The Zionist Project as “Settler Colonialism”

            The Zionist project, which established Israel and which motivates the continued illegal occupation of Palestinian territories by the Israeli state and independent settlers, has often been defined as an example of “settler colonialism” (Salamanca et al., 2012, p. 1). In its most basic definition, settler colonialism involves the establishment of colonies for the purpose of permanent settlement on a territory (Young, 2001, p. 17). Certainly, the Zionist project involved such a settlement in pursuit of a Jewish state and society. However, such a definition of settler colonialism glosses over the populations native to this territory, who Wolfe (2006) argues must necessarily be eliminated to allow access to territory and make way for new populations in settler colonialism (p. 387). Wolfe’s (2006) notion of settler colonialism as a project that essentially involves “the elimination of the native” applies to both the theory and praxis of the Zionist project (p. 387). In the domain of theory, Zionism’s founding father Theodor Herzl wrote in his allegorical manifesto “If I wish to substitute a new building for an old one, I must demolish before I construct” (Wolfe, 2006, p. 388). This observation was painfully put into practice in the decades that followed: from the events of Al-Nakba to the Deir-Yassin massacre, Palestinians throughout the twentieth century faced what Pappé (2006) argues can only be described as an “ethnic cleansing” of the land rather than a war (p. iii).

            As is the case in other settler colonial projects, the struggle to control the largest amount of land has been and continues to be at the heart of Zionism today (Salamanca et al., 2012, p. 1). This struggle shape contemporary Israeli state policies against Palestinian populations inside Israel and in the occupied territories, which are comprised of an array of “military, legal and economic tactics” to remove as many Palestinians as possible from the land they inhabit (Salamanca et al., 2012, p. 1). Additionally, the tactics of erasure of indigenous people necessary to “cleanse” the land for settler colonialism do not only involve physical removal, but further include the erasure of cultural aspects of indigenous life. Wolfe (2006) names the replacement of place-names as an example of cultural erasure as it operates in settler colonialism, a phenomenon also reflected in the Hebraization of Palestinian place-names since the early twentieth century (p. 388). This physical and cultural notion of erasure has also been used by Salaita (2016) in his book Inter/Nationalism: Decolonizing Native America and Palestine to compare the present situation of Palestinians to the indigenous people of Native America–subjected in the context of a more widely agreed upon example of settler colonialism– with the purpose of drawing attention to the global nature of (neo)colonial political, cultural and economic practices and to call for international solidarity.