Mourners react during a funeral in Rafah on May 27, 2024 for Palestinians killed after an Israeli strike: Israel’s actions against Palestinians reflect the mindset of Zionism’s early ideologues | Reuters


Rhetoric of Zionist early European ideologues is why Zionism acts the way it does and why Palestinian resistance is inherent to it.
Published June 2, 2024

“Immigrants are unarmed; settlers come armed with both weapons and a nationalist agenda… for settlers, there can be no homeland without a state. For the immigrant, the homeland can be shared; for the settler, the state must be a nation-state, a preserve of the nation in which all others are at most tolerated guests.”

Mahmood Madani, Neither Settler nor Native: The Making and Unmaking of Permanent Minorities

“Some of our prosperous men may say that the pressure is not yet severe enough to justify emigration, and that every forcible expulsion shows how unwilling our people are to depart… But we are showing them the way to the Promised Land; and the splendid force of enthusiasm must fight against the terrible force of habit.”

Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State (Der Judenstaat)

“Go, peoples, take this land! Who owns it? No one! Take this land that is God’s land. God gives land to men. God offers Africa to Europe. Take it!” 

Victor Hugo, quoted by Achile Mbembe in Critique of Black Reason

“The soil does not belong to those who possess land in excess but to those who do not possess any…And if such a big landowning nation resists which is perfectly natural — it must be made to comply by compulsion. Justice that is enforced does not cease to be justice.”

Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky, The Ethics of the Iron Wall

As Israel’s murderous war on Gaza enters the eighth month, it is nonetheless failing on three central metrics of any armed conflict: operational, diplomatic and politico-strategic.

Operationally, Israel fields a modern military with the advantage of sophisticated hardware and technology. It also possesses and has demonstrated impressive intelligence capabilities for targeted strikes, as witnessed against Hezbollah and Iran.

Hamas at best is akin to light infantry. It is inferior in the number of active fighters and has limited access to even basic equipment. Unlike Israel, which is supported by the United States and uses American weapons supplies to replenish its stocks, Hamas does not have a sustained supply of materiel and relies on innovation — jerry-rigging, cannibalisation, reverse-engineering and repurposing equipment.

So, why is the Israeli Occupation Force (IOF) still unable to defeat Hamas?

Despite claims of having cleared Gaza city and northern Gaza, the IOF is back in Jabalia and Nusairat and fighting close-quarter battles with Hamas fighters. The world was told that the Rafah operation in the south was necessary to finish off the remaining four Hamas battalions. But the toughest battles are raging in northern Gaza.

Three elements are central to any armed conflict: sustainment, the will to fight and force employment. Of these, taking the ability to sustain the fight both in terms of materiel and morale as constant, force employment stands out as the most vital element. How do you neutralise the adversary’s advantage and create your own asymmetric advantage?

Consider a children’s tale by Aesop to understand this. North Wind and Sun were quarrelling about which one was stronger. As the argument became heated, Sun spotted a traveller and said to North Wind, “Let’s agree that he is the stronger who can strip that traveller of his cloak.”

Israel stands internationally isolated after eight months of a genocidal assault on Occupied Palestine. And despite laying most of Gaza to waste and obliterating the lives of tens of thousands, it is nowhere near its stated aim of crushing Hamas. To truly understand the Zionist settler-colonial mindset, one must look at the rhetoric of its early European ideologues. It is why Zionism acts the way it does and why Palestinian resistance is inherent to it…

North Wind agreed and sent cold gusts towards the traveller, increasing the strength of the gusts gradually. But the stronger the gusts of winds became, the more tightly the traveller wrapped his cloak around him. Seeing this, Sun began to shine and slowly increased the temperature until the traveller, feeling hot, removed his cloak.

How did Sun win? More aptly, why did North Wind lose? It lost because it got into a contest on Sun’s terms, a contest it was fated to lose even before it had begun. Force employment is meant to avoid just that. That’s what Hamas has done. It knew that its military attack on Palestinian land occupied by Israel would beget a response. It prepared patiently, letting the beast sleep until the time was ripe to lure in and slay the beast.

The operational details of how Hamas has fought and is fighting are outside the scope of this article. But it is important to note that, at the kinetic level, it has managed to sustain its effort, both in terms of morale and materiel, and used ingenious force employment methods, including the subterranean advantage, to deny the IOF sledgehammer concentrated targets — emerge, attack, elude. Ensure that there’s no front and secure rear in this environment. Use IOF’s bombing to its advantage by using destroyed buildings and rubble as fighting positions.

At the non-kinetic level, IOF’s bombing has increased Israel’s isolation. It’s a Catch-22. To send in ground troops, the IOF must soften the area; softening the areas kills civilians; killing civilians begets international outrage.

Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) fighters, meanwhile, hunker down before emerging, engaging, neutralising targets and disappearing. US intelligence estimates, as reported by a recent Politico report, also state that “Hamas has been able to recruit during wartime — thousands over the last several months. That has allowed the group to withstand months of Israeli offensives.”

 Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky (standing in the centre in the second row) at a Revisionist Zionist conference in Paris in the 1920s: Jabotinsky was unapologetic about “Zionist colonisation” and believed there must be a separation between Jews and Arabs | Harvard Library
Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky (standing in the centre in the second row) at a Revisionist Zionist conference in Paris in the 1920s: Jabotinsky was unapologetic about “Zionist colonisation” and believed there must be a separation between Jews and Arabs | Harvard Library


At the diplomatic and politico-strategic levels, Israel is now in the doghouse. The UN General Assembly has overwhelmingly voted in favour of full state status for Palestine; three European states — Ireland, Norway and Spain — have recognised Palestine, while four others, Belgium, France, Slovenia and Malta, have indicated that they would do so at the appropriate time.

The International Court of Justice is hearing South Africa’s petition against Israel and, in response to South Africa’s second prayer to prevent a human catastrophe, has issued specific and legally binding orders for Israel, measures the latter must take urgently. If Israel does not stop the Rafah offensive, it would be further digging the hole it finds itself in.

The European diplomatic push comes months after the Pink Tide leaders in Latin America — Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Brazil — bitterly criticised Israel for unleashing its savage war machine in Gaza, with Bolivia and Colombia severing diplomatic ties with Israel. Colombia has also announced it will open its embassy in Ramallah in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The important point to note is that Latin America historically has had close ties with Israel.

The term “genocide” is now standard fare in describing Israel’s actions in Gaza and it is not just employed by fiery university students in all corners of the world, but by leaders of governments. At the United Nations and its aid agencies, Israel receives daily whacking, prompting its permanent representative, Gilad Erdan, to resort to theatrics, tired shibboleths about anti-semitism, and language that can only be described as rabid.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor’s announcement that he is seeking arrest warrants for Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and its defence minister Yoav Gallant has been widely lauded by former ICC prosecutors and has put European countries in a quandary. Germany, Israel’s closest ally, which considers Israel’s security as Germany’s Staatsräson (reason of state), knows that, if the warrants come through, it will be legally bound to arrest Netanyahu if the latter sets foot in Germany.

While the world will shrink for Netanyahu and Gallant by 124 states, it also has the potential to divide Europe internally and also create a divide between the US and Europe. A New Statesman columnist Wolfgang Munchau put it thus: “If the Israeli leader was found guilty of war crimes, where would that leave Europeans who supplied weapons to him?”

Meanwhile, an “investigation by The Guardian, the Israeli-Palestinian publication +972 Magazine and the Hebrew-language outlet Local Call, [reveals] how multiple Israel intelligence agencies ran a covert ‘war’ against the ICC for almost a decade”.

The report reveals how former Mossad chief, Yossi Cohen, stalked and threatened the former ICC Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, to prevent her from opening a formal investigation “into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in occupied Palestinian territories”. The fig leaf covering the musty underbelly of Israel’s settler-colonial practices has come off.

When the current war started, another iteration of a long-running war imposed on the Palestinians by the settlers, many observers were sceptical of what Hamas could achieve or why Hamas did what it did. I wrote about the second- and third-order effects of such struggles and argued that long wars are fought through many battles, that victory and defeat are often subjective terms, because war usually does not deliver clarity.

But those initial discussions ignored an even more important fact: the pre-October 7 ecosystem in which the Hamas attack happened. To understand that ecosystem we have to go back in time.


The effusive Reschid Bey is the only Palestinian voice in the ‘father of Zionism’ Theodor Herzl’s 1902 utopian novel, Altneuland [The Old-New Land]. The novel, not particularly of much literary merit, appeared six years after Herzl’s pamphlet, The Jewish State.

The two chief protagonists of the novel, Kingscourt, a Prussian aristocrat and Friedrich Loewenberg, a young Jewish Viennese intellectual, return to Palestine after spending 20 years on a Pacific island during which time they were cut off from civilisation. Twenty years earlier, they had stopped over in Jaffa and found the place sparsely populated and backward.

Upon their return, they are in for a surprise. The land has changed. It is modern, clean and organised and governed on rational, scientific bases, the epitome of how Austro-Hungarian Herzl described his notion of a Jewish state: “The Society will have scientific and political tasks, for the founding of a Jewish State…presupposes the application of scientific methods.” Everyone has equal rights, as Reschid tells Kingscourt when the latter says, “You’re queer fellows, you Moslems. Don’t you regard these Jews as intruders?”

“You speak strangely, Christian,” responds the friendly Reschid. “Would you call a man a robber who takes nothing from you, but brings you something instead? The Jews have enriched us. Why should we be angry with them?”

While Loewenberg and Kingscourt are touring this changed land and landscapes under the ‘New Society’, the land is gearing up for an election. A serpent has entered this Eden.

The serpent is a new immigrant, a fanatical rabbi by the name of Dr Geyer, a Dickensian aptronym since it means vulture [geier] in German. Rabbi Geyer’s new party demands the disenfranchisement of all Arabs and non-Jews in the land. In a Jewish state, citizenship and voting rights should be restricted to Jews, he argues. The Old-New Land’s liberals fight Geyer and his party tooth and nail. Geyer’s party is defeated and he leaves the Old-New Land in ignominy.

Compare this utopia with Israel’s dystopian reality. But a closer look at Altneuland tells us that Dr Geyer is not the only serpent in Eden.

The “filthy, dismal-looking hovels”, the Palestinian villages, have been razed, replaced by a ‘New Village’, in keeping with the civilisational project of the incoming Jewish people, the project grounded in rationality and scientific advancement. While leaders of the ‘New Society’ extend their noblesse oblige to the natives and everyone lives in Altneuland in equality, the Land itself must transform into a messianic civilisational project for the rest of the world.

In an incisive long piece titled The Dream of a Jewish State, American political scientist Barnett Rubin refers to Herzl’s famous line “Im Tirzu, Ein Zo Agadah [If you will it, it is no dream],” and argues, “A more truthful epigraph [to Altneuland] would have been, ‘Though you will it, it is still a dream.’ Now the dreamers are awakening, uncomprehending, to the fury and agony of those their dream erased” [italics added].

Herzl died 13 years before French diplomat Jules Cambon wrote to Polish Zionist Nahum Sokolow, expressing the sympathetic views of the French government towards “Jewish colonisation in Palestine.” This was in May 1917, six months before the infamous Balfour Declaration.

Cambon’s letter mentions “by the protection of Allied Powers”, a clear indication that Britain was not acting alone in a scheme that was the direct product as much of Western colonisation of Palestinian land as it was of resolving Europe’s “Jewish Question.” Sokolow would go on to translate Herzl’s Altneuland into Hebrew, giving it the title Tel [ancient mound] Aviv [new spring].

Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist Zionism, political paterfamilias of right-wing Israeli political party Likud and supreme commander of the terrorist group Irgun, was more forthright and unapologetic about “Zionist colonisation.” Jews must be the majority; there must be an “iron wall” separating Jews from Arabs and “justice” must be enforced — once the wall has been built and the Jews are strong, Arabs would come and sue for peace and accept the terms of co-existence as dictated by the Jewish state.

Regardless of how one looks at it, whether in terms of Herzl’s utopia or Jabotinsky’s iron wall, sovereignty must rest with the majority Jewish population. In Altneuland, the Arabs and non-Jews are subsumed in the broader civilisational project of the ‘New Society’; Jabotinsky separates Arabs from the majority Jews with a wall, but implicitly and explicitly situates sovereignty in the Jewish state.

Mahmood Mamdani, a professor at Columbia University, makes two important points in his 2020 book Neither Settler Nor Native: The Making and Unmaking of Permanent Minorities: there’s no distinction between nationalism and colonialism, and nationalism at its core is a violent project, which in extreme cases results in genocide.

“Zionisation is more than a matter of law,” he writes. “As a nation-state project, it also involves the collapse of state and society into a single entity. To be a Zionist is not just to believe that Israel should be the Jewish national home; it is to equate the Jewish people with the state of Israel. Preserving Jewish society means preserving the Jewish state.”

And how is this state to be preserved, especially when it is a settler-colonial project? Through force, if necessary. And it can’t be a halfway house.

As Jabotinsky put it: “Zionist colonisation must either stop, or else proceed regardless of the native population. Which means that it can proceed and develop only under the protection of a power that is independent of the native population — behind an iron wall, which the native population cannot breach.”

The wall is a metaphor for dominance and protection — measures physical, legal, economic and military to keep Arabs subjugated. Here Jabotinsky seems to ignore his own rather incisive assessment — “Colonisation can have only one aim, and Palestine Arabs cannot accept this aim. It lies in the very nature of things, and in this particular regard nature cannot be changed.”

The wall around Gaza, put up by Yitzhak Rabin, the man who “wanted peace” but wouldn’t let Palestinians have sovereignty, was called the Iron Wall by some, an ironic reference to the title of Jabotinsky’s essay. If Jabotinsky were alive, he would have understood the prescience of his own words on the day Hamas breached the wall.

 An Israeli soldier stands guard along the Israel-Gaza border: the wall around Gaza, put up by Yitzhak Rabin, was called the Iron Wall by some, an ironic reference to the title of Jabotinsky’s essay | AP
An Israeli soldier stands guard along the Israel-Gaza border: the wall around Gaza, put up by Yitzhak Rabin, was called the Iron Wall by some, an ironic reference to the title of Jabotinsky’s essay | AP


Mamdani, in the work cited above, argues that the struggle, and with it the intractable Jews/Arabs problem, can be resolved through the South African experience — “I point to de-Zionisation, which would sever the state from the nation. The heart of de-Zionisation is the realisation of Israel as a state for all its citizens. I look to the South African moment as a model for de-Zionisation.”

The idea merits a broader discussion, not just to look at solutions through the South African model, but also in terms of putting to rest the hollow shibboleth of a two-state solution, which the PLO squandered with the Oslo Agreements when it accepted existence as a mere satrap of the Jewish state.

The ecosystem has, however, undergone tremendous changes. Ben Gurion’s socialist Zionism is a thing of the past. We now have the ultra right-wing nationalists and religious Zionists exercising power in Israel. The Arab-Israeli contest is unfolding along the lines of Hegel’s Master-Slave dialectic, between two “self-consciousnesses.” The encounter leads to a life-and-death struggle, not just because each self-consciousness sees the other as a threat to itself, but also because winning is self-affirmation.

This is where Hamas comes in. For any state actor to genuinely try and resolve the situation, it must first accept Hamas. Not only as an armed resistance group, but also as a political reality; second, such state actor must accept that Hamas’ actions have a historical context — an ecosystem of apartheid. To dismiss Hamas as a “terrorist” group is not just semantics but also the exercise of power by the dominant states.

Language is power. Any serious student of Palestinian history knows the violence did not begin on October 7 and to focus on that day is a deliberate attempt by Western governments and Israel to control the narrative by pushing a lie.

Israel has used slow, structured violence against Palestinians, not just in Gaza but across the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs) since the Nakba, a term universalised by Syrian scholar Constantin Zureik. These facts are known but swept under the carpet in the service of an ugly settler-colonial project that not only stands out as the past symbol of the West’s dominance, but also its current geopolitical interests.

Hamas challenges both the symbol and its physical reality. The talk about defeating Hamas and to have a day-after which has no Hamas presence is buncombe at best and mendacious at worst. To think that Gaza — even OPTs — can be governed without Hamas or through an Arab or multinational force begotten of a packaged process of normalisation with Saudi Arabia is delusional nonsense.

The United States and its allies — as also some in Israel, including the less fanatic Israeli leaders — seem to think that things can go back to normal, the normal being a Jewish state secure from Palestinian resistance to occupation, without settling the issue of Palestinian sovereignty.

This thinking is not only deceitful, it is dangerous. And it is couched in insincere statements about the plight of Gazans (with nary a mention of what’s happening in the West Bank) while parroting the line about destroying Hamas. Just one fact should disabuse anyone of this thinking — three adult sons and four grandchildren of Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh killed on Eid-ul Fitr by the IOF in the rubbled streets of Shati refugee camp.

This is about leadership, about being part of Gaza, about living and dying with everyone else — about being from the soil. No revamped configuration of the Palestinian Authority can rule Gaza in conjunction with some Arab states. Nor can Israel go back to Jabotinsky’s iron wall and its ethics. The wall has been breached. To perch schemes on the wall is either a blunder of epic proportions or deliberate travesty of all available facts.


In March this year, Poland’s recently elected prime minister said, in at least two interviews, that Europe is in a “pre-war era” reminiscent of 1939. He was referring to Russia’s gains in Ukraine. The three Baltic Republics are getting nervous by the day. Others, such as Serbia, Hungary and Slovakia have pro-Russian leaders in the lead. Hungary will also get the EU’s rotating presidency in June.

By all evidence, the far-right parties are in ascendance in Europe. The Freedom Party in Austria and Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France do not view Russia as an acute security risk. But whether pro- or anti-Russia, the far right parties in Europe are poised to advance their nationalist agendas and to that extent weaken the EU. It remains to be seen if Europe can realistically be referred to as a collective noun, especially if the war in Ukraine continues to tilt in favour of Russia.

Across the Atlantic, US domestic politics is in a tailspin and President Joe Biden in a zugzwang. If he supports Israel (which he does), he loses a large chunk of the Democratic Party’s liberal and progressive vote. If he gets tough on Israel, he gives the Republicans and Donald Trump a stick to beat him with. The irony is that, regardless of who wins, American politics and society will be further polarised.

The US’s increasingly acrimonious rivalry with China is further muddying the geopolitical waters. Multiple developments, often not perceptibly linked, are poised to reset the geopolitical chessboard. Palestinian resistance, of which Hamas is the sharp end of the wedge, has therefore to be seen both in its immediate and broader contexts.

“I mean to speak

Of that interminable building rear’d

By observation of affinities

In objects where no brotherhood exists

To common minds.“

William Wordsworth, The Prelude

The writer is a journalist interested in security and foreign policies. X: @ejazhaider

Published in Dawn, EOS, June 2nd, 2024

Header image: Mourners react during a funeral in Rafah on May 27, 2024 for Palestinians killed after an Israeli strike: Israel’s actions against Palestinians reflect the mindset of Zionism’s early ideologues | Reuters