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separation anxiety Arrow vol 6 no 2 contents
About borderlands volume 6 number 2, 2007



Separation Anxiety: Zionism, Colonialism, Messianism

Jon Stratton
Curtin University of Technology


It is sometimes called the Separation Wall. Its intention is to mark the divide between Israel and the Palestinians. I drafted this article about it sometime in 2004. Today, the Wall remains, though one of its most insistent instigators, Ariel Sharon, is no longer a political force. Ron Nachman, the mayor of Ariel, an illegal West Bank settlement, claims that Sharon had shown him a map with the line for the Wall as long ago as 1978. Somehow keeping Israelis and Palestinians apart has been a constant fantasy of the Israeli state, a fantasy born of the Zionist idea of a Jewish homeland and inflected with colonialist myths about the Palestinians and messianic myths of a Jewish return to the land bequeathed to Abraham. Here, I address some of these myths that have contributed to the building of the Wall. I have structured the article to show how these myths work, layer on layer each reinforcing the others. The Wall gives substance and permanence to these myths. The longer it stands the more it is understood as legitimating the myths that gave birth to it.


Building a Wall

1. The building of the Wall began in July 2002. It started in the north, near Jenin, in the fields of a village called Salem. Ostensibly a security project, the Wall was apparently first suggested by the military. Gush Shalom's pamphlet The Wall suggests that its origin lies in the unrest that followed the breakdown of the Camp David talks and Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (4). When suicide bombers began blowing themselves up in Israeli cities there was an increasingly general call among Israelis for greater protection from the Palestinian threat.

2. It seems - and phrases like this will appear through this article because the formal political origins of the Wall remain shrouded in secrecy, revealed only as unsubstantiated information - that, when the Wall was first mooted, it was supposed to follow the Green Line. This line, perhaps more correctly known as the 1949 Armistice Line, marks the internationally agreed distinguishing point at the end of the 1948-49 war precipitated at Israel's declaration of independence. It is worth noting here, and it will enter discussion later on, that Israel has never defined the boundaries of the Israeli state. De facto, then, the Green Line became institutionalised as one of Israel's borders. However, after the 1967 Six Day War, Israel had occupied the West Bank, formally under Jordan's rule, as well as the Sinai including the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights. In 1988 Jordan gave up its claim to the West Bank offering the possibility of a Palestinian state located, in the first instance, in the West Bank.

3. From an Israeli security point of view, then, the intent of the Wall was to separate Israelis from the Palestinians of the West Bank, disregarding and over-riding the increasingly intertwined economic, administrative and service institutions (roads, electricity, water) and personal connections which had ramified over thirty-five years of Israeli occupation. Making this disengagement more complicated still were the Israeli settlers (colonists?) in the West Bank. By 2001 there were approximately 140 Israeli settlements with a total population of around 130,000 people. Jeffrey Goldberg, in his article for The New Yorker, 'Among the Settlers,' gives a much higher figure of 'roughly two hundred and thirty-five thousand settlers in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip'. Much of this difference would seem to be due to the distinction between official and unofficial settlements. Goldberg gives a figure of 7,500 settlers for the Gaza Strip and writes that:

Perhaps three-quarters of the Jews in the West Bank and Gaza could be considered economic settlers. Many of them moved to the West Bank for benefits unattainable inside the pre-1967 borders of Israel: space, tax breaks, and mountain air. They are reliable supporters of right-wing parties, but many of them are secular in their outlook (2004).

He describes the remaining settlers, 'fifty thousand or so,' as 'coming to the territories for reasons of faith.' These, Goldberg writes, are Biblical literalists and, among them: 'The most hard-core settlers are impatient messianists, who profess indifference, even scorn, for the state; a faith in vigilantism; and loathing for the Arabs.' Had the Wall been constructed along the Green Line all these settlers would have been on the Palestinian side. It is no wonder, then, that they lobbied against the Wall.

4. As leader of Likud, Ariel Sharon was elected Prime Minister of Israel in February 2001. He was born in Palestine in 1928 at Kfar Malal and joined the Jewish defence organisation, Haganah, in 1942. He is a long-term supporter of settlements. It is said that he did not support the Wall, not, one suspects, for altruistic reasons connected with the Palestinians, but because the Wall would reinforce the 1949 limits to Israel and, in the process, problematise not only the defence of the West Bank settlements but even more their very existence. As it turned out, with Sharon's political input, the route of the Wall altered to include a number of 'fingers' into Palestinian land to include settlements on the Israeli side. In addition, in many places the line of the Wall has been shifted into Palestinian territory enclosing fertile land. The Wall estimates that the Wall will penetrate, at some points, up to twenty kilometres into the West Bank.

5. However, this is not the whole story. It may be that when the Wall was first envisioned it stretched from the Jordan River to the Dead Sea, thus securing access to Israel from within the West Bank. This is no longer the case. Present plans include an eastern element to the Wall. Indeed, now there are two walls, one in the north of the occupied territories and one in the south. What was a perimeter wall along the border of Israel has become two walls encircling the most densely populated areas of the West Bank. Israel will then control all the occupied land outside of the Wall and also control all entry and exit to the areas within the walls that constitute the Wall. As The Wall puts it, there will be '1.5 million people in the largest prison on earth.' Why does The Wall use this term 'prison'? Gush Shalom's pamphlet is against the building of the Wall and the writers know well that the Palestinians who will be walled in have done nothing wrong - except from the point of view of a Jewish-Israeli who believes in Greater Israel, in which case the very presence of the Palestinians on the land is transgressive. There are sites on the Web which describe the Wall as an instrument in the construction of an apartheid system and the enclosed areas as Palestinian versions of Bantustans. The problems here is that the interpretations of the Wall are always-already coloured and hence the task is to be critically aware of the various overdeterminations of the Wall.

6. Heterotopias, as Michael Foucault defines, always "presuppose a system of opening and closing that both isolates them and makes them penetrable" (1967). In changing the line of the Wall, Sharon, on behalf of Israel, has, to an important extent, changed the nature of the space on either side of it. A Wall along the Green Line which limited entry (and, of course, exit but that was of less concern for security) into Israel would have reinforced the idea of Israel as a state, a heterotopic space, which guarded its borders. However, a wall which encircles a space, which defines an inside from an outside space which surrounds it, produces a heterotopic space inside the wall. Control now is not so much about entry to the space barred by the wall, in this case Israel, but about exit from the space now defined as heterotopic, the space within the wall. In other words, and in relation to the Wall, a discursive construction of the Wall as a defensive measure has been replaced by the empirical construction of the Wall which makes of it an offensive measure defining not Israel but the area the Wall encircles as the heterotopic space, the space of Otherness. The unsaid here, the trauma which is being displaced and re-enacted, is the result of the impact of the modern form of spatialisation on the Jews of Europe, Europe's internal Other. Here, beyond the border of Europe, and beyond the established if not formally accepted border of Israel, Israel reproduces the heterotopia of the ghetto. Indeed, The Wall heads one section 'The Ghetto Revisited.'

7. At this point we might, very briefly, consider the resonance of the Holocaust on the construction of the Wall. Writing about how Israelis came to accept the Holocaust as a part of Jewish history Tom Segev, offers an insight into the way Jewish-Israelis came to identify with the Jews of the Holocaust:

In 1967, on the eve of the Six Day War, everyone spoke about the danger of the Arabs "exterminating Israel." The newspapers did not write that the Arabs would conquer the country or kill its citizens. The term used was the same one that described the Nazi genocide: extermination , thus speaking of a second Holocaust (2002: 102).

Segev goes on to explain that Egypt's President Gamal Abdal Nasser was characterised as Adolf Hitler and he describes how 'Consciousness of the Holocaust grew gradually until it became a central element in Israeli-Jewish identity' (2002: 102). Twenty-four years later, during the 1991 Gulf War:

The common assumption was that the missiles Iraq fired at Israel were equipped with German-made gas. Iraq's president, Saddam Hussein, was identified with Hitler (Segev, 2002: 104).

Even more relevant for my argument here, Esther Benbassa and Jean-Christophe Attias tell us that 'Binyamin Netanyahu described Arafat as a new Hitler' (2004: 16). As they go on to say, this is hardly a novel idea. The Wall, then, needs to be understood through this culturally-based Holocaust anxiety. It bears connotations not only of modern ghetto walls but of the walls of the ghettos the Nazis created, and of the fences of the concentration and death camps. It is no wonder, then, that Israeli-Jews would rather the Wall went around the Palestinians than around themselves.

8. But I am getting ahead of myself here. Let us think for a moment of the dimensions of this wall. Baha Abushaqra tells that it is eight metres or twenty five feet high and will now stretch for around 650 kilometres or 403 miles (2003). Much of the actual wall will be composed of concrete slabs with watchtowers. Some of the wall will have electrified fence and parts will have elaborate ditch constructions. All up, the wall is expected to cost between 1.5 billion U.S. Dollars ( The Wall ) and two billion U.S. Dollars (Abushaqra, 2003). Abushaqra estimates the cost per kilometre at roughly two million dollars. When it is finished around 45% of the West Bank territory will have been enclosed with Israel appropriating the remaining 55% on which, according to The Wall, 500,000 Palestinians will remain. These figures for the wall are huge. In height and length the wall is massive, and its cost, especially for a small country like Israel with a Gross Domestic Product in 2002 of 103 billion U.S. Dollars, is extraordinary. This disproportion between the height and length, and cost, of the wall and its original purpose helps to make clear why I am capitalising the term Wall.

9. My argument in this article is concerned with the semiotics of the Israeli wall, and how the wall fits into Israeli ways of thinking that we can identify as modern. [1] I argue that the actually existing wall that is being built is overdetermined, in a generalised Freudian sense, by the meanings associated with the Wall in the Israeli cultural imaginary. It is my intention to make a start on elaborating these meanings. I have already suggested the impact of the Holocaust on the way Israeli-Jews think about the Wall. Through this article I unpack the Wall further, suggesting its connections with Zionist, colonial, and messianic understandings. If the article appears a little disconnected, this is because I have constructed it so that each theme I discuss can be identified in its own right and then connected with the other themes to build to a more complex understanding of the ideological context for building the wall and the meanings that the wall has for those, both Israeli and Palestinian, who live within its long shadow.

Naming the Wall

10. For a 'fact on the ground,' to use an Israeli phrase, with such a material presence, it is remarkably hard to find a generally accepted descriptor for the Wall - something not surprising given the amount of overdetermination invested in it. Sharon, it appears, prefers the term 'fence' while Abushaqra writes that: 'It is being referred to as apartheid wall, transfer wall, separation wall and security fence' (2003). Each of these terms carries a set of connotations and, along with each set, a political freight: apartheid wall suggests the racial segregation, and white dominance, of South Africa; transfer wall refers back to the Balkan wars and ethnic cleansing; separation wall acknowledges the attempt to disentangle Israeli Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank; security fence refers to what appears to have been the original intent of the Wall, the protection of Israeli citizens from those Israel describes as terrorists, in particular, because they are so difficult to detect and can be so deadly, suicide bombers. Similarly, where 'wall' has a sense of absoluteness about it, and of permanence, 'fence' suggests something a little more permeable and a little more temporary. Houses have walls, gardens have fences (unless the houses are constantly being broken into) as do fields. At the same time, it was fences that surrounded the concentration and death camps. Calling the Wall a fence conjures fearful images of a Palestinian genocide. It is not without historical cause or present anxiety that the Palestinians have named the 1948 clearances al-Nakba, the Great Catastrophe or, indeed, the Holocaust. Such images of a Palestinian genocide, we shall see, are a constant presence for some Israelis. However, in non-Holocaust discourse, a 'fence' suggests something a little friendlier than a wall - no wonder Sharon, the long-term politician, should favour this term. Complementing this usage, Sharon's government describes the 'fence' as a 'temporary security measure.' One issue here is how long a temporary security measure might last for a state that has no defined border and which has occupied this territory defined only by an Armistice agreement for thirty-five years. What would be the circumstance which would lead Israel to take down this very expensive Wall?

11. Both walls and fences divide and distinguish. They mark a binary distinction. What all terms for the Wall have in common is the acceptance and entrenchment of difference. This fundamental structure of Othering is basic to European modernity and, within that, to the modern political organisation of the state. Edward Said has commented on the role of difference in Israeli thought:

As applied to "The Jewish People" or "The Land of Israel' difference takes many forms. Theologically, of course, "difference" here means "the chosen people' who have a different relationship to God from that enjoyed by any other group. But that sort of "difference" is, I confess, impossible for me to understand. On a purely secular plane, however, difference means the unique bond to the land of Palestine/Israel distinguishing Jews from all other peoples.... Inside Israel, the "difference" that counts is between Jew and Non-Jew (1994: 81-2).

Said here identifies three ways in which Israeli Jews think of difference. First, there is the Judaic claim to Jews being the people singled out and chosen by God. Second, there is the religious, and in secular terms Zionist, claim to the land of Israel by way of Biblical literalism. As we shall see, this suggestion is rather more complicated than Said implies when he describes it as 'purely secular'. Third, Said refers to the state-driven differentiation between 'Jew and 'Non-Jew', a division which works off the Zionist ideological distinction of settler, or in more general terms coloniser, and indigene. A feature of the ideological power of the Wall is that it combines all three modes of difference into a single image of Othering.

12. However, in expressing this general difference, the Wall does not provide a ground for legitimating what is on the non-Israeli side of it. This is clear in the shift from a linear to circular wall. Slavoj Zizek has written that:

The big mystery apropos of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is why does it persist for so long when everybody knows the only viable solution - the withdrawal of the Israelis from the West Bank and Gaza, the establishment of a Palestinian state, the renunciation by the Palestinians of the right of their refugees to return within the borders of pre-1967 Israel, as well as some kind of a compromise concerning Jerusalem? (2003).

We can begin to answer Zizek's question by way of an insight from Jacqueline Rose. She writes that, 'if you listen to one dominant rhetoric, it seems as if Israel cannot grant statehood to the Palestinians, not just because of felt real and present danger, but also because so great is the charge of fantasy against such a possibility that, were it to be granted, the nation would lose all inner rationale and psychically collapse in on itself' (1996: 4). One element of this charge is that the Israeli state defines itself against the Palestinian absence of a state. In this context, which will be examined in more detail below, the Wall can be understood as the insistent marker of a Zionism founded in modern assumptions that is rapidly losing its relevance.

13. At the core of Zionism was a settler rhetoric now increasingly thought of in terms of colonialism. Zionism was meaningful for the production of the state but does not speak to the experience of living in an already existing 'Jewish' state which is the present situation. Consequently, for that generation who still think in the ideological terms of settler Zionism, the Wall is an expression of the insistence that Israel is not yet a state, certainly not that paradox, the Zionist state.

14. In his 1999 book on postzionism Laurence Silberstein explains that:

In a general sense, postzionism is a term applied to a current set of critical positions that problematise Zionist discourse, and the historical narratives and social and cultural representations it produced. ... The growing use of the term postzionism is indicative of an increasing sense among many Israelis that the maps of meaning provided by Zionism are simply no longer adequate (1999: 2).

To account for this we can think of Zionism as a victim of its own success. Israel has existed as a state with a population of Jews for over fifty years now. Tom Segev notes that:

There are third- and fourth-generation Israelis; they speak Hebrew with their parents, go to the same schools their parents went to, serve in the same army units, have the same experiences. They have a common way of life, a common sense of humour, common expectations (2002: 14).

In short, to use Benedict Anderson's now well known expression, Israelis now experience themselves as an imagined community, that is, as a grouping of people who, through common understandings and assumptions about the world and their place in it, think of themselves as members of a community, in this case of Israel. [2] It is, then, little wonder that an ideology of pioneering colonialism should no longer be thought of by many of these people as relevant. From this point of view the Wall marks the assertion of the old, of Sharon's generation, against the new.

The Zionist Wall

15. There is a history of a Wall in Zionist thought. In The Jewish State, Theodor Herzl wrote of his hope that the Sultan would give Palestine to the Jews in return for the Jews' regulating Turkey's finances. Herzl goes on:

We should there form a portion of the rampart [wall] of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism. We should as a neutral State remain in contact with all Europe, which would have to guarantee our existence (1988: 96).

Herzl's view was typically nineteenth-century European - a binary structure of Othering which, in this case, thought of Arabs as 'Asians' and 'Asians' as the uncivilised Other when compared to civilised Europeans. In this thinking the Jews are Europeanised through the process of making a deal with Europe to protect the frontier, the border, of the new Jewish state in return for themselves being protected by Europe.

16. Herzl did not think of the 'Jewish problem' in racial terms. Even though the Jews were being increasingly racialised through the second half of the nineteenth century, and especially in Germany where Wilhelm Marr's The Victory of Jewry over Germandom was published in 1879. Herzl, who published the Jewish State in 1896, thought that the Jewish problem lay in Jews being a nation without a state. Consequently, if the Jews could have a state of their own anti-Semitism would disappear. With their own state on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean, Europe could be pushed into Asia and, there, the Zionist state could form one section of Europe's defence against barbarism.

17. Charles Price has described how the European colonies of the Pacific rim - his particular interest was California, British Columbia, New Zealand and Australia - passed legislation to exclude non-Europeans. He writes that after 1888, by which time all the relevant countries had restricted the entry of the Chinese, 'these young white nations of the Pacific gradually realised that there had been entering their domains other non-Europeans notably Indians and Japanese' (1974: 23). As a consequence, the restrictions that had been placed on the Chinese were extended to all other non-Europeans. The result, Price writes, was that by the 1920s-, 'The Great White Walls of the Pacific, in short, were solid, high and guarded' (1974: 24). Herzl saw the Jewish section of the Wall as protecting European civilisation but, with the racialisation of the Arabs, and the European racialisation of the Jews culminating in Nazi racial theory, it was inevitable that Israeli Jews would want to understand themselves as not only European but, as European, 'white' (I am here setting aside for one moment the Jewish racial hierarchy within Israel and emphasising the role of European, Ashkenazi Jews in the production of the Israeli cultural imaginary) as opposed to the 'Asian' Arabs.

18. If the Wall literalises Herzl's idea of the Zionist state as a bulwark against Asian barbarism it does so in the context of, and as an anxious, conservative response to, the increasing diversity of Israel's own population. At present, Israel's population is a little over six million. Of this 81% is Jewish according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics. However, this figure is challengeable depending on what definition of a Jew one is working with. Furthermore, within the Jewish population there is considerable racial diversity. For example, Israel now contains around 40,000 Falashas, Jews from Ethiopia who are racially similar to Ethiopians. Almost all the remaining 19% of the Israeli population are Arab citizens of Israel. There are, in addition, over 200,000 foreign guest workers in Israel, mostly from Romania, Thailand and the Philippines. If the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza strip are included in the Israeli figures then 'the number of Jews and Arabs between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea will be roughly equal by the end of the decade. By 2020, the Israeli demographer Sergio Della Pergola has predicted, Jews would make up less than 47% of the population (Goldberg, 2004). Goldberg sees the Wall as the effect of Sharon's recognition of this consequence if the Palestinians of the West Bank were to be assimilated into Israel.

19. Discussing the impact of terrorism in the aftermath of the September 11th - 2001- destruction - and referencing the heightened awareness and increased surveillance at entry points into Europe, Zizek writes: 'No wonder, then, that in a kind of echo of European unity, in June 2002, Israel started to raise the protective Wall against the West Bank's Arab settlements' (2002: 151). This comparison would have been better made in reference to Europe's growing concern over the illegal immigration of non-Europeans.

20. The second important reference to a wall in Zionist thinking is Vladimir Jabotinsky's two articles, 'The Iron Wall: We and the Arabs', first published in Russian in 1923 and the follow-up 'The Ethics of the Iron Wall,' also published in 1923. Jabotinsky was the founder of the Revisionist Zionism movement, a militant form of Zionism which saw no likelihood of Arab conciliation and came to advocate a policy of Israeli expansion into Eretz Israel and the domination of Jews over Arabs. Politically, Revisionist Zionism situated itself within Likud.

21. Seeing through Zionist ideology, Jabotinsky was absolutely clear that what was happening in Palestine was colonisation. He writes that:

Colonization itself has its own explanation, integral and inescapable, and understood by every Arab and every Jew with his wits about him. Colonization can have only one goal. For the Palestinian Arabs this goal is inadmissible (1923a).

Jabotinsky derives this recognition from a survey of European settlement. In all cases, he argues, 'the native resisted both barbarian and civilized settler with the same degree of cruelty' (1923a). That is, the indigene always resists any attempt to take their land and they do so, and here Jabotinsky shows himself a man of his time, with the cruelty that marks a lack of civilization.

22. In common with Herzl and European orientalism, Jabotinsky thought of the Arabs as uncivilised: 'Culturally they are 500 years behind us, spiritually they do not have our endurance or our strength of will' (1923a). Here, the 'our' is ambiguous. Is it 'we, Europeans' or 'we, Jews'? The answer would seem to be both. Othered within Europe, and now positioned on the geographical frontier, Jews allow themselves to think that they are European as compared to those Othered outside of Europe, in this case the Arabs. Indeed, as Avi Shlaim writes:

Zionism was conceived by Jabotinsky not as the return of the Jews to their spiritual homeland but as an offshoot or implant of Western civilization in the East. This worldview translated into a geostrategic conception in which Zionism was to be permanently allied with European colonialism against all the Arabs of the eastern Mediterranean (2001: 12).

This view is very similar to Herzl's already outlined.

23. For Jabotinsky the Jewish colonial enterprise was morally just. Not, however, for Biblical reasons. In 'The Ethics of the Iron Wall' he argues that while there are 15 million Jews without a homeland there are 38 million Arabs inhabiting Morocco, Algeria, Tunis, Tripoli, Egypt, Syria, Arabia and Iraq. He calculates that there are sixteen Arabs per square mile across all this land as compared to 352 people per square mile in Sicily and 669 people per square mile in England. On these numbers Jabotinsky goes on to assert that:

The soil does not belong to those who possess land in excess but to those who do not possess any. It is an act of simple justice to alienate part of their land from those nations who are numbered among the great landowners of the world, in order to provide a refuge for a homeless, wandering people (1923b).

Jabotinsky's claim here is a special case of a more general nineteenth-century European argument to justify settler colonialism which was based in the assertion that European countries were overcrowded and that settler colonies were one way of relieving the pressure of land within Europe. The Nazi preoccupation with Lebensraum in the East was a late version of this.

24. The justice of the case aside, Jabotinsky was certain that the Arabs would not voluntarily give Palestine to the Jews. Consequently, the solution was to occupy the land with the backing of as much military might as possible. Such a massive display of force was the only way to bring the Arabs to the negotiating table. He explains:

A living people makes such enormous concessions on such fateful questions only when there is no hope left. Only when not a single breach is visible in the iron wall, only then do extreme groups lose their sway, and influence transfers to moderate groups (1923a).

Jabotinsky's iron wall is a metaphor for the military might necessary to cow the Palestinians into submission. As Shlaim argues, the influence of Jabotinsky's ideas can be found in the very significantly excessive fire-power of the Israeli army as compared to that of Israel's Arab neighbours (2001).

The Colonial Wall

25. While the Wall was originally conceived as a defensive project, its reconfiguration to encircle the West Bank Arabs while appropriating much of their land reworks it as an offensive measure as, indeed, a concrete expression of Jabotinsky's iron wall. That iron wall and this actual, concrete wall also both function as the site of the binary divide between coloniser and colonised. In the case of Israel, the colonial Other outside the Wall - or, perhaps, inside the ghetto - is the same as the indigenous Other within the colonial state of Israel. More, the homogeneity of the Palestinian Other within and outside of the state imposed on the land has meant that the understanding of the internal Other as indigenous is extended to the Palestinians outside of Israel, certainly to those in the occupied territories. Zionists, of course, liked to argue, with Biblical reference, that the Jews had prior claim to Palestine, that they were more the original people than the Arabs, and therefore that they were not colonists. The complexity of this position is well brought out in an anecdote of Segev's. He writes that during inter-World War period of the British Mandate:

Zionist leaders in Palestine were furious at British administrators who classified them as natives , an insulting colonialist term. The Zionists maintained that the natives were the Arabs; they, the Zionists, represented European culture (2002: 33).

While the Zionists' ideological position was that they were returning to the land of their ancestors, like Jabotinsky, their practical position was that they were displacing the established occupants of the land.

26. Terry Goldie has written an important book on settler colonialism's understanding of the indigene with reference to Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. There are commonalities in the situations of indigenous peoples across the colonies of the modern nation-state. We can apply some of Goldie's insights to the situation under discussion. He sums up the problem this way:

The white Canadian looks at the Indian. The Indian is Other and therefore alien. But the Indian is indigenous and therefore cannot be alien. So the Canadian must be alien. But how can the Canadian be alien within Canada? (1989: 12)

Here we substitute Jew for Canadian and Palestinian for Indian. The further, Zionist reassurance in answer to the final question comes from a literal reading of the Torah. This, in turn, opens the way for the religious Zionist's and the messianists' claims to the land, or by now the Land, of Israel.

27. Goldie argues that there are two possible strategies for resolving the paradox he identifies: 'The white culture can attempt to incorporate the Other.... [or] the white culture may reject the indigene: "This country really began with the arrival of the whites"' (1989: 12). These two general possibilities for action parallel Richard Terdiman's suggestion, which Goldie quotes, that there are:

two symmetrical figures for representing the confrontation with the Other. These might be termed penetration (the forcible imposition of the dominator and his discursive system within the dominated space) and appropriation (the consumption enforced by the dominator of what belongs to the dominated). (1989: 15)

Increasingly, as race has been delinked from evolutionary theory, particularly from the 1950s and 1960s, settler states have shifted their attitudes towards the local indigenes from rejection and penetration to incorporation and appropriation. However, this has not happened in Israel - at least, not in the discursive areas where Zionism remains dominant. Incorporation and appropriation imply a certain recognition of the indigene and also the preparedness for a certain degree of hybridization determined by colonial dominance. Zionist ideology asserts that Israel should be the Jewish state, a state for Jews bonded and bounded by the Jewish culture. As a consequence, rejection and penetration of the Palestinians and their culture continues to be the Zionist-driven attitude. Here, though, I must briefly signal a caveat. Postzionism, which is related to the development of an Israeli culture and which considers that Zionism is no longer relevant, has, like the culture of which it is a manifestation, moved towards greater accommodation and synthesis with Palestinian Arab culture.

28. Shlaim argues that the principal focus of the early Zionists was the situation of the Jews in Europe. In regards to the Arab population in Palestine: 'Although vaguely aware of the problem, they underestimated its seriousness and hoped that a solution would be found in due course' (2001: 4). European orientalism provided the general context that allowed for such a dismissive attitude. Identifying the binary structure inherent in the process of European Othering, Said writes that:

The Orient was overvalued for its pantheism, its spirituality, its stability, its longevity, its primitivism, and so forth. .... Yet almost without exception such overestimation was followed by a counter-response: the Orient suddenly appeared lamentably under-humanized, antidemocratic, backward, barbaric, and so forth (in Goldie 1989: 11).

As with other places where settler colonialism was practised, the situation of the indigenous people in Palestine was not seriously taken into account by the settlers.

29. At its extreme, the settler ideal discounted the indigene to the point of non-existence. In Australia, for example, the land was claimed to be terra nullius (Reynolds, 1987). Norman Finkelstein has discussed this mythic construction under the heading 'The Virgin Land or 'Wilderness' Myth' and referred it to Zionist understandings of Palestine including Israel Zangwill's now notorious slogan: 'A land without people for a people without a land' (2001: 89-102). The most egregious use of this myth, though, in respect of Palestine came as late as 1984 with the publication of Joan Peters' book, From Time Immemorial. As Finkelstein observes:

A significant proportion of the 700,000 Arabs residing in the part of Palestine that became Israel in 1949 had only recently settled there, and that they had emigrated to Palestine only because of the economic opportunities generated by Zionist settlement. Therefore, Peters claims, the industrious Jewish immigrants had as much, if not more, right to the territory than the Palestinian 'newcomers' (Finkelstein, 2001: 23)

In these terms, we can see that the thesis is a variant on the Zionist fantasy, combated by Jabotinsky, that the Arabs in Palestine would gladly accept the Jewish presence because it would raise the quality of life and provide new opportunities. Finkelstein has comprehensively demolished the 'learning' on which this book claims to be based, describing it as 'among the most spectacular frauds ever published on the Arab-Israeli conflict' (2001: 22). It is even possible that the book was deliberately concocted by elements associated with Israel to undermine the Palestinian cause. On release the book had gained rave reviews and included a blurb by highly respected Holocaust historian, Lucy Dawidowicz. Finkelstein described the difficulty he had publishing his critique of the book. The point here is about the amount of acceptance still given to the rejection and penetration discourse in respect of Israel. [3]

30. Goldie argues that regardless of whether rejection and penetration or incorporation and appropriation is the dominant discourse there are certain fundamental tropes used in settler societies to characterise the indigene. The two most important are sex and violence. As he puts it, these 'are poles of attraction and repulsion, temptation by the dusky maiden and fear of the demonic violence of the fiendish warrior' (1989: 15). Goldie asks; 'Could one create a more appropriate signifier for fear than the treacherous redskin? He incorporates, in generous quantities, the terror of the impassioned, uncontrolled spirit of evil' (1989: 15). For Israel though, the Palestinian Arab is constructed with these same qualities. Thus, for example Finkelstein, summarising Anita Shapira in Land and Power , writes that:

As the conflict between the Jewish settlers and the indigenous Arab population reached new peaks of violence in 1929 and 1936, the labor Zionist press 'endlessly' denounced the Arabs as 'murderers', 'bands of robbers', bloodthirsty rioters', 'desert jackals', 'highway robbers', 'treacherous murderers', 'barbarians', 'savages', 'shedders of blood', etc (2001: 112).

Finkelstein tells us that in The Jews and their Land, published in 1966, Israel's second president, Izhak Ben-Zui, comments that '[t]he Arabs, generally cast as Bedouins, are variously depicted as 'ransacking', 'looting', 'pillaging', 'robbing', 'cheating', 'vandalizing', 'plundering', or 'terrorizing' the Jews' (2001: 96). Picking through these epithets, we find the characteristic construction of the indigene as emphasised through the discourse of rejection and penetration: the indigene as barbarously primitive and as a treacherous murderer.

31. These same constructions are still being used, most outspokenly by the religious far right. Goldberg quotes Moshe Feiglin, the head of the Jewish Leadership bloc within Likud and the man credited with ensuring the defeat of Sharon's referendum on disengagement from the Gaza Strip:

You can't teach a monkey to speak and you can't teach an Arab to be democratic. You're dealing with a culture of thieves and robbers. Muhammad, their prophet, was a robber and a killer and a liar. The Arab destroys everything he touches (Goldberg 2004).

Even more extreme, and exemplifying the supernatural quality to which Goldie implicitly adverts, is this comment from Effie Eitam, described by Goldberg as 'a hard-edged former general who leads the National Religious Party', a coalition partner in Sharon's government:

I don't call these people animals. These are creatures who once came out of the depths of darkness. It is not by chance that the State of Israel got the mission to pave the way for the rest of the world, to militarily get rid of these dark forces (Goldberg, 2004).

Here, the rhetoric of messianic Zionism is combined with the discourse of the Othered indigene. Eitam is Sharon's housing minister.

32. We can take this construction of the colonised indigene a step further. Goldie quotes Sander Gilman describing how, '[t]he "bad" Other becomes the negative stereotype ... that which we fear to become' (1989: 15). Finkelstein discusses The Seventh Day which he describes as '[a] canonical text of labor Zionism's distinctive ethos,' 'an oral history of the June 1967 war based on the 'soldiers' talk' of 'a group of young kibbutz members'' (2001: 114). Finkelstein finds the moral concerns expressed by the soldiers to be self-serving. He writes that:

The ethical qualms of The Seventh Day arise not from what Israel may have done to the Arabs, however, but from what it may have done to itself. Indeed, the soldier is seen as the war's salient victim, the one truly deserving of pity (2001: 115).

Finkelstein goes on to compare these feelings with those expressed by Himmler whilst overseeing the Holocaust and Rudolf Hess, the commandant of Auschwitz, both of whom worried about the effects of so much killing on themselves and their subordinates. While the anxieties are expressed in relation to the acts committed, the fear would seem to lie elsewhere - in the potential for a brutalization of the self that might turn the self into a combination of the negative Other such as the Nazis had constructed the Jews weak, vacillating, racially inferior, and as the Zionist Jews of Israel had constructed the Arab barbarous, treacherous, murderous. Gilman suggests that we construct the 'bad' Other as the embodiment of our greatest fears about what we might become.

33. If Israeli Jews have incessantly and obsessively constructed the negative image of the violent, male, Arab, the opposite is the case in regards to that other trope that Goldie identifies - sex. Goldie discusses the image of problematic desire, 'the Indian maiden, who tempts the being chained by civilization towards the liberation represented by free and open sexuality, not the realm of untamed evil but of unrestrained joy' (1989: 15). This is the overdetermined desire for the Other - male desire for the female Other, such as Gustave Flaubert's now often commented upon libidinous interest in the Egyptian courtesan, Kuchuk Hanem. Even though neither statistics nor institutional forms such a marriage can fully account for desire, one index of Israeli-Jewish and Arab desire might be found in mixed marriages. However Israel only allows Jews to marry non-Jews if one or other partner converts. The intermarriage rate in Israel is around five per cent but most of these marriages are to Russian migrants suggesting that the intermarriage rate for Israeli Jews and Arabs is negligible.

34. Any discussion of sex between Israeli-Jews and Arabs is silenced. [4] An Israeli sensibility, at least that of right-wing settlers, can be found in Goldberg's article. He describes watching an encounter in Hebron. Two Arab girls were walking towards a group of Yeshiva boys. One boy yells out 'cunts,' another: 'Do you let your brothers fuck you?' The comments were made in Arabic. This violent verbal assault, carried out in the language of the indigene, can be read as simultaneously expressing the involvement of the coloniser - the use of the indigene's language - and the assertion of a separation between coloniser and colonised, in the abuse heaped on the Arab girls. The episode suggests a feared incorporation and appropriation. It focuses on the sexuality of the girls. First of all, the shouts highlight the girls' sexual organs using a denigratory term. By this means the girls are reduced to degraded sex objects. Do we have here the Israeli-Jewish (male) desire that cannot speak its name? This name-calling is followed by a suggestion that provides an image of transgressive, incestuous desire. This can be read as suggesting the displacement of another transgressive desire, that of these Israeli-Jewish boys for these Arab girls. The amount of vitriol in the attack is a cover for the boys' libidinous feelings of which they are no doubt not even aware. In Orientalism, and following on from his discussion of Flaubert's description of Kuchuk Hanem, Said muses rhetorically: 'Why the Orient seems still to suggest not only fecundity but also sexual promise (and threat), untiring sensuality, unlimited desire, deep generative energies, is something on which one could speculate' (1978: 188). Zionism in its various forms legitimates the construction of the Palestinian male in the trope of violence but absolutely disavows the construction of the Palestinian woman in the trope of the sexualised object of male colonial sexual desire.

The Messianic Wall

35. There are now around seven thousand Jewish settlers in Kiryat Arba, just north-east of Hebron (Goldberg 2004). A few more live in Hebron itself. The encircling Wall will place Kiryat Arba on the outside - if we think of the Palestinians on the inside. The key to recognising the messianic quality of the Wall is the realisation of the extent to which Zionism has been experienced as a secular version of Jewish messianism. Gershom Scholem has argued that, in contrast to Christianity, Judaism:

in all its forms and manifestations, has always maintained a concept of redemption as an event which takes place publicly, on the stage of history and within the community. It is an occurrence which takes place in the visible world and which cannot be conceived apart from such a visible appearance (1971: 1).

A crucial element in this public and historical redemption has been the return of the Jews to the land covenanted to them by God. In this formulation the land takes on a spiritually charged quality and is understood as Eretz Israel, the Land of Israel.

36. Scholem goes on to explain that:

When the Messianic idea appears as a living force in the world of Judaism ... it always occurs in the closest connection with apocalypticism. In these instances the Messianic idea constitutes both a content of religious faith and also living, acute anticipation (1971: 4).

In this context we need to remember that the movement of which Herzl is placed at the head did not start with him. The Hovevei Zion, Lovers of Zion, movement had begun in 1881 in Russia as a reaction to the increasing numbers of pogroms and general persecution. Leo Pinsker published his pamphlet, 'Auto-emancipation,' in 1882. Pinsker advocated migration from Russia. Nathan Birnbaum, in Vienna, coined the term 'Zionism' in 1885. Like the Hovevei Zion movement, Birnbaum wanted a return to the Land of Israel. Herzl's publication of Der Judenstaat in 1896 came relatively late. Herzl, the secularist advocating a political solution, was prepared to countenance settling Jews on available land in Argentina or Uganda.

37. Herzl convened the First Zionist Congress in 1897. His aim was to bring together the various groups pushing for migration as a solution to the Jewish situation in Europe. Herzl died in 1904 and at the Seventh Zionist Congress in 1905 a motion was passed that nowhere except Palestine would be considered for a Jewish national homeland. Zangwill, true to Herzl's ideas, left the Congress and formed the Jewish Territorial Association. While Zionism owes a great deal to Herzl's political and organisational skills it is clear that, after his death, the Zionist movement was reconstructed as a more or less secular version of a Jewish messianic movement, a movement which, ironically, took the now dead Herzl as its 'Messiah'. When David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel in 1949 he had a picture of Herzl hanging above his head (Zerubavel, 1995: 13). This acknowledgement brought together Herzl the secular Zionist leader and the role the dead Herzl was given as messianic redeemer.

38. One exemplification of secular Zionist messianism is in the Zionist attitude to the Balfour Declaration. Balfour's letter to Lord Rothschild on November 17 th , 1917, in which Balfour writes that: 'His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,' has become constructed in Zionism as the modern, nationalist version of the biblical Covenant. Where, in Genesis 17.8, God says to Abram, who he renames Abraham: 'And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land in which thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God,' now the British Foreign Secretary stands in for God. Better, Balfour is thought of as God's representative, and Britain, and subsequently the United States, gets positioned as the state equivalent of God, the great power which guarantees Israel's right to existence in Palestine.

39. Baruch Kimmerling discusses the messianic aspect of Zionism in a book review for

It's true that Israel was envisioned and created by secular socialists and liberals. At the same time, the Zionist movement was essentially a religious-messianic one. This is why it aroused the antagonism of European Jewish Orthodoxy prior to the Holocaust and World War 2. It was not incidental that the founders of the state chose the Holy Land, nor is it by chance that the major symbols of the state were selectively borrowed from the Jewish religion. The Bible was always perceived by both Jews - even the atheist ones - and many non-Jews as the "charter" of the Jewish people, justifying their claims over a land already populated by a native people (2004).

Making a similar point, Yael Zerubavel writes that:

Hebrew culture from the prestate period suggests that this shift from the religious to the national was pervasive. This was clearly manifested in the transformation of biblical or traditional allusions to God into a reference to the people of Israel! (1995: 24)

Zerubavel wants to describe the secularisation of Judaic imagery as a contribution to the establishment of a Jewish state. However, what we can read from her description is how the Jewish state itself, for all its claimed secularism, became invested with the spiritual charge of messianic apocalypticism.

40. As an apocalyptic manifestation it is, then, no wonder that Israel has never formally identified its borders. Nor should it be surprising that it has never made peace with the Palestinians even though, as I have already quoted Zizek remarking, 'everybody knows the only viable solution.' Segev quotes A.G. Yehoshua, his old teacher, from a book Yehoshua published in 1980: 'When peace comes and the normative framework of the State of Israel wins the final recognition of the community of nations, and especially of the people of the region in which we live, we will know that normality is not pejorative' (in Segev, 2002: 5). Why might normality be thought to be pejorative? Because the normal state is not invested with the apocalyptic charge. From within the apocalyptic experience the normal, the everyday, is felt as lacking. Segev quotes Aliza Badmor who had been a member of the secular Greater Israel movement which was founded in 1967 after the war. She describes how they used to go on hikes: 'We internalized the land as a total experience' (quoted in Segev, 2002: 120). Badmor describes how this gave way later to 'coping with life itself, and coping with life itself is, among other things, discerning shades, complexities, and perhaps more than that' (in Segev, 2002: 120), in other words dealing with the everyday, the normal. While 'war' as the opposite of peace, exists with the Palestinians, Israel can be said to be still in the process of coming into being, Zionism still has its apocalyptic cause. Peace would strip Israel, and Zionism, of its apocalyptic meaning. From this point of view the messianic settlements on the West Bank are simply the extreme end of a spectrum which includes labor Zionism, and postzionism can be understood as the non-apocalyptic, normalising, manifestation of the Israeli imagined community - rather than of the Jewish state.

41. But what of the Wall? In his discussion of the importance of apocalypse in American literature, Douglas Robinson writes that:

In theological studies of the apocalypse, a distinction is normally made between the broad category of eschatology, or doctrines about the last things, and the narrower category of the apocalyptic, a branch of eschatology that stands alongside the ethical eschatology of Old Testament prophecy, definitively seeking to explore the unveiling of the future in the present, the encroachment of a radically new order into a historical situation that has descended into chaos (xii, original italics).

Robinson goes on to tell us that: 'The root meaning of the eschaton, however, is not in fact the last things but the "furthermost boundary," the "ultimate edge" in time or space' (xii, original italics). In an Israeli discourse where the state is an apocalyptic manifestation, the Wall marks the limits of that manifestation in both time and space. Beyond the Wall lies the chaos of the ordinary, that is, in Yehoshua's word the normal, world. It is the world of the Palestinians, full, in Israeli discourse, of murderers, robbers and even, possibly, incestuous siblings - that is, a world without patriarchal Law, without society. In secular terms this is the Hobbesian pre-social contract world of the war of all against all, the world where there is no effective authority, no state. On the Israeli side of the Wall is the Israeli state, still coming into being according to Zionist rhetoric, a haven for all the Jews of the world and according to the messianic settlers who live on the land protected by the Wall, existing on Eretz Israel. In Judaic terms, this is the Land God the patriarch gave to the Jews, the Land where God's patriarchal Law should order all things.

42. The Palestinian wall is thoroughly overdetermined. I have discussed here some of the most important aspects of that overdetermination but there are others. That the most potent Jewish relic is a wall, the western wall of the Second Temple, should not be forgotten. More, Segev writes that: 'A few months after the British conquered Palestine, the Zionist movement made an attempt to buy the Western Wall from its Arab owners' (2002: 82). Michel de Certeau reminds us of a Midrash: 'Praying is speaking to the wall' (1986: 51). The Western Wall has a sacred quality and it has always been at the political heart of Israeli nationalism. In another place, discussing Jewish religious resistance to Zionism, Segev mentions, 'the Talmudic injunction not to "mount the wall" - which was taken to mean a prohibition against organizing mass immigration to the Holy Land' (2002: 18). The wall is a central trope in Jewish thought. Here, I have discussed three of the more powerful contributions to the ideology of the Palestinian wall. Walls separate but they also mark an end. The Palestinian wall makes apparent many of the assumptions and anxieties that have driven Zionist practice. The Wall marks the limit, perhaps the end of that world. Hopefully, the destruction of the wall will mark the beginning of another, non-Zionist, non-colonialist, non-apocalyptic, world.


Jon Stratton is Professor of Cultural Studies at Curtin University of Technology, Perth. He has published widely on issues related to Cultural Studies and Jewish Studies. His most recent book is Coming Out Jewish: Constructing Ambivalent Identities (Routledge: 2000). Email:


[1] Recently, Deborah Pike has discussed the Wall from a hermeneutic perspective, in particular through the work of Gaston Bachelard. Bachelard, she writes, 'ponders modernity's obsession with circumscription and what he terms, 'geometrism'' (Pike, 2006: para 2). Pike argues that 'Sharon's Wall in Israel/Palestine is a manifestation of this obsession with geometrism' (2006: para 2) and she concludes that 'by inaugurating a division between inside and outside, architecture, in this instance, becomes a weapon of warfare, an incursion' (2006: para 32). Nicholas Mirzoeff sees the wall in a larger perspective. He revises Michel Foucault's argument that the modern, disciplinary society replaced the use of spectacular punishment and social excision arguing instead that, 'if that disciplinary power is considered in the full context of slavery and colonialism that generated and supported it, it will come to be understood as always contested by, and in conflict with, the practices of deportation and spectacular punishment that Foucault claimed it had replaced' (2005: 119). In this context, Mirzoeff suggests that at this time when Western societies feel that the prerogatives of the nation-state are being undermined by 'the combined effects of digital technology and globalization' (2005: 119) there has been a reversion to the older practices that were marginalised but which never went away. Mirzoeff sees the Israeli wall in this light as he also sees the wall built by the Americans along the border with Mexico to keep out Mexican illegal migrants. Both Pike and Mirzoeff's arguments are important. Mirzoeff's especially for its implications for the ways that other Western countries (such as Australia) treat asylum seekers and individuals and groups not granted full citizenship.

[2] Benedict Anderson developed the term 'imagined community' as a way of describing how the nation thinks about itself in Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism.

[3] For comparison, when, in 2002, the Australian historian Keith Windschuttle published The Fabrication of Aboriginal History in which he claimed that there was little violence against Aborigines during white settlement and that, indeed, the total estimated number of indigenes in Australia had been grossly exaggerated, there was an immediate outcry and many anthropologists and historians published rebuttals. Robert Manne edited a collection entitled Whitewash: on Keith Windschuttle's Fabrication of Aboriginal History . Even with the strong movement to the right in Australian politics, the rejection and penetration discourse has regained little acceptance.

[4] A sense of how transgressive the idea is can be ascertained from a trawl of the net. The only item I could find was American, a piece in the Duke University online student humour magazine, Malignant Humor. The article is entitled 'Peace Can Only Be Achieved by Israeli-Palestinian Fucking'. The article purports to quote Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat advocating this solution and has Arafat lusting after Dalia Itzik who was, until November 2002, the Israeli Industry and Trade Minister. The model for the discussion is clearly the American construction of race and the associated American anxieties over inter-racial sex. The article's humour comes from the shock of the idea of Israeli-Jewish and Arab sex, all the more so when apparently sanctioned by leading Israeli and Palestinian politicians - one wonders why Peres was chosen rather than Sharon; perhaps this would have stretched even humorous suspension of disbelief too far. The article is, of course, American rather than Israeli.


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