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Opinon | Israel’s Mass Displacement Fits Strategy of Using Migration as a Tool of War

As a result of the months-long Israeli air and ground campaign in northern Gaza Strip, more than 1.8 million of the strip’s population have been displaced from their homes. And with the operation heading into Gaza’s south, many are now fleeing areas they were told would be safer.

This mass displacement—some 80% of the Gaza population—is a deliberate element of Israel’s military campaign, with complex objectives. In the early stages of the conflict, the Israeli military said it was emptying areas for civilians’ own safety—despite mass evacuation orders being against international law, except in very discrete scenarios.

Since then, voices in and around the Israeli government have touted other longer-term objectives. On Oct. 17, 2023, the Misgav Institute for National Security and Zionist Strategy, an Israeli think tank with links to the government, published a paper arguing that the current military campaign presented “a unique and rare opportunity to evacuate the entire Gaza Strip.”

Meanwhile, a leaked document from Oct. 13, purportedly from the Israeli intelligence ministry, proposed the permanent relocation of all or a portion of Palestinians in Gaza through three steps: set up tent cities in Egypt, create a humanitarian corridor, and build cities on the Sinai Peninsula. The document concluded that the relocation was “liable to provide positive and long-lasting strategic results.”

Similarly, Israel’s intelligence minister has promoted a plan to resettle Gazan residents in countries around the world, while a pro-Israeli government news outlet has reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is eyeing a plan to “thin” Gaza’s population “to a minimum.”

To be clear, the Israeli government has not publicly confirmed any plan for Gaza’s population after the current conflict. But as scholars of migration and war, we understand that displacement in conflict is often strategic—that is, it can serve specific short-term and long-term goals.

Displacement as a Tool of War

Historically, population displacement has been used for three strategic reasons in conflicts:

As a means of controlling or expelling a population seen as hostile or undesirable. This occurred during the war in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995, when the Serbian army expelled or

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