Walid Salem has been director of the Center for Democracy and Community Development (CDCD) in East Jerusalem since 1993. He teaches democracy and human rights at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, and is the author of numerous books and articles on democracy, civil society, citizenship, refugee issues and Jerusalem.
Introduction: The re-emergence of the settler colonial approach in the academic world
The 1940’s to the 1970’s was a period of decolonization and self-determination for many countries in Asia and Africa. An immense amount of academic and intellectual writings about colonialism, neo-colonialism as well as settler colonialism accompanied that process of decolonization. At the same time, the UN released several resolutions and documents condemning colonialism and seeking the immediate fulfillment of the right to self-determination for all peoples living under colonial rule. The most famous among these resolutions is the 1960 UN General Assembly resolution about decolonization.
The writings on colonialism at that time focused on military colonialism and the right of all peoples to self-determination and emancipation from colonial occupation, while neocolonialism focused on how colonialism “left through the door and came back through the window”, using economic and cultural means rather than direct military control as it was the case with colonialism before.
The writings about settler colonialism focused on a type of colonialism which combines military occupation with a settler colonial component that included taking over land, space, territory and landscape, through displacement and uprooting of indigenous populations, and replacing them by another population. This created, at the expense of the dispossession of the indigenous people, a new society and state with a different type of space, landscape, language, and culture. The Palestinian academic and intellectual Fayez Sayigh was one of the pioneers of analyzing the Israeli Zionist settler colonial project, alongside Edward Said, whose book Orientalism is considered a leading work in the field. He focused on the approach of Western scholars towards the Orient who wrote about western connections to the land and the territory of the Orient while disregarding the peoples living in that territory as if they are non-existent. The contribution of the seminal writings of the Egyptian Scholars Abdel Wahab Al Masiri and Majdi Hammad should be also mentioned in this regard. Algerian, South African, and Irish writings were published during that period analyzing the settler colonial projects in these respective countries and their different fates.
Contrary to the colonial military occupation that has a clear point of beginning and end, settler colonialism is a continuous process without an end, and as the pioneer in the recent studies of settler colonialism, Patrick Wolf, put it “It is a structure rather than an event”( Wolf, 2006).
After the 1970’s it was only in the beginning of the third century that the settler colonial approach came back to the academic discourse for example in presentations during the International Studies Association (ISA) conferences since 2013, and the publication of the Settler Colonial Studies online Journal by Taylor and Francisin the same year.
The significance of settler colonialism regarding Jerusalem
The quotation by Patrick Wolf above, demonstrates that the Zionists settler colonial project which started in the 19th century continues to be used against the Palestinians in the West Bank (especially in Area C that constitutes two thirds of West Bank) and East Jerusalem till today. It uses the same methods of dispossession, ethnic cleansing, and spacio-cide (as it was called by Sari Hanafi) that were used in the prior 1948 period. Therefore, the Palestinian State is limited to Gaza Strip, while the West Bank and East Jerusalem are subject to a continued Nakba with the 1948 and 1967 transfers as moments of escalation. These phenomena are continuing today, using different methods of internal and external displacement, including also the Palestinians inside Israel. They faced different internal displacements 1948 to 1967, which have continued ever since, including for example the destruction of Palestinian Bedouin villages in the Negev today.
The settler colonial approach can help to identify the common discrimination in Israeli policies against all the Palestinians regardless of whether they live inside Israel, in the 1967 occupied territories, or as refugees abroad. In addition to the commonalities, this approach can assist in finding significant characteristics for each situation or each group. This article will use the approach to further examine the situation in Jerusalem..
The settler colonial approach can help overcome gaps and discrepancies that limit the four other approaches of analysis of the situation of Jerusalem and West Bank. These four approaches are: Firstly, the inequality approach that analyzes the aspects of inequality in Jerusalem, while seeking to suggest how to overcome them, with very little focus on ending the settler colonial project in the city. This approach is adopted and applied by Israeli organizations who prepare analyses or conduct projects for more equitable relations in the city within the current framework of the existing power structure.
The Occupation Approach
The second approach considers the situation in East Jerusalem to be just an occupation, as the Palestinian Authority and the international community keep stressing, and asking for its end. Such a call according to the International law which does not accept any form of occupation, including in regard to Jerusalem, is not wrong, but misses the point that Israel is an ideologically driven state. It is even better described as state-project that considers itself to continue to be a ‘state in the making’, with its final size and borders still to be determined.
The Combination of Colonialism and Neo-colonialism Approach
The third approach regards what is taking place in East Jerusalem by Israel as a combination of colonialism and neo-colonialism (by placing Jerusalem under full Israeli economic domination in addition to the military occupation). Such an approach is partially right, but still has to be completed with the settler colonial approach. In the short run including settler colonialism will assist to analyze and follow the state driven and the state supported settler colonial project, and in the long run it will help to see how the colonial and the neocolonial approaches are practiced within the framework of a settler colonial project. Discrimination as practiced temporarily till the achievement of the full formation of the settler colonial project at the expense of the indigenous population, leads to a point of time when the colonial and the neocolonial policies will cease to exist due to the transfer of all indigenous population.
The Ethnocracy Approach
The fourth approach describes the situation in East Jerusalem to be the result of Israel being an ethnocracy rather than being a democracy. This view is based on the inclusion and exclusion of people from the Demos according to a certain ideology, which results in this case in including the Jews all around the world eligible to the citizenship in Israel, including also the Israeli Settlers who live in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and not in Israel, while depriving the Palestinians who live inside Israel of equal civil rights and excluding the Palestinians in the 1967 occupied territories from citizenship. In this sense, the ethnocratic state claims and seeks to represent its ethnic group and to promote its domination regardless if they live inside or outside its borders, while at the same time it limits or completely denies the civil rights of other ethnicities. Such an analysis led Yiftachel to suggest that Israel stopped its settler colonial project after the Oslo Accords 1993, and moved to the politics of what he called “creeping apartheid” against the Palestinians (Yiftachel, 2012).
The problem of such analysis is twofold: On the one hand it focuses mainly on the inclusion and the exclusion from the Demos, and less on the territorial issue that is very relevant to the Palestinians. On the other hand: It’s conclusion that the “creeping Apartheid” became an alternative to settler colonialism cannot explain the continuous settlement expansion, which especially increased during the Post Oslo period as empirical data and research has shown.
Like the third approach, the fourth one also focuses on the means of discrimination against the equal rights of Palestinians in Jerusalem at all levels, ignoring their Palestinian identity by considering them to be as “Jordanian citizens residing permanently in Israel” till they will be transferred. This is already partially enforced by the different incidents of ethnic cleansing that took place against the Palestinian Jerusalemites since 1967. Some took the shape of external displacement and some others internal displacement, such as: the evacuation of part of East Jerusalem Palestinians and expelling them to Jordan during 1967 war; the expulsion of Al Sharaf neighborhood population of the Old City of Jerusalem to Shuafat refugee camp directly after the 1967 occupation; the deportations that followed to Jordan, and the ethnic cleansing through identity cards confiscations on the basis of the law of entry to Israel of 1952 that was practiced in East Jerusalem when it was occupied in 1967.
Main features of the Israeli settler colonial project in Jerusalem
In Jerusalem, the settler colonial project is practiced while using a set of complex intertwined procedures that include: dispossession (such as uprooting from land by land confiscation, from the house by house demolition among other different types of displacement); ethnic cleansing (by deportations and identity card confiscations and uprooting and re- concentration in other places like what is happening with the Bedouin collectives around Jerusalem). A third element is the isolation of those who continue to live in East Jerusalem by separating East Jerusalem from the West Bank and Gaza by the closure that started in the end of March 1993, and the separation of East Jerusalem communities from each other by creating Israeli Jewish settlements in between them, by discrimination when it comes to public services transforming Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem into slums of poverty and underdevelopment, and lastly the isolation is enforced by what I called “the inclusion in Israel, but without integration in it” (Salem 2006).
These politics of disposition, ethnic cleansing of part of the Palestinians in East Jerusalem, and the isolation of those who continue to live in the city, are combined with other policies such as: The de-development of East Jerusalem by separating it from Palestine and the world economies on the one hand, and ignoring the developmental needs of these communities on the other hand. The de-equalization regarding the rights of those Palestinians who still live in the city is a concept that goes beyond the term” inequality”. The treatment of people in East Jerusalem is an inequality that is created by a state premeditated policy, therefore it is more a de-equalizing process. The de-development and the de-equalization are combined with a de-democratization process by dissolving the Jerusalem Palestinian municipality of 1967, and preventing the Palestinians from holding elections ever since, and by preventing the East Jerusalem Palestinians from defining themselves as Palestinians through insisting that they are ” Jordanian citizens residing permanently in Israel” since Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem on 28/6/1967. Finally, all of this is combined with the preservation of the refugee status of those Palestinian Jerusalemites who were displaced in 1948 and 1967 as part of the Palestinian refugees. When Israel allowed some of the refugees to come back to the West Bank and Gaza as part of Oslo implementation, Palestinians who are originally from Jerusalem were not allowed to come back to their city but only to the West Bank and Gaza.
These politics were followed by two other politics of replacement: One of them is the Jewdiazation of the place, space, territory, and the landscape, and the other is the Israelization process which on the one hand creates an Israeli majority in East Jerusalem, and on the other hand imposes the Israeli law on the Palestinian people and institutions in East Jerusalem.
Where to? Comparisons and Alternatives
If the settler colonial project is based on the concept and the practice of full exclusion, then it’s fate depends on different internal and external factors. When there were no external impeding factors, the situation led to genocides against the indigenous population as happened in the cases of the U.S. and Australia. The opposite outcome is the merger of the settler colonial community with the indigenous population majority as happened in South Africa after 1994 due to the international boycott and sanctions against the South African apartheid system combined with the nonviolent struggle of the African National Congress led by Nelson Mandela. In a third case, the settler colonial project can end in evacuation of the settlers as in Algeria in 1962 due to the split between the settlers and the French Government, and due also to the armed struggle by the Algerian National Liberation Front.
In the case of Jerusalem and Palestine, option three seems not likely. On the one hand the settler community is a decision maker in the Israeli Government, and the Palestinians have not proven the capability to liberate Palestine by the means of armed struggle.
The history of the Israeli Palestinian conflict has shown a signs of population transfer combined with partial genocides on the way, therefore the future options seem to be the following: The first is an Israeli repetition of the forced transfer of Palestinians including and maybe starting with those who live in East Jerusalem for a third time. This is likely if the current trend in Israeli politics, that started talking openly about the transfer, will continue. If at the same time the ongoing international and Palestinian politics will continue to focus on the revival of negotiations between the two sides instead of focusing on confronting the settler colonial project and creating Palestinian facts in the ground, that will equally increase the likeliness of further displacement.
However, if alternative policies will be promoted, it might be possible to reverse the settler colonial project towards either a two state solution based on the 1967 borders or a one state solution with equal rights for all. The main strategies that might lead there are: A continuous and comprehensive, nonviolent and creative Palestinian campaign that includes actions on the ground and components of developmental and diplomatic resistance. Parallel to that, an international recognition of the State of Palestine – after 50 years of occupation and 100 years of Balfour declaration – with the political will to use all diplomatic, economic and developmental means that will ensure its implementation.
Finally, it should be noted that the Israeli settler colonial policies in East Jerusalem have been expanded to Area C in the West Bank, leading to the existence of a Jewish settler majority in the area versus the minority of Palestinians who live there. The issue of the holy places in Jerusalem was not discussed here, and the formal issue of the different types of identity cards given by Israel to Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, but these two issues do not have great impact regarding what is common between Jerusalem and area C in connection to the expansion of the settler colonial project in both of them. Therefore, the issue of Jerusalem is more and more, though not exclusively, becoming an issue of Palestinian rights as a whole.