Fig. 1. The ruins of a terminal at the Gaza airport. Image by Said Khatib (Agence France-Presse) on September 9, 2018, via the Times of Israel, fair use.
Soon after the Hamas attack, I started seeing an argument especially but not exclusively on social media insisting that Zionists cannot be settler-colonists because Jews have always been in Palestine. I even saw this argument from, shamefully, Julia Ioffe.
Karen Attiah takes on this claim, in essence arguing that in fact this was a project of the British Empire, beginning with the Balfour Declaration of 1917, and therefore that the power dynamic of settler-colonialism applies nonetheless.
My answer to the Zionist argument is different. I note that regardless of longstanding Jewish presence in Palestine, there have been numerous massive Jewish migrations to what is now Israel or the territory that Israel now occupies beginning in the 19th century, notably from Russia, eastern Europe, and Ethiopia, but from around the world as citizenship is guaranteed to those the Israeli authorities recognize as Jewish. Whatever evidence you may have that Jews have been present in Palestine for however long, it applies to some Jews, not all—indeed, Jews did not become a majority of the area’s population until 1948, when Israel was founded—Nakba. Furthermore, the charge of ethnic cleansing applies simply because Palestinians are being forcibly displaced from their homes, in part to make way for settlements that are flatly illegal under international law.
Karen Attiah, “The colonial history of Israel-Palestine: Bringing the receipts,” Washington Post, November 3, 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/11/03/colonial-history-britain-israel/
- Agence France-Presse and Times of Israel, “20 years after its opening, destroyed Gaza airport embodies grounded peace hopes,” Times of Israel, September 12, 2018, https://www.timesofisrael.com/20-years-after-its-opening-destroyed-gaza-airport-embodies-grounded-peace-hopes/↩
- Julia Ioffe, “Tragedy in Israel,” Puck, October 10, 2023, https://puck.news/tragedy-in-israel/↩
- Karen Attiah, “The colonial history of Israel-Palestine: Bringing the receipts,” Washington Post, November 3, 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/11/03/colonial-history-britain-israel/↩
- Reform Judaism, “History of Jewish Immigration to Israel (Aliyah),” n.d., https://reformjudaism.org/history-jewish-immigration-israel-aliyah↩
- Pew Research Center, “Faith on the Move – The Religious Affiliation of International Migrants,” March 8, 2012, https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2012/03/08/religious-migration-exec/↩
- Jewish Agency for Israel, “The Law of Return,” n.d., https://archive.jewishagency.org/first-steps/program/5131/↩
- Jewish Virtual Library, “Jewish & Non-Jewish Population of Israel/Palestine,” n.d., https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jewish-and-non-jewish-population-of-israel-palestine-1517-present↩
- Mohammed Haddad, “Nakba Day: What happened in Palestine in 1948?” Al Jazeera, May 15, 2022, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/5/15/nakba-mapping-palestinian-villages-destroyed-by-israel-in-1948↩
- Mohammed Haddad, “Nakba Day: What happened in Palestine in 1948?” Al Jazeera, May 15, 2022, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/5/15/nakba-mapping-palestinian-villages-destroyed-by-israel-in-1948; Zena Tahhan, “Israel’s settlements: Over 50 years of land theft explained,” Al Jazeera, January 27, 2020, https://interactive.aljazeera.com/aje/2017/50-years-illegal-settlements/index.html↩