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Decolonising Israel, liberating Palestine: The roadmap to a one-state democracy Open in fullscreen

Sophia Akram

Decolonising Israel, liberating Palestine: The roadmap to a one-state democracy

Jeff Halper writes that the only way out of a colonial situation is decolonisation. [Pluto]

Date of publication: 8 January, 2021

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Book Club: Jeff Halper argues that the only way to decolonise Palestine is to dismantle Israeli structures of domination and control and replace them with a single democratic state.
If in order to start the process of decolonisation you have to first understand how colonisation happened, Pluto Press's new release from Jeff Halper is a good place to start on Israel and Palestine

The book, Decolonizing Israel, Liberating Palestine: Zionism, Settler Colonialism and the Case for One Democratic State, as outlined in the forward by Nadia Naser-Najjab (Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter), is more than just an ambition; it draws a roadmap towards decolonisation.

Halper's invitation to see what the journey to a one-state solution looks like faces down dismissals of the idea as utopian and implores readers to see the issue of Palestine outside of the security dynamic through which it has become framed.

Instead, Halper argues that Israel must be reframed as a "settler-colonial project". In that way, it can be justly analysed with the viable solution, he says, as a one-state democracy where both Israelis and Palestinians have equal rights, status and freedoms.

In a unique position as a "settler coloniser who refuses", Halper provides "an intimate and critical understanding of Israeli society, its history and ideologies, its internal differences and its aspirations and fears". He takes into consideration, as well, the anti-colonial framework Palestinians have already provided.

Halper himself was galvanised into campaigning by having witnessed a Palestinian house demolition first-hand, going on to co-found the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), which rebuilds Palestinian homes demolished by Israel as acts of political resistance, rather than humanitarian gestures. He is also the founder of the One Democratic State Campaign (ODSC).

In this new relationship, the Palestinians regain their sovereignty, their rights and their country, within the framework of a single democratic state shared equally with Israeli Jews and others

Split into three parts, the book begins by looking at Zionism as a settler-colonial project, emphasising the need to look beyond what is happening or has happened within the occupied Palestinian territories (OPTs), as such narratives exclude the vast majority of Palestinians.

Looking at Israel and Palestine through this lens provides insight from other settler-colonial conflicts across the world, the most obvious example being South Africa's struggle to end apartheid.

Chapter one of the book runs through the five stages of settler colonialism, while chapter two frames Zionism as a settler-colonial project and describes the process of how decolonisation should work: the institutions that need to be built, the civil identity that should exist and the deracialising of social, economic and civil rights that must take place.

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It also describes the Dominance Management Regime i.e., how Israel exerts its dominance through population management, land management, economic management, and the management of legitimacy, which he shows in later chapters can be dismantled in the process of decolonisation.

Part two then delves into the three cycles of Zionist colonial development: foundational violence, the Israeli state cycle and the occupation cycle.

"Foundational violence" begins at the moment in which the settler invasion begins dispossessing the Indigenous population," Halper writes. "Settlers, their militias and the metropole countries all engage in it".

Almost as soon as Zionism began, settlement was accompanied by "The Military Way", a coin termed by Uri Ben-Eliezer. Chapter two continues to explain how military skills were learned from the British and used against Palestinians. After 75 percent of the Palestinian population was expelled, the Israeli state imposed a Kafkaesque legal mechanism to ensure they did not return to reclaim their land.

Through occupation, writes Halper, the narrative of maintaining security was introduced and served to justify how the state managed the resulting Palestinian population.

Halper argues that the resolutions on the table - the Oslo Peace Accords and a two-state solution - have only served to normalise the cycle introduced by Israel, and he thus presents decolonisation as the only viable option to dismantle the Dominance Management Regime imposed.

Amid a raft of failed policy choices, Halper's book is a cathartic practical vision of one possible way out of the protracted Israel-Palestine conflict

Part III goes through the strategies of resistance already employed by Palestinians, such as 'Sumud' or everyday resistance - doing whatever is needed to stay in your house and on your land - and 'summoning power', i.e., the forces allowing people to challenge the status quo, such as political organising.

Describing how decolonisation might take place and the ODSC plan, he writes: "The ODSC program begins with the dismantlement of the Domination Management Regime and its replacement by a new, shared, inclusive and democratic polity and civil society. It progresses into the new post-colonial relationship between Palestinians and Israeli Jews." 

He adds: "In this new relationship, the Palestinians regain their sovereignty, their rights and their country, within the framework of a single democratic state shared equally with Israel Jews and others. For their part, Israeli Jews by accepting this new relationship in a political community enabled by the indigenous Palestinians, play a now constructive role as the decolonised polity moves on towards its post-colonial future".

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As the co-founder of the ODSC, Halper has written on a solution he has advocated for many years. Whilst public opinion is still divided, recent polling suggests that Palestinian support for the two-state solution continues to decline.

"We cannot underestimate the damage to the Palestinian cause, and to the Palestinians' ability to achieve liberation, caused by the PLO's shift from anti-colonialism to conflict resolution in the 1970s and '80s", says Halper, speaking to The New Arab.

"By redefining the problem as one of conflict between two 'sides,' the PLO legitimized Israel (and thereby Zionism). More, it empowered Israel, by far the strongest party, to dictate the terms, even whether a 'peace process' would continue at all", he says.

With the number of Palestinians, including in the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, conceding negotiating power to Israel, says Halper, the main reason Palestinians deem a one-state solution impossible is they believe "Israelis will not allow it", he says.

"This is a perfect expression of what the Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o calls the colonization of the mind. Indeed, a decolonization of the mind must take place in the colonized people before they dare to challenge their colonial status".

There are other tensions acknowledged in the book as well. Settler societies are not in the habit of apologising for their crimes and concessions may still not fundamentally change the relationship between them and the indigenous community.

We cannot underestimate the damage to the Palestinian cause, and to the Palestinians' ability to achieve liberation, caused by the PLO's shift from anti-colonialism to conflict resolution

There would also be an inherent and anticipated distrust between both sides as not only would Palestinians likely disbelieve Israelis would relinquish power, but many Israelis also "resist inclusiveness in a democratic, citizen-based civil society with 'Arabs'".

Nevertheless, Halper says an "end-game" is necessary for a just solution, and for that, there needs to be a political programme. Halper has presented one via a 10-point plan fundamental to ODSC and expanded on it in detail in the book.

"While it still needs work and Palestinian buy-in, it represents a return not only to a political program that is essential for any political process, but a return as well to the original Palestinian concept of an anti-colonial struggle, albeit somewhat altered given the political realities of the passing decades".

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Halper suggests the book is not only timely but urgent as normalisation of the Israeli "settler-colonial" project picks up the pace. Diplomatic relations and decisions have evolved and there has been a hastened altering of facts on the ground with an uptick in house demolitions.

Decolonizing Israel, Liberating Palestine: Zionism, Settler Colonialism and the Case for One Democratic State is a comprehensive plan of action and theory behind the one-state solution.

There is also seeming wisdom in understanding how the process of colonisation took place, which he presents in two well-researched sections from his unique position as a "stakeholder" and "ally". The last section unwinds the process to see what decolonisation would look like.

Amid a raft of failed policy choices, Halper's book is a cathartic practical vision of one possible way out of the protracted Israel-Palestine conflict.

'Decolonizing Israel, Liberating Palestine: Zionism, Settler Colonialism, and the Case for One Democratic State' is available from Pluto Press from 27 January.

Sophia Akram is a researcher and communications professional with a special interest in human rights particularly across the Middle East.

Follow her on Twitter: @mssophiaakram

The New Arab Book Club: Click on our Special Contents tab to read more book reviews and interviews with authors:

 

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