Citizen Strangers: Palestinians and the Birth of Israel’s Liberal Settler State


Video and Edited Transcript
Shira Robinson
Transcript No. 402 (26 March 2014)


“Citizen Strangers: Palestinians and the Birth of Israel’s Liberal Settler State”


Shira Robinson
Associate Professor of History and International Affairs,
The George Washington University

Yousef Munayyer: Our event today is “Citizen Strangers: Palestinian Citizens and the Birth of Israel’s Liberal Settler State,” which is the title of this book by Professor Shira Robinson. Shira works on the social and cultural history of the modern Middle East with an emphasis on colonialism, citizenship, nationalism and cultures of militarism after World War I. She joined GW, which is right down the street, in 2007 after two years of teaching at the University of Iowa and one year as a visiting fellow at the Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton University. She received her B.A. in Middle East and North Africa Studies from the University of Michigan and her Masters and Ph.D. in history from Stanford University. The topic of the book and the talk today is in many ways historical but also in many ways contemporary given the current discussion around the negotiations issue of the Jewish State and the often-discussed identity crisis in Israel between being a Jewish State and a democratic state, and I think that during the conversation today as she’s pointed out very emphatically in her book, the origins of this identity crisis really go back to the foundation of the state. So we’re very happy to have Professor Robinson here to talk to us about this issue. Thank you.

Dr. Shira Robinson: Thank you Yousef, thank you Tamara and thanks to everyone for coming. It’s a pleasure to speak at the Palestine Center. I’m just going to jump right into it. Today, as many of you know and probably the reason why many of you are here, Palestinian citizens of Israel are in the news a lot, particularly in the blogosphere, but also in the mainstream press. The laws and institutions that discriminate against them, their own growing protests and legal battles, both on their own and in conjunction with Jewish allies – these things today are regularly in the news – whether it’s the ban on marriage between Palestinian citizens and their partners from the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, their challenges to Jewish National Fund land policies that prevent them from living on or leasing land owned by the owned by the Jewish National Fund, which is about 93 percent of state land, the harassment of Palestinian Knesset members, the harassment of Palestinian activists who want to commemorate the Nakba of 1948, ongoing government efforts to divide Christians from Muslims from Druze, all of whom in this case, are citizens of the Israeli state.

But this is a very different political landscape and media landscape compared to the landscape that I faced fifteen years ago when I began my graduate studies at Stanford. And I just want to talk a little bit about the questions that inspired this book. By that what I mean is that I want to talk a little bit about the literature that existed at the time I started my work because the book is actually as interpretive as it is empirical. The book Citizen Strangers developed out of my doctoral dissertation which itself was spawned by a shorter paper that I wrote in graduate school on an Israeli border patrol massacre in a village of Palestinian citizens known as Kufr Qasim on the eve of the 1956 war, on the eve of attack by Britain, France and Israel on Egypt. And one of the major themes to emerge from the archives and the Arabic and Hebrew press on this massacre was the extent to which the narrative of the crime, the aftermath of the crime and the narrative that was told about it, was contested both discursively, that is in the press, in the Knesset, in petitions and physically contested between activists on the one hand and the regime, the Israeli government and its various police and military police and their supporters on the other. And these contestations took place in venues like demonstrations, memorial marches and elsewhere.

There were certain questions that were raised for me as I was doing this archival research. For example, was the massacre an isolated crime, that is the massacre of 48 citizens of Israel from this village of Kufr Qasim, carried out by a few soldiers who, in the words of prime minister David Ben Gurion, at the time “lost their minds” or was the massacre a structural effect of the harsh military regime that had been imposed on Palestinian citizens since 1948 as activists claimed? Second question that was raised for me was what rights had Palestinians, who had been promised equality in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, have to publicly and openly protest their collective subordination at the time? That is, in the late 1950’s. And, what rights did they have to express their critique of the political status quo? This degree of contestation, both discursively and physically, surprised me quite a bit because the secondary literature on Israel before 1967, before Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the literature on Palestinian citizens that existed, rarely mentioned active Palestinian resistance to Israeli policies and to the conditions imposed on them and it rarely mentioned the ways in which the state was forced to respond to those acts of resistance.

I don’t want to be too professorial here, but I want to mention a few things to characterize this literature. Until the 1990’s, the field was divided into basically two schools. The first school, which started to produce works in the late 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s, was written largely by former Arabists, that is government officials who had been responsible for what the government called Arab Affairs. These studies tended to attract patterns of demography, voting and whether or not Palestinians had what they called a “positive identification with the Jewish State.” And that was very unclear to me. Was that supposed to be a feeling? Could it be measured by an answer to a yes or no question? It was all very vague. Above all, this literature had very little to no say on the military regime, which was an 18-year British regime rooted in emergency laws, substantial harassment and violence that targeted the people subjected to it which were exclusively Palestinian citizens, and a permit system that restricted Arab mobility, residence, farming, work and political life. For example, this literature spoke nothing about the government’s use of informants, intimidation and bribes to conservative clan heads to undermine what might have been democratic elections.

When the military government did appear in the existing literature in this first school or in studies of Israel before 1967, the military regime was treated as a security matter on the one hand, or as a structural exception to Israel’s otherwise democratic state formation and as a structural exception certainly to the Jewish settlement enterprise in Palestine. In other words, everything that it said about this military regime was disconnected from the pre-‘48 period, from the seven decades or so of Zionist settlement in Palestine before 1948. The problem with this absence or sort of minimization of the military regime was that the silence defied empirical reality at several levels. First and foremost, it defied reality in the realm of land. During the seven decades prior to statehood in 1948, Jewish land agencies and individuals had managed to purchase just under six percent of Palestinian land of the total amount of land in the British mandate of Palestine for their exclusive use, for exclusive use by Jews. However after 1948, less than two decades later, this Israeli state claimed title to not only all the land that had been confiscated from refugees that were no longer in the state, but to 65 percent of all the land holdings owned by Arab citizens inside the state. They did this through a variety of mechanisms and here’s a map from my book that’s a little bit. The way that land was confiscated from Palestinian citizens of the state was that the military government basically set up a host of what it called closed zones, and in the immediate aftermath of 1948 there were about 45 such closed zones that were set up. There were three main districts of military rule, basically north, center and south. The north was in this area, I don’t know if there’s a pointer here, but in this area of the Galilee I tried to shade it in pink, the middle or central area was the area known as the “little triangle,” which was not conquered during the war directly but was annexed in May of 1949 from Jordan as a part of the Armistice agreements between Israel and Jordan. And then the area in the south was in the Negev Desert, and this was an area where all of the remaining population, which was a Bedouin population, was forcibly concentrated into an area that in Hebrew the translation would be “The Reserves.”

One of the things that the military government did was it set up these military zones and, within them, closed zones and many other multiple zones and said, “As soon as we hereby declare this zone closed, no one can move in or out of that zone without a special permit and you cannot work land, you can’t look for a job, you can’t visit your mother, you can’t go to the doctor, you can’t go to university, you need a permit to do absolutely everything.” This was one of the main ways the government managed to confiscate land through a variety of legal mechanisms but, first and foremost, using these military mechanisms. At the time the government claimed these zones were universally enforced, meaning if Jews were living in these zones or were travelling through them, they also needed permits. In other words they claimed the zones were enforced through borders, land and mapping and not by race per say. But that wasn’t true, and I’ll talk about that and how that sort of came out. The government basically admitted that this was a false claim by the late 1950’s.

Another thing that I want to just mention here that is key to the story of military rule and the structure of it is in these zones of military rule, which control the lives of about 90 percent of Palestinians who remained inside the state after 1948, it was not the Knesset that was sovereign it was the governor. It was a military governor that was sovereign so all the rules of law that applied to Jewish citizens outside the zones of military rule were suspended inside, and the military governor had arbitrary rule of law in which he and his associates made all of the decisions. Looking at these maps, and especially this first one where you can see how much land was owned by Jewish land agencies and individuals before 1948 and then how much land was conquered during the war and annexed, it’s not hard to imagine how colonization was so much more significant after 1948 than beforehand. And that’s sort of counterintuitive because we think of the pre-‘48 period as the period of colonial settlement and less so the post-‘48 period. In fact, state leaders made this point regularly, particularly when they were under fire by Jews in the Knesset in the 1960’s, when they basically said that the military regime was being used to win votes by the ruling party. The last resort when pushed up against the wall by people like Ben Gurion and his close associates like Shimon Peres, what they finally said at the end of the day was, “Look, without military rule we would not be able to continue our ongoing struggle for the continuation of the colonization or settlement and Jewish immigration.” They said this openly in the newspaper in 1962.

What about security? One of the things that was claimed in the earlier years of military rule was that these military zones and the permit system on the one hand were universally enforced, but on the other hand they were absolutely necessary for security, both to prevent and deter Palestinians who remained in Israel from taking up arms or collaborating with people, with Arab armies outside of Israel and from sabotaging from within or from clashing with Jewish citizens. In the sense of the regime’s ability to protect Jewish citizens from physical harm and to protect the state from actual sabotage, the security value of the military regime was contested, not only by Palestinians and their Jewish allies on the Left but by the security services and a small number of even government Arabists from the earlier years of the state. As the editor of the government’s main daily newspaper put it as early as 1950, “They turn up too few of our flags and have spied too little.” This doubt about the security value of the military regime would widen, especially by late 1958, when both the state comptroller and the Supreme Court in Israel would confirm Palestinian longstanding complaints of the racial enforcement of the military regime’s permit laws. And, political and military elites in Israel began to worry that Israel’s image internationally was suffering because of the reputation that was emerging of Israel’s racial enforcement of the military regime.

Here’s a picture that I found [see video for slide] in the Israeli military archives of a makeshift military court–they were all makeshift. This trial happened to take place at a village in the northern central region of the country. Research has shown that the Palestinian population that was brought to military trial on violations of the military emergency laws that I mentioned before were convicted overwhelmingly on administrative infringements, in other words non-security infringements – trespassing, traveling to sell their produce in a market without a permit, etc. For that reason they were only fined or maybe briefly detained, but they weren’t put in jail because there was no security threat to the state. Indeed, we all also know that there was a quiet agreement in the Knesset or Israeli parliament in 1952 not to enforce the emergency regulations against Jews in exchange of burying what had then been an ongoing attempt to write a constitution. The claim early on that this was a security issue and not an issue of discrimination was debunked from the start, and we have all sorts of evidence to prove it. There were claims to that effect from the start but now we know even more about that. That was this first school of literature – totally dissatisfying, ignoring the reality of military rule, ignoring the fact that there was this huge colonization of land and ignoring the regime itself.

Then there was a second school of literature that emerged starting in the late 1960’s but especially in the 1980’s. Here there were a handful of books, invaluable books in fact, on the social, economic and political mechanisms that were put in place by the government to control the population. Except for one of them, The Arabs in Israel, that came out in 1969, very few of these books actually focused on the pre-1967 period. In other words, they focused on discrimination against Palestinian citizens and on the policies that disempowered them and marginalized them, but they didn’t talk about the pre-1967 period very much. And these books tended to rely on published laws and other published sources, often government offered, in both English and Hebrew. Part of this was the problem of archival declassification–things weren’t open yet. Part of this was a problem of language. But it was a striking absence in the field nonetheless. What this literature failed to do is that it really gave very little sense of how military rule as a regime developed in tandem with dynamics between Palestinians and the State and how the imposition of these emergency laws affected everyday life, how Palestinians responded to it overtime and the nature of its legacy. In this sense, the best works that we had on the field produced, unfortunately, a relatively static picture with no meaningful sense of change overtime and a picture that failed to show how and in what context policies and laws emerged.

This absence of dynamism from the picture and the relationship between the Palestinian minority and the state and between Arab and Jewish citizens and the silence on Palestinian citizens before 1967 in general was especially striking to me in light of the transformation occurring in studies of Israel-Palestine at that time. And I’ll just make one more brief remark of historiography, and then I’ll get into my story. For decades scholars had been charting the rise of the Zionist movement in three contexts basically: in the context of anti-Semitism, in the context of nationalism and, to a certain extent, in the context of socialism. And, of course each of these factors played a role. But the problem was that there was an over-focus on Eastern European ideas and formal claims by the Zionist movement. And that emphasis on ideas and claims tended to come at the expense of empirical realities and encounters in Ottoman Palestine between Jewish settlers and Palestinian residents. That focus on ideas and claims at the expense of realities could not adequately explain very important developments that we needed to understand–things like the emergence of the labor market in Palestine starting in the 1920’s, settlement patterns, the relationship between the Zionist movement and the British Mandatory Authority. All of this led to a situation in which Israel and its pre-Israel history seemed to exist outside of world history. In the 1990’s when I got to graduate school, there was a new school of work on the Israel-Palestine area at large that departed from this narrower model by foregrounding the mutual impact of the encounters between settlers and the 95 percent Arab majority that lived in Palestine at the time. This study of the encounter raised new questions, inspired by the study of European imperial expansion since the 16th century and especially since the 19th century. Specifically, the new evidence uncovered by scholars in the field challenged the wisdom, the accepted or conventional wisdom, of the complete separation of the Arab population and the Jewish population. And yet still notably, this new literature skipped over Israel’s first two decades of independence in the 1950’s and the 1960’s. In other words it focused on the pre-48 period and the continuities in that period and the period in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip after 1967.

So, to sort of sum that up, together, both the old literature on the Arab minority, or what was called the Arab Israelis, and the new work on Israel-Palestine reinforced the absolutely illogical notion that the laws and practices that Israel used to occupy Palestinians after 1967 emerged in a vacuum, and that is just illogical by methods of basic historical reasoning and even basic reasoning.

So this presented me with a puzzle, okay? Now to be fair, why was this period absent? Now to be fair, at first glance, this sort of black hole on the pre-67 period, pre-67 Israel in the context of empire and settler colonialism, made sense on three levels. Number one, Palestinians after 1948 who remained inside the State gained citizenship and the right to vote–that doesn’t sound like South Africa, that doesn’t sound like Native Americans in the 19th century, that doesn’t sound like Algerian Muslims in Algeria. After 1948, the Palestinians who remained in Israel were also a native minority, not a majority, among the population, so that’s different. And, of course, Israel had no metropole. So there are these sort of unique factors that seem to position Israel outside of the discussion. So that’s at first glance. But I would argue, and I do argue in my book, that the failure of situating this 1948 to 1966 period, military rule ended just six months before the 1967 war, and I will talk about that at the end. The failure to situate this period and the military government as an institution within the same trends of imperial history defies basic logic and historical reasoning.  Why do I say that? Back to the map. Again, it bears repeating that the State acquired exponentially more Arab land for the exclusive use by Jews during the first two decades of statehood alone than the Zionist movement acquired by purchase through the previous seven decades. It did so, the State acquired this land largely through a governing apparatus, military rule that was based off British imperial law, law which originated in places like India, Ireland, Jamaica and South Africa during the Boer War. That’s number one.

Number two, the government looked explicitly to colonial models, to French models, to British models and Algeria and India et cetera, for things like education policy, how are we going to educate the Arab population in such a way that they are loyal to us, that they don’t unite, or have sympathetic sympathies with their Arab neighbors outside, with refugee, and they worked hard, looking for colonial models to institutionalize government and deepen divisions between ethnic and religious groups among the Palestinian population. So here’s a picture of a Druze soldier on leave at home, but still in his army uniform–presumably this is in the Galilee. Basically in the 1950s, the Druze, through an agreement with a handful of conservative community members, were drafted en mass, by force, to join the Israeli army. So unlike Palestinian Muslims, Sunni Muslims and Christians, they are required to go to the army, just like Jews. Indeed, scratch beneath the surface, as I did, for example, in police records, government archives, the press, the memoirs, literature, comic strips, film, radio, and there also turns out to be no dearth of evidence that both Jews and Palestinians conceived their relationship to each other during this time in traditional colonial terms, even if the government officially balked at that analogy in international forum. So what do I mean by this? For example, the government regularly used the language and rationale of racial segregation, “The Arabs are primitive, they are dangerous,” that we saw in places like Africa, Asia, Australia and the United States. They used this language they called “separate development,” locked down on village, preventing people from going in and out of their villages, offering lower food rations: there was a period of austerity during the first few years of statehood, and the government offered lower food rations to the Arab population than to the Jewish population. They used this language to opposed elected municipal government inside Arab communities due to supposed Arab unfamiliarity with lustiness of democratic procedures.” In the early 1950’s, Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ben Gurion compared the mission of Jewish settlement to the conquest of the Wild West against the Native Americans. You don’t actually have to look that hard to find this stuff, especially if you read Hebrew. But even if you don’t read Hebrew, you can find some stuff.

Outside of Israel, the government also went out of its way to circulate misleading images of modernization and uplift of the Palestinian minorities while opposing UN action in places like Algeria and South Africa, actions against equality activists, Algerian rebels to end colonial rule there, and while opposing, demonizing as terrorism the efforts of Palestinian citizens to draw international attention to the structural similarities between the conditions that they lived under, and conditions of other colonial subjects in places like Algeria and South Africa lived under.

Now, here’s a great picture from the Associated Press that I think somehow didn’t make it into the book of a May Day demonstration in which Palestinians are demonstrating their solidarity with the Algerian Revolution in 1959 in Nazareth which was the only remaining Palestinian town to stay intact after the war.

Here is a picture of a nighttime evening meeting held by the Communist Party (which I’ll talk about in a second), a meeting to protest maintenance of military rule. And here is a picture of some Palestinian political activists from the Communist Party distributing the main daily organ of the Party, al-Ittihad in the 1960s. This newspaper was a big source for me, and in this newspaper I found a lot of references to making the analogy between our own condition as Palestinian citizens of the State–even though we have suffrage rights etc. we feel very much in connection with black South Africans struggling for equality, Algerians struggling for the end of French rule, etc. A handful of Jewish citizens echoed this critique saying there’s some important structural similarities going on here, and they warned against what one critic called the “colonial contempt” that plagued Jewish society towards Arab society in Israel, drawing comparisons between military rule and apartheid, for example, and referring to the military government explicitly as a colonial regime. These critiques came largely from Jews involved in the Communist Party that was the only non-Zionist party that allowed Arab citizens to have equal membership with Jews.

So, I had this puzzle. On the one hand there were structural differences, on the other hand there was all this evidence pointing to the fact that this kind of looked and smelled like a colonial situation. So, in short, I had no explanatory or theoretical models to explain Israel’s post-independent state formation and its treatment of Palestinian citizens. And for me, this then presented an analytical puzzle – how is it possible that you can have both a procedurally liberal state, a state in which you have citizenship and voting for everyone in the country, or most people in the country, and even a semi-free press and a despotic colonial system that separated people on the basis of race and cultivated similar colonial dynamics and sensibilities. To most of us these things are mutually exclusive. You can’t have both a procedurally liberal state in which everyone has the right to vote and is a citizen and a colonial regime at the same time because these two things usually don’t go together. The very fact of this duality, procedural liberalism in the midst of a colonial settler project, raised a host of new questions for me. For example, what kind of impact did this duality have on the law, social relations and public culture of Israel in the pre-1967 period? How did Palestinians and Jews experience this period differently? Were Jews aware of what was going on? To what extent? To what degree were they complicit (average Jewish citizens)? What difference, in practice, did citizenship make? That was a guiding question I was thinking about as I was writing this book.

So to answer these questions, going back to the map, I realized I needed to dig deeper in a few different ways. Number one, I needed to link the period of early statehood to the pre-’48 settlement period and the war that enabled the establishment of a Jewish majority state. In other words, I needed to take seriously the transition between these two periods alongside the demographic upheaval that accompanied the 1948 war. In basic terms, historians now agree that the Palestinian-Arab population went from two-thirds of the total population of British-mandated Palestine to one-eighth of the territory that Israel conquered and annexed after the war because Jewish militia forces and Zionist militia forces, which later merged into the Israeli army after May 1948, expelled and encouraged the flight of roughly 90 percent of the Arab population in the territory it conquered. Okay, so that’s not really disputed anymore. For me the question was how do I connect what was known as minority policy after the war to this transformation, including and very, very critically the decision made by Israel in the summer of 1948 to formally bar the return of refugees. And I realize that one of the main things I needed to do to think about this was to account for the changing nature of colonialism itself in the world after World War I and especially after 1945. And this was a change in response to the growing militancy of demands for freedom and independence by colonized populations and which produced the enshrinement of certain basic human rights norms like suffrage and citizenship. So there were very important consequences to this shift in the colonial world as it was known in 1945. Number one, the avowal of imperial conquest – “I hereby conquer you and I am the imperial overlord” –  that became much more muted over the course of the 1930s and 40s and especially after World War II.

Number two, Britain and France, just to take two examples of major empires, began to change the names of their ties to their overseas possessions after the war. So there was no longer the British Empire, it was the British Commonwealth. They started to describe the nature of their relationship to their ties to their overseas territories differently, and both the British and the French began to hand out discreet rights to people in the colonies that they held in order to hold on to them, in order to forestall complete withdrawal. So, Algerian Muslims gained French citizenship in the mid-1940s – that’s a major example. The French and the British also tried to begin social welfare programs in much of west and southern Africa in order to forestall demands for independence, things like this. And as I show in the book, Israeli officials were for the most part largely attuned to these trends that helps to explain why the explicit avowal of colonial rule inside the country didn’t appear very much. In other words, I’ve scratched below the surface and given you a few bits and there’s more in the book, but the official language at the time was not what you’d expect from a nineteenth century British military ruler.

And I also realized I had to use some non-traditional sources – unpublished sources – police records, films. I used a lot of cultural sources as well as newspapers and other things. So these questions became my launching pad for investigations into law, public culture and political activism during this period. I’ll speak very briefly about culture and political activism at the end, but here I just want to walk you through the legal section of the book and particularly the section on suffrage and citizenship.

So there are two important questions we need to ask to determine what was going on in the minds of Israeli policy makers. Number one, in 1948, why would they want to share political power with an Arab population that would want to undo the very policies that subordinated them to Jews? In other words, why give people political rights if they might use those political rights to change the laws that subordinated them? But also, why did it take four years to pass a citizenship law in Israel? The citizenship law was passed only in 1952, and for the first four years of Israeli statehood, there were no citizens. So that’s kind of weird. And I discovered two things. One, both voting rights and the promise of universal citizenship were forced on the Israeli state in order to join the United Nations. Number two, and most important, the 1952 citizenship law was ultimately formulated not to fine and secure the ties of the Jewish majority to the state (as you would imagine, it’s the Israeli citizenship law), but rather the citizenship law was to limit the Right of Return to Palestinian refugees and to subordinate collectively the Palestinian population that remained. These two little facts help and begin to explain why citizenship as an institution in Israel is so incredibly weak. As with everything else in history, this citizenship law of 1952 evolved, I would argue, not from an orderly program of displacement and exclusion – although there was certainly that logic there – but rather, it evolved from a host of structural contradictions and after much trial and error, and I will just briefly explain that and then I will end.

So when the UN partition plan was announced in November of 1947, the Arabs of Palestine were expected, or projected, to comprise nearly fifty percent of the population in the Jewish state. In some places, places like the Galilee, for example, they were expected to comprise eighty to ninety percent of the population. This is supposed to be land allocated to the Jewish state, but they still had an overwhelming majority because very few Jews had settled there before the war. UN resolution 181, which was the partition plan, would require each state, the Arab state-to-be and the Jewish state-to-be, to draft a constitution ensuring political and legal equality and the protection of property of all citizens. Now we already know that during the war, the Yishuv, or the Jewish settlement community in Palestine, bypassed the liability of minority rule, or even 55 percent rule, through the expulsion and coerced flight of most of the indigenous Arab population. But a sizable Palestinian population remained after the war – fifteen percent of the total Israeli population after the fog of the fighting had cleared, and the rest of the Palestinian population remained just over the border.

Israel did not want to grant en-mass suffrage rights to the Palestinian population, but it was quite worried because, in December of 1948, its first UN application was rejected, and the first parliamentary, or Knesset, elections were coming up in January of ‘49. There were proposals to limit the vote to certain Palestinian groups, but in the end, everyone in theory was granted the right to vote. There were all kinds of other problems that I don’t have time to go into, but I will just say one more thing, which is that as Ben Gurion, as prime minister and defense minister, announced that everyone would have the right to vote in late December of 1948, a few weeks before the parliamentary elections, the government did two things. Number one, he expanded the power of the military government, or the military regime, to limit the Arab population’s ability to farm their land and to contest the confiscation of that land. And at the same time, he tried to reduce the Palestinian population before a universal citizenship law was passed through what he called “the war on infiltration”, and what I call the “war on Return” by creating a complex registration system designed to freeze the legal status of Palestinians and to make as many Palestinians as possible subject to possible deportation. Meanwhile, the government stalled for several more years on the law, on the citizenship law, because Ben Gurion feared that the potential to grant equality to the Palestinians would undermine the Jewish settlement project.

But basically the kind of basic political formation that Israel became during its formative first two decades is what I’ve called a liberal settler state, and I define this term as a modern colonial polity whose procedural democracy was established by forcefully removing most of the indigenous majority from that territory and then extending to them individual rights and duties to them. The main argument of my book is that Israel became a state in which the rights to the state were granted to one group, the Jewish population; and certain discreet rights were granted to the Arabs, within the state. So there was one group that was granted the rights to the state, and another group that was granted rights within the state, and that distinction between nationals, what I called nationals, and citizens, is very, very important.

Now, we don’t have time to go over everything else I want to say, but this distinction between citizens and nationals that I have just suggested is only one of the major structural conditions that the Israeli society has faced since the 1948 war. These contradictions have enormous implications for those people, like your selves, who are interested in seeing a final end to this protracted and very tragic conflict. If the long standing nostalgia held by so many, at least in this country and elsewhere for, in Hebrew, what is known as the “small and beautiful Israel,” particularly among the Left, if that nostalgia is a fantasy, then simply separating Palestinian citizens from the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and establishing a two-state solution, even if that were possible, which I don’t think it is anymore, that would still leave many, many problems in place. Thank you very much.


Dr. Shira Robinson works on the social and cultural history of the Modern Middle East, with an emphasis on colonialism, citizenship, nationalism, and cultures of militarism after World War I. She joined The George Washington University in 2007 after two years of teaching at the University of Iowa and one year as Visiting Fellow at the Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton University. She received her B.A. in Middle Eastern and North African Studies from the University of Michigan and her M.A. and Ph.D. in History from Stanford University.

Dr. Robinson’s research has been funded through the Fulbright Institute, the Social Science Research Council, the Mellon Foundation, and the Palestinian American Research Center. She also spent a year at the Center for the Advanced Study of Arabic at the American University in Cairo. In 2006 her dissertation won the Halpern Biennial Dissertation Award from the Association for Israel Studies. Professor Robinson works on the social and cultural history of the Modern Middle East, with an emphasis on colonialism, citizenship, nationalism, and cultures of militarism after World War I.