This week, co-hosts Helena Cobban and Yousef Aljamal break down the myths settler states have used throughout the past six centuries to erase indigenous populations and justify their occupation.
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Helena Cobban: (00:46)
Hey there, Yousef, how are you doing this week?
Yousef Aljamal: (00:48)
I'm doing alright. How about you, Helena?
Helena Cobban: (00:52)
Hanging in there, I guess. Anyway, we've got a lot to talk about today.
Yousef Aljamal: (01:01)
In this podcast series, Helena and I are discussing the intersections between the Zionist settler-colonial project in Palestine, which is still ongoing today. And then many other settler colonial projects that West European nations pursued in all non European continents throughout the past 600 years.
Helena Cobban: (01:25)
Yousef and I believe that studying what's happening in Palestine today can help us understand the deeply racist roots of Western imperialism and vice versa. Today we're going to discuss the stories that throughout the past six centuries settler colonialists have told themselves and other people in an attempt to justify the great cruelty of their actions and whitewash the terrible suffering they've inflicted on their indigenous victims. They have all created such stories, whether we're talking about Zionists and their claims of God given rights in Palestine or the Anglo-settlers here in Turtle Island North America who's similarly claimed they had a divinely ordained manifest destiny to control the whole breadth of the continent or the French who claimed their colonialism was civilizing all the nations that they conquered. And so it went on and on. But before we dive. Into our big discussion of the mythologies of settler colonialism, I'd like to ask you Yousef to quickly tell us this week's main headlines from Palestine.
Yousef Aljamal: (02:36)
Israeli police places Somaiya Falah under house arrest for attending a Spain conference. Israeli police demolished two Palestinian houses in Jerusalem. The massacre of Tantura village has been revealed, but we would have learned the truth if we had listened to the Palestinian victims seven decades ago. UK University suspends Shahd Abusalama over her Palestine views.
Helena Cobban: (03:09)
Oh, that Tantura story. It's really important that it's coming out. Thanks for noting that. So now let's get back to the matter of the stories that the settler colonialists tell themselves, and other people about what they're doing. Yousef, what do you see are the main stories the Zionists tell about their project?
Yousef Aljamal: (03:32)
So Zionists almost read from the same settler colonial textbook that we have in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, the United States and other countries. Their main argument is that Palestinians do not have any connection to their land. And Palestinians do not exist. Not only this. But they also claim that Palestinians have sold their land. So basically they blame Palestinians for their own plight. Palestinians have willingly left Palestine, they say. Or they say, Palestine is a land without a people. For a people without a land, and that they came to Palestine, the desert in their own words. And they made it into bloom.
Helena Cobban: (04:28)
Yeah, that's so similar to many things that the settler colonialists said here in Turtle Island. They claimed that because the indigenous people here didn't own the land in the sense of, you know, Western property rights where you buy and sell land because the indigenous people used the land in many different ways, including for farming and hunting and. But they always cared for the land, but the colonialists said, oh, they don't own the land, so that's OK. We can own it. They said that this bit of earth here was the land of nobody and that is marked on a lot of maps, Terra Nullius, the land of nobody so very similar to what you're saying.
Yousef Aljamal: (05:18)
Look, they always say that Palestinians and other indigenous people did not have a right to the land because they did not own, you know, land deeds and the idea and the concept of land deeds itself is colonial. The conviction Palestinian farmers, for example, have to the land goes beyond these land deeds before British colonialism. We did not have these land deeds and I even criticize Palestinians who try to prove their ownership and connection with the land by, you know, showing the land deeds, which is important that we still keep. But again, it's a colonial concept in itself. We have inherited this land generation after another.
Helena Cobban: (06:07)
That's true actually. So there's a question of property rights, and you know, so the colonialists say, oh, the indigenous people don't have valid property rights, and therefore, that's OK. We can just take their land, but there is also a God question. I mean, like when the Spanish went to South America, or when the Portuguese earlier went to various places. They said, you know? God says we can have whatever land we want because we are so special. I, I believe the Zionists say something similar.
Yousef Aljamal: (06:50)
This rings a bell indeed Helena they say we are, you know, you know most of them, including the founder of the Zionist movement are secular. Theodor Herzl, the founder of the movement was secular, but he also believed that God gave Palestine to the Zionists and this is the case also for many Zionists today. They are secular but they also believe that Palestine belongs to them and that God you know gave them this land which is very ironic and again we have this discourse of the chosen people that this land was given to the Jews to the Zionists because they were chosen by God. And again I think this is the narrative of the weak when you do not have. A real connection to the land that is historically proven. Simply, these groups politically groups with political agendas uses religion to prove their connection to the land.
Helena Cobban: (07:54)
So when the Spanish were going to the Caribbean islands or to the mainland of North America or South America, they also were claiming that it was their duty to convert the natives. And the means they used were extremely brutal. You know there was actually a Spanish monk who wrote about how brutal the actions were that the colonialists took in order to save the souls of the people. I think maybe that's a bit different from the Zionists, 'cause they never wanted to make you all into Jews. Is that right?
Yousef Aljamal: (08:47)
That's right, they they had a different plan and they never attempted to convert us because this is not their plan and I think it has to do with the exclusivity of the Zionist project or the political thoughts of the Zionist movement, that it's exclusive. They do not want to include more people in the movement. But rather to bring Jews from all over the world to Palestine. So they had a different plan than in South and Central America. So I guess they do take in Jewish people you know recent converts or people from Ethiopia or from South America. So long as they are not Palestinians, I mean they need people to come and populate their project. I think this was the case after the establishment of the State of Israel, especially in the 50s and 60s when Israel needed for people to come in because they had a lack of population, only 1,000,000 people were in Israel at the time, and this was true after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But even we have stories now, the other day I read this article about a group of African Jews. Or who claim to be African Jews who were not given the right of asylum by an Israeli court claiming that they are not Jewish enough. Or that they are not Jews at all, so they still, I think the religious establishment in Israel is still very strict about bringing in some settlers, although there are some examples that prove otherwise where people, for example, who claim to be Jewish, who came from the Soviet Union and so that they could migrate to Israel, which also applies to some African migrants who try to land in Israel.
Helena Cobban: (11:03)
Well, I do actually remember when the Soviet Union fell that hundreds of thousands of people from the former Soviet Union rushed to Israel. Many of them just maybe had one Jewish grandparent, and really couldn't even prove their Jewishness. But they were white, and I think that was important and they were by and large very well educated, and so it was, it was sort of a a gift for for the Zionist project to have these people come in. You had mentioned earlier, like these claims that the Zionist project would make the desert bloom so dumb. I guess you and I both know that that's not true, that there was a lot of agriculture and civilization and whatever in Palestine before Theodor Herzl struck upon his little plan.
Yousef Aljamal: (11:59)
Exactly. I just mentioned Tantura village and one main reason why the massacre took place against the inhabitants, Palestinian inhabitants of the village is because there was this agricultural community next to this village that were that was inhabited by Jewish settlers who felt jealous of this village and its inhabitants, because they they were rich according to them they had many fertile lands. So the myth that Palestine was a desert is still propagated by Zionists even as of today, which is not true. Palestinians had a very strong cultural life in major cities in Jerusalem and Jaffa, Akka, Haifa. They had theaters, they had cinemas, they had railways, irways. They were educated. They spoke different languages. We had newspapers in Palestine in different languages and some of which the Jerusalem Post, for example, used to be the Palestine Post and other publications, of course. So we had doctors who, after the Nakba of 1948 and teachers, had, to you know, move to the gulf, for example, and many gulf countries were built by these educated Palestinian refugees. But again, they always try to negate our connection to the land that we are backward and that they are here to civilize us. Quote unquote.
Helena Cobban: (13:40)
I remember when I was growing up in England in the 1950s we used to import oranges from Jaffa and they had all these little. Advertisements that would say juicy juicy Jaffa so you know orange tree doesn't start bearing fruit immediately, almost certainly those orange trees had been planted by Palestinians before the Nakba of 1948, and the Israelis just took them over and started at, you know, they they took over the you know lots and lots of wonderful orange groves and banana groves and a lot of really fertile agricultural projects and they just stole them and then started exporting the produce to England and other countries and you know, looking back now it it just seems so sad that nobody questioned like juicy juicy Jaffa. Thanks for Israel producing these oranges for us.
Yousef Aljamal: (14:50)
I mean, this is exactly the case, Helena. There is a joke by Palestinian comedian Amer Zahr that Zionists took Palestine furnished. And this is very true. Not just agriculture projects, we're talking about, you know, a whole country that was stolen. There's some Palestinians who left tea and coffee, you know, on their stoves. Food was still hot when Zionists, you know gangs invaded their houses and they sold their furniture. We have many stories from rich Palestinian neighborhoods, for example in West Jerusalem such as Qatamon and, Talbiya, where Edward side used to live or his family used to live. Speaking of, you know, ranges in the Palestinian culture and literature. We know that Jaffa is the bride of the Mediterranean as we call it, and it's famous for oranges, the best oranges in the Middle East. Palestinian farmers used to export these oranges to Europe and in return they would import Mercedes cars and I remember reading a story about how valuable these oranges were. You could get, I think I don't know the exact number. But whereas a small amount of oranges, you would get a Mercedes car. But again, you know this is what they're doing now. Even with Palestinian palm trees in Jericho, they are exporting Palestinian dates the medjool dates under their names, and sometimes they write Palestine so so that they could avoid the boycott movement.
Helena Cobban: (16:38)
So there was that whole discourse of progress. You know that the Zionists claim that they brought civilization, they brought advanced agriculture. They brought museums and theaters and cinemas and whatever to Palestine. Whereas in fact everything that they did was built on the ruins of what Palestinians had previously built and had there, but I think that discourse of civilization, that they brought civilization was was very powerful for their supporters around the world and for themselves. And somehow it made it all seem worthwhile. Here you know if you're looking at the Anglo-colonial ventures here in North America and elsewhere in the global, well, this is not currently the global South, but at the time it was. If you know, because it was not part of the advanced, advanced in air quotes "Christian Civilization." So, there was a very famous philosopher called John Locke who was one of the main philosophers of the West European Enlightenment. He was also a slaveholder and somebody who wrote the constitution of the slave state of South Carolina, and he had a whole theory that because Westerners come to a a non-Western country and start building plantations or whatever, quite likely they're using slave labor to do that, then the little bit of you know, organizing the agriculture or the you know the labor that they put into it, gives them the right to continue to live there and to control it. And that's you know, that that's in a sense, a version of this discourse of progress which was always used to cover up the subjugation of the local peoples. So, you know, uh, a lot in common with what the Zionists were doing to you.
Yousef Aljamal: (18:56)
You know, it's also the claim that they came with this enlightenment and civilization that the natives quote unquote lacked. On the contrary, and in Palestine, many of these Jewish settlers who arrived in Palestine used to work in Palestinian agricultural, land and communities. So they were trained there. They learn from Palestinians and not only this, if we look at the efforts of the Jewish National Fund, which I hope, we would be able to discuss in more detail later and they tried to plant trees foreign to the ecosystem of Palestine. But also to cover the topography of the Palestinian land and the history of Palestinian farmers. The recent forest fires in Western Jerusalem reveal the traces that Palestinian farmers have built on Jerusalem mountains for hundreds of years. Some say 400 years, by these foreign trees that they planted, so they try to cover this history and present their own narrative.
Helena Cobban: (20:09)
Interesting, well, I'm going to come in with your friendly reminder now that this podcast is brought to you by Just World Educational. If you go to our website www.justworldeducational.org, you'll find a wealth of educational resources and a donate button that lets you support this podcast series the World from Palestine and all the rest of our work. So now back to our conversation, I wanted to look at another aspect of the stories that settler colonialists in, especially in modern times. the stories they tell themselves and other people about why what they're doing is valuable, and that is like in the case of both Israel and before that South Africa and now to a certain extent also Australia and Otarawa, New Zealand, all of them kind of present themselves as outposts of the West against, you know, either in earlier times against the Soviet Union or now you know against Islamic Jihadism in air quotes. In the case of Israel, or in the case of Australia and New Zealand today, they're they're kind of presenting themselves as outposts of the West against China, How effective do you think that's been for the Zionists that they present themselves as you know, and an outpost of the West against you know these scary forces of the Middle East slash West Asia.
Yousef Aljamal: (22:02)
I think in the case of Israel they try again and again to promote themselves as the only democracy in the Middle East that the West should support. You know it's the only democracy in a sea of dictatorships, even if you have elections later on, for example after the Arab Spring. But again, they try to always sell this narrative that you look like us. You know what I mean? We have a lot of things in common. Shared values to quote Barack Obama, but again, the people who talk about, you know. These shared values such as Noam Chomsky who says a lot of Americans justify ethnic cleansing or some Americans justify ethnic cleansing in Palestine because we did it first. So they always try to say that Israel is the only democratic country in the Middle East that we should support. They are facing Islamic Jihadism, radicalization. backwardness, etc etc. All of these are Orientalist, you know, terms, discourses that they try to push. And again we are talking about settler colonialism, so they do have a lot of things in common.
Helena Cobban: (23:24)
Well, that's true. I guess you know, after 9/11 in particular. That was the era of Ariel Sharon and huge brutality that he enacted against the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem and and the so-called Western nations just gave him a pass because he was an outpost against the kind of al Qaeda type, or they saw him as an outpost against Al Qaeda. And I think that was really when the Israeli military industrial complex started developing all kinds of new ways to oppress people and they would, you know, test them out periodically against the people of Gaza and then they would sell these weapons and these surveillance systems and these control systems as people call it the matrix of control. Sell these systems to Americans and others in order to make money. But as part of this sort of Western control system over the whole world.
Yousef Aljamal: (24:49)
I remember this article by Haaretz which said that Israeli weapons after the 2014 operation in Gaza sold, like quote, unquote hotcakes because they are tested. They are proven, and of course when we talk about testing these weapons we talk about. The Palestinians or testing them on the Palestinians and we have seen this. I've seen this first hand in 2008 and 2009 when Israel used White Phosphorus against the Palestinians, which is internationally prohibited. And again, we've seen it. You know, being used elsewhere using the claim that you know it's very effective and Gaza became the battleground for these Israeli tests, and this is not strange because they also test medicines on Palestinian prisoners. So we are a testing field. This is how they view us. And again, this is not strange if we look at other examples, I mean France has tested nuclear weapons in the Algerian desert and they had the same discourse against Algerians. And you know, with the French leaders claiming that there was no and this is not a long time in history, it's very recent. A few months back, there was no Algerian nation before France colonized the country. So they should be thankful to their colonizers in other ways.
Helena Cobban: (26:26)
That's exactly like something the Zionists say about Palestinians. You know there was no Palestinian people before we came and and I don't know how how they think that works, but if we get on to this question of the settler colonialists you know having this story about themselves as an outpost of Western whatever power, Western projects, Western civilization against the enemy of the time. The enemy of the day, you know, that's what apartheid South Africa claimed. For many decades, they said yes, you know you in the West may have your criticisms of the apartheid system or of you know what we're doing against Black people here in South Africa, but you have to remember that we are an outpost against Soviet power, in Africa, in the Atlantic Ocean, in the Indian Ocean. We are a real outpost for you. And then. After the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War collapsed. Just overnight like that. You know Western support for apartheid collapsed, and, the apartheid regime had to start negotiating with the the African nationalists and and therefore we had, you know, very, very speedily after the collapse of the Cold War in South Africa had its first fully Democratic election. So, I'm kind of thinking maybe for the Zionist project you know they have made such a big thing about how we're this outpost against Al Qaeda and other forms of Islamic jihadist extremism. Maybe now that you know that, the Western project in Iraq and Syria, and Afghanistan, has kind of collapsed and is collapsing as we look at it. It would be nice to think that the Israeli propaganda claims that they are helpful in that project could also collapse and then we could, you know, we in the West could really talk about Israel's human rights record and it's terrible atrocities that it continues to pursue. I don't know what do you think?
Yousef Aljamal: (29:16)
You know, I think the reason they promote this narrative is because they know that it sells well in the West. I think they're very smart with their audience and their narrative, which eventually will collapse. And the same as what happened with South African trying to play the Soviet card. Israel will come to one day to a conclusion that it doesn't or it cannot, you know continue it's treatment of the Palestinians, of denying them their rights, of placing them under practically an apartheid regime with different treatments and status, whether they are in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and Jerusalem, Israel itself. This narrative will not settle. I think more people are aware now because of social media because, uh, you know they have more access to information they can read and analyze themselves. It's no longer the traditional cable media that feeds them a specific narrative, and that's why Israeli leaders such as Lapid said 2022 will be very challenging for Israel in light of labeling it as an apartheid state. And I think this is true. So this narrative sells and Israeli tries until the very end, the same as the next states supported apartheid regime in South Africa until the very end, to sell this narrative because they know if they stop selling it, they will lose. So they will continue until the very end, although they might be aware that this end is sooner than later, but it's very close. So I think this is the mentality that they have and the narrative they have, that discourse that you know we are protecting you, we are doing you a favor, Islamic radicalization, etc etc. It's a threat to both of us so we should be united against this perceived threat.
Helena Cobban: (31:00)
Yeah, but they still have sort of layers and layers of different narratives that they tell about themselves, and I wonder like whether it's more important for them to be able to convince westerners about the the validity of their claims, or whether it's more important for them to be able to continue to convince themselves of the validity of their claims. I mean, there are a small but growing number of Jewish Israelis who actually are starting to see through the whole of the Zionist narrative.
Yousef Aljamal: (32:12)
Exactly, I think it's both, so they're struggling to convince the world, the public opinion all over the world is this narrative and that's why they are running after Palestinians regardless of where they are. And the example of Shahd Abusalama being suspended from her university in the UK, they know that if Palestinians get to these academic institutions and try to have their narrative presented there, this would be a threat now. The coming generation younger people are more aware it's not like the 70s and 80s where they can exclusively. They sell their narratives, their narrative is being challenged globally, so they have a global challenge. But they also have an internal challenge yesterday. Jewish Israeli teacher was fired because he said "I am anti Zionist" so even Israelis, Jewish Israelis who stand against the occupation are not welcomed and we know that the example of Ilan Pappe long time ago in 2007 he had to resign from the University of Haifa because of what the Zionist establishment at the time said. Claims he made about the Tantura village, which we learned last week, were true. You're not allowed to criticize this establishment or to get outside. You know this mainstream narrative of being victim of you know if you say Palestinians exist then it's a problem. You're not welcome. So whether you are Israeli or not, Palestinian or not, European or not, they will run, you know, after you.
Helena Cobban: (33:49)
Actually, you just mentioning that thing about the victim part of the narrative is also important, and we haven't discussed it until now, but that has been very powerful for the Zionist project for them to portray the Jews going as settlers to Palestine as you know, survivors of the Holocaust. I mean, historically, that was really important for their narrative. This sort of, you know, we are just the survivors from this very victimized population, and, to be honest, quite a lot of the people who came here as Anglo settlers to Turtle Island, North America made the same claims. You know they said oh we're so oppressed back in England and this was like the Quakers and the Puritans and a lot of the others. Therefore we need, you know, a refuge. And that was an important part of their discourse in the early decades of the project. Whereas of course, back in England and the other countries in Europe from which they came, Quakers and Puritans managed to survive and thrive. So their claims of victimization were, let's say, they maybe had some basis, but they were greatly, greatly exaggerated, and the idea that you know you're feeling victimized in one country therefore you go to another country and steal its land and resources is kind of a weird argument.
Yousef Aljamal: (35:12)
Exactly. I agree with you. What was it George the Fourth or George the first who sent the Quakers to Philadelphia?
Helena Cobban: (35:31)
It was Charles or James no it was James I think. OK anyway yeah.
Yousef Aljamal: (35:35)
Oh James I think they also have a similar argument that we were victims. Yes you were victims, but this doesn't give you the right to victimize another nation for a start. Two, your suffering is not unique. There are dozens of examples of people who have been victimized. Palestinians are one of them. And Jews in Europe are one of them, and you know, we when we talk about the Holocaust and oppressing Jews in Europe, Palestinians had nothing to do with it, however one of the, speaking of Zionist myth they're trying to connect Palestinians and Mufti Sheikh Amin al-Husseini with Hitler. So Paris had nothing to do with the Holocaust. They're against the Holocaust and they have no business in it. But again they try to connect Palestinians with it and again this doesn't justify the, you know, oppression Palestinians are placed under . And again, this suffering is not unique. They try to claim that their suffering is unique so that they justify you know their actions and their oppression of the Palestinians. It's not unique.
Helena Cobban: (36:45)
If you look at the genocides that Western settler colonialists have committed throughout the Global South, it's it's really sobering and here in North America, listen, I'm sorry we're going to have to wrap up the conversation and we've just gotten into some interesting portions of it, but I wanna thank you, Yousef, for being with us and I want to thank all the listeners. We're really excited to have people listen in and share our podcasts with your friends and we're gonna be providing a way for you to send us feedback. So anyway Yousef, from Turkey, thanks for being with us.
Yousef Aljamal: (37:31)
Thank you for having me and I'm looking forward to speaking to you again next week.
Helena Cobban: (37:36)
Absolutely OK. Bye bye. Stay well.