I love the way you gather us beneath your wing of prayer
I love the lightness rightness even the right-on-ness
the way you pray the way that lovers do it
spume of fiery lava melding merging
spiritual tectonics … and do you know that
the kindness lines
that radiate around your eyes
the light of God almighty
shining in Your eyes
~~ Alastair McIntosh, Love and Revolution (2006)
Watched “Palestine Blues” (2006) this weekend. It is a feature length documentary, produced and written by Palestinian-American artist and filmmaker Nida Sinnokrot. It is about the Israeli Government’s construction of a “security wall” in the name of "national security" as a means to territorial expansion over the farming communities and water sources of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The documentary begins with eyewitness accounts of the March 16, 2003 murder of Rachel Corrie by Israeli Defense Forces in Gaza. Corrie was a member of the International Solidarity Movement. She was bulldozed over and then buried in rubble for protesting the IDF’s clearing of Palestinian homes in its preparation for the construction of the wall. The IDF and Israeli Government found the murder justified on security grounds, saying something about how Corrie was blocking their view of protesters and so weakening IDF safety.
The documentary then focuses on the non-violent campaign against the “security wall” in the village of Jayyous, providing interviews with several farmers trying to protect their olive and citrus groves (which they had inherited from their families and on which they depended for food and money) as well as several villagers working to protect their small businesses and water wells from being “secured” on the Israeli side of the wall.
In the midst of the documentary, the U.N. General Assembly requested the International Court of Justice to provide a “non-binding advisory opinion” on Israel’s “security fence.” The court issued its opinion on July 9, 2004. It stated that the fence was illegal under international law and should be dismantled and that compensation should be paid to the affected Palestinians.
The Israeli Government rejected the court’s authority. It claimed that the wall had saved Israeli lives from Palestinian terrorists and that the court’s opinion would only serve to encourage suicide bombers to strike against Israelis.
(Actually, It Never Left)
It is not exactly right to consider or name the Israeli Government’s occupation of Palestine as “settler colonial.” I think it confuses Israel’s settlements of Palestine for a settler colonialism divorced from the kind of empire building imperialism that continues in the guise of national interests (thinking about Jodi A. Byrd's important and provocative work on the historical etymology of "settler colonial" in "post-colonial" perspectives, which she presented at NAISA 2011).
Israeli’s “security wall” is about extending its territorial, juridical, and economic empire over the bodies, farms, water sources, and lands of Palestinians. The construction of the wall, after all, has been followed by the construction of buildings and roads, destroying Palestinian farms and confiscating water sources for Israel-only “settlements.”
This is imperialism. This is what empire building looks like.
Just think about the way that Native territories in the U.S. and U.S. occupied territories in the Caribbean and the Pacific have been militarized, economically exploited (for farmlands, water, and minerals), and built over in the name of national security, national interest, and imminent domain (Winona LaDuke’s recent interview on Democracy Now comes to mind as does the incredible body of scholarship on U.S. deployments of the discourse of national security and interest against Native peoples’ rights to sovereignty and self-determination, from Vine Deloria to Taiaiake Alfred.)
A Spade is a Spade
In “Thoughts on the U.S. as a settler society” (plenary remarks at the 2010 meeting of the Society for the Anthropology of North America), Jessica Cattelino (UCLA) argues that to consider the U.S. as a settler society “illuminates forms of power that organize American and American Indian lives.” These forms of power include the settler state’s reinforcement of American Indian positioning outside its modern teleologies and juridic geographies, the inability of the settler state to accommodate indigenous sovereignty claims to “differentiated forms of citizenship” that would mark indigenous political and territorial autonomy, the disavowal of indigenous wealth as owing to anything other than cultural assimilation, and the reproduction of nature in ways that rationalize indigenous land dispossession and natural resource exploitation and contamination. I find Cattelino’s thinking here incredibly useful. Pointing anthropologists in the United States to consider the structure and conditions of power between states and Native peoples is necessary for understanding Native experiences of the modernist state's stereotyping and misrepresentation of Native peoples and of state juridic and economic forms of oppression. All important stuff.
I guess I still want to maintain the discursive work of the empire’s imperial histories and practices in any descriptive analysis of the state’s formation -- whether it be Israel or the United States. I still think “settler colonialism” works at producing a discursive rift between the modern state as "settler colonial" and the empire as old-school colonial, as if things have evolved and/or progressed out of the old for the new, leaving behind the empire and its imperialisms for the globalized and the more complex.
Of course, not all colonialism and imperialism is the same or has been enacted in the same way over historical, geographic, economic difference -- Ned Blackhawk's Violence Over the Land (2008) is important have at hand. I am not saying that that difference is not the case. Neither is Cattelino, in her delineation of what she sees to be characterizing the U.S. as a state.
But take Israeli’s “security wall.” It might be a geographic expansion of settlements, but it is not a "settler colonial" condition of power. It is about Israel claiming itself as an imperial power and enacting imperial projects to expand over and apartheid against Palestinians.