Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Astounding Violence of Israeli Colonialism

Recently the world watched the horrific violence perpetrated inside Gaza, as 2,159 Palestinians - including 577 children, 263 women and 102 elderly - were killed during Israel's Operation Protective Edge over the course of 50 days. Zionist supporters, as usual, managed to rationalize the killing by blaming the victims, best exemplified by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's nauseating claim that Hamas "want(s) to pile up as many civilian dead as they can because ... they use telegenically-dead Palestinians for their cause." Anyone who cares to see through the propaganda will realize that what actually occurred was the violence of the colonizer against the colonized. A highly sophisticated military unleashing drones, fighter jets, tanks and warships against a captive population of primarily defenseless civilians. Israel has engaged in sporadic orgies of violence against Palestinians in Gaza during the last decade - in 2006, 2008-9 and 2012 - before the current assault. But even when Israeli military operations end, the status quo of Israel's rule is a permanent state of violence and terror imposed on their colonial subjects.

The occupation that Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem have been forced to live under for the last 47 years is a violent enterprise. The land theft and settlements, bulldozed homes and olive trees, arbitrary detention and humiliating checkpoints that stem from the occupation are all acts of violence and violations of basic human rights. 


Palestinians in the occupied territories are denied sovereignty and self-determination. The military law imposed on them by the Israeli government violates multiple Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights such as the right to "equal protection against any discrimination" and the right not to be "subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile." Since the beginning of June, more than 400 Palestinians have been arrested in the West Bank with half of those expected to be placed in administrative detention, a process by which people are detained (read: kidnapped) without any charges or trial. Currently there are 5,318 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, with 363 classified as administrative detainees.

Furthermore, the siege of Gaza continues. The Israeli blockade by land, air and sea has now been in effect for eight years, also in violation of international law, according to an independent panel of experts reporting to the United Nations. The experts reported that the blockade amounts to collective punishment in "flagrant contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law."

This "normal" state of affairs dates all the way back to the founding of the state of Israel itself. As historian and scholar Ilan Pappe explains in his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Israeli leaders implemented a plan for the "systematic and total expulsion [of Palestinians] from their homeland."

"Codenamed Plan D (Dalet in Hebrew), this was the fourth and final version of less substantial plans that outlined the fate the Zionists had in store for Palestine and consequently for its native population," Pappe writes. "The previous three schemes had articulated only obscurely how the Zionist leadership contemplated dealing with the presence of so many Palestinians living in the land the Jewish national movement coveted as its own."

Plan Dalet set forth the violent means by which the Zionist militias - primarily the Irgun and Haganah - were to carry out the conquest of Palestine. Pappe quotes Plan Dalet documents: "These operations can be carried out in the following manner: either by destroying villages (by setting fire to them, by blowing them up, and by planting mines in their debris) and especially of those population centers which are difficult to control continuously; or by mounting combing and control operations according to the following guidelines: encirclement of villages, conducting a search inside them. In case of resistance, armed forces must be wiped out and the population expelled outside the borders of the state."


In this context, the slaughter in Gaza in 2014 can be seen as an extension of the violence and terrorism that Israel was founded on. The current situation is a continuation of the state policy set out in Plan Dalet 
against the same Palestinians and their ancestors.

The Nakba, the dispossession and expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians resulting from the implementation of Plan Dalet, is not just a historical event of the past. The Nakba is an ongoing process of dispossession that to this day forbids the expelled Palestinians from returning to their homes and their lands. While the initial violence was physical, the current violence is structural in nature. Denying someone their rights - in this case, their right to return to their homes and their land, enshrined in United Nations Resolution 194, is another form of violence.

This type of violence is just as serious, and attributable, as physical violence. It is arguably even more damaging because the violence caused by policies and power relationships affect people over the course of years, decades and generations. It creates a distance intended to mask Israel's culpability and hide the injuries themselves. PTSD can be just as serious or worse than a gun shot wound, but it is much more difficult to identify, diagnose and treat. 


Structural violence, according to the medical anthropologist Seth Holmes, is "the violence committed by configurations of social inequalities that, in the end, has injurious effects on bodies similar to the violence of a stabbing or shooting." 

Further exemplifying structural violence against Palestinians is the Israeli government's implementation of a calorie count as part of the blockade of Gaza. Israeli military officials made precise calculations about the absolute minimum number of calories needed to avoid malnutrition. They then translated this into an amount of food that would be loaded into food trucks and permitted to pass into Gaza. An adviser to the prime minister, Dov Weisglass, explained this deliberate infliction of punishment on Israel's colonial subjects with an analagoy: "it's like an appointment with a dietician. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner but won't die."


Rather than shooting a Palestinian, causing an instant injury, Israel implements a slow-motion act of denying nourishment and inducing starvation. When hunger pains and the physical ailments of malnutrition begin after days or weeks, there is a space between Israel and the injured person not present when the injury has an immediate path from a gun to a body.  


Land theft, which Israel has been committing in Palestine for decades, is another form of structural violence. On Sunday, Israel announced that it is stealing 988 acres of Palestinian land. This is a criminal act in direct violation of international law. But it is being carried out with complete impunity, as the US and UK governments and other allies call the theft and settlements "counterproductive" or "an obstacle to peace" while they keep providing critical diplomatic and financial support to the criminals. For Palestinians who have resided on this land for centuries, many who rely on the olive groves for their livelihood, this is a direct assault on their well being and that of their families.

In his book Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, author Max Blumenthal describes numerous instances of symbolic violence in Israel, even inside Israel's lawmaking body, the Knesset. 


"Shouting down Arab lawmakers had become a form of electioneering. Each legislator, from the 'centrist' Kadima to the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu, scored points with voters by hectoring [Hanin] Zoabi and her Arab colleagues," Blumenthal writes. "As one after another sprung up like kangaroos to confront her, they formed a competition for the most demeaning insult and extreme rhetoric. The prize was enhanced popularity with an Israeli mainstream overcome with anti-Arab eliminationism."

Symbolic violence is what Holmes refers to as "the interrelations of social structures of inequalities and perceptions... works through the perceptions of the 'dominating' and the 'dominated', while it tends to benefit those with more power."

The ethnic exclusivity of the Jewish state has bred discriminatory practices and institutions such as the Jewish National Fund (JNF), the Seven Stars Plan, Ethnic Minorities Form, and the requirement of military service (which excludes Israeli-Arabs) for many jobs.


This is the inevitable outcome of an Israeli state which has legalized of a power structure that places Jews above non-Jews. Once this becomes ingrained in a nation's DNA, it's laws, it is easy to forget that the power relationships experienced are a man-made creation and not a god-given natural state. 

Symbolic violence in Israel has manifested itself in many discriminatory laws, starting with the Prevention of Infiltration Law in 1954, which served to prevent Palestinian refugees re-entry to Israel and to allow for re-expulsion. There have been many discriminatory laws in recent years: The Acceptance to Communities Law, which legitimizes racial and religious discrimination for settler communites; the Nakba Law of 2008, which criminalizes observance of Palestinian dispossession; and the Citizenship and Entry Law, which prevents Palestinians living inside Israel from marrying or reuniting with family members who live in occupied territories.

To understand the astounding degree of Palestinian suffering, it is necessary to look at the many types of violence inflicted on them for decades by Israeli policies. It goes far beyond the unimaginable death tolls and casualty counts. It won't stop when Israel stops bombing Gaza with fighter jets. It can only be stopped with the overthrow of the Israeli colonial regime.