Fighting Anti-Israeli Bias

Item 7



Claim 4: Israel commits ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians


South Africa, 42nd Session

“South Africa is concerned that the annexation of Palestinian territory is highly likely in the South Hebron Hills and Jordan Valley, selected because of their low population density, with potential for ethnic cleansing.”

Kuwait, 41st Session

“The occupying Power continues…to pursue a policy of ethnic cleansing.”

Qatar, 42nd Session

“This is a racist settler occupation that seeks ethnic cleansing against Palestinians and the destruction of their identity.”

Our Response

UN Watch

Ethnic cleansing, according to the United Nations, “has not been recognized as an independent crime under international law.” However, the term, which originated in the context of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, is used in various UN resolutions and institutions as well as in other international bodies.

The UN commission of experts that investigated international law violations in the Yugoslavia conflict applied the following definitions: “rendering an area ethnically homogeneous by using force or intimidation to remove persons of given groups from the area” and “a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas.”[1]

Ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia

In that conflict, Serbian forces used violence to remove the non-Serbian local population from certain strategic areas that linked Serbia proper with Serb-inhabited areas in Bosnia and Croatia. As documented by the UN Commission on Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the means used included mass murder, torture, rape and other forms of sexual assault; burning villages to the ground; destruction of cultural or religious monuments; and forcible expropriation of property.[2] These acts were carried out in a manner designed to instill terror among the local civilians and cause them to flee. Furthermore, they were highly orchestrated — supervised by “crisis committees,” which were comprised of local leaders working with the Bosnian-Serb Army.

This was epitomized in the Bosnian-Serb Army’s July 1995 invasion of Srebrenica, a UN-declared safe zone. General Ratko Mladic, later convicted of war crimes, oversaw the deportation of 23,000 women and children and the massacre of over 8,000 boys and men aged 12 to 77.[3]  The Islamic State’s August 2014 massacre of Yazidi men and forced enslavement of Yazidi women and children is a more recent example of ethnic cleansing.[4] In a 2016 report, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria quoted the Islamic State’s own words regarding its intent to kill the Yazidi men and enslave the women.[5]

Israel is not committing ethnic cleansing

By any definition of the term, Israel is not committing ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Indeed, since Israel won territories in the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, the only forcible mass removal of populations has been Israel’s removal of Israeli Jews from the Sinai in 1982, and of Israeli Jews from Gaza in 2005.

The Israeli military’s response to deadly Hamas rockets, suicide bombers or violent border confrontations and infiltrators, even when involving force or lethal force, has no connection with the examples cited above concerning Serbian forces and ISIS, and does not fit the UN experts’ definition of ethnic cleansing.

Legal disputes about land rights do not amount to a purposeful policy to remove the Palestinians from their land. Land disputes are generally dealt with through the court system, which sometimes rules in favor of Palestinians. For example, in June 2018, the Israeli army evicted Jewish settlers from 15 homes which the Israeli Supreme Court ruled had been built on private Palestinian land.[6] In other cases, the Israeli Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Palestinian land-owners and against the Israeli government seeking to use land for security infrastructure.[7] Palestinians have the right to file direct petitions to Israel’s Supreme Court when they believe their rights are being violated.

By contrast, however, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have directed a purposeful policy to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the Israeli Jewish civilian population from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. These Palestinian terror campaigns include the Second Intifada from 2000 to 2005, in which over 1,000 Israelis were killed and thousands more injured; the indiscriminate firing of thousands of terror rockets from Gaza into Israel causing deaths, injuries and property damage; the wave of terror in 2015-16 dubbed the Knife Intifada; and ongoing deadly terrorist attacks in the form of stabbings, car rammings, shootings and attacks using fire bombs and other explosives. In wake of the Second Intifada, Israel completely withdrew from the Gaza Strip and no Israeli Jews have resided there since 2005.

Palestinian law prohibits the sale of land to Israeli Jews and considers it an act of treason. Palestinians suspected of facilitating such sales have received harsh sentences, including life in prison with hard labor and the death penalty, and some have even been extrajudicially executed.[8] Other Palestinian laws and policies promote violence against Israeli Jews to eliminate their presence in the West Bank. For example, Palestinian laws mandate financial rewards to convicted terrorists, increasing by severity of the crime. This encourages Palestinians to commit deadly terrorist attacks against Israeli Jews. The Palestinian Authority has justified these payments on grounds that the terrorists were acting on “orders” from the Palestinian Authority and carrying out the Palestinian “national interest.”[9]

Jewish Israelis cannot live in or even enter the territories controlled by the PA (areas A and B of the West Bank), which include a number of Jewish holy sites, as they risk being physically assaulted or murdered. Indeed, Israel prohibits Israeli Jews from entering these areas precisely because it cannot guarantee their safety there. Israelis who have ended up in such areas, whether on purpose or by accident, have been attacked by angry mobs and needed to be rescued. Examples of this include the February 2018 attack on an Israeli who mistakenly entered the Palestinian town of Abu Dis near Maaleh Adumim[10]; the February 2018 attack on IDF soldiers who accidentally entered the Palestinian city of Jenin[11]; and the June 2016 attack on Israeli peace activists who visited the Palestinian city of Ramallah for an Iftar meal with Palestinian colleagues.[12]

For more information about Palestinian Authority and Hamas antisemitism, see UN Watch’s 2018 submission to the UN treaty body review of Palestinian compliance with the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racism.[13]

[1] Ethnic Cleansing, United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect (last visited January 17, 2021),

[2] Letter Dated 24 May 1994 From The Secretary-General To The President Of The Security Council, UN Doc. S/1994/674 (May 27, 1994),; Landmark Cases, United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia,

[3] What happened in Srebrenica, Remembering Srebrenica (last visited January 17, 2021),

[4] Matthew Levitt and A.J. Beloff, Genocide or not, civilians need protection from ISIS, The Hill (March 11, 2016),

[5] “They came to destroy”: ISIS Crimes Against Yazidis, UN Doc. A/HRC/32 CRP.2 (June 15, 2016),

[6] Dedi Hayun, Israeli forces evict settlers in West Bank land dispute case, Reuters (June 12, 2018),

[7] Yotam Berger, Israeli Army Suspends Seizure of Palestinian Land to Expand West Bank Checkpoint, Haaretz (July 15, 2019),; Isabelle Kershner, Israeli Court Orders Barrier Rerouted, New York Times (September 5, 2007),

[8] Palestinian court jails U.S.-Palestinian for life for Jerusalem land sale, Reuters (December 31, 2018),; Palestinian handed death sentence, BBC (April 29, 2009),

[9] Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik, PA admits: All Palestinian terrorists sent by PA; “receive orders from us,” Palestinian Media Watch (May 8, 2019),

[10] Elior Levy, Yishai Porat and Yoav Zitun, Israeli enters Abu Dis and is attacked, his vehicle is torched, Ynet (February 2, 2018),,7340,L-5079878,00.html.

[11] Adam Rasgon, IDF soldiers rescued by PA security forces after accidentally entering Jenin, Jerusalem Post (February 12, 2018),

[12] Judah Ari Gross, Israeli activists evacuated from Ramallah after car is set on fire, Times of Israel (June 30, 2016),

[13] Alternative Report of United Nations Watch to the 99th Session of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination for its review of State of Palestine, UN Watch (July 12, 2019),

UN Watch