An overview of extent to which Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth offers a useful framework for understanding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
By Aziz Almuslem, 06th December, 2014
Here I assess the situation in Palestine from Frantz Fanon’s perspective. I show that his description of the colonist and the colonized, a world that is Manichean and compartmentalized, reflects the current relationship between the Palestinians and the Jewish-Israelis. While a relationship based on ethnic dominance inhibits reconciliation, Fanon considers the use of violence a necessary and inevitable step towards overcoming oppression. I argue that the impact of violence must be assessed using a rational framework to determine whether it can help resolve the colonized people’s status. The framework is a nine step process, but for the purposes of this paper it will be reduced to four (1) identifying the problem (2) implementing the remedy (3) evaluating the action, and (4) terminating, altering or continuing the action. In the present however, violence from the Palestinian side does not contribute to the reconciliation effort.
Fanon and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict
Frantz Fanon is a Martinique born Afro-French psychiatrist who wrote The Wretched of the Earth shortly before his death in 1961. Despite his death at the early age of 36 he authored a book which had significant influence over national liberation movements during the decolonization period. One academic described the book as the “bible of decolonization.” Fanon described in his book a compartmentalized world where one sector has been “built to last” and is well maintained, the other sector is made up of shanty towns and is disreputable. The oppression of the colonized is made possible with the help of law and order, which are used to delimit the spaces each group can occupy. Law and order would sustain the colonist’s Manichean outlook, and serve to dehumanize the colonized people. The result is a double standard which grants the colonist an advantage on intractable acts, while the colonized is “always presumed guilty.” Depending on the Palestinian’s status in relation to the state of Israel, the types of discrimination would vary; it is easier to notice the compartmentalization of Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories than it is in Israel proper.
Human Rights Watch explains that while the Palestinian residents of the West Bank are deprived of basic necessities, the state would provide “lavish amenities” for the Jewish settlers. In contrast, the discrimination against the Palestinian-Israelis is sustained by the dichotomy of Israel as both a Jewish and democratic state. On the legal side Israel’s Law of Return, as well as other regulations born out of the notion of Israel as a Jewish state, shows why Israeli nationals from non-Jewish backgrounds are at a relative disadvantage. Notwithstanding the fact that the Palestinian-Israelis view themselves as an “integral part of Israel”, the colonial state has effectively undermined them by attaching an ethnic qualifier to becoming a citizen with equal rights. On the practical side Dr. Azmi Bishara, a former member of the Israeli Knesset, explains
The Israeli establishment is intelligent enough not to adopt laws that specifically prohibit Arabs from assuming certain jobs on the basis of their identity. But in practice, they never appointed an Arab to those jobs. Israel is not going to state that its budget for 2001 will discriminate against the Arabs. But in practice, there are so-called “priority areas,” and the Arab regions are the state’s last priority.
As for the colonist’s Manicheism, I must distinguish between the moral climate during the Algerian War of Liberation and where we are today. It was not strange for Fanon to hear the French colonist refer to the progressive native Algerian as an “évolué” which literally translates into “evolved person” entitled to full rights and citizenship. In the eyes of the French colonists, the évolué is the end product of an altruistic duty the colonists have towards the backward natives. Rudyard Kipling’s poem titled ‘The White Man’s Burden’ was emblematic of the idea, and it was during Fanon’s time that scientific racism began to fade.
The colonist today, however, understands that such a perception is no longer defensible, and it is why Dr. Bishara explains that Israel is “intelligent enough” not to adopt more legislation which is explicitly discriminatory against another people. Fanon addresses the common denominator all colonists have, which is the perception that the colonised is “impervious to ethics” and has questionable values. While social Darwinism perpetuated the dehumanizing of the colonized, the Palestinian is undermined with Orientalist discourse. According to Bernard Lewis for example, the “‘western doctrine of the right to resist bad government is alien to Islamic thought,’ which leads to ‘defeatism’ and ‘quietism’ as political attitudes.”
Although Orientalist discourse looks primarily at the Muslim-Arab for analysis, because of their significant number, the disparaging perspectives permeate towards all non-Europeans – including for example the Mizrahi who feel alienated by the Ashkenazi Jews. The reason why is because of the idea that the Mizrahi is saturated with incorrigible Arabic culture. The ethnic Jewish state, a remnant of classic colonialism, leaves its citizens vacillating in an ethnic hierarchy with the European Jew on one end and the Arab Muslim on the other.
Interestingly, an effort by academics from Ben Gurion University applied the working-through concept in a study involving the colonists and the colonised. The concept is defined as “learning to live with the painful past better than one has up to now.” What strikes me about this study is that it is being applied to citizens who are scattered on the hierarchy of the Jewish state. Perhaps the work-through concept can be successful in having the Palestinian-Israeli live better with Israel as a Jewish state, but I think the study can be more effective after justice has been served.
The Recourse to Violence
In The Wretched of the Earth Fanon argued that the colonial presence is predicated on violence, and that any national liberation movement can only overcome the colonists with greater violence. Hannah Arendt dismissed Fanon’s thought as amounting to no more than “rhetorical excesses.” Arendt would hold that violence would only lead to the “death of politics.” The issue that Arendt seems unable to get “into her head” is that politics go nowhere when the colonized are thought of as immoral and ontologically wanting. This is not to dismiss the impact the non-violence movement had in British India, but there was no settler colonialism there. Indian independence only meant the end of the exploitation of resources by the British.
French Algeria, a settler colony, was the constant point of reference for Fanon. It was only five years into the Algerian War of Liberation that France considered the self-determination of the Algerian people as an option to end the conflict. The war continued for over 7 years and ended when the French colonist, through talks with the National Liberation Front (NLF), agreed to a referendum on independence. The transitional period occurred with the colonist dealing directly with the NLF. This is to say the native’s perennial violence made the colonist reconsider Algeria as an “integral part of France.”
The situation in Palestine, however, is complicated by the fact that the old colonist, the British, enabled the establishment of a new colonial metropolis. Israel would not see the colonised territories as a distant asset, like the French saw the overseas departments, but as the vital homeland. For Fanon, the colonist’s metropolis was overseas. For the Palestinians the colonist’s metropolis consumes them.
The protracted conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis has not resolved the unequal status of the Palestinian. After several Pan-Arab wars and two Palestinian intifadas, the compartmentalised Palestinian territories remain under the control of the colonist, who has continued, for several decades now, with a policy of settlement expansion and the forced eviction of the natives. As for the non-Jewish Israelis, to their disadvantage, Israel insists it is recognised as a Jewish state for any resolution to occur.
Munir Shafiq, a well-known Palestinian writer, expressed one version of the end that the violence aims to achieve. He explained, in 1973, that the objective is not only the removal of the colonial entity and that it is not simply military victory, but it is the removal of the settler population, all of their institutions, and any seeds that could give rise to it again. This thought is an elaboration of art.9 in the Palestinian National Charter of 1968, which states that violence, or armed struggle, is the strategy, and not merely a tactic for the liberation of Palestine.
Shafiq is essentially seeking the environment which resulted in the flight of the Pied Noir from Algeria. But removing the colonist’s dominance, through some violence, does not necessarily mean that the colonist has to be pushed out of the territory. One only needs to look at the case of South Africa to see how violence played a role in the the promotion of equality and the removal of the compartmentalization. In Algeria’s case, after an evaluation of the first five years into the war, the NLF continued to resort to violence. With Charles de Gaulle mentioning self-determination in his speeches, the NLF found this to be sufficient evidence that the violence is effectively communicating to the colonist that their condescending and patronizing presence is rejected.
In Palestine’s case self-determination was not mentioned in the partition plan of 1947, the Oslo process paid lip service to the notion and the Quartet’s Road Map for Peace never mentioned self-determination either. With the great power asymmetry, coupled with the ultimate sense of entitlement, it is difficult to see how violence can move the hand of the colonist the way it did in French Algeria.
The dynamics on the ground can significantly change after violence, as was the case with Israeli disengagement from Gaza in 2005, however the compartmentalization remains unchanged. Gaza today, with the blockade, is an open air prison that will be uninhabitable by 2020. An evaluation of the results of violence in Palestine, with the two intifadas, reveals that violence as a policy must either be altered or terminated. Altering the policy of violence suggests the need to mitigate the power asymmetry before recourse to it, which appears unlikely to successfully happen. Terminating the policy requires the adoption of another policy, such as efforts promoting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).
In the meantime as the colonized dream of replacing the colonist as the dominant force, the tension they feel is vented out at their own people. The latest conflict for example witnessed Hamas executing 18 Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel. The recourse to myths, magic, and fatality emerge as a way to hallucinate and cope with reality. The myths can revolve around prophecy that assuages anxiety. A religious metanarrative involving a messiah, mehdi or “zombie” for example would help the colonized live through the status quo.
Using violence to overcome the compartmentalised and Manichean world the colonist has established must be assessed using a rational model. After a review of the Palestinian –Israeli conflict through Fanon’s perspective, I argue that the violence has not resulted in any signal conducive to the rights of the oppressed. Given that the oppression and compartmentalization of Palestine continues after the acts of violence, I explain that the recourse to violence must either be terminated or altered.
Alice McBurney, ‘The New Wave of Israel’s Discriminatory Laws: The Legal Status of Palestinian Arab Citizens of Israel over the Last Decade’ in Mossawa Center (2014). P35. Available at: http://www.mossawacenter.org/my_Documents/pic002/183_The_New_Wave_of_Israel’s_Discriminatory_Laws___Report_FINAL_2014.pdf Accessed on: 10/26/2014.
As’ad Ghanem, Ethinc Politcs in Israel: The Margins and the Ashkenazi Centre, New York: Routledge. 2010.
Bar On, Dan and Fatma Kassem (2004). “Storytelling as a Way to Work Through Intractable Conflicts: The German-Jewish Experience and Its Relevance to the Palestinian-Israeli Context.” Journal of Social Issues. Vol. 60 Issue 2.
B’Tselem, ‘Ghost Town: Israel’s Separation Policy and Forced Eviction of Palestinians from the Center of Hebron’ 2007. Available at: http://www.btselem.org/download/200705_hebron_eng.pdf Accessed on: 10/27/2014.
Edward Said. Orientalism. New York: Vintage books. 1979.
Fares Akram and Jodi Rudoren, ‘Executions in Gaza are a Warning to Spies’ in The New York Times, 2014. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/23/world/middleeast/israel-gaza.html?_r=0 Accessed on: 10/27/2014
Frantz Fanon. (2001) The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press.
Greg Cashmen (2014). What Causes War? Second Edition. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
Hannah Arendt. On Violence. New York: Harcourt books. 1970
Harriet Sherwood, ‘Gaza becomes uninhabitable as blockade tighten, UN says’ The Guardian, 2013. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/22/gaza-uninhabitable-blockade-united-nations accessed on: 10/28/2014.
Human Rights Watch, ‘Israel/West Bank: Separate and Unequal’ 2010. Available at: http://www.hrw.org/news/2010/12/18/israelwest-bank-separate-and-unequal
Munir Shafiq, ‘basic strategic premises for the Palestinian revolution’ 17. Palestine Affairs. 1973. (Arabic Source)
Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians (Blackrose Books, New York City 1999).
Nadim N. Rouhana, Palestinian Citizens in an Ethnic Jewish State (Yale University Press, Michigan 1997) 119.
Roan Carey, The New Intifada: Resisting Israel’s Apartheid, (Verso, New York City 2001)
Sabri Jiryis, ‘The Legal Status of the Arab Residents in the Occupied Territories’ 34. Palestine Affairs. 1974. (Arabic Source)
 Frantz Fanon. (2001) The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press. P. 86.
 Greg Cashmen (2014). What Causes War? Second Edition. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield. 51-52.
 Fanon. P. 20
 Ibid. Pp. 72-75.
 Ibid. P. 83.
 Palestinians living in the H2 portion of Hebron for example can be subject to extensive curfews and regulations not permitting them to travel freely. An event highlighting this point was the curfew that took place during the Passover holidays in 1995. During that holiday the Arab population of Hebron was locked up under a 24-hour curfew for four days […] so that settlers and 35,000 Jewish visitors brought there in chartered busses could have picnics and travel around the city freely[….] See Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians (Blackrose Books, New York City 1999) 546.
 The report adds that Israel operates a “two tier system for the two populations in the West Bank.” See Human Rights Watch, ‘Israel/West Bank: Separate and Unequal’ 2010. Available at: http://www.hrw.org/news/2010/12/18/israelwest-bank-separate-and-unequal
 Gaining of the nationality is easier if the individual is a Jew, a non-Jewish Palestinian Arab would need to prove to the state of Israel that (1) they were registered as a resident of the state on March 1st 1952 under the decree of resident registration of 1949 (2) they were residents of Israel when the nationality law was worked on – July 14th 1952 and (3) they were residents of Israel from the day Israel was established till the nationality law was passed, that is from April 15th 1948 until July 14th 1952. The aim was to ensure the nationality would not be extended to the greatest number of Arabs who remained in Israel after 1948. Many Arabs who stayed in Israel after the founding of the state were denied citizenship if they left the state for any reason even if for one day. See Sabri Jiryis, ‘The Legal Status of the Arab Residents in the Occupied Territories’ 34. Palestine Affairs. 1974. Pp. 30-32. (Arabic Source)
 See generally Alice McBurney, ‘The New Wave of Israel’s Discriminatory Laws: The Legal Status of Palestinian Arab Citizens of Israel over the Last Decade’ in Mossawa Center (2014). P35. Available at: http://www.mossawacenter.org/my_Documents/pic002/183_The_New_Wave_of_Israel’s_Discriminatory_Laws___Report_FINAL_2014.pdf Accessed on: 10/26/2014.
 Nadim N. Rouhana, Palestinian Citizens in an Ethnic Jewish State (Yale University Press, Michigan 1997) 119.
 Roan Carey, The New Intifada: Resisting Israel’s Apartheid, (Verso, New York City 2001) P. 141.
 Fanon. P. 74.
 Edward Said. Orientalism. New York: Vintage books. 1979. P.314.
 See generally As’ad Ghanem, Ethinc Politcs in Israel: The Margins and the Ashkenazi Centre, New York: Routledge. 2010.
 Bar On, Dan and Fatma Kassem (2004). “Storytelling as a Way to Work Through Intractable Conflicts: The German-Jewish Experience and Its Relevance to the Palestinian-Israeli Context.” Journal of Social Issues. Vol. 60 Issue 2, P. 290.
 Otherwise the study really seeks to inflict Stockholm syndrome on the colonised – the story telling between the offspring of the holocaust survivors and the Nazi criminals for examples took place after the Nuremburg trials.
 Fanon. P. 90-91.
 Hannah Arendt. On Violence. New York: Harcourt books. 1970. 20.
 Fanon. P. 40.
 Ibid. P. 62.
 Ibid. 314.
 See generally B’Tselem, ‘Ghost Town: Israel’s Separation Policy and Forced Eviction of Palestinians from the Center of Hebron’ 2007. Available at: http://www.btselem.org/download/200705_hebron_eng.pdf Accessed on: 10/27/2014.
 Munir Shafiq, ‘Basic Strategic Premises for the Palestinian Revolution’ 17. Palestine Affairs. 1973. Pp. 8-12. (Arabic Source)
 Harriet Sherwood, ‘Gaza becomes uninhabitable as blockade tighten, UN says’ The Guardian, 2013. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/22/gaza-uninhabitable-blockade-united-nations accessed on: 10/28/2014.
 Cashmen. Pp. 51-52.
 Fares Akram and Jodi Rudoren, ‘Executions in Gaza are a Warning to Spies’ in The New York Times, 2014. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/23/world/middleeast/israel-gaza.html?_r=0 Accessed on: 10/27/2014
 Fanon. P. 87.
 Ibid. P. 88.