settler-colonialism (the lie)



Colonialism is the practice of a country or empire imposing control and power over other peoples or territories through the establishment of colonies. Colonizers impose their religion, language, economic systems, and more on the colonized population. Colonizers generally extract resources from their colonies or utilize their colonies in other ways for economic benefit.

Settler colonialism is a specific type of colonialism in which foreign settlers aim to replace the Indigenous population. This “replacement” of the Indigenous population happens in a multitude of ways; genocide and ethnic cleansing, of course.

Most commonly, however, settlers “replace” the Indigenous populations through forced assimilation, with the imposition of the colonizer’s culture, language, and religion on the colonized population.

Settler colonialism is how, for example, Latin Americans, most of whom have Indigenous ancestry, came to become “Latin,” speak Spanish or Portuguese, and predominantly practice Catholicism instead of Indigenous religions. Similarly, in the Middle East and North Africa, most formerly Indigenous peoples assimilated into Arab culture and identity, speak Arabic, and predominantly practice Islam.



Fayez Sayegh was the first to coin the concept that Zionism is settler-colonialism. Sayegh was a member of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, a Nazi-influenced, fascist party, during the Holocaust. 

Sayegh’s Zionism-as-settler-colonialism study is filled with falsehoods and distortions about the Jewish people, the early Zionist movement, and the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

For example, early on, Sayegh made the astonishing (and blatantly incorrect) assertion that Jews only began seeing ourselves as a nation because we were inspired to do so by the European colonialism of the 19th century. This is absurd and a lie. For 3000 years, Jews have collectively called ourselves the “Nation of Israel” (עם ישראל). The evidence for this is excessive, present in thousands of years’ worth of preserved texts.

Sayegh blatantly lied about the role of the Palestinians leading up to 1948. For example, he claimed that Palestinian nationalism predates Zionism. Not even Arab nationalism predates Zionism; Arab nationalism is dated to 1911, with the establishment of the Young Arab Society. Palestinian nationalism, independent of a greater Arab nationalism, was quite literally nonexistent until 1920. While Sayegh decried the Zionist militias during Mandate Palestine, he conveniently forgot to mention that such militias were only formed in response to Arab organized violence against Jews.

In his own paper, Fayez admitted that Zionism is actually different from every single case of colonialism ever recorded, because Zionists didn’t go there to establish a colony of another nation; rather, they created a nation in and of itself. But instead of reaching the conclusion that these stark differences exist because Zionism is not actually a form of colonialism, Fayez explained those differences by claiming that Zionists are the most racist racists in all of human history. Yikes. 



In his paper, Sayegh argued that Zionism was a political movement which intended to colonize Palestine and “replace” its Indigenous population. But the displacement of Palestinian refugees in 1948 did not happen because that was the aim of the Zionist movement but rather, because the Palestinians and their allies instigated a war that they lost. The Zionists did not come to Palestine armed and start systematically displacing Palestinians from their homes, and certainly not as a matter of policy. The Palestinians are refugees of a war. A war that not only produced more Jewish refugees than Palestinian refugees, but a war that, again, the Zionists did not start. 

The aim of Zionism, as agreed upon at the First Zionist Congress, was the following: 

“Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Eretz ­Israel [the Land of Israel] secured under public law.”

That’s it. Beyond that, people who identify as Zionist don’t necessarily agree on anything.

As Jacob Lassner and Selwyn Ilan Troen wrote in “Jews and Muslims in the Arab World: Haunted by Pasts Real and Imagined,” “Zionist settlement was not the product of conquest. It was based on the purchase of land or the acquisition of it through agreement.” Jewish land purchases took place in sparsely populated areas and as a matter of official Zionist policy, the Zionists avoided purchasing land occupied by fellahin, or Arab farmers. 

Anti-Zionists frequently cite an out of context quote from Theodor Herzl about the “removal of the poor” as proof that the Zionist movement intended to displace Palestinians from the start. Except they conveniently leave out what comes next: “It goes without saying that we shall respectfully tolerate persons of other faiths and protect their property, their honor, and their freedom with the harshest means of coercion.”



Early during the Mandate period (1917-1948), Avraham Granot put it plainly (1890-1962): “Jews come to Palestine to execute not a colonial, but a colonization policy.”

So what’s the difference? Well, language evolves. Up until the decolonization wave of the 1950s, the word “colonization” was not necessarily a description of colonialism, but quite literally was used to refer to people moving from point A to point B and establishing communities. One of the definitions for the word “colonize” in the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary, for instance, is “To migrate and settle in, as inhabitants.”

Another example: established in 1891, the Jewish Colonisation Association purchased lands in countries such as Argentina, Canada, and the United States to provide homes for persecuted Jews fleeing Europe. The JCA certainly did not intend to establish a Jewish state in any of these countries. 

Up until the late 1930s, when the British suggested partition for the first time in response to systematic Arab violence against Jews, many Zionists hardly envisioned a fully independent Jewish nation state, or a partitioned Land of Israel. This was at the tail end of the Ottoman occupation, and they couldn’t possibly have imagined that World War I would result in the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. Instead, they envisioned the “Jewish national home,” as they described it, within the framework of a multinational democracy or a multinational Ottoman state.

The head of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, David Ben Gurion, made statements such as “we do not intend to marginalize the Arabs, or to displace them from their lands and take their place” (1915) and “had Zionism desired to evict the inhabitants of Palestine it would have been a dangerous utopia and a harmful, reactionary mirage” (1918). 



Self-determination is the idea that peoples who share a national identity — not to be confused with nationality — have a legal right to choose their own governance, rather than live under the thumb of an empire. Self-determination is a basic tenet of international law, applicable to all peoples.

For the overwhelming majority of Jewish history, Jewish identity was primarily a national identity. In this context, a “nation” refers not to a modern nation-state, but rather, a group of people whose collective identity includes shared language, history, ethnicity, territory, and/or culture. It’s a term more political in nature than “ethnicity,” as a nation sees itself as having a common political destiny. 

In the case of Jews, this national identity was first developed when a confederation of semi-nomadic Hebrew tribes coalesced to establish the Kingdom of Israel in 1047 BCE, the first unified nation state in what is now Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Previously, the territory was comprised of various Canaanite city states.

This national identity was further cemented when the Kingdom of Israel split into the Kingdom of Israel (Samaria) to the north and the Kingdom of Judah to the south. The term “Jew” comes from “Judahite,” as in “someone from the Kingdom of Judah.” In Hebrew, both Judahite and Jew is “Yehudi.” The identity developed even more strongly following the Babylonian conquest of Judah and the completion and canonization of the Tanakh. 

The idea of Jews as a “religious” group is not only relatively new, dating to the French Revolution and the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment), but colonial, as it was imposed on Napoleon’s Jewish subjects. 

If we believe in the principle of self-determination for all nations, then it should follow that we should support the self-determination of the Jewish people. And if we deny Jews and Jews only self-determination…well, that’s a glaring antisemitic double standard.



The settler-colonialism libel has resulted in a legacy of rejectionism, dehumanization, and opposition to dialogue. Though Sayegh’s premise was based on easily debunked historical falsehoods, and though he had ulterior motives of antisemitism — he was a fascist, after all — the perception of the Zionist settler-colonialist has been cemented in the anti-Zionist imagination. 

To the anti-Zionist, Israel is an illegitimate state that cannot be negotiated with; rather, the only solution is to destroy it. Israeli civilians are not human beings; rather, they are settler-colonialists complicit in the colonization of Palestine. Why else would people feel so comfortable drawing Nazi imagery on the photo of one-year-old Kfir Bibas? What has he ever done wrong? It’s pure dehumanization. In their view, Kfir is an illegal plant that must be removed at all costs. In their view, because Israel is an illegal entity, all Israelis are illegitimate, meaning every Israeli must be removed at all costs. Even rape. 

Anti-Zionists often model their vision for Palestine after the expulsion of the French from Algeria in 1962. What they neglect to mention is that Algeria is not only still colonized — Imazighen, Algeria’s Indigenous people, are heavily repressed — but that the French went back to France. The Jews have nowhere to go. Israel is our home. Trying to expel us won’t work. It’ll just continue this cycle of conflict and bloodshed.  

As Vietnamese general Võ Nguyên Giáp once said, “Listen, the Palestinians are always coming here and saying to me, ‘You expelled the French and the Americans. How do we expel the Jews?’ I tell them that the French went back to France and the Americans to America. But the Jews have nowhere to go. You will not expel them.”

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