Palestine and our colonial past

November 29, 2012
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 4 minutes

By Edward Lovo

History attests to the suffering of indigenous peoples under colonial rule. India, Algeria, and South Africa are all nations that were formerly under colonial rule. There are two principal forms of colonization. One form of colonization is motivated by the desire for settlement and the other is motivated by the extraction of riches. Correspondingly, empires had two kinds of colonies—the settled and the exploited—which would be treated very differently. Although settlement colonies developed self-government, the establishment of trading ports and posts eventually transformed these colonies from settler to exploitive.

French Algeria was an instance of the settler colony.

Settlement in Algeria by the French, however, was slow in coming and only accelerated when France lost Alsace-Lorraine in 1871 to the Germans, forcing the French population to immigrate to Algeria. The indigenous population of Algeria was subjected to the régime du sabre (rule of the sword), whereas French citizenship was extended to non-French settlers that were of European descent and was also further extended to a specific group of indigenous peoples, the Jewish population.

Algeria became a world divided in two.

There was the sector of the colonists on one side of the sword and the sector of the colonized subdued by sword point. Frantz Fanon describes the colonists’ sector as, “...a sector of lights and paved roads, where the trash cans constantly overflow with strange and wonderful garbage, undreamed-of leftovers. The colonist’s feet can never be glimpsed, except perhaps in the sea, but then you can never get close enough. They are protected by solid shoes in a sector where the streets are clean and smooth, without a pothole, without a stone.

The colonist’s sector is a sated, sluggish sector, its belly is permanently full of good things. The colonist’s sector is...a sector of foreigners.”

While the colonists lived well off, the colonized subjects were famished, “hungry for bread, meat, shoes, coal, and light.” Living in these conditions under régime du sabre as second-class citizenships and with shortages of resources—essentially dehumanization—it is no surprise that “[The] muscles of the colonized are always tensed...The colonized subject is a persecuted man who is forever dreaming of becoming the persecutor.” The colonized subject is constantly faced with a beast of violence, for “...colonialism is not a machine capable of thinking, a body endowed with reason. It is naked violence...”

Modern oppression is typically characterized not by colonialism, but by neocolonialism, a perverse evolution of directly violent structures into an indirect, economic kind. Nevertheless, colonialism persists in some parts of the world.

In Palestine, millions of people live under the subjugation of the Israeli state, a regime that unlawfully occupies vast tracts of land historically inhabited by the Palestinians. These colonial subjects are literally parched by the Israeli settlement colony. Although there is enough water to meet the basic needs of all Israelis and Palestinians, the distribution of water between the two societies is highly unequal.

How is Israel’s settlement of the West Bank any different? How is Israel’s blockade on the Gaza Strip any different? Palestinians are dehumanized, oppressed, exploited, subdued by gunpoint, persecuted—“the colonized subject is always presumed guilty.” Let’s count the ways.

In 2006, following the election victory of Hamas, Israel placed restrictions on Gaza, restrictions on access to borders, the free movement of Gazans, and on importations and exportations. Three out of the four goods crossings have remained out of operation since 2006.

Israel is also in sole control of water resources, the Jordan River being the main surface water resource for the Palestinians, and control of the water supply Palestinians have is merely nominal.

In 1993, Israelis and Palestinians signed the Oslo interim agreement, which was intended to begin negotiations on water resources - negotiations that were intended to be concluded by 2000 but have yet to take place. The agreement also established a Joint Water committee with an even number of Israelis and Palestinians possessing membership to manage the West Bank’s shared water resources.

However, Oslo also assigns exclusive veto power to Israelis over decision-making in the committee, effectively reducing the Palestinians to nominal power.

An Israeli water company, Mekorot, controls the allocation of water for both Israelis and Palestinians. It reduces the quantity of water they provide for the Palestinians while water consumption by the Israelis doubles. In addition, in the West Bank district of Tubas, the average consumption of water for Palestinians is thirty litres per person, whereas for the illegal settlement of Beka’ot - only twelve kilometres south of Tubas - the average consumption of water by Israelis is 401 litres per person.

Israel has colonized the Palestinians beyond their borders.

Similar actions have occurred in other colonies such as Algeria - the indigenous population is treated as inferior, but as Fanon notes, they will never be convinced of their inferiority. Determining what constitutes justice is a difficult affair, but one thing is certain that though, as Alain Badiou says, “...injustice is clear, justice is obscure.

Those who have undergone injustice provide irrefutable testimony concerning the former.

But who can testify for justice? Injustice has its affect: suffering, revolt. Nothing, however, signals justice: it presents itself neither as spectacle nor as sentiment.”


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