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Israel-Palestine war: This is not about Hamas. It's a 75-year colonial war

The ethnic cleansing of Palestine is inseparable from the racialised structures of Zionism, which receives unbridled support from Europe and the US
Smoke rises as a result of Israeli occupation army bombardment of the northern Gaza Strip on 15 November, 2023 AFP)

On 30 October, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) addressed Israel’s wholesale onslaught against Palestinians in the wake of the Hamas-led attack three weeks earlier. 

“Since the 7th of October,” prosecutor Karim Khan said, “I really intensified my efforts to get in and access the locations where crimes were committed in Israel, to meet the families of those that are grieving, those that are living with fear, as if time has stood still at an acutely painful moment, waiting for their loved ones, worried … and praying for their return.” 

After making this emotionally charged statement, he hastened to add that he had “made every effort to enter Gaza, but it has not been possible”.

No matter how diligent the ICC prosecutor attempted to be in addressing both peoples, the racial and colonial foundations of international law and institutions overshadowed his efforts, with Palestinian suffering appearing, at best, of secondary importance.

Khan’s office has “an ongoing investigation with jurisdiction over Palestine that goes back to 2014”, he stressed. One cannot help but ask how the ICC managed to find Russia guilty of war crimes in Ukraine and issue an arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin within a year - yet after nine years, there seems to be no urgency to complete the investigation of Israel’s recurrent war crimes and bring the perpetrators to trial.

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Israeli leaders have declared their intent to conduct collective punishment and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, with Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant calling them “human animals” and vowing to “eliminate everything”.

In his address, the ICC prosecutor made no mention of the “textbook case of genocide” referenced by Craig Mokhiber, a top UN human rights official who recently resigned in protest over his organisation’s failure to take action. 

Instead, Khan reiterated the decontextualised western misrepresentations of Israel’s “war with Hamas” in which Palestinians want “no part”, suggesting that the thousands of Palestinian victims have been “caught up in hostilities” as unfortunate collateral damage.

Decades of displacement 

In fact, Israel has been waging war on the Palestinian people for decades in an ongoing campaign to displace them from their land. With or without Hamas (or Fatah, Islamic Jihad and other resistance movements), the Palestinian people have been resisting the colonisation of their land by Euro-Zionist settlers since the late 19th century. 

One of the earliest documented instances of Palestinian resistance occurred in 1886, when the Palestinians farmers of Mlabbis and al-Yahudiyya refused to let their land be seized by the Zionist settlers of Petah Tikva. 

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Yousef al-Khalidi, a prominent Palestinian politician and former mayor of Jerusalem, perfectly foresaw the impending anti-colonial struggle. In 1899, Khalidi delivered a sharp warning to Theodor Herzl, the political father of Zionism, that the Palestinian people would never acquiesce to the Zionist aspiration to seize control and “become masters” of Palestine, but rather would steadfastly resist. 

Neither the ICC prosecutor nor most western governments have shown any concern for the colonial history shaping present global conditions. Israel and its allies have made significant efforts to silence and suppress this history, going as far as to demand the resignation of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for highlighting that the Hamas attack “did not happen in a vacuum”. 

This morbid genocidal atmosphere has been intensifying with the direct involvement of western governments

The reductive representation of the conflict as one between only Israel and Hamas aligns the parameters of justice with the official European and American political stance, thus enabling the unfolding ethnic cleansing and genocide. Such reductivism and dehistoricisation sidesteps the fundamental questions around Israel’s settler-colonial structures, and the Zionist ideology that informs its violent practices towards Palestinians. 

These actions have been facilitated by the active involvement or silence of international institutions since the publication of the Balfour Declaration more than a century ago.

If anything, the events of 7 October have only underscored the fundamental roots of the conflict - namely, Euro-Zionist settler-colonialism, racism and moves to eliminate the indigenous people of Palestine. As far back as 1895, Herzl professed that Jewish settlers must “spirit” Palestinians “across the border”, noting that this ethnic cleansing must be performed “discreetly and circumspectly”.

Today, Israel, the US and other European states have been explicitly deliberating over the potential displacement of Palestinians in Gaza to the Egyptian Sinai, while communities in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem have been enduring ongoing ethnic cleansing for decades - an issue that Jewish settlers are seeking to accelerate while the world’s attention remains fixed on Gaza.  

Laying the groundwork

The ethnic cleansing of Palestine is inseparable from the racialised structures of Zionism, which receives unbridled support from Europe and the US. Ethnic cleansing and genocide are not spontaneous events; they are preceded by deliberate racial branding, alongside spatial and military planning.

The racialised branding that laid the groundwork for the dispossession of Palestinians in 1948, forcing hundreds of thousands into exile while destroying their towns and villages, endures to this day. The Zionist narrative regards all Palestinians as a demographic threat to the state of Israel.

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This branding has been intricately linked with meticulous spatial planning, aiming to concentrate the Palestinian population into encircled and non-contiguous enclaves in the occupied West Bank, Gaza and bounded neighbourhoods within Israel.

Although Palestinians constitute the majority population from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, they are denied their basic right to self-determination, and they are confined to around 15 percent of the land under various forms of Israeli rule, ranging from military occupation in the West Bank to siege and bombardment in Gaza.

While calls to expedite the pace of ethnic cleansing have grown louder since 7 October, they were already circulating within the Israeli political and military establishment, with calls for a second Nakba and to “wipe out” Palestinian villages.

The current onslaught against Gaza is part of this “incremental genocide” - a continuing catastrophe to which Palestinians have responded across the land with resolute resistance and steadfastness.

Shaping the geopolitical order

It is essential to acknowledge the embedded colonial power dynamic within international law and institutions, which has actively shaped the global legal and geopolitical order according to Eurocentric racial distinctions and colonial interests, dispossessing indigenous peoples of their land and right to self-defence. Such distinctions are currently being used to rationalise war and ethnic cleansing in Gaza.

These concepts persist in various forms and expressions. In the contemporary western official perspective, the non-western world exists in “the jungle”, as articulated by the EU’s foreign policy chief last year.

The entrenched Euro-colonial structure permeating the international order has enabled and licensed the dispossession and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians since 1948

Such descriptors are used not only in derogatory fashion, but also to achieve tangible objectives: to justify settler violence as self-defence, and to dispossess non-Europeans - deemed as primitive jungle-dwellers - of their land and resources.

Today, these very concepts are applied to Palestinians for the same reasons: to strip them of their land, legitimise genocide and ethnic cleansing against them, and deny them the right and means to defend themselves against Israeli settler-colonialism.

This morbid genocidal atmosphere has been intensifying with the direct involvement of western governments, which have ensured the necessary diplomatic conditions and provided weaponry, capital, intelligence and media support for Israel. 

The US and most European governments have continued to encourage Israel, even as its forces disregard the Geneva Conventions, because they know that such rules are generally made by and for the white man. As legal scholar Antony Anghie has noted, the “basic structures of colonialism” underpin all major schools of international jurisprudence.

The entrenched Euro-colonial structure permeating the international order has enabled and licensed the dispossession and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians since 1948. This is not a war between Israel and Hamas; rather, it is a continuation of settler-colonial violence aimed at uprooting the indigenous people of Palestine from their land.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Emile Badarin is a researcher in Middle East politics, coloniality and international relations. He is author of numerous publications on these topics that can be found on his and
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