BEIRUT — As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One, we can better understand the conditions then by following closely events in Palestine this week. Israeli behavior provides the best window we have into the mindset of Western colonial powers a century ago, when foreigners with superior military equipment and an exaggerated sense of their own national superiority killed, occupied, jailed, confined, defined, slaughtered, exiled, gassed and generally manhandled local Arabs at will, treating them more like animals than human beings.
Israel behaves today against Palestinians like the French, British and Italian colonial powers treated Iraqis, Syrians, Egyptians, Algerians and Libyans a century ago. Israel’s colonization of Arab lands and disproportionate military savagery against Palestinian civilians is a living history lesson on how colonial powers treated the natives as either servants or subversives who had no rights, and dealt with them primarily by repeated shows of force.
Without the explanatory lens of colonial behavior, I see only two ways to understand how every few years Israel enthusiastically unleashes the power of its advanced military machines against an essentially helpless civilian population that has neither escape routes nor shelters from the non-stop bombings from the air. Either Israelis are incredibly stupid people who do not grasp the futility of their repeated attacks that never seem to achieve the acquiescence, passivity and servility they seek from the Palestinians; or they are pathological killers who relish the sight of bombed Palestinian homes, weeping mothers and the burned and dismembered bodies of dozens and dozens of babies and children.
I know that Israelis are neither of these things. They are normal people like all other people. So why do they keep doing what they are doing now, like dropping 400 tons of explosives on defenseless Gazan families in 36 hours? Why do they do this and then return every few years to do the same thing, always seeking to stop the Palestinians’ armed resistance against Israeli occupation and siege, but never succeeding?
More troublingly, why do around 90 percent of the Israeli people support the government’s repeat war policy, making this a mass feature of Zionism in Zion, rather than the freak aberration of a few extremists in power?
They do all this because they are locked in perhaps the world’s longest continuous colonial confrontation, between Jewish nationalism/Zionism and Palestinian Arab nationalism. They behave exactly like all other colonial powers acted towards the locals they conquered during the 18th-20th centuries. This conflict started in the late 1890s when the First Zionist Congress called for the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine and the promotion of Zionist settlements in that land which was over 90 percent owned and inhabited by Palestinian Arabs. For the next 120 years, Jewish Zionism and Palestinian Arabism have clashed, Zionism has prevailed militarily and in many other ways, but the fundamental equation of colonial domination and indigenous resistance persists.
Zionism’s conflict with the indigenous Palestinian Arabs is now unto the sixth generation, and counting. The 1.5 million Palestinians of 1947 are now around eight million, and counting; and they all resist in their own ways — never forgetting who they are and where they came from, never accepting their dispossession and exile, never acquiescing that they must live eternally in their own Babylonian exile.
Seeing Israel-Palestine and the wider Middle East today through the lens of the destructive consequences of colonial excesses helps us better understand the two dominant phenomena today: the long-term instability and continuing conflicts sparked by colonial adventures a century or more ago, across the Middle East and other parts of the South; and the lingering tensions and violence in Palestine-Israel, which continue in an unbroken legacy from the late 19th century.
Many anti-colonial movements around the world ultimately ended White Western tutelage over vast expanses of the globe — except for Palestine, where the descendants of indigenous Arabs today still battle the descendants of immigrant Zionists (the small indigenous Jewish community that had lived in Palestine for centuries was always part of the local culture, and was not seen as alien or threatening, because the indigenous Jews of Palestine were precisely that — indigenous Jews of Palestine who were neither alien nor threatening, nor colonial in their mindset).
The delayed consequences of colonialism include the astounding variety of political and sectarian violence and chaos that we witness across the region, most viciously in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Algeria and others lands that had been colonized by European powers and then ravaged by their own incompetent and vicious military rulers. These tumults, and the savage battles in Palestine/Israel, suggest that the colonial era has never really ended, and that we still suffer the ugly consequences of White men from the North with powerful guns and fighter planes who feel they can kill thousands of darker people from the South with total impunity — and come back and do it again three years later, and again three years after that, because colonialism never succeeds, and only ends with liberation and self-determination.
Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon. You can follow him @ramikhouri.
Copyright © 2014 Rami G. Khouri—distributed by Agence Global
Released: 12 July 2014
Word Count: 835
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