Zionist Settler Colonialism and the Decolonization of Palestine: Books and Reviews

History

The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917–2017 (2020) by Rashid Khalidi

Description: “In 1899, Yusuf Diya al-Khalidi, mayor of Jerusalem, alarmed by the Zionist call to create a Jewish national home in Palestine, wrote a letter aimed at Theodore Herzl: the country had an indigenous people who would not easily accept their own displacement. He warned of the perils ahead, ending his note, “in the name of God, let Palestine be left alone.” Thus Rashid Khalidi, al-Khalidi’s great-great-nephew, begins this sweeping history, the first general account of the conflict told from an explicitly Palestinian perspective. 

Drawing on a wealth of untapped archival materials and the reports of generations of family members—mayors, judges, scholars, diplomats, and journalists—The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine upends accepted interpretations of the conflict, which tend, at best, to describe a tragic clash between two peoples with claims to the same territory. Instead, Khalidi traces a hundred years of colonial war on the Palestinians, waged first by the Zionist movement and then Israel, but backed by Britain and the United States, the great powers of the age. He highlights the key episodes in this colonial campaign, from the 1917 Balfour Declaration to the destruction of Palestine in 1948, from Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon to the endless and futile peace process. 

Original, authoritative, and important, The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine is not a chronicle of victimization, nor does it whitewash the mistakes of Palestinian leaders or deny the emergence of national movements on both sides. In reevaluating the forces arrayed against the Palestinians, it offers an illuminating new view of a conflict that continues to this day.” 

The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006) by Ilan Pappe

Description: “Ilan Pappe’s groundbreaking book revisits the formation of the State of Israel. Between 1947 and 1949, over 400 Palestinian villages were deliberately destroyed, civilians were massacred and around a million men, women, and children were expelled from their homes at gunpoint. Denied for almost six decades, had it happened today it could only have been called “ethnic cleansing”. Decisively debunking the myth that the Palestinian population left of their own accord in the course of this war, Ilan Pappe offers impressive archival evidence to demonstrate that, from its very inception, a central plank in Israel’s founding ideology was the forcible removal of the indigenous population. Indispensable for anyone interested in the current crisis in the Middle East.” 

The Zionist Bible: Biblical Precedent, Colonialism and the Erasure of Memory” (2013) by Nur Masalha 

Description: “Throughout the history of European imperialism the grand narratives of the Bible have been used to justify settler-colonialism. The Zionist Bible explores the ways in which modern political Zionism and Israeli militarism have used the Bible – notably the Book of Joshua and its description of the entry of the Israelites into the Promised Land – as an agent of oppression and to support settler-colonialism in Palestine. The rise of messianic Zionism in the late 1960s saw the beginnings of a Jewish theology of zealotocracy, based on the militant land traditions of the Bible and justifying the destruction of the previous inhabitants. The Zionist Bible examines how the birth and growth of the State of Israel has been shaped by this Zionist reading of the Bible, how it has refashioned Israeli-Jewish collective memory, erased and renamed Palestinian topography, and how critical responses to this reading have challenged both Jewish and Palestinian nationalism.” 

“The Palestine Nakba: Decolonizing History, Narrating the Subaltern, Reclaiming Memory” (2012) by Nur Masalha 

Excerpt from book review by Steven Salaita: “Nur Masalha has spent many years as one of the foremost analysts/historians of modern Palestine. His hallmark methodology is the amalgamation of historical rigor with material analysis and commitment to the human and international rights of the Palestinian people. Masalha is not what those ensconced in university offices like to call an “objective” scholar, but one with a distinct point of view he does not endeavor to hide. That point of view is carefully backed by considerable evidence and sharp, intelligent analysis. Masalha’s engagement with his subject matter is one of the most exciting features of his work. The Palestine Nakba follows in this tradition, exhibiting Masalha’s typical clear-sightedness and superior organization of facts. The book is both synthesis and historiography, underlain by a sharp analysis of Israeli misdeeds and Palestinian discourses of nationhood. He does not mince words: “Much of the Palestinian material culture, landscape, toponymy and geography, which had survived the Latin Crusades, were obliterated by the Israeli state” (p. 2). The suggestion, supported by many pages of argument, is clear: Israel has been a more destructive force in Palestine than even the notorious Crusades.” 

Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern Political Consciousness (1997) by Rashid Khalidi

Description: This foundational text now features a new introduction by Rashid Khalidi reflecting on the significance of his work over the past decade and its relationship to the struggle for Palestinian nationhood. Khalidi also casts an eye to the future, noting the strength of Palestinian identity and social solidarity yet wondering whether current trends will lead to Palestinian statehood and independence.

Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of “Transfer” in Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948 (1992) by Nur Masalha

Ten Myths About Israel (2017) by Ilan Pappe

Description: “The “ten myths” that Pappe explores—repeated endlessly in the media, enforced by the military, accepted without question by the world’s governments—reinforce the regional status quo. He explores the claim that Palestine was an empty land at the time of the Balfour Declaration, as well as the formation of Zionism and its role in the early decades of nation building. He asks whether the Palestinians voluntarily left their homeland in 1948, and whether June 1967 was a war of “no choice.” Turning to the myths surrounding the failures of the Camp David Accords and the official reasons for the attacks on Gaza, Pappe explains why the two-state solution is no longer viable.”  

Theory

“The Question of Palestine” (1979) by Edward Said  

Description: “This original and deeply provocative book was the first to make Palestine the subject of a serious debate–one that remains as critical as ever. With the rigorous scholarship he brought to his influential Orientalism and an exile’s passion (he is Palestinian by birth), Edward W. Said traces the fatal collision between two peoples in the Middle East and its repercussions in the lives of both the occupier and the occupied–as well as in the conscience of the West. He has updated this landmark work to portray the changed status of Palestine and its people in light of such developments as the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the intifada, the Gulf War, and the ongoing Middle East peace initiative. For anyone interested in this region and its future, The Question of Palestine remains the most useful and authoritative account available.” 

“Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine” (2019) by Noura Erakat 

Description: “Justice in the Question of Palestine is often framed as a question of law. Yet none of the Israel-Palestinian conflict’s most vexing challenges have been resolved by judicial intervention. Occupation law has failed to stem Israel’s settlement enterprise. Laws of war have permitted killing and destruction during Israel’s military offensives in the Gaza Strip. The Oslo Accord’s two-state solution is now dead letter. Justice for Some offers a new approach to understanding the Palestinian struggle for freedom, told through the power and control of international law. Focusing on key junctures—from the Balfour Declaration in 1917 to present-day wars in Gaza—Noura Erakat shows how the strategic deployment of law has shaped current conditions. Over the past century, the law has done more to advance Israel’s interests than the Palestinians’. But, Erakat argues, this outcome was never inevitable. Law is politics, and its meaning and application depend on the political intervention of states and people alike. Within the law, change is possible. International law can serve the cause of freedom when it is mobilized in support of a political movement. Presenting the promise and risk of international law, Justice for Some calls for renewed action and attention to the Question of Palestine.” 

“Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism” (2012) by Judith Butler 

Description: “Judith Butler follows Edward Said’s late suggestion that through a consideration of Palestinian dispossession in relation to Jewish diasporic traditions a new ethos can be forged for a one-state solution. Butler engages Jewish philosophical positions to articulate a critique of political Zionism and its practices of illegitimate state violence, nationalism, and state-sponsored racism. At the same time, she moves beyond communitarian frameworks, including Jewish ones, that fail to arrive at a radical democratic notion of political cohabitation. Butler engages thinkers such as Edward Said, Emmanuel Levinas, Hannah Arendt, Primo Levi, Martin Buber, Walter Benjamin, and Mahmoud Darwish as she articulates a new political ethic. In her view, it is as important to dispute Israel’s claim to represent the Jewish people as it is to show that a narrowly Jewish framework cannot suffice as a basis for an ultimate critique of Zionism. She promotes an ethical position in which the obligations of cohabitation do not derive from cultural sameness but from the unchosen character of social plurality. Recovering the arguments of Jewish thinkers who offered criticisms of Zionism or whose work could be used for such a purpose, Butler disputes the specific charge of anti-Semitic self-hatred often leveled against Jewish critiques of Israel. Her political ethic relies on a vision of cohabitation that thinks anew about binationalism and exposes the limits of a communitarian framework to overcome the colonial legacy of Zionism. Her own engagements with Edward Said and Mahmoud Darwish form an important point of departure and conclusion for her engagement with some key forms of thought derived in part from Jewish resources, but always in relation to the non-Jew. 

Butler considers the rights of the dispossessed, the necessity of plural cohabitation, and the dangers of arbitrary state violence, showing how they can be extended to a critique of Zionism, even when that is not their explicit aim. She revisits and affirms Edward Said’s late proposals for a one-state solution within the ethos of binationalism. Butler’s startling suggestion: Jewish ethics not only demand a critique of Zionism, but must transcend its exclusive Jewishness in order to realize the ethical and political ideals of living together in radical democracy.” 

Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation (2017) by Eyal Weizman 

Description: “This new edition of the classic work on the politics of architecture—and the architecture of politics—appears on the fiftieth anniversary of the Six-Day War, which expanded Israel’s domination over Palestinian lands. From the tunnels of Gaza to the militarized airspace of the Occupied Territories, Eyal Weizman unravels Israel’s mechanisms of control and its transformation of Palestinian homes into a war zone under constant surveillance. This is essential reading for those seeking to understand how architecture and infrastructure are used as lethal weapons in the formation of Israel.” 

The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering (2015) by Norman G. Finkelstein 

Description: “In his iconoclastic and controversial study, Norman G. Finkelstein moves from an interrogation of the place the Holocaust has come to occupy in global culture to a disturbing examination of recent Holocaust compensation settlements. It was not until the Arab–Israeli War of 1967, when Israel’s evident strength brought it into line with US foreign policy, that memory of the Holocaust began to acquire the exceptional prominence it has today.” 

Black Power and Palestine: Transnational Countries of Color (2018) by Michael R. Fischbach  

Description: “The 1967 Arab–Israeli War rocketed the question of Israel and Palestine onto the front pages of American newspapers. Black Power activists saw Palestinians as a kindred people of color, waging the same struggle for freedom and justice as themselves. Soon concerns over the Arab–Israeli conflict spread across mainstream black politics and into the heart of the civil rights movement itself. Black Power and Palestine uncovers why so many African Americans—notably Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Muhammad Ali, among others—came to support the Palestinians or felt the need to respond to those who did. Americans first heard pro-Palestinian sentiments in public through the black freedom struggle of the 1960s and 1970s. Michael R. Fischbach uncovers this hidden history of the Arab–Israeli conflict’s role in African American activism and the ways that distant struggle shaped the domestic fight for racial equality. Black Power’s transnational connections between African Americans and Palestinians deeply affected U.S. black politics, animating black visions of identity well into the late 1970s. Black Power and Palestine allows those black voices to be heard again today. In chronicling this story, Fischbach reveals much about how American peoples of color create political strategies, a sense of self, and a place within U.S. and global communities. The shadow cast by events of the 1960s and 1970s continues to affect the United States in deep, structural ways. This is the first book to explore how conflict in the Middle East shaped the American civil rights movement.” 

Inter/Nationalism: Decolonizing Native America and Palestine (2016) by Steven Salaita 

Description: The age of transnational humanities has arrived.” According to Steven Salaita, the seemingly disparate fields of Palestinian Studies and American Indian studies have more in common than one may think. In Inter/Nationalism, Salaita argues that American Indian and Indigenous studies must be more central to the scholarship and activism focusing on Palestine. Salaita offers a fascinating inside account of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement—which, among other things, aims to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. In doing so, he emphasizes BDS’s significant potential as an organizing entity as well as its importance in the creation of intellectual and political communities that put Natives and other colonized peoples such as Palestinians into conversation. His discussion includes readings of a wide range of Native poetry that invokes Palestine as a theme or symbol; the speeches of U.S. President Andrew Jackson and early Zionist thinker Ze’ev Jabotinsky; and the discourses of “shared values” between the United States and Israel. Inter/Nationalism seeks to lay conceptual ground between American Indian and Indigenous studies and Palestinian studies through concepts of settler colonialism, indigeneity, and state violence. By establishing Palestine as an indigenous nation under colonial occupation, this book draws crucial connections between the scholarship and activism of Indigenous America and Palestine.” 

Israel in Africa (2020) by Yotam Gidron  

Description: “Amidst the turmoil of the Middle East, few have noticed the extent to which Israel has slowly but surely been building alliances on the African continent. Facing a growing international backlash, Israel has had to look beyond its traditional Western allies for support, and many African governments in turn have been happy to receive Israeli political support, security assistance, investments and technology. But what do these relationships mean for Africa, and for wider geopolitics? With an examination of Africa’s authoritarian development politics, the rise of Born-Again Christianity and of Israel’s thriving high-tech and arms industries, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the migration of Africans to Israel and back again, Gidron provides a comprehensive analysis of the various forces and actors shaping Israel’s controversial relationships with countries on the continent. In particular, the book demonstrates that Israel’s interest in Africa forms part of a wider diplomatic effort, aimed at blocking Palestine’s pursuit of international recognition. Though the scale of Israeli-African engagements has been little appreciated until now, the book reveals how contemporary African and Middle Eastern politics and societies interact and impact each other in profound ways.” 

The Battle for Justice in Palestine by Ali Abunimah

Description: In this essential work, journalist Ali Abunimah takes a comprehensive look at the shifting tides of the politics of Palestine and the Israelis in a neoliberal world—and makes a compelling and surprising case for why the Palestine solidarity movement just might win.

Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society (2001) by Nadia Abu El-Haj

Description: “Archaeology in Israel is truly a national obsession, a practice through which national identity—and national rights—have long been asserted. But how and why did archaeology emerge as such a pervasive force there? How can the practices of archaeology help answer those questions? In this stirring book, Nadia Abu El-Haj addresses these questions and specifies for the first time the relationship between national ideology, colonial settlement, and the production of historical knowledge. She analyzes particular instances of history, artifacts, and landscapes in the making to show how archaeology helped not only to legitimize cultural and political visions but, far more powerfully, to reshape them. Moreover, she places Israeli archaeology in the context of the broader discipline to determine what unites the field across its disparate local traditions and locations. Boldly uncovering an Israel in which science and politics are mutually constituted, this book shows the ongoing role that archaeology plays in defining the past, present, and future of Palestine and Israel.”

Literature

Wild Thorns (1976) by Sahar Khalifeh  

Description: “A young Palestinian named Usama returns from working in the Gulf to support the resistance movement. His mission is to blow up buses transporting Palestinian workers into Israel. Shocked to discover that many of his fellow citizens have adjusted to life under military rule, Usama exchanges harsh words with his friends and family. Despite uncertainty, he sets out to accomplish his mission … with disastrous consequences. Originally published in Jerusalem, Wild Thorns was the first Arab novel to offer a glimpse of social and personal relations under Israeli occupation. Featuring unsentimental portrayals of everyday life, its deep sincerity, uncompromising honesty and rich emotional core plead elegantly for the cause of survival in the face of oppression.” 

The Inheritance (2005) by Sahar Khalifeh 

Description: “In this powerful novel, acclaimed Palestinian author Sahar Khalifeh examines the stark realities in the lives of Palestinian women. Through her protagonist, Zeynab, born to an American mother and a Palestinian father, Khalifeh illuminates the disorienting experience of living between two worlds, and the search for identity that mirrors the Palestinians’ own quest for nationhood. Set against the emotionally charged background of the early 1990s – when the Gulf War and the Oslo Accords fundamentally shifted the political landscape – The Inheritance takes as its subject the fate of young Palestinian women who supported their families for decades working elsewhere in the Middle East. In vivid prose, Khalifeh traces the disruption caused by the Gulf War on the life of these women, as Zeynab returns to her homeland and tries to adapt to her new life on the West Bank after years spent in Kuwait.” 

Men in the Sun and Other Palestinian Stories (1999) by Ghassan Kanafani

Palestine’s Children: Returning to Haifa & Other Stories (2000) by Ghassan Kanafani

Description: “Politics and the novel, Ghassan Kanafani once said, are an indivisible case. Fadl al-Naqib has reflected that Kanafani wrote the Palestinian story, then he was written by it. His narratives offer entry into the Palestinian experience of the conflict that has anguished the people of the Middle East for more than a century. 
 
In Palestine’s Children, each story involves a child a child who is victimized by political events and circumstances, but who nevertheless participates in the struggle toward a better future. As in Kanafani’s other fiction, these stories explore the need to recover the past the lost homeland by action. At the same time, written by a major talent, they have a universal appeal. 
This edition includes the translators’ contextual introduction and a short biography of the author.” 

I Saw Ramallah (1997) by Mourid Barghouti  

Description: “Barred from his homeland after 1967’s Six-Day War, the poet Mourid Barghouti spent thirty years in exile—shuttling among the world’s cities, yet secure in none of them; separated from his family for years at a time; never certain whether he was a visitor, a refugee, a citizen, or a guest. As he returns home for the first time since the Israeli occupation, Barghouti crosses a wooden bridge over the Jordan River into Ramallah and is unable to recognize the city of his youth. Sifting through memories of the old Palestine as they come up against what he now encounters in this mere “idea of Palestine,” he discovers what it means to be deprived not only of a homeland but of “the habitual place and status of a person.” A tour de force of memory and reflection, lamentation and resilience, I Saw Ramallah is a deeply humane book, essential to any balanced understanding of today’s Middle East.” 

Academic Freedom and Palestine

Uncivil Rites: Palestine and the Limits of Academic Freedom (2015) by Steven Salaita 

Description: “In the summer of 2014, renowned American Indian studies professor Steven Salaita had his appointment to a tenured professorship revoked by the board of trustees of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Salaita’s employment was terminated in response to his public tweets criticizing the Israeli government’s summer assault on Gaza. 
 
Salaita’s firing generated a huge public outcry, with thousands petitioning for his reinstatement, and more than five thousand scholars pledging to boycott UIUC. His case raises important questions about academic freedom, free speech on campus, and the movement for justice in Palestine. 
 
In this book, Salaita combines personal reflection and political critique to shed new light on his controversial termination. He situates his case at the intersection of important issues that affect both higher education and social justice activism.” 

Enforcing Silence: Academic Freedom, Palestine, and the Criticism of Israel (2020) edited by David Landy, Ronit Lentin, and Conor McCarthy  

Description: “Academic freedom is under siege, as our universities become the sites of increasingly fraught battles over freedom of speech. While much of the public debate has focused on ‘no platforming’ by students, this overlooks the far graver threat posed by concerted efforts to silence the critical voices of both academics and students, through the use of bureaucracy, legal threats and online harassment. Such tactics have conspicuously been used, with particularly virulent effect, in an attempt to silence academic criticism of Israel. This collection uses the controversies surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a means of exploring the limits placed on academic freedom in a variety of different national contexts. It looks at how the increased neoliberalisation of higher education has shaped the current climate, and considers how academics and their universities should respond to these new threats. Bringing together new and established scholars from Palestine and the wider Middle East as well as the US and Europe, Enforcing Silence shows us how we can and must defend our universities as places for critical thinking and free expression.

“BOYCOTT! : The Academy and Justice for Palestine” (2017) by Sunaina Maira 

Description: “The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) has expanded rapidly though controversially in the United States in the last five years. The academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions is a key component of this movement. What is this boycott? Why does it make sense? And why is this an American Studies issue? In this short essential book, Sunaina Maira addresses these key questions. Boycott! situates the academic boycott in the broader history of boycotts in the United States as well as in Palestine and shows how it has evolved into a transnational social movement that has spurred profound intellectual and political shifts. It explores the movement’s implications for antiracist, feminist, queer, and academic labor organizing and examines the boycott in the context of debates about Palestine, Zionism, race, rights-based politics, academic freedom, decolonization, and neoliberal capitalism.”