France->Detroit->Algeria->Palestine: A spectre of settler colonialism

Detroit organizer, scholar and beloved comrade Kristian Davis Bailey is en route to France to discuss/further Black-Palestinian joint struggle and solidarity. French settler colonialism runs deep through both Turtle Island and Palestine and this little essay is inspired by his trip and efforts.

 

Settler colonialism and imperialism have linkages and traces across the globe. What follows shows linkages between Black people in the U.S. and Palestinians (and others) through the the spectre of French settler colonialism and imperialism, with various sites in France being host to discussions of Black-Palestinian solidarity during Israeli Apartheid Week this year.

 

Starting in Detroit where I’m writing, French colonization of Turtle Island was no less catastrophic than the British or Spanish, even if circumscribed by other imperial powers over time. Locally in what the settler society calls Detroit, the French under the leadership of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, started the destruction of Ojibwe society through the commodification of furs, introductions of European diseases, frontier homicides (though less common than the British later), and introduction of alcohol (a colonial history of alcohol is yet to be written though is direly needed).

 

Early French settlers brought African slavery with them during conquest. Alternately put, French settler colonialism built an anti-Black world as it destroyed a native world. As Bill McGraw writes for Deadline Detroit, “In 1750, for example, toward the end of the French regime, more than 25 percent of Detroit residents kept slaves.” He continues,Many roads, schools and communities across southeast Michigan carry the names of old, prominent families that owned slaves: Macomb, Campau; Beaubien; McDougall; Abbott; Brush; Cass; Hamtramck; Gouin; Meldrum; Dequindre; Beaufait; Groesbeck; Livernois and Rivard, among many others.”

 

The wealth from French colonialism on Turtle Island did not match the profits of French slave colonies in the Caribbean, especially Haiti. Yet the French fur and slave empire in Detroit is part of the colonial and imperial power that, over a century after France left North America after being expelled from Haiti in modernity’s most important revolution, brought France together with the U.K. to create the Sykes-Picot Agreement carving up Southwest Asia between the U.K., France and Russia. Sykes-Picot created the basis for British colonialism in Palestine, a regime that facilitated Zionist settler colonialism. Without the wealth from selling African people as property and colonizing Turtle Island, France would have never had the power to participate in and shape Sykes-Picot.

 

Another key French settler colony, Algeria, began again to face decolonial opposition and organizing shortly after Sykes-Picot (though not because of it).  Over the ensuing four decades the French regimes brutally, but unsuccessfully, suppressed Algerian decolonial agitation and revolt culminating in the Front de Libération Nationale-led rebellion that ended French rule in 1962.

 

Israel has always needed a powerful sponsor and France played that role beginning in 1954. According to Michael Laskier, the Mossad created underground paramilitary units in Algeria that were active in fighting decolonial FLN actions against Algerian Jews (whom anti-semitic French colonialism had positioned as a privileged native caste, one ‘closer’ to European-ness than Algerian Muslims). Israel also supported French rule at the United Nations, repeatedly siding with France during votes on Algerian independence and nuclear weapons tests in the Sahara.

 

For its part, France provided Israel with advanced arms and helped it build an aircraft industry and nuclear weapons. France supplied the aircraft Israel used to invade Sinai during the Suez Crisis, the October 1956 joint British-French-Israeli attack on Egypt. In 1959 France permitted Israel to build the Fouga Magister jet under license while over the decade, selling Israel even more advanced fighters like the Mystère. It was with French arms that Israel attacked Egypt and Syria in June 1967. Jordan joined Egypt and Syria and in the end Israel conquered the Sinai Peninsula and Occupied Gaza Strip from Egypt, the Occupied West Bank from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria.

 

Israel quickly built settlements in the Sinai hoping to prejudice any future talks by creating facts on the ground that would bind parts or all of the peninsula plus Gaza Strip to Israel. Israeli colonization led to inevitable Egyptian resistance. Surface-to-air missile systems took a heavy toll on Israeli aircraft during the War of Attrition. To confuse the anti-aircraft radars, Israel bought its first drones from the U.S. These were both decoy and spy drones. Drones at the time had still photography so returning drones had to be unloaded, the film developed and analyzed, before any intelligence was gained. Egyptian resistance combined with advances in data processing led Israel to modify the drones to deploy real time surveillance. The new drones provided real-time video thereby collapsing the time between reconnaissance and attack, allowing for on-the-spot battlfield adjustments. These new drones didn’t see much use in Sinai which was returned to Egypt in 1981 under Egyptian and international pressure. But all modern drones everywhere in the world can be traced to the Israeli colonization of the Sinai. It is there that drones became real-time surveillance platforms. It is the drones Israel developed there that led to the U.S. reinvesting in a technology it had largely abandoned.

 

France instituted an arms embargo on Israel after the 1967 war. Yet France today uses weapons Israel developed during the Sinai occupation (and deployed in Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza). France uses a modified Israel Aerospace Industries Heron drone under the name ‘Harfang’ in the imperial ‘Global War on Terror’ and in unilateral and multilateral French invasions and occupations of Afghanistan, Mali and Libya.

 

In the latter two cases the technology Israel – a settler colony whose existance is partially dependent on the Sykes-Picot Agreement France helped create and implement – developed as a result of its French-armed attack on African soil reverses course and flows from former client to patron for its own invasions of African countries. In this way France profits immensely from actions it supposedly embargoes.

 

These are some of the entanglements of settler colonialism and empire that flow through France, Palestine, Detroit and Algeria.

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The Kibush HaShmira and The Violence of Settler Sovereignty in Palestine

This essay derives in part from, though cannot be blamed on, Gershon Shafir’s Land, Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict though it is not directly cited. Thanks to Tom Pessah for helping to make this legible. Shortly after I emailed this article to him to let him know I was citing him yet again, I learned that Patrick Wolfe had made the transition. This article is dedicated to his memory. May those that knew him carry his light onward.

Israel is a settler colony. It is premised on the dislocation of Palestine. Israeli geographic existence and expansion is contingent upon Palestinian geographic contraction. Every five dunams of Israel is five less dunams of Palestine, what Patrick Wolfe calls a relationship of “negative articulation.” This dynamic illuminates the tremendous hostility to Palestinian land transfers – whether coerced, fraudulent or voluntary – to Zionists. When someone from Senegal buys a house in India the space does not become part of Senegal’s sovereignty, it remains India. When settlers obtain Palestinian land they remove it from Palestine and transfer it to Israel. The entire history of Zionism and Israel is this history of anti-Palestine-ing (along with some colonizing of adjacent nations). This is no less, and quite possibly most, true of the arms industry and Israeli military-industrial complex.

Max Weber described states as any “human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.” The common shorthand version describes states‘ defining premise as holding a monopoly of legitimate violence. As the early Zionist settler society aspired to statehood in Palestine one of its key tasks was achieving monopolies on legitimate violence wherever it could.

Some of the first Zionist settlements in the 1880s had settler guards but virtually all were supplanted in the coming decade. By 1905 it was primarily Bedouin and Circassian Palestinians under contract guarding the settlements. Alternately put, local relations of force – Palestinian guards subordinate to Ottoman rule – prevailed during the early period. Beginning with the Second Aliya (a wave of Zionist settlement between 1904-1914) the nascent elements that would come to be called Labour Zionism (the forerunners of the Mapai, Mapam, Achdut Ha’Avodah, Avodah, Meretz & related parties) began a three-pronged ideological program of conquest. Three Kibushim (conquests) – Kibush Ha’Avodah (Conquest of Labour), Kibush Ha’Adama (Conquest of Land) and Kibush HaShmira (Conquest of Guarding) – created the base for a separate settler sovereignty.

The Kibush Ha’Avodah created labor fields where Jewish settlers would not be in competition with Palestinian natives. The Kibush Ha’Adama created geographic spaces exclusive to Zionist settlement. The Kibush HaShmira put settlement guarding solely in the hands of settlers. The latter combined parts of the former two while bridging them, providing a labor field exclusive to settler workers while establishing settler relations of force in limited geographies. The Kibush HaShmira conquered the act of guarding that guarded the act of conquest. The Kibush HaShmira built the proto-state organs dependent upon a monopoly on violence and separated, partially, Zionist settlement from local relations of force (even while still subordinate to Ottoman and later British imperialism). The Kibush HaShmira created proto-state spaces through which intrasettler land and labor relations separate from settler-native relations could operate. The Kibush HaShmira imagined and created the first Israeli geography.

The Kibush HaShmira ideologues created in 1907 the Bar Giora in and then Hashomer militias to take over guarding at some of the first kibbutzim. The leadership disbanded Hashomer in 1920 when the Yishuv organized the Haganah. They founded the Haganah in response to early 1920 Bedouin raid on the Tel Hai settlement and the Nebi Musa riots in Jerusalem in which several Jews (primarily natives in the latter instance, often forgotten is that Zionism destroyed Palestinian Jewry too as part of dispossession all Palestinians) and Palestinian Muslims were killed. The Yishuv felt the British colonial regime had not done enough to put down Palestinian activists in either instance and set about improving their own military capabilities. The Haganah in 1920 also created the first underground arms workshops and weapons procurement program from which all Israeli weapons production descend.

Each of the Haganah’s subsequent military reorganizations and tactical and technological developments was a direct result of settler colonialism. Alternately put, they were shaped by the Zionists’ relationship of dispossession with Palestinians. Most prominent amongst these are Palestinian military and diplomatic resistance to Zionist and British colonialism, British support for the Zionist settler society during World War II, Palestinian and Lebanese resistance to Israeli occupation and the colonization of the Sinai Peninsula. What follows are two examples, Zionist counterinsurgency kibbutz construction during the 1936-39 Arab Revolt and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) development 1967-81 settlement of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

Homa Umigdal‘s architecture of removal

The architectural style of homa umigdal (‘wall and tower’, alternately translated as ‘tower and stockade’) shows the Palestinians’ fundamental importance to the Yishuv’s political, ideological and military infrastructural development. Homa umigdal settlements, in James Gelvin’s words, “were built between 1936 and 1939, the period of the ‘Great Palestinian Revolt’ in those ‘frontier’ areas of Palestine where the Yishuv sought to establish and maintain a presence in the face of Arab Palestinian resistance.” Its fundamental principle were an enclosed perimeter and a watchtower.

John Patrick Montaño writes, referring to British settler colonialism in Ireland, “if we follow the cultural geographers in seeing landscape as rife with meaning, then we can read the built environment as a document of ideological text created to convey a particular message or view of the world.” What then, is homa umigdal‘s message?

Sharon Rothbard notes that the homa umigdal “is more an instrument than a place.” “The primary tactical requirement for the Homa Umigdal settlement,” she writes, “was that it had to meet several conditions: it had to be planned in such a way that it could be constructed in one day, and later even in one night; it had to be able to protect itself for as long as it would take for backup to arrive; and it had to be situated within sight of other settlements and be accessible to motor vehicles.” Rothbard observes that homa umigdal was a tool of conquest and control as much as an architectural form. Its design makes it “first and foremost an observation point.” As a mechanism of control its “constant panoptic observation policed by the vantage point of the ‘tower’ determined the overpowering relations” between the colonists and their surroundings.

Homa umigdal is a paradigmatic settler colonial form, a space that excludes (homa) the indigenous populace while simultaneously observing and controlling it (migdal). Homa umigdal is a further integration of the kibush ha’adama and kibush hashmira. Here the conquest of guarding is the conquest of land. They’re indistinguishable and the violence of settler sovereignty and its concomitant geographic ethnic cleansing is made pure. From a labor perspective the workers from an exclusive labor caste created an exclusive settler space. In a friendly amendment to Rothbard’s analysis I offer that homa umgidal is not “more an instrument than a place,” but, like all settler geographies, is an instrumental place, a geography exemplifying Zionism’s “negative articulation” to the native Palestinian population.

Israeli Colonization of the Sinai Peninsula and the development of modern drones

UAVs are a key export of Israel’s arms industry. A number of Israeli firms export drones, most prominently Aeronautics Defense Systems, Elbit Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries. UAVs are commonly used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. More recently some models have begun to carry armed payloads. All of them stem from Israeli colonization of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

Israel conquered the Sinai during the June War in 1967. In short order Israel built settlements in the Sinai, primarily south of the Gaza Strip to create facts on the ground that would separate Egyptians and Palestinians in and around Gaza from the rest of Sinai and articulate the geography to Israel instead. Israel had to deal with substantial Egyptian resistance during the Sinai occupation and developed technologies to do so.

During the first years of the Israeli occupation of Sinai, according to the Israeli Air Force (IAF), “Egypt began to deploy the SA-2 and SA-3 antiaircraft systems. The appearance of the batteries led to a number of IAF losses, and harmed the Air Force’s ability to gather intelligence from the frontlines. During the search for a method of intelligence gathering that would not put the lives of air crew at risk, the possibility of acquiring UAVs was explored.”

Alternately put, the cost of Egyptian resistance to Israeli colonization required mechanisms of pacification. In September 1971 the first squadron of U.S.-made Firebee UAVs was deployed to the Refidim Airbase in Occupied Sinai and the “squadron’s first operational flight was carried out almost immediately”. In the October (Yom Kippur) War, according to Kenneth Munson, the IAF “was able to reduce its manned aircraft losses by using inexpensive Chukar decoys to deceive and saturate Egyptian [surface-to-air missile] battles along the Suez Canal.”

They were deployed similarly to support the colonization of Syria’s Golan Heights where they “fooled the Syrians into thinking that a massive combat plane strike had begun against their [anti-aircraft] positions.” The key Israeli innovation was not use as decoys, but in modifying the surveillance payload from film to video. The “operational need for real time intelligence on the front lines led to the idea of a UAV carrying a stabilized camera that could broadcast pictures.”

Munson notes that shortly after the war the Israeli government “charged the IAI and Tadiran companies with developing small, versatile, low-signature [UAVs], able to send back real-time intelligence by direct video link, and capable of being operation in the field by ordinary soldiers after only three to six months training.”

Both IAI and Tadiran responded successfully. Tadiran produced the Mastiff UAV and IAI the Scout with the first units entering into service in 1977 though were sparsely used in Sinai as Israel began drawing down its in preparation for the withdrawal from Sinai after Camp David. Instead, Stephen Zaloga writes that the concept was first tested in battle “in 1981 when the South African Army used the IAI Scout during Operation Protea in Angola.” Operation Protea was an attempt to destroy the South-West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO). The South African military’s use of drones in a colonial war of military occupation forecast Israel’s first UAV surveillance combat deployment in Lebanon in 1982. The IDF invaded and attacked Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) bases analogous to the South African attack on SWAPO, also engaging in combat with the Syrian military and Lebanese irregulars. The Israeli attack on Lebanon and the PLO turned out to be a turning point in the deployment and popularization of UAVs and the driving motivation for U.S. investment in UAVs, a technology it had largely abandoned at that point. All modern surveillance and attack drones descend from this.

Kibush hashmira in the Present

Settler violence – apart from the horrifying but peripheral violence carried out by fundamentalist ideologues, the West Bank “hilltop youth” for example – is settler sovereignty and there is no Israeli rule in Palestine without it. Anarchist and Weberian analyses of the state are never more prescient than when locating sovereign state violence in describing settler state dispossession of native nations. Or rather, they would never be more prescient if they were used to analyze settler states or colonial encounters which they are not.

Proportionately small numbers of Druze and Bedouin Palestinians are in the Israeli army, intelligence apparatuses and Border Police and proportionately smaller yet number work in the arms industry. The idea of kibush hashmira as a segregated labor caste, the conquest of the act of guarding, continues. So too does the Israeli military industrial complex continue to guard the act of conquest. The conquest of the act of guarding that guards the act of conquest is not a phenomenon from the Second Aliya, it is phenomenon of the present. Wolfe wrote that settler colonialism “is a structure, not an event.” The kibush hashmira is one such example of Zionism’s structural presence. The conquest of guarding created both a phenomenon of sovereign violence and a segregated labor caste based upon sovereign violence that underlays the ongoing Zionist colonization of Palestine.

Though the term kibush hashmira is not in use and has not been for around a century its meaning has not lessoned. It is the guiding logic of the Israeli arms industry and military and all Israeli military industrial production is part of this colonial production of violent settler sovereignty.