‘Conflict or colonialism?’ Discuss this question in relation to the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians.
Traditionally, the Arab-Israeli conflict has been viewed as just that, a conflict. The mainstream media and Western scholarship emphasise the role of religion, security and Arab rejectionism of Israel’s right to exist as key drivers of the ongoing dispute. Both Israel and Palestine are seen to have equal claims to the land in question, with little attention given to the idea that the establishment and ongoing consolidation of the Jewish state follows a deviant pattern of colonialism. After considering the Zionist narrative, this essay will argue that Israel’s use of physical and symbolic violence to appropriate Palestinian land and culture is in line with common definitions and experiences of settler colonialism. Violent land grabs, settlement expansion and cultural genocide will be considered as indicators of Israel’s overarching ambition to displace the native population and establish control over as much territory as possible, a central goal of settler colonialism. Ultimately, understanding the conflict through this paradigm recognises the vast power imbalance, oppression and systematic discrimination that Palestinians suffer from on a daily basis in a way that the conventional view fails to and could thus provide a novel insight into potential solutions to the issue.
The Zionist claim to the Promised Land is one that is rooted in the Biblical promise to the Jewish people of the land between the River of Egypt and the Euphrates (The Holy Bible, New International Version, Genesis: 15:18). Therefore, Zionists do not see themselves as foreigners, conquerors or colonisers, but as an exiled people who are returning to their rightful home after centuries of persecution in the Diaspora. This view of Zionism as a national liberation movement emphasises the economic, social and cultural processes that spurred the Jews in Eastern Europe to flee to Palestine and while these are certainly important factors in explaining the need for a Jewish state, the resultant narrative downplays the fact that the land that they fled to had already been populated by Palestinians for thousands of years. In fact, Masalha (2014: 3) notes that modern Palestinians are more likely to be the direct descendants of the ancient Israelites, Canaanites and Philistines, to whom the land was promised, than the European Ashkenazi founding fathers of the Zionist state. By highlighting their historical, cultural and spiritual connection to the land while ignoring the existing Palestinian presence, Israel presents a one-sided narrative to the international community. The result is that the mainstream Western discourse also sees Palestine as a “land without a people for a people without a land” and directs little international criticism towards the legitimacy of the methods used to establish the Jewish state.
Additionally, Zionist scholars argue that there was no...