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From marginalized identity to resisting colonization:

The Palestinians of the Inside


Ibrahim Makkawi, Ph.D.[a]


Paper presented at the:

“Third North American Student Conference on the Palestine Solidarity Movement”

Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, (October 10 -12, 2003)



Since its inception, the Zionist-settler project in Palestine has been an integral part, in fact a central part, of western capitalist colonialism and its quest for domination, fragmentation and exploitation of the Arab homeland. Palestine was selected by the colonialist of the day (Britain) to be settled by Zionist Jewish settlers due to its strategic location in the heart of the Arab homeland, separating geographically its eastern (Mashriq) and western (Maghrib) parts.


It must be clear to all of us, that speaking about the liberation of Palestine and the Palestinian refugee’s Right of Return, without placing it within the appropriate context of the conflict is misleading and simplifying.  The real conflict is between the Imperialist-Zionist camp on one hand, and the Arab nation on the other, where Palestine is only the focal point of the conflict. It is becoming more obvious than ever before, that our main struggle is with the capitalist center and its expansionist imperial policy throughout its various forms: starting with colonialism, imperialism and now globalization. It is this capitalist interest in the Arab homeland and resources, which gave birth to Zionist-settler project at the first place, and continues to maintain its existence.


In the same sense that the Zionist-settler project in Palestine can be understood only as an advanced military base for western capitalism in the heart of the Arab homeland, we also cannot understand the Palestinian question and the refugees issue outside the context of the pan-Arab National (Qawmi) struggle. It is the Arab homeland in its entirety, but more specifically the popular classes, which is the target of western capitalism and globalization.


The Two Myths


First: The most fundamental myth and historical deception created and propagated by the Zionist movement in its attempt to establish a pure Jewish state in Palestine, has been its systematic denial of the existence of the Palestinian people in the same land it had targeted for settlement. Palestine was “a land without people for people without land”, declares the Zionist argument. The Zionists realized the undeniable fact that the native Arab people of Palestine aspiring for their own independence and self-determination had populated the country throughout their recorded history.


The ultimate clash between the Zionist-settler colonialist project, and the national aspirations of the Arab-Palestinian people resulted in turning the majority of them into refugees. This could not happen without a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing, the destruction of over five hundred of their towns and villages and building new Jewish settlements on their ruins. The historic names, as well as the structures of most places throughout the country, were changed overnight in the most barbaric act of historical rape.


In its resolution 194, the UN asserted the immediate return of the Palestinian refugees to their homes and property and insisted that the acceptance of the Zionist Entity among its members would be pending upon its implementation of the resolution 194. After more than half a century, the Zionist Entity still enjoys full membership of the UN along with its continued denial of the Palestinian refugees’ Right of Return.


Second: The second myth, which has been advanced by the Zionist propaganda is the Zionist Entity’s claim for being a western democracy. The common practice among western political leaders and scholars alike is their tendency to single it out as the exception in a region otherwise lacking in democratic and representative regimes. It is a strange hypocrisy for a settler colonialist entity known as the “state of Israel” to claim itself as a “Jewish state” and a “democracy” at the same time, when (a) religion and democracy are inherently contradictory, (b) 20% of the states population are Palestinians, and (c) the entire state was established on the runes of another people. Unlike many ethnic minorities living in western societies, the insider Palestinians did not immigrate to the new system; rather, the system was imposed on them after the destruction of their society and the disposition of the rest of their people.


Today, the insider Palestinians (1948 Palestine) live as second-class citizens in a colonial-apartheid regime that does not lose any opportunity to politically marginalize them, economically exploit them, and culturally manipulate their national identity according to the needs of the Jewish majority. Although a clear analogy can be made between the regime of the Zionist Entity and the Apartheid regime of South Africa, with regard to the status of the insider Palestinians, we must remember that while the entire native population of South Africa remained in their homeland, the native Palestinians have been literally uprooted leaving a small minority of them behind. The relationship between the Zionist Entity and the Palestinians in the occupied WBG is far more complicated than could be compared to the Apartheid regime of South Africa[i].


To drive the point home, it is suffice to remember the fact that the Zionist Entity does not have a constitution. As a settler-colonial entity falsely claiming to represent the aspirations of the Jews all over the world, the “Jewish state in Palestine” has been unable to draft a constitution, which would simultaneously define its relationship with its non-Jewish Palestinian citizens and the Jews around the world, let alone the Palestinian refugees it expelled out of their homeland. Not only that, but “Israel” is the only state in the world that does not have defined boarders as well.[ii]


Instead, the Zionist Entity has what is so called “basic laws”, two of which illustrate the essence of its Apartheid structure, with regard to the Palestinians who live within it.


First: The “law of return” applies only to Jews, according to which any Jewish person all over the world, by religious-ethnic definition only, is entitled to immigrate to the state of “Israel” and immediately acquire its citizenship. The same right is denied to Palestinian refugees who were expelled from the territory on which “Israel” was established in 1948.


Furthermore, granting citizenship to a baby who is born to Israeli Jewish parents is an automatic process by virtue of the racist “law of return” whereas a baby who is born to Palestinian parents, both of which are Israeli citizens as well, must go through a process of proving certain qualifications for citizenship. The process is far from being automatic for a Palestinian baby as it is for a Jewish baby born in the same country. Just recently, the Zionist parliament passed yet another blatantly racist law specifically preventing family unification for Palestinians from the WBG marrying to Palestinians who carry the Israeli citizenship!


Second: The Jewish National Fund (JNF), which was established by the Zionist movement before the creation of the state itself, is the only authority in charge of public land, and not the government. Again, by definition, only Jews can buy, own or lease land from the JNF, a right, which is denied to the Palestinians who are legally citizens of the same state. In other words, the most important element in our national struggle, the land of Palestine, is by “legal” definitions crated by the Zionist Entity, is limited to Jewish use only.


The Zionist Entity’s systematic and racist discrimination against its Arab-Palestinian citizens takes a wide range of forms and manifestations. As reposted by the Human Rights Watch (2001) Palestinian schools in “Israel” suffer from systematic discrimination in budget, school building, support services, teacher qualifications and much more.[iii] There is no single Arab university in the whole country despite the fact that Arab-Palestinians constitute 20% of the population. An overwhelming number of the indigenous Arab-Palestinian villages are not recognized by the government and consequently are denied basic services such as water and electricity. Budget for Palestinian local municipalities is incomparable to identical size of Jewish towns, and job opportunities are pending upon service in the Israeli army.


Within this state of affairs, the most important question for the insider Palestinians has been to understand the dialectical relationship between our national cause as an integral part of the Arab-Palestinian people, and the struggle for our basic human rights within the oppressive system which was imposed on us. Any attempt to serve only one of these two components of the dialect to the exclusion of the other is misleading. There is no doubt that our national struggle comes first, and the struggle for our human and civil rights must come in harmony with it and not in place of it.


There are many opportunistic politicians, and self-centered intellectuals among us who have pushed too far the component of our “civil rights and equal citizenship”, in the Zionist Entity, to the point where in effect all they do is legitimize its colonial structure. But there is a small and persistent minority of us who insist on exposing the danger stemming from our assimilation into the Zionist Entity under the pretext of the struggle for our “civil rights and equal citizenship”.


The Alternative Voice


There is the revolutionary political trend which stands firmly against the process of our assimilation in, and cooptation by the Zionist Entity. This trend is represented by Abna’a al-Balad Movement, and a variety of committed intellectuals. 


Abna’a al-Balad (People of the Homeland Movement) was founded as a grassroots movement in 1969, with the goal to preserve the collective national identity of the Arab Palestinians in 1948 Palestine, link their struggle to that of the rest of their people (especially the refugees Right of Return) and continue the struggle for the human rights and equality within the state which was imposed on them. All that, of course without compromising our national cause in the way of gaining some benefits from our citizenship status. Through our grassroots organization, we work mainly towards building the institutions of civil society among the Palestinian masses and raising national awareness and collective consciousness. 


We, reject on principle, any normalizing of relations with the Zionist Entity in Palestine through a firm boycott of the Zionist election process and refusing to be involved in this pointless attempt to reform this system from within only giving it legitimacy and acceptance. A system that demands of any elected official to its Knesset to subscribe to the election law revised in 1984 through section 7 (A): stating that any member of the Zionist Knesset must accept the fact that the state is: “A State for the Jewish People”. Realizing the racist connotations and dangerous implications of this precondition, we affirm the boycott of those pseudo-elections who call for a state for the “Jewish People” regardless of their place or residence. We will not pay this price to enter the Knesset and will not sacrifice our moral, national and ideological commitments to our Arab nation and Palestinian people.


We consider our Movement as an integral part of the Palestinian National Movement that functions on the Palestinian and Arab national fronts representing ideologically and in practice the interests of the popular classes throughout the Arab homeland, working to create a free society away from ethnic bigotry, racism, and to the development and progression of all people regardless of ethnicity, race, or religious affiliation.


We realize the disastrous consequences of the current racist and class structure of the Zionist Entity which resulted in poverty, misery and unemployment for the masses of the inside Palestinians because of the intersection between their class and national oppression. We work hard to find alternative social and economic structures and establishments that help support alternative development to our Arab-Palestinian, within 1948-occupied Palestine, without assimilating into the Zionist Entity.


Our commitment to developing programs that aim to build independent political, economic, and intellectual institutions fall into a program to create self-sufficiency and independence to those removed from the wealth and opportunities of the Zionist class and race structure. Our program is a program of empowerment, independence, and liberation. We believe that our economical deprivation on one hand, and our national oppression on the other are dialectally intertwined. The only way to struggle for our rights in both issues simultaneously is by a grassroots program that involves the masses and empowers them to take charge of their lives rather than accept the Zionist Knesset as the only channel to ask for our civil rights.


The Missing Link


We must locate the missing link in the Palestinian discourse in asserting the organic relationship between the exiled Palestinian refugees and the Palestinians who remained in their homeland living within the Zionist Entity. We are aware of the fact that this attempt creates a challenge to many who have accepted, and even took part in, the fragmentation of the Palestinian people into different groups each managing its own crisis. It is even more provocative to remind those of us who forget that the Zionist Entity was established in 1948 based on a single colonialist program of ethnic cleansing and those Palestinians who managed to remain in their homeland are only the rest of the expelled in the same colonialist program. They must be linked because they originated from the same conquest of their homeland.


It is clear enough that the ongoing attempt to manage the crisis stemming from the Intifada in the occupied WGZ, to the exclusion of the Palestinian refugees and the insider Palestinians, is an attempt to divide and fragment our national struggle into isolated local problems, which can be managed by each segment on its own. We must assert more than ever before that we are one people leading one national struggle for self-determination, and above that, we are part of the Arab nation (Ummah). In that, we must reassert the link between the exiled Palestinians and the remaining Palestinians, sine resistance and steadfastness of the latter in their historic homeland paves the road for the return of the refugees.


Consistent with its racist denial of the existence of the Palestinian people, and from the first day of its inception, the Zionist Entity insisted on the implementation of a doubled sided campaign of liquidation of the Palestinian collective character and belonging to the homeland. While it worked relentlessly on removing the refugees and settling them as far as possible from the borders of their homeland, in the meantime it insisted on blurring, manipulating and deforming of the national identity of the Palestinians who fell directly under its control. This only exposes the illegal, immoral and illegitimate Zionist claim for a pure Jewish state in Palestine. The Palestinian refugees’ uncompromising demand to return to their homeland and the persistence of the  Palestinians of the inside against assimilation within Zionist Entity must be seen as an inseparable part of a comprehensive national struggle for return and self-determination.      


Needless to remind ourselves that the contemporary Palestinian National Movement was initially launched as a movement of refugees fighting to return to their homeland even before the occupation of 1967. The movement was organized and led by the Palestinian refugees first in Jordan and latter in Lebanon while it was clear that the goal was Palestine the homeland, which was occupied in 1948. The fact that in a latter stage the bourgeois leadership of the PNM had abandoned its human bases in the refugee camps after its military defeat in Beirut and its transformation into a bureaucratic movement does not and should not render the new goal of that leadership, which is limited to a “mini-state” more important than the right of return. A “mini state” on any part of Palestine, created by an official agreement with the Zionist Entity, without the Right of Return is meaningless and can only be another fragile (Qutri) Arab state.


The outbreak of the popular Intifiada in 1987, was a natural development of the Palestinian struggle after the military defeat in Beirut, bringing the struggle into the inside. It is precisely this turning point that led the Zionist leadership to cooperate with the defeated leadership of the PLO after Beirut when it had realized its incapability to break the will of the popular Intifada. The formula set by the Zionists was clear: to bring the remaining leadership of the PLO to the WBG in order to stop the Intifada, manage the people in these areas, give up the refugees’ Right of Return, and leave the insider Palestinians on their own to assimilate within the Zionist Entity.


Since the beginning of the Palestinian leadership’s surrender to the U.S lead settlement process more than a decade ago, from Madrid, through Oslo and into the Road Map, we have asserted our views about the expected compromise regarding the Right of Return inherent in such a diplomatic process. Now the goal of this entire process became clearly the establishment of a compradoric regime in the WBG in exchange for recognizing the right of the Zionist Entity on the rest Palestine, and leaving the refugees and the insider Palestinians out of the solution. We believe that the initiative must be put back into the hands of these two segments of our people in addition to the struggle of the popular classes in the WBG.


Again, resisting assimilation by the insider Palestinians and insisting on the right of return for the Palestinian refugees must be combined and integrated struggle and there are many practical ways to do that. NO to compromising the ROR and NO to assimilating into the Zionist Entity, must be the defining motto of our movement. 


What Can we do From the Inside?


First: By definition, the Zionist-settler project is not made to accommodate our collective existence as Palestinians, not even with the most dramatic changes and transformation in its Jewish-Zionist character. As an entity that has been established on the ruins of our people, it cannot and will not be able to accommodate us within its structure. It is from this point of reference that we must judge any attempt by the insider Palestinians who argue that “we can work on changing the Zionist project from within.” This false argument has been used an excuse by many who aspire for their seat in the Zionist Knesset.


We refuse to enter the Zionist Knesset, simply because it is (a) in direct contradiction with our national identity as the legitimate owners of the land, (b) it gives legitimacy to the Zionist Entity and support to its myth about democracy, (c) it is a vehicle of cooptation and fragmentation of our leadership and (d) there is virtually nothing that we can achieve through the Knesset with regard to our citizens rights that we cannot do without it. In other words, even the struggle for our civil rights from within the Kenesset is pointless.  One organized national strike by our masses is more effective in obtaining our rights than an entire year of meaningless parliamentary work.


Second: We understand that it is not enough to assert the Arab-Palestinian nature of the collective identity of the Palestinian people in 1948. In order to counter the “Israliziation” process, which has intensified most recently (especially after Oslo) in its attempt to eradicate our national identity, we need a genius and a well-developed national educational campaign. Our goal is to develop and implement a comprehensive national educational campaign aiming at developing, asserting and maintaining the Arab-Palestinian national identity among our masses.


This requires an active rather than a reactive program to raise and enhance national awareness through empowering the masses, informal educational activities, community centers, literacy programs, youth activities, and the development of academic research programs to guide our understanding of this old/new process of internal colonization. As part of our program of raising national and class-consciousness, we must take seriously the idea of educating our youth about the history and geography of their homeland, especially the ruins of the destroyed towns and villages, the place that testifies to the original homes of the Palestinian refugees.


Third: The widespread base of supporters and activists of Al-Awda network had built over the past few years is a remarkable development on an international scale, placing the Palestinian Refugees Rights of Return on the agenda of a global anti-capitalist movement. We, the Palestinians of the inside have a unique position, which allows us to contribute in the most meaningful way to the struggle of this international movement. We must consider seriously the opportunity of coordinated activities with Al-Awda, organize visits to historic Palestine, participate in its various activities from our location inside, and make use of the information revolution through communication with activists abroad and with the Palestinian refugees.


A Final Word


There is a near consensus in the Arab and Palestinian political discourse, that the Zionist Entity was imposed on Palestine in 1948, following a systematic and well-planned campaign of ethnic cleansing which lead to the refugees’ question. The Zionist Entity, most would agree, was installed in Palestine by colonialist powers in order to prevent any attempt of pan-Arab unification. Furthermore, there is a near consensus that the Zionist Entity since its establishment is becoming more and more aggressive, expansionist and eager in its attempt to dominate the Arab homeland through its strategic alliance with western capitalism. All of us would agree that the pan-Arab (Qawmi)cause, and the question of Palestine are dialectically linked.


While we all start from this accurate characterization of the Zionist Entity, the shift in  the thinking of some of us in such a way that grants legitimacy to the Zionist Entity and enters into negotiations and normalization with it, compromising the Palestinian refugees’ Right of Return, is clearly a mind set of intellectual and political surrender that can be only described as an “internalizing defeat.” In order to bring the Right of Return into the center of the Palestinian struggle we must uncompromisingly combat this trend of “internalizing defeat” among our leadership and intellectuals who stand in service of the “other.” Together with our supporters and allies worldwide, we assert that the question of Palestine is central to the struggle of the Arab nation for liberation, unity and development. Consequently, we call for the internationalization of the Arab struggle in the face for globalization and capitalism.


[a] Dr. Ibrahim Makkawi is a member of Abna’a al-Balad (People of the Homeland Movement) in 1948-Occupied Palestine, teaches Educational Psychology at Al-Quds Arab University in Jerusalem, and co-editor of kana’an online:


[i] For further discussion of this point see Adel Samara: “Why is it Oslo-Stan, not a Bantustan”. 

[ii] Davis, Uri (1987). Israel: An apartheid state. London: Zed Books Ltd.

[iii] Human Rights Watch (2001). Second class: Discrimination against Palestinian Arab Children in Israel’s schools. New York: HRW