When creating a Jewish state, Israel aimed to have a Jewish-majority demographic and displaced the Palestinian population; from this perspective, Israel-Palestine can be considered a settler-colonial society. However, in current times, the conflict has hardened into a clash of nationalisms paradigm, as Israel has already settler-colonized the area and now aims to uphold the Israeli state’s power and stability. Israel’s colonization of Palestine differed from typical European modes of colonization. There was no imperial sponsor, and Israel aimed to eliminate the indigenous population and replace it with the settler population.
For example, the Israeli government made deals with numerous states that had Mizrahi or Ashkenazi Jews to provide financial incentives in exchange for these individuals’ immigration to Israel-Palestine, as they did in Operation Yachin. The primary goal of the Israeli state was to completely alter the cultural and societal landscape. In contrast, European colonization has often focused on economic exploitation by taking advantage of the colonized’s resources and labour force to achieve their goals.
It cannot be ignored that Israel did exploit Palestinian resources by redistributing land to Jews who had immigrated to Palestine. They also aimed to profit from the land, suggesting that there were already resources on the land in which the Jewish population could monetize and profit off. Suppose we ignore the fact that Israel was created as a settler-colonial society. In that case, we are invalidating and dismissing the experiences of all of the Palestinians who have been displaced and even killed throughout this conflict, in addition to all of the Arab-Jews living in Israel-Palestine whose lives and identities have been dismissed and marginalized in the process of creating a Jewish-majority demographic that has often prioritized and elevated Ashkenazi Jews.
Simultaneously, it is essential to acknowledge how this conflict has been further cemented into a clash of nationalisms. Both Israel and Palestine have become more prone to seeing their narrative and viewing this narrative in monolithic and unchanging terms. Sam Fleishchaker, in his chapter entitled “Interrogating the Limits of the Settler-Colonialist Paradigm,” examines how these ties to national identity form primarily after nationalism movements. For Palestinians, there was no distinctive Palestinian identity before the Nakba. After the Nakba, Palestinians saw their identity as one of hardship and one that must ultimately be liberated since they viewed themselves as the indigenous peoples of the territory.
Meanwhile, Jewish identity again was not fully solidified as a collective idea until the rise of Zionism. People from different countries- some who were fleeing religious persecution and others who were not, saw themselves as entitled to a homeland for Jews. It is equally essential to note that Palestinian identity did not form directly in response to Zionism since Palestinian identity can exist on its own and has its aspects that are not directly influenced or formed as a result of the rise of Zionism. However, Zionism did have an impact on Palestinian identity.
The settler-colonial framework must be realized to recognize how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today has transformed into a clash of nationalism paradigm, all with the intent of eliminating the Palestinian population and increasing the Israeli population size and maintaining their power. As’ad Ghanem and Tariq Khateeb detail the gradual shift from a settler colonialism framework to a clash of nationalisms framework throughout their chapter titled “Israel in One Century- From a Colonial Project to a Complex Reality,” in which they argue that the Israeli nationalism movement has been able to benefit from settler-colonization of Palestine.
This has been done primarily through three steps: the extermination of the indigenous population, the integration of the settler community and the creation of a single society, and the settler community’s continued control and collective punishment against the indigenous population, which effectively diminishes the size of the indigenous population and/or pushes them to the margins. Today, we can see the collective punishment and control of Palestinians primarily through the areas of Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, as these areas are occupied Palestinian territories under Israeli military control. Despite being under Israeli control, the individuals within these areas are not afforded Israeli citizenship or the ability to participate in the Israeli government, such as voting in elections.
Furthermore, the idea of Palestinian identity is often tied to Arab identity and, as a result, Mizrahi Jews who possess Israeli citizenship are often discriminated against (i.e. denied governmental jobs) and have historically been placed at the peripheries of major cities to serve as the first casualties in the case of any attacks against the state of Israel. Through this, we can see a direct link to how nationalism has influenced Israeli policies and preferential treatment to anyone who does not identify or share some similarity with Palestinians, both within and outside of what has been deemed as the Israeli state.
The clash of nationalisms paradigm has allowed each side to tend more to their own grievances, with Israel claiming itself as a safe homeland for Jews against historical oppression and even genocide. In contrast, Palestinian nationalism has functioned primarily as a liberation movement and a collective identity for people to share and form their own narratives of historically traumatic events. Above all, the lasting effects and continued use of settler colonization by Israel has allowed Israel to gain a tremendous amount of power and even recognition by numerous countries around the world, giving Palestinians even more reason to move towards their own liberation and become even more embedded within their national identity, further defining this conflict in terms of respective nationalism.
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