The Violence of Israeli Settler-Colonialism


On June 6, 2021, Israeli occupation forces detained Palestinian activist and journalist Muna al-Kurd, the leader of the campaign against the ethnic cleansing of the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood Sheikh Jarrah. A day before, Al Jazeera Arabic journalist Givara Budeiri was arrested by Israeli police while covering a demonstration in the same area; she was later released from custody. What do these brutal practices of the Israeli state convey? They represent the innate violence of Zionist settler-colonialism. In the words of Mohammed El-Kurd (brother of Muna): “Living in Palestine is like having a policeman in your bed. Be it on the bus or in the supermarket, on the beach or in the courthouse, in a military uniform or in a Hawaiian shirt, settlers are everywhere. Colonial violence is a constant occurrence. Rifles aplenty.”

Foundational Violence

The settler state of Israel is built on foundational violence – a type of violence that creates sovereignty. Nakba – Arabic for catastrophe – is the word Palestinians use for Israel’s so-called war of independence. In November 1947, the UN partitioned British-controlled Palestine, granting the Zionists, who had been slowly colonizing the region, 55% of the land (the most fertile areas), though Jews were only a third of the population and controlled only 6% of the land at the time. Zionist forces used partition as a signal to move into action. In 1948, well-armed Zionist forces, numbering over 50,000, launched a war to ethnically cleanse the indigenous Arab population of Palestine.

Everything was organizationally orchestrated – well-calculated terror tactics were deployed to dispossess Palestinians of their land. Under Plan Dalet, spearheaded by David Ben-Gurion, who later became Israel’s first prime minister, Zionist forces were directed to carry out the “destruction of [Palestinian] villages (setting fire to, blowing up, and planting mines in the debris), especially those populations centers which are difficult to control continuously.” An official command to Zionist troops stated, “The principal objective of the operation is the destruction of Arab villages [and]…the eviction of the villagers.” More than 500 villages and localities were destroyed; more than 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homeland.

The Myth of Democracy

Israel is called the “only democracy in the Middle East”; this is patently wrong.  It belies the fact that the foundational violence inherent in the colonial state manifests itself regularly and molecularly in everyday acts of dehumanization against Palestinians. Millions of Israel’s subjects have no real rights; they can’t even be called second-class citizens, because so many Palestinians living under Israeli military rule are denied citizenship. This is part of an entire legal framework that helps the Israeli state kill, imprison and torture Palestinians with impunity, stealing land and engaging in ethnic cleansing, while pretending to adhere to liberal and democratic political values.

Israel’s 2018 Basic Law – also known as the Nation-State Law – affirms Jewish supremacy. It states: “[Israel is] the nation state of the Jewish people…[the] exercise of the right to national self-determination in the state of Israel is unique to the Jewish people [emphasis mine].” Thus, the Palestinian citizens of Israel are explicitly denied the right to reclaim their dignity.

According to Israeli law, any Jew in the world can become an Israeli citizen, whereas Palestinians are brazenly barred from returning to their home. Israel has had a longstanding policy of issuing, and revoking, IDs for Palestinians in order to deny their right to come back when they move or travel abroad. After its 2005 “withdrawal” from Gaza, for example, Israel began classifying Palestinians from Jerusalem and West Bankers who live in Gaza as residing “abroad,” revoking their IDs and barring their return to Jerusalem or the West Bank.

Israeli law also violates free speech rights; the Boycott Law disallows Israelis to “knowingly publish a public call for a boycott against the State of Israel.” The Nakba Law allows the Minister of Finance to fine any publicly-funded bodies that commemorate “[Israeli] Independence Day or the day of the establishment of the state as a day of mourning.” This is a blatantly discriminatory law against Palestinian citizens of Israel who wish to remember the forced dispossession and expulsion of their people. The law also prohibits events that criticize “the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” essentially repressing anti-Zionist activism.

The fundamentally anti-democratic nature of the current Israeli governing framework of settler-colonialism stresses the need for a strong struggle for decolonization. Zionism is a totally illegitimate ideology which – when put into practice – enacts the perpetual erasure of a group of people, transforming the lives of innumerable people into a continuum of pure violence. We need to collectively strive for an immediate end to this monstrosity.

Yanis Iqbal is an independent researcher and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India and can be contacted at [email protected].



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