From Dr. Alex Joffe at BESA:
One of the mainstays of the modern university is the idea of settler-colonialism. This argues that certain societies are birthed by settlers implanted in a foreign territory, either directly by or with the consent of an imperial power. These colonists then dominate and eradicate the indigenous population. They develop bellicose cultures that eliminate the natives from historical, literary, and other narratives. Primary examples often cited are the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, South Africa and Rhodesia, and Israel.
The settler-colonial argument against Israel posits that Zionism was an imperial tool of Britain (or, alternatively, that Zionism manipulated the British Empire); that Jews represent an alien population implanted into Palestine to usurp the land and displace the people; and that Israel has subjected Palestinians to “genocide,” real, figurative, and cultural.
According to this argument, Israel’s “settler colonialism” is a “structure, not an event,” and is accompanied by a “legacy of foundational violence” that extends back to the First Zionist Congress in 1897 or even before. With Zionism thus imbued with two forms of ineradicable original sin, violent opposition to Israel is legitimized and any forms of compromise, even negotiation, are “misguided and disingenuous because ‘dialogue’ does not tackle the asymmetrical status quo.”
But Middle Eastern history is not amenable to these formulations. Among the many concepts abused and perverted by the Palestinians, accusations of Israeli “genocide” rank the highest for blatant audacity, and for twinned calumny and odiousness. The settler-colonial idea deserves attention for three reasons: its comparatively recent adoption by Palestinians and their advocates; its broader currency in the academy; and its obvious and ironic falsity.
The idea of Jews as “settler-colonialists” is easily disproved. A wealth of evidence demonstrates that Jews are the indigenous population of the Southern Levant; historical and now genetic documentation places Jews there over 2,000 years ago, and there is indisputable evidence of continual residence of Jews in the region. Data showing the cultural and genetic continuity of local and global Jewish communities is equally ample. The evidence was so copious and so incontrovertible, even to historians of antiquity and writers of religious texts, some of whom were Judeophobes, that disconnecting Jews from the Southern Levant was simply not conceived of. Jews are the indigenous population.
…Ironically, the same cannot be said for the Palestinian Arabs. A recent analysis by Pinhas Inbari reviewed the history of Palestine (derived from the Roman term Palaestina, applied in 135 CE as a punishment to a Jewish revolt). Most notably, he examines the origin traditions of Palestinian tribes, which continue even today to see themselves as immigrants from other countries. …
…Palestinian genealogies that show their own tribes originating outside the Southern Levant are prima facie evidence of Arab settler-colonialism. And while narratives of the Arab conquests of Byzantine Palestine and North Africa cannot be taken at face value, they are pure ideological expressions of settler-colonialism. In 634-37 CE, Muslim armies commanded by the Caliph Umar conquered the entirety of the Levant before invading Armenia and Anatolia in 638 and Cyprus in 639.
The subsequent Islamization and Arabization of the Levant was a long and complex imperial process that entailed reorganizing the region into administrative provinces, instituting new social categories for the purposes of taxation and control, implanting settlers and reapportioning lands as estates, and encouraging conversion to Islam. Over the centuries, other settlers migrated and were intentionally implanted, including, in the 19th century alone, Egyptians fleeing from and imported by Muhammad Ali from the late 1820s to the 1840s, as well as Chechens, Circassians, and Turkmen relocated by the Ottoman Empire in the 1860s after its wars with Russia. Tribes of Bedouins, Algerians, Yemenis, and many others also immigrated during that century.
….It is, then, the Palestinians who are the settler-colonialists, not the Jews or even the Zionists. Does this realization change anything? Does removing a term from the rejectionist toolbox bring the cause of negotiation and peace any closer? This seems unlikely. But in the longer term, facing certain truths will be necessary for Palestinians and Israelis alike. One is that rejection of Israel, at its core, is not a function of Palestinian nationalism and local identity but Islamic religious opposition to Jewish autonomy and sovereignty. Another is that tendentious categories like “settler-colonialism,” which ironically undermine Palestinian claims to indigenous status, should be dispensed with in favor of honest appraisals of history.
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