Before my last parade as an Air Cadet, I was asked to wear a pin celebrating the War of 1812. Despite being in a military-structured youth organization, I come from a family of peaceniks and didn’t want to glorify a specific war by wearing the pin. Besides, I protested, the pin was not a part of the uniform and therefore I shouldn’t have had to wear it.
A volunteer from the Regular Forces (i.e. the real, actual military) approached me after he heard this and demanded that I stand at attention. I complied, and he pinned the emblem on my chest. He said that I owed it to the military to honour their sacrifices because his buddies were defending “my people” in Israel.
As a Jewish Canadian, this was not my first time experiencing how Canadian and Israeli settler-colonialism go hand-in-hand. This example, however, does a good job of showing that both states are systems of oppression that exclude and exterminate certain racialized groups.
That particular experience is a clear example of how Jewish people are considered by Canadians to belong to a common race: “my people” are Israeli people, and Canada is doing the work of defending this race from another, namely Palestinians. Race as a construct is essential to the logic of settler-colonialism everywhere in the world.
It is no mistake that a member of the armed forces used these racializing terms toward me. The military – and the imperialist state, more generally – is existentially dependent on the exploitation of an “other.” It would be impossible for them to establish control and exercise power without the construction and maintenance of unjust hierarchies.
In what is now called Canada, this racist mode of thought has hundreds of years of history. The idea that white, European settlers are entitled to occupy and govern the land by virtue of their race is the founding principle of the Canadian state. It is used to justify the continuation of genocidal practices against Indigenous peoples and the systematic dispossession of Indigenous land.
Israel was established along similar ideological lines. After the horrors of the Holocaust, Zionist campaigners successfully petitioned the Allies for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. Countries like Canada supported this for a number of reasons, not least of which was the belief in a Jewish race of people and that Palestine is the Jewish “homeland.”
The history of settler-colonialism in Israel is more recent, but no less racist. Palestinians are regularly killed by the Israeli Defense Force, their homes and livelihoods destroyed in the interests of Zionist settlement. This is because, like Canada with Indigenous peoples, Israel could not exist without the subjugation of Palestinians.
I don’t think it’s possible to earnestly fight systems of colonial oppression without also fighting against settler interests. The very existence of the settler is predicated on the suffering of the colonized.
To clarify: What makes someone a settler is their position over the colonized. I am not arguing that we round up all settlers and have them shot. Instead, I advocate decolonization.
This means the total elimination of racially based structures which seek to place some people in positions of power at the expense of others. It means, for settler allies especially, working in solidarity with all colonized people. It means critically examining the ways in which our actions reflect colonialist interests and working against these interests whenever possible.
I feel wholly unqualified as a settler to say what actions should be taken to end settler-colonialism. I hope, however, that people reading this take it as an invitation to start playing an active role in the process of decolonization.