Why Israel is Not a Settler Colonial State

As Israel continues to defend itself against the terrorist group Hamas, a war of information is unfolding around the world. One of the slogans most commonly used claims Israel is a "settler colonial enterprise." By charging Israel with colonizing Palestinians, Hamas and its supporters are manipulating the cause of racial justice to advance their terrorist goals - all while hoping no one notices Israel has been the homeland of the Jewish people since the Bronze Age.



The truth is that the Jewish people are indigenous to the land of Israel and first achieved self-determination there 3,000 years ago. 

The Romans expelled the majority of Jews in 70 C.E., but the Jewish people have always been present in the land of Israel. A portion of the Jewish population remained in Israel throughout the years, and those who lived in the Diaspora yearned to return to the Jewish homeland and the holy Jewish city of Jerusalem, both of which are mentioned multiple times in daily Jewish prayers. This historical and religious link for Jewish people to the land of Israel is indisputable—even the word “Jew” comes from Judea, the ancient name for Israel. 

As Jews around the world faced increasing persecution at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries, they began moving to what is now Israel in greater numbers. Since Israel’s establishment shortly after the Holocaust, Jews have moved to Israel from all over the world, seeking a place to call home in which they can live freely and safely as Jews. At the same time, Jewish and Israeli leaders have consistently acknowledged the presence of Palestinian Arabs and have supported efforts to partition the land into Jewish and Arab states, from 1937 to the present day. The best-known attempt to divide the land came in the form of the 1947 UN Partition Plan, which was accepted by the local Jewish population but rejected by their Arab neighbors, who waged war to eliminate the Jewish state. More recently, successive Israeli prime ministers have offered to concede more than 90% of the West Bank and all of Gaza to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Palestinian leaders, however, have consistently rejected efforts at bringing about a two-state solution, as they did in 1947, and they continue to do so to this day. 

“Settler colonialism” refers to an attempt by an imperial power to replace the native population of a land with a new society of settlers. It cannot describe a reality in which a national group, acting on its behalf and not at the behest of an external power, returned to its historic homeland to achieve self-determination while simultaneously supporting the creation of a nation-state for another national group alongside the creation of their own state. 

Video: Jews Can’t Colonize Themselves

The Jewish People’s Link to the Land

It spans nearly four thousand years. Exhibit A for this connection is the Hebrew Bible. The Book of Genesis, the first of the five books of the Bible, recounts the story of Abraham, the covenantal relationship with the one God, and the move from Ur (in present-day Iraq) to Canaan, the region corresponding roughly to Israel.

The Book of Numbers, the fourth book of the Bible, includes the following words: “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying send men to scout the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelite people.” This came during a forty-year-long journey of the Israelites in search not simply of a refuge, but of the Promised Land — the land we know today as Israel.

And these are but two of many references to this land and its centrality to Jewish history and national identity. Exhibit B is any Jewish prayer book in use over the span of centuries anywhere in the world. The references in the liturgy to Zion (a name synonymous with Jerusalem) and the land of Israel, are endless.

Jews Never Stopped Yearning for Zion and Jerusalem

It is written in the Book of Isaiah: “For the sake of Zion I will not be silent; for the sake of Jerusalem, I will not be still….” In addition to expressing this yearning through prayer, there were always Jews who lived in the land of Israel, and especially Jerusalem, though there were often threats to their physical safety.

Indeed, since the nineteenth century, Jews have constituted a majority of the city’s population. For example, according to the Political Dictionary of the State of Israel, Jews were 61.9 percent of Jerusalem’s population in 1892. The historical and religious link to Jerusalem (and Israel) is especially important because some Arabs seek to rewrite history and assert that Jews are “foreign occupiers” or “colonialists” with no actual tie to the land.

Such attempts to deny Israel’s legitimacy are demonstrably false and need to be exposed for the lies they are. They also entirely ignore the “inconvenient” fact that when Jerusalem was under Muslim (i.e., Ottoman and, later, Jordanian) rule, it was always a backwater. It was never a political, religious, or economic center. For example, when Jerusalem was in Jordanian hands from 1948 to 1967, virtually no Arab leader visited, and no one from the ruling House of Saud in Saudi Arabia came to pray at the Al-Aksa Mosque in eastern Jerusalem.


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