it.
Meanwhile, Israel uses the same laws to block close to six million registered Palestinian refugees from returning to their lands in what is known as the world’s longest standing protracted refugee crisis. For the past 72 years, Palestinian refugees have lived in difficult conditions in 58 refugee camps located in Palestine and neighbouring Jordan, Syria, Egypt and Lebanon.
‘Essence of Zionism’
Political analyst Awad Abdelfattah said Israel considers the Palestinian population a “threat” and a “danger” to its political project of maintaining a Jewish state.
“Demography is the central aspect of Zionism. The whole idea of Zionism is to bring together all the Jews of the world and transfer them to Palestine,” Abdelfattah told Al Jazeera from the northern village of Kokab in the Galilee.
“Any Jewish person is given what is called the ‘right of return’ while the original, rightful owners of the land are forbidden from returning and living in their homeland Palestine,” he continued. “Any Jewish immigrants that come – whether Ukrainians or others – they come at the expense of the Palestinian people – taking their lands and strengthening the colonial regime.”
Awad noted there has been no significant Jewish immigration to Israel since the resettlement of some one million Russian Jews following the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, making the Ukraine crisis beneficial to Israel.
Yet again, Palestinians are to pay the price for Europe’s heinous affairs. Overnight, 5,000 new settlers can decide to move to Palestine while millions of displaced Palestinians are denied the right of return to their homeland. pic.twitter.com/jD9DSMNHjd
— Nadi Abusaada (@NadiSaadeh) March 2, 2022
The efforts to relocate Ukrainian Jews have been funded and led by several arms of the Israeli government and partner institutions, including the semi-governmental Jewish Agency for Israel of the World Zionist Organization, as well as the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ).
“We and our partners continue the joint effort of bringing immigrants at all times. The arrival of olim [Jewish immigrants] to Israel is the essence of Zionism,” the IFCJ said.
Jonathan Pollak, a Jaffa-based anti-apartheid activist, said “Israel’s only concern has always been maintaining Jewish supremacy in Palestine.
“There should be no doubt that at times of war, refugees should be offered a safe haven, but Israel’s first and foremost obligation and responsibility is to allow Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Using the Ukrainian crisis to further Jewish supremacy in Palestine at the expense of Palestinians is immoral and cynical.”
Here we are again! When shit hits the fan in Europe, Palestinians pay the price. The Zionist state has already established 6 Aliyah stations at 4 Ukrainian border crossings. Thousands of settlers are expected to arrive to occupied Palestine, while thousands of us are displaced.
— Amany Khalifa (@Amanykhalefa) February 27, 2022
International law created by the United Nations defines settlers as Jews who live in illegal settlements in the 1967-occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
But many Palestinians criticise this differentiation, saying it overlooks Israel’s reality as a settler-colonial regime in all of historic Palestine.
“They are leaving Ukraine as refugees and escaping the crisis, but they will arrive on the land of Palestine as settlers,” said Tatour.
“They will assume the role of settlers, enjoying all the privileges that Jews enjoy in Israel and immediately becoming superior in terms of access to rights to land to resources, over the Palestinian natives,” she continued.
On the question of international law, Tatour described the distinction made between 1948 and 1967 occupied Palestine as “liberal discourse” that “Palestinians do not need to subscribe to”.
Abdelfattah agreed. “Israel was erected through international law. The UN will not condemn colonialism because it is the one that gave Israel legitimacy and protection.
“It is the only remaining colonial regime in the 21st century,” he said. “Whether these Ukrainians settle in the occupied West Bank or in the Jewish settlements built on land seized from my village of Kokab, they are settlers.
“We require a long struggle against international law – a popular struggle to change this system, which is unjust for us as Palestinians.”