A Glossary of Sorts

Before proceeding with further entries, I thought it might be worth clarifying some of the terminology I have employed, not only for the sake of comprehensibility, but also because it should help to elucidate the underlying analytical framework through which my on-the-ground experience is ultimately interpreted. If there are other terms or concepts which readers would like addressed, please say so in the comment section.

Israel/Palestine, Israel, Palestine – Oftentimes these names are used interchangeably, or without a great deal of clarity as to where their conceptual or territorial boundaries lay. My usage is generally more precise. “Israel/Palestine” refers to the social formation that is coextensive with the territorial boundaries of historic Palestine (encompassing Israel within its 1948 borders, as well as the occupied territories: the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, and the Gaza Strip). The underlying assumption here is that discussions which treat any of these territorial units as if they are substantively autonomous polities are misguided at best, disingenuous at worst. “Israel” refers either to the territory of Israel proper (1948 borders), or to the political, economic, and military apparatus which exercises effective domination and control over the entirety of Israel/Palestine. The reason I have chosen to place Israel first in the designation “Israel/Palestine” is not because I believe Israel holds a greater moral claim to the territory, but rather because Israel wields dominance within this configuration.  

Israeli, Palestinian – Nationalist pretensions notwithstanding, “Israeli” and “Palestinian” are not self-evident concepts. They are not categories with inherent and timeless meanings, but rather historically constructed identities. Ironically, when Newt Gingrich caused a stir within the US by calling the Palestinians an “invented” people, he was, strictly speaking, correct; what he left out is that the same is true of Israelis, or for that matter the people of any nation. Modern national identity and nationalism are relatively recent phenomena, really only gaining global prominence during the 19th century. With regard to Israel/Palestine, my use of these signifiers of nationhood is relatively straightforward. When referring to Israelis, I am generally referring to Jewish Israelis. I do this in spite of the fact that some 20% of the Israeli citizenry is Palestinian, operating under the assumption that most Palestinian citizens of Israel do not identify with Israel as a space of national belonging. When I refer to Palestinians, I am referring to the indigenous population of historic Palestine (and their descendants), prior to the founding of Israel. However, I generally exclude from this category that minority Jewish population which preceded Zionist colonization, operating under the assumption that these Jews have been thoroughly integrated into the Israeli national identity. In point of fact, the composition of national, ethnic, and racial identities in Israel/Palestine is quite complicated and often contradictory (pointing, in my view, towards fractures within Zionist discourse and practice). For the moment, however, I am setting aside these complexities for the sake of expediency.

Settler-colonialism, Settler – The term “settler-colonialism” is borrowed from a growing body of scholarly work which argues that modern colonialism has assumed two distinctive forms. As Gabriel Pieterberg’s has summarized in “Settlers and their States,”

“from the 16th century on, European expansion and conquest produced two related but clearly distinguishable forms of colonialism. One was metropole colonialism, in which the European powers conquered and ruled vast territories, but without the emigration there of Europeans seeking to make these territories their national home…The other type was settler colonialism, in which conquest brought with it substantial waves of European settlers who, with the passage of time, sought to make the colony their national patrimony. This process entailed a relationship with the indigenous people that could range from dispossession to elimination, or from slavery—which for the most part did not use the native population—to cheap labour, depending on the economic and social formation of the given settler society.”

Examples of settler-colonial states would include the United States, Australia, South Africa, and Israel (among others); British India stands as a paradigmatic example of metropole colonialism. In calling Israel a settler-colonial state, I am effectively asserting that those who understand the “Israel-Palestine conflict” as essentially a post-1967 affair (i.e. a conflict which has its roots in Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, etc.) have a fundamentally flawed analysis. The conflict is not four decades old, but more than a century, beginning with the first wave of Zionist migration in the 1880s, and became a full-fledged colonial relationship with the founding of Israel and corresponding massive dispossession of indigenous Palestinians in 1948. The Israel-Palestine conflict is not therefore some irrational feud between warring national or religious communities, but rather a struggle between colonizer and colonized. It follows that a meaningful resolution to the conflict can only be brought about through a process of objective and subjective decolonization. However, when I use the term “settler,” I am generally using it in its more restrictive conventional sense – to indicate those Jewish Zionists building micro-colonies within the occupied territories. I retain this meaning because these settlers are the bearers of distinctive ideological, military, political, and economic dynamics which set them apart from the rest of Israel colonial society. Yet one should not, as liberal Zionists tend to do, treat them as an aberration, a minority of zealots who bear no relation to the rest of Israeli society. Settlers are just the most blatant and egregious instantiation of colonial relations upon which the whole of Israel is founded, similar in some ways to political groupings such as the Tea Party in the United States.

Zionism – A specific form of Jewish nationalism which congealed in the late nineteenth century, and which has been centered upon building a territorial nation-state for “the Jewish people” (always singular) in historic Palestine. While there have been notable dissident currents within Zionism throughout its history, and particularly in its earlier stages of development, it is the political Zionism I describe here which ultimately became and remains hegemonic, and which comprises the discursive and material foundation of the Israeli state-building project. It is worth noting that while Zionism’s self-depiction is unapologetically teleological, Zionism has been but one of a multiplicity of Jewish responses to anti-Jewish racism, some of which have both stridently opposed Zionism and grounded their own unique resistances to anti-Jewish racism in broader commitments to collective liberation.

Apartheid – I do not use the term “apartheid” as invective, but rather as an analytical category. Use of the term apartheid to describe the contemporary Israeli regime of domination and control in Israel/Palestine has predictably been met with a great deal of resistance. Most of these objections stand upon weak analytical footing, simply stating that there are enormous differences between South Africa and Israel/Palestine. No serious scholar would argue otherwise. Yet, as Lorenzo Veracini points out, these kinds of arguments simply “foreclose on the possibility of comparative analysis…[by] reiterating the obvious fact that Israel/Palestine is not South Africa. On the contrary, a comparative approach aimed at testing the assertion of apartheid-like Israeli policies is interested precisely in highlighting corresponding developments in the context of obviously different circumstances.” Furthermore, as both Veracini and Pieterberg have pointed out, these objections themselves are characteristic of settler-colonial projects, which tend to insist upon their essential uniqueness. Others, such as Moshe Machover, have put forward more interesting critiques of the term – for instance, pointing out that whereas securing and controlling a supply of exploitable indigenous labor was primary in the construction of South African apartheid, in the case of Israel/Palestine land and non-human resources are the central concern while the indigenous population is regarded as a scourge which must be cleansed from the territory, and that the regime is therefore more oriented towards dispossession than exploitation. I see no reason, however, why the exploitation of indigenous labor ought to be a necessary analytical condition of apartheid. My use of the term is more in line with the 2009 study conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa, Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid?: A re-assessment of Israel’s practices in the occupied Palestinian territories under international law, which argues that Israel’s policies in the occupied territories are based upon “three pillars of apartheid” which reflect core structural similarities with the South African apartheid regime:

“The first pillar derives from Israeli laws and policies that establish Jewish identity for purposes of law and afford a preferential legal status and material benefits to Jews over non-Jews. The product of this in the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories] is an institutionalised system that privileges Jewish settlers and discriminates against Palestinians on the basis of the inferior status afforded to non-Jews by Israel…The second pillar is reflected in Israel’s grand policy to fragment the OPT for the purposes of segregation and domination. This policy is evidenced by: Israel’s extensive appropriation of Palestinian land, which continues to shrink the territorial space available to Palestinians; the hermetic closure and isolation of the Gaza Strip from the rest of the OPT; the deliberate severing of East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank; and the appropriation and construction policies serving to carve up the West Bank into an intricate and well-serviced network of connected settlements for Jewish-Israelis and an archipelago of besieged and non-contiguous enclaves for Palestinians…The third pillar upon which Israel’s system of apartheid in the OPT rests is its ‘security’ laws and policies. The extrajudicial killing, torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and arbitrary arrest and imprisonment of Palestinians…are all justified by Israel on the pretext of security. These policies are State-sanctioned, and often approved by the Israeli judicial system, and supported by an oppressive code of military laws and a system of improperly constituted military courts. Additionally…Israel’s invocation of ‘security’ to validate sweeping restrictions on Palestinian freedom of opinion, expression, assembly, association and movement also often purports to mask a true underlying intent to suppress dissent to its system of domination, and thereby maintain control over Palestinians as a group.”

Decolonization, De-Zionization – The use of terms such as “decolonization” or “de-Zionization” in relation to Israel/Palestine, or to reference to demands such as the Palestinian right of return, tend to conjure up cataclysmic visions of bloodshed and dispossession in popular imaginaries. Yet the vast majority of intellectuals and organizers who advocate decolonization or de-Zionization have never once suggested that Palestinians can or should achieve liberation by doing violence to the extant Jewish population of Israel/Palestine. What they do demand is the radical democratization of the existing polity, the establishment of conditions for substantive egalitarianism, the subversion of colonial discourses and consciousness, and the right of Palestinians who have been dispossessed from their homes and lands to be allowed return or receive compensation. The fulfillment of these demands would indeed mean the dismantling of the militarized and expansionist colonial apparatus which systematically privileges one racialized grouping (Jews) over another (Palestinians) – i.e. it would mean the end of a “Jewish state” – but there is no reason this need entail violence against or the forcible dispossession of Jews presently residing in Israel/Palestine. It is rather a more hopeful and creative vision of cohabitation. As many Palestinians have pointed out time and again regarding the widespread tendency to justify the Palestinian Nakba by referencing the European Jewish Shoah, one dispossession cannot be used to justify another.



Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa, Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid?: A re-assessment of Israel’s practices in the occupied Palestinian territories under international law (Cape Town: May 2009).

Machover, Moshe, “Israelis and Palestinians: Conflict and Resolution,” Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust Annual Lecture (30 November 2006), available from: <www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/machover/2006/11/isr-pal.htm>.

Pieterberg, Gabriel, “Settlers and their States: A Reply to Sternhell,” New Left Review (March-April 2010), 115-24.

Veracini, Lorenzo, Israel and Settler Society (Lonon: Pluto Press, 2006).


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