Thus, in some form, the constitutive process of a land-appropriation is found at the beginning of the history of every settled people, every Commonwealth, every empire. This is true as well for the beginning of every historical epoch. Not only logically, but also historically, land appropriation precedes the Order that follows from it. It constitutes the original spatial order, the source of all further concrete Order and all further law. It is the reproductive root in the normative Order of history. All further property relations — communal or individual, public or private property, and all forms of possession and use in society and in international law — are derived from this radical title. All subsequent law and everything promulgated and enacted thereafter as decrees and commands are nourished, to use Heraclitus’ word, by this source.
Carl Schmitt, The Nomos of the Earth
The 20th century, militant Russian Zionist Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s essay The Iron Wall (1928) lays out with clinically elegant language the settler-colonialist logic of the project of creating a Jewish state in Palestine.
While confessing emotional “polite indifference to the Arabs”, politically, matters could not be so easily ignored, and this for two reasons: “First of all, I consider it utterly impossible to eject the Arabs from Palestine. There will always be two nations in Palestine – which is good enough for me, provided the Jews become the majority” and secondly, while promising to do nothing to violate the principle of equality in relations with the Arabs, and therefore, never to endeavour to expel anyone from Palestine, it would nevertheless be extremely unlikely that Jewish colonisation of Palestine could be peaceful, for the simple reason that no native population, historically, ever consented to being colonised. “Every native population, civilised or not, regards its lands as its national home, of which it is the sole master, and it wants to retain that mastery always; it will refuse to admit not only new masters but, even new partners or collaborators.”
And a native population will resist as long as “it has the slightest hope of being able to rid itself of the danger of being colonised.”
For Jabotinsky, the Zionist ambition was clear and obvious: promote Jewish migration to Palestine, such that Jews become the territory’s ethnic-demographic majority, leading then, inevitably, to a Jewish state. And this could only occur against the desire and will of the Arabs.
“Colonisation can have only one aim, and Palestine Arabs cannot accept this aim. It lies in the very nature of things, and in this particular regard nature cannot be changed.”
To have a Jewish state depend on some sort of agreement between Jews and Arabs would be to give up on a Jewish state. It would simply not be possible.
And therefore, while Jabotinsky recognised the principle of equal rights for all nations, his understanding of the Zionist project and the conditions necessary for its realisation – as an exercise in colonisation – implied, inevitably, the threat and use of violence; what he called “the iron wall” of state power and which the “native population cannot breach”.
As for the “morality” of such a ethnic-political project, Jabotinsky affirms that the justice of the cause is simply inherent in it, that is, from the perspective of Zionism, the colonisation of Palestine is morally acceptable.
Some manner of agreement will eventually be possible with the Arabs, but only when their hope in maintaining their independence against the Jewish colonists is erased.
“But the only way to obtain such an agreement, is the iron wall, which is to say a strong power in Palestine that is not amenable to any Arab pressure. In other words, the only way to reach an agreement in the future is to abandon all idea of seeking an agreement at present.”
The law of the coloniser – and their “generosity” toward the colonised – will be laid down by the victor, by they who control the land and the people entitled to it.
In speaking of Jabotinsky’s, here, it is in effect to establish a resonance between his unashamedly Jewish-Zionist colonialist aspirations and Carl Schmitt’s reading of the law, of the nomos, as rooted in the dominion and government of land; that the radical title to land is grounded in appropriation and that sovereign state law is born of this foundational violence.
The history of peoples, with their migrations, colonisations, and conquests, is a history of land-appropriation. Either this is the appropriation of free land, with no claim to ownership, or it is the conquest of alien land, which has been appropriated under legal titles of foreign-political warfare or by domestic-political means, such as the proscription, deprivation, and forfeiture of newly divided territory. Land-appropriation is always the ultimate legal title for all further division and distribution, thus for all further production. It is what John Locke called radical title. (Carl Schmitt, The Nomos of the Earth, 1950)
The much celebrated “rule of law” then is not the reign of abstract, “universal” principles common to all, but rules governed in and through the domination of land, a domination of inclusion and exclusion.
Or to put it differently, it is not law which sustains and governs a state’s forces of order and violence, but the forces of order and violence that generate laws to secure an original ordering (of space and time).
And while not suggesting that the politics of Jewish migration to Palestine in the late 19th and throughout the 20th century, nor the politics of Israeli governments since the foundation of the Israeli state in 1948, can simply be read off Jabotinsky’s essay, there is a lucidity in his understanding of Zionism which echoes loudly in both of these forces.
In an excellent documentary entitled the Law in these Parts, the filmmaker Ra’anan Alexandrowicz explores the ways in which Israeli law and military power in the “occupied” territories of the post-1967 war are in fact inseparable and that it is the latter which ultimately shapes, if not dictates, the former, with all of the inevitably violent consequences of colonial rule; or, following Jabotinsky, the consequences of Israel’s “iron wall”.
There was fundamental irreconcilable between Israeli’s or the Zionist movement and Palestinians. It wasn’t about reconciliation, it wasn’t about living in the past, it wasn’t about all this other stuff. It really was about land. And unless you devise a category by which land is not exclusively owned, there’s no hope. And what the Israelis were doing and have done since the beginning, since the 19th century until now, as the Zionist movement, is take more and more land and Palestinians have lost more and more land. And there’s no way of reconciling between these two sort of opposing movements. One losing and dispossessing and the other, I mean, losing land and being dispossessed and the other one taking more. And that’s where I came to the conclusion that the only sensible resolution, given the obstinacy and obduracy of the Israelis, who had so much power thanks to United States, that they could afford to ignore the facts and reality, was to think about a way in which they could live together as equals, not on a partitioned land, but as equals on a land called Palestine, or Palestine-Israel … in which people were equal and not defined by their ethnos or by their religion.
The words are Edward Said’s, stated in a final (video recorded) interview from 2003. And the words not only recall his defence of a single state “solution” to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but also point to something that lies beyond any state solution: “unless you devise a category by which land is not exclusively owned, there’s no hope.” Without wishing to attribute anything here to Said, beyond his own beliefs, we venture to say that what he affirms puts into question the weight and inevitability of a constellation of concepts (the “law” – following Schmitt –, the “state” and “sovereignty”) that take us away from the logic of coloniser-colonised altogether (against Jabotinsky’s Zionism). What this “category” is that must be devised, according to Said, we do not know. The idea of it however calls upon us to imagine a different relation to the earth, to the world, that is free of spatial division and borders, free of the armed forces that make such divisions real, and free of the reign of state-centred law.