by M. Shahid Alam
Critics of Zionism and Israel - including a few Israelis - have charted
an inverse exceptionalism, which describes an Israel that is aberrant,
violates international norms with near impunity, engages in systematic abuse
of human rights, wages wars at will, and has expanded its territories
through conquest. This is not the place to offer an exhaustive list of these
negative Israeli exceptionalisms, but we will list a few that are more
As an exclusionary settler-colony, Israel does not stand alone in the
history of European expansion overseas: but it is the only one of its kind
in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Since the sixteenth century
Europeans have established exclusionary settler-colonies in the Americas,
Australia and New Zealand - among other places - whose white colons
displaced or nearly exterminated the indigenous population to recreate
societies in the image of those they had left behind. By the late nineteenth
century, however, this genocidal European expansion was running out of
steam, in large part, because there remained few surviving Neolithic
societies that white colons could exterminate with ease; in tropical Africa
and Asia, the climate and the pathogens were not particularly kind to
The Zionist decision in 1897 to establish an exclusionary
colonial-settler state in Palestine marked a departure from this trend. In
1948, some fifty years later, the Jewish colons from the West would create
the only state in the twentieth century founded on conquest and ethnic
cleansing. Israel is also the only exclusionary colonial-settler state
established by the modern Europeans anywhere in the Old World.
In Israel, moreover, settler-colonialism is not something that belongs to
its past. After their victory in the June war of 1967, the Israelis decided
to extend their colonial-settler project to the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai and
the Golan Heights. In recent decades, the demand for another massive round
of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the 'Occupied Territories' - and even
inside Israel's pre-1967 borders - has moved from the extremist fringes of
the Israeli Right to the mainstream of Israeli politics.
Israel is most likely the only country in the world that insists on
defining citizenship independently of geography. On the one hand, it has
continued to deny the right of return - and, hence, rights of citizenship -
to millions of Palestinians who or whose parents and grandparents were
expelled from Palestine in two massive rounds of ethnic cleansing since
1948. At the same time, under it Law of Return, Israel, automatically and
instantly, grants citizenship to applicants who are Jews, persons of Jewish
parentage, or Jewish converts. Under this law, as Mazin Qumsiyeh puts it
succinctly, "no Jew emigrates to Israel; Jews (including converts) 'return'
(hence the name of the law)." In addition, the Jewish immigrants receive
generous support from the state upon their arrival in Israel. In other
words, Israel turns internationally recognized rights of residence and
citizenship on their head, denying these rights to those who have earned
them by birth, while granting them freely to those who claim them because of
ancient religious myths.
In recent years, critics have increasingly charged Israel with practicing
legal discrimination against Palestinians. Such discrimination is massive
and blatant in the 'Occupied Territories' where Israel has established
Jewish-only settlements, connected to pre-1967 Israel by Jewish-only roads.
Since June 1967, the Palestinians in these territories have suffered under a
system of military occupation, which shows even less regard for their human
rights than South Africa's apartheid. A former US President, Jimmy Carter,
has recently dared to acknowledge the existence of apartheid in the
'Occupied Territories' in the title of his new book, Palestine: Peace not
apartheid. Instantly, America's mainstream media - led by Zionist censors -
began savagely attacking President Carter for mentioning the unmentionable.
Not a few political and academic careers in the United States have met a
premature end for lesser offenses. Jimmy Carter, the octogenarian former
President, had little to lose.
Inside its pre-1967 borders too, Israel has allocated rights based on
ethnicity. Until 1966, Palestinians in Israel were governed under martial
law, which severely restricted their civil and political rights, including
their right to free movement, to establish their own media, and to protest
or form political parties. Since its founding, Israel has openly tied its
immigration policy to Jewish ethnicity. Israeli law defines land to be a
property of the Jewish people, owned on their behalf by the Jewish National
Fund (JNF), a quasi-governmental organization. Israel nationalized all the
lands belonging to the Palestinians it expelled in 1948, and it has
continued to expropriate Palestinian lands under a variety of arbitrary
measures. As a result, the JNF today owns 93 percent of all the lands in
pre-1967 Israel. Yet, even in his moment of daring, President Carter shrank
from addressing the presence of apartheid inside pre-1967 Israel.
Israel is the only country in the world that refuses to define its
borders. Its de facto borders have shifted with impressive frequency. At
first, the armistice line of 1948 served as Israel's borders; but they
expanded outwards in 1956, 1967 and 1982, because of wars and conquests. On
a few occasions, Israel had to retract from the territories it had
conquered: from the Sinai in 1957, from the Sinai again in 1978, from
Southern Lebanon in May 2000, and from Southern Lebanon again in August
2006. In addition, since the Oslo Accord of 1993, Israel has defined a new
set of internal 'borders' inside the West Bank to contain and neutralize the
Palestinian resistance in a set of regulated Bantustans.
If Israel has not yet reached or exceeded the borders of the mythic
David's Kingdom, it is not because of any lack of ambition. The constraint
is demographic. In order to expand beyond its present borders, Israel would
need a more ample supply of Jewish colons willing to assume the risks of
colonization. Fortunately, for the Arabs, these colons are in short supply,
as they were before the rise of the Nazis in Germany. Had Israel succeeded
in attracting five million Jewish colons after 1967, the Sinai would still
be under Israeli occupation, and its borders in the north would extend to
the Litani River and across the Jordan River in the east. Luckily, for the
Arabs, Israeli expansionism has been stalled by the poverty of Jewish
demography. That could change very quickly, however, if Israel decides to
soften the requirements for conversion to Judaism. Millions of Jewish
converts from the poorest countries in the world, attracted by the promise
of a 'better life,' could start pouring into Israel under its Law of Return.
M. Shahid Alam is
professor of economics at Northeastern University. He is the author of
Challenging the New Orientalism (2007).
Jonathan Power, "War of
Civilizations?," International Herald Tribune, October 29, 2004
"The Holocaust in Gaza,"
The Wisdom Fund, March 1, 2008
Sara Roy, "If Gaza Falls . . .,"
London Review of Books, January 1, 2009
M. Shahid Alam, "Zionists in
1948: Poised for Expansion," Media Monitors Network, February 24,
[One of the more disturbing developments in the Middle East is a growing
consensus among Israelis that it would acceptable to expel-in the words of
advocates "transfer"-its Arab citizens to either a yet as unformed
Palestinian state or the neighboring countries of Jordan and Egypt.
Such sentiment is hardly new among Israeli extremists, and it has long been
advocated by racist Jewish organizations like Kach, the party of the late
Rabbi Meir Kahane, as well as groups like the National Union, which doubled
its Knesset representation in the last election.
But "transfer" is no longer the exclusive policy of extremists, as it has
increasingly become a part of mainstream political dialogue. "My solution
for maintaining a Jewish and democratic state of Israel is to have two
nation-states with certain concessions and with clear red lines," Kadima
leader and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told a group of Tel Aviv
high school students last December, "and among other things, I will be able
to approach the Palestinian residents of Israel, those whom we call Israeli
Arabs, and tell them, 'your national solution lies elsewhere.'"--Conn
Hallinan, "Ethnic Cleansing
and Israel: The Ultimate Aim is the Transfer of Arab-Israelis,"
CounterPunch, March 3, 2009]
[Lieberman, as did his mentor Kahane, calls for the eradication of
Palestinians from Israel and the territories it occupies. . . .
He has suggested bombing Egypt's Aswan Dam, an act that would lead to a
massive loss of Egyptian lives.--Chris Hedges, "Israel's Racist in Chief," truthdig.com, April 13, 2009]
[Netanyahu has a plan. It consists of one word, which he learned from his
mentor, Yitzhak Shamir: "NO". Or, more precisely, NO NO NO - the three NOs
of the Israeli Khartoum: No peace, No withdrawal, No negotiations. (It will
be remembered that the 1967 Arab summit conference in Khartoum, right after
the Six-day War, adopted a similar resolution.)
The "plan" which he is working on does not really concern the essence of
this policy, but only the packaging. How to present to Obama something that
will not sound like "no", but rather like "yes, but". Something that all the
serfs of the Israeli lobby in Congress and the media can swallow
painlessly.--Uri Avnery, "Israel's Racist
in Chief," counterpunch.com, May 5, 2009]
Robert Parry, "Israel's Troubling
Tilt Toward Apartheid," counterpunch.com, March 19, 2010
Jonathan Cook, "Big Racists vs Little Racists: How Israeli Apartheid is Coming
Unstuck," counterpunch.org, June 21, 2013
Steven Levitsky and Glen Weyl, "We are lifelong Zionists.
Here's why we’ve chosen to boycott Israel," washingtonpost.com, October 23, 2015