It shocks me that I keep coming across in my threads variations of the following tweet:
The Palestinians have it within them to rise up against Hamas to free themselves. Or Hamas can willingly surrender. Two real choices there.
This view isn’t just being promoted in bad faith by Israeli apologists. It seems to resonate with ordinary people who presumably know very little about the histories either of Palestine or of settler colonial movements such as the Zionist movement that founded Israel.
So let’s delve briefly into both.
First, settler colonial movements are distinguished from standard colonialism – like British rule in India – by the fact that the settler population wishes not just to steal the native population’s resources but to replace the native population itself.
There are lots of examples of this: European settlers dispossessed native peoples in what we today call the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, for example.
The definition of genocide in international law exactly describes what those Europeans did to the local population: mass killings; inflicting conditions calculated to bring about the physical destruction of all or part of the native community; preventing births within the local population; and forcibly transferring native children to the settler population.
European settlers who today call themselves Americans, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders never had to account for their crimes against those native peoples. Which possibly explains why the tweet above is so commonplace – and why European countries and their settler colonial outgrowths are today lining up against the rest of the world to support Israel as it intensifies industrial genocide in Gaza.
The truth is the “western” world order was built on genocide. Israel is just following in a long tradition.
Settler colonial movements do not always end up committing genocide. In South Africa, a heavily outnumbered settler colonial population came to an “accommodation” with the native population: the system was known as apartheid.
The white group took all the resources and privileges. The black group was allowed to live but only in ghettoes and squalor.
In such circumstances, peace is possible only when the settler colonial project is abandoned, power is shared and resources distributed more equitably. This happened, imperfectly, with the fall of apartheid.
The final model for a settler colonial population is to drive the native population over the border, in an act of ethnic cleansing. This was Israel’s preferred option in 1948 and again in 1967, when it decided to expand its borders by occupying the remaining Palestinian lands in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.
The Palestinians in Gaza are an object lesson in the various ways a native population can be abused by a settler colonial movement.
Most are refugees or descended from refugees from Israel’s ethnic cleansing operations of 1948. In other words, their family homes are in what we today call Israel. They were driven off their lands into a tiny enclave, to be ruled for the next 19 years by Egypt.
When Israel seized Gaza during the 1967 war, it had to fall back on the second settler colonising option: apartheid. So it turned the enclave into an open-air prison, or – if we’re going to be more honest – a long-term concentration camp.
Gaza was a larger – and, with Israel’s 16-year siege, increasingly much harsher – version of the townships that held the native black populations in apartheid South Africa.
What we are seeing now is Israel finally recognising that the apartheid model has failed to subdue the Palestinians’ desire for freedom and dignity.
Unlike white South Africa, Israel is not looking for peace and reconciliation. It is revisiting other settler colonial options.
In the current attack on Gaza, it is implementing a mixed model: genocide for those who remain in Gaza, ethnic cleansing for those who can get out (assuming Egypt finally relents and opens its borders).
None of that has anything to do with Hamas. The most one can say is that Hamas’ resistance has forced Israel’s hand. It has had to abandon its siege-apartheid model – the long term imprisonment of a population with no resources, no freedom of movement, no clean water, no jobs.
Instead, it has returned to the tried-and-tested formulas of genocide and ethnic cleansing.
Hamas is a symptom of the decades of trauma Palestinians in Gaza have been through, not the cause of that trauma.
Palestinians overthrowing Hamas, or Hamas surrendering, would not turn Gaza into a Dubai-on-the-Mediterranean. Palestinians there would still be prisoners, though possibly allowed slightly better conditions.
If you doubt that, look to the West Bank, which is ruled not by Hamas but by the supine Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas. He calls security cooperation with Israel – suppressing on Israel’s behalf the Palestinians’ craving for freedom – a “sacred” duty. His biggest aspiration is a diplomatic solution that creates a severely circumscribed Palestinian mini-state.
If Israel can’t allow freedom to the West Bank under Abbas, how is it ever going to give freedom to tiny Gaza, even without Hamas, after the United Nations declared the enclave as fundamentally “uninhabitable” in 2020?
Israel could never allow the Palestinians out of their Gaza prison because their rapid growth in numbers is seen as a threat to Israel’s Jewish majority.
Remember: settler colonial populations are there to replace the native population, not to make peace with them, not to shares resources, not to give them their freedom.
Israel is doing the only thing it knows how to do. And as long as the West is cheerleading, that includes genocide.
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