For decades, Israel has established “facts on the ground” to expand and entrench its control of the West Bank while defying international condemnation. Now, after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, Israel is using the same strategy to achieve a new goal: the ethnic cleansing of Gaza.
By driving 2 million people from their homes, destroying critical infrastructure and bulldozing huge swaths of land entirely, the new facts on the ground Israel is creating will render Gaza uninhabitable by the time the guns fall silent, leaving no other option but mass displacement.
This approach — creating a reality that is virtually impossible to undo — was carried out by Israel in the 1970s in its rapid construction of settlements on Palestinian territory, which were widely recognized as illegal under international law. Even then, the strategy was not new. Years before the state of Israel was established in 1948, Zionist settlers flocked to Palestine and established small communes, or kibbutzim. Those settlements were instrumental in creating permanent, physical ties to the land.
After Israel routed Arab armies in 1967, it seized control of vast regions from Egypt’s Sinai to Syria’s Golan Heights. In the years that followed, the international community coalesced around a recognition of the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.” But Israel had other ideas. Although Egypt would later reclaim its land in a peace treaty, Israel embarked on a campaign to solidify its control of Palestine and the Syrian Golan by establishing new facts on the ground designed to make any negotiated settlement, any alternative to full Israeli sovereignty, impossible.
Between 1967 and 2017, Israel built more than 270 settlements and outposts throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem, carving up land that would have served as the heart of a future Palestinian state into isolated islands. Today, more than 700,000 settlers now live in Israel’s continually expanding settlement network, ensuring that even if a miracle were achieved and a Palestinian state established along the 1967 borders, it would be hopelessly fragmented and effectively ungovernable.