There is a common misconception derived from anti-Israel propaganda that positions Israel as a settler-colonial state. This narrative attempts to contextualize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a Western framework of colonialism, one of oppressed versus oppressor.
This notion is revisionist history; it depends on the erasure, manipulation and repackaging of Jewish history. Our story of self-determination in our ancestral homeland is an indigenous success story, not one of settler colonialism.
The ethnogenesis of the Jewish people predates the imperial conquests and colonial administrations of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans (who renamed Judea to Palestina), Byzantines, Ottomans and British. Our peoplehood was born out of the land, 3,000 years ago. This is where our language, culture, spiritual framework and traditions come from.
Israel is where Jews became a people; however, this fact does not or should not discount the plight of Palestinians, nor should it undermine their connection to the land. The path toward peace for Jews and Palestinians cannot be predicated on the erasure of either people.
Contrary to popular belief, the desire to retain our sovereignty in our ancestral homeland did not begin with the advent of modern Zionism; it has been a pervasive ideal throughout Jewish history. From the return to Zion in 538 BCE to the Jewish-Roman wars of 66-135 CE, we as a people have fought repeatedly for our historic homeland. Additionally, there has been a continuous Jewish presence in the land for more than 3,000 years.
Thus, what occurred in the late 19th and early 20th century was not a case of foreign colonists coming to a foreign land and taking it from the native population. Instead, we returned to our homeland, often as refugees, and re-established our sovereignty after centuries of expulsions, pogroms and genocides. The attempted erasure of our peoplehood rests upon the inversion of our trauma as a means to moralize our erasure and demonize our indigeneity to Israel.
Framing Jews as foreign settler colonialists in Israel corroborates the narrative of our oppressors. It repositions our self-determination in our indigenous homeland as something we should be ashamed of. Concurrently, this notion allows for our own colonizers to evade accountability for land dispossession and attempted erasure of our peoplehood.
As such, the assumption that indigenous peoples can lose their indigenous status after being forcefully displaced by colonizers sets a perilous precedent for indigenous peoples across the world. Likewise, the notion that a colonizer can suddenly become indigenous after colonizing the indigenous population for long enough sets an equally dangerous paradigm.
These premises are what enable the Palestinian leadership to forgo any sensible solution because their primary goal is not to establish a sovereign Palestinian state for their people, but rather to ensure that there is no Jewish state.
Recognizing Jewish indigeneity means appreciating our historical and ancestral claim to Israel. We are not going anywhere, despite what our oppressors across the political spectrum demand. As a people who have been repeatedly colonized for thousands of years, much of the world’s understanding of Jewish history has been strategically aligned with how our oppressors and colonizers have defined us.
The Land of Israel does not belong to us, rather we belong to the land.
We have the right to reclaim our peoplehood as was defined by our ancestors, not our oppressors. As I see it, the Land of Israel does not belong to us, rather we belong to the land and anyone who tries to manipulate or discount the Jewish connection to the land of Israel is directly erasing our peoplehood.
We have returned to our ancestral homeland after almost being completely exterminated; some call it a miracle but I characterize it as an indigenous success story. Reclaiming our history from the denialism projected by our oppressors is how we ensure the survival of the Jewish people. Israel is an imperative project that is heavily flawed but essential for the survival of the Jewish people. So no, Israel is not a settler colonial state; she is the Jewish people’s lifeline.
The writer is a student at McGill University and a Canadian Campus Media Fellow with HonestReporting Canada.