Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Thursday, July 22, 2021

On the Matter of Settler Colonial States

 

By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottown, PEI] Guardian

During the recent Hamas-Israel conflict, many critics of Israel referred to it as a “settler colonial state.”

By their own definition, the label “settler” doesn’t just refer to Jews born elsewhere, including Middle Eastern countries like Egypt and Iraq, but to all those in the state who have dispossessed the indigenous inhabitants and oppressed and marginalized them.

As for “colonial,” that indicates the type of state they created, one that privileges one group. This remains the case even though Israel is today independent and no longer the possession of the former imperial power, Great Britain.

Fine. As we know, Canada, which was created by white British and French imperialists through the conquest, murder, and even genocide, of its native inhabitants, is also such a country. Our own governments tell us so, especially with the recent horrific discoveries of unmarked graves of children who died at the notorious residential schools.

So too are Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, among many others, including the Latin American republics created by the Spanish settlers who extinguished the Aztec, Inca and many other indigenous political entities. They all have their own centuries-old “nakbas.”

Tara Sutton, a Communications and Engagement Specialist at the University of Waterloo, whose work in conflict zones has received many awards, has compared Canada’s actions to those of other genocides.

“Violence and torture on this scale reminds me of reporting on life in Cambodia under Pol Pot. It has all the elements of the worst things I’ve seen anywhere -- hunger, displacement, kidnapping, rape, disappearance, unmarked graves, genocide, she writes in “Canada has Lost its Halo: We Must Confront Our Indigenous Genocide,” a June 29 article published in the Guardian of London.

As former Parliamentary Poet Laureate George Elliott Clarke contended in the Globe and Mail July 10, “the project to cast Canada as ‘a white man’s country’ has mandated genocidal policies against Indigenous peoples.”

The original peoples in this country were forcibly removed, stripped of all rights, including even the vote, and relocated on reserves – a system Israel’s enemies would, I think, no doubt label as apartheid. Indeed, the actual South African apartheid state used this system as a model for its own “bantustan” policy.

And unlike those Jews who founded Israel, the non-indigenous settlers in Canada can’t even claim that, long ago, their ancestors lived here but were evicted, or that they were promised the land by their biblical God.

These “anti-Zionists” want Arab Christian and Muslim Palestinians to regain their land. But I hope they also would wish to see the native people in Canada reclaim their unceded territories as well.

Should perhaps they, I, and all other non-native Canadians return to wherever it is we all originated? In many cases, though, that would prove difficult, dangerous, or even impossible. So maybe we should dismantle the current Canadian state and live under the regained sovereignty of the people who once owned this part of the world? After all, if it holds for Israel, then surely it does, perhaps more so, for Canada.

As for the question of who the original inhabitants of today’s Israel were, that of course depends on how far back in history you go.

But whereas no trace can be found in Canada of Europeans prior to the arrival of the Vikings some one thousand years ago, when it was the home of numerous First Nations, ancient Palestine has archeological, historical and theological references to Jews and Judaism and its offshoot, Christianity for many centuries before it was conquered in 636-637 by the Arabs under Caliph Umar.

After all, the al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock are situated where they are because Jerusalem was already a sacred city to Jews and Christians, and the site from where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. And Jesus is mentioned many times in the Qur’an – and he wasn’t a Latvian or a Swede.

The eminent Palestinian-American scholar and intellectual Edward Said has demonstrated how the settler colonial paradigm falls short in understanding Zionism.

In “The One-State Solution,” New York Times, Jan. 10, 1999, Said called Palestinians “victims of the victims.”  The trauma of the Palestinians was closely and causally related to the prior traumas of the Jews. 

It is not possible to detach the actions of Zionists toward Palestinians from the toxic mix of forces -- modern antisemitism and the rise of fascism and Nazism -- that befell Jews in Europe and prompted some to leave for Palestine under the aegis of Zionism.

 

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