New Scottish Greens policy meets the demands of the Palestinian people
Eurig Scandrett is a list candidate for the Scottish Greens in the South of Scotland and helped develop the party’s new policy for Palestinian solidarity.
One hundred years after the British Government promised self-determination to the Arab peoples (1), the Scottish Green Party passed a policy motion in support of self-determination in Palestine. In the opinion of Wael Shawish of the Association of Palestinian Communities in Scotland, the SGP policy is the first of any political party in Europe to include all the demands of the Palestinian people.
In fact, much of this was already SGP policy, accumulated over years of conference motions: support for international law, human rights and demilitarisation; against the Jewish National Fund; and for the tactics of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel. What the current policy does is make political sense of this, to frame the policy in terms of a struggle by a colonised people against a colonial power.
This moves us away from a slavish commitment to a ‘two state solution’ and the myth that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is made up of equivalent national movements competing for the same piece of land. It acknowledges the unequal power between a colonial and colonised people, and the corrupting relationship between settler and indigenous populations. It recognises that whilst Israel has historically provided a safe place for Jews fleeing murderous anti-Semitism, the future must be based on equality and respect for human rights for all. It argues for a process of nonviolent decolonisation, to create the conditions for an egalitarian and democratic future for Palestine based on equal rights. Whether that should be one state, two states or more, should ultimately be the decision of the Palestinian population, irrespective of religious or ethnic origin, including those whose families were expelled in 1948 as well as current citizens of Israel.
First it should be clarified what ‘nonviolent decolonisation’ means. Nonviolence, with its roots in the thought of M.K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, is not simply the absence of violence, but rather a confrontation with the causes of violence which disrupts the cycle of violence. The opposite of nonviolence is not violent actions, but rather inaction in the face of structural violence. Decolonisation is a process of removing all aspects of the colonial relationship between a colonising and colonised people, including political and military domination, but also economic, social, cultural and psychological relations. Its aim is not the expulsion of the colonial settlers but rather the abolition of a colonial settler status.
Zionism has always been a colonial project. The first Zionist congress in 1897 advocated the “colonisation of Palestine by Jewish agricultural and industrial workers” at a time when political Zionism attracted the support of only a small number of Jewish Europeans and Christian evangelicals, whilst the Jewish minority in Palestine lived more-or-less peacefully with their Muslim and Christian Palestinian neighbours. In Europe, the ‘Jewish Colonisation Association’ was formed in 1891 and the ‘Palestine Jewish Colonisation Association’ in 1924. In support of its objectives, the Zionist movement allied itself with the major colonial power of the time, Britain. This alliance was cemented in the Balfour declaration of 1917 which was incorporated into the British Mandate under the League of Nations, from 1922-48.
The Balfour declaration, it is worth remembering, stated that the British government viewed “with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people … it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”. This declaration was fiercely opposed as anti-Semitic by the only Jewish member of the British cabinet, Edwin Montagu. At the time it was issued, Britain had no jurisdiction over the territory, although the British army under General Allenby, allied with Hussein’s Arab militias, was advancing towards Palestine. Under the British Mandate, European Zionist migration to Palestine increased which led to increased conflict between the Jewish immigrants and the Palestinians, including the indigenous Jewish Arabs. It wasn’t until 1947 that the United Nations, which had succeeded the League of Nations, proposed partitioning Palestine into two states. The Zionists tactically accepted this partition and then engaged their British-trained militias to enlarge the Jewish part and evict 80% of the Palestinian residents.
Understanding the colonial nature of Zionism in Palestine demonstrates that this is not a uniquely Jewish phenomenon. It is ironic that both Zionists and anti-Semites promote the idea that Israel is exceptionally Jewish, whereas in fact the Zionists in Palestine have been doing what most colonial powers have done, not least Britain. The promotion of Israel as the ‘only democracy in the Middle East’ on the front line against ‘terrorism’ resonates with colonial ideas of ‘the White Man’s burden’ and ‘civilising mission’. These are all ideological tactics used by many colonial powers and echo British justification of violent repression in colonial India and East Africa.
Many scholars argue that Israel is best understood as ‘settler colonialism’ involving the replacement of the indigenous population with settlers, and therefore historically closer to the European settlement of the Americas or Britain in Australia (see for example Lorenzo Veracini’s Israel and Settler Society). This explains many features of Israel and Palestine, including the expulsion of Palestinians in the 1948 Nakba, the settlements in the West Bank, the eviction of Bedouin in the ‘unrecognised villages’ in the Negev, the house demolitions in annexed East Jerusalem, land confiscation in Area C, the physical containment of Nazareth, the siege of Gaza and the construction of the separation wall.
This helps us to understand some of what is happening in Palestine today. It is true that Israeli popular opinion, both religious and secular, is moving to the Right. Any colonial ideology feeds on itself and becomes increasingly paranoid. As Ali Abunimah, the editor of the Electronic Intifada points out, this was also the case in the years before the end of Apartheid in South Africa, as whites feared a bloodbath if the black population were enfranchised. It didn’t happen and in the democratic, multi-racial South Africa that emerged, it was suddenly hard to find defenders of Apartheid.
It also helps to explain the violence. Israel is a highly militarised society in which most young people do military service, often in the occupied territories. Colonial violence against and violation of Palestinians is constant and systemic, and sometimes extreme. Most anti-colonial resistance is peaceful or involves petty violence such as throwing stones, but it can also be violent and seemingly random. Colonial violence includes collective punishments, imprisonment without trial, torture, extra-judicial killing, mass bombing of civilians, actions that are ‘normalised’ as security and designed to terrorise and expel communities. Anti-colonial violence can include stabbings, random murders, suicide bombs, home-made rockets. Both kinds of violence can generate terror, but arbitrarily branding some armed resistance groups, such as Hamas’s al-Qassam brigades, as ‘terrorists’ is unhelpful and plays into the colonial narrative.
The way out of this violence is not to demonise particular groups, but rather to support the nonviolent anti-colonial struggles of Palestinians. The Popular Resistance Committees that have sprung up in Palestinian villages and towns along the separation wall and in occupied ‘Area C’ are confronting the Israeli army through the tactics of nonviolence: demonstrations, non-compliance, land occupations, defying the Israeli ban on building houses and infrastructure and planting trees. They are often supported by the radical anti-colonial Israeli left, some of whom identify themselves as Palestinian. Here is where hope for a decolonised, democratic future lies, one where Hebrew-speaking Jewish (Israeli-)Palestinians can live as a minority amongst the indigenous population, not as settlers and colonisers but as equal citizens with a shared commitment to justice.
At SGP’s conference in October, Wael Shawish told a fringe meeting that the Palestinians need the support of the international community in their anti-colonial struggle, which is why the SGP policy is so important. In the ten years since Palestinian society called on the world’s citizens for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel, the movement has gathered strength. The policy of the Scottish Green Party is part of that growing movement (2).
I am grateful to the editors for the opportunity to see criticisms of this article and to incorporate my responses into the final version. As a result, this has led to a somewhat longer and more detailed article than originally proposed, but hopeful one which more fully justifies the argument.
1. Letter from Sir Henry McMahon, British High Commissioner in Egypt, to Sherif Hussein bin Ali of Mecca, October 24, 1915. In exchange for Arab support for the allies against the Ottomon Turks, “Great Britain is prepared to recognize and support the independence of the Arabs in all the regions within the limits demanded by the Sherif of Mecca”.