Without Decolonisation, Liberation Has No Future in Palestine

A new report by the Palestinian NGO Al-Haq highlights the importance of the concept of settlement colonialism in understanding the nature of Israeli apartheid.

Aseel AlBajeh, legal researcher and advocacy officer, Al-Haq

On the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People in 2022, a Palestinian civil society coalition, led by Al-Haq, issued a major report titled: ‘Israeli Apartheid: Tool of Zionist Settler Colonialism.’ The report expands on the apartheid analysis from decades of research and advocacy by Palestinian civil society and academia, while centring the apartheid regime as a tool of the Zionist settler-colonial project.

Over the past three years, international and Israeli human rights organisations, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem, and Yesh Din have issued reports concluding that Israeli authorities impose apartheid over the Palestinian people. While these reports are integral to global campaigning and advocacy efforts, none of them capture the root causes of Israel’s apartheid regime; namely the Zionist settler colonial project.

Why is the Emphasis on Settler Colonialism Fundamental?

This emphasis is not new

To begin with, it is important to highlight that this focus is nothing new for the Palestinian people. It is an extension of a century-old resistance struggle towards decolonisation and freedom by the Palestinian people, from the Great Revolt of 1936, the First Intifada of 1987, the Second Intifada of 2000, the Great March of Return of 2018, popular resistance in villages and communities such as in Beita, al-Naqab, Masafer Yatta, and the ongoing Unity Intifada since May 2021. Indeed, the Unity Intifada, led by third and fourth generations of the Nakba, sparked a revived chapter of unity in the struggle for liberation ‘in the face of racist settler colonialism in all of Palestine.’

To Simply Acknowledge the Reality as It Is

Since 1948, Israel has created and maintained an apartheid regime over the Palestinian people through a series of discriminatory laws, policies, and practices, particularly in the domains of land and nationality, a policy of strategic fragmentation, and institutionalised policies and practices to supress Palestinians’ resistance, as detailed in Al-Haq’s latest joint report.

This apartheid system did not operationalise in a vacuum. It is an inevitable outcome of the Zionist settler colonial project in Palestine from the 19th century onwards. In 1965, Palestinian scholar, Fayez Sayegh analysed Israeli apartheid as rooted in Zionist settler colonialism. Sayegh argued that the Zionist settler-colonial movement is premised on the ideology of racial purity, racial exclusiveness, and racial elimination of the Palestinian people to establish a Jewish state in Palestine.

To understand the apartheid system as a continuation and a tool of the Zionist settler-colonial project, and why the indigenous Palestinian people and Jewish settlers have been racialised under Israeli laws, policies and practices, the report examines the Zionist Movement from the 19th century onwards and how it implemented its objective to create a Jewish State in Palestine. The Movement adopted the combined ideologies of racialist self-identification of persons of Jewish faith and settler colonialism. The pillars of settler colonialism rely on the ‘logic of elimination’ of the indigenous people from their land to replace them with the newly constructed colonising racial group.

Thus, Zionist leaders pursued a Zionist immigration policy, and plans of population transfer, which culminated in the Nakba, when Zionist militias destroyed 531 Palestinian villages, killed 15,000 Palestinians in over 70 massacres, and rendered 80 per cent of the indigenous Palestinian people refugees and internally displaced. Indeed, the Nakba and the creation of the State of Israel was not the end of the Zionist settler-colonial project, but its culmination. The logic of elimination has driven an ongoing process of displacement and dispossession for the Palestinian people, exemplified in house demolitions, forced evictions, forcible transfer, and other measures of demographic engineering by Israel to force their removal from the land. This is what the Palestinian people identify as the ongoing Nakba.

3- Acknowledging Settler Colonialism is the Only Way to Move Forward

Legally speaking, apartheid is prohibited as an unlawful regime and constitutes a crime against humanity. The apartheid paradigm offers robust mechanisms of accountability; it defragments the Palestinian people; and entails legal obligations for all States to implement sanctions to bring the regime to an end. Meanwhile, the prohibition of colonialism was not crystalized per se until the 1960s. As such, Israel’s establishment may be normalized and legitimised.

Yet, the future of the Palestinian people towards freedom should not be pursued by international law solely. By over relying on international law and exploring ways to dismantle the crime against humanity of apartheid in isolation from the overarching settler-colonial project, we risk turning the future of the Palestinian people into a liberal project of equality instead of a struggle for decolonisation, self-determination, and freedom. International law should always remain a tool within a political project towards freedom and decolonisation.

The formal end of apartheid in South Africa has not resulted in decolonization, as the liberation movement focused on racial domination but not on colonial domination. Today, post-apartheid South Africa remains one of the most unequal countries in the world, with the legacy of colonialism, racial capitalism, and the adoption of the neoliberal economic paradigm post-transition. Decolonisation demands the dismantling of the asymmetrical structure of power between the Zionist colonisers and the Palestinian indigenous people, the deconstruction of the ideology of elimination, the repeal of discriminatory laws and policies enshrining colonisation, as well as the realisation of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and return.

In her first report to the General Assembly, UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine, Francesca Albanese, insisted that ‘Realizing the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination requires dismantling once and for all the Israeli settler-colonial occupation and its apartheid practices.’ Albanese has called on the international community to shift the paradigm on Palestine from the dominant negotiations, humanitarian, and economic approaches, and instead has urged recognising Israel’s settler colonialism and apartheid. It is also this that Al-Haq’s joint report concludes: ‘We remain convinced that without the complete and radical dismantling of Israeli apartheid and of Zionist settler colonialism, dignity, justice, liberation, and self-determination have no future in Palestine, or elsewhere on Earth.’

The article was published in Palestine Quarterly n° 94