Authors: Meherab Hossain and Md. Obaidullah
Settler colonialism — where the colonizers invade and occupy a territory with the intention of replacing the existing society with their own. Unlike other forms of colonialism or migration, it involves the long-term movement and establishment of communities, which eventually develop their own distinct identity and authority. Scholars, like Lorenzo Veracini emphasize that settler colonialism is not simply an event but a power structure that seeks to replace populations with a settler society, leading to the dominance of outsiders over native communities. Patrick Wolfe further argues that settler colonialism operates as a system rather than a one-time occurrence, perpetuating the erasure and destruction of indigenous peoples as a prerequisite for seizing lands and resources. This “logic of elimination” characterizes settler colonialism as an enduring process rather than a historical incident. There are some key features of settler colonialism, such as, invasion and occupation, genocide, settler sovereignty, land appropriation.
However, the establishment of Israel, as a nation by settlers is a subject of controversy with perspectives and opinions. During the 1880s, the Zionist movement initiated the process of establishing settlements in Palestine, promoting Jewish immigration and disseminating the false belief that the region was devoid of human habitation. Jewish settlers gradually replaced Arab villages with their own settlements during the establishment. Every place built in this country had a previous Arab population. The tumultuous establishment of Israel, in 1948 and the subsequent expansion into all of Palestine following the 1967 conflict demonstrate the fulfillment of Zionism’s goals — to establish a pioneering, moral nation that would set an example for the world, not just a Jewish state.
Many activists critical of Israel and scholars use the term “settler colonialism” to describe demographic changes over the 150 years in what is now known as the State of Israel West Bank and Gaza Strip. They argue that Jews were a minority, in the late 19th century and European Jews later “colonized” and took control of Palestinian land and resources. Besides, some scholars debate whether characterizing Zionism or Israel as a “settler colonial” enterprise is politically motivated, derogatory, and highly disputed. They claim that Jewish people have a cultural connection to the land and that the Land of Israel holds a significance in their religion and heritage. The ongoing subjugation of Palestinians and the continuous expansion of settlements, in the West Bank and East Jerusalem serve as illustrations of the settler colonialism in the region. Israeli settler colonialism is still prevalent today in regions like Galilee and Naqab, where Palestinian citizens continue to form a majority. In these areas Israel aims to alter demographics and strengthen its hold on land by fragmenting territories engaging in cleansing and encouraging Jewish Israeli settlement.
Why is Israel a settler colony?
Israel has established areas in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip where Israeli citizens live under the supervision of the Israeli government. Unfortunately, this has resulted in the relocation of Palestinian communities. Therefore, there has been an expansion of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, which is often viewed as a form of settler colonialism as it encroaches on Palestinian land. As settlements are built and expanded, native Palestinians are frequently forced to leave their lands. Additionally, these settlements often control resources like water, which are crucial for the wellbeing of Palestinian communities. It’s worth noting that Israel has implemented laws and regulations that provide support for these settlements in occupied territories, contributing to their long-term existence and growth.
The growth of settlements in the occupied territories has been establishing changes in demographics, impacting power dynamics and control. The Israeli military plays a role in supporting and safeguarding these settlements. Some Israeli settlements are established based on Zionist ideological motives, which can be viewed as a form of settler colonialism. There are systems for Palestinians and Israeli settlers in the occupied territories, resulting in disparities in legal protections and rights.
The situation regarding protections and rights, for Palestinians and Israeli settlers in the occupied territories is quite complex and multifaceted. The Israeli government has established a two-tiered political system, where Jewish Israeli settlers enjoy political rights while Palestinians are subject to military rule without basic protections or rights under international law. The establishment of Israeli settlements in the West Bank including East Jerusalem goes against law resulting in land seizure and discriminatory land policies that restrict the growth opportunities for Palestinian municipalities within Israel compared to Jewish municipalities. Additionally, Israel implements physical barriers that control the movement of Palestinians and limit their access to resources.
The control mechanism divides areas A and B into 166 islands, where Area A (18%) is under Palestinian Authority (PA) control for civil and security matters, while Area B (22%) is under PA control for civil matters only. These boundaries are drawn in a way that includes all settlements. Area C, comprising 60% of the West Bank, includes settlements and is entirely under Israeli civil and security control. Interestingly, Area C holds the natural resources in the West Bank. It’s unfortunate that Palestinians often face violence from settlers experiencing attacks, live ammunition shootings, destruction of fields and livestock, theft, and property damage. From 1947 to 2020, a total of 51,584,489 individuals were dead of the Israeli occupation.
The additional limitations, on activity in the West Bank are projected to have a significant impact with an estimated economic cost of around 25.3% of the regions gross domestic product (GDP). Over the period of 2000-2020 it is estimated that a cumulative loss of $50 billion (adjusted for 2015 dollars) has been incurred, which is three times the GDP of the West Bank and more than 2.5 times the GDP of Palestine, in 2020.
Therefore, the establishment of Israel can be argued to be illegal. The initial inhabitants were themselves refugees, yet they subsequently occupied Palestinian territory, a move that could be perceived as hypocritical. Israeli settlers have been involved in the loss of many lives, the occupation of land, and the curtailment of people’s freedoms. They have expanded their colonies in pursuit of their Zionist objectives. It is disheartening that Western nations, often regarded as champions of human rights, support the state of Israel through financial aid, personnel, and weaponry. Nevertheless, it is imperative for the international community to step forward to address this issue, with the aim of delivering justice to the Palestinians and facilitating the return of their land, while also considering alternative solutions, such as the provision of an alternative homeland for Jewish populations through the UN.