The settlers and their state: ideology in practice
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The settlers and their state: ideology in practice

During the last olive harvest, the deep racial oppression that is present across the entire land of Palestine rose to the surface in the form of frequent attacks against Palestinians. In our report on the olive harvest*, we have documented how Palestinian farmers in the West Bank faced abuse from settlers and soldiers who physically assaulted them, destroyed their property, and prevented them from reaching their lands. However, this report shows only one area of settler aggression. During the same period, in ’48 Palestine, Akka and other Palestinian cities served as arenas for violence and intimidation directed at Palestinians living there. In its superficial coverage of this violence, the mass media missed or ignored the underlying cause of the attacks: that this ongoing violence and intimidation is a systemic characteristic of the Israeli military and state institutions that is present in both the West Bank and in ’48 Palestine.

Settler violence in the West Bank has been largely depicted as a phenomenon that has gotten out of state control. This interpretation conveniently separates the settlement project from the state that pays for it, serves it with infrastructure and gives it political backing. It safely transfers the problem on the West Bank side of the Green Line away from the state, so even in the event of situations like Akka**, many observers adopted the story that the “clashes” in the Palestinian cities within the Green Line were caused by fanatical settlers from the West Bank and Gaza. These analyses implied that before the West Bank and Gaza settlers took residence there, the Palestinian and Jewish residents of Akka lived in peaceful coexistence, and that if it were not for the arrival of the settlers, this coexistence would have continued indefinitely. These arguments, however, misinterpret the nature and role of the Israeli settler movement, and overlook how the settler ideology informs state policies.

Since its beginning, the Zionist movement was essentially a settler movement. Its principal goals have always been to colonize and Judaize Palestine, and to shape a new ethno-national Jewish identity on the land. Institutions such as the Jewish National Fund, and later the Jewish Agency, which still exist to this day as para-statal organizations, were created for exactly this purpose: to bring and support Jews to settle Palestinian land.

In order to justify this settlement policy, Zionist leaders constructed a myth that represented their actions as being a return to their homeland and a re-establishment of the ancient Jewish societies in Palestine, interpreting the Torah as a Jewish “deed” to the land of Palestine. Additionally, they also had to develop myths to justify the dispossession and ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinian people. As is the case in all settler-colonialist societies, the native inhabitants of the land are viewed as being an unwanted presence that needs to be expelled and controlled. Their mere presence – and possible demographic majority – is an existential threat to the ideal of a “Jewish and democratic” state.

The foundation and continuation of Israel thus relies on a continuous settlement effort that simultaneously colonizes land and expels Palestinians. To implement this task, Israel has created a peculiar state structure that has three levels of colonial activity. Alongside first level, which is Israel’s network of governmental institutions, a number of para-state, Jewish-only organizations form the second level, as they take over state land, immigration policies, housing and welfare services. The third pillar of the system is the settler movement that acts as the spearhead of settlement policies on either side of the Green Line. In the West Bank, this movement is institutionalized and easily identifiable through the Gush Emunim bloc and its offspring, the Yesha Council. Furthermore, while the presence of the settler movement on the other side of the Green Line is less evident – apart from occasions such as the aggression in Akka – its aggressions and provocations are well known in the Palestinian cities inside the Green Line. Indeed, the three-tiered system of the settlement effort which makes up the Israeli state works hand in hand on either side of the Green Line.

In the West Bank, the Israeli state provides settlements with infrastructure and subsidies, confiscation orders and military protection. The Jewish para-statal organizations intervene with funding and developmental projects. The settler movement maintains the settlements and works at the fringes, establishing illegal outposts and attacking Palestinians. What the West Bank has experienced throughout the olive harvest has been nothing other than the coordinated interaction between these three components: settlers from state sponsored settlements attack Palestinians under military protections.

Similar dynamics are at play across the Green Line. Palestinians within the ’48 are by no means exempt from attacks by regular Jewish citizens of Israel. Violence against people and property occurs on a regular basis inside the Green Line, as is evidenced by the fact that attacks took place in October not only in Akka but in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, where nine Jews being arrested for various assaults, including firebombings of houses. The fact that similar attacks have happened throughout ’48 Palestine demonstrate that the latest series of open violence against Palestinians in Akka are merely one example of the symptoms of a policy of ongoing discrimination and attempts at institutionalized colonization within the Green Line. For decades, the state and para-statal agencies have attempted to Judaize or demolish the historic centers of Palestinian cities such as Yafa, Lyd, Ramle and Akka, through discriminatory urban planning, demolitions and the sale of state owned property exclusively to Jews. In Akka, where these policies were so far unsuccessful, the settler movement takes its turn. In Yafa, where the old city has been successfully cleansed of Palestinians, the settlers work in the outlying Palestinian neighbourhoods, such as al-Ajami. No doubt, business interests help in the ethnic cleansing of these often hi-quality real estate locations.

This tripartite implementation mechanism of settlement has – to the obvious detriment of the indigenous Palestinians – been very successful for the Zionist movement. With each year that passes, Israel confiscates more and more land in the West Bank, while Palestinians inside the Green Line face ever tightening restrictions on their rights and land. As is the case with most settler colonies, the settler project has come in waves of high intensity in Palestine – we are living through the third major wave now. In 1948 the first major wave occurred with the Nakba, the expulsion of over 800,000 Palestinians and the annexation of 78% of Palestine. Another wave came in 1967, when Israel occupied the remainder of historic Palestine. Finally, the most recent wave came in 2002 with the reinvasion of the West Bank and the renewed drive to colonize land through the construction of the Apartheid Wall, which is aimed at permanently confiscating almost 50% of the West Bank. At the same time, attacks on Palestinians and their rights within the Green Line increased as well.

Within ’48 Palestine as well as the West Bank, then, there is ample evidence of physical attacks, racial segregation and ghettoization, discriminatory land and property laws, and destruction of Palestinian land and property. The basic reason for the persistence of these racist policies and practices lies in the fact that Israel is a settler colony whose founding myths have been institutionalized and continue to be passed down from one generation to the next. The Zionist state is predicated on the coercive replacement of the indigenous Palestinian population by a new Jewish one. Thus, the forcible prevention of Palestinians in the West Bank from harvesting their olives is a means of destroying traditional livelihoods and forcing people off of their lands. Similarly, the strategies of Judaization and institutionalized discrimination within ’48 Palestine are attempts at making life for the Palestinian citizens of Israel so difficult and unsustainable that they will be forced to leave their homes. In short, on both sides of the Green Line, they are strategies of low-intensity ethnic cleansing with the ultimate aim of achieving the Zionist goal of “reclaiming” the areas of historic Palestine that are inhabited by Palestinians, and of eliminating the Palestinian “threat.”

Sixty years after the Nakba, the Palestinian struggle is still standing in the way of this project. Continuous reports are produced to monitor and detail all aspects of the dispossession and displacement of the Palestinian people. International law and hundreds of UN resolutions back up our rights. In total contradiction with the ongoing Palestinian struggle and the advocacy from international solidarity, however, international media and agents of political diplomacy continue to deny the reality on the ground.They continuously re-phrase and fragment reality until the true picture is sufficiently obfuscated, thus creating the necessary spaces for political inaction. Even in the face of this wilful blindness to the reality of the struggle, however, the sustained popular resistance and the message of the Palestinians should be reason for the international community to refocus its views and actions.

* Click here to download the full olive harvest report.
** Click here to download the report on the events in Akka, compiled by the Akka Residents Coalition.