Following the October Hamas murder of Israeli citizens and other nationals, westerners were almost immediately bombarded with the message “75 years of colonial oppression”, the implication being that Israel somehow deserved these atrocities.
This narrative is so powerful that it quickly overwhelmed the empathetic response to what was arguably the most depraved frenzy of violence in the modern period. And within days, some of Israel’s opponents fell into “Hamas atrocity denial”. In contrast, Holocaust denial took years to rear its ugly head in the West.
Having studied the Israel-Palestinian situation for decades, both academically and experientially, having visited the region numerous times, and having developed many friendships with peoples of the region, it is my firm conviction that the dominant colonialist narrative is a dangerous political construct devoid of explanatory power. The popular rendering is that foreign Jewish Europeans invaded Palestine, dispossessed the indigenous Palestinians of their lands and that they engage in oppression to this day. The superimposition of this simplistic ideological model on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, twists and rewrites history, ignoring facts and evidence.
For example, some claim that the Palestinians are descendants of the Canaanites, the original inhabitants of the land. While there is indeed evidence of Canaanite intermarriage with the Arabs, and to a much lesser degree with the Jews, the Canaanites as a distinct people disappeared from history long ago. And DNA alone is not a determiner of indigeneity. Māori carry DNA from Taiwan but that does not make us indigenous to Taiwan. We are indigenous to Aotearoa because regardless of our origins prior, it was in this whenua that our unique culture, language and spiritual practices developed.
For Jews, Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel, is the place where their identity as a nation was forged, their language and script developed, their beliefs, customs, and traditions began. To Jews, it is the most sacred place in the world — it is where their tupuna and prophets lie buried. Jerusalem is mentioned around 700 times in their sacred scriptures.
While there always remained a remnant of Jews in the land, keeping ahi kaa, the majority were dispersed to European and Arab lands, by Assyrian, Babylonian and Roman invaders. However, Jews always considered themselves as being in exile (galut) in those lands. Wherever they lived, Jews always felt a profound spiritual connection to their ancestral land. Indeed, the Jewish calendar follows its seasonal rhythms — the year is punctuated by festivities that correspond to agricultural milestones in Eretz Yisrael. Their traditions demand that they must never forget Jerusalem. Three times daily, religious Jews, wherever they are in the world, face toward Jerusalem to pray. They mourn the destruction of their temples annually on Tisha B’Av and, during the festivals of Yom Kippur and Pesach, pray ‘next year in Jerusalem!’
Settler colonialism adopts a binary vision of the world that is divided into the oppressor and oppressed, painting the former as all evil and the latter totally innocent. The oppressed lose all agency in this formulation and all responsibility for any evil it may commit. Every action is justifiable as “resistance” to evil colonial oppressors, no matter how depraved the acts of “resistance” may be.
If Palestinian self-determination was really the central issue, it must be observed that they have had many opportunities to establish a state: in line with the many other states that formed post-WW1; the 1937 Peel Commission, the 1947 UN Partition Plan, the 1967 Khartoum Summit, the 1991 Madrid Conference, the 2001 Arab Summit, the 2005 Disengagement from Gaza by Israel, the 2007 Annapolis Conference, the 2008 Realignment Plan, the 2010 Joint Peace Talks, the 2013 Joint Peace Talks, the 2019 Bahrain Workshop and the 2020 Trump Peace Plan.
The 2000 Clinton offer included roughly 96 percent of the West Bank, all of Gaza and a capital in East Jerusalem. The Palestinians refused the offer, but instead of negotiating in good faith to resolve differences, launched another intifada which saw the blowing up of busses and restaurants, 138 suicide attacks with over 1,000 Israelis murdered. The Israeli response of tightening security measures with the erection of walls and checkpoints helped to protect Israelis from suicide bombers, but made life more difficult for Palestinians. The colonialist narrative pours all blame on Israel, justifies intifada as resistance to colonial oppression, but turns a blind eye to the unwillingness of Palestinians to negotiate for a state.
When I visited Ramallah in 2018, a Palestinian human rights lawyer told me, the Palestinian leadership does not care about human rights. “We are ruled by gangs all across the Middle East. They only want to blame Israel”. The colonialist narrative ignores the corruption of Palestinian leadership and the absence of democratic rights and freedoms. This Palestinian lawyer was concerned about his son becoming radicalized and joining ISIS. An additional problem with blaming Israel for everything is that Israel cannot solve the problems endemic to Palestinian society. Ignoring the agency of Palestinian leaders does nothing to help the people.
Gaza is a clear example of the folly of the colonialist argument. Egypt had held the land from 1948 but Israel had won the territory in a defensive war in 1967. Gaza was part of the post WW1 British Mandate 1920 – 1948 and prior to that it was under the control of the Ottoman Empire for 400 hundred years. In no time prior to 2005 had Gaza been under Palestinian sovereignty.
Israel exited Gaza in 2005, forcibly evicting every Jew from homes and businesses and handing control to the Palestinians. If the Palestinian struggle was one of rangatiratanga, the opportunity to establish a thriving nation was handed to them on a plate. What did they do with that opportunity? Hamas came to power after a bloody coup and established a terrorist enclave.
Hamas’s goal, as stated in its charter, is to annihilate Israel, taking all the land “from the river to the sea,” by means of uncompromising jihad. Hamas has pursued this goal unrelentingly, pouring millions of dollars into building a terrorist state, including a 500km sophisticated tunnel network.
Applying a Western construct to a Middle Eastern problem ignores a remarkably large elephant in the room, that of radical Islam. Hamas is a radical Islamist group, connected to the Muslim Brotherhood, backed by Iran, which also sponsors Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen. Western Palestinian activists either ignore or excuse the extremism of Hamas leaders. Ghazi Hamad of the Hamas political bureau said on October 24, 2023 that Hamas is ready to repeat the 7 October “Al-Aqsa Flood” actions time and again until Israel is annihilated. He added that Palestinians are willing to pay the price and that they are “proud to sacrifice martyrs.” While the West ignores the words and agency of Palestinian leaders, Israel takes them seriously and is determined not to allow the 7 October slaughter to ever happen again.
So let me ask: just how is Palestinian rangatiratanga furthered by the actions of 7 October? – peaceful concert goers gunned down, a baby ripped from his live mother’s womb, children tortured and slaughtered in front of parents and vice versa, bodies burned and dismembered, beheaded, gang rape so brutal it broke pelvises, women captured and paraded on Gaza streets like trophies, phone calls to parents bragging, “I killed ten Jews!”, the kidnapping of babies and the elderly. These murderers had no shame in their actions but rather celebrated them. They uploaded thousands of videos of their actions, including the baking of a baby in an oven in front of its mother, while shooting the father, then gang-raping the mother. How does this aid the cause of self-determination?
Palestinian activists will point to the images of Palestinian babies pulled from the rubble. The death of innocent Palestinians is indeed a tragedy. But where does responsibility lie? Independent researchers have confirmed that the carefully planned attack on Israel was undertaken with the deliberate and cynical intention to provoke a huge Israeli response. Hamas leaders (who sit in luxury and safety in Qatar), knew that Palestinians would die and welcomed such, as an act of martyrdom. Meanwhile, Israel has gone beyond the requirements of international law to try to protect civilians, sending warnings and urging civilians to leave for safe areas.
It must also be remembered that the mainstream media is largely reliant on Hamas propaganda. There are no independent news sources in Gaza able to report reliable information. The numbers issued by Hamas don’t differentiate between civilians and combatants; they include teenage fighters as children and the many killed by misfired Hamas rockets, or by Hamas themselves as civilians have tried to evacuate. Remember the widely reported 500 killed by an Israeli hospital strike which turned out to be a misfired Islamic jihad rocket with very few casualties? In recent days, more evidence has been revealed of the way that Hamas uses ambulances to transport terrorists and hospitals as terror bases, effectively using the ailing as human shields.
If this is a model of indigenous struggle, then God help us all. Many have adopted this kaupapa with very little understanding of the complexities of the situation. They’ve turned a blind eye to savagery in a misguided attempt to support the Palestinians. The best outcome for the citizens of Gaza would be the defeat of Hamas. Those who share the distress at the suffering of innocent Palestinians should consider standing with Israel’s efforts to free Gazans from their genocidal overlords.