Introduction: The Re-emergence of the Settler Colonial Approach in the Academic World

The period from the 1940s to the 1970s was one of decolonization and self-determination for many countries in Asia and Africa. An immense amount of academic and intellectual writings about colonialism, neocolonialism as well as settler colonialism accompanied that process of decolonization. At the same time, the United Nations released several resolutions and documents condemning colonialism and seeking the immediate fulfillment of the right to self-determination for all peoples living under colonial rule. The most famous among these resolutions is the 1960 UN General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV), Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.

The writings on colonialism at that time focused on military colonialism and the right of all peoples to self-determination and emancipation from colonial occupation, while neocolonialism focused on how colonialism “left through the door and came back through the window,”, using economic and cultural means rather than direct military control as it was the case with colonialism before.

The writings about settler colonialism focused on a type of colonialism which combines military occupation with a settler colonial component that included taking over land, space, territory and landscape, by displacing and uprooting indigenous populations and replacing them with another population. This created, at the cost of the dispossession of the indigenous people, a new society and state with a different type of space, landscape, language and culture. The Palestinian academic and intellectual Fayez Sayigh was one of the pioneers of analyzing the Israeli Zionist settler colonial project, alongside Edward Said, whose book Orientalism is considered a leading work in the field. He focused on the approach of Western scholars towards the Orient, who wrote about Western connections to the land and the territory of the Orient while disregarding the peoples living in that territory as if they were nonexistent. The contribution of the seminal writings of the Egyptian scholars Abdel Wahab Al Masiri and Majdi Hammad should be also mentioned in this regard. Algerian, South African and Irish writings were published during that period analyzing the settler colonial projects in these respective countries and their different fates.

Contrary to the colonial military occupation that has a clear point of beginning and end, settler colonialism is a continuous process without an end, and as the pioneer in recent studies of settler colonialism, Patrick Wolf, put it: “It is a structure rather than an event” (Wolf, 2006).

After the 1970s, it was only at the beginning of the third century of settler colonialism that the settler colonial approach came back to the academic discourse, for example, in presentations during the International Studies Association (ISA) conferences since 2013 and the publication of the Settler Colonial Studies online journal by Taylor and Francis in the same year.

The Significance of Settler Colonialism Regarding Jerusalem

The quotation above from Wolf demonstrates that the Zionists’ settler colonial project which started in the 19th century continues to be used against the Palestinians in the West Bank (especially in Area C, which constitutes two-thirds of West Bank) and East Jerusalem to this day. It uses the same methods of dispossession, ethnic cleansing and spacio-cide (as it was called by Sari Hanafi) that were used in the prior 1948 period. Therefore, the Palestinian state is limited to the Gaza Strip, while the West Bank and East Jerusalem are subject to a continued Nakba with the 1948 and 1967 transfers as moments of escalation. These phenomena continue today, through different methods of internal and external displacement, including the Palestinians inside Israel. They faced different internal displacements between 1948 and 1967, which have continued ever since, including, for example, the destruction of Palestinian Bedouin villages in the Negev today.

The settler colonial approach can help to identify the common discrimination in Israeli policies against all the Palestinians regardless of whether they live inside Israel, in the territories occupied in 1967, or as refugees abroad. In addition to the commonalities, this approach can assist in finding significant characteristics for each situation or each group. This article will use the approach to further examine the situation in Jerusalem.

The settler colonial approach can help overcome gaps and discrepancies that limit four other approaches of analysis of the situation of Jerusalem and West Bank. The first of these four is the inequality approach, which analyzes the aspects of inequality in Jerusalem while seeking to suggest how to overcome them, with very little focus on ending the settler colonial project in the city. This approach is adopted and applied by Israeli organizations who prepare analyses or conduct projects for more equitable relations in the city within the current framework of the existing power structure.

The Occupation Approach

The second approach considers the situation in East Jerusalem to be just an occupation, as the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the international community keep insisting, and asking for its end. Such a call according to international law, which does not accept any form of occupation, including in regard to Jerusalem, is not wrong, but misses the point that Israel is an ideologically driven state. It is even better described as state project that considers itself to continue to be a “state in the making,” with its final size and borders still to be determined.

The Combination of Colonialism and Neo-colonialism Approach

The third approach regards what Israel is doing in East Jerusalem as a combination of colonialism and neo-colonialism, by placing Jerusalem under full Israeli economic domination in addition to the military occupation. Such an approach is partially right, but still has to be complemented with the settler colonialism approach. In the short run, including settler colonialism will assist in analyzing and following the state-driven and state-supported settler colonial project, and in the long run, it will help show how the colonial and the neocolonial approaches are practiced within the framework of a settler colonial project. Discrimination as practiced temporarily until the achievement of the full formation of the settler colonial project at the expense of the indigenous population, leads to a point of time when the colonial and the neocolonial policies will cease to exist due to the transfer of all indigenous populations.

The Ethnocracy Approach

The fourth approach describes the situation in East Jerusalem as the result of Israel being an ethnocracy rather than a democracy. This view is based on the inclusion and exclusion of people from the Demos according to a certain ideology, which results, in this case, in extending to all Jews around the world eligibility for Israeli citizenship, including also the Israeli settlers who live in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and not in Israel, while depriving the Palestinians who live inside Israel of equal civil rights and excluding the Palestinians in the 1967 occupied territories from citizenship. In this sense, the ethnocratic state claims and seeks to represent its ethnic group and to promote its domination regardless of whether they live inside or outside its borders, while at the same time it limits or completely denies the civil rights of other ethnicities. Such an analysis led Yiftachel to suggest that Israel stopped its settler colonial project after the 1993 Oslo Accords and moved to the politics of what he called “creeping apartheid” against the Palestinians (Yiftachel, 2012).

The problem of such analysis is twofold: On one hand, it focuses mainly on the inclusion and the exclusion from the Demos, and less on the territorial issue that is very relevant to the Palestinians. On the other hand, its conclusion that the “creeping apartheid” became an alternative to settler colonialism cannot explain the continuous settlement expansion, which has especially increased during the post-Oslo period as empirical data and research has shown.

Like the third approach, the fourth one also focuses on the means of discrimination against the equal rights of Palestinians in Jerusalem at all levels, ignoring their Palestinian identity by considering them to be as “Jordanian citizens residing permanently in Israel” until they are transferred. This is already partially enforced by the different incidents of ethnic cleansing that took place against the Palestinian Jerusalemites since 1967. Some took the shape of external displacement, others internal displacement, such as evacuating part of East Jerusalem’s Palestinians and expelling them to Jordan during the 1967 war; the expulsion of the population of the Al-Sharaf neighborhood of the Old City of Jerusalem to Shuafat refugee camp directly after the 1967 occupation; the deportations to Jordan that followed, and the ethnic cleansing through the confiscation of identity card on the basis of the Law of Entry to Israel of 1952 that was practiced in East Jerusalem when it was occupied in 1967.

Main Features of the Israeli Settler Colonial Project in Jerusalem

In Jerusalem the settler colonial project is practiced while using a set of complex, intertwined procedures that include: dispossession, such as uprooting from land by land confiscation and from houses by house demolition, among other types of displacement and ethnic cleansing by deportations and identity card confiscations and uprooting and reconcentration in other places like what is happening with the Bedouin collectives around Jerusalem. A third element is the isolation of those who continue to live in East Jerusalem, by separating East Jerusalem from the West Bank and Gaza — with the closure that started at the end of March 1993 and the separation of East Jerusalem communities from one another by creating Israeli-Jewish settlements in-between them — and by discrimination when it comes to public services transforming Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem into slums of poverty and underdevelopment. Lastly, the isolation is enforced by what I have called “the inclusion in Israel, but without integration in it” (Salem 2006).

These politics of dispossession, ethnic cleansing of part of the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem, and the isolation of those who continue to live in the city are combined with other policies such as: the dedevelopment of East Jerusalem by separating it from Palestine and the world economies on one hand, and ignoring the developmental needs of these communities on the other. The de-equalization regarding the rights of those Palestinians who still live in the city is a concept that goes beyond the term “inequality.” The treatment of people in East Jerusalem is an inequality that is created by a state premeditated policy; therefore, it is more a de-equalizing process. The de-development and the de-equalization are combined with a de-democratization process of dissolving the Jerusalem Palestinian municipality of 1967 and preventing the Palestinians from holding elections ever since, and of preventing the East Jerusalem Palestinians from defining themselves as Palestinians through insisting that they are “Jordanian citizens residing permanently in Israel” since Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem on June 28, 1967.

Finally, all of this is combined with the preservation of the refugee status of those Palestinian Jerusalemites who were displaced in 1948 and 1967 as part of the Palestinian refugees. When Israel allowed some of the refugees to come back to the West Bank and Gaza as part of the implementation of the Oslo Accords, Palestinians who were originally from Jerusalem were not allowed to come back to their city but only to the West Bank and Gaza.

These politics were followed by two other politics of replacement: One is the Judaization of the place, space, territory and the landscape, and the other is the Israelization process which, on one hand, creates an Israeli majority in East Jerusalem and, on the other hand, imposes the Israeli law on the Palestinian people and institutions in East Jerusalem.

Where to? Comparisons and Alternatives

If the settler colonial project is based on the concept and the practice of full exclusion then its fate depends on different internal and external factors. When there were no external impeding factors, the situation led to genocides against the indigenous population, as happened in the cases of the U.S. and Australia. The opposite outcome is the merger of the settler colonial community with the indigenous population majority, as happened in South Africa after 1994 due to the international boycott and sanctions against the South African apartheid system, combined with the nonviolent struggle of the African National Congress led by Nelson Mandela. In a third case, the settler colonial project can end in evacuation of the settlers, as in Algeria in 1962 due to the split between the settlers and the French government, and due also to the armed struggle by the Algerian National Liberation Front.

In the case of Jerusalem and Palestine, option three seems unlikely. On one hand, the settler community is a decision-maker in the Israeli government, and the Palestinians have not proven their capability to liberate Palestine by the means of armed struggle.

The history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has shown signs of population transfer, combined with partial genocides, on the way; therefore, the future options seem to be the following: The first is an Israeli repetition, for the third time, of the forced transfer of Palestinians, including and maybe starting with those who live in East Jerusalem. This is likely if the current trend in Israeli politics, which now includes talking openly about the transfer, continues. If, at the same time, the ongoing international and Palestinian politics continue to focus on the revival of negotiations between the two sides, instead of focusing on confronting the settler colonial project and creating Palestinian facts in the ground, that will equally increase the likeliness of further displacement.

However, if alternative policies were to be promoted, it might be possible to reverse the settler colonial project towards either a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders or a one-state solution with equal rights for all. The main strategies that might lead there are: a continuous and comprehensive nonviolent and creative Palestinian campaign that includes actions on the ground and components of developmental and diplomatic resistance. Parallel to that, international recognition of the State of Palestine — after 50 years of occupation and 100 years after the Balfour Declaration — with the political will to use all diplomatic, economic and developmental means that will ensure its implementation.

Finally, it should be noted that the Israeli settler colonial policies in East Jerusalem have been expanded to Area C in the West Bank, leading to the existence of a Jewish settler majority in the area over the minority of Palestinians who live there. I have not discussed the issue of the holy places in Jerusalem or the formal issue of the different types of identity cards given by Israel to Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, but these two issues do not have great impact regarding what is common between Jerusalem and Area C in connection to the expansion of the settler colonial project. Therefore, the issue of Jerusalem is more and more, though not exclusively, becoming an issue of Palestinian rights as a whole.