Nada Elia: ‘Zionism cannot be reformed; it must be abolished.’

Nada Elia argues that justice for Palestine cannot be won with the abolition of Israeli apartheid alone. It must go further, dismantling the supremacist ideology of Zionism itself.
It is impossible to overemphasize that today’s activism must be transformational. It must be decolonial, seeking full liberation from the mental and generational shackles of the oppressive system, and not merely anticolonial, aimed at ousting the occupier.
It is impossible to overemphasize that today’s activism must be transformational. It must be decolonial, seeking full liberation from the mental and generational shackles of the oppressive system, and not merely anticolonial, aimed at ousting the occupier.

First published in Issue 15 of The Internationalist.

Achieving justice for Palestine entails more than abolishing Israeli apartheid. The inertia of over a century of inequality, and of the privileged status of the settlers as they forcibly and violently dispossessed, and continue to dispossess, Palestine’s Indigenous people, cannot be reversed solely through the formal dissolution of the oppressive system. The present plight of formerly colonized countries around the globe, after they gained their independence, as well as the ongoing circumstances of the Black and Indigenous people of North America, who theoretically have equal rights but who have remained criminalized, hunted, caged, and murdered, is proof that eliminating legal barriers without addressing the practical consequences of injustice does not redress historic inequities. Therefore, even as we are organizing to overthrow Israel’s state-sanctioned violence, we must look beyond apartheid as the primary means of oppression of the Palestinian people. Beyond apartheid, Zionism itself must be abolished. It is an essentially racist, supremacist ideology, and the oppressive system it has produced cannot be reformed.

Abolition hinges on the understanding that reform—making changes to an existing system—does not solve the problems created by that system, it only helps maintain the system by making it less obviously abrasive, without transforming its corrosive core. Today, this argument is being made about the police all across the USA, with a number of grassroots organizers and public intellectuals debunking myths that the police are an overall positive social force, where rogue elements occasionally go awry. Abolitionists argue instead that the system is not broken, it is functioning exactly as it was always intended to. Therefore, there is no need to “fix” it, to restore it to its original form, because that form itself is oppressive at its inception, as it remains to this day. When was “the system” not broken, abolitionists ask? When was it not racist, when was it not violent, when we know that the origin of the police forces in the US South was as slave patrols, while in the US north, they were first established to thwart protests for better labor conditions?

The call for abolishing the police, and prisons, is not recent, having been discussed in the USA, for example, almost twenty years ago by Angela Davis in Are Prisons Obsolete?, and by anti-carceral grassroots groups such as Critical Resistance, and INCITE! Feminists of Color Against Violence, who understood that their communities are endangered, not protected, by the “security state.” However, abolition has now entered popular discourse, with organizers demanding at protests nationally that police forces be defunded, and the abolitionist Mariame Kaba writing an OpEd published in the New York Times titled “Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police”.  Police abolitionists are very clear about the necessity of building strong structures to support disenfranchised communities that have never been “served and protected” by the police. As Angela Davis writes: “Abolition is about organizing community alternatives to policing and mass incarceration, about using the breathing room afforded by these small victories not to propose a slightly better version of the same, but to shoot for something radically different.”

In the context of Palestine, abolition hinges on the understanding that a reform of the Zionist state cannot possibly solve the problems created by Zionism, it only helps maintain them. Seeking to reform the Zionist state assumes that Zionism’s initial impulse—which is premised on settler colonialism and necessitates land theft, dispossession, displacement, human and cultural genocide—is acceptable, but that something went wrong, somewhere down the line. For instance, a reform limited to the West Bank and Gaza implies that al-Nakba—Palestine’s catastrophe—did not start around 1948, but in 1967.

Ending the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip would not dismantle Jewish supremacy in those parts of the Palestinian homeland first occupied in 1948; nor would it address the Right of Return of Palestinians displaced from those cities and villages occupied in 1948, without which the Zionist dream would not have materialized. Indeed, the “peace process,” with its endless round of futile talks, is an illustration of the attempt at “reform,” rather than abolition. What that process has led to is an entrenchment of dispossession, now subcontracted to the Palestinian Authority. Instead, one must ask: “When was Zionism not a supremacist ideology privileging some people over others, based on perceived ethnicity? When did Zionism not necessitate the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people? Was there ever one brief moment, from its inception to the present day, when Zionism was not violent?” Zionism cannot be reformed; it must be abolished.

This excerpt has been taken from Greater than the Sum of Our Parts: Feminism, Inter/Nationalism, and Palestine, published by Pluto Press in January 2023.

Nada Elia is a Palestinian writer, grassroots organizer, and university professor. She is the author of Trances, Dances, and Vociferations: Agency and Resistance in Africana Women’s Narratives, and has contributed chapters to Palestine: A Socialist Introduction and The Case for Sanctions on Israel. Elia is a core member of the Palestinian Feminist Collective and has been the plenary presenter at major conferences such as the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights. Her articles have been published in Mondoweiss, Middle East Eye and Electronic Intifada amongst many other places.

Photo: Alisdare Hickson / Flickr

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