Israel: Government by settler colonialism

As the visible part of the iceberg, the question of the district of Sheikh Jarrah is only symptomatic of what one could call colonial contempt, the reflection of a white supremacist heritage, that of something anchored in the most toxic forms of nationalism that Europe could generate during the last century.

Sheikh Jarrah: Diagnosis of a colonial contempt

Philippe G. El-Hajj (lundimatin #289, 24/05/2021)

On the impossibility of the Palestinian: deconstructing epistemic borders, embodying a praxis of liberation

But here, as with most of the other matters in the question of Palestine, we need to connect things with each other, and see them, not as they are hidden […], but as they are ignored or denied.

Edward Said, The Question of Palestine

What the news shows us, once again, is the centrality that the colony in fact occupies in the construction of the collective myth of the Israeli nation. Indeed, from the perspective of a Fanonian reading, we can clearly perceive the central role that race plays in the emergence of the so-called Israeli national identity and how it ultimately forges the very body of that identity.

Israel, through the ideological roots of supremacist nationalism that are at the origin of its founding myth [1], an ideology imbued with the bloodiest colonial practices of the time, is inscribed in the segregationist practices and cleavages of this heritage. In effect, this racialisation which characterises its practices so clearly still (and above all) today, is what allows it to claim a certain superiority which, among other things for example, manifests itself under the famous slogan of being the only democracy in the Middle East.

This racism and racial discrimination are therefore an integral part of the societal, state and political organisation that structures Israel’s very identity. The fascist potential inherent in the context and the very doctrine of Zionism as the founding theory of the Israeli state therefore appears more clearly in the light of an ideological genealogy of the practices of that state. From the Nakba of 1948, to the ethnic cleansing we are witnessing today and through to the dispossession of land and houses, a single reality has stood out steadily for more than 73 years in this region of the world, namely: settler colonialism.

Indeed, within this colonial arithmetic, the question that arises for us is that of knowing how the operations of power [2] in such a colonial context forge the epistemic frameworks by means of which a life can be ontologically understood as absolutely worthless. or as embodying, on the contrary, an absolute value. Whatever s/he does, the Palestinian is bounded by the selective and differential framing of violence [3]. The colonist in a way predefines the borders of the possible (and therefore of the impossible) of the colonised: the borders of what it is possible to do, or even to hope for, are traced; but more particularly, the borders of a perception beyond which one systematically falls into the impossibility of perceiving the Palestinian for anything other than how s/he is reflected through the prism of coloniality are traced: the Palestinian can be killed.

The Palestinian is among those lives, in a Butlerian reading, which cannot be mourned since they never were … One hundred Palestinians may die under the rubble of random Israeli bombardments in Gaza, but we will only cry the life of two Israeli women who succumbed in Tel Aviv: the media are the very embodiment of this ideological bipolarity of the production of fundamentally unequal lives.

The balance of power being obviously disproportionate, the fact remains that the Palestinian remains subject to an intelligibility restricted to her/his purely armed image and this image is restricted in turn to her/his dangerousness: to put it simply, the Palestinian struggle is frozen within an epistemological framework (fruit of the colonial ideological process) so that it can never be understood as an armed liberation struggle, but only as an armed terrorist threat, thus reinforcing the myth of Israel as the only democracy of the Middle East.

We thus witness the demonisation of the Palestinian, legitimised by the moral instrumentalisation of a tragic past and an elitist colonial heritage: this polarisation, both epistemic and political, therefore establishes an ontological hierarchy in which the Palestinian is not only as a second-class subject, but also and above all as an inferior category of life.

The first struggle of the Palestinians is therefore their struggle for emancipation from the norms of recognition [4] inflicted on them; it is a struggle that politically fits into the spatial and temporal continuum of their exile, of the Nakba which is constantly updated within the very existential dimension that envelops the Palestinians in their daily lives. The question of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, which is the source of the latest news, we will therefore understand as only the reaffirmation of a colonial hierarchy that renders Palestinian life ontologically precarious. The media coverage and general apprehension of Gaza, which we will permit ourselves to call, from a politicising perspective, an open-air concentration camp, is living proof of this.

So, what is important to remember is ultimately the primary political character of the Palestinian cause, beyond any humanitarian/humanising dimension: as we have been able to demonstrate through a Butlerian reading of the situation, the frames of perception and recognition epistemologically correlated with the way in which Palestinian lives are captured, are socially and politically forged frames.

“To be a body is … to be exposed to social shaping and form, which makes the ontology of the body a social ontology. In other words, the body is exposed to socially and politically articulated forces […]. “[5]

From the Nakba to Sheikh Jarrah: Palestine as a privileged space-time of a praxis of violence

[Colonialism] is a systematic negation of the other person and a furious determination to deny the other person all attributes of humanity.

Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

It is therefore clear at this stage of our work that Israeli policy, since its founding in 1948, is constantly evolving, adapting and structuring itself around the principle of a variable geometry.

From the Absentee Property Law of 1950 [6] to the Legal and Administrative Law [7] of 1970, Israel stood out with its two-tier justice: dispossession and prohibition on the right of return, on the one hand, and the expansion of colonial settlements on despoiled lands and the systematic right to land for every Jew, on the other hand, constitute only a very simple sample of the system in place.

Once again, the current crisis demonstrates it: the fact that the Israeli government has granted its citizens the right to fire live ammunition at Arabs constitutes a real declaration of witch-hunting over the entire surface of the occupied territory. The colonist is thus openly granted permits to kill [8]; an already deeply rooted politics of monopolistic capitalisation [9] of the use of violence by one side to the detriment of the other thus develops further. The act of resistance, defined as a praxis of violence from a Fanonian perspective, therefore emerges as a self-killing because, by resisting the Palestinian seals his fate to a certain extent: s/he is the indefensible, the one who can be killed, the one who is eternally asked to position her/himself as the Easter lamb.

Millet de la Girardière could have defended himself but, by defending himself, he became defenseless. Rodney King defended himself, but in defending himself he became indefensible. “[10]

It is the same for the Palestinian. Israel inscribes itself here in a most flagrant loyalty to its European colonial heritage; from the English colonies to the Portuguese and Spanish colonies, through to the French Code Noir, the regulation of the carrying of arms was always drawn up in the most advantageous way for the colonist and therefore in such a way as to “institute a differentiated access to the resources essential to self-defense ”[11].

From this perspective, the ethical complexification of the anti-colonial struggle (or the struggle for liberation) is expressed by the weaving of morality with lived experience, within a single web, against a political background: the body, for example, becomes the very field of struggle, it becomes its privileged place and means. The colonists, the comrades, the land, our own subjectivity … all become the spatially materialised field of a potential struggle [12], a struggle that takes place continuously: this struggle, this possibility which is therefore constantly materialised through praxis in the Palestinian struggle and which is therefore in constant dialectical becoming, thereby gains to some extent the quality of timelessness.

The Palestinian body no longer embodies a simple means of struggle, a tool, but becomes the very place of this struggle, that is, the privileged place of the struggle through what Fanon describes as being the very internalisation by the body of the violence inflicted on it.

Thus, like the Algerian who had only violence as a means of emancipation from the dehumanizing grip of French colonialism, the Palestinian embodies this need for violence in the face of the so-called unique democracy in the region, whose speech and lexical artillery [13] recalls, without any surprise, that of the civilising propaganda of colonial Europe.

Even today, the Palestinian context embodies more than any other context the brutality of raw colonialism; Palestine constitutes that reality, both political and historical, which confronts the whole of Europe and the great imperialist powers with the ghosts of their past abuses, with the brutality of the exploitation which made them what they are today.

To refuse to admit its past or simply to flee it: what image does Palestine present today to the Western powers of the colonial contempt that continues to shape their political practices and their state structures?

What image does it send back to Europe, the Victor Frankenstein of modern times, of its creature forged by coloniality, its frenzied arms races and the insatiable desire for expansion, both territorial and ideological?

To conclude and in the face of all this, it can be said that the Nakba itself is perpetuated day by day; it inhabits the very flesh and minds of the Palestinians. It constitutes an existential weight that animates their literally violated bodies and pushes them to constantly exteriorise themselves by means of a revolutionary, dialectical and necessarily violent praxis, within an epistemologically centrifugal movement: namely, of someone who constantly seeks to move away from the frames of perception that are imposed on her/him, to widen them until they fracture!

[1] In Theodore Herzl’s Der Judenstaat (to cite but him), we can clearly perceive the ideological influences of the nationalist upheavals which characterised 19th century Europe and which would lead to the most racist forms of state in the following century (of which Nazism is the most obvious form).

[2] See the introduction by BUTLER, Judith. Ce qui fait une vie, La Découverte, Zones, Paris, 2010.

[3] Ibid.

[4] BUTLER, Judith. Ce qui fait … op. cit., introduction.

Butler defines the norms of recognition here as the set of categories, conventions, and norms that predetermine a subject’s recognisability, that is, what makes the subject a recognisable subject.

[5] Ibid., P.9

[6] Law prohibiting Palestinians from recovering property lost in the 1948 war; properties which are systematically transferred to the hands of the Israeli state and subsequently handed over to settlers.

[7] Law allowing Israeli Jews to reclaim property lost in the same war.

[8] DORLIN, Elsa. Se défendre. Une philosophie de la violence, La Découverte, Paris, 2017, p.17

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., p.16

[11] Idem., p.21

[12] MEARI, Lena. Sumud: A Palestinian Philosophy of Confrontation in Colonial Prisons. Online, last consultation on 05/15/2021 at 1:30 am.

[13] In effect, the conceptual violence conveyed by a certain term can prove to be as emancipatory as that of physical violence according to Fanon.

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