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Israeli settler colonialism, not occupation

November 25, 2023 at 2:50 pm

New buildings in the Israeli settlement in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank.[HAZEM BADER/AFP via Getty Images]

We must refer to Israel’s illegal existence and its actions against the Palestinians with the correct terminology to decolonise imperial frameworks and to avoid imperial dominant constructions and powers of language and culture because the decolonisation of the mind comes first.

The predictable death of the so-called “peace process” and the inevitable end of the “two-state solution” has shifted focus from ending the so-called “occupation” to the larger and more profound problem of Israel’s colonial oppression throughout Palestine. Dispersed patches of Palestinian communities in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, inside Israel, in exile and the Naqab Desert have made it even harder to group a Palestinian population within the borders of a nation-state. Dividing the West Bank into miniature alphabetical orders manifested in Zones A, B and C, governed under different political and military jurisdictions, requires serious revisions of International Law. The colonised territories of Palestine are not called “the Occupied Territories of Palestine” because occupation, in this case, is not merely preoccupied with taking over other people’s land by military and political means, without displacing them and substantial cultural appropriation.

Occupation is more spatially focused on geography and lodging, whereas colonialism involves further profound applications, such as cultural, economic and psychological practices, to take control. While occupation signifies transference, colonialism applies destruction. While occupation is, by definition, temporary, colonialism is long-term. While occupation might involve certain economic exploitations of free labour and natural resources, colonialism feeds on them. Examples of historical occupations are the Jordanian occupation of the West Bank, the Egyptian occupation of Gaza, the Indian occupation of Goa and the Indonesian occupation of New West Guinea. Colonial examples from history are British colonialism, French colonialism, Spanish colonialism and Portuguese colonialism.

Accordingly, what is falsely known as Israeli “settlements” are, in fact, settler colonies. What is misleadingly known as Israeli occupation is, in reality, settler colonialism, whereby oppression is applied through genocide and apartheid to displace Palestinians and replace them with other populations. Israel is a settler colonial project, which began 126 years ago with the establishment of Zionism and the Zionist movement aimed at building an exclusive homeland for a Jewish “population” in Palestine at the expense of the native inhabitants of that existent land in the late 19th century.

While occupation usually ends with annexation, colonialism does not. Colonialism only ends with decolonisation, independence and the overthrowing of colonial powers. This is only achieved through economic, cultural and psychological self-determination and autonomy.

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The Israeli Law of Return and national citizenship, for example, are the epitome of racism. On the one hand, Israeli national laws of return grant any Jew anywhere around the world the ultimate right to immigrate to Israel and the colonised territories of Palestine and to automatically receive Israeli citizenship. On the other hand, Israel denies indigenous displaced Palestinians their legal right to return to their homeland because they are not Jewish. Worse yet, it treats Palestinians who live within the State of Israel, who are also called “Arab Israelis” and comprise more than 20 per cent of Israel’s population, as second-class citizens. Plenty of Immigrants from Ethiopia claim to be the descendants of Ethiopian Jews but converted to Christianity several generations ago. Some are admitted to the State of Israel under the Law of Return, whereas others are accepted under humanitarian exceptions and live in camps. Other large groups with Jewish ancestry also immigrated from the former Soviet Union. Integration amongst these various groups within the State of Israel is indeed very problematic.

The Israeli Citizenship Law, furthermore, vetoes the unification of Palestinian families, whereby any Palestinians with Israeli citizenship married to Palestinians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are not allowed citizenship nor the same rights. It also bans unification with spouses from “enemy states”, including Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran. Discriminations here are based on national, religious and ethnic affiliations, whereas Israel still considers itself a democracy. Until they are removed, Israel cannot be considered a democracy with such apartheid laws: Zionism and the State of Israel equal racism.

Paying for Palestinian olive oil, Palestinian textbooks and literature with Israeli Shekels has gone beyond spatial occupation and has dug deeper into the cores of the Palestinian psyche. When Israel grants its communities of LGBTQ+ their complete rights and choices to express their identity through various gender and sexuality practices while Palestinians still struggle with basic human needs like water, electricity and mobility, this does not reflect practices of an occupation. More than 100 years of exile, displacement, nostalgia, false hopes of return, refugee camps, settler colonies, cultural imperialism, transgenerational trauma, racist Zionism, settler colonies in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, collective depression, dehumanisation, acculturation, murder, one genocide after another, colonial prejudice and collective and individual imprisonment are not an occupation. It is colonialism par excellence. Today, we redefine linguistic and political languages. We redefine what it means to be Palestinian.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.