December 30, 2006
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Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi wrote The Israeli Connection
A word which most annoys defenders of Zionism, like Stanley Hoffmann, is "colonialism." You can say anything about Zionism, as long as you don't use the forbidden word, which, as it happens, describes the situation pretty well. Hoffmann's defense is that "most Zionists, unlike colonialists, did not aim at dominating the 'natives'—in this instance, the Arabs. Zionism's flaw was its ignorance or neglect of the effects its own brand of nationalism was bound to have on displaced Palestinian Arabs or on Arab residents subjected to Jewish rule."
Colonialism is a system under which, in a defined territory, nonnatives are entitled to political rights which natives are denied. That is exactly what Zionism had in mind in regard to the natives (without quotation marks) of Palestine and that is exactly what we have today in Israel. Under the Israeli system of government, a Mr. Cohen from Brooklyn (provided he can qualify as "Jewish") has more rights than any Palestinian native the moment he steps off the plane at Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. The same Mr. Cohen (provided he can qualify as "white") will have more rights than any black native of South Africa, if he decides to settle in South Africa and lands at Jan Smuts Airport in Johannesburg. This may be one source of the solidarity between Israel and South Africa, which Hoffmann mentions.
It is true that Zionism did not seek to dominate the natives. It simply wanted to displace them and replace them with settlers. This system is known as settler colonialism. In settler colonialism, the native population is removed, to make room for settlers and their new society. The basic principle used to justify it in both Israel and South Africa is the definition of some natives as foreigners and some foreigners as the real natives. That is how we came to have displaced Palestinian Arabs. This system has nothing to do with the occupied territories. It exists in Israel in its pre-1967 borders, in Tel Aviv, and in the Galilee. It is just possible that using such forbidden words as "colonialism" may get us further in understanding why most Israelis don't want to go back to the old borders, and why they feel a certain empathy for South Africans