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Gaza

and Settler Colonialism

May 1, 2024

In This Feature

THE GAZA STRIP IS NOT a naturally defined, self-contained area, nor is it a longstanding socioeconomic region. It is certainly not a (quasi)-state. Yet, anyone familiar with Western media coverage of Palestine would be forgiven to think it is any—or all—of the above. The Gaza Strip is, first and foremost, the outcome of seventy-five years of Israeli settler colonial policy, which has aimed time and time again to concentrate as many Palestinians on as little land as possible.

Palestinians, pushed off their land during repeated waves of ethnic cleansing and stopped by military force from returning home, found themselves stuck in this enclave. Today, 77 percent of the Strip’s 2.3 million inhabitants are refugees. The Strip has been controlled by different states: Britain, Egypt, Israel. Different Palestinian political organizations have enjoyed mass popular support amongst its inhabitants. But one constant remains: the Strip’s existence, and its majority refugee population, are permanent reminders of the ongoing Nakba, of Israel’s policy of accumulating more land while limiting the Palestinian population on it, and of their failure to make the Palestinian people disappear.

In that sense, the Gaza Strip is not fundamentally different from other areas of large Palestinian concentration across historic Palestine. It is, however, a particularly stark—and cruel—embodiment of Israel’s general policy. For the Israeli state to exist, it must do away with the Palestinian population and their collective claim over the land.

This settler colonial logic is on display in a particularly gruesome way in the ongoing, relentless, and US-sponsored genocide perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinians in Gaza since October 2023. It is the red thread that runs throughout Israeli history—from the Nakba in 1948 to the Naksa in 1967; from the massacres of Deir Yassin, Lydda, and Tantura to Khan Younis, Sabra and Shatila, and Jenin; from Gaza in 2008, 2012, 2014 to Gaza in 2018, 2021, and today.

 

Zionism and Settler Colonialism

Today, the question of whether or not Zionism is a settler colonial political project is fiercely debated. Today’s Zionists decry the claim as the latest fad of the woke brigades or as an antisemitic denial of Jewish self-determination. The settler colonial nature of the enterprise was obvious to the movement’s founders, rather than something to be ashamed of or hidden from view.

The settler colonial nature of the Zionist enterprise was obvious to the movement’s founders, rather than something to be ashamed of or hidden from view.

As mostly German speaking, (petit-)bourgeois Europeans of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Zionist’s founders embraced colonialism as a perfectly acceptable activity. It offered a way to resolve internal European political, social, or economic problems through conquest, settlement, and dispossession of the world’s lands and peoples.

Theodore Herzl, the author of The Jewish State and founder of the Zionist Organization, wrote in 1896:

Should the Powers declare themselves willing to admit our sovereignty over a neutral piece of land, then the Society will enter into negotiations for the possession of this land. Here two territories come under consideration, Palestine and Argentine. In both countries important experiments in colonization have been made, though on the mistaken principle of a gradual infiltration of Jews. An infiltration is bound to end badly. It continues till the inevitable moment when the native population feels itself threatened and forces the Government to stop a further influx of Jews. Immigration is consequently futile unless we have the sovereign right to continue such immigration. The Society of Jews will treat with the present masters of the land, putting itself under the protectorate of the European Powers, if they prove friendly to the plan.1Theodore Herzl, The Jewish State, (1896), https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/quot-the-jewish-state-quot-theodor-herzl.

He continued: “We should there form a portion of a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism. We should as a neutral State remain in contact with all Europe, which would have to guarantee our existence.”2Ibid.

To succeed in its colonial mission and make state building through settlement possible, the movement would need to address two issues. It would need to defeat the Indigenous population, who would certainly “feel [themselves] threatened.” Relatedly, the Zionist movement would need to secure the backing of an imperial power, whose interests it would serve in return. Other settler populations played the same role in many parts of the world. British settlers in the Falklands, Afrikaner settlers in the Cape, the Pieds Noirs in Algeria: all accumulated Indigenous land in order to defend the trade routes of their empires.

Sir Ronald Storrs, the first British Military Governor of Palestine, grasped this when he described the Zionist presence in Palestine as a “little loyal Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism.”3See, for example, David Cronin, “Winston Churchill sent the Black and Tans to Palestine,” The Irish Times, May 19, 2017.  Decades later, the US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig proclaimed: “Israel is the largest American aircraft carrier in the world that cannot be sunk, does not carry even one American soldier, and is located in a critical region for American national security.”4Quoted in Moshe Mashover, Israelis and Palestinians: Conflict and Resolution (Chicago: Haymarket, 2012), 282.

The colonial character of Zionism was clear as the movement began settlement in Palestine. The Zionist organization created the Jewish Colonial Trust (1899) to finance settlement. Its first collective farms were called moshavim—derived from the Hebrew for colony: moshava. The Jewish community in Palestine before 1948 was referred to as the Yishuv—the settlement. However, if the colonial nature of Zionism was clear from the outset, struggles between different wings of Zionism and with the Palestinian people shaped the exact form it took in Palestine.

 

Two Colonial Strategies

Two broad schools of thought can be identified within the Zionist movement in the early decades of the twentieth century. On the one hand, a bourgeois Zionism took shape, which imagined a future state in Palestine modelled on the French colonization of Algeria. The General Zionists envisioned a minority of settlers who would own most of the land and exploit a majority of Indigenous people to produce cheap consumer goods for export to Europe.5Gershon Shafir, Land, Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1882–1914 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), especially ch. 1

The Labor Zionists emerged in opposition to the General Zionists, and would eventually dominate the Yishuv, and later the Israeli state for most of the twentieth century. They envisioned a future socialist state run by Jewish workers.6Zachary Lockman, Comrades and Enemies: Arab and Jewish Workers in Palestine, 1906–1948 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996). This required Jewish migration to Palestine in much greater numbers and the establishment of colonial institutions under Labor Zionist control. To achieve either goal, the General Zionists’ plan to exploit Palestinian workers would have to be defeated. Otherwise, newly arrived settlers would compete with Palestinian workers who were both more productive and worked for lower wages.

The Labor Zionist launched the campaign for “Hebrew Labor” as part of the struggle to “conquer” land, labor, and product. They would boycott, picket, and physically assault both Palestinian workers and Jewish employers who used Palestinian workers or sold goods produced by them. By raising the costs of disruption, Jewish workers aimed to displace Palestinians. This struggle led to the organization of the Histadrut, the kibbutzim, and the Haganah militia—all of which became pillars of Zionist colonization and the Israeli state.

Labor Zionists defended the campaign for Hebrew labor not only on the grounds that the (Jewish) workers movement should control the future state, but that it was a better colonial policy. Haim Arlosoroff, a key figure in the movement, studied colonial policies towards Indigenous workers across the globe and found that:

the territory of the state of South Africa, and the labor question there, is almost the only instance with sufficient similarity in objective conditions and problems to allow us to compare.7Quoted in ibid., 16.

There, settler workers were outnumbered by their Indigenous counterparts, leading to lower wages. It was thus vital for Jewish workers to organize themselves and develop their economy separately from Palestinian workers.

The idea of ‘transfer’—the Labor Zionists’ euphemism for ethnic cleansing before the Nakba—emerged out of this vision and would remain a pillar of Labor Zionism.

The problem of building an economy dependent on Indigenous labor not only led to depressed wages for settlers, but it brought political risks. Indigenous workers could withdraw their labor power and destabilize the settler colony. This had to be avoided at all costs in Palestine. The idea of “transfer”—the Labor Zionists’ euphemism for ethnic cleansing before the Nakba—emerged out of this vision and would remain a pillar of Labor Zionism.8Nur Masalha, Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of “Transfer” in Zionist Political Thought, 1882–1948 (Washington: Institute of Palestine Studies, 1992).

The Arab Revolt (1936–1939) drove home the dangers of building a colonial economy on the exploitation of Palestinian workers to the Zionists and their British partners. Palestinians organized a six-month general strike, demanding the end of Zionist conquest and British rule.

The strike turned into a general military uprising that lasted three years, during which Palestinian guerrillas took control over most of Palestine’s urban centers and appeared on the brink of defeating the mighty British empire. It took the extraordinary mobilization of the latter’s military might—including major and indiscriminate aerial bombing campaigns—to regain control over Palestine, which was located adjacent to the Suez Canal and was the final stop of the British pipelines pumping oil from Kirkuk in Kurdistan to the Mediterranean.9Ghassan Kanafani, The 1936–39 Revolt in Palestine (New York: Committee for a Democratic Palestine, 1972; Marxists Internet Archive, May 2014); John Newsinger, The Blood Never Dried: A People’s History of the British Empire (London: Bookmarks, 2010).

The Labor Zionists enthusiastically participated in the uprising’s repression. First, the Histadrut provided strikebreakers to defeat the labor stoppages in key industries. Its militias then joined Orde Wingate’s “Special Night Squads,” where they were tasked with guarding key infrastructure against attacks by the revolutionaries, such as the Iraq Petroleum Pipeline. The Palestinian national movement was crushed and politically beheaded by the British, while the Labor Zionist movement emerged better trained, armed, and politically hegemonic within the Yishuv—laying the groundwork for the Nakba a decade later.

The third significant wing of Zionism were the far right “Revisionists” led by Zeev Jabotinsky. Not only would its militias play an active role in the Nakba, but the Revisionists would become (and remain today) a key political force in Israeli politics. In 1973, they would merge with the General Zionists to form the Likud—Benjamin Netanyahu’s political party.

Jabotinsky was clear about the nature of Zionism and its attitude toward the Palestinian population. In his Iron Wall, he writes:

Zionist colonization must either stop, or else proceed regardless of the native population. Which means that it can proceed and develop only under the protection of a power that is independent of the native population—behind an iron wall, which the native population cannot breach. That is our Arab policy; not what we should be, but what it actually is, whether we admit it or not. What need, otherwise, of the Balfour Declaration? Or of the Mandate? Their value to us is that outside Power has undertaken to create in the country such conditions of administration and security that if the native population should desire to hinder our work, they will find it impossible.10Ze’ev Jabotinsky, The Iron Wall (Jabotinsky Institute in Israel, 1923).

The different wings of Zionism diverged only about the speed, intensity, and nature of the colonial rule to be imposed on the Palestinians—not the colonial project itself. The fact that the Labor Zionist project triumphed, however, would have important implications for the kind of settler colony that emerged and the nature of the dispossession of the Palestinians.

 

From the Nakba to the Naksa

The demand for Hebrew Labor—and its twin demand for transfer—would not be met until the Nakba. Only through raw military power and repression could the newly established state make the slogan real. The Nakba did not emerge suddenly, nor in the heat of battle as Zionist historians have long claimed. It was the outcome of long-term Zionist aims and policies, made possible by the political victory of Labor Zionism within the Yishuv on the one hand, and the crushing of the Palestinian national movement by the British on the other.

The Nakba was made possible by the political victory of Labor Zionism within the Yishuv on the one hand and the crushing of the Palestinian national movement by the British on the other.

Between 1947 and 1949, Zionist militias and then the newly formed Israeli army expelled between seven and eight hundred thousand Palestinians and destroyed around five hundred Palestinian villages and urban centers. The refugees were then forbidden from returning—as they continue to be to this day—again debunking the ridiculous claim that such an immense ethnic cleansing was unintentional.11Walid Khalidi, Before Their Diaspora: A Photographic History of the Palestinians 1876–1948 (Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1984); Rashid Khalidi, Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997); Ibrahim Abu Lughod, The Transformation of Palestine (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1987); Elia Zureik, The Palestinians in Israel (Abingdon: Routledge & Kegan Paul Books, 1979); Nur Masalha, “New History, Post-Zionism and Neo-Colonialism: A Critique of the Israeli ‘New Historians,’” Holy Land Studies 10, no. 1 (2011): 1–53; Anaheed Al-Hardan, Palestinians in Syria: Nakba Memories of Shattered Communities (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016); and Ilan Pappé, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oxford: One World, 2007).

The same organizations that had advocated the expulsion of Palestinians from the Yishuv became the central actors of the Nakba and its aftermath. While Palestinian refugees were banned from returning, those who remained within Israel’s borders were placed under military rule, only able to leave their areas with a work permit—much like in the West Bank today.

The Histadrut was also a key player, both as part of the body overseeing military rule and in the distribution (and withholding) of permits. The kibbutzim, Jewish-only collective farms, which had first done away with Palestinian workers and Jewish bosses in the beginning of the twentieth century, also participated.12Areej Sabbagh-Khoury, Colonizing Palestine: The Zionist Left and the Making of the Palestinian Nakba (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2023). Many soldiers were drawn from the kibbutzim, and they appropriated much of the most arable land taken from the Palestinians. From 1947 to 1952, the land controlled by the kibbutzim quadrupled.13Yair Aharoni, “The Changing Political Economy of Israel,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 555, no. 1 (1998), 129.

Overall, the UN commission for refugees estimated that the total value of goods and property accumulated through the dispossession of Palestinians in this period was $330 million—more than $10 billion in 2002 equivalent value.14Shimshon Bichler and Jonathan Nitzan, The Global Political Economy of Israel (London: Pluto Press, 2002), 97.  The “Hebrew Labor” policy meant ethnic cleansing, dispossession, and redistribution through the institutions of Labor Zionism.

 

Creation of the Gaza Strip

In the course of the Nakba, Gaza was cut off from the villages and agricultural hinterland that formed its wider economic, political, and social world, as well as the centuries-old regional trading routes to Egypt, the Hijaz, and the rest of the Levant.15Salim Tamari, Mountain against the Sea: Essays on Palestinian Society and Culture (Berkeley: California University Press, 2009).  Instead, Gaza became a refuge for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were running for their lives. Temporary camps, housing the two hundred thousand refugees who joined the eighty thousand inhabitants of the area under Egyptian control, grew and solidified as their population was denied the right to return to their homes and lands.

The imperative for Israel became how to establish permanent control over the conquered land while stopping Palestinians from returning. Two main mechanisms were used.

The first was to establish kibbutzim on the most fertile land, which would serve as both agricultural centers and military outposts. While the kibbutzim that were attacked on October 7, 2023, no longer play the same military role—today the military blockade imposed on the Strip’s population serves that purpose—their strategic role has not disappeared. The Israeli state continues to offer subsidies to its inhabitants to encourage settlement near Gaza, as it does in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.16Eyal Weizman, “Exchange Rate,” London Review of Books 45, no. 21 (2023).

Before 1967 and the Israeli conquest of the whole of historic Palestine, the militias of the kibbutzim clashed directly with the Palestinian fedayeen fighting to return. On one such occasion, which has become famous in Zionist historiography, the head of the Nahal Oz militia was killed. Roi Rotherberg was turned into a symbol of the Israeli state’s struggle against the Palestinians.

When Moshe Dayan, a key military and political leader of Labor Zionism, gave Rotherberg’s eulogy, he spoke with much greater clarity than his successors:

Let us not hurl blame at the murderers. Why should we complain of their hatred for us? Eight years have they sat in the refugee camps of Gaza, and seen, with their own eyes, how we have made a homeland of the soil and the villages where they and their forebears once dwelt. Not from the Arabs of Gaza must we demand the blood of Roi, but from ourselves.17Quoted in Mitch Ginzburg, “When Moshe Dayan Delivered the Defining Speech of Zionism,” The Times of Israel, April 28, 2016.

Rather than abandoning his commitment to preventing Palestinians in Gaza from returning, Dayan concluded that the Israeli state must continue to impose its military control to keep the “Gates of Gaza” shut.

The second mechanism Israel used to control Gaza and the rest of the conquered territories was the construction of “developmental towns.” These towns replaced the ma’abarot, the integration camps where Mizrahim—Jews from the Middle East and North Africa who migrated to Israel—were held, in terrible conditions.18Ella Shohat, “Sephardim in Israel: Zionism from the Standpoint of its Jewish Victims,” Social Text 19, no. 20 (1988): 1–35; Shlomo Shwirski, Israel: The Oriental Majority (London: Zed Books, 1989).  More often than not, these towns were built on top of existing Palestinian villages and cities from which inhabitants had been expelled, located close to the borders between Israel and its neighbors.

While European Jewish racism prevented these towns from having the same political status as the kibbutzim, they too guarded against Palestinian return and occupied the land. Instead of agricultural production, the developmental towns were constructed around (single) industries. Among these towns were Ashkelon and Sderot, which were also targeted on October 7.

The “Gaza Strip” was the result of a conscious policy to concentrate as many Palestinians on as little land as possible, outside of the borders of the Israeli state. On the one hand, it was made by the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their land, and on the other, by Israeli state military, urban, and agricultural policies. This was “Hebrew Labor”—more land and more work for Jews through the dispossession and expulsion of the Palestinian inhabitants.

 

From Exclusion to Integration… and Back Again

If the 1948 Nakba attempted to resolve the contradictions of Zionist colonization of Palestine, 1967 and Israel’s conquest of the whole of Historic Palestine as well as the Sinai desert and the Golan Heights intensified them. The Israeli state reopened the very problems that it had tried to do away with during the Nakba.

More land now also meant more Palestinians living under Israeli rule. To employ them was to undermine the policy of Hebrew Labor and increase the structural power of Palestinian workers within the Israeli economy. To refuse to do so was to create a population that was not only politically opposed to Israel’s colonial rule, but whose economic precarity made them all the more prepared to fight back.

This contradiction was particularly acute in Gaza, where previous rounds of ethnic cleansing had created a huge Palestinian population on a tiny land mass. Israel’s prime minister at the time, Levi Eshkol, mused post-invasion about the Palestinians in Gaza: “Perhaps if we don’t give them enough water they won’t have a choice [but to leave], because the orchards will yellow and wither.”19Quoted in Jonathan Ofir, “Liberal Israeli Leaders Were Contemplating Genocide in Gaza Already in 1967,” Mondoweiss, November 17, 2017.  This is the historical root of Israel’s current genocidal campaign, which has cut off water, food, and fuel supplies while calling on the Palestinians to “relocate” into Egypt.

In the immediate aftermath of 1967, the influx of thousands of Palestinian workers, under the control of the military, was seen as a blessing for the Israeli economy. Its expansion post–1948, through a mixture of Western aid and Palestinian dispossession, had been so effective that Israel faced labor shortages and an internal market too small for its growing economy. The occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip created a large captive Palestinian labor force and pool of consumers, alongside new accumulation of land and resources.

The occupied territories became dependent on Israel’s labor market: “between 1974 and 1993, 38.4 to 45.4 percent of the Gaza Strip employed workforce held jobs in Israel, compared to 28 to 33 percent of West Bank workers.”20Leila Farsakh, Palestinian Labor Migration to Israel: Labor, Land, and Occupation (London: Routledge, 2005), 70. They labored in manufacturing, care work, agriculture, and construction. By the mid-1980s, Palestinian workers from the territories represented 7 percent of the overall Israeli workforce but 45 percent in agriculture and 49 percent in construction.21 Adam Hanieh, “From State-led Growth to Globalization: the Evolution of Israeli Capitalism,” Journal of Palestine Studies 32, no. 4 (2003), 7; Zeev Rosenhek, “The Political Dynamics of a Segmented Labor Market: Palestinian Citizens, Palestinians from the Occupied Territories and Migrant Workers in Israel,” Acta Sociologica 46, no. 3 (2003), 240.

While the exploitation of Palestinian workers seemed to resolve Israel’s labor and consumer shortages, it also reanimated the demons that the early Labor Zionists had tried to exorcise. The first Palestinian Intifada of 1987, the largest Palestinian popular movement since the 1930s, brought to life the spectre of their economic power. The Intifada, Israeli closures, and mass mobilizations by Palestinians across historic Palestine caused major dis-ruptions in the industries they dominated.22Joel Beinin, “Palestinian Workers Have a Long History of Resistance,” Jacobin, June 6, 2021; Riya Al-Sanah, “Report on the General Strike in Palestine,” Notes from Below, May 26, 2021. In response, there were renewed demands for decoupling the Israeli economy from Palestinian workers—without abandoning the occupied territories.

The granting of ‘Palestinian autonomy’ allowed Rabin’s government to begin to end the employment of Palestinians from the occupied territories inside Israel. Palestinians were replaced by temporary migrant labor, the main work force in the Gulf states.

The Oslo process created the appearance of Palestinian sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza, while Israel remained in control of the land between and around them. Settlement in the territories accelerated.23Toufic Haddad, Palestine Ltd: Neoliberalism and Nationalism in the Occupied Territory (London: I.B. Tauris, 2016); Kareem Rabie, Palestine Is Throwing a Party and the Whole World Is Invited: Capital and State Building in the West Bank (Durham: Duke University Press, 2021); and Adam Hanieh, “The Oslo Accords and Palestine’s Political Economy in the Shadow of Regional Turmoil,” in For Palestine: Essays from the Tom Hurndall Memorial Lecture Group, Ian Parker, ed. (Cambridge, UK: Open Book Publishers, 2023).  The granting of “Palestinian autonomy” also allowed Rabin’s government to begin to end the employment of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip inside Israel. Palestinians were replaced by temporary migrant labor, the main workforce in the Gulf states.

The graphs above illustrate the success, and ultimate limits, of this process in the two industries in which Palestinian, and then migrant, workers were concentrated.24Yahel Kurlander and Avinoam Cohen, “Blas as Sites for the Meso-level Dynamics of Institutionalization: A Cross-sectoral Comparison,” Theoretical Inquiries in Law 23, no. 2 (2022), 254.

Gaza, smaller and more densely populated than the West Bank, was more dependent on employment in Israel and was particularly hard hit by the new policy. In addition, the ratio between settlers and the rest of the population was immense in Gaza, where eight thousand settlers controlled 30 percent of the land, while 1.3 million Palestinians lived on the remaining 70 percent.

It is not surprising that, facing even greater deprivation than the West Bank, Gaza would be a particularly active terrain of Palestinian resistance in the 1990s and early 2000s. Already in 1992, Rabin expressed the “wish [that] I could wake up one day and find that Gaza has sunk into the sea.”25Quoted in Yousef Munayyer, “Laying Siege to Gaza Is No Solution,” Foreign Policy, October 9, 2023.

 

Diets and Mowed Grass

The contradictions that conquest, integration, and then decoupling generated have seemed irresolvable for Israeli policy makers, especially in Gaza. While in the West Bank and Jerusalem, colonization advanced apace, the balance of forces in the Strip led to a change in policy.

With the end of the Second Intifada (2000–2005) and under pressure from the military and intelligence top brass as well as from the employers in the construction industry, the Israeli labor market was reopened to Palestinian workers from the occupied territories. The hope was that Palestinian workers could be disciplined through the distribution and withholding of work permits while the incomes generated in Israel would soften (but never resolve) the economic hardships created by the occupation.

More or less simultaneously, however, the decision was made to intensify the decoupling from the Gaza Strip. In 2005, prime minister Ariel Sharon judged that the continued Israeli presence in the Strip was too costly for the meagre strategic benefits. He withdrew soldiers and settlers and imposed the first blockade of Gaza. Its inhabitants would be ruled from afar, with all vital resources and all movement in and out of Gaza controlled by the occupier.

Not surprisingly, Hamas won the Palestinian elections in 2006 on a platform that rejected the Oslo accords and Fatah’s corruption. Israel, the European Union, and the United States supported Fatah’s coup, which was successful only in the West Bank. The West Bank was increasingly integrated into Israel through the expansion of settlement while Hamas continued to administer a blockaded Gaza.

In response to the humiliation of Fatah, its de facto collaborator in the Strip, Israel intensified its blockade. Egypt actively participated in maintaining it, again underscoring the reactionary Arab regime’s complicity with Zionist colonization. Gaza was cut off completely from the rest of Palestine and the region.

Two Israeli policies exemplify its practice since 2008. First, in the words of Dov Weissglas, adviser to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Israel aimed to “put the Palestinians [in Gaza] on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.”26IMEU, “Putting Palestinians ‘On a Diet’: Israel’s Siege & Blockade of Gaza,” Institute for Middle East Understanding, August 14, 2014. The amount of food allowed to enter the Strip was calculated to barely avoid famine.

Access to Israel’s labor market was virtually ended. The full list of items prohibited or severely limited throughout this period is too long—and absurd—to mention in full. They include steel and concrete, shampoo and writing paper, feminine hygiene products and diapers, canned tuna and powdered milk.27Ibid.

Total siege and mass unemployment predictably generated military responses by the Palestinian resistance. In response, Israel developed its second policy—regular massacres in the Strip.

A total siege by air, land, and water resulting in severe lack of basic goods along with mass unemployment predictably generated military responses by different factions of the Palestinian resistance. In response, Israel developed its second policy: “mowing the grass.” This euphemism, used freely in Israeli military and political circles, refers to Israel’s regular massacres in the Strip, carried out to collectively punish its inhabitants for resistance to the blockade.

For example, Israel killed more than 2,200, wounded more than eleven thousand and displaced half a million Palestinians in Gaza in 2014. The vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, a former Israeli government official and senior fellow in a number of Zionist thinktanks, openly mused about whether sufficient violence had been unleashed: “Just like mowing your front lawn, this is constant, hard work. If you fail to do so, weeds grow wild, and snakes begin to slither around in the brush.”28David M. Weinberg, “Israel Must Prove It has Freedom to Defend Itself,” Jerusalem Post, May 13, 2021.

These euphemisms could not hide the horror unleashed day after day on a population of 2.3 million people, crammed into 365 square meters, 77 percent of whom are refugees and the majority of whom are children. However, even this level of barbarism was unable to resolve the contradictions generated by the Zionist settler colonial project, acknowledged by Zionists for over a century. They could not be resolved through expulsion, occupation, exploitation, and isolation.

Only those drunk on imperial or colonial delusions could have been surprised by October. In the words of Saree Makdisi:

What’s most remarkable is that anyone in 2023 should be still surprised that conditions of absolute violence, domination, suffocation, and control produce appalling violence in turn. During the Haitian revolution in the early 19th century, former slaves massacred white settler men, women, and children. During Nat Turner’s revolt in 1831, insurgent slaves massacred white men, women, and children. During the Indian uprising of 1857, Indian rebels massacred English men, women, and children. During the Mau Mau uprising of the 1950s, Kenyan rebels massacred settler men, women, and children. At Oran in 1962, Algerian revolutionaries massacred French men, women, and children. Why should anyone expect Palestinians—or anyone else—to be different? To point these things out is not to justify them; it is to understand them. Every single one of these massacres was the result of decades or centuries of colonial violence and oppression.29Saree Makdisi, “No Human Being Can Exist,” N+1, October 25, 2023.

 

Unresolvable Contradictions

Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza is only the most recent expression of a long-held desire to “disappear” the Palestinians. This has been the consistent theme, from the early Zionist fantasy of a “land without a people” to the “conquest” of labor through “transfer” in the 1920s, to the Nakba, to Eshkol’s and Rabin’s musings about Gaza—all justifying incessant massacres.

Israeli genocide against the Palestinians emerges out of unresolvable contradictions inherent to its settler colonial project. Unwilling to exploit but unable to eliminate the Palestinians over the long twentieth century, Zionism finds itself confronted with limited options. Integrating the Palestinians as second-class citizens would revive the specter the First Intifada. Keeping the Palestinians under occupation without integrating them in the labor market increases social tensions and brings back the dangers of the Second Intifada. Concentrating as many Palestinians as possible in camps like in the Gaza Strip can only lead to more October 7s. The only limit on Zionism’s genocidal desires is imposed by Palestinian resistance, regional popular pressure, and international solidarity.

Nor will the unspeakable horror that is being rained down on the Palestinians in Gaza solve these contradictions. Israel cannot “get rid” of the Palestinians, either through mass murder or expulsion. A reoccupation and resettlement of Gaza will again lead to settlers being vastly outnumbered by Palestinians. It is not surprising how much Yoav Gallant’s plan for the aftermath of his genocidal campaign resembles the pre-October 2023 status quo.30“What is Israel’s Latest ‘Day After’ Plan for Gaza?” AlJazeera, January 5, 2024.  Israel will continue to collectively punish the Palestinians and try to wash away its failure under piles of corpses and the rubble of hospitals, schools, universities, mosques, churches, and homes.

From the streets of every major capital to the halls of the International Court of Justice, from the ports of Oakland and Barcelona to the territorial waters of Yemen, from workplaces to university campuses, millions can see that the only solution lies in the end of the settler colonial project. Only with liberation and return can there be freedom for all, between the river and the sea. ×

  1. Theodore Herzl, The Jewish State, (1896), https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/quot-the-jewish-state-quot-theodor-herzl.
  2. Ibid.
  3. See, for example, David Cronin, “Winston Churchill sent the Black and Tans to Palestine,” The Irish Times, May 19, 2017.
  4. Quoted in Moshe Mashover, Israelis and Palestinians: Conflict and Resolution (Chicago: Haymarket, 2012), 282.
  5. Gershon Shafir, Land, Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1882–1914 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), especially ch. 1.
  6. Zachary Lockman, Comrades and Enemies: Arab and Jewish Workers in Palestine, 1906–1948 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).
  7. Quoted in ibid., 16.
  8. Nur Masalha, Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of “Transfer” in Zionist Political Thought, 1882–1948 (Washington: Institute of Palestine Studies, 1992).
  9. Ghassan Kanafani, The 1936–39 Revolt in Palestine (New York: Committee for a Democratic Palestine, 1972; Marxists Internet Archive, May 2014); John Newsinger, The Blood Never Dried: A People’s History of the British Empire (London: Bookmarks, 2010).
  10. Ze’ev Jabotinsky, The Iron Wall (Jabotinsky Institute in Israel, 1923).
  11. Walid Khalidi, Before Their Diaspora: A Photographic History of the Palestinians 1876–1948 (Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1984); Rashid Khalidi, Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997); Ibrahim Abu Lughod, The Transformation of Palestine (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1987); Elia Zureik, The Palestinians in Israel (Abingdon: Routledge & Kegan Paul Books, 1979); Nur Masalha, “New History, Post-Zionism and Neo-Colonialism: A Critique of the Israeli ‘New Historians,’” Holy Land Studies 10, no. 1 (2011): 1–53; Anaheed Al-Hardan, Palestinians in Syria: Nakba Memories of Shattered Communities (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016); and Ilan Pappé, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oxford: One World, 2007).
  12. Areej Sabbagh-Khoury, Colonizing Palestine: The Zionist Left and the Making of the Palestinian Nakba (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2023).
  13. Yair Aharoni, “The Changing Political Economy of Israel,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 555, no. 1 (1998), 129.
  14. Shimshon Bichler and Jonathan Nitzan, The Global Political Economy of Israel (London: Pluto Press, 2002), 97.
  15. Salim Tamari, Mountain against the Sea: Essays on Palestinian Society and Culture (Berkeley: California University Press, 2009).
  16. Eyal Weizman, “Exchange Rate,” London Review of Books 45, no. 21 (2023).
  17. Quoted in Mitch Ginzburg, “When Moshe Dayan Delivered the Defining Speech of Zionism,” The Times of Israel, April 28, 2016.
  18. Ella Shohat, “Sephardim in Israel: Zionism from the Standpoint of its Jewish Victims,” Social Text 19, no. 20 (1988): 1–35; Shlomo Shwirski, Israel: The Oriental Majority (London: Zed Books, 1989).
  19. Quoted in Jonathan Ofir, “Liberal Israeli Leaders Were Contemplating Genocide in Gaza Already in 1967,” Mondoweiss, November 17,
  20. Leila Farsakh, Palestinian Labor Migration to Israel: Labor, Land, and Occupation (London: Routledge, 2005), 70.
  21. Adam Hanieh, “From State-led Growth to Globalization: the Evolution of Israeli Capitalism,” Journal of Palestine Studies 32, no. 4 (2003), 7; Zeev Rosenhek, “The Political Dynamics of a Segmented Labor Market: Palestinian Citizens, Palestinians from the Occupied Territories and Migrant Workers in Israel,” Acta Sociologica 46, no. 3 (2003), 240.
  22. Joel Beinin, “Palestinian Workers Have a Long History of Resistance,” Jacobin, June 6, 2021; Riya Al-Sanah, “Report on the General Strike in Palestine,” Notes from Below, May 26, 2021.
  23. Toufic Haddad, Palestine Ltd: Neoliberalism and Nationalism in the Occupied Territory (London: I.B. Tauris, 2016); Kareem Rabie, Palestine Is Throwing a Party and the Whole World Is Invited: Capital and State Building in the West Bank (Durham: Duke University Press, 2021); and Adam Hanieh, “The Oslo Accords and Palestine’s Political Economy in the Shadow of Regional Turmoil,” in For Palestine: Essays from the Tom Hurndall Memorial Lecture Group, Ian Parker, ed. (Cambridge, UK: Open Book Publishers, 2023).
  24. Yahel Kurlander and Avinoam Cohen, “Blas as Sites for the Meso-level Dynamics of Institutionalization: A Cross-sectoral Comparison,” Theoretical Inquiries in Law 23, no. 2 (2022), 254.
  25. Quoted in Yousef Munayyer, “Laying Siege to Gaza Is No Solution,” Foreign Policy, October 9, 2023.
  26. IMEU, “Putting Palestinians ‘On a Diet’: Israel’s Siege & Blockade of Gaza,” Institute for Middle East Understanding, August 14, 2014.
  27. Ibid.
  28. David M. Weinberg, “Israel Must Prove It has Freedom to Defend Itself,” Jerusalem Post, May 13, 2021.
  29. Saree Makdisi, “No Human Being Can Exist,” N+1, October 25, 2023.
  30. “What is Israel’s Latest ‘Day After’ Plan for Gaza?” AlJazeera, January 5, 2024.
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