Issue No.
169, May 2012 Latest update 9 2014f August 2014, at 4.39 am
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Daily Life under Occupation, by Ismail Shammout.

Unsettling Settler Colonialism
By Magid Shihade
Many critical theorists of Western modernity have alluded to the repressive nature of the modern nation state and the way it constantly aims to create docile/disciplined subjects. Others have alluded to the latest phase in capitalist modernity of neoliberalism that aims not only to alienate its subjects from their labour but also to fragment each community through extreme individualism - each to his/her own - almost going back to the state of nature with the tools of the modern state apparatus of surveillance and repression.

The settler colonial state, one must add, is a particular case of Western modernity. Yet it is still connected to other practices and history of Western modernity in dealing with non-white/non-Western peoples around the world. As Achille Mbembe argues, these who are considered as lesser races, lesser nations, have gone through a history of colonisation, slavery/plantations, and settler colonialism, and, most recently, the Israeli settler colonialism in Palestine. Colonialism and specifically settler colonialism do not target a certain class or gender. Although they come to enforce gender and class hierarchies, their main targets are groups in totality that are deemed racially different and inferior. In this context, non-Western peoples’ bodies, resources (including lands), and histories are to be used and abused by those who claim superiority of race, and are thus mandated by higher powers (i.e., God) and lower powers (enlightenment rationality, science, and knowledge) to lead humanity and make important decisions about the life and death of the lesser nations.

In Patrick Wolfe’s theorising of settler colonialism, the process of genocide is evident in the elimination of the native populations by settlers. In his view, this has been the case in all settler colonial cases, to varying extents in different contexts, whether in Australia, the Americas, Ireland, South Africa, or Palestine. And genocidal elimination of native Palestinians by Zionist and Israeli settler colonialism has been taking place for the last hundred years through various forms of violence - massacres, bomb explosions, targeted killings, and full-fledged wars. The examples are too many to mention here, but instances such as Deir Yassin, Kafr Qassim, Land Day Massacre, 2000 Black October Massacre, the 1948 War, and the 1967 War are not even the complete and comprehensive account of what Zionists and Israeli Jews have committed against native Palestinian populations, not to mention the complacency and support of many Western states, to whom Israel has been presenting itself as the West’s front against the Arab and Muslim Oriental East. This Orient, as Edward Said reminds us, has been constantly presented as a threat to “Western civilisation,” which, of course, has been a manufactured myth by the West. Here Jews/Zionists have become part of a racialised world that looks at Arabs as not only different, but also inferior, and whites or the West as superior; and the only relationship between these two is the relationship of domination, of course couched today in less obvious wordings such as aid, development, promotion of good governance, etc., as Samir Amin reminds us.

Another dynamic of settler colonialism, according to Grant Farred, is the unsettling of natives. The unsettling of native Palestinians has been taking place since before 1948 - from the displacing of farmers prior to 1948, to the forced removal of Palestinians turned into refugees within historic Palestine as well as outside the borders of the country that took place during and around the 1948 and 1967 wars, and the house demolitions constantly taking place throughout historic Palestine. There are many examples of how the Israeli state (within both its 1948 and 1967 borders) has operated to unsettle native Palestinians from Galilee in the north to the Negev in the South, and from Jaffa in the west to Jericho in the east.

But, as Ahmad Sa’di and Nur Masalha have shown, unsettling and elimination were not only a physical process that targeted Palestinian bodies and properties but also a psychological one that targeted their memory. Whether a process of “memrocide,” or as Saleh Abdel Jawad argues, of “sociocide,” the main target of Israeli settler colonialism has been the Palestinian society at large and each individual separately. If not eventually eliminated or displaced, the Palestinian social being and the community’s psychological cohesion were the targets of Israeli Western colonial modernity. In the Americas the motto was “kill the Indian, but save the man,” a motto which was followed by European settlers who, when they did not physically kill the Indian/Native, aimed to kill his/her psyche, culture, and identity. In the Palestinian context, it has been not only “kill the Arab Palestinian, and keep the man,” but, as Raja Shehadeh argues, “make one a stranger in one’s own home;” alienating one not only from one’s surroundings and history, but even from oneself. The constant process of killing Palestinian identity and psyche is the project of Israelis as well as of Israel’s supporters.

In this context, as Frantz Fanon teaches us, there is also a certain class among the natives who themselves participate in the process of killing the identity and culture of the larger native society. This group of colonised natives are not only the comprador intellectuals in the service of the Palestinian leadership that Joseph Massad spoke of, but they also come from among the business class, elites, educators, intellectuals, and artists who feel much more at home in the West rather than in their own native society. Their whole frame of reference is the West and so-called Western civilisation. When the Indian leader Ghandi was asked his view of such a civilisation, he remarked that it “would be a good idea.” In Ghandi’s understanding, a civilisation cannot be a force of destruction and brutality as he witnessed in the West’s dealing with peoples in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Yet, as Ibn Khaldoun reminds us, history is based on a dialectic of forces working against one another, and the repressive state is doomed to collapse sooner or later because each state can only survive if its subjects are treated justly. If a system of governance is not just, it will bring, sooner or later, much internal and external opposition. While Ibn Khaldoun did not speak of a colonial state, or at least did not name it as such, Frantz Fanon and Albert Memmi did so explicitly and defined the colonial relationship through a certain dialectic as well. They argue that the violently repressive (settler) colonial state naturally compels the colonised natives to counter it with violence and resistance. This resistance comes through various forms, and the Palestinian experience is rich with such history. From the farmer in Galilee and the labourer in Jerusalem to the fisherman in Gaza there are sagas of resistance and resilience to be written about. From Leila Khaled to Mahmoud Darwish, there is a poetics of resistance, or, as Robin Kelley describes it in his introduction to Aime Cesaire’s Discourse on Colonialism, “the poetics of justice,” and the Palestinians have been among the most poetic resisters of Israeli Jewish racist Western modernity. This is because it is only human to resist, it is only human to not accept oppression, and it is only human to want to live with dignity, liberty, and justice. Injustice, indignity, and repression, whether enforced from outside or inside the system, will only lead to their own destruction. Palestine in this context is a good example, but also a hope for a different world that is less brutal and less unjust for everyone.

Magid Shihade, PhD, is a faculty member at Ibrahim Abu Lughod Institute of International Studies at Birzeit University. His research interests are modernity, colonialism, violence, identity, and the politics of knowledge, and he has published many articles and book chapters in these areas. His recent book - Not Just a Soccer Game: Colonialism and Conflict among Palestinians in Israel - was published by Syracuse University Press.

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