Centrist MK says call on European countries to take Gaza refugees was misunderstood

Ram Ben Barak says he believes Gazans should have right to choose whether they stay in enclave or leave, after proposal was lauded by far-right minister, panned by dovish watchdog

MK Ram Ben Barak attends a discussion at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 28, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)
MK Ram Ben Barak attends a discussion at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 28, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

Amid growing criticism, a centrist lawmaker from the opposition Yesh Atid party said Tuesday he had been misunderstood in his call for the international community to take in Palestinian refugees from the Gaza Strip, after the suggestion was praised by a far-right minister.

In a rare display of cross-party solidarity, the right-wing Danny Danon (Likud) and Ram Ben Barak (Yesh Atid) published an op-ed piece for The Wall Street Journal, calling for “countries around the world to accept limited numbers of Gazan families who have expressed a desire to relocate.”

The call sparked criticism, but also support from the right and far-right, coming amid repeated allegations from Palestinians and Arab countries that Israel was ultimately looking to expel Palestinians from Gaza.

“The amount of support from the right and the amount of criticism from my [centrist] camp leads me to the conclusion that I have not been completely understood,” Ben Barak wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

“The residents of Gaza should be allowed, with an emphasis on allowed, to choose whether they remain in Gaza and hope that Gaza will be a better place to live under a regime that will take care of the residents’ well-being and quality of life,” wrote Ben Barak, the former deputy director of the Mossad. “Everything should be done so that this is the situation after the war is over.”

“Or they should be able to try to find another place to live. They currently don’t have the ability to find another place because, a) they don’t have the option of leaving, and b) there is nobody ready to accept them,” Ben Barak wrote. “I propose these two barriers be removed.”

Palestinians walk on the road after fleeing from their homes in Gaza City to the southern part of Gaza, November 11, 2023. (Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

The lawmaker said that Gazans should be allowed to leave the Strip and settle in countries that are willing to accept them.

“Who are we to decide for them that they should not immigrate?” he wrote. “This is exactly the opposite of the transfer approach.”

Writing that “Hamas’s unprovoked terrorist attack has endangered not only Israel but the more than two million people who live in the Gaza Strip,” Danon and Ben-Barak criticized the United Nations for “doing nothing tangible to help Gaza’s residents” and urged the international community to “explore potential solutions to help civilians caught in the crisis.”

Likud MK Danny Danon in the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

One such solution would be for countries in Europe to accept a limited number of Gazan refugees who are looking to relocate from the war-torn coastal enclave, they suggested.

Citing the war in the former country of Yugoslavia and the Kosovo war as times that European countries have opened their borders to refugees, as well as the 1.2 million refugees accepted by Germany in the wake of the Syrian civil war, the two lawmakers urged countries around the world to “offer a haven for Gaza residents who seek relocation.”

“We simply need a handful of the world’s nations to share the responsibility of hosting Gazan residents. Even if countries took in as few as 10,000 people each, it would help alleviate the crisis,” they continued.

“The international community has a moral imperative—and an opportunity—to demonstrate compassion, help the people of Gaza move toward a more prosperous future, and work together to achieve greater peace and stability in the Middle East.”

Egypt and Jordan have said they will not accept any situation that sees Palestinians uprooted from their homes.

Danon and Ben Barak’s proposal was welcomed by far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who has a history of incendiary remarks about Palestinians.

“I congratulate Knesset members Ram Ben Barak and Danny Danon for the important initiative,” Smotrich wrote on X. “Voluntary migration and the absorption of Gazan Arabs in the countries of the world is a humanitarian solution that will bring an end to the suffering of Jews and Arabs alike.”

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich speaks at press conference in Jerusalem on October 19. (Courtesy)

Meanwhile, the left-wing Peace Now watchdog laconically tweeted: “We wish Ram Ben Barak success in his new path at [far-right party] Otzma Yehudit.”

Since Hamas’s deadly onslaught in southern Israel on October 7, in which invading terrorists killed at least 1,200 people and took some 240 hostages, Israel has been engaged in an intense war against the terror group, vowing to eradicate it from the Gaza Strip, which it has ruled since 2007.

The intense airstrikes and subsequent ground operation in Gaza have left more than 800,000 people displaced after Israel urged them to evacuate the northern part of the enclave, where the bulk of Hamas’s infrastructure is situated.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said Tuesday that 11,240 people have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war, in figures that cannot be independently verified, do not distinguish between civilians and terror operatives, and also include those killed in failed Palestinian rocket launches.

Humanitarian bodies inside the Gaza Strip have described the situation as catastrophic, and while international aid has slowly been reaching civilians, it has done little to alleviate the burden.

Palestinians at an UNRWA camp in Rafiah after heavy rainfall, in the southern Gaza Strip, on November 14, 2023. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Danon and Ben-Barak are not the first to raise the option of granting refugee status to displaced Gazans.

On October 16, a report in the Financial Times indicated that in response to being pressured by the European Union to accept refugees fleeing Gaza, Egypt in return suggested that European countries do the same.

But some European countries have expressed outright disdain for the idea of accepting Gazan refugees. At a European Union summit in Brussels in October, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban warned that “those who support migration also support terrorism,” and shortly after, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni announced that her country would be tightening its border control policies.

While the British government has not commented on calls to accept refugees from Gaza, Scotland’s first minister Humza Yousaf has discussed the option of granting safe passage to Scotland for those who want to leave.

Yousaf’s parents-in-law were visiting relatives in Gaza when Hamas carried out their deadly assault, sparking the war. They were eventually able to leave the enclave through the Rafah crossing to Egypt when it was opened.

“In the past, people in Scotland and across the UK have opened our hearts and our homes and welcomed those from Syria, Ukraine and many other countries. We must do so again,” Yousaf said during an interview two weeks after the outbreak of war.

“Scotland is willing to be the first country in the UK to offer safety and sanctuary to those caught up in these terrible attacks.”

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