A Century of Settler Colonialism in Palestine: Zionism's Entangled Project

By Dana, Tariq; Jarbawi, Ali | The Brown Journal of World Affairs, Fall/Winter 2017 | Go to article overview

A Century of Settler Colonialism in Palestine: Zionism's Entangled Project


Dana, Tariq, Jarbawi, Ali, The Brown Journal of World Affairs


Throughout the past century, the Zionist movement constructed the most sophisticated settler-colonial project of our age: the State of Israel. The violent birth of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent colonization of the entirety of the land of Palestine after the 1967 war are indeed reflections of Zionism's successes in fulfilling its settler-colonial ambitions in Palestine. Yet, while this settlercolonial project continues unabated, it is an entangled one, unable to reach the ultimate point of Jewish exclusivity in the land. Zionist settler colonialism, as its historical precedents suggest, is fundamentally based on the operative logic of "eliminating the native" and failing to utterly marginalize and "minoritize" him. The vibrant Palestinian presence in the land, the everyday resistance to the colonial order, and the robust Palestinian adherence to their rights all stand as structural obstacles to the ultimate realization of the "Zionist dream."1 Despite Israel's relentless colonial power and domination, Palestinian steadfastness means that this project will remain impeded and incomplete, a matter that may lead to its future demise.

Unmasking Zionism

Those who seek to grasp the present-day complexity of the so-called IsraeliPalestinian conflict must begin by uncovering its geopolitical roots. This means understanding the nature of the Israeli state, society, and economy as a byproduct of a larger settler-colonial movement, distinguished by a combination of a hybrid form of nationalism with a sophisticated colonial model. This merger lies at the core of the Israeli state's ideology; it systemically guided the decades-long policies of forceful dispossession of the Palestinian people to build an ethnically exclusivist Jewish state.

The Zionist movement emerged in the second half of the nineteenth century in Eastern and Central Europe and was initially formed "as a national revival movement, prompted by the growing pressure on Jews in those regions to assimilate totally or risk continuing persecution."2 Although political Zionism is a homegrown European movement, nurtured and shaped by the continent's sociopolitical development, it has induced far-reaching consequences on distant regions of the world. Indeed, Palestine-as a land, people, and history-is a prime victim of Europe's collusion in exporting its homegrown problems.

Thus, any discussion of the nature and dynamic of the Zionist colonization of Palestine must be anchored in the triple dynamics that constituted the essence of nineteenth-century Europe: nationalism, colonialism, and anti-Semitism. Although the distinctly European interplay between nationalism and colonialism is a defining feature of political Zionism, the movement developed peculiar characteristics that make it particularly problematic.

It is transnational: In sharp contrast to conventional nationhood-revolving around common linguistic, cultural, and historical ties within a shared territorial space-the Zionist nationalistic doctrine invented a transnational ethnic identity that sought to bring together the culturally, socially, and ethnically heterogeneous world Jewry to establish a nation-state.

It is mythological: Zionism placed the Hebrew biblical mythology as the primary source of national identity formation. In his seminal work The Invention of the Jewish People, the Israeli scholar Shlomo Sand deconstructs the official Zionist historiography by challenging the claim that the Jewish people constitute a national group with a shared tie to the land of Palestine, and concludes that the Jews should be seen as a religious community. He rightly points to the fact that "In the modern world, membership of a religious community does not provide ownership rights to a territory, whereas an 'ethnic' people always have a land they can claim as their ancestral heritage."3 Furthermore, Sand contends that "In the eyes of the first Zionist historians, the Bible ceased to be an impressive theological text and became a book of secular history. …

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