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Thursday, January 06, 2005

imperialism and colonialism

michael brenner wrote the following in the comments section of the post on dershowitz:

"But Israel as colonial, imperialist state? Why, because Israel relies on big countries? What country in the Middle East doesn't? The Arabs relied on the Soviet Union during the Cold War and owe their statehoods to European colonial powers. What's the crime of Israelis except being too white for you? And what about the Israelis who hail from Arab countries, from which many were forced out? Also colonialist/imperialists?"

i think it's a fair question. rather than post a long comment, i'll post my thoughts as a blog entry.

there's more to the "colonialist/imperialist" analysis than reliance on big countries. i would really recommend the two books which i mentioned - "the question of palestine" and "the fateful triangle" - but i'll summarize my thoughts very briefly here.

first, the analysis is not about individual israelis. i wouldn't say that the jews forced out from arab countries are colonialists/imperialists, but then i wouldn't say it of the european jews either - most of them didn't go to israel because they shared the zionist vision - they went because they were forced out of europe. my grandparents, for example, moved to israel from czechoslovakia after WWII, and were virtually refugees. nobody physically forced them out, but it was impossible after returning from the camps to go on with life as usual, and the whole jewish community was leaving. i understand that the same sort of situation is mostly what caused most jews from iraq, tunisia and other arab countries to leave in the late 40's and early '50's. i imagine the same would tend to be true of colonizing people in general - they're the people who are most motivated to leave the home country, often because they're persecuted there. my point is that the analysis of israel as colonialist/imperialist is an analysis of the israeli state and its relationship to the world's main imperial power, the united states.

second, i wouldn't consider the arab states on the whole to be imperialist or colonial states (i'd say iraq is, but that's a different story). israel is a colonial state because it was set up by a group of invading foreigners with an agenda of getting rid of the natives, and because it's a european jewish state in a land that has been predominantly non-jewish and non-european up until very
recently. the arab states *used* to be colonial states when the foreigners still ruled them, either by being in direct control, or from behind an "arab facade" like the british in india. the arab states currently, despite their many flaws, are not racially exclusive states ruled by a foreign ethnic group. that's why israel is a colonial state and the arab states are not. the fact that their borders and much of their form were set by the conquerers is not that significant a fact in this context, i don't think.

as for the imperialism part, i would argue that that the relationship between israel and the US is qualitatively different from the relationship between egypt and the US or saudi arabia and the US. egypt and saudi arabia get money to keep quiet, repress their populations, and keep the oil flowing. israel (and turkey, and iran before the revolution, and iraq before the invasion of kuwait) were local projections of US military power, hence much more directly tools of imperialism.

but even further, israel is a mini-imperial power on its own in the middle east. it has at some point or other violated the territory of each of its neighbors (palestine, egypt, jordan, syria, lebanon) and has occupied, long-term, the territories of four of those five nations (west bank, gaza strip, sinai, golan heights, southern lebanon). so while it serves US imperial interests, it also uses military conquest to further its own ambitious territorial agenda.

it's possible that back in the day, the relationship between say, the USSR and egypt, was similar to the modern-day relationship between the US and israel. if so, then arguably egypt was imperialist at the time. i don't know so much about that relationship, but in my understanding the USSR's posture in the middle east was rather defensive, since the oil states "belonged" to the US.


Yesh Gvul
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