Text of my speech on Israel as an imperialist-supported colonising power, during the seminar organised by Garden of Knowledge, Malta, on February 22, 2014.
While addressing the United Nations General Assembly in 1960, Fidel Castro stated “Colonies do not speak. Colonies are not known until they have the opportunities to express themselves.” Speaking about the situation of Cuba prior to the triumph of the revolution, the same discourse can be applied to the oppression which Israel, in collaboration with imperialism, is enforcing through its colonisation of Palestine.
It is extremely important to define Israel as an imperialist-supported settler-colonial state. Many references to the “occupation” fail to take into consideration the earlier Zionist plans of colonisation. In doing so, both Israel and the international community are stripped of accountability in the oppression of Palestinians. Eliminating the reference of Israel as a settler-colonial state creates an indirect form of complicity in fragmenting Palestinian identity – an identity which should go beyond Gaza and the West Bank. When we speak of Palestine, we need to emphasise the integrity of a nation dispersed by Zionist settler-colonialism, and that means recognising the early plans for colonisation, which Palestinian academic Nur Masalha has traced back to 1882.
The settler-colonial state of Israel is established upon the destruction of Palestinian land and memory. Of course, the Zionist narrative justifies the ethnic cleansing and forced displacement which created millions of Palestinian refugees since the Nakba of 1948. Hundreds of Palestinian villages were destroyed and their inhabitants massacred or displaced. Israel justifies the atrocities committed during the Nakba, describing them as beneficial to the establishment of the settler-colonial state. What followed later – settler-terror endorsed by Israel, the dehumanisation of Palestinians, the theft of water, the use of Palestinians for labour in the West Bank and Jordan Valley, the Gaza blockade, targeted assassinations of military leaders, home demolitions, the bombardment of Gaza during Operation Cast Lead and Operation Pillar of Defence are proof of a strategy to ensure the continuation of colonisation. However, Israel has also been very cautious in avoiding international condemnation of genocide. While Operation Cast Lead was deemed genocide by the Independent Fact Finding Committee on Gaza, the report also claims it did not find sufficient evidence to prove that Israel’s policies against Palestinians constitute genocide – the term used was collective punishment. Speaking about the same Gaza assault, a former Israeli foreign minister once stated “It’s a bit like going to a dietician. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but they won’t die.” This means that Israel is perfecting its oppression – it will not risk calls of genocide, but it will continue its oppressive expansionist practices to evict Palestinians from their land.
The international community’s recognition of Israel is partly to blame for Israel’s failure to uphold its commitment to recognise and implement the Palestinian right of return enshrined by the imperialist collective embodied by the United Nations. Israel’s widely known intention has been to create refugees. In the case of Palestinians still living in their territory, Israel seeks to create as many hardships as possible to encourage further displacement. Although Israel does exploit Palestinian labour, it is dispensable – just another strategy to break resistance, encourage population transfer and embark upon further appropriation of land. This is possible because Israel has twisted the narrative of nationhood and applied the indigenous label to its settler population. According to a recent article by a settler leader, Dani Dayan, settlement expansion is “legal, legitimate and necessary for peace” and it would be “immoral for Israel to wind back the clocks and go back to square one”. The Zionist state itself is an impediment to peace. But Israel’s concept of peace is a settler-colonial state which not only retains a demographic majority. The Zionist state considers Palestinians a problem which should be eliminated. And imperialism actively supports Israel’s ambition of creating an exclusively Jewish state, obliterating Palestine in the process.
Similar reasoning has been applied to the plight of African migrants in Israel. As will be seen, racism and discrimination are institutional in Israel. Zionists claim that migrants’ attempts to seek refuge in Israel constitute proof of the democratic nature of the Jewish state. At the same time, Netanyahu’s government has been seeking collaboration with undisclosed African countries to repatriate refugees – in return for economic aid. Migrants in Israel are called ‘infiltrators’. Israel has now passed a law which allows the authorities to detain African migrants indefinitely. Thus, migrants can avoid prolonged detention only by consenting to be deported to their country of origin - meaning that the Zionist state is willing to collaborate upon further oppression. Last June, Netanyahu stated: “We have stopped the infiltration phenomenon into Israel. Now we are focused on the infiltrators leaving.” Since the construction of the fence on the border between Israel and Egypt, the number of migrants seeking refuge has become negligible – only two migrants were able to cross into Israel. Yet the rhetoric about Israeli benevolence remains a focal point for its allies, who insist upon describing Israel as ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’. Israel has stated countless times that it does not want migrants ‘living on their land’. And that discourse is not disputed in mainstream media, despite the fact that it is not their land – the land belongs to Palestine.
Throughout the decades, Israel has increased its impunity mainly because mainstream discourse about Israel is manipulated within false neutrality. Edward Said clearly states “There can be no neutrality or objectivity about Palestine.” However, neutrality has served its purpose well within imperialism, as it allows a constant debate about human rights violations which are never addressed. The complicity between imperialist neutrality and Israel disfigures Palestinian legitimacy. It has prohibited Palestinians from a proper opportunity to assert their history. Every so-called opportunity or expression of solidarity with Palestinians needs to be assessed as part of the imperialist framework supporting Israel’s settler-colonialism.
Having seen how Israel always intended to embark upon colonisation, it is now important to see how imperialism, in various forms, contributes to the colonisation of Palestine and the subjugation of the Palestinian people. To achieve this, I will be focusing upon the United Nations as an imperialist international organisation.
The United Nations has invalidated Palestinian narrative and history since its recognition of the Zionist state. This means that although it passed a resolution affirming the right of return for Palestinian refugees, it has also justified the violence, destruction and massacres which Zionists committed during the Nakba of 1948. And it continues to justify violence against Palestinians by endorsing Israel’s right to defend itself. What the UN should assert is the fact that Israel cannot claim self-defence for the atrocities it committed through illegality. Yet every time Israel attacks Gaza, for example, the UN continues to uphold defence as an exercise for the Zionist state to perpetrate further massacres. And it does so, on the basis of an allegedly equal conflict while Israel continues to deplete the Palestinian population gradually, to make murder appear like a routine exercise in collateral damage.
Since then, Israel has been allowed to infringe international law despite the countless UN resolutions which are supposed to safeguard Palestinians. The UN has dedicated this year to international solidarity with the Palestinian people. However, the UN marginalised Palestinians by allowing them a passive role. So far it is only a symbolic declaration which has failed to challenge Israel’s settler-colonialism. The UN is simply proposing pretence of compassion in return for allowing Israel to continue its colonisation of Palestine. It is an extension of the usual rhetoric of concern, seen regularly in statements which deplore violations and yet still uphold Israel’s right to defend itself. Some might argue that the international year of solidarity with the Palestinian people will create global awareness. Colonisation cannot be fought only by awareness – it needs to be fought from within through resistance, and internationally by holding Israel and its allies, including the United Nations, accountable for complicity in colonisation and the committed atrocities. Every international effort allegedly attempting to grant rights to Palestinians is an extension of the colonial process implemented in Palestine. The United Nations provides the perfect platform for imperialists to further oppression under the guise of concern.
Another way in which Palestinians are subjugated within the wider realm of imperialism is the dependence upon humanitarian aid. At the 68th UN General Assembly, which addressed the humanitarian aid provided to Palestinian refugees, the web of imperialism was evident. Israel portrayed Palestinian refugees as privileged, despite the Zionist state’s refusal to acknowledge the right of return for Palestinians. The history of colonisation was never discussed. Palestinians were described as a humanitarian problem and divested of identity. The insistence upon the right of return, according to Israel “locked the refugees in a distorted reality”. On the other hand, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) attempted a neutral stance, even expressing gratitude to Israel for allegedly partly lifting the Gaza blockade. The agency is also part of the imperialist scheme – it receives its largest financial contributions from the US – the imperialist power which is responsible for creating the conditions around the world that evoked the need for human rights to be addressed. It is true that the US remains the biggest donor, however the financial compensation it provides to UNRWA is nothing compared to the billions which Israel receives to maintain its colonisation of Palestine. Imperialism embarks upon destruction and plunder, and then offers a limited amount of aid to ensure the cycle of dependence.
To summarise, Palestinians are refused the right of return by Israel, which creates dependence upon international organisations whose loyalty is already bequeathed to imperialism. It is an unwanted dependence – a further exercise through which Israel can continue its colonisation and ensure a demographic majority. The humanitarian aid provided does not allow autonomy – it is simply a means of preventing Palestinians from furthering resistance. And also a practical way through which the international community can falsely claim concern and pledge help, to alienate the world from the fact that aid only creates dependence, and aid dependent upon imperialist collaboration can only result in maintaining the cycle ofhuman rights violations.
Another example of imperialist collaboration this time comes from the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. The current so-called peace negotiations, which aim at providing the means for Israel to continue its colonisation, have taken a sinister twist. Should the hypothetical two-state solution become a reality, Mahmoud Abbas has claimed that, following the three year period during which Israel would gradually withdraw its soldiers from the borders, there would be an additional interim period during which border security would be provided by NATO! There is already a major compromise in declaring the 1967 borders as acceptable for a “lasting and legitimate solution”. Accepting a state based upon the 1967 borders does not address colonialism. It does not address the atrocities of the Nakba and the right of return for Palestinians. Even more importantly, it does not address international complicity in recognising and maintaining the colonial state of Israel. Israel is also in talks with NATO, discussing a possible collaboration which would result in an Israeli representative at NATO. In this case, besides the obvious subjugation of Palestinians by Israel and imperialism, Abbas is also seeking to oppress Palestinians through collaboration with imperialism by entrusting border security to NATO – the entity which is responsible for genocide in various countries under the guise of humanitarian intervention.
In conclusion, it is important to bear in mind that Palestinians have experienced a massive betrayal – the main reason being the intricate complicity of Israel, the Palestinian leadership and the international community with imperialism. It is all too easy to view discourse about international solidarity as a political step forward. Every step taken by Israel, the US and the UN as an imperialist international organisation only has one main concern – that of avoiding accountability for maintaining Israel’s settler-colonial state and sanctioned state-terror. To avoid becoming unwitting accomplices in the oppression of Palestinians, it is important to oppose compromise, to oppose discourse which describes Israel as an occupying power without mentioning settler-colonialism. We should assert that international solidarity expressed through imperialist organisations is nothing but an exercise in furthering Israel’s impunity.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
My book review of 'Beyond Occupation: Apartheid, Colonialism and International Law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories' (Pluto Press, 2012) has been published in the May 2013 issue of the journal Holy Land Studies.
The review may be downloaded from http://www.euppublishing.com