Why a special issue on the state crimes of just one small state? Many states engage in state criminality on a scale which is breathtaking in its violence, corruption and cruelty.
But as Mark LeVine writes in this volume, Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory “represents criminalized state behaviour at the most systematic, intricately planned and executed, widest possible scale, and longest duration”. It is also state crime which has enjoyed not only national and international impunity but international funding. Without America’s $3 billion annual military aid package, state crime in Israel would certainly assume a different character.
This special issue is devoted not only to Israel’s state crimes but also to Palestinian resistance and will be published just months before the 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and Golan Heights.
The special issue demands that we ask about state violence in relation to historic Palestine, since silence about Israeli state criminality allows for the continuation of the settler colonial regime of dispossession. In speaking, researching and writing about Israeli state violence, one is confronted by a range of hegemonic epistemological, theoretical and methodological problematisations which the contributors here have addressed to produce alternative ways of knowing.
One of the most critical problematisations is that of denial. As Stan Cohen so powerfully illustrated, denial is a critical and defining feature of state criminality, but few criminal states have developed a denial machine of the character and scale of Israel. This special issue thus offers an evidenced-based corrective to the systematic distortion of truth which the Israeli denial machine propagates.
The first three contributions of this special issue examine the dramatisation of state violence as “good violence” and provide analyses that have hitherto been denied a platform in the course of the global political narrative of denial of crimes by the sacred state. The articles expose the use of power under the state totalitarianism of Israeli occupation, with its various operatives, to shed light on state criminality. LeVine’s article “The Quantum Mechanics of Israeli Totalitarianism” looks closely at the systematic, well-planned and decades-long criminal behaviour of Israel’s occupation. It claims that “the duration and comprehensiveness of Israel’s rule over [the] Occupied Territories has few if any equals” and hence, understanding the intricacies of Israeli state criminality over such occupied space and community can be extremely difficult. The author argues that the state’s use of military and securitised discourse in the context of colonial Israel brings further oppression and dispossession, incorporating high levels of criminality. But LeVine also asks in what way are state crimes, in fact, criminal? To answer this question, he analyses “states of confusion”, delves into “the missing question of the legality of an occupation”, examines what he defines as “the road to criminality”, and explores the quantum mechanics of occupation and its “matrix of control”. Ronit Lentin’s article, “Palestine/Israel and State Criminality: Exception, Settler Colonialism and Racialisation” engages critically with the settler colonial analytical framework, while invoking theories on racism and racialisation. Her analysis requires the reader to theorise Israeli state criminality within the framework of a racial state. By invoking Weheliye’s argument, concerning “racialising assemblages”, she places race at the centre of state criminality, as well as an insistence on the routine nature of the brutalisation of Palestinian flesh and the dehumanising of Palestinians to achieve “ideological normality” (Weheliye 2014). The third article, “Colonialism and Apartheid against Fragmented Palestinians: Putting the Pieces Back Together” by Rinad Abdulla, compliments the work of Lentin. It utilises the settler colonial analytical framework, while challenging narrower frameworks. The author rejects the use of the concept of “conflict” in framing Israeli military occupation and argues that a-historicising and depoliticising the ideology behind the Israeli settler colonial project are misleading and inappropriate. The article challenges both international law and localized legal discourse and takes the reader into the settler colonial nature of the Israeli state, apartheid, colonialism and discriminatory policies, while looking closely at five segments of Palestinian society, each existing within the hierarchy of Israeli dominance: the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem, Palestinian citizens of Israel and the refugees in the Diaspora (the result of the two major wars of expulsion: 1948 and 1967). The article concludes by arguing that, as in South Africa, only through decolonisation, the dismantling of Israel’s apartheid structure and the restructuring of an all- encompassing, single, democratic state with equal rights for all are fairness and justice possible.
Colonial technologies of violence as they pertain to Palestinian exclusion and to stolen, occupied and yet to be stolen Palestinian space, are revealed in the two articles by Green and Smith, and Shalhoub-Kevorkian, David and Ihmoud. Both articles speak to the continuity of the Nakba and to Israel’s normalisation of violence and corruption in its relations with Palestine and Palestinians. Both articles explore Israel’s demonisation of Palestinian space and its reification of Judaised territorial ambitions. It is impossible, as these articles reveal, to understand the practices of forced eviction throughout Israel and Palestine, or Gaza’s slow death, outside a framework that recognises Israel’s settler colonialism as a permanent structure of invasion and elimination (Wolfe 2006). In Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Naqab, Israel operates a “theologized political economy of erasure”.
In their article on forced eviction, Green and Smith reveal the contours of a continuous Nakba. In empirical detail, they document Israel’s practices of forced eviction as mechanisms in the larger related state projects of ethnic cleansing and Judaisation. The article reveals the historical land and planning complexities behind forced evictions in Israel/Palestine, the mechanics of house and village demolitions, the impact of the separation wall, the devastating impact of illegal Jewish settlements on the lives of Palestinians, the role of Jewish National Fund in eliminating the traces of Palestinian history and how the invocation of archaeology is used in the project of ethnic cleansing. Throughout, it explores processes of Judaisation as the driver of Israeli settler colonialism.
Developing this theme, Shalhoub-Kevorkian and her colleagues advance the critical concept of “security theology” in order to explain the defensive rationale (more accurately denial) deployed by the Israeli state for its crimes of terror in Gaza. Security theology, they argue, rests on the state’s assumption of a monopoly on victimhood – and it is with this assumed moral monopoly that the state seeks to neutralise and deny its crimes and redefine the real Palestinian victim as perpetrator. Security theology thus allows impunity to flourish. Gazan lives, geographies and welfare are reproduced in the form of “Gazans as no-bodies, Gaza as a non- space, and the Gazan community, with no life to live, while alive”.
The final two articles explore both violent and non-violent Palestinian resistance to Israel’s state crimes. Both articles also interrogate the responses that Palestinian resistance has engendered from the Israeli state and the international community.
Kovner and Shalhoub-Kevorkian, in their analysis of Palestinian child arrests and detention in Occupied East Jerusalem, argue that children are deeply imbricated in the racialised politics of the occupation. In the context of widespread poverty, discrimination and structural violence, Israel’s form of counterterrorist politics casts children both as “terrorist” and as key sources of Palestinian community intelligence. Children come to define the resistance and are in turn defined by it. This politics underpins the panoply of structural violence(s) directed against them. Constructing children as a threat to Israeli security enables the state to arrest, detain, imprison and abuse them with impunity – or as the authors argue, “to erase these children from the category of ‘the human’ and the legal apparatus of ‘human rights’” and “children’s rights” – a process they describe as “state-hate crime”.
Mason and Falk then highlight one of the most intransigent problems faced by those seeking justice for Palestinians – the refusal of Israel and the international community to respond to the long history of Palestinian non-violent resistance. Rather, their article documents a host of measures designed to undermine non- violent initiatives and the perverse strategy of recasting non-violent forms of resistance, such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, as “violence”.
Every article in this special issue speaks to the complicity or weakness of the international community in confronting Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians. BDS, as Mason and Falk argue, is one of the very few non-violent (and effective) strategies possible in the face of the “unwillingness by the United Nations (UN), European Union (EU) and powerful countries to take strong actions against Israel”. Israel has predictably, and unconscionably, denounced both BDS and its supporters as anti-Semitic – a traditional Israeli public relations (PR) tactic designed explicitly to deflect attention from the very grave issues, outlined throughout this volume, that BDS is challenging.
Palestinians it seems must simply accommodate the abuses, killings, discrimination, segregation, land theft and multitudinous deprivations, inflicted upon them by Israel. The only “acceptable” form of resistance, from this perspective, is departure, exile or death.
We hope that this special issue can offer new insights into theorisations of state criminality and state crime. State criminality, as an all-encompassing power that traps communities in a state of slow death, results in transforming populations from “must live” conditions to “have to die” conditions.
Deepening our understanding of state criminality, at the macro and micro level, with a focus on crimes of the Israeli state, requires exposing the profound dynamics and fusions underlying politics, stateness and criminality.
This special edition will be launched on Monday 20 June in London. To attend the launch, click here.
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