Israel’s current military offensive on Gaza unfolds as an extension of the Zionist enterprise’s settler-colonial strategy, with the objective of violently uprooting Palestine’s indigenous people and replacing them with Jewish communities worldwide


By: Dr. Sami A. Al-Arian

Voices/ February 2024

A few years ago, American political scientist Bruce Gilley wrote a thought-provoking yet controversial piece about the legacy of colonialism. The thesis of his article was not only to defend colonialism but to make a case for why it should be “reclaimed”, considered “legitimate”, and even “resurrected”. 

However, the author completely ignored the nature of the relationship between the coloniser and colonised – that is, the relationship relying upon the total control of the coloniser and their absolute domination over the colonised. 

The legacy of imperialist European powers over much of Asia, Africa and Latin America goes back centuries. European colonisers killed tens of millions of indigenous people across North and South America. 

Belgium killed over ten million Congolese people alone between 1835 and 1840, while the Dutch killed over 300,000 people in Indonesia during the same period. France killed more than 1.5 million Algerians during its 132-year occupation starting in 1830. Italy wiped out millions of Libyans, while Britain starved perhaps as many as 35 million people in India during its 89-year occupation. 

Colonisers hide their colonial expeditions under the mantra of “spreading Western civilisation”. They obscure their real purpose and quest for wealth, control, and power by calling their campaigns “mandates”, “protectorates”, and “commonwealths”. 

They use massacres, destruction, and mayhem, not just against peoples and societies but also against cultures, traditions, history, and memory. 

They apply all means, ways, and tools, as nothing is beyond their limit: divide and conquer, bribe and pamper, kill and lynch; essentially, they employ all tools of death, especially if one dares to resist. 

They have the guns and powder, the bombs and planes, the tanks and artillery; massacring, oppressing, starving, torturing, transferring, exiling, enslaving, dehumanising, raping, pillaging, and looting, all in the name of “the White man’s burden to liberate dark-skinned peoples”. 

Oftentimes, colonisers came with the aura of the Puritans and civilised people, moralising and evangelising – gun in one hand and the Bible in the other. 

The justification for their dehumanisation was to claim that their victims could “feel no pain”, that “the only language they understand is force”, that “the Black man’s brain is different,” that the other races, be it African, Arab, Indian, or Asian are “inferior,” or “barbarians, fanatics, radicals, fundamentalists, terrorists, backwards, extremists, ignorant, uncivilised”; that they don’t respect “their women” or “law and order,” and “cannot be trusted.” 

Any resistance or opposition to the colonial project must then be crushed and annihilated, destroyed and obliterated. 

In order to end colonisation, Poka Laenui reminds us, the colonised usually goes through several stages of the decolonisation process: discovery and recovery, mourning, dreaming, commitment, and action. 

The last phase would usually entail resistance in its comprehensive forms, political, economic, social, and cultural, as well as the prospect of resorting to armed struggle. 

After over a century of the Zionist onslaught, it’s this last stage, action and resistance, that the Palestinian people are now undergoing.

For over a century, the Palestinian cause has represented one of the last vestiges of the decolonial struggle. From its inception in the late 19th century, the Zionist enterprise was organised as a settler-colonial movement with the goal of violently uprooting the indigenous people of Palestine and replacing them with Jewish communities from around the world. 

To realise this goal, Zionism has, throughout its long history, utilised three paradoxical narratives. 

The first was to manipulate the belief that Jews are not only the chosen people but also belong to the “enlightened” Western historical experience. 

Hence, they constitute the “Israeli exceptionalism” paradigm, just like the examples of European or American exceptionalism in bygone eras, and therefore represent a continuation of the West’s civilising mission. 

Their second notion was to ironically argue that they had historically been the victims of European racism, abuse and persecution, culminating in the pogroms and Nazi Holocaust. 

Consequently, such enormous suffering would then be used to justify their settler-colonial project, or as the former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir once put it: “After the Holocaust, Jews have the right to do anything they want,” since they are the ultimate ‘victims’.

But in order to carry out the Zionist enterprise to its eventual objective of brutally uprooting Palestine’s indigenous population, a third narrative had to be constructed. At its core, it’s to dehumanise and degrade their Arab victims, particularly the Palestinians. 

From early on, Zionist leaders were very explicit about their plans to force and drive out the Palestinians from their homes in an ethnic cleansing campaign. 

Like other settler-colonialists, Israeli prime ministers and other high-ranking leaders have for years used demeaning and disparaging language whentalking about the Palestinians. 

One described them as “grasshoppers” that need to be “crushed” and their “heads smashed against the boulders and walls”. 

Another called them “beasts walking on two legs,” while a third has recently pronounced them “human animals”. Furthermore, one official proclaimed that Zionists “have to kill all the Palestinians unless they are resigned to live here as slaves”. 

Another candidly professed that “there is no Zionism, colonisation or Jewish State without the eviction of the Arabs and the expropriation of their lands.” 

During the 1948 Nakba, one Israeli official coldly admitted: “We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation, and the cutting off of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population.” 

Indeed, what the world is witnessing in Gaza today is simply a continuation of the Israeli onslaught to exterminate the Palestinians in order to make more room for the expansion and re-entrenchment of the Zionist enterprise. They hardly try to hide it.

Since 1948, the Zionist state has employed colonial strategies and adopted varying policies to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians. 

It uses tactics such as forced expulsions, confiscation and annexation of territories and holy shrines, the erection of a security state, the institutionalisation of an ID system based on ethnicity and the establishment of Jewish-only colonies/settlements. 

Besides, Israel has other methods of segregation and oppression: the construction of separate roads for Israeli citizens, the use of hundreds of military checkpoints for Arabs in the occupied West Bank, the control of Palestinian economic life and institutions, the use of assassinations as a tool to eliminate thousands, as well as countless other schemes to usurp Palestinian properties and exclude as many Palestinians from their historical land as possible. 

Israel has also enforced a crippling siege over Gaza for more than 16 years before it launched the genocidal and destructive war against its people over the past four months.

In addition, the Israeli regime imposes a form of “cultural imperialism,” as it seeks to control what Palestinians read, say, discuss, believe or think

As the late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said explains: “The power to narrate, or to block other narratives from forming and emerging, is very important to culture and imperialism, and constitutes one of the main connections between them.” 

In short, the legacy of Zionism in Palestine is not unique but should rather be seen as a continuation of a decolonial struggle against a settler-colonial enterprise with a supremacist and racist ideology aided by an aggressive militarised structure. 

But even though the Zionist colonial project has survived for over a century, it has not yet reached its ultimate objective of completely pacifying the indigenous population. This is due to two main reasons, which are ironically paradoxical as they compete against each other. 

The first is that the Zionist enterprise has endured because it has been supported and nourished by international powers such as the US, the UK, and other European nations. This has been witnessed in full display in the latest Israeli assault on Gaza. 

Unsurprisingly, the greater American and European backing Israel gets, the more obstinate and aggressive it becomes.

But the second important reason that Zionism has been unable to proclaim a conclusive victory is the resilience and resistance of the Palestinian people, which has also been recently demonstrated in abundance. 

These competing forces may very well determine the future of the Palestinian decolonial struggle.

For centuries, colonialism was a hammer that saw every colonised community as a nail. But as Franz Fanon observed, “In the colonial context, the settler only ends his work of breaking the native when the latter admits loudly and intelligibly the supremacy of the white man’s values.” 

Our challenge is and has always been the capacity of the colonised Palestinian to first say no, and to continue to resist, until the Zionist coloniser is repelled and defeated. And then to cleanse our colonised minds from all the harmful effects and manifestations of the Zionist colonial experience and rebuild a new society. 

This is the essence of the current struggle to break free in Gaza, across Palestine, and beyond.


This article was originally published by TRT World

He is Public Affairs Professor and Director of the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) at Istanbul Zaim University.

He received his PhD in Computer Engineering in 1986 and was a tenured academic in the US for two decades receiving best teaching awards at the University of South Florida (1993 and 1994) and several grants, as well as having over forty publications to his credit.

During his four decades in the US (1975-2015), Dr. Al-Arian founded numerous institutions and publications in the fields of education, research, religion and interfaith, as well as civil and human rights. He was a prolific speaker across many US campuses, especially on Palestine, Islam and the West, and Civil Rights. In 2001, he was named by Newsweek the “premiere civil rights activist” in the US for his efforts to repeal the use of Secret Evidence in immigration courts. In 2012, he was profiled by historians in the Encyclopedia of American Dissidents as one of only three Muslims in the US out of 152 dissidents and prisoners of conscience that were included in the series in the past century (along with Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali).  His US story was featured in 2007 in the award-winning documentary “US vs. Al-Arian,” and in 2016 in the book “Being Palestinian.”

Dr. Al-Arian has written several studies and numerous articles focusing on US foreign policy, Palestine, and the Arab Spring phenomena. His book of poetry on Spirituality, Palestine, and Human Rights Conspiring Against Joseph was published in 2004. He is also the author of The Arab Awakening Unveiled: Understanding Transformations and Revolutions in the Middle East, Washington, DC, American Educational Trust, 2013 (under a pen name) and The United States and Israel: From Enabler to Strategic Partner, IZU Publications, 2019.

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