Seventy years after the Nakba, Israel has not succeeded in erasing Palestine — or the Palestinians.
After seven decades of attempting to replace one people with another, Zionism faces the unsustainability of such a project in the 21st century. . . . It is losing that battle today, which is a cause for optimism for those who seek peace with justice for Palestinians and Israelis.
With the replacement of Palestine by Israel and the expulsion of most of its Arab population in 1948, it appeared that the Zionist dream had become a reality. A Jewish state had arisen, and there was no competing Palestinian state; ethnic cleansing had produced a massive demographic transformation, and the land of all those “absent” Arabs could be appropriated.
The Zionists’ hope and expectation was that the refugees would simply disappear, and even the memory that this had been an Arab-majority country for more than a millennium could be effaced. As Golda Meir put it, “There were no such thing as Palestinians. . . . They did not exist.” It seemed that the colonial-settler ideal had been realized: The natives were gone, there was plenty of space, their beautiful stone houses could be repurposed, and their “khummus” could be rebranded and mispronounced.
Taking the long view, however, things look quite different. From this perspective, it is clear that for all the power of the Israeli military and its lethal security services, the vibrancy of the Israeli economy, and the aggressive potency of Israeli nationalism, this is in many ways a failed colonial-settler project.
As the historian Patrick Wolfe has written, “Settler colonies [are] premised on the elimination of native societies. . . . The colonizers come to stay: invasion is a structure not an event.” In Palestine, however, the native society has not been eliminated. Palestine is not “as Jewish as England is English,” as Chaim Weizmann once candidly expressed Zionist aims.