Site Navigation

Colonialism and Racism Underpinning of Zionism

Speech of Abna elBalad at Assisi 04

12. August 2004
The idea of establishing a pure "Jewish state" by European settlers in Palestine, is by definition a colonialist project combining economical interests with racism and cultural imperialism.

Colonialism and Racism are the Underpinning Foundations of the Zionist-Settler Project in Palestine

Ibrahim Makkawi, Ph.D. (1)

Paper presented at the: Anti Imperialist Camp, Assisi, Italy (August 1 – 6, 2004)

What is Racism?

We cannot understand and combat Racism, without understanding its intertwined relationship with the colonialism, economic exploitation and oppression. The idea of establishing a pure “Jewish state” by European settlers in Palestine, is by definition a colonialist project combining economical interests with racism and cultural imperialism. For this discussion, it is possible to identify three types or levels or racism:

Institutional Racism: The established laws, customs, economic and political practices, which systematically produce racial inequality between groups where the group in power expands its material benefits on the expense of the less powerful groups. It is only through exploitation — the maximization of the interests of one group on the expense of the other — that institutional racial discrimination takes place.

Cultural Racism: This is the same as the concept of hegemony. The use of power by the dominant racial group to perpetuate its cultural heritage and impose it on others, while at the same time destroying the cultures of other national/racial groups subjected to its dominance and control.

Individual Racism: The belief of the individual that one´s own race is superior to another and the behavior that suppresses members of the so-called inferior race.

These three forms of racism are imbedded in the Zionist-settler project of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine, but the most blatant and vulgar of all three is the notion of institutional racism. After briefly outlining the colonialist nature of the Zionist project, I will point out several key examples of Zionist racist practices, uncovering the fact that without being racist in its essence, the project of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine would not have succeeded thus far. In other words, it must be colonialist, racist and expansionist in order for it to survive.

Context of the Zionist-Settler Project in Palestine:

Since its inception, the Zionist-settler project in Palestine has been an integral part, in fact a central part, of Western capitalist colonialism and its quest for domination, fragmentation and exploitation of the Arab homeland. Palestine was chosen by the colonialist of the day (Britain) to be settled by Zionist Jewish settlers due to its strategic location in the heart of the Arab homeland, separating geographically its eastern (Mashriq) and western (Maghrib) parts.

Speaking about Zionist Racism, without placing it within the appropriate context of the conflict is misleading and simplifying. The real conflict is between the Imperialist-Zionist camp on one hand, and the Arab nation on the other, where Palestine is only the focal point of the conflict. It is becoming more obvious than ever before, that our main struggle is with the capitalist center and its expansionist imperial policy throughout its various forms: starting with colonialism, imperialism and now globalization. It is this capitalist interest in the Arab homeland and resources, which gave birth to Zionist-settler project at the first place, and continues to maintain its existence.

In the same sense that the Zionist-settler project in Palestine can be understood only as an advanced military base for Western capitalism in the heart of the Arab Homeland, we also cannot understand the Palestinian question (namely the Right of Return and Self-Determination) outside the context of the pan-Arab National (Qawmi) struggle for unity development and socialism. It is the Arab Homeland in its entirety, but more specifically the popular classes, which constitute the target of Western capitalism and globalization.

Racism and the Zionist Myths:

In order to facilitate is colonialist endeavors in Palestine, the Zionist Movement relied and continues to rely heavily on a set of myths and fabrications it had created and propagated. The following section points out some key examples of these myths and the way by which racism constitutes a fundamental issue in each one of them.

First: Fabricating the Semitic roots of the Jewish people. There has been a systematic denial of “the history of the ancient Khazar Empire …… the Khazars found themselves in a precarious position between the Western pressure to become Christians and the Eastern to adapt Islam. Rejecting both, they converted to Judaism. Khazaria was finally wiped out by the forces of the forces of Genghis Khan, but evidence indicate that the Khazars themselves migrated to Poland and formed the cradle of Western Jewry” (2)

The false claim by the Zionist Movement that European Jews share Semitic roots with the ancient Israelites, has been combined with its systematic lies about its role in combating anti-Semitism and acting as the “moral legatee of the victims of the Holocaust” (3) To the contrary, there has been a growing evidence indicating a close cooperation between the Zionists and the Nazis in the attempt to mobilize Jewish immigrants in order to colonize Palestine (4).

Furthermore, almost in every major conference, scholars discussing critically the socio-political structure of the “state of Israel” fall under massive emotional attack by Zionist supporters, usually invoking the Holocaust as an emotional barrier to halt the discussion, while accusing the speaker of being anti-Semitic.

The Zionist claim that Jews around the world constitute one national entity and therefore deserving a state of there own is a pure racist argument that one group of people, by simply sharing the same religion is above the laws of society which define who constitutes a nation, and who should integrate in the larger society where they live. Arguing that Palestine is the only place in the world where this “Jewish nation” can establish a homeland, while ignoring the national rights of the native Palestinian-Arab people, is the point where colonialism and racism meet together.

Second: The most fundamental myth and historical deception created and propagated by the Zionist Movement in its attempt to establish a pure Jewish state in Palestine, has been its systematic denial of the existence of the Palestinian people in the same land it had targeted for settlement. Palestine was “a land without people for people without land”, declares the Zionist argument. The Zionists realized the undeniable fact that the native Arab people of Palestine aspiring for their own independence and self-determination had populated the country throughout their recorded history.

The ultimate clash between the Zionist-settler colonialist project, and the national aspirations of the Arab-Palestinian people resulted in destroying their homeland and turning the majority of them into refugees. This could not have happen without a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing, the destruction of over five hundred of their towns and villages and building new Jewish settlements on their ruins. The historic names, as well as the structures of most places throughout the country, were changed overnight in the most barbaric act of historical rape. Ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people in 1948 has been widely documented by “New Historian”. (5) It is noteworthy, however, to point out the absurdity of the phenomenon of Zionist academics such as Benny Morris – a Zionist historian who after uncovering the Zionist ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian native population, retreats to his original Zionist racist commitment by defending such crimes he himself revealed in his research.

In its resolution 194, the UN asserted the immediate return of the Palestinian refugees to their homes and property and insisted that the acceptance of the Zionist Entity among its members would be pending upon its implementation of the resolution 194. After more than half a century, the Zionist Entity still enjoys full membership of the UN along with its continued denial of the Palestinian refugees´ Right of Return.

Third: Another myth, which has been advanced by the Zionist propaganda is the Zionist Entity´s claim for being a Western democracy. The common practice among western political leaders and scholars alike is their tendency to single it out as the exception in a region otherwise lacking in democratic and representative regimes. It is a strange hypocrisy for a settler colonialist entity known as the “state of Israel” to claim itself as a “Jewish state” and a “democracy” at the same time, when (a) religion and democracy are inherently contradictory, (b) 20% of the states population are Palestinians, and (c) the entire state was established on the runes of another people. Unlike many ethnic minorities living in western societies, the insider Palestinians did not immigrate to the new system; rather, the system was imposed on them after the destruction of their society and the disposition of the rest of their people. The myth about “Israel´s democracy” will be discussed in some details with specific reference to the way its Arab-Palestinian “citizens”, in 1948 occupied Palestine, are being treated.

Racism and Apartheid in 1948 Occupied Palestine:

Today, Palestinians of 1948 occupied Palestine live as second-class citizens in a colonial-Apartheid regime that does not lose any opportunity to politically marginalize them, economically exploit them, and culturally manipulate their national identity according to the needs of the Jewish majority. Although a clear analogy can be made between the regime of the Zionist Entity and the Apartheid regime of South Africa, with regard to the status of the insider Palestinians, we must remember that while the entire native population of South Africa remained in their homeland, the native Palestinians have been literally uprooted leaving a small minority of them behind. The relationship between the Zionist Entity and the Palestinians in the occupied WBG is far more complicated than could be compared to the Apartheid regime of South Africa (6).

To drive the point home, it is suffice to remember the fact that the Zionist Entity does not have a constitution. As a settler-colonial entity falsely claiming to represent the aspirations of the Jews all over the world, the “Jewish state in Palestine” has been unable to draft a constitution, which would simultaneously define its relationship with its non-Jewish Palestinian citizens and the Jews around the world, let alone the Palestinian refugees it expelled out of their homeland. Not only that, but “Israel” is the only state in the world that does not have defined boarders as well. (7)

Instead, the Zionist Entity has what is so called “basic laws”, two of which illustrate the essence of its Apartheid structure, with regard to the Palestinians as who live as “citizens” within it.

First: Israeli citizenship laws are based on the principle of blood relations and not territory. This hierarchy of policy reflects the Zionist ideology of the state as a “Jewish state” and the principles declared in The Law of Return, 1950, which allows every Jew, and only a Jew, to immigrate to “Israel” and to automatically become a citizen of the state. he result is that Palestinians residents of Palestine, who were expelled from the country on the eve of the 1948 war, cannot return and acquire Israeli citizenship.

The Citizenship Law, 1952, allows acquiring citizenship if a person met cumulative set of conditions based on article 3 or 3A of the law, which makes it very hard for Palestinians to gain Israeli citizenship.
In cases when a resident of the state requests citizenship, if he/she is a Jew, they are guaranteed citizenship through The Law of Return. If he/she is Palestinian, he/she has to pass through a naturalization process, according to article 5(a) of The Citizenship Law. The chances to acquire citizenship through this process are negligible. Citizenship in this case is considered a privilege and not a right, and thus subject to the absolute discretion of the Minister of Interior. (8) Just recently, the Zionist parliament passed yet another blatantly racist law specifically preventing family unification for Palestinians from the WBG marrying to Palestinians who carry the Israeli citizenship!

Second: The Jewish National Fund (JNF), which was established by the Zionist movement before the creation of the state itself, is the only authority in charge of public land, in addition to the government. Again, by definition, only Jews can buy, own or lease land from the JNF, a right, which is denied to the Palestinians who are legally citizens of the same state. In other words, the most important element in our national struggle, the land of Palestine, is by “legal” definitions created by the Zionist Entity, is limited to Jewish use only (9).

Explicit Racial Discrimination:

The Zionist Entity´s systematic and racist discrimination against its Arab-Palestinian citizens takes a wide range of forms and manifestations. As reposted by the Human Rights Watch (2001) Palestinian schools in “Israel” suffer from systematic discrimination in budget, school building, support services, teacher qualifications and much more. (10) There is no single Arab university in the whole country despite the fact that Arab-Palestinians constitute 20% of the population. An overwhelming number of the indigenous Arab-Palestinian villages are not recognized by the government and consequently are denied basic services such as water and electricity. Budget for Palestinian local municipalities is incomparable to identical size of Jewish towns, and job opportunities are pending upon service in the Israeli army.

There is a strong evidence that the formal educational system of the Palestinians in “Israel” is systematically controlled and manipulated by the Israeli authorities in order to achieve three intertwined objectives. These objectives are: (a) to shape the Palestinian students´ sense of collective-national identity consistently with Israel´s definition as a “Jewish state,” (b) to use the school as a social institution for reproduction of the socio-economic class structure and (c) to co-opt the Palestinian educated elite through employment as teachers, by keeping other forms of employment restricted. (11)

One of the most discriminatory criteria against the Palestinian citizens of “Israel” is the requirement of military service for obtaining governmental preferences and benefits. At a time when most Israeli Jews are required to serve in the army, Palestinian citizens of the state do not and are not required to do so. Thus, this criteria becomes most crucial and results in the exclusion of the Palestinian citizens from receiving substantial benefits including greater housing loans, partial exemptions from fees in state run occupational training courses, and preferences in public employment, educational loans, and on-campus housing for students.

Although “The Equal Opportunity Law” prohibits discrimination based on race and national origin, this law has not been effective in protecting the rights of the Palestinian citizens from employment discrimination practiced by all governmental and quasi-governmental offices. Only a few Palestinian citizens are employed in governmental offices, and national and racial background are usually the reasons for excluding Palestinians from these positions. Usually the reason is masked by other criteria set by the governmental offices for potential candidates, such as the requirement of military service, at a time when this criteria is usually irrelevant for the requirements of the position offered .

Other discriminatory criteria are set by the re-definition of “national priority areas” in Israel. In order to support socially and economically weak localities, these areas are provided with grants, tax incentives for industry, educational programs, and other benefits and preferences. Although Palestinian localities suffer from the lowest socio-economic levels in Israel, only a few Palestinian towns have ever been defined as included in a “national priority area”. (12)

The Alternative Voice:

Within this state of affairs, the most important question for the Palestinians of 1948 has been to understand the dialectical relationship between our national cause as an integral part of the Arab-Palestinian people, and the struggle for our basic human rights within the oppressive system which was imposed on us. Any attempt to serve only one of these two components of the dialect to the exclusion of the other is misleading. There is no doubt that our national struggle comes first, and the struggle for our human and civil rights must come in harmony with it and not in place of it.

Abna´a al-Balad (People of the Homeland Movement) was founded as a grassroots movement in 1969, with the goal to preserve the collective national identity of the Arab Palestinians in 1948 Palestine, link their struggle to that of the rest of their people (especially the refugees Right of Return) and continue the struggle for the human rights and equality within the state which was imposed on them. All that, of course without compromising our national cause in the way of gaining some benefits from our citizenship status. Through our grassroots organization, we work mainly towards building the institutions of civil society among the Palestinian masses and raising national awareness and collective consciousness.

We, reject on principle, any normalizing of relations with the Zionist Entity in Palestine through a firm boycott of the Zionist election process and refusing to be involved in this pointless attempt to reform this system from within only giving it legitimacy and acceptance. A system that demands of any elected official to its Knesset to subscribe to the election law revised in 1984 through section 7 (A): stating that any member of the Zionist Knesset must accept the fact that the state is: “A State for the Jewish People”. Realizing the racist connotations and dangerous implications of this precondition, we affirm the boycott of those pseudo-elections who call for a state for the “Jewish People” regardless of their place or residence. We will not pay this price to enter the Knesset and will not sacrifice our moral, national and ideological commitments to our Arab nation and Palestinian people.

We refuse to enter the Zionist Knesset, simply because it is (a) in direct contradiction with our national identity as the legitimate owners of the land, (b) it gives legitimacy to the Zionist Entity and support to its myth about democracy, (c) it is a vehicle of cooptation and fragmentation of our leadership and (d) there is virtually nothing that we can achieve through the Knesset with regard to our citizens rights that we cannot do without it. In other words, even the struggle for our civil rights from within the Knesset is pointless. One organized national strike by our masses is more effective in obtaining our rights than an entire year of meaningless parliamentary work.

We consider our Movement as an integral part of the Palestinian National Movement that functions on the Palestinian and Arab national fronts representing ideologically and in practice the interests of the popular classes throughout the Arab homeland, working to create a free society away from ethnic bigotry, racism, and to the development and progression of all people regardless of ethnicity, race, or religious affiliation.

We realize the disastrous consequences of the current racist and class structure of the Zionist Entity which resulted in poverty, misery and unemployment for the masses of the inside Palestinians because of the intersection between their class and national oppression. We work hard to find alternative social and economic structures and establishments that help support alternative development to our Arab-Palestinian masses, within 1948-occupied Palestine, without assimilating into the Zionist Entity.

Our commitment to developing programs that aim to build independent political, economic, and intellectual institutions fall into a program to create self-sufficiency and independence to those removed from the wealth and opportunities of the Zionist class and race structure. Our program is a program of empowerment, independence, and liberation. We believe that our economical deprivation on one hand, and our national oppression on the other are dialectally intertwined. The only way to struggle for our rights in both issues simultaneously is by a grassroots program that involves the masses and empowers them to take charge of their lives rather than accept the Zionist Knesset as the only channel to ask for our civil rights.

Right of Return is the Key Issue:

We locate the missing link in the Palestinian discourse in asserting the organic relationship between the exiled Palestinian refugees and the Palestinians who remained in their homeland living within the Zionist Entity. We are aware of the fact that this attempt creates a challenge to many who have accepted, and even took part in, the fragmentation of the Palestinian people into different groups each managing its own crisis. It is even more provocative to remind those of us who forget that the Zionist Entity was established in 1948 based on a single colonialist program of ethnic cleansing. Palestinians who managed to remain in their homeland are integral part of the refugees and those living under occupation. They must be linked because they originated from the same conquest of their homeland.

It is clear enough that the ongoing attempt to manage the crisis stemming from the Intifada in the occupied WBG, to the exclusion of the Palestinian refugees and the insider Palestinians, is an attempt to divide and fragment our national struggle into isolated local problems, which can be managed by each segment on its own. We must assert more than ever before that we are one people leading one national struggle for self-determination, and above that, we are part of the Arab nation (Ummah). In that, we must reassert the link between the exiled Palestinians and the remaining Palestinians, since resistance and steadfastness of the latter in their historic homeland paves the road for the return of the refugees.

Consistent with its racist denial of the existence of the Palestinian people, and from the first day of its inception, the Zionist Entity insisted on the implementation of a double sided campaign of liquidation of the Palestinian collective character and belonging to the homeland. While it worked relentlessly on removing the refugees and settling them as far as possible from the borders of their homeland, in the meantime it insisted on blurring, manipulating and deforming of the national identity of the Palestinians who fell directly under its control. This only exposes the illegal, immoral and illegitimate Zionist claim for a pure Jewish state in Palestine. The Palestinian refugees´ uncompromising demand to return to their homeland and the persistence of the Palestinians of the inside against assimilation within the Zionist Entity must be seen as an inseparable part of a comprehensive national struggle for return and self-determination.

Needless to remind ourselves that the contemporary Palestinian National Movement (PNM) was initially launched as a movement of refugees fighting to return to their homeland even before the occupation of 1967. The movement was organized and led by the Palestinian refugees first in Jordan and latter in Lebanon while it was clear that the goal was Palestine the homeland, which was occupied in 1948. The fact that in a latter stage the bourgeois leadership of the PNM had abandoned its masses in the refugee camps after its military defeat in Beirut and its transformation into a bureaucratic movement does not and should not render the new goal of that leadership, which is limited to a “mini-state” more important than the Right of Return. A “mini state” on any part of Palestine, created by an official agreement with the Zionist Entity, without the Right of Return is meaningless and can only be another fragile (Qutri) Arab state.

Since the beginning of the Palestinian leadership´s surrender to the U.S lead settlement process more than a decade ago, from Madrid, through Oslo and into the Road Map, we have asserted our views about the expected compromise regarding the Right of Return inherent in such a diplomatic process. Now the goal of this entire process became clearly the establishment of a compradoric regime in the WBG in exchange for recognizing the right of the Zionist Entity on the rest of Palestine, and leaving the refugees and the insider Palestinians out of the solution. We believe that the initiative must be put back into the hands of these two segments of our people in addition to the struggle of the popular classes in the WBG.

The Expected From the Anti-Imperialist Movement:

There is a near consensus in the Arab and Palestinian political discourse, as well as among our international allies around the world, that the Zionist Entity was imposed on Palestine in 1948, following a systematic and well-planned campaign of ethnic cleansing which lead to the refugees´ question. The Zionist Entity, most would agree, was installed in Palestine by colonialist powers in order to prevent any attempt of pan-Arab unification. Furthermore, there is a near consensus that since its establishment, the Zionist Entity is becoming more and more aggressive, expansionist and eager in its attempt to dominate the Arab Homeland through its strategic alliance with Western capitalism.

By definition, the Zionist-settler project is not made to accommodate our collective existence as Palestinians, not even with the most dramatic changes and transformation in its Jewish-Zionist character. As an entity that has been established on the ruins of our people, it cannot and will not be able to accommodate us within its structure. It is from this point of reference that we must judge any attempt to argue that “we can work on changing the Zionist project from within.”

Realizing the international dimension of colonialism in Palestine and the brutal attack on the Arab Homeland by the capitalist center represented in US imperialism, we need all the support and genuine solidarity from anti-imperialist and progressive activists around the world. The occupation of Palestine and Iraq, and the inherent alliance between the US imperialism and the Zionist Entity, make clear that the most direct confrontation of imperialism and globalization in now taking place in the Arab Homeland. With regard to Palestine, there are two issues that come to mind in which one may point out the need for direct involvement anti-imperialism activists:

First: The widespread base of supporters and activists of Al-Awda network had built over the past few years is a remarkable development on an international scale, placing the Palestinian Refugees Rights of Return on the agenda of a global anti-imperialist movement. We need a strong international campaign supporting the unquestionable implementation of the Palestinian Refugees Right of Return. This ROR is not subject for negotiation but a right waiting to be implemented. It is the most basic issue around which a conspiracy is being developed by the Imperialist-Zionist camp in order to bring about a Palestinian compromise of the refugees.

Second: An international campaign of anti-normalization and boycotting the Zionist Entity is needed now more than ever before. There is an ingoing attempt by the US imperialism to force the legitimacy and normalization of the Zionist Entity upon the Arab people. In service of their imperialist master, comprador Arab regimes competing among themselves to normalize relations with the Zionist Entity despite the contrary interests of the popular Arab masses. It is the popular classes in the Arab Homeland, who spearhead the campaign of anti-normalization with the Zionist Entity. We need the solidarity of our friend and allies, especially in the West, to join this effort of anti-normalization and boycott any normal relations with the Zionist Entity.

Furthermore, it is insufficient to boycott the Zionist Entity while continuing to consume US products, especially in areas where US capitalist globalization is reaching its most barbaric stage, such as the Arab Homeland. We also call on our progressive and anti-imperialist allies to intensify the campaign against the US capitalist goods. Anti-normalization as an act of resistance, is moral, clear and effective. Committed activist can easily mobilize a popular base of supporter for it, transform it from just and act of passive resistance into a process of creating critical consciousness among the masses.

1 Dr. Ibrahim Makkawi is a member of Abna´a al-Balad Movement in 1948-Occupied Palestine, and co-editor of kana´an online:
2 Koestler, A. (1976). The thirteenth tribe: The Khazar Empire and its heritage. New York: Random House.
3 Schoenman, R. (1988). The hidden history of Zionism. Santa Barbara, CA: Verites Press.
4 Brenner, L. (Ed.) (2002) 51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration With The Nazis. Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books.
5 See for example: Pappe, I. (1994). The making of the Arab Israeli conflict 1947-51: I.B. Tauris & Co.; Morris, B. (1989). The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949: Cambridge University Press.; Beit-Hallahmi, B. (1998). Original sins: Reflections on the history of Zionism and Israel: Interlink Pub.
6 For further discussion of this point see Adel Samara: “Why is it Oslo-Stan, not a Bantustan”.
7 Davis, U. (1987). Israel: An apartheid state. London: Zed Books Ltd.
8 Davis, (1987).
9 Ibid.
10 Human Rights Watch (2001). Second class: Discrimination against Palestinian Arab Children in Israel´s schools. New York: HRW
11 Makkawi, I. (2004). The role of formal education among the Insider Palestinians in maintaining the colonialist hegemony. Kana´an, 116, 32-42 (In Arabic).
12 Bishara, S. (2001). Nationalism and feminism in the context of the Palestinians in Israel. Unpublished manuscript. New York University, NY.