Haider Eid and Andy Clarno’s (2017) analyze Zionist apartheid as both a racialized and an economic regime; racial capitalism is central to understanding race and the question of Palestine relating to questions of land, labour and resources. Charisse Burden-Stelly (2020) theorizes US racial capitalism as “a racially hierarchical political economy constituting war and militarism, imperialist accumulation, expropriation by domination and labour superexloitation…and permanent war” (cited in Alana Lentin 2021), all key components of the Zionist colonization of Palestine.
While Clarno (2017) focuses his analysis of post-apartheid South Africa and post-Oslo Palestine/Israel on the neoliberalization of apartheid, racial capitalism was integral to Zionism since its inception, even though many founding Zionists saw themselves as socialists. The colonization of Palestine involved several aspects of racial capitalism including the judaization of Palestinian lands by the Zionist movement since the early twentieth century, and the segmentation of labour from the Zionist Conquest of (Hebrew) Labour policy (Shafir 1989) to the current reliance on cheap and dispensable Palestinian labour. I would also like to posit Israel’s racialized justice system and prison industrial complex and white European Jewishness as property as further aspects of racial capitalism. As David Lloyd and Patrick Wolfe (2016, 116) write, “to the extent that Israel’s regime in Palestine recapitulates and extends earlier models of settler colonial dispossession and domination, its function as a program for contemporary state forms not only supplies new technologies and practices of regulation and segregation but also highlights the continuities between the logics of settler colonialism and those of the neoliberal state globally” (cited in Turner, forthcoming).
The racialization of land
According to Cedric Robinson (1983), racial capitalism is a suitable framework for highlighting central concerns of Indigenous peoples under settler colonialism, as the centrality of land fits with the emphasis in racial capitalism on dispossession, exploitation and extraction. Although the Zionist project was not primarily driven by economic considerations of profit and resource exploitation, Patrick Wolfe (2016) speaks of “purchase by another means” as the modus of Zionist colonization.
According to Wolfe (2016, 22), Eurocolonial powers arrived in Native country ex nihilo condensing power and expanding violence, and this pre-formedness, relatively resistant to local determinations, is colonalism’s preaccumulation, which is different from the European experience of primitive accumulation that figures in Eurocentric Marxist historiography. In arriving in Native country, capitalism already contained its own global preaccumulations, such as enslaving Africans in the Americas and purchasing, seizing and depopulating value-added Native land in Palestine. Insisting that “imperialism is not the latest stage of capitalism but its foundational warrant,” Zionism, Wolfe writes, consciously avoided confinement to a single metropolis in favour of a “collective mother country” (Rodinson 1973, 76), purchasing Native land in conformity with the law of the current imperial power. Brenna Bhandar (2018, 2) argues that property law, a crucial mechanism for the colonial accumulation of capital, and racial subjectivity developed in relation to one another, along racial regimes of ownership. Importantly, Wolfe (2016, 211) argues, Zionism’s diffuse metropolis and Jewish land purchases in Palestine were linked in that the former financed the latter.
In 1901 the Zionist movement’s main institutional structure, the World Zionist Organization (WZO), founded the Jewish National Fund so as to extend Jewish land ownership in Palestine (Wolfe 2016, 224). Zionist land purchasing strategies attached usufruct – the right to enjoy the use of another’s property – to title, so that (Palestinian) vendors might sell a right that might not have been theirs to sell (Wolfe 2016, 231). The dual aim of the Zionist purchasing methods was “to acquire the greatest amount of land with the smallest number of Palestinians and to concentrate the greatest number of Palestinians onto the smallest amount of land” (Erakat 2015, 85). By 2007 the JNF, a donation-based organization that green-washes its racialized land purchases by having planted millions of trees, built dams and reservoirs, developed many acres of land and established parks and nature reserves, owned 13 per cent of the total land in Israel (About JNF, n.d.), 80 per cent of which is owned by the state and managed by the Israel Land Authority. Half of these lands are controlled by the IDF and the security services (Shiefer and Oren 2008), facilitating the ongoing demolition of Palestinian houses and villages, and the expulsion of Palestinian citizens from their lands (see e.g., Boxerman 2022). Many JNF forests, where European conifers displaced native trees, were used to cover the ruins of depopulated Palestinian villages, making the JNF a key technology of Zionist colonization and racialization (Cohen and Gordon 2018).
Key to Israel controlling Palestinian lands is the 1950 Absentee Property Law that enabled the state of Israel via the Custodian of Absentees’ property to take charge of lands, houses, bank accounts and movable properties belonging to Palestinians expelled after 29 November 1947 (Adalah 2017). As most land in Israel is either state- or JNF-owned, a major effect of racial capitalism on Jewish property and Palestinian deprivation is the prohibition of purchasing or leasing land by Palestinian citizens and occupied subjects (Safian 1997).
The segmentation of the labour market
As well as founding the Jewish National Fund, the WZO also established the principle of the Conquest of (Hebrew) Labour, in line with the creation of a racialized European “new Jew,” who would differ from both their diasporic antecedent and the Palestinian Native, but also from non-European, non-white Arab and North African Jews (Shafir 1989; Lentin 2000; Lentin 2018). Gershon Shafir (1989, 81) writes that as a response to the self-loathing involving Jews being excluded from European productive industry and agriculture, Zionism and its racial Conquest of Labour policy mirrored European antisemitism.
The Conquest of Labour campaign underpinned core Zionist institutions such as the kibbutz and the labour trade union Histadrut, striving for a totally insulated Jewish-only entity that would conduct its affairs as if no Palestinians were around (Wolfe 2016, p. 225). Like the dispossession of Native lands, the Conquest of Labour was central to the colonization of Palestine, and sought to actively dispossess Palestinians of their economic relevance, and to prevent a situation of Zionist dependency on Palestinian labour. Shafir sees the Zionist project as based on a “split labour market” that hurled together, through settlement and incorporation, distinct labour forces, enabling white European Jewish workers to block the labour market to cheaper Palestinian workers. Later on, this strategy was supplemented by the importation of cheap Arab (Mizrahi) Jewish labor (see Ben Dor Benite, forthcoming). When that failed, the Conquest of Labour turned into the conquest of territory, financed by world Jewish capital (Abdo and Yuval Davis 1995, p. 294).
The 1967 occupation of Palestinian territory in the West Bank and Gaza Strip required a much larger labour force and resulted in an influx of tens of thousands of Palestinians into the Israeli labour market, increasing the Israeli economic reliance on cheap and dispensable Palestinian labour. However, the Palestinian Intifadas led to the bureaucracy of the occupation’s complex permit regime (Berda 2017) and brought about the importation of a large migrant work force, creating a host of legal and semi-legal, always racialized, complexities (see Kemp and Raijman 2008).
White Jewishness as property
The racialization of land purchases and the labour market and the insistence on white European Jewish supremacy links to Noura Erakat’s (2015) analysis of white Jewishness as property. Erakat follows Cheryl Harris’s (1993) work on whiteness as tangible property through three elements, the violence of liberal democracies, the codification of race, and the necessity of a racialized putative “other” that can be easily identified, defined, and captured in legal categories. Erakat reads the value of Jewish nationality and its differentiation through white supremacy that informs Israel’s legal system. Israel’s relation to Palestinians (and to non-European Jews from Arab and African countries) not only led – through instituting a strict racial regime and enacting a series of property laws – to the deprivation of the Palestinians, but has also imbued Jewish nationality with actual value. Legislated by the Law of Return (1950), the Citizenship Law (1952) and the Nation State Law (2018), whiteness, or European Jewishness as property meant, Erakat (2015, 83-4) argues, that the Palestinian native was beyond the legal category of Jewish national and had to be removed, dispossessed and/or contained. In the establishment of the Israeli state, its European founders both reified European supremacy and ascribed new value onto Jewish nationality relative to the Arab other. Israel consecrated the value of Jewish nationality in a series of laws that serve as a gateway to basic services, land, housing, education, and employment. In particular, whiteness as property bifurcated Israeli citizenship from Jewish nationality in order to privilege the Jewish person within and beyond the State.
Codified by race, the effects of white Jewishness as property are apparent in the occupied West Bank where Israeli settlements are fortified, Jewish-only housing complexes built on Palestinian land in violation of international law. Between 600,000 and 750,000 Israeli settlers live in at least 250 illegal settlements in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem (Al Jazeera 2022)in contravention of international law that considers the transfer of an occupied population by the occupying state into the occupied territory a war crime (Sfard 2023). Jewish settlers often attack Palestinian residents with impunity and under the watch of the Israeli military, preventing them from herding their flock, working their farms and going about their business. The effects of white Jewish supremacy are also evident in the continual demolition of Palestinian homes and schools in the occupied West Bank, and of Bedouin villages, deemed “unrecognized” even though the Bedouin are Israeli citizens, whose Indigenous rights are often not honoured by the courts (Zonshein 2015; see Assi forthcoming), as well as in the paucity of building permits granted to Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents (see e.g., Hasson 2015; UNRWA n.d.).
Securitization and the Zionist prison industrial complex
Eid and Clarno (2017) argue that neoliberal apartheid regimes like Israel depend on advanced strategies of securitization to maintain power. Israel exercises sovereignty over the Occupied Palestinian Territory through military deployments, electronic surveillance, imprisonment, interrogations, and torture. The state has also produced a fragmented geography of isolated Palestinian enclosures surrounded by walls and checkpoints and managed through closures, permits and segregated roads. And Israeli companies take the lead in globally marketing battle tested weapons and advanced security equipment by developing and testing high-tech devices in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the besieged Gaza Strip (for detailed discussions see Halper 2015; Loewenstein 2023; Turner forthcoming). The most important addition to Israel’s security regime, Eid and Clarno argue, is a network of security forces facilitated by the US and the EU, supported by Jordan and Egypt, and operated through coordinated deployments of Israeli and Palestinian Authority security forces. Like other settler colonial regimes, Israel operates walled enclosures, and racialized policing strategies.
Racial capitalism is also relevant to theorizing the Zionist justice and carceral systems according to which Palestinians and Israelis are judged and incarcerated in separate legal and prison regimes. Ruth Wilson Gilmore links the “prison industrial complex” and racial capitalism, defining racism as “the state-sanctioned or extralegal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death” (Gilmore 2002, 261). Racism, Gilmore argues, is “organized abandonment” by both the state and capitalism, working together to raise racial barriers that create group-differentiated vulnerability. The term “prison industrial complex”, according to Angela Davis (2003), explains relationships of profit involved in imprisoning large numbers of people by providing buildings, goods and services that benefit large sectors of society involved in the security and prison industries.
Since its establishment Israel has imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and since 1967 more than 800,000 Palestinians from the occupied territory were imprisoned inside Israel, illegal under international law (Adameer 2016). In 2023 a total of 4,900 Palestinians were imprisoned, including 155 children, 32 women, and 1014 administrative detainees held without charge or trial (Adameer 2023). Since 1967, Israel has operated two separate legal systems; in the occupied West Bank, Israeli settlers are subject to Israel’s civilian legal system whereas Palestinians live under military law. The dual legal system offers no semblance of justice and the military court’s conviction rate is higher than 99 per cent, with between 500 and 700 children tried in these courts each year (Quzmar n.d.). According to Adameer, economic exploitation is a key facet to entrenching Israel’s military occupation and administering its colonial regime to control, exploit and quell rebellion. Thus Palestinian families whose homes are given demolition orders are required to pay for the demolition; the family of an extrajudicial executed Palestinian is required to pay bail in order to have their body returned for burial; the military courts regularly impose severe fines on Palestinian prisoners for the sake of unfairly punishing and pressuring their families economically, another way of deriving financial profit from their incarceration: in 2016 alone, fines amounted to an average of half a million shekels ($145,000) per prisoner. Oftentimes, fines are imposed if a prisoner refuses to be strip searched or if they protest against poor living conditions inside prison (Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor 2017). In this regard, the colonial judicial system is another central building block in the systematic racialization and economic exploitation of the Palestinians.
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