In order for a society to transition from a colonial state to a post-colonial state, it is necessary to dismantle racial and national identities that were established under the colonial system. However, this does not imply completely denying one’s national identity, but rather redefining it in a way that is inclusive and equitable. The specific manifestation of this process in the context of Palestine-Israel remains uncertain. The potential for such a transformation to occur is also uncertain. Nevertheless, in order to avoid falling into despair, it is imperative to maintain the belief and insistence that an alternative path is feasible. It is time to reimagine and envision this alternative future once again.

By Will Shoki

A person conducting a cold, dispassionate survey of the world, which abounds in suffering, may wonder why the situation in Palestine-Israel matters. They might point to the devastating death toll of the Tigray war in Ethiopia, which over the span of two years, might have killed up to 600,000 civilians by some estimates. Or, they may point to the grim picture in Sudan, where the Sudanese Armed Forces and Rapid Support Forces are locked in a power struggle that has so far killed up to 10,000 and internally displaced four million.

One could—as apologists for Israeli apartheid typically do—wonder why Israel’s oppression of Palestinians gets so much attention. Why, we do not care as much about Uyghurs in Xinjiang, or the Sahrawi in Western Sahara. The plain answer to this sort of query is that we should care about all of this. That we can, and we must strive to do so.

But it would be dishonest to pretend as if there isn’t something especially arresting about Palestine-Israel. In 1986, Edward Said put it like this: “Palestine is not an ordinary place. I’m sure where oppression occurs—like South Africa or Chile—those are not ordinary places either. But Palestine has something more. It’s a place where religions are manufactured, and where all kinds of revelations are alleged to have occurred. And it has a kind of density and resonance that virtually no other place in the world has.”

Largely for worse, that this is all playing out in the Holy Land has, until now, reduced a story about occupation and apartheid to a “religious conflict,” presupposing that there are two, evenly-matched sides with equally strong but irreconcilable claims to the land.

Increasingly, people are starting to recognise that it is a much more straightforward story. That the Palestinian struggle is a struggle for self-determination, for—as Hannah Arendt once described citizenship—“the right to have rights.” This is why countries in the Global South have a spontaneous empathy for the Palestinian cause, recognising in it the same fight for national sovereignty that animated independence movements of the 20th century.

This wasn’t always the case. As Israeli scholar Yotam Gidron once wrote on Africa Is a Country: “In the years of African independence, Israeli rhetoric portrayed Israel as a young, post-colonial nation and Zionism as a liberation movement, associating the Jewish state with other newly independent nations in the ‘Third World,’ and rejecting the comparison between Zionism and imperialism.”

This all changed after 1967 when Israel occupied the Sinai peninsula. But setting aside its adherents, there is an allure to the Zionist myth—a story of an oppressed people, who, ostracised from the metropole, seek to fashion a utopian society on land they have historical ties to.

The problem with Zionism is that its ideological basis isn’t Judaism, but colonial modernity. It took the nation-state as its sine qua non, a political form which, throughout history, has been premised on exclusion and homogenization (and utilised the support of the imperial core—mainly Britain and the United States—to achieve statehood).

And so, part of why I am fascinated by Palestine-Israel is because of how it so clearly demonstrates the danger of imagined communities, especially when fashioned from deep, historical trauma (and why I am sceptical of remedies to present wrongs that are modelled on this logic).

At the same time, it furnishes us with an opportunity to imagine, and invent something different. Imagining two peoples on one land does not mean—as Said emphasised : “a diminishing of Jewish life as Jewish life or a surrendering of Palestinian Arab aspirations and political existence. On the contrary, it means self-determination for both peoples.”

I don’t believe the two-state solution can achieve this. Besides it being almost entirely ruled out by present circumstances, it does nothing to dismantle the ethno-nationalist soul of the Zionist political project and would recreate today’s antagonisms in new, subtler forms.

As Jeff Halper argues: “In order for a post-colonial society to emerge, identities, like the rest of the colonial system, need to be deracialised, denationalised—yet not denationalised to the point of denying one’s national identity.”

What this looks like in Palestine-Israel, I don’t know. Whether there will be a chance for this to emerge, I don’t know. But to avoid succumbing to despair, we must believe and insist that another way is possible. It is time to start picturing it again. –

Will Shoki is the editor of Africa Is a Country, an online publication focused on African affairs.

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