In recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a state formed by native Jews and Jewish settlers from Europe and America, President Trump and the U.S. Congress have validated the Jewish appropriation of a disputed city. This commentary explains the foul dynamics of settlements. It also illuminates the “sacred” justifications offered to legitimize settler colonialism. In addition to Israel, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and many other states, owe their origin to settler colonialism, another name for forcibly taking land from indigenous inhabitants. The criticism of settler colonialism is highly sophisticated in academic circles, college colonialism courses, this year mystifyingly trickling down in high school debates.
An unholy alliance of Zionists, evangelical Christians, politicians fearful of the revengeful Israeli lobbies, radio and TV commentators, Neocon opinion-writers, and self-aggrandizing academics refuses to see Israel as a settler state. In fact, calling Israel a settler state is condemned as anti-Semitic, a handy label swiftly invoked to stop honest conversations about the grinding appropriation of Palestinian occupied territories.
Given the successful drive to criminalize holocaust denials across Europe, efforts are underway to find pathways to criminalize the criticisms of Israel. The prospective criminalization of the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement is a shameful suppression of legitimate free speech in no other country but the United States where the First Amendment reigns as the first principle of coexistence. Muffling free speech is unlikely to suppress the fact that Israel is primarily a state of settlers who have brutally suffocated and dislocated the native population of Palestinians.
Immigrants and Settlers
Ordinarily, immigrants are distinguishable from settlers. But the distinction is not valid in Israel. Under the 1950 Law of Return, Israel invites “the child or grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child and grandchild of a Jew to settle in Israel.” Non-Jews or even Jews who have converted to another religion are ineligible to return and settle. Jews mostly from Europe and America and some from the Middle East and East Africa have “returned” to Israel. The prevailing racism prefers white Jews over Jews with darker pigments.
Under international law, immigration is relocating from one country to another. Individuals and families may migrate for economic and existential reasons. Every year, millions of people migrate to foreign countries for economic betterment or to avoid starvation, discrimination, tyranny, torture, and death. Refugees migrate from war-torn countries where the probability of death and starvation escalates. In the 15th century, Jews migrated from Spain to Turkey as the defeat of Moors opened the doors of persecution and death. More recently, Palestinians, Syrians, Libyans, Yemenis, and Afghans have been forced to leave their homes and seek shelter as refugees in neighboring countries.
Settlement too is relocating from one country to another. Unlike immigrants, however, settlers dispossess native inhabitants for ideological or predatory reasons. Immigrants do not forcibly take away the land and homes that belong to the natives. Settlers do. Immigrants live in the mortal fear of deportation. Settlers do not. Immigrants may face discrimination, racism, and hostility in employment, education, and housing. Settlers are welcome and receive affirmative state assistance and grants. The state may offer jobs, housing, and other facilities to settlers willing to live on the land that once belonged to the natives.
Unlike immigrants, the settlers develop an aggressive relationship with the natives. The purpose of settlements is to make it highly unpleasant and oppressive for the natives to continue to live side by side with the settlers. Apartheid-like conditions are built to show to the natives that they need to relocate themselves to foreign countries. Thus, settlers not only take over the land that belongs to the natives but they also force natives, economically, socially, psychologically, and physically to leave their lands and homes. Other tactics, such as buying homes and lands from helpless natives is defended on the market theory that the real estate ought to be purchasable for a price. The art of tyranny is perfect: first, push the natives to the ground; then, offer to buy their homes.
In Israel, the state-sponsored settlements are ideological and not merely predacious. Predacious settlements may be disorganized, intermittent, and privately sponsored. Ideological settlements are highly coordinated in terms of degrading the local communities economically, morally, and socially. Stereotypes may be promoted to paint the natives as savages and terrorists. Any reactive violence by the natives may be used as a pretext to demolish their homes, issue eviction orders for entire families, arrest men, and dishonor women. The natives may be employed in menial jobs at businesses started by the settlers. In fact, the natives may have no choice but to seek employment in constructing the settlements that the natives detest in their hearts.
In Jerusalem, all distinctions between native Jews and Jewish settlers disappear for ideological purposes since most of them share the common goal of driving the Palestinians out of Jerusalem so that Israel can reclaim this historic city all for itself. Orthodox Jews who oppose the existence of Israel as an anti-Biblical entity, a fast diminishing minority, share no such platform. For Trump, the realtor, a city, any city, belongs to money merchants and any “encroachments “by the have-nots should be forcibly cleared.
Appropriation perpetrated with moral justifications acquires a new meaning. Stealing a loaf of bread seems morally justified if the thief is starving. Land appropriation is palatable if a credible moral excuse can be crafted. Settlers know this moral trick. When settlers are highly educated, their moral justifications for the appropriation of land are crafted in more persuasive (Latin) terms. Over the centuries, settlers in various countries and continents have used moral imperatives to justify the dispossession of native populations and stealing away their lands, hills, rivers, sacred places, olive trees, playgrounds where the native children played, and the cemeteries where native elders were buried. Everything can be stolen if the moral justification is mounted at the barrel of the gun.
In the 15th century, the Catholic Church used two distinct theological edicts to support conquests and colonization. The concept of “terra irredenta” empowered Christian rulers to take away the Iberian lands from the Muslims. The concept of “terra nullius” empowered the European colonizers to take away the land from the native owners in Americas and Africa. In both cases, Christianity, presented as the one and the only one true religion, was invoked as the ultimate justification to legitimize the appropriation of land. Heathens, pagans, and the deniers of Jesus as God could be lawfully converted, enslaved, dispossessed, and even killed if they resisted the Christian Europeans, the true owners of God’s land.
In the 20th century, the European Jews invoked a complex fusion of the two edicts to lay claim to what has been Palestine for centuries under the Ottoman Empire and before. Invoking terra nullius, the Zionists argued that “a people without a land (Jews) are claiming a land without a people.” This argument derived from terra nullius denies the existence of local populations, be they Africans, Native Americans, or Palestinians.
The terra nullius concept, however, is less powerful than terra irredenta under which the land is restored to “legitimate owners.” The Right to Return is conceived in the womb of terra irredenta rather than terra nullius. Terra irredenta creates a mighty distinction between current and original owners. It reverses the logic of ownership. The current owners are deemed illegal intruders whereas the original owners are considered the lawful owners. In the Iberian Peninsula, the Moors were the actual but illegal owners. The Spaniards and the Portuguese were the lawful owners. Therefore, the Moors must be dispossessed and expelled and the land restored to the original owners.
Invoking a similar logic, the European Jews claimed to be the original owners of Palestine since the Palestinians were the illegal occupiers of the sacred land that belonged only to the Jews. Accordingly, Zionist morality dictates that the Palestinians, particularly if they resist the Right to Return, be expelled, detained, killed, and their homes demolished.
Soon after Trump, the realtor, recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu argued that it is “absurd” to deny the “millennial connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem. You can read it in a very fine book – it’s called the Bible. The sooner the Palestinians come to grips with this reality, the sooner we will move towards peace.”
Much like Netanyahu, President Andrew Jackson (1829-1837) declared that “The Bible is the rock on which this Republic (U.S.) rests.” The Bible-lover Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, under which 25 million acres of land was donated to white settlers. This land had belonged to Cherokees, Chickasaw, Creek, Choctaw, and Seminole nations, the “unlawful owners” forced to yield their land rights to Jesus-loving Christians.
Trump adores Andrew Jackson. Netanyahu adores Donald Trump. The Christian removal of Native Americans created reservations. The Jewish removal of Palestinians created refugee camps. The Native American Trail of Tears caused tears and death. The Palestinian Trail of Tears caused tears and massacres at Sabra and Shatila.
Invoking the Bible to appropriate land is a Judeo-Christian colonial tradition. First Christians, now Jews, are invoking the concepts of terra irredenta and terra nullius to justify the taking of land from the native owners. The appropriation of Jerusalem as a Jewish city runs counter to historical facts. It simplifies the complex history of a city that experienced the pre-Christ rule of Egyptians, Syrians, and Persians, and post-Christ rule of Arabs, Turks, and the British. Jews had not owned Jerusalem for centuries. Now, they have deadly weapons to do so. The Bible is a sacred book (different parts and versions) for Jews and Christians, even for the Palestinians, but does it justify the terra irredenta appropriation of territories and cities?