The power of elimination

William Kentridge, Triptych 'Embarkation'


Why is the genocide in Palestine different from the genocide in Brazil?

The current phase of Israel's genocide in Gaza, which began in October 2023, following the military operation “Al Aqsa Flood”, on October 7, 2023, by the Palestinian resistance, resulted in the loss of more than 40.000 Palestinian lives and displacement of millions. This moment opens up the opportunity to examine the Israeli regime and its connections with US imperialism to understand the circumstances that facilitated the perpetration of such genocide. We will carry out this analysis based on the concepts of settler colonialism (WOLFE, 2006) and late neocolonialism (YEROS; JHA, 2020) in conjunction with two other cases: Brazil and South Africa.

Settler colonialism and the power of elimination

Although Palestinian authors had already analyzed Israel as the product of a colonial process of settlement since the 1960s (JABBOUR, 1970; SAYEGH, 2012), after the publication of Patrick Wolfe's (2006) article “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Nativand”, there has been a growth in literature that interprets Israel as a colonial State (HAWARI; PLONSKI; WEIZMAN, 2019; SALAMANCA et al., 2012; VERACINI, 2015). According to Wolfe's theory, the process of settler colonialism can be understood through a structural “logic of elimination.” Settlement colonization of indigenous lands involves the eradication of the native population through means such as death, expulsion, assimilation and confinement.

A Nakba 1948, which involved the expulsion of more than 750.000 Palestinians and the destruction of 500 villages, along with the historic massacres of Palestinians such as Sabra and Shatila in 1982, and the subsequent confinement of surviving Palestinians in highly securitized enclaves in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank, serve as proof of a logic underlying these events that refers to the theory of settler colonialism (SALAMANCA et al., 2012).

The process of settler colonialism persists as long as there is indigenous territory to be expropriated. The Israeli war against the Palestinians in Gaza is a new phase in this long-lasting process of confiscation. I agree with the criticisms directed at Wolfe's perspective on settler colonialism, specifically with regard to the inadequacy of understanding the contradictions of class and work (ENGLERT, 2020) and the struggle for national liberation in Palestine (AJL, 2023).

As I have argued previously, settler colonialism, as a phenomenon inserted within Western capitalism and imperialism, does not have its own logic, but operates within the contradictions of the processes of primitive capital accumulation (HUBERMAN, 2023). However, the Israeli genocide in Gaza highlights the need to examine the eliminating power of Israeli colonialism, which seeks to eradicate Palestinian society in Gaza through systematic killings and forced displacement.

It is important to highlight that the ongoing genocide occurs when US imperialism has used destruction and war against racially subaltern groups to face the permanent crises posed by monopoly capital (CAPASSO; KADRI, 2023). The foreign policy and accumulation strategy of the Joe Biden administration (2020-) revolves around war to benefit the US military-industrial complex. This approach is exemplified by the persistent confrontational stance towards Russia, despite the setbacks experienced in the Ukrainian War (2022-).

This reasoning is also seen in the unwavering commitment to Israel despite popular disapproval of US involvement in the genocide in Gaza. The US and Israeli security industries are intrinsically linked and use the Palestinian territories as a testing ground for their weapons (HALPER, 2015; LOEWENSTEIN, 2023). The result of this alliance between the US and Israel is the promotion of genocide in Gaza, which has similarities with other examples of indigenous elimination efforts in the United States, Brazil and other contexts of settler colonialism, such as South Africa.

Settler colonialism and late neocolonialism

Brazil is another settlement colony that has been implicated in the perpetration of genocide against indigenous peoples and other subaltern populations. The expansion of large landowners' properties and other extractive activities, including illegal mining, have resulted in the expulsion and death of numerous indigenous, quilombola and traditional communities, especially in the Amazon region. From 2022 to 2023, 706 Yanomami individuals lost their lives due to the repercussions of illicit mining activities in the Amazon region (FSP, 2024), which were permitted by the Jair Bolsonaro government (2019-2022) and were not effectively controlled by the Lula da Silva administration (2023-).

Furthermore, the “war on drugs” rationalized state violence against young black people living in urban favelas, leading to their death and mass incarceration. For example, after a military police officer in Santos was shot dead on February 2, 2024, allegedly by a criminal organization, the region's police force was responsible for the deaths of 50 people, predominantly of African descent.

The Yanomami people in the Amazon and the black population of Baixada Santista have suffered systematic deaths, recent occurrences within a prolonged process of genocide against indigenous and black people in the country. Poets (2020) demonstrates the historical deviation of Brazilian settler colonialism from a “logic of elimination”, such as the historical prominence of the exploitation of indigenous labor. However, the ongoing genocides serve as proof that elimination continues to be a significant manifestation of the power of the Brazilian colonial state, just like the Israeli one (HUBERMAN; NASSER, 2019).

Yeros et al (2019) highlight the contradiction between the perpetration of genocidal violence against racially subaltern populations and the implementation of policies aimed at promoting social and racial justice as the manifestation of late neocolonialism in Brazil. Neocolonialism means the continuation of the colonial process, but now by indirect means. Nkrumah (1967) coined the term neocolonialism to designate the process of continuous subjugation of the people who had obtained their independence from the metropolises in the 1950s and 1960s.

Neocolonialism would be maintained mainly through cultural and economic mechanisms, such as monopoly capital. Despite the limitations represented by neocolonialism, these Third World nations managed to advance processes of development and anti-colonial solidarity within the framework of the Bandung Conference through State control. Yeros and Jha (2020) developed the concept of late neocolonialism to understand the permanence of the phenomenon under neoliberalism and financial capital in constant crisis. Now, neocolonialism would be characterized by the increasing expropriation of the wealth and work of peripheral populations.

For a comprehensive understanding of the transition to late neocolonialism, Yeros and Jha (2020) highlight the distinctive characteristics of settler colonies in Latin America and Southern Africa. In the years following the Second World War, coups d'état and dictatorships interrupted liberation movements and, consequently, their transitions to a neo-colonialism situation. The result was the maintenance of white supremacist governments.

The transition to late neocolonialism in countries such as Brazil and South Africa only occurred in the neoliberal era. As a result, settler movements have witnessed the preservation of power, territorial control and exploitation of the semi-proletarian working class by white settler elites, even during periods of progressive ANC (African National Congress) governments in South Africa (1994-), and PT (Workers' Party) administrations in Brazil (2003-16; 2023-).

Another characteristic contradiction of late neocolonialism can be observed in the foreign policies of South Africa and Brazil, which seek greater independence and closer relations with the South, as manifested by the establishment of the BRICS and the strong condemnation of Israeli colonialism and genocide. in Gaza, but without substantially diverting the influence of US imperialism and monopoly capital. Bond (2015) sees the involvement of these countries in UN peacekeeping missions, such as Brazil in Haiti (2004-17) and South Africa in South Sudan (2011-), as sub-imperialist actions.

However, South Africa has demonstrated much stronger material support for the Palestinians, cutting diplomatic ties with Israel and bringing genocide charges against the nation to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Brazil endorsed South Africa's actions at the ICJ, but continues to maintain diplomatic, commercial and military relations with Israel. In light of the genocide in Gaza, we question how the transitions to late neocolonialism in Brazil and South Africa facilitate the understanding of Israeli settler colonialism during the genocide in Gaza.

The disputes between decolonization and neocolonialism in Brazil, South Africa and Palestine/Israel

The case of Brazilian settlement colonization and the disputes over decolonization provide insight into how Israel prevented the transition to neocolonialism in Palestine during the Cold War. According to Gissoni et al (2024), the potential for national liberation in Brazil during the early 1960s, marked by the emergence of a nationalist movement and the implementation of social reforms by the João Goulart government (1961-64), motivated the colonizing elite choosing authoritarianism as a means of preserving control over the domestic political environment and aligning with US imperialism.

This decision included the establishment of a civil-military dictatorship. The national colonization project carried out by the dictatorship aimed to balance moderate opposition to imperialism with “industrial development with the colonists' land monopoly and the reproduction of the colonial mode of accumulation through primitive accumulation at the expense of the colonized” (GISSONI; PIRES ; CARVALHEIRA, 2024).

A Nakba effectively thwarted the potential for Palestinian national liberation and the subsequent shift to neocolonialism in Palestine, similar to the military coup that occurred in Brazil in 1964, which excluded the colonized population from the state. Therefore, the Nakba and the establishment of Israel prevented Palestinians from achieving authority over a post-colonial state after the end of the British Mandate (1918-48). The result is continued direct colonial rule by Israeli state settlers over the Palestinian people and land.

The period after Nakba, the first three decades of Israel, under the governments of the Labor Party, of the Zionist left, in Israel (1948-77), take us back to the period of the Brazilian military dictatorship (1964-85) and the South African apartheid regime (1948 -94). Characterized by the imposition of a military regime of racial segregation on Palestinians who remained where Israel was constituted, these labor governments in Israel sought to achieve a certain level of foreign policy independence in their interactions with the Western and Soviet blocs, such as the dictatorship of Brazil and apartheid South Africa.

Furthermore, labor administrations prioritized the advancement of a “national colonization project” with the development of productive forces for the benefit of Jewish settlers, at the expense of the expropriation of Palestinian land and labor. The establishment of a military occupation in the confiscated territories of the West Bank and Gaza during the 1967 war against Syria, Jordan and Egypt made the regime of military occupation and racial segregation only change place: while the military regime for the Palestinians within of Israel's borders was suspended in 1966, racial segregation and military occupation were extended to the territories occupied in 1967 in a continuum of apartheid.

While maintaining internal regimes of segregation and military authoritarianism over racially subaltern populations, Israel, Brazil and South Africa played comparable roles in the US “sphere of influence” policy during the Cold War, comprising a “settler international” between the Middle East, America of South and Southern Africa. All three countries played a sub-imperialist role by actively combating communist and nationalist forces in their respective regions.

The main reason for the improved relationship between the US and Israel is Israel's strategic importance in combating nationalist forces in the region, which prevent unrestricted US access to the region's oil. This has been evident from the era of Gamal Abdel Nasser's Egypt to the period following the 1979 revolution in Iran. However, the end of military regimes of racial segregation in Brazil and South Africa meant a change in the relationship with imperialism. American population and its subordinate populations that were not seen in Palestine/Israel.

Brazil underwent a transition to late neocolonialism due to the ambiguities inherent in the process that led to the end of the civil-military dictatorship, which prevented a complete break with the previous order. The central contradiction arises from the growth of monopoly financial capital within the nation following the debt crisis of the late 1970s, overlapping with the emergence of the democratization movement of the 1980s. This movement, enshrined in the 1988 Constitution, introduced the universal suffrage, the criminalization of racism, universal healthcare, agrarian reform and the protection of the rights of indigenous, quilombola and traditional communities.

The result manifests itself as a social conflict between a white colonizing bourgeoisie that seeks to defend its privileges through the super-exploitation of labor and the expropriation of natural resources, versus a popular movement that fights for the complete political, economic and social decolonization of the country (YEROS ; SCHINCARIOL; DA SILVA, 2019).

The shift to late neocolonialism in South Africa with the end of the apartheid regime in 1994 followed a pattern comparable to that in Brazil. In both countries, the maintenance of economic power and control of land by the white bourgeoisie, facilitated by neoliberal reforms, made it difficult to achieve socioeconomic justice for the colonized population (YEROS; SCHINCARIOL; DA SILVA, 2019). Andy Clarno (2017) conducts a comparative analysis between South Africa and Palestine/Israel to understand the limits of “decolonization” in these countries in the 1990s. Clarno employs the concept of “neoliberal apartheid” to elucidate how neoliberalism facilitated the perpetuation of segregation in new ways following the end of apartheid in South Africa and the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1993-95.

According to Andy Clarno, neoliberal apartheid in South Africa and Palestine/Israel has been marked by the implementation of privatized security systems that target subaltern communities, by increasing spatial segregation and the exploitation of precarious work. However, the Oslo period did not mean a shift towards late neocolonialism in Palestine/Israel as it did in South Africa and Brazil.

The continuation of direct settler colonialism in Palestine and the genocide in Gaza

The Oslo Accords were the result of prolonged Palestinian anti-colonial resistance. Since the 1950s, Palestinian refugees have developed several resistance strategies during exile, focusing primarily on establishing alliances with Arab states and nations in the Global South. The aim was to challenge Israeli settler colonialism and pave the way for return. Armed resistance emerged in the 1960s under the leadership of the PLO, influenced by the Algerian, Cuban and Chinese revolutions.

After the defeat of the Arab States in the 1967 war, the Palestinian armed struggle saw both victories, as in the Battle of Karameh in 1968, and defeats, as in the Lebanese Civil War (1975-90). In the 1980s, there was a decline in armed resistance, which led to the emergence of the popular movement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), known as the Intifada, in 1987. The use of civil disobedience strategies, exemplified by the refusal to fulfill obligations Israeli inspectors, presented Israel with new obstacles that went beyond the confrontation with armed guerrillas or the management of the exploitation of Palestinian labor. The Palestinian uprising for self-determination could not be suppressed by simple coercive repression or limited economic welfare measures. Palestinian demands for self-determination needed to be addressed.

Palestinian Intifada leaders participated in the beginning of diplomatic negotiations for peace in the Middle East, which began at the Madrid Conference in 1991. However, the creation of a secret channel between the PLO and Israel, facilitated by Norwegian negotiators, led to the Oslo in 1993. This agreement caused the alienation of the Intifada leaders by the former leadership in exile. Consequently, the agreements failed to articulate the Intifada's demands, thus serving as a mechanism for the PLO leadership to consolidate its authority.

Oslo did not mark the end of legal segregation and direct Israeli settler rule in Palestine, but rather the beginning of a transitional period supposedly destined for the formation of a State of Palestine. Negotiations never achieved this objective. The agreements resulted in a reorganization of colonial control over the OPT, allowing the Israelis to outsource the administration and pacification of colonized populations to the PA, while maintaining unrestricted control over the entire territory they intended to colonize (GORDON, 2008). The implementation of barriers and checkpoints in Gaza and the West Bank further intensified the segregation of Palestinian non-citizens following the Oslo Accords.

The establishment of neoliberal paradigms for the construction of the Palestinian State was facilitated by the permanence of the Paris Protocols (1994), which were supervised by International Financial Institutions (IFI). A considerable number of Palestinians have opted for the construction of a neoliberal state as the most rational approach to achieving national liberation (KHALIDI; SAMOUR, 2011). However, these efforts actively facilitated the growth of precarious Palestinian labor, the seizure of Palestinian territory, and an increase in security measures coordinated by Israelis and Palestinians.

The territory from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea remained under the exclusive sovereignty of the State of Israel, which exercises control over all Palestinians through an apartheid regime. Therefore, Oslo meant yet another abortion of the neocolonial transition for the Palestinians after decades of anticolonial struggle, just as the NakbaIn 1948.

Oslo's profound contradictions explain why there was no transition to late neocolonialism in Palestine compared to South Africa and Brazil. The end of apartheid South African and Brazilian dictatorships were marked by contradictions that led to the continuation of the power of the colonizing elites in these countries. However, they also meant the conclusion of legal segregation and direct domination by settlers. The universalization of suffrage and other fundamental rights allowed progression towards a liberal democratic system in both countries, allowing the colonized to maintain the fight for their political objectives through previously inaccessible ways.

Although neocolonialism means the continuation of colonialism in new, indirect forms, it also involves sharing power with the colonized. This is exactly the limitation of Claro's contribution to understanding the situation of apartheid neoliberalism in Palestine. In South Africa, there is potential for the colonized population, such as socialist movements, to rise to government through democratic elections and advocate changes in foreign and domestic policies.

Although it still faces internal challenges in overcoming the segregation of the black population through the neoliberal market and occasionally aligning itself with US imperialism, the ANC-led South African government's support for the Palestinians provides clear proof of the distinct position that the native South -Africans enjoy in relation to Palestinians.

Neocolonialism imposes restrictions on the legal sovereignty of a post-colonial state, but it means a material context of resistance by the colonized that is distinct from direct colonialism. For example, the alliance between the supremacist administrations of Jair Bolsonaro and Benjamin Netanyahu exemplified the robustness of solidarity between colonial authorities in promoting the expropriation of the colonized population in their countries, leading to the intensification of genocide in both nations. However, the transition to neocolonialism allowed Brazilians to expel Jair Bolsonaro from power through popular vote and thwart a new coup d'état through democratic means.

Another illustration of the importance of the transition to neocolonialism in the settlement colonies is the prevention of an Afrikaner fascist government in South Africa. Palestinians lack the same means as Brazilian and South African subalterns to contain genocidal state violence and advance a project national-popular.

Therefore, the Palestinian/Israeli, Brazilian and South African cases demonstrate that it is crucial to analyze the transition to late neocolonialism to understand how the power of elimination is advanced in settler colonization contexts. The transition to late neocolonialism in Brazil and South Africa constitutes a distinct condition for the settler state to use sovereign power against the racially subaltern population unimpeded.

The genocide in Gaza shows that the eliminating power of a regime of settler colonialism operates unimpeded under direct colonial domination that undermines Palestinians' capacities for resistance. Thus, the shift to neocolonialism, even within the neoliberal framework of late neocolonialism, implies a significant change in the colonial process that allows the colonized to resist in a more solid way.

As Ajl (2023) highlights, the existence of a liberal democracy does not mean the end of settler colonialism. Nor the execution of the power of elimination by the colonist State. However, the cases examined illustrate how colonized people become less susceptible to the ambitions and anxieties of colonists – once the shift to neocolonialism has occurred.[I]

*Bruno Huberman He is a professor of International Relations at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP). Author of The Neoliberal Colonization of Jerusalem (EDUC). []

Originally published on Research Bulletin January-April 2024 Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy.


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[I] I want to thank Luccas Gissoni, Max Ajl, Karim Eid-Sabbagh, Freedom Mazwi, Lucas Koerner and Paris Yeros for their comments on the manuscript of this article.

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