On 26 February, an estimated 500 Israeli settlers stormed the occupied West Bank villages of Hawara, Zaatara, and Burin, among others in what many are calling a pogrom. Protected by Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF), armed settlers set fire to hundreds of Palestinian homes – 9 of which were confirmed to have families trapped inside – hundreds of cars, shops, ambulances, trees, and livestock. One Palestinian father, Sheikh Sameh Hamdallah Mahmoud Aqtash who had just returned from a rescue mission in Turkey, was martyred in Zaatara.
Just a few days ago Zionist settlers and IOF soldiers invaded occupied Nablus again, broke into shops, and terrorised Palestinians.
So far this year at least 80 Palestinians have been martyred, 15 were children.
Predictably, in the wake of such violence from settlers who are not IOF soldiers, narratives about “extremist,” “right-wing” Zionists and Zionist governments emerged. Ironically, thousands of settlers in the territories occupied in 1948, known as “Israel”, denounced such aggression in the occupied West Bank, blaming it on the newly elected right-wing Zionist government led by Netanyahu, as opposed to so-called “progressive” Zionist parties.
Through this liberal, sugar-coated narrative and apparent outrage towards the recent escalation of Zionist violence this year, the reality of Zionist settler-colonialism and how the Zionist state was established, is obfuscated, diluted, and deliberately ignored. Settler-led rampages are not a rarity, nor an extreme version of Zionist occupation; they are its very foundation.
In fact, the settler mobs who invaded the occupied villages did so only two days after the 29th anniversary of the Ibrahimi Mosque Massacre, during which Benjamin Goldstein, an ultranationalist American Zionist settler, killed 29 Palestinians – 6 of whom were children – during prayer in Ramadan. He injured 125 others before being killed by Palestinian survivors of the massacre.
At least 6 more Palestinians were killed by the IOF in uprisings following the massacre, as well. In the days that followed, Zionist settlers organised and staged extravagant funeral processions for Goldstein, deliberately driving through areas in the occupied West Bank to taunt Palestinians.
Today, Goldstein is revered and honoured by the Zionist state and its settlers, with several celebrations where settlers dressed up as him, prayed for him, and recalled the massacre with fondness. Still, articles written back then claim that Goldstein was a rogue extremist Zionist – but is he?
“Extremist violence” is in the fabric of Zionist ideology and praxis. In On Zionist Colonialism, scholar Fayez Sayegh analyses Zionism through a historical materialist lens. Importantly, he explains the systematic process of Zionist nation-building before 1947-1948 and the beginning of the Nakba, its “vital and continuing association with European imperialism,” and the racial and ethnic exclusion, violence, and territorial expansion engrained within Zionism.
Patrick Wolfe also illustrated the methods through which Zionist settlements in the 1930s and early 40s encircled Palestinian neighbourhoods — with permission from British colonists — and eventually drove out Palestinian residents who dealt with relentless harassment and racism.
Settlements funded by the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency, formed their own militias and built their own schools and curricula. These armed forces, which at the time did not represent the armed forces of a nation-state, but vigilante militias, were formed by European Jewish settlers. These same settlers eventually formed the IOF and carried out the mass exodus of 1948, after which at least 300,000 Palestinians were exiled and refused the right to return to their homeland via the Zionist Absentee Law.
75 years after the beginning of the Nakba, a necessary component of the Zionist settler-colonial project remains the systematic militarisation of settlers by the state.
Earlier this year, after the IOF massacred 9 Palestinians in Jenin, Netanyahu laid out plans to further increase the militarisation of settlers in the occupied West Bank by arming them via a Zionist state-sponsored program.
To a people enduring and resisting occupation, dispossession, and ethnic cleansing, armed “civilian” settlers are naturally indistinguishable from the IOF – especially when looting, invading, and squatting in Palestinian homes and property. Neither are Zionist settlers in the territories occupied in 1948 distinguishable from IOF soldiers when their lynch mobs are live-streamed on TV.
Settlers are inseparable from the settler-colonial project to which they belong.
In 2006, photos of children writing messages on missiles aimed at Lebanon went viral, and in 2014 and 2018, photos of Zionist settlers watching Gaza being bombed, cheering, and celebrating were circulated by mainstream media. The proximity of Zionist settlers to genocidal state-sanctioned violence is time and time again shown in the clearest ways possible. And yet, when occupied cities and villages in the West Bank are invaded by a mob of armed settlers protected by the IOF, when a settler kills 29 Palestinians during prayer, or when “civilians” are armed en masse by the state, we are told by settlers themselves, who fancy themselves “progressive,” that this happens to be an “extremist” faction of Zionist ideology and praxis.
In reality, the continuous, unrelenting violence towards Palestinians, whether by “official” Zionist forces or armed settlers, underlies the systematic genocide and ethnic cleansing Palestinians have endured and resisted since the beginning of the Nakba. The centrality of genocide and dispossession by means of militarism to all areas of Zionist life and state-building is extreme in and of itself; it is the rule, not a rare exception.
Tara Alami is a Palestinian writer and organiser from occupied Jerusalem and occupied Yafa. She is based in Tiohtià:ke (Montreal).
Follow her on Twitter: @taraxrh
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