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Opinion | Israel/Palestine is indeed a colonial conflict

Chris de Ploeg,
3 november 2023 - 09:52
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According to Chris de Ploeg, programmer at Dekoloniale Dialogen, there is no doubt that Israel is running a colonial regime. A regime that, moreover, is maintained by Europe, through diplomatic, financial and military support. “It is a misunderstanding that there can be no colonialism in historic Palestine because Jews have lived there for three thousand years.”

In the NRC newspaper of Friday, October 19th, 2023, Machiel Keestra falsely condemns an open letter to the Executive Board of the UvA, signed by over 1,200 students, PhD students, and staff, including yours truly. In particular, I want to strongly contradict one persistent misconception in this, namely that there can be no colonialism in historic Palestine because Jews have lived there for 3,000 years. 

The idea that Jews are an ethnically homogeneous group with ties to Israel is not only a nationalist myth but also bears strong similarities to anti-Semitic thought

The Zionist movement thoroughly disagreed with Keestra. Theodor Herzl, recognized as the “spiritual father of the Jewish state” in Israel's declaration of independence, literally called Israel “something colonial, the bastion of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization in a sea of barbarism.” 

 

Explicitly inspired by the South African model as a “successful” example of settler colonialism, the early Zionist wrote in admiration of Cecil Rhodes, the leading British settler of his day. Herzl was well aware that large-scale colonization would lead to resistance and was therefore only possible “under the protection of European powers.'” That European power was to be Britain, enshrined in the Balfour Declaration.

 

Winston Churchill defended British policy by saying that ”the dog in a manger does not have the ultimate right to the manger, even though it may have lain there for a very long time.” He compared the Palestinians to the original inhabitants of Australia and the United States, stating, ”I refuse to admit that anything wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race [sic], a higher race, a more worldly race, so to speak, has come in and taken their place.”

 

Before the rise of Zionism in the late 19th, century, about four percent of the population in Palestine was Jewish, who made up about 0.3 percent of the global Jewish population. Ambitions for an ethnically cleansed, “Jewish” state existed at the time exclusively among a small minority of right-wing nationalist Jews from Europe. The idea that Jews are an ethnically homogeneous group with ties to Israel is not only a nationalist myth but also bears strong similarities to anti-Semitic thought. Because of my Sephardic Jewish grandfather, I should have a “right of return” to Portugal in the first place. Not Israel. We, too, are at home in Europe. 

Keestra seems to consider it a mortal sin when a statement does not explicitly condemn the crimes of Hamas

The facts are clear. A full 80 percent of the population in Gaza, who have been held in an open-air prison for 16 years, are (descendants of) ethnically cleansed Palestinians from the surrounding region. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant openly stated Monday, October 9th, “We are fighting human animals and will act accordingly.” At least 3,736 Palestinian children have already been killed since October 7th, nearly seven times as many documented child deaths as during the entire Ukraine war. Israeli genocide scholar Raz Segal calls the current massacre in Gaza a “textbook example of genocide.” 

 

Keestra seems to consider it a mortal sin when a statement does not explicitly condemn the crimes of Hamas. Hereby, I would like to condemn the racist tendency for any Palestinian, Muslim, or ally to constantly have to speak out publicly about war crimes or attacks, which we can assume virtually no one approves of. Keestra even suggests that the letter writers are “importing war to the UvA.” This is reprehensible. Pro-Palestine demonstrations have already been banned in Germany, France, Austria, and Hungary. It seems that this censorship is now being imported to the UvA. 

 

There is no question that the killing and kidnapping of hundreds of Israeli civilians are war crimes. However, our point is that the war against Gaza is being waged with European diplomatic, military, and financial support. Dialogue, mutual understanding, and communal mourning - which Keestra advocates - are absolutely valuable. But decolonization is not just about the feelings of students and staff within the privileged institutions of the Netherlands - Muslim, Jewish, or otherwise - but above all about how we relate to the colonial violence of our own governments. This is a cry for help. The children of Gaza deserve our solidarity.

 

Chris Kaspar de Ploeg is program-maker of Decolonial Dialogues at the University of Amsterdam, co-founder of the decolonial Aralez Foundation and author of the book Ukraine in the Crossfire (Clarity Pr, 2017).

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