23rd Feb, 2024 2:14pm
On Tuesday, 21st November 2023, the Centre for Capacity Development organised a panel discussion, at the Kampala Campus in which Dr. Yahya Sseremba from MISR presented an article that focused on the humanitarian, political, and international law aspects of the war in Palestine. This article has been widely published by several media outlets in the country. The article looks at the question in Palestine from a theoretical perspective. He analyses two genocidal ideologies, which are Nazism and Zionism.
Below is the text of the article:
Like many nation-states, the state of Israel is founded on genocide.
To create and advance an exclusive homeland for the Jews, the Zionists have been displacing and slaughtering the Palestinians for almost a century.
The Jews themselves were persecuted in Europe before the Zionists among them embarked on persecuting the Palestinians. The victims of the European Nazi genocide became the perpetrators of Zionist genocide in the Middle East.
What was the problem in Europe that led to genocide? And what is the problem in Israel that is producing another genocide? What is the point at which these two genocides meet?
I locate this meeting point in the structure and logic of the nation-state. The nation-state is founded on the idea that every community that imagines itself as a nation has the right to self-determination by forming its own state. When such a community assumes statehood, the primary purpose of the state is allegedly to advance the interests of this community. If the state exists in the name of a certain community, what happens to other communities living alongside this national community under the same state?
Such other communities are known as political minorities (regardless of their numerical strength), and their existence poses what the nation views as a minority problem.
In the 500-year history of the nation-state, the so-called minority problem has been addressed in three ways. First, by eliminating the minorities through mass killing or mass expulsion. Second, by setting the minorities aside and dominating them through apartheid. Third, by tolerating them.
Let me shed more light
In the first case, the minorities have been subjected to ethnic cleansing to homogenize the population and get rid of “biological” or “cultural” diversity. The first modern atrocities of this kind started in 1492 when the Jews and Muslims were expelled from Spain.
Both in Europe and in the European colonial settlements of America, Australia, and New Zealand, the Europeans have perpetrated genocide on indigenous peoples to create white settler colonial nation-states.
The 1994 Rwandan genocide, which sought to eliminate the Tutsis, is a recent example of how the minority problem has been handled in history. The same applies to the killing and displacement of the Rohingya people in Myanmar.
Where the minorities have not been eliminated completely, they have been reduced to small manageable numbers that can be dominated without serious resistance. This is what happened to the native Indians in the white settler colonial states of America and elsewhere.
It is also what China is doing to the Uyghurs in Xinjiang and other minorities elsewhere. China is applying genocidal policies that seek to reduce and weaken the populations of these societies and indoctrinate them with the dominant ideologies of the nation in order to dominate them without much resistance.
The other way is to tolerate minorities, as the liberals prescribe. Unfortunately, tolerance only applies when the minorities have been weakened and no longer pose a threat to the dominance of the national community.
But when the minorities become powerful economically or politically, tolerance ceases to apply. The minorities are quickly labeled as outsiders who must be dealt with to protect the national community from being dominated by these alleged outsiders.
This is the broader context in which Uganda expelled the Indians, the Kenyan Luos, and the Banyarwanda in recent decades. The Ugandan nation imagines itself as an association of indigenous communities, which are listed in the Third Schedule of the 1995 Constitution.
Every Ugandan citizen who does not belong to any of these purported indigenous communities is practically half-Ugandan, and he can be stripped of citizenship under certain circumstances.
The problem with the liberal notion of tolerance is that it upholds the logic of the nation-state, which is founded on the distinction between the national community and minority communities.
The principle of tolerance only requires the national community to tolerate minority communities, but the said principle does not ask why there should be a national community in the first place.
Tolerance, I said, does not apply when the national community feels that its dominance is threatened by minorities.
The current rise of extremist nationalism in the form of far-right politics in Europe and elsewhere is based on the supposition that the national community is threatened by the growing numbers of minority populations.
Unlike the nation-states in places like Europe and America, the white settler colonial state of South Africa fell short of committing a comprehensive genocide that would have permanently weakened the indigenous population.
The failure to weaken the indigenous population through an effective genocide meant that white racist rule in South Africa needed to continuously use extreme forms of naked violence and extreme forms of apartheid to dominate the indigenous population.
However, extreme forms of naked violence and extreme forms of apartheid are not sustainable means of maintaining power. It would only be a matter of time before white racist rule collapsed.
This is also the problem of the Zionist state of Israel. The Palestinians remain numerically strong and able to resist. To dominate such a huge, resisting population, the Zionists will continue unleashing extreme forms of naked violence and extreme forms of apartheid.
The genocide unfolding in Gaza and Palestine is the inevitable product of Zionism. Zionism is rooted in the logic of the nation-state.
Political Zionism seeks to advance an exclusive homeland for the Jews in the form of a Jewish nation-state in Palestine. Such an enterprise necessarily calls for the elimination or domination of the Palestinians.
Zionism is a version of Nazism, which sought to eliminate “inferior races” from Europe and establish Europe as a land of “pure” white peoples.
The Nazi genocide, which killed many Jews, is often portrayed as an exception in Europe. On the contrary, the holocaust belongs to the long European history of eliminating minorities to form nation-states based on imagined biological or cultural homogeneity.
The failure to address the underlying drivers of the Nazi genocide in Europe laid the foundation for the ongoing Zionist genocide in Palestine.
Following the military defeat of Hitler, the allied powers focused on punishing individual Nazis who perpetrated the genocide. But they never questioned the underlying logic of Nazism.
Instead of questioning the idea of population purity and homogeneity at the heart of Nazism, and instead of exploring ways in which different races and cultures could live together in the same political communities in Europe, the European powers advanced the Zionist aspiration for a separate nation-state for the Jews.
In so doing, the European powers exported Nazism, this time in the form of Zionism, to the Middle East. Yet, the problem is not simply that the Jews moved to Palestine. The problem is that the Zionists sought to create a Jewish nation-state in which the non-Jews had no meaningful place. This required the elimination or domination of the Palestinians.
The Zionists from Europe and elsewhere did not seek to live with the Palestinians in one political community; they sought to create a new political community founded on the distinction between the Jews and Arabs instead of behaving like migrants who should live with the existing population, the Zionists became colonizers.
What is the way forward?
Some people have called for a two-state solution—a nation-state for the Palestinians alongside that of the Jews. Such a solution, unfortunately, would potentially replicate the short-sighted European solution of creating a separate homeland for the Jews to address the Jewish minority problem in Europe.
It would mean that the Palestinians living in the Jewish state must be evicted or stay and live as second-class citizens.
It would also mean that the Jews living in the territory that would constitute the Palestinian state must be evicted or stay and live as second-class citizens once the state is created.
This is the problem of the identity-based form of political association known as the nation-state.
Worse still, the Jews, like the Palestinians, are not homogenous. Among the Israeli Jews, there is already tension between the Ashkenazi (Jews who came from Europe) and the Mizrahi (those who came from Arab countries). While among the Palestinians, there are Muslims, Christians, and others. Carrying forward with any form of political association that is based on identity like the so-called two-state solution can only give rise to more identity-based conflicts.
The way forward is to dismantle Zionism, an extreme manifestation of the chauvinistic divisiveness of the nation-state. Only then can the Palestinians and Jews think of living together as equal members of one political community.
Yahya Sseremba is a research fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research, Makerere University. He gave this talk at an event organized by the Center for Capacity Development at the Islamic University In Uganda (Kampala Campus) on November 21, 2023. Dr. Sseremba’s research focuses on political thought, political identity, and political violence. His latest book is America and the Production of Islamic Truth in Uganda.
By Yahya Sseremba