The “coloniality” of the Zionist project has long been debated. In 1967, in a polemical text, “Israel, a colonial fact?”, Maxime Rodinson reported the Zionist project to Western imperialism . Today, it seems even more difficult to speak of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without emotion, because of the amalgamation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism , which denotes either a process of political instrumentalization or an astonishing ignorance of the history.
Embedded in the nationalist conceptions of its emerging context in Eastern Europe, reduced today to an ethnic and religious dimension, the Israeli national identity has been built on the principle of the nation-state, as left as a (poisoned) legacy to many formerly colonized countries  and on the need to eliminate obstacles to the implementation of this project, including the Arab presence in Palestine. The exodus of the Palestinian population from Mandate Palestine began in 1948 .
As of January 2020, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) counted 6,293,390 registered Palestinian refugees in the Near East.
Of these refugees registered with UNWRA, 1,065,772 live in the “West Bank” (including East Jerusalem, without Gaza). The latter today counts a little more than 3 million inhabitants, 14% of whom are settlers.
Israeli colonialism is broken down into multiple devices aimed at establishing a logic of fait accompli (settlement building, economic colonization, military occupation ...) and justifying a creeping administrative and legal annexation.
Today, in the light of Settler Colonial Studies, Palestine can be considered as a “laboratory of the global processes of domination and dispossession” that characterize our capitalist world . In order to understand what is at stake, we can show the ways in which the Israeli takeover of the territory of Palestine operates and declines from its concrete manifestations rather than through an analysis of the discourses that generally mask its springs and logics. This amounts to trying to “read the landscape” (Roger Brunet) .
Barkan : The colonisation
The notion of colonization does not necessarily overlap with that of colonialism. A colony established on an uninhabited territory, for example, is not an act of colonialism since it does not establish a relationship of domination . Colonization becomes imperialism if it is the object of a far-reaching ideology and political program, such as that which, under the guise of a civilizing mission, seemed legitimate and well-founded to European countries in the 19th century “We do not want to overshadow anyone, but we also claim our place in the sun” , claimed Bernhard von Bülow, the German State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, in 1897, to justify the expansionist tendencies of the Reich.
Of the possibly socialist Zionist project of the origins only the misleading image of the kibbutzim and moshavim, former agricultural production colonies of various community and cooperative forms, remains. Very early on, a colonial logic imposed itself, because the country was not empty, the land belonged to others and the space was already inhabited .
The German economist Arthur Ruppin (1876-1943), one of the great architects of Zionist colonization, called for a “harmonious common life” with the Arabs, whose he never denied either the demographic superiority, and the presence. On the one hand, it would suffice to develop these distant cousins to be able to live together in peace and, on the other hand, the expansion of Jewish colonization was justified by the state of unexploited land: “It is not for lack of space that there should be a struggle between Jews and Arabs, there is room for everyone” .
In 1947, for Ben Gurion, who used the same rhetoric, it was nonetheless a question of “conquering the country, in whole or in large part, and perpetuating this conquest until there is an approved political arrangement” .
The UN partition plan of 1947 allocated 45% of the territory of Palestine to the indigenous Arabs and 55% to the Jewish newcomers, although the latter were only half as numerous as the Arabs . This was followed by the creation of the State of Israel on 14 May 1948.
After the 1967 war, Israel began to “overflow” (Shlomo Sand) . Israeli settlements were set up where the local population had been expelled and forbidden to return and their confiscated property (according to the Israeli Absentee Property Law of 1950). The first settlement in the territory of the former West Bank was Kfar Etzion (now part of the Gush Etzion settlement group), between Jerusalem and Hebron. These settlements, known as “security” settlements, were meant not to the agricultural exploitation of the land, but to the appropriation of the territory and therefore fall within the scope of colonialism. Let us recall that according to art. 49, § 6 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (GCIV), as well as the United Nations Resolution 242 of November 1967, it is illegal (under international law) to establish and develop settlements and infrastructures in occupied territories.
On the visible traces of this colonisation in the landscape (fortified settlements, “outposts”, separation wall, fences, checkpoints, signs, military omnipresence, strategic afforestation, destroyed property, etc.)  is superimposed an invisible colonization, made of administrative restrictions preventing the exploitation of the territory and the free movement of Palestinian persons (authorization regime, closed “military” zones, “bypass” roads, etc.)
As of 2020, there are at least 132 official Israeli settlements and 124 unofficial “outposts” in the occupied West Bank, home to approximately 427,800 settlers . These settlements very often practice agriculture, but those located mainly along the 1949 armistice line are home to 18 industrial zones. These zones are an integral part of the Israeli economic system and operate what can be considered as “economic colonization”.
Barkan is one of those illegal settlements. Located southwest of Nablus, it is adjacent to the Qiryat Netafim settlement and the Ma’ale-Yisarel outpost. Founded in 1981 by right-wings nationalist groups (Betar and Herut), it is a colony of “moderate” settlers compared to some of its neighbours.
It has had an industrial zone since its creation. The settlement was established, as everywhere else, on municipal land confiscated from Palestinian villages in the area. On the top of its two hills, the settlement has continued to expand. Today, the buildings are adjacent to impressive wine vats, probably dating from the Byzantine period, archaeological remains left in the same state and whose sites are forbidden to Palestinians. Here and there, there are also remains of prickly pear hedges, which once delimited Palestinian land, and those of the old olive groves, which must have made way for houses and industrial buildings.
Roads serving the settlement and its industrial zone are forbidden to Palestinians from nearby villages. The municipal territory of the closest village, Qarawat Bani Hasan, consists of 9% of Zone B (under mixed Palestinian and Israeli control), the remaining 91% being part of Zone C, under Israeli control.
The Taba Interim Agreement (Oslo II) of 1995 between Israel and the Palestinian National Authority divides the West Bank into three areas: Area A, under Palestinian authority (18% of the West Bank territory), Area B, in which internal security is provided jointly with the Israeli army (20%) and Area C, entirely under Israeli administrative and military control (62%).
In Area C, infrastructure and housing are destroyed arbitrarily by the Israelis. The same applies to the small village of Sarta (16.8% Zone B, 83.2% Zone C), southwest of Barkan. In the last three months, in the villages of Haris and Deir Istya, more than 400 olive trees have been destroyed .
The second reality, that of the colonial presence, is superimposed on this reality of the daily life of the local population. East of Barkan, the colony of Ariel stretches along Route 5. The separation wall, only partially completed, already covers the end of the so-called “Ariel finger” that penetrates deep into the West Bank, some 20 km from the 1949 armistice line. Once completed, this wall will connect the settlements to Israel, cutting the area from west to east. To get from Sarta to Bruqin, on the opposite hill, the inhabitants will then have to make a detour of more than an hour.
In the evening, from the heights of Barkan, you can see the lights of Tel Aviv. The economic center of Israel is 30 minutes away by car and only 15 minutes separate Barkan from the Green Line. With 1,833 inhabitants in 2018, the conurbation would have all the characteristics of a “dormitory suburb” if it hadn’t been home to a major industrial zone. Nearly 100 companies have settled in Barkan since the creation of the industrial zone in 1982, belonging to the secondary and tertiary sectors.
Here, even the security issue is subordinate to the economic issue. During the second intifada (2000-2005), economic activity did not diminish, neither did it when in 2018, an attack inside the industrial zone itself claimed the lives of two Israeli employees and its Palestinian perpetrator, killed by the army two months later.
The Israeli state subsidizes the creation of businesses in the occupied territories, where industrial zones are classified as National Priority Zones (NPAs), which gives them many tax advantages. Since the beginning of the occupation, various laws have been aimed at encouraging investment and settlement in colonial localities according to specific criteria: socio-economic status, proximity to Tel Aviv and port cities, level of service provision, capacity to absorb new immigrants, distance from legal or illegal borders, level of security threat.
On requisitioned land, tax benefits and incentives keep commercial or industrial leases at a lower level than in Israel. Low operational costs also attract foreign investors. In Barkan, for example, there is the South Korean company Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI), the world’s largest shipbuilder. Its machines are used, among other things, for the demolition of Palestinian houses in and around Jerusalem. The German construction machinery manufacturer Bomag builds soil compacting machines, which are used, among other things, for road construction in the occupied territories. Bomag is one of the 208 subsidiaries of the Fayat group, the 4th largest construction and public works giant in France (its turnover will reach 4.6 billion euros in 2019, 37% of which will be generated outside France).
However, the official policy of the European Union is not to support the economic activity of an occupying power and many NGO denounce these connections. Thus, the French multinational Veolia, which was involved in various lucrative activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (bus line on Route 443 prohibited to Palestinians, tramway linking Jerusalem to the illegal settlements, Tovlan waste dump in the Jordan Valley processing Israeli waste from recycling plants, settlements and the army), has eventually withdrawn from it.
Among the Israeli companies based in Barkan are the large clothing manufacturer Delta Galil Industries and the Electra conglomerate, which supplies the Israeli army, among others. Metal processing, plastics, rubber, textiles, chemicals, processing of waste from Israel (2 factories), computers, publishing, archives, etc., most of the secondary and tertiary sectors are represented there.
In addition to the free disposal of local resources and less stringent pollution regulations, the great advantage of establishing in the settlements is the supply of cheap local labour. Peasant families, whose land has been confiscated, and the entire population confined to their area of residence often have no choice but to be hired by these companies. Wages there are higher and labour laws are better respected than in Palestinian companies. Economic interdependence has thus been established between the companies located in these areas and the local population, which at first glance resembles a “win-win agreement”.
But Israel dominates the labour market and the local economy. Palestinian employees remain exogenous elements to Israeli companies, the exchange being limited to the supply of their labour force alone. Thus, the intersection of Highway 5 with the roads serving Barkan and its industrial zone, the Haris Junction, serves as a drop-off and pick-up point for employees and also as a relay for Palestinian employees in Israel. Buses, vans, cars and taxis line up there during rush hour.
Palestinian nationals are second-class employees and, for example, are not allowed to travel on public roads inside the settlement. Once deposited at the bottom of the hill, they are picked up by their employers’ services. Special permits to enter the territory of the settlement remain exceptional.
Logically, the presence of these companies calls for the installation of new settlers. For example, the Israeli authorities have recently given the green light to the construction of 1,776 housing units, 620 of them in the Eli settlement and 534 in Shilo/Shvut Rachel in the West Bank.
The capture of employment thus contributes to land grabbing, effecting a colonization through labour: employees do not contribute to the development of local Palestinian businesses and become dependent on the Israeli economy. By dominating the economic activity of its host, the colonizing power gets its hands on the territory and creates a state of affairs that is difficult to reverse, since it has, in capitalist logic, the outside of “normality”.
The Jourdain valley : The occupation
Occupation implies, at the outset, the presence of an armed force. It follows a military victory and opens a “transition period”, of varying length, during which negotiations between the conflicting parties develop to determine the future status of the territories and the conditions under which that status will be established. But in some cases, the occupation phase is only a stage aimed at preparing for annexation?
Thus, during and after the Second World War, Kehl, a German town near Strasbourg, was occupied by France from 1939 to 1953. The inhabitants were evacuated in one night and replaced by French citizens. In 1946, the city was administratively attached to the Alsatian metropolis.
Just after the Israeli victory in the 1967 blitzkrieg, the United Nations used the term “occupied territories” and then “occupied Palestinian territories” to refer to the West Bank, taken by Israel from Jordan, which had itself annexed this territory in 1948.
As early as 1967, Israel began illegally (according to UN Resolution 242) building settlements in the West Bank, a movement that intensified after 1988. The Oslo Accords, negotiated and signed in the early 1990s, planned the division of Palestine into three zones A, B and C. This new territorial organisation, which provided for complete autonomy (zone A), in fact proved disastrous for the daily life of the Palestinian population. Today, Zone C, which is under a “civil administration”, is in fact governed by the Israeli army. All Palestinian activity is banned.
The confiscation of land, legitimised by multiple pretexts (areas declared military, permanent or temporary, state land (60% of Palestinian territory), nature reserves...) is accompanied by the systematic destruction of all construction in zone C, even for the purpose of grazing herds.
Permanent administrative and military harassment discourages the population. The valley has thus been emptied of most of its peasant population: of the approximately 250,000 people who lived there before the occupation, only 65,000 remain today.
Land grabbing, resource grabbing, especially water, makes their lives impossible. The old water supply network has been destroyed by the occupier and the rural populations forced to connect to the Israeli water network. The occupier thus has discretionary power over their supply. Because of the volume restrictions and water cuts, peasants are forced to ration and buy water delivered by truck at high prices.
Sometimes located on the edge of Palestinian villages, there are cisterns and pumps reserved for the settlements for their agricultural or domestic needs. Barbed wire prevents sabotage.
In the valley, Israeli companies practice industrial monoculture with heavy reliance on pesticides, fertilizers and irrigation, while Palestinian agriculture no longer provides a decent livelihood for farming families. Israel exported more than 55,000 tons of dates in 2019 (source: Comtrade), more than half of which are known to be produced in the Jordan Valley.
For the European Union, determining the origin of agricultural products from illegal settlements is essential for not contravening its own directives. Its preferential customs agreements with Israel require the exact place of production of the exported product to be indicated, but because of the numerous circumventions of this rule, it has been reinforced by the adoption of guidelines on the labelling of products from the settlements .
The physical occupation, which discourages and drives the inhabitants out of their land, is coupled with the symbolic erasing of their traces. On tourist maps, the old name of Palestine does not appear (nor that of the West Bank for that matter). It is simply replaced by that of Judea and Samaria. Moreover, it was not until the Oslo negotiations that the “Arabs”, as they were called, were able to assert their true name of “Palestinians”.
On the maps, Hebrew toponyms have replaced Arabic names and, as above, the names of illegal settlements appear at the expense of those of Palestinian villages. In 1949, the “Names Committee” set up by Ben Gurion had proceeded to the Hebrewization of toponyms .
The space thus cleared of most of its inhabitants, and their history erased, the former West Bank becomes a free zone, a Wild East to be conquered. In the spring, Israeli tourists, hermetic to the drama unfolding before their eyes, come to hike and recharge their batteries in the grandiose landscapes of the Jordan Valley.
Under international law, however, this situation is illegal. Different rules rules apply to the occupied and annexed territories: international humanitarian law (IHL), the 1907 Fourth Hague Convention (HIVR) on the Laws and Customs of War, the Fourth Geneva Convention (GCIV), the First Additional Protocol (API). They regulate the relations between the occupying power and the occupied power and its population.
In contravention of international law and in the face of the community of nations, Israeli colonization and occupation thus paves the way for annexation.
East-Jerusalem : The annexation
Gaining control of a neighbouring territory is a military asset. The satellite states of the USSR were thus supposed to function as security glacis, pushing the boundaries to be protected beyond the Soviet Union’s own borders. This was the case for Alsace-Lorraine, then Alsace-Moselle, which were annexed by the German Reich.
When the Nazi regime annexed Austria in 1938, they called it Ostmark (march from the East, the march being a front region) before transforming it into a set of Reichsgaue of the “Great German Reich”, the Grossdeutsches Reich.
Often euphemised by the alienating state in terms of “reunification”, annexation is imposed by force and illegal under international law when it is not the result of a peace treaty and, ideally, a referendum. The imposition of national jurisdiction by the occupier, as well as recognition by a third State, are acts without legal value under international law.
This is the case of the Golan Heights in north-east Israel, which was conquered militarily from Syria in the wars of 1967 and 1973 and annexed in 1981. The military occupation was accompanied by the expulsion of the local population, with villages systematically destroyed to prevent the return of the inhabitants and all traces of their presence erased. A senseless act without any legal value, Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights was recognized by Donald Trump in March 2019!
From 1975 onwards, the construction of illegal settlements intensified in all areas of Palestine considered strategic, as proposed in the 1977 Sharon plan, which, in addition to the establishment of settlements east of the Green Line, provided for the encirclement of East Jerusalem by a belt of settlements.
Since the establishment of the State of Israel, the fate of the city has been played out in several stages.
Occupied by Jordan from 1948 to 1967, the East was then separated from Western Israel by a no man’s land, with only one possible crossing point, the Mandelbaum Gate, with each side emptying its territory of the inhabitants of the other side.
In 1967, at the end of the Six Day War, Israel annexed the eastern part. “Yom Yerushalayim”, Jerusalem Day, celebrates this “reunification” of the city.
In order to clear an esplanade in front of the Wailing Wall, the Maghreb (or Moroccan) district is razed to the ground and its inhabitants have to evacuate it in a few hours. As early as 1967, the United Nations condemned this annexation of the city of the three monotheistic religions, for which an international status was planned.
In 1980, the Knesset declared Jerusalem the “eternal and indivisible capital of the State of Israel” (a law declared null and void by the UN because it violates international law in the same way as annexation) and continued annexation operations on the territory of the municipality. It is for this reason that embassies and diplomatic representations are located in Tel Aviv. In December 2017, Donald Trump’s recognition of the city of Jerusalem as the capital of the Israeli State led to the transfer of the American embassy - as well as those of some other “friendly” countries - from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The Old City, on which a continuous stream of tourists, unaware of the situation, pours out throughout the year, is in fact the terrain of a struggle between the parties, a struggle often played out vertically.
In 2000, Israel included the eastern part within the municipal limits of Jerusalem and began the construction of the wall, a “protective barrier” intended to stop the attacks of the second intifada. . In urban areas such as Jerusalem, this barrier consists of 7-9 m high concrete blocks, elsewhere it is a secure electrified line. When using the expressways around Jerusalem, an unwary eye will mistake it for a noise barrier and road checkpoints will seem like tolls to him .
Once completed, because of its winding route, its total length will be 712 km, twice as long as the Green Line of the 1949 armistice. 85% of the barrier is built on the territory of the West Bank, to which it “annexes” de facto more than 50,000 hectares, i.e. 9.4% of its surface. About 11,000 people from 32 villages are virtually imprisoned there and often cut off from their agricultural land or places of work . The wall also cuts off East Jerusalem from Palestine.
The creeping annexation of the Arab part of the metropolis is particularly offensive in the East. Israel is expropriating and annexing more and more houses there under the most varied pretexts.
According to Article 53 of the GCIV, the occupying Power is prohibited from destroying movable or immovable property belonging to private persons, organizations, public entities or the State, unless rendered absolutely necessary by military operations. Punitive actions, such as the destruction of the homes of families of perpetrators of terrorist acts, violate the prohibition of collective punishment in article 33 of the GCIV.
The archaeological excavations in the City of David and a project for a large tourist complex are undermining from below the neighbourhood of Silwan, a Palestinian suburb below the Old City.
These evictions, land grabs, demolitions are actually the tools of a relentless strategy to annex this part of the city. Moreover, the Israeli authorities are working to erase - as far as possible - all the physical traces that materialize the Green Line, for example, by ensuring that there are no longer any differences between the urban facilities between the west and the east of the city. Today, the tramway circulates indiscriminately in Israeli territory or in occupied territory.
The case of Israel and Palestine clearly shows the tangle of capture devices and the logic of the fait accompli they seek to implement. The dialectical functioning between the actors on the ground (settlers, military, companies) and the legal arsenal of the occupier serves to self-legitimize the territorial expansion and replacement of the populations living in the coveted space .
In the Occupied Palestinian Territories, colonization proceeds through planned nibbling of the territory. Economic colonization doubles land colonization and establishes a relationship of domination that freezes the activity of the colonized and prevents their deployment in space, thus an autonomous life.
Occupation establishes a logic of oppression and apartheid, where inequality or deprivation of the civil and political rights of the populations is the norm. The islands of autonomous life remaining to the Palestinians, and which will diminish, are thus to be qualified as Bantustans. Territorial discontinuity makes it impossible to establish any national entity.
The annexation of parts of colonized territory (by illegal settlements for habitation and exploitation) or emptied of its inhabitants (a phenomenon currently underway in the Jordan Valley, recorded for East Jerusalem) brings the process to a close. Territorial confiscation and denial of citizenship give the colonizer the illusion that it can deprive the colonized people of their right to self-determination, as defined by the 1945 Charter of the United Nations, and thus to access to national sovereignty.
It is by locating the traces - their repetition, their accumulation, their evolution - in the landscape, by “denaturalizing” them, that one realizes the systematic nature of these devices for monopolizing territory and space.
In view of this “reality on the ground,” the peace plan of the Trump administration of February 2020 merely records the effective annexation of a large part of Palestinian territory and does not grant any national sovereignty to a kind of pseudo moth-state without any territorial continuity that would be called Palestine. Ridiculous and perfectly unacceptable to the injured party, this xth plan is, like the others, doomed to oblivion by history . We could laugh about it if it did not represent yet another godsend for the occupier to complete the takeover of Palestinian territory and move its own country further away from morality, justice and law .
How can we fail to see, at a time when thousands of Israelis are taking to the streets to demand the departure of the Prime Minister, a worrying sign of the general misuse of the principle of democratic representation by people who do not represent many people?
– Dominique Bourel, Martin Buber. Sentinelle de l’humanité, 2015.
– Roger Brunet, Le déchiffrement du Monde. Théorie et pratique de la géographie, 2001.
– Haute école pédagogique du canton de Vaud (éd.), 1948. Aux origines du problème des réfugiés palestiniens, 2020.
– James Horrox, Le mouvement des kibboutz et l’anarchie. Une révolution vivante, 2018.
– Jürgen Osterhammel, Kolonialismus. Geschichte, Formen, Folgen, (1995), 2006.
– Shlomo Sand, Comment la terre d’Israël fut inventée. De la Terre sainte à la mère patrie, 2012.
– Shlomo Sand, Une race imaginaire. Courte histoire de la judéophobie, 2020.
– Jean-Paul Sartre (dir.), Les Temps Modernes, n°22, 1967, dossier « Le conflit israélo-arabe ».
– Khalil Tafajki, 31° Nord, 35° Est, 2020.
– Michel Warschawski, Israël-Palestine. Le défi binational, 2001.
– Michel Warschawski, Sur la frontière, 2002.
↬ Johanna Schreiner