Israel-Palestine Through a Settler-Colonial Studies Lens

Lorenzo Veracini. Interventions. Volume 21, Issue 4. 2019.

Interest in settler colonialism as a specific mode of domination is growing. Interest in Israel-Palestine (in alphabetical order) is ongoing and substantial. Since the scholarly journal Settler Colonial Studies was set up in 2010, a steady flow of interventions has addressed the issue of settler colonialism in contemporary Israel/Palestine. The journal has already published three special issues on this topic (Salamanca et al. 2012; Svirsky 2014; Veracini 2015a). Indeed, even though settler colonial studies coalesced in recent decades as a comparative, transnational, and interdisciplinary scholarly subfield dealing with a vast array of locales, a significant part of its output has been about Palestine. That present concerns should inform historical research should not surprise us. This essay argues settler-colonial studies as an interpretive paradigm is now especially needed in the case of Israel-Palestine. As the prospect of postcolonial national independence involving less than a quarter of historical Palestine (i.e. the ‘two-state solution’) seems finally to have waned, a different paradigm may be required. If decolonizing solutions are no longer available (i.e. the internationally recognized independence of a state), perhaps a set of decolonizing solutions specific to the decolonization of settler colonialism may be contemplated (i.e. constitutional arrangements that recognize the sovereign autonomy and self-determining integrity of a polity that remains contained/constrained within another; see Veracini 2015b, 95-109; for critiques of this approach, see Busbridge 2018; Rifkin 2017). Yet again, even talking about ‘solutions’ and associated metaphors may be misleading and should be questioned. The notion of a ‘solution’ implies there is no residuum left. Are Jews and Palestinians not going to entertain relations in the future? Talking of ‘solutions’ in this context implies thinking about a future where there are is no ongoing relationship between discrete polities. This is a very settler-colonial assumption.

If many have explored the significance of settler colonialism as a mode of domination in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, such exploration is necessary even if one is determined to deny its validity (Peled 2017). My particular research focus goes the other way round. I am drawn to the history of Zionism for what it highlights about a specific mode of domination. My research interest has always been about what happens when a particular collective travels endowed with a constitutive sovereign capacity. My suggestion is that the study of Zionism can contribute to the understanding of settler-colonial social formations as much as the other way around. This should not be a problem; scholars should not refrain from looking sideways and beyond established disciplinary constraints. Nonetheless, that the following intervention is offered by an outsider should be noted.

Settler-colonial studies as an intellectual endeavour has explored the articulations of colonialism and settler colonialism as distinct modes of domination. While these modes always coexist in different configurations in actually existing places, one is hierarchical, the other rhizomatic; one aims towards its reproduction, the other towards its supersession (Veracini 2010). The following passages outline the ways in which settler-colonial studies as a heuristic device can contribute to the analysis of the history and contemporary predicament in Israel-Palestine. This essay’s first section briefly outlines the possible benefits of such reframing; the second specifically targets exceptionalist claims. The following notes should be seen primarily as an invitation to a scholarly discussion; unlike the settler-colonial projects it studies, settler-colonial studies as a comparative endeavour does not aim to displace.

Framing a Postconflict and a Colonialism That is Not

To contextualize this outline, I will begin with two oft-repeated statements. They are routinely used to deny that Zionism can be interpreted as an instance of colonialism, let alone settler colonialism. The first one asserts Zionism cannot be considered settler colonialism because such a rubric obscures its inherent specificity. I remain unconvinced. It is like saying that Newton was wrong to think in abstract terms and that his theory of gravitation was inappropriate because it neglected the specific characteristics of a particular apple. More to the point: abstracting does not rule out specific observation. On the contrary, it is necessarily premised on it. At the same time, appraising Zionism and settler colonialism in the same interpretive frame does not amount to saying that Zionism is just like other settler colonialisms, or an imitation of previous iterations of this mode of domination. This approach is primarily about Zionism’s relationship with the indigenous collective it encounters and how this relationship reproduces the relationships other settler-colonial projects establish with other indigenous collectives. It is a statement of political geometry, not an exercise in morality. Indeed, it is not even about a similarity between colonization movements but about a relational similarity. It is not about comparing apples but about comparing their falling. It may be a great apple, but the fact remains that apple fell in Palestine. If I were a Palestinian, I would develop a keen interest in the physics of apples, but even if I were personally committed to the project of settling in Palestine I would still be interest in ‘appledynamics’.

The second statement I’d like to address is about the ostensible absence of a directly colonizing metropole. Colonialism must be performed for the benefit of a colonizing centre, it is argued. If it is missing this direction, and Zionism is, as it relies on the institutions of a diaspora rather than those of a colonizing centre (even though it is crucially relying on the support of colonial/imperial and neocolonial powers—the British during the Mandate era and the United States afterwards), then it is not colonialism. Others have countered this assertion by pointing to Zionism’s ability to rely on a ‘diffusely integrated’ or ‘diffuse transnational’ metropole (Wolfe 2016, 228, 247), but for the purposes of this essay I’d like to note that settler colonialism is crucially distinguished from colonialism as a mode of domination precisely because of the settlers’ collective ability to subtract themselves from the supervisory control of an overbearing metropolis while following an autonomous course. Triumphant settlers are always emancipated from a colonizing metropole; they famously declare their independence. The absence of a colonizing national metropole, or the presence of a transnational one, is a shared trait of settler-colonial phenomena, including Zionism, not a distinguishing feature. These defenders of Zionism are actually arguing that Zionism is not a colonial movement because it is … a settler-colonial one. They may be onto something, but do they want to be onto this something?

But if linking settler colonialism as a specific mode of domination and the history and current predicament of Israel-Palestine cannot be ruled out, what can the benefit of this analysis be? In other words, how can settler-colonial studies help an original interpretation of the conflict? First, and very importantly, settler-colonial studies may allow us to get the tenses right. We routinely use the present tense to refer to ‘the conflict’, but when it comes to this loaded topic, we may be getting the tenses wrong. I would like to suggest that what is in front of us is not a conflict situation (i.e. one characterized by the unequal struggle of opposing armies or military outfits), it is actually a postconflict. Postconflicts are rarely peaceful, but in the case of this conflict we know already how the military confrontation ended. The military conflict for Greater Palestine was resolved in 1948 and sealed in 1967. Like settlers elsewhere, the Zionists came to stay, and like the settlers in other settler societies, they won decisively the military confrontation against indigenous resistance. (This, incidentally, may be why Israel no longer wins wars the decisive way it used to: as winning wars can be defined as no longer needing to win, it is inevitably facing diminishing returns.) The current predicament is the result of a military victory that has already been attained, and, conversely, of a military defeat that has already been suffered. Settler-colonial power reproduces itself through a denial of the reality that there is no military challenge (and therefore no military solution).

Getting the tense right is especially important because narrative structures and their organization inform perception. The received interpretation is that there is a conflict and that it results from an ethnonational and religious struggle; in other words that there is an ethnic conflict because there are Palestinians. Alas, it is actually the other way round: the Palestinian national collective in its current configuration is the result of the end of the conflict. The Palestinian experience is fundamentally shaped by displacement and by the Occupation. Settler-colonial studies as an interpretive framework allows us to consider that the colonial policy of segregation imposed after the successful repression of the first Intifada was profoundly discontinuous with the settler-colonial policy of subordinate integration Israel had previously pursued (Veracini 2013). Vae victis, woe unto the vanquished, said Brennus, exacting gold from the Romans beyond the terms of their surrender. Vae victores, one should note in the context of a postcolonial dialectic.

Second, settler-colonial studies as applied to the Israeli-Palestinian postconflict can be used to look beyond the confrontation opposing Israelis and Palestinians and to move away from ossified interpretive structures. Detailing the opposition pitting colonialism and settler colonialism as distinct and ultimately antithetical modes of domination enables an approach that thinks past a zero-sum game involving two ethnonational contenders. Settler-colonial studies can explain why, relatively speaking (and settler-colonial studies offers a programmatically comparative, that is, relative approach), even though it is endowed with truly unprecedented power, the Zionist settler-colonial project is ultimately unable to normalize its conquest of Palestine and perform like the other settler societies.

I am not saying this because I wish it did a better job at erasing Palestinians, like other settlers and their successors did (and do) elsewhere. But it seems important to note that the Occupation contributes crucially to constituting the Palestinian national collective as it endeavours to erase it. Fragmented as it is in a variety of separate polities, this collective remains one crucial irreversible ‘fact on the ground’ produced by an occupation that ultimately maximizes the opportunities for its social reproduction. There is nothing that cements national collectives better than a sustained denial of national rights. Ask the Poles or the Irish. And ask the Palestinians under occupation. On the other hand, there is nothing that erases autonomous indigenous sovereign capabilities like the forcible extension of settler citizenship. Ask Native Americans after allotment and termination, or Aboriginal Australians after forced assimilation. Unlike colonialism, settler colonialism as a distinct mode of domination erases indigeneity by unevenly extending settler rights.

Zombie Exceptionalisms and Other Contradictions

A settler-colonial studies paradigm may also contribute to an original contextual understanding of Zionism because it explodes exceptionalist narratives. Zionism was never meant to be an exercise in exceptionalism in the first place. It was dedicated to the fundamental rejection of a state of exception. Settlement was Herzl’s response to antisemitism. He thought that Jews would be excellent settlers, better than other settlers elsewhere, and that by doing they would respond to systematic fabrications about being. In this respect, Herzl’s approach was similar to that of Karl Marx. Marx had famously argued that the ‘Jewish Question’ would be extinguished through full assimilation (1978). This would have required—that is, this would have amounted to—a revolution. Herzl did not want a revolution, and thought that integration without revolution could only be achieved outside of Europe, where Jews would do what Europeans typically do outside of Europe and thus fully become Europeans. Settlers of all origins routinely transubstantiate as they enter the settler locale; in French Algeria, for example, Maltese, Greeks, Spaniards, Portuguese, Italians, and even Jews became white and ‘neo-Latin’. Volitional displacement and settlement were Herzl’s alternative to the prospect of assimilation as revolution. In this, he was indeed unoriginal, one among many to offer displacement as an alternative to growing revolutionary tensions (Bach 2011). Thus, settlement was not a means to an end, and Zionism was not primarily about the state. Zionism was primarily about settlement. In the context of a type of prefigurative practice, it was the end, and the state was an afterthought. Settlement, nothing else, was the absolute core of Zionist practice.

Settler-colonial studies can help decentre the state from the analysis of Zionism as a historical phenomenon. This focus on the act of settlement and its redeeming charge rather than the outcome was common in the context of what James Belich has authoritatively called the age of the global ‘settler revolution’ (2009). And if Belich focused on the nineteenth century, the history of Zionism demonstrates that the settler revolution lasted longer than we generally assume, not that Zionism was exceptional. The relationship between the political traditions of settler colonialism in general and the state is indeed fraught. Settler colonies often resulted in strong states, but this was often not their original purpose. The settlers that displaced to the various ‘frontiers’ of settlement during the age of the settler revolution and understood their movement as endowed with inherent sovereign capabilities were actually and often escaping consolidating sovereigns (the Zionists who similarly moved to Palestine had very good reasons to escape consolidating sovereigns—the branches from which the apples fell were treacherous ones). Anyone acquainted, for example, with the contestations pitting Federalists and anti-Federalists and their successors during the early Republic era in the United States would recognize a centrifugal tendency. The settlers’ loyalty to their sovereigns is ultimately conditional to their being distant and remaining so (except when they are needed to fend off geopolitical challenges mounted by resisting indigenous peoples). The settlers’ loyalty is not absolute—settlement is—and as such, it is easily conceded.

States can promote settlement for their own purposes, they often do, especially imperial states busy managing a variety of ethnic collectives, but states ultimately promote themselves; they are their own primary concern. States control populations, all populations, even if they very rarely control them as equals. Settlement as a political form, however, is primarily about the selective reproduction of one sociopolitical collective in the place of another. Zionist understandings of history as heading inexorably and exclusively towards the establishment of the state fundamentally misunderstand Zionism as settlement. Settlement is a very particular social formation; unlike states, settlements aim to supersede themselves as they reproduce replicas of themselves in other locations (i.e. they aim to extinguish indigenous presences and autonomy, tame the ‘wilderness’, establish the institution of a settled community, etc.). Settler-colonial studies can enable an original reflection on the contradiction pitting settlement and states, and on the nature of ‘occupations’ (Bhuta 2005), a very particular colonial formation developed by the United States after the Mexican War and perfected in the context of a century and a half of overseas interventions that, like settler colonialism but unlike other form of colonialisms, is aimed at superseding itself (but in the case of the colonial occupation of the Palestinian ‘Territories’ has failed to do so).

It is not only about decentring the state by focusing on settlement; a settler-colonial studies paradigm is also useful in understanding whose sovereignty exactly underpins a specific political formation. In the context of a comparative global analysis of settler-colonial circumstances, Belich offered another category that can be profitably applied to interpreting current developments in Israel-Palestine: ‘recolonization’ (2009, 435-547). His argument upturned received narratives of settler-colonial national and economic development constructed around dependent foundation followed by independent destiny. In his analysis, the settler project was born independent and isolated, that is, free from external structures of domination, but had subsequently become dependent and subsumed in international circuits of trade following the end of sustained ‘booms’. Belich was thinking about New Zealand and Australia at the end of the nineteenth century, and his analysis has proven contentious, but a focus on the recolonization of a settler-colonial project, a focus on the ways the settler colony comes to rely once more on imperial/external structures, can indeed be useful to the interpretation of current Israeli circumstances and the way they shape the conflict.

Zionism by definition was about establishing a country of some Jewish people (i.e. those who would move to Palestine). This is not unprecedented; settler-colonial projects are by definition undertakings that represent the political aspirations of their settlers. It seems important to remark on the ways in which recurring contestations surrounding the ‘state of the Jewish people’ formula replicate in terms of political geometry debates surrounding the position of the thirteen colonies during the Revolutionary War in North America. Royalists and Loyalists claimed the colonies were the indivisible property of the whole British nation (as represented by the ‘King-in-Parliament’). The settlers of the colonies begged to differ, dressed up as Native Americans, had a tea party, and established the most successful settler-colonial polity of all (see Adas [2001]: both contenders were denying the ultimate validity of indigenous claims, albeit they were doing so in substantially different ways while tactically acknowledging the unsurrendered sovereignties of the indigenous polities). Needless to say, the North American settler patriots did not fight for the rights of all as freeborn Englishmen, or for the rights of all freeborn Englishmen. They fought for their own specific rights as freeborn Englishmen and nobody else’s. The recurring prospect of making Israel the country of all Jews (however this category may be defined) produces an inevitable recolonization effect that subjects all Jewish Israelis (i.e. the settlers) to the political determination of others (i.e. Jews that would not move to Palestine). They may willingly embrace recolonization for the benefits it brings, but recolonization is recolonization. Depending on external support is never good news for a settler-colonial project.

Moreover, a settler-colonial studies paradigm enables us to qualify Zionist claims about indigeneity. These are inevitably fraught claims, and all settlers claim in some ways to be or having become ‘indigenous’, or to be ‘returning’. French rule in North Africa was meant to be a ‘return’ to one of the cradles of Western Christianity; the ventimila (‘twenty-thousand’) peasant colonizers that the Italian Fascists sent to Libya were ‘returning’ to Italy’s ‘fourth shore’ and to imperial destiny; many Minnesota settlers believed indigenous peoples had exterminated the Vikings who had arrived there first; and even when settler priority cannot be argued, as in Australia and New Zealand, settlers have recurrently fantasized (albeit in very different ways) about indigenous peoples descending from displaced ‘Aryan tribes’ in a way that makes the settlers’ ancestors related to those who are indigenous to the land (Finaldi 2015; Ford 2015; Krueger 2015; McGregor 1996—the ‘Aryan Aborigine’ was a widely entertained idea between the 1890s and the 1940s—and Belich n.d.). This list could be easily extended—there is a pattern.

Probably unaware of this transnational convergence, respected Haaretz journalist Bradley Burston (2014) rhetorically asked: ‘If Jews are not indigenous here [i.e. in Israel-Palestine], does that mean that Jews can never be indigenous anywhere?’ This question is worth noting not because it is uniquely insightful, but because it is repeated often. Pace Burston, this rhetorical question has a straight answer, and settler-colonial studies can illustrate this point: irrespective of whether specific populations in discrete historical eras are biologically linked (and they are probably not: see Sand [2014]; Wolfe [2016, 239-47]), the very notion of a ‘Promised Land’, a notion all settlers moving towards their ‘homelands’ entertain, makes it so. People that are promised land somewhere else constitute by definition a sociopolitical collective that is necessarily organized before and elsewhere, as good a definition of being exogenous as any. One cannot celebrate the movement to the land and understand oneself as having always been there. This is the logic that is inherent to the specific stories that define a particular settler-colonial project (even in its non-religious versions, Zionism, like all settler colonialisms, sees itself reenacting a biblical story; see Pappe 2016). Zionists are not indigenous to the land; they entertain a historical, that is, non-ontological relationship to it. It is a meaningful relationship, but it is not that of an indigenous collective (on indigeneity as a type of ‘place-based existence’, see Alfred and Corntassel 2005). Settler-colonial studies can help go beyond paralyzing assumptions about equal and opposing national narratives. The narratives mobilized by Israeli and Palestinian national projects are opposed but not equal; they are not symmetrical, and mutually exclusive; on the contrary, they are ontologically different and inherently asymmetrical (and therefore potentially compatible—indigenous and settler claims that are equally construed as legitimate, for example, coexist today in a variety of settler polities in the context of the so-called ‘politics of recognition’, which cannot be called decolonial but constitute a global shift in settler governance).

Neo-Zionist commentator Uri Elitzur concluded one of his interventions by remarking: ‘without the story from the Bible, we are a colonial European settlement in the Middle East’ (2013). This trope is worth noting not because it is particularly insightful, but because it is also often repeated. Bible aside, many commentators insist that the settler-colonial studies paradigm denies the ‘Jews’ historical claims’ (e.g. Jacobson 2016); and yet, that the biblical narrative tells the story of a preconstituted polity, of a polity that is constituted before and elsewhere, should be apparent, and it is significant that all the law-giving episodes in this happen outside of the Promised Land, in Sinai (Exodus), in ‘the wilderness’ (Leviticus-Numbers), and at the edge of the Promised Land (Deuteronomy). But by their very nature historical claims are incompatible with ‘Indigenous place-based existence’. Historical claims are about returning to ‘history’, about the expression of political agency through time. There’s nothing unique or necessarily wrong with this type of collective political existence, but pointing settler colonialism out is not a negation of historical claims. On the contrary: it is precisely a recognition that Zionism has nothing but historical claims (and that therefore it is not an indigenous movement).

Elitzur’s argument was premised on reasserting a ‘unique’ relationship between Jewish land and people. Some Canada-based commentators have even argued this relationship is defined by ‘Aboriginality’. Canada is another settler society and presumably these commentators would be trained in thinking the role and position of indigenous polities. These claims misconstrue the Bible (particularly the part where there is a collective movement from one place to another) and neglect the actual histories of European settlement overseas (particularly the part where there are collective sovereign movements from one place to another). In actual fact, it is the other way round, and it is precisely because of the Bible that Zionism has built a ‘colonial European settlement’ in the Middle East. Exceptionalist claims that rely on circular repetition have no actual life of their own. They are zombie claims.

As settler colonizers cannot be indigenous, they are forever and asymptotically indigenizing (without ‘going native’, of course). All settlers face this predicament and associated ambivalences, unlike other colonial sojourners who dream of returning ‘home’ and do not mind remaining aloof. But being the subject of indigenizing processes, or actively shaping them, is not the same as being indigenous, it is its very opposite. One mode of being rules the other out; this is why settlers can never become ‘natives’. Even ‘decolonization’ cannot turn settlers into indigenes (for discussions of this theoretical possibility, see Mamdani [1998]; Zreik [2016]).

Indigeneity is always a crucial ideological battle in the politics of representation in settler-colonial contexts. The primary reason why denying someone’s indigeneity is important from a settler point of view is that it relieves the settler project of the burden of effective indigenization. This is the settler-colonial logic: if no one is indigenous, if everyone has entered the contested geography at a specific point in time, then the settler claim is as good as the indigenous one. Except that settler colonialism is made of domination and displacement, they are both necessary features of this mode of domination, and a focus on displacements in this instance is specifically designed to redirect attention from ongoing structures of power.

In the context of this discussion, and in order to emphasize Palestinian indigeneity, a focus on a specific mode of domination and on the political geometry that constitutes it is needed. Fanon (1967, 36) noted that it is ‘the settler that brings the Native into existence’. Of course, someone was always there; what Fanon meant is that it is the settler that brings the native into existence as native. There is no indigeneity without settler colonialism, and there is no settler colonialism without indigeneity.

Palestinians are indigenous because they understand themselves as originating from their country, because they entertain an ontological relationship with it, and because they are subjected to the domination of a sociopolitical collective that, on the contrary, has a historical relationship to it. Denying indigeneity is usually performed either by saying that a particular collective originates from somewhere else, that it never was indigenous, that it has arrived from elsewhere at a particular time, and therefore that it has a historical relationship to the land (just like the settlers’ does), or by emphasizing that that particular collective is no longer indigenous, that it no longer lives as a collective in the same way it was living when it was indigenous, and that it is a collective defined by history, not ontology (just like the settlers’ is). Either way, these denials are premised on postulating a discontinuity between past and present. In other words: ‘you may be indigenous now, but you were not indigenous then’, or ‘you were indigenous then, but you are no longer indigenous now’.

These arguments understand indigeneity as predicated on history (which is how the settlers aim to achieve their indigeneity—settlers want indigenous land as well as the ways in which indigenous people own the land; in exchange they will offer what the settlers have). On the contrary, indigeneity is not premised on historical claims. Indigenous people have a history, of course, and priority, but their indigeneity does not depend on it. They are indigenous irrespective of their historical experience. Besides, by issuing these claims, the settler collective only proves that the indigenous counterpart is indeed indigenous. These claims can only be made in the context of a settler-colonial relationship of domination in which there is a motive to deny indigeneity and there are the means to make the denial enforceable.

The crucial question for settler-colonial movements (whether they admit to their settler coloniality and indeed whether they do not) is how to be effective and convincing indigenizers. One efficient way to do so is to craft appropriate foundational stories (Bouchard 2008). A more legitimate claim to indigeneity, even if not an unqualified one, can be acquired. Ask Sir Walter Scott, who knew a thing or two about foundational stories and knew that the descendants of Britain’s rulers were not indigenous and yet was interested in retroactively legitimizing their rule when he wrote Ivanhoe. Or ask Virgil, who sought exogenous legitimacy for an indigenous polity and made sure that settler Aeneas married the daughter of the Latin king, Lavinia (naturally, he was pious, and Creusa, Aeneas’ wife, had disappeared in the mayhem of Troy’s destruction and was presumed dead, which devastated him but allowed him to remarry, especially considering that she had appeared to him as a spectre predicting his imperial destiny). Narratives that sustain the notion of political accommodation with an indigenous polity are absolutely necessary to settler indigenization. They can sustain more coherent settler-colonial claims. But there cannot be genuine settler indigenization without a recognition of indigenous collective existence and legitimacy. That is why, like for extending citizenship rights, for Zionist indigenizing purposes, recognizing rather than foreclosing an indigenous Palestinian sovereignty would be a more effective approach than the current reliance on foreclosure. It is in this sense that I have argued above for moving on from ‘zero-sum’ conceptions of the conflict. An understanding of the settler-colonial situation as applied to Israel-Palestine can be beneficial for both settler and indigenous collectives.

As more appropriate foundational stories may be told, some stories could be abandoned. The ‘Law of Return’, for example, is premised on a particular narrative that inhibits settler indigenization precisely because it declares that an exogenous element is as much indigenous as that has already indigenized (even if it has not, as noted above). This story undoes the work of settler colonialism. The notion of a ‘state of the Jews’ similarly forecloses settler indigenization by preemptively declaring that all Zionist indigenizing efforts are ultimately futile.

Conclusion: Zionism and the Global Settler-Colonial Present

Beyond reframing the past, settler-colonial studies may help interpret the present. Take the outcome of the 2015 Israeli election, for example. Benjamin Netanyahu thrives on fear, but in the early months of 2015 his peddling of the traditional fears—the Iranian bomb, a very messy Middle East—was not working. The pre-election polls consistently anticipated trouble for him (we now know that polling is an especially tricky business these days). His campaign seemed unable to find the right fear, it seemed out of touch. At the last minute, however, one was found. His Facebook page reported: ‘The rule of the right is in danger. Arab voters are advancing in large numbers toward voting places. Leftist organizations are bringing them in buses’ (cited in Gorenberg 2015). The image evoked in this message is significant; it resonated powerfully with the electorate and according to some commentators earned Netanyahu several parliamentary seats in a few hours. This formulation demonstrates that he was not out of touch. In this formulation, ‘Arabs’ are not autonomous agents; someone else is moving them. Stating that Arabs were ‘advancing’ (a recognizably military term) would have not been credible. But ‘Arabs’ ‘advancing’ as a result of someone else’s initiative and in order to exercise a sovereign right (i.e. voting) touched a raw nerve. Yet again, ‘Arabs being bussed somewhere else is an inevitable reference to the Nakba, and Arabs voting was in this instance ultimately a reverse Nakba: instead of being thrown across unilaterally declared borders, this time they were supposedly being displaced towards the exercise of a sovereign capacity. The Nakba remains crucial for Palestinians; transfer remains crucial for the settler-colonial project.

However, and as a way of concluding, I believe we should look both ways, and that an analysis of what settler-colonial studies can offer to the study of the Israel-Palestine conflict should be accompanied by an appraisal of how the analysis of the conflict can help make sense of settler colonialism generally and especially its contemporary manifestations. A number of influential interventions have drawn attention to the ‘new’ phenomena characterizing current global dispensations. Klein (2007) noted that the ‘redundant’ are growing in numbers and are no longer even useful as an industrial reserve army. Others have noted that ‘accumulation by dispossession’ is informing new practices of capitalist accumulation. In The New Imperialism David Harvey concluded that accumulation by dispossession has ‘moved to the fore as the primary contradiction within the imperialist organization of capitalist accumulation’ (2003, 172). Sassen (2014) remarked that ‘expulsions’ of all sorts are more and more characterizing the global present; the working poor are growing in number almost everywhere.

Even if these scholars do not refer to settler colonialism as a specific mode of domination, I suggest these trends can be understood as instances of a developing global ‘settler-colonial’ present (Veracini 2015b). They manifest a type of dispossession that is fundamentally informed by a ‘logic of elimination’ or containment rather than exploitation. While in many ways new this logic is not unprecedented, it is at the basis of the distinction separating colonialism and settler colonialism as separate modalities of domination. The ‘logic of elimination’ is what indigenous peoples facing expanding settler-colonial regimes have always had to deal with (Wolfe 2016). It is significant that the contemporary dispossessions and the technologies associated with their enactment are crucially developed and tested in Palestine before being transferred, that is, sold elsewhere. Palestine is today a crucial laboratory of global dispossessions (Balibar 2004; Collins 2011; Dana 2015; Klein 2007; Weizman 2007; Wildeman and Tartir 2014). The middle classes are shrinking, and warehousing is a fast-developing technology. The global surplus populations that are to be warehoused and contained look like indigenous people, but in the case of Palestine actually are indigenous.

One argument frequently offered in relation to Zionism is that it was a latecomer, that the twentieth century was not the nineteenth, and that the ethnic violence that had once been admissible in remote frontiers of settlement in various continents was no longer acceptable by the time it had its chance. The argument is offered to emphasize the hypocrisy of the political descendants of other settlers and other colonizers who blame Zionism for being violent while they themselves can afford to embrace liberal stances from the comfort of a largely pacified social body. Fair point, but focusing on the past can also obscure the present. I would like to suggest it may actually be the other way around: ‘expulsions’ are the present and the future; Zionism is not a latecomer, it is a precursor.