From Balfour to the Nakba: The Settler-Colonial Experience of Palestine

Palestine Update 420


From Balfour to the Nakba: The Settler-Colonial Experience of Palestine

The settler-colonial project of Zionism is not as successful as the American or Australian ones, and may still have an ending similar to the one in South Africa.

From Balfour to the Nakba
The late prominent scholar of settler-colonialism, Patrick Wolfe, reminded us repeatedly that it is not an event, it is a structure. While settler-colonialism in many cases has a historical starting point, its original motivation guides its maintenance in the present. By and large, settler-colonial projects are motivated by what Wolfe defined as “the logic of the elimination of the native”. Settlers’ wish to create a new homeland almost inevitably clashes with the aspirations of the local native population. In some cases, this clash leads to the physical elimination of native populations, as seen in the Americas and Australia; in others, such as South Africa, settlers’ enclave the indigenous population in closed areas and impose an apartheid system.

Zionism in Palestine is a settler-colonial project, and Israel remains to this day a settler-colonial state. On 2 November 1917, Arthur Balfour, then British foreign secretary, endorsed the idea of a “national home for the Jewish people” without “prejudice” against the “civil and religious rights” of the “non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. While this might imply that Jews were the native and majority population of Palestine, in reality, they comprised 10 percent of the population. The settler movement obtained the support of a colonial and imperial power, one that it would disown from 1942 onwards, and shared the perception of the local population as – at best – a tolerated minority, and at worst as usurpers. Britain granted international legitimacy to this act of colonization, sowing the seeds for the future dispossession of the native population. Many historians explain the Balfour Declaration in terms of British strategic thinking. It was part of an attempt to prevent a Muslim holy land, and an apprehension that other European powers might support the Zionists. British support for creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine had its roots in evangelical Christian Zionist dogma, already mushrooming even before the Balfour Declaration, Christian settler-colonialism penetrated North America and Africa.

Defenceless and Leaderless
The British branch of Christian Zionism focused more closely on the religious significance of a Jewish “return” to Palestine – a precursor for the Second Coming of the Messiah. This millenarian ideology influenced key British politicians at the time of the Balfour Declaration, including then-Prime Minister David Lloyd George. Connections between the British empire, Zionism and other settler-colonial projects became even clearer in the years that followed the Balfour Declaration. Its importance was enhanced by the appointment of Herbert Samuel, a pro-Zionist Anglo Jew, as the first high commissioner of Palestine. Immediately upon his arrival to Palestine in 1920, Samuel put in place policies that allowed the settler-colonial movement to bring in more settlers and expand its foothold in the country by purchasing land, mainly from absentee landlords. The Palestinian national movement was organised enough to resist by popular and violent means. In the early years, the vulnerable Jewish colony was protected by the British, who were particularly important during the 1936-39 Palestinian revolt, brutally crushed with all the might the British empire could muster. This resulted in the destruction of the Palestinian military and political elite, with many killed, wounded or expelled – leaving Palestinian society defenceless and leaderless when it was needed most in 1948.

Western Hypocrisy
There is a direct line connecting the vague British promise given to the Zionist movement a century ago and the catastrophe that befell the Palestinian people in 1948. A few British policymakers must have developed second thoughts about the declaration’s validity. In 1930, they pondered the repudiation of the Balfour Declaration, but retreated quickly from such a dramatic U-turn. In 1939, British policymakers tried to restrict Jewish immigration to Palestine and the purchase of land, but they were later castigated for this policy due to the rise of Nazism and fascism, which turned Palestine into one of the few safe havens for Jews escaping from Europe. The condemnation came from a hypocritical western world that did very little to save the Jews during the Holocaust, or to open its gates to survivors immediately after the war.

The British had to accept an international verdict that European Jews should be compensated by allowing the Zionist movement to further colonize Palestine. They also became the enemies of the Zionist movement. These pressures, together with the transformation of Britain from a world power to a second-grade actor on the international scene, led to its decision in February 1947 to refer the question of Palestine to the United Nations. Britain was still responsible for law and order between February 1947 and May 1948, and within this responsibility it witnessed, remained indifferent towards and at times acted as an accomplice to the final and disastrous outcome of the Balfour Declaration: the 1948 ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.

Blueprint for Ethnic Cleansing
The British decision prompted the military and political leadership of the Jewish community to devise its own version of “the logic of the elimination of the native”. In March 1948, this leadership produced Plan Dalet, which I believe was a clear blueprint for the systematic removal of Palestinians from Palestine. The plan’s significance lay in how it was translated into a set of operative commands dispatched to Jewish forces in March, April and May 1948. The essence of these orders was to occupy villages, towns and neighbourhoods, expel their people, and in the case of the villages, detonate houses so as to prevent any return to them. This was a shameful chapter, as shameful as the declaration itself. When the ethnic cleansing ended, half of Palestine’s population was expelled, half of its villages demolished and most of its towns depopulated. On their ruins, Israel built kibbutzim and planted European pine trees to try and erase the Arab nature of Palestine.

Social Media’s Erasure of Palestinians grim warning for our future

Facebook, Google and Twitter are not neutral platforms. They control the digital public square to aid the powerful – and can cancel any of us overnight. They are ‘Monopoly gatekeepers’

There is a growing unease that the decisions taken by social media corporations can have a harmful impact on our lives. These platforms, despite enjoying an effective monopoly over the virtual public square, have long avoided serious scrutiny or accountability.In a new Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, former Silicon Valley executives warn of a dystopian future. Google, Face book and Twitter have gathered vast quantities of data on us to better predict and manipulate our desires. Their products are gradually rewiring our brains to addict us to our screens and make us more pliable to advertisers. The result, as we are consigned to discrete ideological echo chambers, is ever greater social and political polarization and turmoil. Given that nearly half of Americans receive their news chiefly via Face book, the ramifications of such a decision on our political life were not hard to interpret. Western publics are waking up very belatedly to the undemocratic power social media wields over them. But if we wish to understand where this ultimately leads, there is no better case study than the very different ways Israelis and Palestinians have been treated by the tech giants.

Israel-Emirates peace: An inside look
Dubai is gulping the dividends of the peace with Israel with great thirst. Business people, investors and the top echelons of the Emirati economy are rushing to forge promising Israeli connections, and vice versa. A four-day visit to the emirate this week reveals the intense potential that lies in the recent outing of Israel’s covert relations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE). “It’s like someone wandering in the desert for years, tired, thirsty and hungry, and suddenly arriving at a perfect oasis,” enthused the director of a major Israeli firm on a Dubai visit with a delegation of Israeli high-tech and cyber experts. “And it’s not one-directional. They need us as much as we need them, there is mutual inspiration without the typical, regrettable condescension on our part [toward Arabs]. Dubai is not some forsaken desert principality thirsting for Israeli technology. It’s an amazing regional hub of investment, high-tech, industry and knowledge, a unique and influential leverage for investment and the connection between us and them could be a profit multiplier for both sides,” the director said on condition of anonymity….Israel and the UAE are forging a different kind of peace, a cordial peace that is growing warmer with every passing day. The Israeli delegation that visited the Emirates this week have been doing business in the Emirates for several years, but kept a low profile and used various covers. The affair has now burst into the open, big time.

‘Not safe to go back’: Sudanese in Israel fear deportation

Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel are worried they will be kicked out once the normalization agreement between the two countries is signed, though some hope their presence will be seen as an advantage. Technically at war with Israel for decades, Sudan, last Friday, became the third Arab country this year to announce it is normalizing ties with Israel, following the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain… In Israel, the announcement was welcomed with mixed feelings among members of the Sudanese community who have been “very afraid” of being sent back, 26-year-old Barik Saleh, a Sudanese asylum seeker who lives in a suburb of Tel Aviv, was quoted as saying by AFP news agency. Israel says nearly 6,000 Sudanese live in the country, most of them asylum seekers who are not always allowed to work and cannot take up Israeli

Palestinians slams US funds to science projects in settlements
THE SETTLEMENT of Elazar, 18 km. south of Jerusalem, as it looked last week. (photo credit: GERSHON ELINSON/FLASH90)The Palestinian Authority on Wednesday denounced the decision to expand US funding of Israeli scientific cooperation to include research projects in the settlements as “a serious precedent that is condemned, rejected and could not be tolerated.”…“This step indicates an active US complicity in the occupation of the Palestinian territories and a consolidation of [US President Donald] Trump’s administration of violating the international law and the United Nations resolutions which have condemned settlement activities in all their forms, most recently of which was [UN] Resolution 2334,” said Nabil Abu Rudaineh, spokesman for the Palestinian presidency. “All settlements in the occupied territories are illegal, and any US action in this respect is illegal and constitutes a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”

Data on demolition and displacement in the West Bank
Note figures which reflect the demolition of Palestinian-owned structures and the resulting displacement of people from their homes across the West Bank since 2009. The threat of destruction of homes and sources of livelihood contributes to the generation of a coercive environment pressuring people to leave their areas of residence.