In Palestine

By Kevin R Cox, originally published on his website.


“ … the hallmark of colonization when it is settlement-based is the wish to eliminate the presence of the occupied – in the case of the Palestinians either by expulsion-deportation or, as we now see, by genocide. Here, as on other such occasions recorded by history, dehumanization is once again the justifying trope par excellence. There are now countless examples of it, both from official Israeli mouthpieces and in the muddy stream of social networks, staggering in their gleeful monstrosity and sadistic exultation.” (Frédéric Lordon, Sidecar 4/12/24.)[1]


In Israel’s ongoing attacks on the inhabitants of Gaza, what has to attract attention is their sheer ferocity, the reduction of the Palestinians to sub-human status, the utter, blind hatred of the Other; and how this holds regardless of other differences like those of class. This is not surprising. In the history of settler societies, it was ever thus. The same pathologies surged to the fore whether it was the white settlers in Kenya, South Africa, Southern Rhodesia, or in Algeria, or the Scottish and English in Ulster. When they rise up in protest, the answer is always the same: How dare they? All have and had their atrocities: Sharpeville, Bloody Sunday, the bombing of the King David Hotel, the Hola massacre in Kenya, most terrible of all, the deliberate and largely successful attempt of the German army to eliminate the Herero and Nama of what is now Namibia. Expel, enclose, exterminate.

The reason for this should be evident. Any attempt to change the situation, to acquire a nonracial franchise, or to seek rights in a broader territorial entity, as in the case of Northern Ireland, to seek the return of land, is an attack on the settlers’ material privilege and their very sense of self as superior to those whose land they have taken. Equally unsettling, it is a reminder of the temporariness of their presence; in a colonial context, worries about the future just won’t go away.

The parallels with other settler struggles are uncanny. The struggle around white domination in South Africa culminated in the emergence of what were called ‘the front line states’: those sympathetic to anti-colonial movements, providing aid, and places to retreat to. In the South African case, the collapse of the Portuguese empire, and the independence of Angola and Mozambique gave the ANC new sources of support to add to that of Zambia and Malawi. In the Palestine case, think Lebanon and Syria; in the case of the Algerian war of independence, the already liberated former French colonies of Morocco and Tunisia. There was a similar pattern in the case of Southern Rhodesia. Ireland tried to stay neutral in the struggle over Ulster, but the IRA moved easily between the two.

In all cases, the settler states have enjoyed external support; they have had important sponsors. In formally colonial situations, it was the imperial government. But even though South Africa had been independent since 1910, in the context of the Cold War it could enjoy the support of the US, anxious about the spread of communism in Southern Africa; an anxiety not relieved by the entirely deceptive socialist rhetoric of the ANC. In the Israel case, the fact is that without American support and European connivance, they just could not carry on the struggle.

In the developed world, the issue of settler societies divides along the left-right spectrum. In the case of the left, this is because of the issue of democratic rights and an historical affiliation with the oppressed: something that includes left wing forces in the settler societies, including among the settlers. And the right because for analogous ideological reasons. Thus Lordon again:

“Why has it (the attack on Gaza) been unleashed with a ferocity that it would not, say, on matters of taxation or working hours? What is it about this international event that has such a powerful resonance in national class conjunctures? One answer is that the Western bourgeoisies consider Israel’s situation as intimately linked to their own. This is an imaginary, semi-conscious connection which – far more than simple sociological affinities – is driven by a subterranean affinity which cannot but be denied. Sympathy for domination, sympathy for racism, perhaps the purest form of domination, and therefore most exciting for the dominators.”

And sympathy for developed countries against the less developed: development as an indicator of national virtue and of claims to respect on the world stage. No surprise, therefore, at the map of countries recognizing the state of Palestine,[2] though the former eastern bloc countries in Eastern Europe are a bit of a surprise. Ireland is missing but we know its position on Gaza[3] and a recent move to recognize; testimony to its own status as a settler country and a people once stigmatized by former colonial masters: a backward, despised people supplying the lowest forms of labor to British factories.[4] Nor should we be surprised that it is South Africa which brought claims of genocide in Gaza to the International Court of Justice. There is the same pattern among the G20: the nine recognizing Palestine are Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and Turkey. Ten have not: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The less developed world knows where it stands and resents it.[5]

This is the generality of things. What gets disregarded in the successive public claims about Northern Ireland, South Africa, the old Southern Rhodesia, Algeria or Israel, is that they are all, or were, fundamentally settler societies and share the same dynamics, the same polarizations. This perception gets lost in the particularities of the cases. To talk about Zionism, or religious strife, or the evils of apartheid, is therefore to miss the point. Simply put, there were people there before and they were subordinated, denied rights and displaced. One can certainly argue that particularities matter. But what energizes them are forces of a more general, discursive, nature, rooted in the arrogance of the dominant classes in the developed world.




[4] Something that I vividly remember, growing up in the English Midlands. Only with the Celtic Tiger phenomenon did the British deign to give the country any respect.

[5] Though the remnants of settlerdom aren’t too sure. Take a vote on it in South Africa and that would be very clear.


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