By Eman Abusidu
It seems that Israel is not satisfied with driving 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and land in 1948, and another 400,000 in 1967; nor with its many massacres of Palestinian civilians. It is, in fact, working to expel even more Palestinians with a view to emptying the land of its indigenous inhabitants having known long ago that Palestine was never “a land without a people for a people without a land” as Zionist propaganda would have us believe.
It is no surprise, therefore, to learn that the government of Golda Meir (1898-1978) sought to “encourage” 60,000 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to migrate to Paraguay in South America with payments that would have cost the occupation state millions of dollars. According to Israeli public broadcaster KAN, recently-released secret papers from 1969 give details of the scheme.
Is it a coincidence that these documents have been released now, in the wake of the “deal of the century” and the increasing Arab normalisation with the occupation state? Moreover, why Paraguay?
With 53 years’ of hindsight, we can say that the fact that the scheme did not go ahead does not mean that it is off the table for ever. Israel has always looked for “alternative homelands” for the Palestinians so that the occupation can be completed with as much of Palestine and as few Palestinians living there as possible.
The possibility of “transferring” Palestinians to Latin America is a bit of a recurring theme. Aside from Paraguay, Israel has made several attempts to encourage Palestinians to migrate to Brazil and other Latin American countries. In 2017, Israel revealed proposals discussed by ministers after the 1967 Six Day War which included the minutes of meetings of the security cabinet between August and December 1967. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol speculated about how to deal with the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians newly under Israeli control. “If it were up to us,” said Eshkol, “we’d send all the Arabs out to Brazil.”
At that time Israel was working hard to make Palestinian emigration easy, not least through organised work missions. A Palestinian refugee who has been in Brazil for more than 53 years confirmed to me that his father went there as part of an agricultural work mission with help from the Jordanian government.
Why Latin America? According to specialist in Israeli affairs Adnan Abu Amer, the region has political and geographical dimensions that made it attractive to the Israelis. “Latin American countries are a long way from the physical conflict, making it harder for Palestinians to return to their land,” he explained. “This will help to turn the page on the whole issue of Palestinian refugees and the right of return.” Furthermore, Palestinian refugees automatically became local citizens, despite the differences in languages and traditions between Palestine and Latin American countries.
In May 1969, therefore, Israeli Ministers discussed the secret plan agreed between the head of the Mossad spy agency, Zvi Zamir, and President Alfredo Stroessner in Paraguay. The Paraguayan authorities agreed to take up to 60,000 Palestinians, which was about 10 per cent of the population of the Gaza Strip at that time.
“The Paraguayan government was a dictatorship then and it was promoting immigration,” Susan Mangana from the Catholic University of Uruguay pointed out. “Paraguay is a neighbour to two regional giants — Argentina and Brazil — and Paraguayan society has a large percentage of indigenous people, the Guarani, as well as the descendants of European settlers. Thus, it is accustomed to immigrants.” What’s more, the Researcher in International Studies noted, Paraguay is well known even today for its corruption and porous borders.
Under the 1969 Israeli plan, the travel costs incurred by Palestinians moving to Paraguay would have been covered, and each person would have got $100. The government in Asunción would have received $33 for each immigrant as well as an initial lump sum of $350,000. The total that Israel was ready to pay was thus $20-30 million.
“Presumably Israel knew about the eagerness of the Paraguayans to make big money by signing this type of agreement and hence it exploited this situation to its advantage,” said Mangana. The plan was a failure, though; only 30 Palestinians made the move to Paraguay. In 1970, two of them shot and killed Edna Peer, who was a secretary at the Israeli Embassy in the country. The attack put an abrupt end to the Israeli plan.
Abu Amer believes that there could be a desire on the part of the Israelis to resurrect such proposals, if not by moving Palestinians to neighbouring Arab countries, then to elsewhere. “Suitable changes would be made to the plan to suit the current circumstances, such as Arab normalisation,” he said, “but the end result, from Israel’s point of view, would be the same: the ‘transfer’ of tens of thousands of Palestinians.”
Susana Mangana thinks that it would be impossible to consider Latin American countries today. “I don’t believe that it would be possible to carry out such a plan today since news travels fast and even though Paraguayans may not be active when it comes to arguing in favour of the Palestinian cause, as more people have access to the reality of the situation they are better prepared to react in case their government tries to sign such an agreement with Israel.”
As happened 53 years ago, when only 30 out of a proposed 60,000 Palestinians took the bait and made the move to Paraguay, the people of Palestine today remain determined to stay on their land, and the refugees remain determined to exercise their legitimate right of return. Israel’s deals to “transfer” the Palestinians are simply thinly-disguised ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population from their homeland. If justice is to mean anything in the modern world, then global opinion will simply not allow the 1948 Nakba (Catastrophe) and 1967 Naksa (Setback) to happen again.