Saturday, May 22, 2010

Is Israel a colonial state? The political psychology of Palestinian nomenclature Part II


by Irwin J. Mansdorf

2nd part of 2

The Process of Independence


A look at a map of the Middle East will show that national movements eventually became national entities, with tribal factors largely accounting for the division of the area into independent countries. North Yemen became independent from the Ottoman Empire in 1918. The Hashemite monarchy in Iraq was granted independence in 1932 from England. Saudi Arabia (originally Hejaz and Nejd), although never colonized after World War I, became an independent kingdom in 1932 as well. Egypt, occupied by England since 1882, gained full independence in 1952. Lebanon and Syria became independent from the French Mandate in 1943 and 1946, respectively. Another Hashemite family in Jordan was granted independence in 1946 in territory originally a part of the Palestine Mandate. Independence also was eventually achieved by the British protectorates of Oman (1951), Kuwait (1961), South Yemen (1967), the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar (1971).

In addition to the formation of the various Arab states noted above, Jewish national self-determination was obtained in Palestine with the independence of Israel in 1948. While the dispute with the Arab residents of Palestine continues, the colonial entity, namely Britain, relinquished control in 1948. Prior to Israel's legal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza following the hostilities of 1967, Jordan illegally occupied the West Bank, while Gaza was administered by Egypt.

The fact of the matter was that in 1948, during its war of independence, Israel acted as an anti-colonial force. The troops of the Arab Legion of Transjordan fought under a British commander, and had British as well as Arab officers.[26] The British, clearly a colonial power, had treaty obligations to both Egypt and Jordan. At one point Hector McNeil, British Minister of State, threatened to "defend Aqaba if necessary."[27] British units were stationed in Egypt near the Suez Canal, the British were suspected of supplying sensitive intelligence information to Egypt, and the Israeli Air Force even clashed with a RAF squadron based in Egypt, downing five planes in 1949.[28] While Israeli weapons came mostly by way of Czechoslovakia, the Arab states were equipped with weapons from the old colonial powers, Britain and France.[29] Indeed, at the United Nations in 1949, when Britain and Italy submitted a draft resolution to put Libya under UN trusteeship, and deny it independence, Israel refused to go along with the colonial powers. By Israel abstaining, the British-Italian resolution did not get the required two-thirds support and was defeated.[30] In short, both militarily and diplomatically, Israel served as an anti-colonial force during its early years.

Language and Perception: "Settler-Colonialism"

Despite the essentially parallel processes of independence from colonial and protectorate influence over the first half of the twentieth century, only one of the national movements at the time and only one of the resulting states, namely Israel, is accused of being "colonial." The accusation of colonialism against Israel is not without difficulty. Since the traditional definition of colonialists exploiting the native population and resources does not broadly apply to Jews and Zionism, how then, to continue the narrative of Israeli colonialism? The answer was the application of another type of colonialism, that of the "settler-colonialist," to the Zionist enterprise.[31]

This term, however, can assume validity only if it is assumed that the "settlers" have no indigenous roots and rights in the area. As such, this is yet another use of language to shape perceptions and another example of psychological manipulation for political purposes. Unlike any other "settler-colonial" state in history, Israel stands alone in that there is no identifiable foreign power that can be identified as the colonial entity. It goes without saying that the notion of "settler" also dismisses any historical or biblical connection of Jews to the area. Hence, the importance of denial of Jewish rights, history, and claims to the area. The notion of Israeli colonialism, however, is so established in certain academic and political circles that its colonial identity is never questioned, and "settlers" are automatically considered agents of a colonial effort.[32]

Lest there be any confusion about what a "settler" is, despite the impression of some that the term applies only to those Israelis who have established communities in disputed territory after 1967, those who use the terminology "settler-colonialist" against Israel clearly mean the entire Zionist enterprise, including the original territory of the State of Israel in 1948.[33] In fact, many contemporary Palestinian activists blithely and routinely assume, in their writing, that all Israelis are colonialists and all of "historic" Palestine has been occupied (e.g., Qumsiyeh,[34] Abunimah[35]).

Reestablishing Accuracy: Cognitive Dissonance and Confirmation Bias

The "colonial Israel" charge is thus rooted in an ideological and cognitive denial of any Jewish connection to Palestine and the ancient Land of Israel. This can be either through a belief that the connection is weak because of the passage of time,[36] or, as has been the case in Arab circles and in some revisionist Israeli ones,[37] by flatly denying Jewish roots in the area.

Cognitive dissonance is the phenomenon whereby established beliefs are challenged by new, conflicting information that arouses a challenge to those core beliefs. Confirmation bias, on the other hand, is the term applied to seeking evidence that validates prior attitudes and beliefs. When confronted with dissonance, some may alter their beliefs to conform to the new information, but many, especially those that are ideologically invested with and committed to a particular view, continue in their established attitudes by adding justifications or interpretations that support or "confirm" the original cognition.

Just as committed Zionists would not accept a colonial narrative, presenting facts and arguments in response to accusations against Israel would not change attitudes for anti-Zionists, even when their core beliefs or attitudes feeding that position are challenged. In practice, ideologues seem to respond to challenges through "confirmation bias," seeking information consistent with their ideology that supports their core beliefs when dissonance is aroused.[38] Attempting to change attitudes, thus, would appear to have a chance for success only when these attempts target those who are not predispositioned or biased towards particular political ideologies and when the information is accurate, not tendentious, and based on solid data.

The mechanism of dissonance reduction that is most central to the "settler-colonialist" argument is the notion that Jews do not constitute a national entity and thus cannot possibly have legitimate rights to what was known as Palestine. For those who are familiar with Jewish history and traditions, such as the specifics of the Jewish legal system applicable only in Israel or the role of the "Land of Israel" in Jewish liturgy, the speciousness of these notions is self-evident. For many others, however, this is either not recognized or not relevant.[39] Challenging these beliefs involves two overlapping mechanisms: First, a firm recognition of the reality of Jewish roots and historical sovereignty in the area, and second, an acknowledgment that the modern reconstitution of Jewish nationalism was achieved through a legitimate process consistent with international law and the right to self-determination. Both tenets are taboo and are not even subject to discussion for many anti-Zionist ideologues.

Ideology, when unyielding and unbending, will be resistant to any cognitive dissonance.[40] That is why, despite the historical record, the core notion of Israel as a "settler-colonialist" nation will continue to resonate in circles where nationalism is frowned upon, where religious history is irrelevant, where post-modern ideologies are entrenched and philosophically embraced, and where the notion of Jews as a people is not recognized.


1. I.J. Mansdorf, "The Political Psychology of Postcolonial Ideology in the Arab World: An Analysis of 'Occupation' and the 'Right of Return'," Israel Studies, vol. 13, no. 4 (October 2007):899-915.

2. language.html?scp=5&sq=George%20P%20Fletcher&st=cse


4. R. Lapidoth, "Legal Aspects of the Palestinian Refugee Question, Jerusalem Letter/Viewpoints, no. 485, September 1, 2002.


6. Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Israel: Overview, 2007,


8. R. Aharonson, "Settlement in Eretz Israel — A Colonialist Enterprise? 'Critical' Scholarship and Historical Geography," Israel Studies, 1(2) (Fall 1996):214-229.


10. (ch. II, para. 19, p. 24).

11. Op. cit., para. 23, p. 2.5

12. Op. cit., para. 25-28, pp. 26-28.





17. jerusalem_history


19. P. Cidor, "Obliterated in Translation," Jerusalem Post, January 7, 2010.

20. PA TV (Fatah), November 13, 2009.


22. Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1979).

23. Y. Tareq, J.S. Ismael, and K.A.J. Ismael, Politics and Government in the Middle East and North Africa (University Press of Florida, 1991), p. 453.

24. "British Imperial Connexions to the Arab National Movement," in G.P. Gooch and Harold Temperley, eds., The Last Years of Peace — British Documents on the Origins of the War, 1898-1914, Vol. X, Part II (1938), pp. 824-838.

25. W.I. Saadeh, "The Three Phases of Arab History, Excerpt from 'History of Arab Thought'," Arab-American Affairs, vol. 32, no. 211 (June-July 2004),

26. T.N. Dupuy, Elusive Victory: The Arab-Israeli Wars, 1947-1974 (New York: Harper Collins, 1978), p. 121.

27. N. Aridan, Britain, Israel and Anglo-Jewry 1949-1957 (London: Taylor and Francis, 2004), p. 8.

28. Z. Tzahor, "The 1949 Air Clash between the Israeli Air Force and the RAF," Journal of Contemporary History, 28 (1)(1993):75-101.

29. Zach Levey, "Arms and Armaments in the Middle East," Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa, 2004,

30. Gideon Rafael, Destination Peace: Three Decades of Israeli Foreign Policy (New York: Stein and Day, 1981), pp. 21-22.

31. M. Rodinson, Israel: A Colonial-Settler State? (Pathfinder Press, 1973). 2187-israel-colonial-states-and-racism-.html


33. Op. cit., 20, 21.




37. S. Sand, The Invention of the Jewish People (Verso, 2009).

38. C.S. Taber and M. Lodge, "Motivated Skepticism in the Evaluation of Political Beliefs," American Journal of Political Science, 50(3) (2006):755-769.

39. F.M. Perko, "Contemporary American Christian Attitudes to Israel Based on the Scriptures," Israel Studies, vol. 8, no. 2, (Summer 2003):1-17, v008/8.2perko.html

40. B. Nyhan and J. Reifler, "When Corrections Fail: The Persistence of Political Misperceptions, in Political Behavior, in press. J. Bullock, "The Enduring Importance of False Political Beliefs," paper presented at the annual meeting of the Western Political Science Association, Albuquerque, New Mexico, March 17, 2006.

Irwin J. (Yitzchak) Mansdorf, PhD, is an Israeli psychologist who has published widely on the subject of political psychology as it relates to the Israel-Arab conflict. He also directs the SWU leadership program in Israel-Arab studies at Midreshet Lindenbaum in Jerusalem. This is Jerusalem Viewpoints, No. 576, March-April 2010, published by Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) Institute for Contemporary Affairs.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


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