Beyond the Settler State: Anticolonial Pasts and Futures in Palestine/Israel on The Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Crimes Against Humanity


Sarah Ihmoud: My question is my first question, why has holocaust and genocide studies been so reluctant to call what is happening in Palestine a genocide? And what do you see as the intellectual and ethical task of scholars of mass violence in this moment?

Raz Segal: Actually, I think that I see significant change in the treatment of Israeli state violence. Apartheid policies and settler colonialism within Holocaust and Genocide Studies. This change has taken a long time and many- I think- will continue to push back, but our conversation today, for instance, organized by a center in this field of study, seems to me a part of this shift.

There’s also clear indications of this shift in scholarly journals and Holocaust and Genocide Studies. I can mention here two book forms published in recent years in the Journal of Genocide Research; one on the co-edited volume by Dr. Amos Goldberg and Dr. Bashir Bashir on the intertwined histories and memories of the Holocaust and the Nakaba, and another one- Dr. Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian’s last book on the Structural Everyday Brutalities of Israeli authorities against Palestinian children and youth, which she calls dechilding.

I think it was very significant that in both forms, in the Journal of Genocide Research, we saw multiple perspectives that demonstrate the great extent to which discussions about Israel, about Palestine, offer opportunities to delve into key issues in questions in holocaust and genocide studies. 

… And with Palestinians- as a group that has faced and is facing the longest ever experience of forced displacement, the refusal of return to their villages, their towns, their cities, their homeland- Palestinian history is indeed central, I think, in holocaust and genocide studies, and becoming more and more so.

Finally, I want to mention that the fact that some institutes of global holocaust memory- and I’m thinking particularly here about the International Holocaust Rememberence Alliance, the IHRA- that these institutes have weaponized the discourse around antisemitism to shift the focus of the struggle against antisemitism away from Jews around the world, and only on to Israel. This effort, I think, has backfired and actually contributed to the centering of Israel and Palestine in holocaust and genocide studies.

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Lecture by Prof. Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian at Queen Mary University of London

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Whereas the colonial nature of Jerusalem Light Festival is “light”… the actions and graffiti of [Price Tag] can hardly be more overt. The Graffiti constitutes a more extreme and genocidal formal aesthetic violence, reflecting and foreshadowing actual acts of brutality.

… The colonial practice of marking, of stripping, and maiming the body, through various modes of sensory violence demonstrates that the colonised city is a space of exterminability.

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The Biopolitics of Israeli Settler Colonialism: Palestinian Bedouin Children Theorise the Present (Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, April 2016)

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In the unrecognised Bedouin villages in the Naqab, Palestinians suffer from state negligence, deprived of equal representation and access to essential services like healthcare and education. Whereas previous scholarship points to cultural, lifestyle, or societal conditions to account for the trends of poor health and education in Bedouin communities, this article seeks to identify the underlying structures of dispossession that produce everyday obstacles to the livelihoods of Palestinian children. Student dropout rates or socially threatening behavior amongst Bedouin children is misrepresented as stemming from Bedouin society rather than from biopolitical attempts to use children as politicised tools within a settler colonial society. In analyzing Israeli policy and testimonies collected from children living under these conditions, I argue that the advancement of a culture of blaming for this exploitation and impoverishment furthers eliminatory efforts against native Palestinians and reveals the culpability of the state in the technologies of violence in the lives of Bedouin children.

… Reading children’s insights and experiences uncovers challenges to the permanency of their subordination and disappearance. I came to realise and identify the intersecting logic and tactics of Israeli settler colonial domination over years of interviews and studies with Palestinian families and children experiencing it in their everyday, ordinary lives. These constitutive forces, and the voices of those speaking back to them, emphasise the totality of the Israeli state’s settler colonial techniques of oppression. The children I spoke with, while encountering this logic on a daily basis, continue to resist and refuse the dispossession of their land and homes and the impoverishment of their families and communities. Thus while elimination, Orientalism, and racial logic govern their lives, they find space within the structures of settler colonialism to grow, to think and to imagine something else.

Failing to acknowledge children as political entities that are used and abused by the settler colonial regime, and failing to uphold their right to resist, could shift how we see the colonised aspiration for decolonisation. This blurred lens would privilege the terms of liberal recognition of the Bedouin asan ‘ethnic minority’ in the ‘democratic’ Jewish state. The move from decolonisation, as requested and envisioned by Palestinian children, to recognition instead, presumes we should accept the state’s genocidal logic as part of mundane, local, and global (racial) governance.

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Sexual Violence, Women’s Bodies, and Israeli Settler Colonialism by Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, Sarah Ihmoud and Suhad Dahir-Nashif

Sexual Violence and Palestinian Genocide Since the Nakba

Understanding the intensified attacks on Palestinian women’s bodies in times of heightened attacks by the settler colonial regime requires a feminist analysis. Such an analysis takes the Nakba as its analytical point of departure. Israel was built on the ruins of the Palestinian homeland, on its land, pain, and displacement.  It was built on the destruction of our communal social ties, the violation and invasion of our homes and bodies.

Rape and killing of Palestinian women was a central aspect of Israeli troops’ systematic massacres and evictions during the destruction of Palestinian villages in 1948. During the Deir Yassin massacre, for instance:

All the inhabitants were ordered into the village square. Here, they were lined up against a wall and shot.  One eyewitness said her sister, who was nine months pregnant, was shot in the back of the neck. Her assailants then cut open her stomach with a butcher’s knife and extracted the unborn baby. When an Arab woman tried to take the baby, she was shot…Women were raped before the eyes of their children before being murdered and dumped down the well…

Thus our struggle for indigenous sovereignty within anti-colonial activism as feminists is necessarily situated in the protection of Palestinian women’s bodily safety and sexuality, family, and communal right to life. It is a struggle against the hypermasculine Zionist military and settler apparatuses that frame Palestinian women as inherently threatening racialized Others whose bodies must be violated and destroyed as the internal enemy and “reproducers of Palestinians.” This logic is inseparable from the settler colonial logic of elimination.

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