Organized by the LSE Middle East Centre, on the 30th January 2020.
Speaker: Professor Abdel Razzaq Takriti, Director of the center for Arab Studies at the University of Houston, USA.
Chair: Director of the LSE Middle East Centre Dr Michael Mason
Decolonization and its meaning
To understand the topic discussed during this talk defining the term: “decolonization” is essential. When thinking about it, we realize that it is a word that we encounter in our daily lives, informs the Professor Adbel Razzaq Takriti, with such things as decolonizing universities and school curriculars. However, for Palestine the meaning is much different. The people of Palestine seek to take back the land it once possessed and push back Israeli colonization.
The word was first used as an alternative for “anti-colonialism”, which is seen as a negative term referring to the process that countries under colonial rule were experiencing. Professor Takriti affirms that a debate remains between scholars on the use of each term. Decolonization is seen as a modern word in the colonialist vocabulary, it also implies that “colonialism was forced upon people and not done by it’s on will”, he adds. In the Arab world, this term has been pushed even further calling it the “liberation”. This can be seen with the name of the body that represent Palestine, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, PLO. The notion of liberation can also be found in Syria with the Syria Islamic Liberation Front founded in 2012, which assembled the forces of all the rebel’s groups over the country into one movement. They wish to implement Islamic rule over Syria.
“I am not calling for the destruction of Israel. I am calling for the resurrection of Palestine, the reversal of colonialism.” Professor Abdel Razzaq Takriti.
The colonization of Palestine and its place in decolonization
The twentieth century was a difficult period in Israel-Palestinian relations. The year 1917 marked an official turning point when the Balfour Declaration was appointed. The British government promised the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. After the declaration Churchill added in a speech in 1922 “Is it essential to recognize that the Jewish people are in Palestine by right and not be tolerance”. By saying this he places the Palestinian people in a position of inferiority, it was brutal because even a great world power as Great Britain was allowing this colonization. The people of the land had no right to protest it. This all finalized in the proclamation of the State of Israel in 1948 in Tel-Aviv, resulting in the expulsion of thousands of Arabs from their land. French historian Alain Gresh argues that the Zionist colonisation resembles to some extent to the colonisation that took place in Africa or the USA and Canada over the natives. The reason of this parallel is because the colonials, here the people of Israel, are disregarding Palestinians by calling them native and retain their rights. The second similarity is their dependence on a colonial power, in this case; the United Kingdom. This juxtaposition is true to the extent that Palestinian are not passive in this colonization and have had a distinct plan to recreate a democratic society. Since the establishment of Israel and the colonization incited by the UK, Palestinians were no longer citizens of the land and had little rights. Professor Takriti sees this as revolutionary because it was never seen before. Even under Ottoman rule, Palestinians had an equal status of citizenship. In a world where decolonization starts to arise, with the independence of countries under colonial rule such as India, Morocco, Algeria, and Palestine can now identify with a world that was decolonizing. The reason for Palestinians to enter such a process it to give back fundamental rights to Palestinian people and to revive their land. He further argues that “decolonization cannot work if it is depoliticized and that is why there have to be an anti-colonial imaginary and therefore a national liberation” in the minds of the people who want change.
The obstacles for the Palestinian struggle
Professor Takriti follows by describing the struggles the people of Palestine will have to face before being able to achieve their project of decolonization. As mentioned before a parallel can be made between the situation encountered by Palestinians and other groups in the world such as the native Americans. The first struggle is its image. Indeed, the image of the Palestinian has been very controversial in world discussion. Some Zionists consider them terrorists due the acts during the Intifadas and the strong policies of some of its past leaders, while others consider them victims of the Israeli colonisation and support their demand for decolonization. The second struggle is the one of protection. Palestinians protection is seen as being disruptive due to the troubled past of its defence policies and rebellions against Israel. This resulted in the construction of the Annexation Wall on the land of the Occupied State of Palestine, the West Bank, in 2002, by the Israeli State. It restricted the movement of its people and portrayed Palestinians as terrorists who should be detained in a giant prison against their own will. Preceding this radical construction, the Israeli government’s army, the IDF, Israeli Defence Forces, were there to assist and protect their borders from potential attacks by Palestinians. The other struggle is the one of equality, the Palestinian people are demanding universal suffrage to have the same status as Israelis. They live under Israeli occupation and are not considered as Israeli citizens. Equality also refers to the share of resources, Israel has control over the decision of how resources are shared over the territory. The Palestinians have near to no say in the redistribution of those commodities. Finally, the speaker mentions the issue of chronophobia experienced by Palestinian leaders. He argues that those leaders are pressured by time and therefore make hasty decisions which will have long lasting consequences. Yasser Arafat is chosen as an example; he is said to have agreed with the Partition Plan too quickly, thinking that accepting this plan would be beneficial for his people. This led to the actual partition of Palestine into two un-linked parts: West Bank and Gaza.
The controversy around Palestinian solidarity
In the eyes of the international community the expulsion of the entire Palestinian population from their lands was seen as a refugee crisis. In 1948 the United nations signed the 194 resolution that stated, “refugees wishing to return to their houses and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so”. Therefore, allowing Palestinians to return to their homes. In the 1950’s the Palestinians also received specific refugee aid, but they refused it. They did not see themselves as refugees but as a nation that had been unwillingly displaced, informs the speaker. They considered themselves as a group with aspirations and ambitions to create a democratic society. Even though Palestinians refused the status of refugee, it is undeniable, they were victimized and therefore needed assistance. This led to international intervention and humanitarian aid, allowing the conflict being exposed even more to the world media. An example of humanitarian aid in the times of conflict occurred to support the refugee camp of Jenin situated in the West Bank. It was subject to a siege by the IDF in 2002. In result, the camp had been destroyed, the reason being that the camp hosted Arab terrorists that had organized attacks on Israel. Therefore, the United Nations Refugee and Works Agency launched humanitarian aid to the camp and provide emergency relief to the affected residents. Moreover, the current Prime Minister of Israel, Benyamin Netanyahu, has put in place an administrative to combat anti-colonialist epistemology in the Western World. Professor Takriti argues “that this has caused major problems for solidarities towards Palestine who are being accused of anti-Semitism”. Amidst the Western world this fear of being accused of anti ‘Semitism has been the main concern when providing aid to the region. This was proven when the United States cut all aid to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in 2019, in order to help the new anti-terrorism legislation in support of Israel. The US President Trump also ended all US funding to the UNRWA, a UN agency for Palestinian refugee, to which it was its main donor. However, the European Union persists its support and since 2000 has provided around €770 million to help Palestinians. Israel remains an internationally established and influent country in the world, it is also part of the United Nations.
The second controversy the speaker exposes was put forward by Robin Kelley, it concerns the intention of solidarity. Kelley acknowledges international solidarity but interrogated its intentions. Before the high mediatization of the Palestinian problem, solidarity towards Palestinians came from a will of common resistance, it was a message of hope. However, at present, the choice of solidarity is not influenced by personal convictions but by personal gain. This means that solidarity will always go to the victim of the situation. He warns that this can lead to a main problem, the start of a battle of who is the biggest victim between Israelis and Palestinians.
The goal of Israel
The end goal of the Israeli project is to reach the same situation as in the USA and Canada. This implies the overrule over the people to whom they colonized the land and “create some kind of small reservations where Palestinians live and have a form of independent governance”, adds Abdel Razzaq Takriti.
Further questions to think about
The central debate of the Israel Palestine problem, outlined by an attendee during the Q&A, “shouldn’t we see it from the other perspective and say that it was the Arabs and Palestinians that colonized the Jewish territory?”.
Another attendee, Geoffrey Ben Nathan, questioned the DNA of the people involved in this conflict: “Palestinians and Jews are related and are therefore one and same brotherhood». The speaker, Professor Takriti, argues against this idea saying, “Premise should be that a great injustice was done on Palestinians and not think about an imaginable fraternal starting point to resolve the problem”.
Natalia Vasnier, Undergraduate King's College London
Bhungalia, Lisa, "Environment and Planning A 2015, volume 47: Managing violence: aid, counterinsurgency, and the humanitarian present in Palestine". (2015).
Gresh, Alain, "Israël, Palestine : Vérité sur un conflit". (2010).
Latreille, Jean-Claude, "Regards sur le Levant : Les anciens du CHEAM et l’émancipation du Proche-Orient". (2000).
Pierret, Thomas, "Brothers in Alms: Salafi Financier and the Syrian Insurgency". (2018).
The Resolution 194. 1940. https://www.unrwa.org/content/resolution-194
Churchill speeches: https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/people/mr-winston-churchill/1922
Humanitarian aid in Palestine: https://ec.europa.eu/echo/where/middle-east/palestine_en
Palestinian territories and borders:https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-14630174
The Annexation Wall: https://www.un.org/unispal/document/auto-insert-199543/
Robin D. G. Kelley, Jack Amariglio & Lucas Wilson, “Solidarity Is Not a Market Exchange”: An RM Interview with Robin D. G. Kelley, Part 1, (2019).