Beginning in the spring of 2002, as war fever began to heat up in Washington, the threat of "transfer" became a much more serious concern for Palestinians. Long deemed unacceptable even for polite discussion in Israel, "transfer," Israel's prim euphemism for ethnic cleansing, moved into the forefront of political discussion. Featuring prominently in the Israeli media, the subject of at least one high-profile academic conference at one of Israel's most prestigious universities, "transfer" moved into the mainstream of political discussion. The political party that officially calls for "transfer," long part of the Israeli Knesset, was given the Ministry of Tourism portfolio in General Sharon's government.
The specific threat was that in the regional chaos resulting from the U.S. war in Iraq and its aftermath, Israel might forcibly expel some numbers of Palestinians. But the threat remained, even after the initial military attacks on Iraq had given way to U.S. occupation of the country. Perhaps it would be in the form of a punishment against a whole village from which a suicide bomber came. Perhaps 500 or 1,000 or so targeted Palestinian individuals--political leaders, intellectuals, militants, or those Israel claims are militants--would be bused over the river into Jordan or flown over Israel's border into Lebanon. After all, besides the massive expulsions that forced more than one million Palestinians into exile during the 1947-48 and 1967 wars, as recently as 1994 Israel relied on "transfer." At that time, Israeli troops arrested 415 Islamists from the occupied territories, forced them into military helicopters and flew them into the hills of south Lebanon. There, without documents, without permission and despite rejection by the Lebanese government, they were abandoned on the snow-covered hillsides.
And General Sharon himself, elected prime minister of Israel in January 2001, created the "Jordan is Palestine" campaign in 1981-82 that called for expelling all Palestinians out of the occupied territories and pushing them all into Jordan. In 1989 former Israeli Prime Minister and later foreign minister Binyamin Netanyahu told students at Bar-Ilan University: "Israel should have exploited the repression of the demonstrations in China, when world attention was focused on that country, to carry out mass expulsions among the Arabs of the territories." Recent mobilizations of Israeli academics have issued public calls against "transfer," but the danger remains very real--2002 polls show more than 40% of Israelis in favor of such ethnic cleansing.