BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING, THEN THE END WILL COME
The settler-colonies are illegal, it is undeniable. But too many attempt to start explaining the issue or proffering a solution in the middle, instead of the beginning. That will never work. In order to expel the hostile invaders colonising Palestine, one must begin at the beginning to understand the colonial mentality and process. Then the end will come.
18 July, 2014 al-Akhbar English
In order to confront the tangled web of colonization and begin the indispensable process of decolonization there must first be an acknowledgement of the historical coloniality of power which existed behind the creation of Israel and which continues to exist today so as to advance the state of Israel – those with positions of privilege, who progress the development of the occupation and the colonial-settler state itself must be disturbed. It is not enough to flirt with matchsticks beneath passports. Nor is it enough to cry “not in my name!”. The colonial mentality must be deconstructed. The Israeli settlers must be unsettled.
There are members of Israeli society who are applauded for objecting to Israel’s callousness, who even denounce the actions of the military, and who demand restraint be shown towards the people of Gaza (how very brave of them). They spill forth words that could be categorized as poetry, asking for fellow Israelis to reach deep down inside and see the lives destroyed by every bombing. They are human, just like us, they say. These Israelis are flaunted about. You see, they epitomize the lone voice of reason which has survived the madness of the “conflict” and their expressions are like honey, eagerly lapped up by those still straddling the fence, seeing fault in “both sides.” This is not decolonization but appropriation, that which removes Palestinians, diminishes their positions in their own history and works to further marginalize them. Their non-violence is praised while Palestinian resistance and non-violence is admonished and scoffed at. Their voices have weight in the eyes of the media while Palestinians are only there to provide a semblance of “balance.” If Palestinians are not at the forefront of the decolonization process than the process itself is a sham.
Settler violence is an indispensable component of the occupation, working to preserve Israel’s colonial identity and diminish the strength of Palestinian resistance. Israel is dependent on the brutality of settlement expansion, which is itself a form of violence, that actively work towards purging Palestinians from the land. Israel is just as reliant on organized acts of physical violence that is let loose upon Palestinians which are routinely ignored by Israeli authorities and that oftentimes work to establish settler colonies, therein benefiting Israel. According to a report published in 2013 by the Ramallah-based independent Palestinian non-governmental human rights organisation, al-Haq, titled Institutionalised Impunity: Israel’s Failure to Combat Settler Violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory:
“Israel’s legislative and administrative regime in the West Bank, coupled with its institutional unwillingness to prosecute offending settlers, shields settlers from the consequences set out in law and has allowed such violence against the Palestinian civilian population to continue and intensify. Settlers involved in the planning and perpetration of such acts have remained largely immune from the enforcement of the law and, in some cases, have even benefited from official support from State authorities for educational, social and religious activities […] This systematic lack of law enforcement against settlers as well as the failure to investigate such incidents have led to the creation of a culture of impunity and contributed to an increase in the frequency and severity of such attacks.”
Settler violence is also the simple yet forceful act of occupying the land of Palestine. Those on the left who may despise the actions of the Israeli government still reside on land stolen from the Palestinians, and this is an act of violence in and of itself. This point is relevant, necessary and it is frequently missing from the discussion. Settlers, wherever they stand on the political spectrum, and however strongly they denounce the Israeli military, are an essential component which allow for the occupation to continue and progress.
The latest massacre in the open-air prison that is the Gaza Strip is not the first, nor are the other acts of violence against Palestinians, including the murder of Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khudair, who was kidnapped by Israeli settlers, made to drink gasoline and set on fire while he was still alive. Such brutality is an indisputable part of Israel’s colonial history, and institutional frameworks have not only normalized this colonization but also the atrocities that are committed to facilitate its advancement. The rights and powers afforded to Israelis work to both physically and psychologically undermine the connection that the indigenous have to the land. Israelis have the ability to shelter one another from the repercussions of their actions, disposing of the need to reflect upon the consequences of the occupation, and as a result the perpetuation of violence is able to continue as there is no accountability. The system of oppression and exploitation is comprised of distinctive institutions – military, legal, economic, cultural, educational – this system of exploitation is a convergence of these institutions, all of which Israelis greatly benefit from.
The deconstruction of colonial power, or decolonization, is an unavoidable imperative if those determined to combat the colonial-settler state desire to go beyond solidarity and instead move towards the path of selfless alliance-building with Palestinian communities. Palestinian voices must be the point of convergence. Nora Butler Burke, a member of the Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Movement (IPSM) in Montreal, Canada, discusses decolonization and self-determination in an address delivered in August 2004 titled Building a “Canadian” Decolonization Movement: Fighting the Occupation at “Home” in support of the Kanehsatake Mohawk community:
“…a decolonization movement cannot be comprised solely of solidarity and support for Indigenous peoples sovereignty and self-determination. If we are in support of self-determination, we too need to be self-determining. Unless we exercise our own self-determination and fight our own governments, then we risk reinforcing the isolation of Indigenous communities and their resistance. A movement for decolonisation must be premised on a parallel process of self-determination.”
While brazenly ignoring the historical context of the occupation, a number of Israeli writers have expressed their frustrations with the state of Israel. They express outrage after witnessing the alarming racism exhibited by Israel’s young settler generation, the collective punishment unfurled upon the Palestinians in Hebron, their homes invaded and left in utter disarray, and gasp as the list of the dead in Gaza continues to grow. This is the brand of fragmented awakening that materializes after roughly all of Israel’s massacres. It is one thing to wash your hands of Israel, it is another to do so without recognizing and reflecting upon the chronicle of events that preceded even its date of recognition. The horrors unleashed upon the people of Palestine, from the catastrophe of 1948 (the Nakba) facilitated by way of the destruction of entire villages to current methods of dehumanizing violence meant to force remaining Palestinians from the land. And yet, the bulldozing of homes, dignity-stripping checkpoints and even the siege on Gaza are not only meant to drive Palestinians out but to force them into making the decision to abandon any and all forms of resistance. After all, even the colonizer grows tired of the viewing the colonized rise up after every devastating blow and the only way in which the colonial-settler state may advance comfortably is with an end to Palestinian resistance.
The words of Israelis oftentime work as distractions that move conversations away from understanding the profound influence and multidimensional complexities of Israel’s history so that they may frame their existence as uninvolved in order to escape the status of ‘settler.’ In Decolonization Is Not A Metaphor Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang define and discuss “moves to innocence” which are methods that work to deflect from the settler identity:
Settler moves to innocence are those strategies or positionings that attempt to relieve the settler of feelings of guilt or responsibility without giving up land or power or privilege, without having to change much at all. In fact, settler scholars may gain professional kudos or a boost in their reputations for being so sensitive or self-aware. Yet settler moves to innocence are hollow, they only serve the settler.
The distractions used by Israelis are “moves to innocence.” They are superficial diversions that only further the desires of Israelis who refuse to see themselves as complicit in the occupation. Such diversions only contain the settler-colonial state rather than disassemble it. As Frantz Fanon notes in The Wretched of the Earth decolonization “is a program of complete disorder” that can only come as a historical process, not by way of “friendly understanding” and that “it cannot become intelligible nor clear to itself except in the exact measure that we can discern the movements which give it historical form and content.”
Many times we find that there is little to no recognition of the struggle of Palestine’s indigenous peoples, their sovereignty, or even the contributions of Palestinians to even the ‘solidarity’ work some Israelis partake in, which is blatant erasure. Decolonization begins once Israelis abandon expectations of what Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang call “settler futurity,” and this means “removing the asterisks, periods, commas, apostrophes, the whereas’s, buts, and conditional clauses that punctuate decolonization and underwrite settler innocence.” If Palestinian self-determination is conditional then it is denied and the words of Israelis, no matter how heartfelt and eloquent, ring empty. You cannot deny a people their autonomy, their identities, their dignity and their right to resist, however they wish, and then claim to be against the occupation. There is no moving forward without the people of Palestine leading the way, nor without acknowledging that Israelis in occupied Palestine, regardless of their position on the occupation itself, are settlers and that the process of decolonization cannot be symbolic, as many wish it to be, but instead it must be tangible — and above all else the process of decolonization is and should be unsettling.