/ 23 March 2024

Unpacking coloniality and settler-colonialism: The case of Palestine

Israeli Soldiers Surround Palestinian Protesters At A Time
SALFIT, WEST BANK, PALESTINE - 2023/07/14: Israeli soldiers surround Palestinian protesters at a time of prayer during a demonstration against the illegal establishment of Jewish settlements on Palestinian lands, in the village of Deir Istiya, west of Salfit Governorate. (Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The aim of this op-ed is to explore writings from Edward Said, Dipesh Chakrabaty , Frantz Fanon and Anton de Kom in understanding the ways in which we read coloniality and, in particular, settler-colonialism, using the example of the occupation and gen-ecocide of Palestine. 

Chakrabaty’s provinciality of Europe highlights how Europe (White) centres itself in relation to the rest of the world. Edward Said claimed that the Orient is a necessary juxtaposition for the Occident because it offers a romanticisation of the racialised other (Black), rendering the other hypervisible yet simultaneously invisible. Consequently, Said’s notion of Orientalism fixes the position of the “other”, perpetuating malignant forms of brutality with the fungibility of Black life. 

With Said’s theorisation of the Orient and magical thinking in the context of the exotic, he entrenches difference with the notion of the “outsider” (the “other” whereby all projections of desire are imposed). In this way, the “other” loses their ontology and epistemology because extraction has already occurred on an intrapsychic level. This takes the “other” beyond the realm of human and, therefore, exploitable, subjugated and ultimately disposable (the fungibility of Black life). Thus, Orientalism renders the other less than human to fix the binary of the West and rest.

Provincial Europe furthermore reproduces the perception of excellence because of the ways in which centring works, extending its tentacles towards the reaches of the Earth to dominate through perniciously violent means. Frantz Fanon asserts the thesis that revolutionary violence is necessary for undoing the internalisation of colonial violence. In fact, before Fanon wrote about internalisation of oppression, Anton de Kom wrote, “It took a long time before I could free myself entirely from the obsessive belief that a Negro is always and unreservedly inferior to any white … No people can reach full maturity as long as it remains burdened with an inherited sense of inferiority.” 

In other words, De Kom and Fanon assert that revolutionary violence is about undoing intrapsychic processes of othering (Orientalism). Moreover, we see how provincial Europe’s notion of excellence perpetuates the “outsider” or, in the Dutch case, with the history of guest workers after World War II, second and third generation Dutch-Turkish and Dutch-Moroccan are still considered outsiders because their ancestors arrived as menial workers to rebuild Europe. 

Their outsider status with the hyphenation of their Dutchness means that they are subjected to Dutch tolerance because they are not of the soil (autochtoon). This form of racial capitalism embedded in the work of De Kom describes the plantation master (a demigod-like figure) as purveyor of the Earth with its extensions such as the enslaved and crops, reproducing notions of Orientalism and provincial Europe. 

These logics of coloniality have a far reaching effect with internalised oppression while maintaining white innocence. Furthermore, these pernicious forms of violence allow the outsiders to be subjected to “white supremacy light” with continuing political alienation through perceptions that have material implications such as, “you are useful as long as you can serve the masters”. The crumbling empire of the West is still persistently holding on to notions of excellence in the guise of white innocence with the provinciality of Europe. 

The current occupation of Palestine — from the British occupation of Palestine and post-Ottoman occupation with the fall of the Ottoman Empire — found a way to fix the European problem of anti-Semitism. Palestine became a land without people for a people without a land. This concept of empty land is the product of Zionism because neither the Palestinians nor European Jews were without land. This is where even Zionism lost the body politic of undoing anti-Semitism because they played into the intrapsychic notion of the West as the normalised masters of the Earth. 

In this scenario, the Earth, as a living entity to which we all belong, is made invisible for “white supremacy light” to enjoy total domination of everything outside the white man as the gold standard for the human. Thus, the spectacle of brutality live-streamed on our news channels serves as a cautionary note to dissuade us from resistance. 

Resistance and the spectacle of brutality when applied to Gazans is used as an example to demonstrate the master’s power in that international instruments of justice with the failure to comply with United Nations resolutions and the investigation into claims of genocide, give the masters total impunity in their brutality. 

In many ways, Palestinians are abandoned because they are without an economy of power. Their plight is more tenuous than the enslaved because their life is not dependent on the amount of labour they can (re)produce, making them the perfect victims for ghettoisation and fungibility. 

Thus, Fanonian theorisation of colonialism, in the form of control and management of the natives, is limited in the reading of the annihilation of the Palestinians because Palestinians serve as an obstruction to the Zionist premise of claims to the land. 

Moreover, Zionism itself has squarely laid its reproduction in the wombs of Zionists themselves who are living on stolen land (settlements). Subsequently, De Kom’s reading of the plantation is also limited when it comes to Zionist settler-colonialism because it is mixed with the desire for a homeland (while mobilising the Holocaust) as a solution for Western dominance in the Levant with a Zionist outpost. 
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.