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  • Writer's pictureAllis Crusoe

Palestine: The 'Native Problem' – 75 Years of Colonial Discourse

The last weekend has seen an extreme escalation of violence between Palestinian and Israeli factions. On Thursday, the 26th of January, Israeli soldiers rolled into the West Bank city of Jeneen in an attempt to arrest alleged members of the terrorist group Islamic Jihad. However, the soldiers came under fire and after the end of a four-hour shootout, nine Palestinians were dead, two civilians included. Twenty more have suffered bullet wounds or injuries from teargas. Shortly after, a Palestinian attacked civilians in East-Jerusalem leaving seven dead. The Palestinian Authority announced a three-day mourning period, called for a general strike and suspended all security cooperation with the state of Israel. In reaction to the events, the Hamas launched seven rockets towards Israel, two of which were intercepted by the Iron-Dome-System, while the rest of them either fell short of the border or landed in open fields. What marks one of the bloodiest raids conducted by the Israeli Military in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, is in reality a symptom of an ongoing escalation process of Israeli aggression. Since the formation of the new government, there were Palestinian casualties every week amounting to a total of 35 killed only in January by either the Israeli Defence Force or settlers. The new government has actively contributed to rising the tension with the Palestinians. For example, with the new year, Itamar Ben-Gvir visited the Temple Mount and caused widespread outrage amongst Palestinians and the international community. His action even resulted in a UN-urgency meeting. By the end of the month, the number of UN urgency meetings doubled as a result of the events triggered by the intervention in Jeneen. However, the recent escalation process is not only the reflection of the new right-wing government, but rather the inherent result of a colonial logic, a logic that Middle East scholar Graham Usher coined with the term the ‘native problem’.[1] In relation to the ‘native’ question, in the past couple of years, we have seen a change in Israel’s strategy towards the Palestinians. This change comes also against the democraphic background of a birth-rate amongst the Palestinian population that has been superior to the Israeli birth-rate for decades now. Therefore, it is vital to note that this change in colonial rhetoric towards the ‘native problem’ comes at a point where Palestinian population is expected to constitute the majority by the year 2025.

There is an important distinction to make between colonialism and settler colonialism. The former succeeds by keeping colonizer and colonized separate, such as for example the British rule in India or Nigeria. Settler colonialism, on the other hand, succeeds when the settlers have marginalized the native communities and are ‘‘indigenized’’, thus cease to be seen as settlers (like in the case of Australia, Canada, and the US)[2]. To succeed with survival, settler immigrants or colonial entities have to fulfil three conditions: They must achieve a normalisation of relations, or militarily overpower their neighbouring states; they have to achieve economic independence from their mother societies; and they must solve the ‘native problem’. In the perspective of colonial entities or settler communities, there are four possible ways to deal with the native problem: The first option is to annex the occupied territories without granting citizenship to the indigenous communities, resolving its ‘native problem’ by applying the logic of a colonial apartheid regime in the likes of South African vintage. The second option is to annex the territories and granting citizenship to the indigenous communities, thus solving the ‘native problem’ through integration and assimilation of the communities. The third option is to withdraw from the occupied territories. The last option is the bloodiest, namely committing a ‘politicide’ by cleansing the occupied territories from the native communities, thus making the native community politically irrelevant.

Israel has fully succeeded in meeting the first two conditions for the survival of settler communities. In the period of the British mandate until 1947, the Zionist movement was able to secure enough political and economic capital from the British patron for a declaration of independence in their favour. National independence was sealed with the UN partition plan of 1949, which recognized Israel as a state in roughly 57% of the Palestinian territory mandated by the British. In the following years, Israel has established vital strategic relationships, first with France, and later on with the U.S., the military superpower par excellence. This strategic military alliance, the exchange of military expertise and material (including nuclear weapons), and the financing of a vital part of the Israeli defence sector, has made Israel a force to be reckoned with and an incontestable power in the region. Due to this overwhelming superiority in power, Israel was able to assert its existence without having to consent to a comprehensive peace agreement with its Arab neighbours. Furthermore, Israel has achieved economic independence swiftly after its creation. Israel has a thriving finance and tech sector, is to be found amongst the biggest arms exporters, and is a fertile ground for start-ups of all sorts. In the year 2022, Israel was the fourth best performing economy of the OECD-countries – outranking Japan, France, Italy and the U.S.[3] However, Israel has struggled with resolving its ‘native problem’, and will therefore, as long as the Palestinian state is not independent, continue being a highly securitised state with questionable legitimacy. In the eyes of a big part of the neighbouring Arab states, Israel will only be accepted as state in its full legal rights when an acceptable agreement with the Palestinians has been found. Despite Israel’s legal status of existence in the international system, legitimacy depends on its behaviour with the Palestinian entity.

Ironically, after the war with the Arab states in 1948, Israel largely succeeded in resolving its ‘native question’. According to the Israeli historian Baruch Kimmerling, the ‘Zionist miracle’ of the 1948 war is not a reference to the Israeli expansion of the territories beyond the borders that were assigned to Israel in the 1947 UN partition plan, but rather the fact that the territories were almost entirely cleansed of the Palestinians and their society. Kimmerling calls the act ‘politicide’ and believes it to be a constant in Zionist policy and practice.[4] Although the ‘native problem’ was solved in 1948, Israel burdened itself with the issue once more after the conquest of the Gaza strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Sinai, and the Golan Heights in the Six-Day War 1967. With the conquest of those territories, Israel was once again confronted with the question of how to deal with over 1 million non-Jewish Arab inhabitants.

The prevailingly adopted colonial logic after the war of 1967 was to settle and separate. The wall between Israeli territory and the Palestinian communities stands symbolically for this logic. Starting in the 1970s, the Israeli government started to implant settlements into the West Bank. The occupation of those territories followed a coherent colonial logic, namely to create geographic and demographic facts at the core of the West Bank to prevent the formation of a consistent Palestinian entity. Up to 2017, over 200 settlements were created in the West Bank, hosting a population of roughly 700’000, thereby effectively fragmenting and dividing the Palestinian territories into isolated isles.[5] These colonies are integrated legally, spatially, culturally, and materially into Israel through laws, services, protection through the IDF, infrastructure, as well as a road network that reaches all the way from Tel Aviv to the Jordan river. By circumventing and isolating the Palestinian areas, this construct separates millions of Palestinians into a series of disconnected provinces. Israel’s main policy after 1967 was to populate occupied land, disintegrate the Palestinian society and physically as well as legally separate the ‘native’ population from Israeli entities and rights. The described political system and lived conditions urged Amnesty International in the year 2022, especially after the incidents in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah where Palestinian were evicted from their homes, to label Israel’s political system and concept of society Apartheid.[6]

At the latest, ever since the inauguration of the new Israeli government in January 2023, we have witnessed a shift in the colonial logic, pulling away from the Apartheid’s logic of separation towards a more aggressive approach to ‘politicide’. The signs for this shift have already been visible in the aforementioned Sheikh Jarrah campaign, committing a small-scale ‘politicide’ by literally pushing Palestinians out of their home, thus cleansing a territory from a political entity. However, with the new government and Itamar Ben Gvir’s deal with Likud that allows him to decide without oversight on police regulations, things have taken a more apparent and bloodier turn. His loosening of live-fire rules comes after he stated the intention to grant full immunity from investigations and trials to Israel’s security forces, including police officers, who have acted out of accordance.[7] Furthermore, after this bloody week-end, Netanyahu stated the intention to systematically cut social services to families members of an alleged terrorist, to destroy their homes and deport them, and to loosen gun-law restriction for Israeli citizens. Being confronted with the demographic difficulty that the Palestinian birth-rate poses to Israel and its Jewish identity, the new government has started to exploit the window of opportunity of having a more right-wing electorate that tolerates the colonial strategy of the ‘politicide’. What does that mean for the future? With regard to the immense Palestinian population in the West Bank and the Gaza strip, any resolution of the ‘native problem’ other than integration with equal rights or a two-state solution will be impossible. Politicide and lasting Apartheid will not be tolerated on the international level as well. On the other hand, the political will for a two-state solution is currently almost non-existent in Israel. With this new government, this new strategy, Palestinians are to suffer some bloody months with little other consequences except for pain and calamity.

Allis Crusoe holds a Bachelors degree in Political Science from Goldsmith University in London and a Masters degree in International Relations from the American University of Cairo. Allis currently works as freelance consultant for governments and NGOs.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Ishtar MENA Analytics.


[1] Graham Usher. (2006): The wall and the dismemberment of Palestine. Race & Class, 47(3), pp.9-30. [2] Lorenzo Veracini (2013): The Other Shift: Settler Colonialism, Israel, and the Occupation. Journal of Palestine Studies, 42:2, 26-42 [3] Sharon Wrobel (2022): Israel ranked 4th-best-performing economy among OECD countries in 2022, The Times of Israel, [4] Baruch Kimmerling (2003) Politicide: Ariel Sharon’s war against the Palestinians. London, Verso [5] B’tselem (2017): Settlements. [6] Amnesty International (2022): ISRAEL’S APARTHEID AGAINST PALESTINIANS. [7] Josh Breiner (2022): Far-right Ben-Gvir’s Deal With Likud Lets Him Relax Police Open-fire Regulations. Haaretz

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