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6 Jan, 2024 16:46

Scottish nationalists accuse Israel of ‘ethnic cleansing’

The UK should condemn the depopulation of Gaza “in the strongest possible manner,” Humza Yousaf has said
Scottish nationalists accuse Israel of ‘ethnic cleansing’

Israel’s proposed removal and resettlement of Gaza’s Palestinian population is “the textbook definition of ethnic cleansing,” Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf has said. Yousaf is the first UK party leader to condemn the controversial depopulation plan.

Speaking to Sky News on Friday, Yousaf condemned recent comments by Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who said last week that West Jerusalem should “encourage emigration” from Gaza in order to reduce its Arab population from over two million to between 100,000 and 200,000. National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir made a similar call, stating that Israel should push for the “voluntary migration” of Palestinians from the blockaded Gaza enclave.

“We are seeing not only a humanitarian crisis, but we're now seeing senior members of the [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu government making statements that are, frankly, the textbook definition of ethnic cleansing,” Yousaf told the British broadcaster. 

“And that should be condemned in the strongest possible manner,” he added.

Smotrich and Ben-Gvir’s proposal was rejected by the UK Foreign Office and the US State Department, which called it “inflammatory and irresponsible.” Yousaf, who heads the Scottish National Party, is the only political party leader in the UK to accuse Israel of “ethnic cleansing,” a charge more commonly leveled by Palestinian officials and Israel’s Arab neighbors.

Yousaf, whose wife’s family lives in Gaza, called on the British government to “make it clear that not only should there be an immediate ceasefire…but also they should make it clear to their trusted allies and the government of Israel that they will be held to account for any breaches of international law.”

Yousaf backed South Africa’s recent decision to sue Israel for “genocide” at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague. While the Israeli government has called Pretoria’s claim “baseless” and accused the South Africans of anti-Semitism, Yousaf said that the court should “investigate any potential breaches of humanitarian law, any potential war crimes that have been committed, and all the way up [to] genocide.”

"I don't know how anybody could disagree with that investigation taking place,” he said. 

Smotrich and Ben-Gvir are not the first prominent Israelis to call for the depopulation of Gaza. A leaked policy document compiled by Israel’s Ministry of Intelligence in October recommended that tent cities be set up in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula to accommodate most of the enclave’s 2.2 million residents, while others could be settled in Spain, Greece, and Canada.

Israel’s Channel 12 news network claimed last month that Netanyahu had held talks with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who would pressure Arab states to accept the “voluntary resettlement” of Gazans. Blair’s nonprofit released a statement this week calling the report a “lie” and claiming that no such discussion with Netanyahu had taken place.