Israel As A Settler-Colonial Project — Foundation Of A Theory
An academic make-believe story for the gullible scholar.
The paper I am looking at right now, written by the late Australian anthropologist Patrick Wolfe, was published in 2006 and has been cited in 1132 other articles by the time of writing this critique. That is a very large number of citations. What this means is that at least 1132 scholarly articles have seen fit to use this paper as a reference for their work, a paper that has served as a basis for calling Israel a settler-colonial project; four new papers citing Wolfe were published just in the past 10 days . Over 400 of those citing it used it in order to specifically promote lies about Israel, including academics writing about “Israeli settler-colonialism” while working at an Israeli university; I did not find even one article that contested the views about Israel presented in Wolfe’s paper. About 98 articles talked about Jews specifically and 154 about Zionists. Keep in mind that each of these articles citing Wolfe are, themselves, cited by other academics and so Wolfe’s influence can grow exponentially. My critique will not count as a citation because it is not published in an academic journal.
While the article includes references to a number of countries, let me show you what it says about Israel and why these are lies (I leave it to experts in other regions to critique what it says about them). You can read the paper in its entirety online. Here is the full citation:
Wolfe, P. (2006). Settler colonialism and the elimination of the native. Journal of Genocide Research, 8, 387-409.
What Wolfe sets out to show is that the logic of settler colonialism is to eliminate the local native population in ways that do not always reach the proportions of genocide. He begins by explaining that settler colonialism requires categorizing peoples in order to divide and rule. The American example is interesting: during the era of slavery, regardless of the amount of Black blood in one’s veins, the individual was regarded as Black — one drop was enough. On the other hand, the child of a Native American and a White person instantly became a half-breed and rules were devised to determine if there was enough Indian blood in their veins for that person to be considered Indian. The distinction was because the number of slaves was related to the slavers’ wealth and more was better, but the Indians were an obstacle to white control over the land so fewer was better. The main reason for prejudice against the Indians was not racist but based on the desire for access to land and natural resources. Similarly, Jews were classified by blood-quantum criteria by the Nazis who were determined to rid the world of the Jewish vermin. Wolfe does not mention this, however.
Settler-Colonial Israel and Names
And then he begins to talk about Israel (page 388):
Settler colonialism destroys to replace. As Theodor Herzl, founding father of Zionism, observed in his allegorical manifesto/novel, “If I wish to substitute a new building for an old one, I must demolish before I construct.” (8). In a kind of realization that took place half a century later, one-time deputy-mayor of West Jerusalem Meron Benvenisti recalled, “As a member of a pioneering youth movement, I myself ‘made the desert bloom’ by uprooting the ancient olive trees of al-Bassa to clear the ground for a banana grove, as required by the ‘planned farming’ principles of my kibbutz, Rosh Haniqra.” (9).
(8) Theodor Herzl, Old–New Land [Altneuland, 1902], Lotta Levensohn, trans. (New York: M. Wiener 1941), p 38.
(9) Meron Benvenisti, Sacred Landscape. The Buried History of the Holy Land since 1948 (Berkeley, CA:California U.P. 2000), p 2.
Wolfe uses this to show the nefariousness of the Jewish colonialists, whereby renaming places is one form of destruction. The problem here is that the name of the place where the olive trees were growing — al-Bassa — was an Arab name applied to a site where the original settlement, Betzet, had been between 70 AD and 425 AD; in other words, it was originally a Jewish settlement. In the 1800s, the town had had a large Christian majority and by the mid-1940s it was almost equally Christian and Moslem. Keep this in mind when reading the next few sentences from Wolfe’s paper:
Renaming is central to the cadastral effacement/replacement of the Palestinian Arab presence that Benvenisti poignantly recounts. (10) Comparably, though with reference to Australia, Tony Birch has charted the contradictory process whereby White residents sought to frustrate the (re-) renaming of Gariwerd back from the derivative “Grampians” that these hills had become in the wake of their original owners’ forcible dispossession in the nineteenth century. (11) Ideologically, however, there is a major difference between the Australian and Israeli cases. The prospect of Israeli authorities changing the Hebrew place-names whose invention Benvenisti has described back to their Arabic counterparts is almost unimaginable. In Australia, by contrast (as in many other settler societies), the erasure of indigeneity conflicts with the assertion of settler nationalism. [emphasis added]
(10) Walid Khalidi and his team memorialized the obsessively erased Arab past in their undespairing All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948 (Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies 1992).
(11) Tony Birch, “‘Nothing has changed’: the ‘making and unmaking’ of Koori Culture,” in Michelle Grossman, ed., Blacklines: Contemporary Critical Writing by Indigenous Australians (Melbourne: Melbourne U.P. 2003), pp 145–158.
Wolfe is wrong — Israel is not inventing names, but reclaiming the ancient Hebrew names for places that had had invented names attached to them by the invading Arabs following the Moslem Conquest in 650 AD and later Ottoman rule.
To compare Israel’s renaming to the way Australia replaced indigenous place-names with Anglo names is to distort history.
Just to show how this lie has taken hold, see a quote from Marcel Svirskey’s book, After Israel: Towards Cultural Transformation (2014) :
The field of Yediat ha-Aretz [Knowing the Land] developed on the shoulders of geography education . . . and of an emergent Judaising cartography (Benveinisti 2002). The Zionist re-mapping and symbolic appropriation of the land – which also comprised the signposting of places and trails and the Hebraising of the ancient Arab names of those places . . .
It seems that, for many people, academics included, history only began with World War I as if previous non-Western colonialist enterprises, such as the huge Moslem invasion of North Africa (and southern Europe) had not happened, but that the Arabs had always been where they could be found at the end of that war. This is the reason for their misunderstanding of the indigenous status of the peoples of Israel. They refuse to acknowledge the fact that Israel and all of North Africa were taken over by invading settler-colonial Arabs! And it was those Arab colonialists who changed place names from their indigenous forms to Arabized forms. I wonder why scholars of ancient history are not challenging the narrow views of their colleagues who ignore the full historical context of the Middle East.
The ideological justification for the dispossession of Aborigines was that “we” could use the land better than they could, not that we had been on the land primordially and were merely returning home. One cannot imagine the Al-Quds/Jerusalem suburb of Kfar Sha’ul being renamed Deir Yasin. [emphasis added]
What is this? Does Wolfe recognize that the Jews are not settlers like the Australian Whites were? Is he agreeing that the Jews were, in fact, coming home? No. He is still confused:
Despite this major ideological difference, however, Zionism still betrays a need to distance itself from its European origins that recalls the settler anxieties that characterize Australian national discourse.
While Political Zionism may have originated in Europe, Zionism did not. Zion is Jerusalem and Zionism is recognition of the fact that Israel is the indigenous homeland of the Jews, wherever they may be. Jews in Arab countries always prayed toward Jerusalem just like European Jews always have; the only difference being that for the former that direction was west and for the latter it was south-east. The land of Israel, and not Europe, is the origin of Zionism.
Settler-Colonial Israel and Language
Wolfe suggests that language is a tool and not a basic element of our Jewish identity:
Yiddish, for instance, was decisively rejected in favor of Hebrew—a Hebrew inflected, what is more, with the accents of the otherwise derided Yemeni mizrachim.
Yes, Yiddish was rejected in favour of Hebrew. Do all countries not have their own native languages? Our native language is Hebrew. Just because the most internationally identified Jews in a young modern Israel grew up speaking Yiddish in their homes does not change that fact. Jews from Arab lands speak Hebrew with a Mizrachi accent just like Jews from Russia speak Hebrew with a Russian accent and Jews from France speak Hebrew with a French accent, etc. Their children, however, speak Hebrew with an Israeli accent.
Settler-Colonial Israel and Genocide
I do not understand what Wolfe is trying to say here:
Analogously, as Mark LeVine has noted, though the Zionist modernization of the Arab city of Jaffa was intended to have a certain site specificity, “in fact Jaffa has had to be emptied of its Arab past and Arab inhabitants in order for architects to be able to reenvision the region as a ‘typical Middle Eastern city’.
Well, if we wanted to empty Jaffa of its Arab inhabitants, we did a very poor job of it. In 1922, Jaffa had a population of 47,799, with 20,699 Muslims, 20,152 Jews and 6,850 Christians. Jaffa currently has 46,000 residents, of whom 30,000 are Jews and 16,000 are Christian and Moslem Arabs so yes, the balance has shifted. But according to The Jerusalem Institute Statistical Yearbook, the population growth rates for the entire Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality at the end of 2015 were 2.1 and 1.6 for Arabs and Jews, respectively. That does not seem to qualify as emptying Jaffa of its Arabs.
Settler-Colonialism and the Indigenous Population
Wolfe waxes poetic as he describes the Jewish vulture, insatiable for Arab land. He uses Jews having settled in the Negev as well as across the Green Line to make Israel an example of settler colonial societies everywhere who seek to eliminate the indigenous peoples of the land. For support of these contentions, he cites Pappe, Weinstock and Avishai, three Jews who apparently would like to see the demise of the Jewish state (page 393):
The tide of history canonizes the fait accompli, harnessing the diplomatic niceties of the law of nations to the maverick rapine of the squatters’ posse within a cohesive project that implicates individual and nation-state, official and unofficial alike. Over the Green Line today, Ammana, the settler advance-guard of the fundamentalist Gush [E]munim movement, hastens apace with the construction of its facts on the ground. In this regard, the settlers are maintaining a tried and tested Zionist strategy—Israel’s 1949 campaign to seize the Negev before the impending armistice was codenamed Uvda, Hebrew for “fact.” (29). As Bernard Avishai lamented of the country he had volunteered to defend, “settlements were made in the territories beyond the Green Line so effortlessly after 1967 because the Zionist institutions that built them and the laws that drove them … had all been going full throttle within the Green Line before 1967. To focus merely on West Bank settlers was always to beg the question” (30). In sum, then, settler colonialism is an inclusive, land-centred project that coordinates a comprehensive range of agencies, from the metropolitan centre to the frontier encampment, with a view to eliminating Indigenous societies. Its operations are not dependent on the presence or absence of formal state institutions or functionaries. Accordingly—to begin to move toward the issue of genocide—the occasions on or the extent to which settler colonialism conduces to genocide are not a matter of the presence or absence of the formal apparatus of the state. [emphasis added]
(29) Ilan Pappe´, The Making of the Arab–Israeli Conflict, 1947–1951 (London: I.B. Tauris 2001), p 187. “[I]n order to justify the inclusion of the Negev in the future Jewish state, eleven new kibbutzim were simultaneously installed in that desert region on October 6th, 1946, in addition to the ten settlements already established there during the War for the same purpose.” Nathan Weinstock, Zionism, False Messiah, Alan Adler, trans. (London: Ink Links 1979), p 249.
(30) Bernard Avishai, “Saving Israel from itself: a secular future for the Jewish state,” Harper’s Magazine, January 2005, pp 33–43, at p 37.
The thing is — he has misidentified the indigenous society in Israel.
Now look how he characterizes the Jews of Europe (pages 395-396):
None of this means that Indigenous people are by definition non-agricultural. Whether or not they actually do practise agriculture, however (as in the case of the Indians who taught Whites to grow corn and tobacco), natives are typically represented as unsettled, nomadic, rootless, etc., in settler-colonial discourse. In addition to its objective economic centrality to the project, agriculture, with its life-sustaining connectedness to land, is a potent symbol of settler-colonial identity. Accordingly, settler-colonial discourse is resolutely impervious to glaring inconsistencies such as sedentary natives or the fact that the settlers themselves have come from somewhere else. Thus it is significant that the feminized, finance-oriented (or, for that matter, wandering) Jew of European anti-Semitism should assert an aggressively masculine agricultural self-identification in Palestine. (40) The new Jew’s formative Other was the nomadic Bedouin rather than the fellaheen farmer. The reproach of nomadism renders the native removable. Moreover, if the natives are not already nomadic, then the reproach can be turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy through the burning of corn or the uprooting of fruit trees. [emphasis added]
(40) The new Jew is an enduring Zionist theme. In introducing his terrorist memoir, future Israeli prime minister Menachim Begin announced that, in addition to his Jewish readers, he had also written the book for gentiles: “lest they be unwilling to realise, or all too ready to overlook, the fact that out of blood and fire and tears and ashes a new specimen of human being was born, a specimen completely unknown to the world for over eighteen hundred years, ‘the FIGHTING JEW’.” Begin, The Revolt, Samuel Katz, trans. (London: W.H. Allen 1979), p xxv, capitals in original. . . . [emphasis added]
We did not have to ”represent” the Arabs in the area as nomadic and rootless. The Bedouin are, by definition, nomadic. And the other Arabs in the region largely migrated to the region from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and areas that later became the European-created countries Syria, and Iraq after a number of waves of Jews returned home. This is something many Arabs, even leaders in the PA, are sometimes willing to admit (if this seems like an anomaly, see also here and here and here and here).
Regarding the New Jew, it appears that Wolfe, like other antisemites, prefer their Jews to be feminized and weak — the old-style easily-killed Jews are much more palatable than the New Jews who know how to protect themselves. Shame on us!
Then, no doubt getting inspiration from the likes of Pappe, Wolfe makes the following ridiculous and hardly academic statement (page 401):
Despite Zionism’s chronic addiction to territorial expansion, Israel’s borders do not preclude the option of removal (in this connection, it is hardly surprising that a nation that has driven so many of its original inhabitants into the sand should express an abiding fear of itself being driven into the sea).
I do wonder how this statement managed to make it past the journal reviewers. Never mind the barely concealed Jew-hate, this is not language one expects to find in a scholarly journal.
As the logic of elimination has taken on a variety of forms in other settler-colonial situations, so, in Israel, the continuing tendency to Palestinian expulsion has not been limited to the unelaborated exercise of force. As Baruch Kimmerling and Joel Migdal have observed, for instance, Israeli officials have only permitted family unions “in one direction—out of Israel.” (65) The Law of Return commits the Jewish state to numerically unlimited but ethnically exclusive immigration, a factor that, formalities of citizenship notwithstanding, militates against the assimilation of gentile natives. Thus assimilation should not be seen as an invariable concomitant of settler colonialism. Rather, assimilation is one of a range of strategies of elimination that become favoured in particular historical circumstances. [emphasis added]
(65) Baruch Kimmerling and Joel S. Migdal, The Palestinian People. A History (rev. ed., Cambridge, MA: Harvard U.P. 2003), p 172.
I have shown in another article how, under Israeli “occupation“, the Palestinian Arab population in the PA has been growing. That, and the greater rate of growth among Arabs in Tel Aviv-Jaffa compared to Jews noted above, seem to contradict Israel’s “tendency to Palestinian expulsion“. Never mind the facts, however, the myth sounds so good when repeated unchallenged ad nauseum.
Regarding the Law of Return offered to Jews around the world: It is every sovereign nation’s right to define who passes through her borders and who does not, who gets citizenship and who does not. Unless you are a Jewish country, that is. The fact that Jordan, for one, will not give citizenship to a Jew seems to bother nobody. Also, note that the law is called, the Law of Return and not the Law of Jewish Immigration; the name of the law represents the fact that members of The Jewish People are returning to our indigenous homeland.
Wolfe devotes the second half of the final paragraph of his article to Israel. He writes (page 404):
There could hardly be a more concrete expression of spatial sequestration than the West Bank barrier. There again, apartheid also relied on sequestration.
Sorry Wolfe – you are showing how ignorant or how Jew-hating you are. The wall between Israel on one side of the Green Line and Arab territory on the other side separates two sides that are under two separate administrations as agreed upon in the Oslo Accords. The Arabs are under the auspices of the PA and not of Israel. They are subject to laws of the PA and not those of Israel. They vote in elections run (randomly) in the PA and not Israel. This separation of civil administrative control was all determined by an agreement leaders of both sides signed. If the Arabs in the PA have a problem with how things are run, let them complain to their own administration and not to Israel. Somehow I think you know all of this.
The wall only went up because the Arabs did not respect the Oslo Accords, seeking instead to change facts on the ground by killing as many Jews as they could.
Wolfe Uses the Words of a Pro-Israeli Scholar to Bash Israel
His final paragraph continues:
Perhaps Colin Tatz, who insists that Israel is not genocidal, (79) finds it politic to allow an association between the Zionist and apartheid regimes as the price of preempting the charge of genocide.
(79) Though he is too scrupulous a scholar not to acknowledge that “Israeli actions may become near-genocidal.” Tatz, With Intent to Destroy, p 181.
Here is the entire paragraph in Tatz’s book in which the quote appears (page 181):
As to the Middle and Near East, there is the question of the treatment of Kurds since 1980 and, of course, the fate of the Pontian Greeks in Smyma in 1923. The Palestinian issue is not on the agenda, and even Muslim or anti-Israel students have, by this point in their course, learned enough about genocide to refrain from asking why it isn’t. (There may soon be a case for examining whether some Palestinian organizations have not only the dismantling of the Israeli state as their objective, but also the ‘removal’ of all Jews from that domain. Israeli actions may become near-genocidal. Deplorable attacks on Palestinians are a matter of record, but – and in spite of some anguished cries by Israelis who deplore their government’s stances and actions – this is a course on genocide, not one on the history of violence and counter-violence, terror and anti-terror.) Closer to home, students can elect to study the case of East Timor, or the treatment of either mainland Australian or Tasmanian Aborigines.
How many of Wolfe’s readers bothered to check his citations to see if he was using them within the intended context or distorting them? Probably not many. Yet anyone who has read Tatz would know immediately that something was amiss here. Wolfe continues to use Tatz to promote his thesis:
It is hard to imagine that a scholar of his perspicacity can have failed to recognize the Palestinian resonances of his statement, made in relation to Biko youth, that: “They threw rocks and died for their efforts.” (80) Apart from anything else, these attempts do grave injustice to the real victims of anti-Semitism. Nonetheless, as Palestinians become more and more dispensable, Gaza and the West Bank become less and less like Bantustans and more and more like reservations (or, for that matter, like the Warsaw Ghetto). Porous borders do not offer a way out. [emphasis added]
(80) “[C]apital punishment now being an unquestioned, routine penalty for chucking stones at Israelis.” Robert Fisk, The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East (London: Fourth Estate 2005), p 546. Quote in text from Tatz, With Intent to Destroy, p 117. I have chosen not to patronize Professor Tatz by quoting approvingly from his otherwise very useful book, from which I have learned a lot, on account of our fundamental divergence over the issue of contemporary Zionism, which I wholeheartedly oppose, and, in particular, of my disdain for his attempts to confuse contemporary anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism (e.g. pp 19, 27, 127). Apart from anything else, these attempts do grave injustice to the real victims of anti-Semitism.
There is much I could write about footnote (80), but this article is already too long, so let me stick with one point only: Wolfe wants to equate South-African-Black-kids-throwing-rocks with Palestinian-Arab-kids-throwing-rocks and says that (Jewish) pro-Israeli Tatz misses this point. Here is the entire paragraph from Tatz’s book – you tell me if there is an equivalence to be made:
Much rioting occurred as a result of the imposition of a Bantu Authorities system in rural areas. Sekhukhuneland in the Transvaal, Tembuland and eastern Pondoland erupted between 1957 and 1961, all ruthlessly suppressed by police. It is likely that 1,000 people died in riots at Camp Manor in Durban in 1949. Sharpeville is a word that remains in the international vocabulary of violent politics: the 1960 debacle in which the police, using dumdum bullets, killed sixty-nine and wounded another 180 pass law protesters. Soweto is another name in South African hall of infamy: 176 people, many of them schoolchildren, died and over 1,200 were wounded by police. The issue was the children’s rejection of Bantu education, and of a new attempt to force the Afrikaans language upon them. They rejected a separate system of schooling designed to confine them to a social system of servitude. They threw rocks and died for their efforts.
If you see an equivalence here, Prof Wolfe, then you ignore the ceremony in which representatives of the Palestinian Arabs and representatives of Israel signed the Oslo Accords as equals. You are being disingenuous if you say that the South African Blacks who had the Bantu arrangement forced upon them are the same as the Palestinian Arabs who were full partners to a deal that separated the Palestinian Authority (PA) from Israel and provided for a separation of administrations. Either that, or you think that a sufficient proportion of those reading what you write are either too ignorant to know the difference or hate Jews too much to care.
You disdain Tatz’s “attempts to confuse contemporary anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism”. I disdain your attempts to confuse South African apartheid with Israeli-PA separation of administrations pending the much awaited final peace negotiations.
A Final Word
There is one thing I have to thank you for, Professor Wolfe – and that is for introducing me to Colin Tatz’s book, With Intent to Destroy.
And finally, I really do wonder if there is, anywhere in this world, a historian or anthropologist who neither loves Israel nor hates Israel and is willing to examine the full context of the Israeli-Palestinian Arab conflict? I am still waiting for a neutral party to provide a balanced picture. I do not know if it will have any impact upon those who hate Jews, but at least they will not be able to say that it is coming from a biased perspective (as if theirs is not).