/ 27 October 2023

Israel’s occupation of Palestine: Rethinking genocide and ecocide through justice for the Earth

Pro Palestinian Protests In Amsterdam
(Photo by Romy Arroyo Fernandez/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The invention of the nation-state with borderland thinking has led to historical and ongoing wars such as the Israeli occupation of Palestine, the Russia-Ukraine war, Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara, Kurdistan, Kashmir, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, northern Uganda, to name but a few. In all these conflicts one of the key components that is erased from the discourse is the Earth. 

The Earth is a living being and, as such, has existential and inherent rights. The Earth is beyond borders. We belong to the Earth and we exist within the Earth. Nonetheless, as humans and one of the multitude of beings co-existing on the Earth, our desire for domination over the Earth and all other beings means that we are losing our connection to the Earth and to others (multi-species, including fauna and flora). 

Moreover, the discourse of domination, which is touted as a measure of success, is through the control and management of others — the narcissism of coloniality. We curtail movement through passbooks or migration laws that devalue some while making others monarchs. 

We extend this narcissism of coloniality to the ways in which we control and manage nature and here I mean restricting animals and plants to allotments, no different to notions of occupation. With this as the basis of success, an inherent toxicity emanates to make the few masters of the many. All occupations, in particular the Israeli occupation of Palestine, together with borderland thinking, is part of this landscape of control and management of what Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant refers to as “human animals”. 

Gallant’s genocidal language mirrors similar language that led to the Rwandan genocide — a language of dehumanisation. Moreover, it reifies the supremacy of being (narcissism of coloniality) to justify genocide and ecocide (think the razing of olive groves in Palestine). 

But what does dehumanisation offer us in this moment for rethinking justice through the perspective of the Earth? The anthropogenic existential risks caused by warfare highlights the myopic narcissism of coloniality against the looming extinction crisis. Earth exists with or without humans. Even an attempt at ecocide will not end the Earth but it will end the history of human domination of the Earth. Eventually, the Earth will recover despite the banality of evil. 

Hannah Arendt’s understanding of evil has been contested by scholars of the Holocaust and her definition has been challenged by the Israeli government. But she makes a crucial point, which is that evil exists as commonplace among us. We get caught up in the bureaucracy of life that hinders us from questioning the motives of power. This then leads to us seeking superficial success at the cost of monstrous acts. Consequently, Arendt wrote in 1971: “I was struck by the manifest shallowness in the doer (Eichmann) which made it impossible to trace the incontestable evil of his deeds to any deeper level of roots or motives. The deeds were monstrous, but the doer — at least the very effective one now on trial — was quite ordinary, commonplace, and neither demonic nor monstrous.”

In moments where violence is normalised, such as the Israeli occupation of Palestine, as bystanders to a genocide (slow and sudden death), we become the monsters that we fear, and to whom Arendt was cautioning the banality of evil. Subsequently, our collective grief challenges us to find meaning through love and beauty, deliberately and with purpose to counteract the banality of evil. 

Insofar as evil exists in us all as a banal act of survival, we forget that there is an extinction crisis with a resounding alarm to humans of what could be a paradise lost. Against this backdrop, the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine is a fast track to doom. 

What then is the much needed existential reaction to such flagrant irresponsible dominance over the Earth and its inhabitants? Do we need a rights-based response from the Earth to warmongers that are robbing our future generations of plenitude? Do we organise as ordinary beings in our vulnerable and debilitated punctures of pain to push back against the powers that be? And what do some of these push backs look like? Are we sending money to Gaza only to wait until the next airstrike? How then do we push back against power that is waning but still clinging on to the banality of evil? Where do we take our struggles to survive without losing our humanity? 

These are some of the questions that haunt me while I watch the madness unfolding of this genocide and ecocide. Who do we hold accountable for such evil? And, when does it stop?

“I am not going to feed water to my enemies,” said former Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett. 

Has the Israeli right lost their gauge for compassion? Has the narcissism of coloniality brought us to this moment where we are devoid of love and can no longer see ourselves in the other? Is this void the downfall of our species? 

My hope is that we celebrate the lives of Palestinians loudly and proudly with kufiyyas, knafeh and hummus and all things that Palestine has given us, along with Edward Said’s monographs and Mahmoud Darwish’s poetry:

Here on the slopes of hills, facing the dusk and the cannon of time
Close to the gardens of broken shadows,
We do what prisoners do,
And what the jobless do:
We cultivate hope. 

My only hope against despair, much like memory against forgetting, is that peace will eventually prevail following all this demise.  

Nadira Omarjee is a decolonial feminist scholar at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. She has published two books: Reimagining the Dream: Decolonising Academia by Putting the Last First and We Belong to the Earth: Towards a decolonial feminist pedagogy rooted in Uhuru and Ubuntu.