Israel is neither colonialist nor settler-colonialist

Israel is certainly not a colonialist entity in the classical Western sense.

March 27, 2019 22:36
3 minute read.

BDS. (photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)


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Israel is often portrayed as a settler-colonialist entity by anti-Zionist activists. At pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel rallies, one would be hard-pressed not to find a sign claiming that Zionism is colonialism, or that Israel is a settler-colonialist state – but it is far from the truth. Leaving our religious and indigenous rights aside and arguing in terms of 21st-century law and politics, the claim is still wildly inappropriate.

Israel is certainly not a colonialist entity in the classical Western sense. Early Zionists were not representatives of a foreign nation who came to a country to exploit the resources of the land and use the local population as labor. They did not come to achieve economic gain. The Zionists came to a country with which they had a long-standing connection and history, to re-achieve self-determination and avoid the peril of growing antisemitism. They came to build a new life.

It is also not a settler-colonialist entity. The fact that Jews came to settle in the land, does not mean that they are settler colonialists. All land prior to the War of Independence was purchased legally. How then can this be a settler colonialist entity?

To use an everyday example to illustrate the issue, let’s say someone decides they want to sell their house, so they put it on the market. A buyer comes and purchases the house at an agreed-upon price. The deed is transferred and now the buyer has a legal right to the house. Is this buyer now a settler-colonialist in this house?

In many instances, the land was purchased from absentee landlords – and there were customs in Mandatory Palestine where sometimes people would work the land even if they did not own it. However, it was then sold, so according to law, owners have a right to decide what they want to do with the land and who they want to have on the land. It may not have been completely desirable in the eyes of the people who had been working that parcel of land, but it was the law.

After the UN recommended partition of Mandatory Palestine (UN Resolution 181) and subsequently voted to declare Israel a state, there was an undisputedly defensive war in which Israel acquired more territory. Since it is admissible to acquire land through a defensive war, the pre-1967 borders are also completely legal under international law.

It is hypocritical at best for groups like those in the BDS movement to call upon international law when it comes to the Palestinian refugees (UN Resolution 194) or with the Israeli presence in the West Bank (UN Resolution 242), but then also call Israel a settler-colonialist entity when the law does not back this claim up.

Unfortunately, as anti-Zionist and anti-Israel sentiment have become part and parcel of being a “progressive,” a complicated and grey situation has been oversimplified and become far too black and white. Nuance has been lost as it has been recast into a false narrative of good versus evil, right versus wrong and powerful versus weak.

Critical thinking and intellectually honest inquiry into allegations against Israel and the early stages of the conflict have been completely drowned out by the living conditions in Gaza and the West Bank. As bad as those conditions may or may not be, it shouldn’t automatically lend credence to false allegations against Israel. The Jewish state may not be devoid of responsibility for the situation today, but the Palestinians are certainly not innocent victims in a fable of a land stolen by settler colonialists.

The writer is a former Fulbright scholar in Israel, a recent graduate of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and co-host of the podcast “Israel-Palestine: Beyond the Headlines with Alec and Ezra.”

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