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HomeGeopolitical CompassThe LevantBeyond the Contours of Zionist Sovereignty: Decolonization in Palestine's Unity Intifada

Beyond the Contours of Zionist Sovereignty: Decolonization in Palestine’s Unity Intifada

Author: Walaa Alqaisiya

Affiliation: London School of Economics and Political Science, UK

Organization/Publisher: Political Geography

Date/Place: March, 2023/ USA

Type of Literature: Journal Article 

Number of Pages: 11



Keywords: Decolonisation, Zionism, Settler Colonialism, Unity Intifada



The May 2021 events in Palestine, notably the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood resistance, sparked a global movement against forceful dispossession, uniting fragmented Palestinian communities. The article highlights the significance of understanding Palestine within the framework of settler colonialism, emphasizing the ongoing Nakba as a structural issue. It critiques Zionist identity markers used to reinforce settler legitimacy and links indigenous resistance to future decolonial possibilities. The second part explores the new decolonial means used during the Unity Intifada, highlighting the role of youth, women, and queer collectives in reshaping political narratives. Ultimately, the article challenges the perpetuation of settler colonial violence in the discourse surrounding ‘Israel/Palestine’ by advocating for a broader decolonization perspective drawing from indigenous, feminist, critical race, and eco-materialist debates.


Methodological Framework:

This article employs a methodological framework focusing on the Unity Intifada’s impact on indigenous resistance and settler legitimacy. It analyzes various sources from May to December 2021 such as newspapers, activist accounts, and NGO websites to categorize information systematically. Social media played a crucial role in capturing self-identity formation, aligning with decolonial research principles and the author’s Palestinian positionality, with scholarly material supporting the arguments and expanding them into new themes. Secondary analysis, like Eden Alene’s Eurovision participation, exposes pinkwashing, while concepts like homonationalism expand engagement with past examples. The author uses data triangulation to validate the sources and guide analytical directions, emphasizing decolonization as a lens to understand indigenous movements in response to Zionist settler colonialism.

The article highlights the eviction in 2020 of Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem, one of the few remaining Palestinian strongholds in East Jerusalem, and emphasizes the continued Zionist settler expansion over Palestinian land since 1948. It delves into the violent suppression of protests during Ramadan and the subsequent retaliations, including rocket launches from Gaza into Israel. Amid this conflict, Israel’s participation in Eurovision served as a platform for pinkwashing, promoting a pro-LGBTQ+ image amidst settler colonial domination. The involvement of Jewish Ethiopian artist Eden Alene in Eurovision 2021 also illustrated the role of race in the colonial settler efforts. 

Additionally, the article explores Israel’s Eurovision win as a means to project a “pink” image, that is the promotion of feminist and LGBTQ+ values, despite its intertwinement with settler violence. Artists like Netta Barzilai and Dana International are seen as symbols of settler feminism and homonationalism, presenting a progressive image for Israel while reinforcing settler state violence. This is critiqued within the framework of cultural diplomacy, where Israel’s participation in Eurovision is viewed as a strategic cultural and political effort to counter Palestinian boycotts, thus obscuring the state’s colonial foundations and reinforcing settler violence.


Indigenizing Zionism:

This section explores the significance of race in forming gendered identities within settler societies. It emphasizes Eden Alene’s representation in Eurovision as the first Jewish Ethiopian contestant, celebrated for her emotional connection to Israel amidst the ongoing conflict. Alene’s participation demonstrates the commodification of identity, especially racial ones, and cultural heritage in Euro-Western contexts.

The arrival of Ethiopian Jews in Israel during covert operations like ‘Operation Moses’ and ‘Operation Solomon’ highlights their otherness within Jewish society, often inferior to the Ashkenazi Zionist identity. Despite experiencing discrimination, Ethiopian Jews have contributed to Israel’s settler enterprise, participating in expanding Zionism’s territorial colonization and reinforcing racial citizenship.

Scholarly analyses focusing on immigrant society’s cultural pluralism often overlook settler colonialism’s impact. These analyses depict settlers as migrants within a pluralistic or integrationist framework, failing to acknowledge its settler colonial foundation. Figures like Ashger Araro, an Ethiopian Jewish activist, utilize storytelling to advocate for Zionism, emphasizing the diverse Jewish narrative and countering criticism against Israel. This storytelling strategy capitalizes on indigenous culture and methodology.

Additionally, figures like Atreet Violet Shmuel portray spirituality’s role in their ‘return’ to the land of Israel, reflecting Zionist redwashing—a phenomenon highlighting Zionist claims to indigenous rights through the trope of ethnic diversity. This section thus underscores how racialized identities, storytelling, and spirituality contribute to the complex narrative of Zionism and its settler colonial context.

This section also delves into the narrative of Atreet Violet Shmuel, recounting her journey from Boston to Jerusalem and her involvement in the platform Birthright, which brings young Jews from around the world to Israel to propagate a Zionist narrative. Shmuel’s activities extend to directing Indigenous Bridges, an organization claiming to advance global indigenous communities. However, the website lacks specific details on the support provided to indigenous communities, all the while boldly expressing support for Jewish and Israeli self-defense against perceived Arab colonialist aggression.

Indigenous Bridges propagates an indigeneity narrative, drawing parallels between Jewish Israelis and indigenous communities worldwide. The organization’s statement rejects Palestinian claims to the land, aiming to undermine potential solidarity between Palestine and indigenous groups. This strategy, termed redwashing, fabricates history to Judaize Palestine and reinforce settler colonialism in the contexts of Palestine and Turtle Island, the name for the North American continent among a number of indigenous American communities.

The organization’s discourse dismisses indigenous challenges under COVID-19, attributing them to their cultural practices, while silencing structural violence within the US settler colonial context. This narrative avoids political criticism of Israel, emphasizing its assistance during the pandemic with FPP2 masks and showcasing Israel’s technological advances in agriculture to indigenous delegations, perpetuating a rescuer image. Furthermore, it accentuates Israel’s agricultural prowess, positioning it as vital knowledge for native people due to their unique relationship with the land.

Lastly, the discussion shifts towards greenwashing and its role in reinforcing the Zionist self-indigenizing narrative.


Blooming the Desert:

This passage addresses Israel’s narrative of “making the desert bloom,” a statement originating from David Ben Gurion, emblematic of Zionist settlers’ mission to modernize and civilize a land perceived as terra nullius. Israel presents its green model as an environmental success story, celebrated globally, notably through the Jewish National Fund (JNF), known for promoting ecological progress through tree planting and tours. However, JNF’s ecological work coincides with settler colonialism, facilitating the seizure of Palestinian lands and homes in East Jerusalem and the Naqab.

JNF’s environmental projects in the Naqab aim to ‘green the desert’ while encouraging Jewish settlement, effectively displacing Palestinian Bedouin communities. This aligns with JNF’s role in turning over Palestinian properties in East Jerusalem to settler organizations, intertwining settler landscape greening with a discursive reinvention of a ‘messianic’ geography, quoting biblical verses on its website to support this narrative.

The evictions of Palestinians from areas like Silwan are justified by Israeli officials as establishing a Jewish majority, solidifying Israel’s control. JNF’s involvement in settler sovereignty over coveted territories manifests through legal mechanisms like the absentee property law, reinforcing Zionist land and water grabbing within a framework of ‘new colonialism.’

Scholarly discussions acknowledge the productivity of external investments but often overlook the genocidal premise of settler colonialism, where modern technology and productivity coexist with the ecological destruction of indigenous people and their environments. The analysis connects settler colonialism with a simultaneous process of genocide and ecocide, revealing the nexus between capitalism, colonialism, and their environmental impacts.

The Palestinian struggle against settler colonialism’s ecocidal logic preluded the Unity Intifada, serving as a catalyst for new decolonial approaches and language.


The Deep Changes in New Generation:

This excerpt focuses on the role of the new young generation in the Unity Intifada, highlighting three key aspects that exemplify the efforts to decolonize the settler and neo-colonial structures that continue to perpetuate the Palestinian Nakba.


  1. Mobilizing a new vocabulary: Palestinian youth introduced a fresh vocabulary centered on indigenous resistance, challenging the reconciliatory politics of state-building embraced since the Oslo Accords. They launched the “Manifesto of Dignity and Hope,” aiming to uphold justice and truth against Israeli colonial repression. The Dignity strike and widespread demonstrations across Palestine signaled a rekindling of historical collective action against Nakba, marked by confrontations with Israeli forces and settler violence in various Palestinian cities.


  1. Embracing resistance tools and tactics: Palestinian rebels engaged in various forms of resistance, reflecting unity and cooperation across different geographical locations. Their actions included disrupting infrastructure, clashes with Israeli forces, and disrupting normalcy, echoing the legacy of Basil Al-Araj’s calls for popular unity and field engagement. The Unity Intifada, as Palestinian activists have called the uprising launched in response to the evictions in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and the attacks on the Al-Aqsa compound, sparked surprise and fear among settlers due to its malleability and proliferation, spreading across multiple fronts and prompting settler fear of “Arab rioters.”


  1.  Challenging international biases: The uprising conveyed an unapologetic defiance in response to international media and political discourse on Palestine. Muhammad el-Kurd’s address to the United Nations reflected a lack of faith in the Israeli judicial system and international governments’ complicity in Israel’s colonial enterprise. He openly challenged the terminology used and highlighted the ongoing Palestinian suffering due to the persistent appetite for Palestinian lands.

The Unity Intifada represents a resurgence of indigenous resistance, characterized by a new generation’s bold and unyielding defiance against settler colonialism and international complicity in perpetuating Palestinian suffering.

We can also see how this passage highlights the normalization of indigenous extinction, reflecting a refusal to acknowledge the continued presence and resistance of native peoples. It criticizes statements like Arafat’s for perpetuating the politics of recognition, normalizing settler states on both Palestine and Turtle Island. This approach overlooks indigenous resistance against settler violence, striving for new political vocabularies and strategies that transcend settler colonial and imperial dominance. The resistance aims for solidarity rooted in a commitment to decolonization across borders, rejecting tokenism and historical reductionism.

The article argues that Arafat’s omission undermines the anti-imperialist and decolonial solidarity between the PLO and native activists in the 1970s, overlooking ongoing solidarity actions like First Nations opposing the Trump Plan and Palestinians supporting causes such as the Wet’suwet’en struggle against Canada’s Coastal GasLink pipeline and the North Dakota NoDAPL movement. These omissions reinforce Zionism’s narrative of indigenization and reveal limitations in the PLO’s state-centric approach through the Oslo peace structure.


The Role of Feminist Epistemologies:

This part emphasizes the significant role played by Palestinian women and queer collectives in advocating for decolonization through feminist and LGBTQ+ lenses. Groups like alQaws for Sexual and Gender Diversity and the Tal’at women’s march challenge settler colonial violence and the exploitation of queer identity for political purposes through pinkwashing. They redefine pride and liberation within the context of the indigenous struggle for dignity, opposing events like the Tel Aviv Pride situated on ethnically cleansed Palestinian lands.

By challenging Eurocentric approaches to feminism and LGBTQ+ issues, these collectives resist the normalization of settler states and highlight the need to break free from neo-liberal feminist frameworks. They reject events like Eurovision in Israel as tools that perpetuate and reproduce sexual and gendered politics that reinforce the settler colonial project. Instead, they focus on building solidarity beyond institutional boundaries and national priorities, aiming for a decolonial cartography that transcends colonial border security regimes.

Furthermore, the article discusses the revival of Palestinian terraced gardens, revealing their historical significance as indigenous farming systems deeply connected to the socio-ecological environment. These gardens, destroyed and replaced by European pine trees by the Zionist project, represent the dispossession of Arab villages and the erasure of indigenous history. The burning of these trees symbolizes the ongoing Nakba and the indigenous determination to resist further land theft and ecological devastation.

Overall, this section underscores the importance of feminist and queer epistemologies in challenging settler colonial narratives, advocating for dignity and liberation, and reclaiming indigenous practices and spaces.


The Resistance’s Strategic Change After 2021:

The wildfires that swept through Jerusalem in August 2021 exposed a long-concealed history of Palestinian terraced gardens, known as salassil, which are the result of thousands of years of indigenous farming. These gardens, meticulously crafted by Palestinian farmers, formed a unique system of vertical terraces, each serving as a garden hanging above the others, irrigated through a canal system with shared water resources, embodying a balance with the socio-ecological environment. These spaces were not just for agriculture, but were also hubs for social gatherings, rituals, and community practices.

However, the Zionist project utilized European pine trees to replace Arab villages and the cultivated salassil of olives, figs, and grapevines. This act has contributed significantly to  dispossession and the fabrication of history and geography. Ironically, these pine trees, planted by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) over seventy years ago, are highly flammable and unsuitable for the land, leading to their burning in wildfires—a symbolic representation of the wasteful logic ingrained in settler colonial/indigenous relations.

This deliberate destruction and replacement of indigenous cultivation methods with incompatible flora epitomize the ongoing Nakba, driving the indigene’s determination to resist further theft and degradation of their lands and environments.

All these passages illustrate the powerful resistance of Palestinian villagers against settler expansion on Jabal Sbeih near Nablus. Inspired by Gaza’s strategies, the villagers employed tactics like stone-throwing, tire burning, and “night confusion” campaigns, ultimately compelling settlers to evacuate by July. This successful resistance, known as Beita’s resistance, exemplified popular mobilization and solidarity as Palestinian youth activists joined farmers in the Faz’a tradition to help harvest olives, challenging the neoliberal Oslo-NGO structure’s humanitarian volunteerism.

The Faz’a tradition, rooted in indigenous Palestinian ways of life, symbolizes social reciprocity and responsibility, forging solidarity against historical oppressions like Ottoman taxation and British land confiscation. Through Faz’a campaigns, Palestinian youth rush to assist in olive picking and land cultivation, reviving ancestral resistance against settler-colonial encroachments on their lands, spanning various locations like Beita, Salfit, and Burin.

These actions highlight a new generation’s commitment to nature and resistance, countering the settler colonialists’ aim to erase indigenous roots and memories. In the context of Gaza, the marches of return symbolize not only physical movement towards a denied home but also an appetite for life against the oppression of “slow death.” This movement embodies the refugee’s living practices of return, challenging the spatio-temporal stillness imposed by the nation-state and the barbed wire, offering a vision beyond the confines of colonial governmentality.

The reflections provided by Ahmad Abu Artima and others underscore how indigenous life-worlds reject a reactionary defense of tradition, aiming instead for a plurality of imaginations and infinite possibilities, seeking humanity beyond the colonial neoliberal order. These actions and beliefs encapsulate a relentless pursuit of freedom and existence beyond the limits imposed by settler colonialism and imperial sovereignty.



Finally, The Unity Intifada epitomizes a movement for decolonization, placing Palestine at the heart of scholarly approaches toward dismantling structures that perpetuate indigene elimination. Geographers embracing settler colonial analytical lenses advocate for decolonizing approaches that demand accountability towards the world’s indigenous populations and their struggle for self-determination.

Through this lens, the Unity Intifada highlights the gendered, racialized, and ecological aspects inherent in Israel’s settlement policies, which attempt to sanitize settlers’ roles in the ongoing colonization. This form of naturalizing settlements demonstrates the commodification of identities, reinforcing spatial imaginaries that contribute to the cultural and physical elimination of indigenous populations.

While Israel celebrates its Eurovision victory and promotes an image of celebrated Israeli queer/feminist subjects, it uses racialized and “spiritual gendered figures” to uphold an indigenous positionality, deflecting criticism and reinforcing the state’s legitimacy. However, international Human Rights reporting on ‘Apartheid Israel’ often falls short, failing to question the racist, settler-colonial foundations of the state or challenge its exclusive Jewishness.

This lack of acknowledgment within international frameworks mirrors the limitations faced by indigenous populations globally, where demands for political sovereignty and land restitution are often restricted within legal and intellectual terrains. Palestinians, like other indigenous groups, reject these frameworks, choosing instead to defy the essentializing and eliminatory logics of settler states through their uprising.

The Unity Intifada stands as an example of locally grounded resistance, aiming to forge alternative worlds beyond hegemonic nation-states, sovereignty, territory, and citizenship. It embodies a departure from the politics of recognition catalyzed by the Oslo regime, paving the way for diverse space-times of distinct imaginations and practices.

Youth mobilization within this context demonstrates a critical self-consciousness, departing from defeatist attitudes, and embracing pluralistic space-times within decolonization. Palestinian feminist and queer collectives contribute significantly by re-mapping social and geopolitical landscapes, integrating multi-scalar analysis with a focus on the gendered and sexual violence perpetrated by the settler state.

Ultimately, the unity emphasized by the May Intifada transcends mere unity to embody the plurality of “indigenous genders”, epistemologies, and life-worlds tied to their respective places. Acts like Faz’a and the dreams of alternative worlds signify resistance against the settler state’s wasteful relations with land and nature, inviting imaginations, knowledges, and bodies to confront and rebel against the conditions of dispossession normalized under settler colonialism.


By: Nabil Kahlouche, Strategic Researcher



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