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By Carlos Tornel

The ongoing climate collapse and the genocide in Gaza are symptoms of the same disease: The pursuit of new extractive frontiers, the act of rendering others invisible through a scientific-civilisational discourse and the destruction/substitution of nature that can be traced back to capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy.

May 7 marked a grim milestone: seven months since the beginning of the genocide that the state of Israel is perpetrating in Gaza. The seven months of bombardment have reached a number of more than 34,000 people killed, most of them non-combatants and more than half of them women and children. The ongoing genocide being perpetrated by Israel is clear and appalling. The case brought by South Africa at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) provides sufficient evidence to categorize it under this consideration: Israel has not only violated every rule of international law, it has used the language of extermination, by trying  to ‘erase’, ‘flatten’ Gaza or even turn it into a ‘parking lot and exterminating the Palestinian people by bombing hospitals, schools, cutting off access to water, energy and food, attacking journalists, while continuing the advance and the violence with illegal settlements in the West Bank.

These are seven months in which voices in resistance continue to grow around the world, but also a moment in which we can no longer continue to simply be spectators. As underscored by director Jonathan Glazer during his acceptance speech at the Oscars in February for the film “The Zone of Interest,” the imperative lies not in recounting past atrocities with a sense of detachment, but rather in confronting our present actions and inactions. What narrative will we leave for future generations regarding our response to a genocide, arguably one of the most meticulously documented in history, unfolding in our midst? Each passing day of silence further compounds our complicity. It falls upon us, from our unique vantage point, amidst our ongoing struggle – the climate struggle – to vehemently denounce the atrocities unfolding, recognizing them as symptoms of the systemic decay inherent in the colonial-patriarchal-capitalist framework. This framework not only perpetuates the crisis in Gaza but also stands as a barrier in our daily fight against climate catastrophe.

This history, despite what many supporters of Israel’s ‘response’ claim, did not begin on October 7, but rather finds its roots in the extensive history of Zionism as a political ideology aimed at establishing the state of Israel. As scholars and intellectuals such as Edward Said have argued, Zionism and imperialism share common origins in Western thought and its purported universalism. Zionism is paradoxical. Arising from a historical context where Jewish victimization was acknowledged, the proposition to establish a Jewish state aligned itself with colonial forces, modeling its entire enterprise on the colonial paradigm. The profound atrocities of the Holocaust were subsequently co-opted to justify a colonial endeavor in the Middle East, while leaving unscathed the critiques and origins of this phenomenon: capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy. Said reminds us that Zionism demands analysis from two distinct angles: first, genealogically, to delineate its lineage and connections with other ideologies and political structures; and secondly, as a practical mechanism for the accumulation of power, territory, and ideological legitimacy, coupled with the displacement of people and ideas. Failure to grasp Zionism in this multifaceted manner leads to the misconception that racism is a contemporary issue or one that can be easily resolved.

In his analysis, Ussama Makdisi shows how the genesis of Zionism did not originate from the soil of Palestine, but rather from the deeply racialized landscape of Europe. This was a context where European imperialism held sway over roughly 85% of the planet’s territory. The imperialist apparatus operated through territorial expansion and the formulation of various justifications for this expansion, including the use of classification and scientific ‘rationality’ to categorize and stratify the world, its natural elements, and its human and non-human inhabitants into dichotomies: developed and underdeveloped, strong and weak, civilized and savage, and so forth. The classification of humanity was accompanied by a process of ‘dehumanization,’ which, in turn, served to justify the exploitation and extermination of knowledge, bodies, cultures, and alternative worldviews. Scientific categorization further served as a rationale for designating certain spaces as ‘wastelands’ or ‘uninhabited’ (terra nullius), thereby legitimizing their exploitation and appropriation in the name of civilization, progress, and development. This pattern persists, extending even to contemporary issues such as decarbonization and the ongoing energy transition, all the while cloaked in a veneer of humanitarianism or even ‘salvation.’

Furthermore, the Zionist project, functioning as a pragmatic apparatus for the accumulation of resources, finds its origins deeply entrenched in the imperial and colonial projects of England, France, Germany, and the United States during the 19th century. The initial Zionist settlers laid claim to the territory, deeming it terra nullius, while regarding the indigenous inhabitants as non-existent or, in their eyes, uncivilized. The essence of settler colonialism lies precisely  converting the invaders into natives and to eliminate the other. As Said observes, the tragic flaw of Zionism resides in its genesis not only within the European oppression of Jews but as part of the European oppression of the rest of the world. In essence, Zionism opted to align itself with the oppressors rather than the oppressed. The notion of forcibly disconnecting people from their land, obliterating their histories, and deeming them expendable is cloaked under the sinister guise of Israel’s victimization, leveraging the memory and legacy of Holocaust atrocities as a shield against criticism. This is evident in the disparity where condemnations of racism in contexts such as the United States or South Africa coexist with fervent support for Zionism, as observed in numerous discussions within the United States or Germany, where any critique of the state of Israel is swiftly labeled as anti-Semitic.

‘This is not a war. This is a Palestine genocide. Save Gaza Now!’ Photo credit: Diane Krauthamer. Source: Flickr.

A disease with the same origins

Climate change and Zionism have the same origins. As we are reminded by Farhana Sultana, if we understand the climate crisis as a symptom of a larger disease, that disease is capitalism. Walter Rodney was already saying in the early 1970s that Europe had underdeveloped Africa. The extraction of resources, the cheapening of the reproductive labor of women, of nature and of those who were designated ‘less human’ in the project of modernity, is not a matter of the past but persists to this day. This coloniality of climate persists in three ways. First, through the extraction of materials necessary to sustain a project of accumulation. The extraction of resources and unequal accumulation of wealth remains a matter of inequality between (over)developed and underdeveloped countries. Plunder is an essential part of the model of capitalist accumulation: as some researchers propose, the North extracts annually in the form of cheap resources, from ‘externalities’ and other forms of appropriation of labor, approximately 2.8 trillion dollars.

Second, climate coloniality manifests itself when people are made vulnerable to the impacts of warming, but also when their lives are presented as disposable or inconsequential. Colonial legacies manifest themselves in the plundering of territories, but also in inequalities manifested through supernatural disasters, the example of the Hurricane Otis in Guerrero, Mexico last year is an example of this inequality and invisibilization. Third, when the destruction of both tangible and spiritual ecosystems of peoples and other forms of life are systematically eliminated. In Latin America, the Mapuche women’s movement in Chile and Argentina has designated the notion of terricide as the most appropriate way to refer to this phenomenon. Terricide incorporates an act of ecocide, of eliminating life forms from everything that guarantees their reproduction, an ethnocide, which arises from separating and eliminating the context in which knowledge is produced, and a genocide that seeks the elimination of everything that manifests itself as waste or that which cannot be exploited in the terms designated by the political economy of capitalism.

Protest by the Movement of Indigenous Women for Buen Vivir in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Source: Observatorio de Ecología Política de Venezuela.

Tracing the origins of the systemic collapse of the climate with what is happening in Gaza is a manifestation of the same evils: the justification of the occupation of ’empty’ lands with a scientific-civilizational language, the systematic destruction of nature and appropriation in the form of resources invisibilizing and emptying territories of their peoples and contents through a terricide in the name of a greater good. What is happening in Gaza is then a glimpse of a future that is yet to come and that marks, as Slavoj Zizek says, the ‘End of Europe.’ That is, the exhaustion and decentralization of the project of European liberalism and its universal pretension. Within the decolonial debate, this process has always been marked by the other side, or the dark side –as Walter Mignolo puts it–, of modernity. In short, it means that modernity and the humanist project (human, civil, social, political rights, etc.) were made at the cost of someone else or of the dehumanization of that which is considered other by this colonial matrix of power.

But the end of Europe is not necessarily good news. If capitalism can no longer reproduce itself on its own terms, what follows is not techno-feudalism as some critics claim, but an increasingly violent and terrifying system. The systematic destruction of Gaza is a manifestation of the need for further accumulation and the exhaustion of extractive frontiers. But it is also a manifestation of the resistance and refusal being imposed by social movements, nature and the forces of reproductive labor around the planet: from Rojava and the Zapatista territories to the protests and student protests and encampments in universities in the United States we see not only the crumbling of the European civilizational project, but a decentering of Eurocentrism and coloniality. We see openings towards a transmodernity, that is, a project that does not seek to complete modernity (as many continue to do in their developmentalist and modernist impetus), but a rejection of the unquestioned supremacy of modernity as the only possible path forward. In other words, the growing condemnation of the State of Israel as a colonial and terricidal state shows the exhaustion of the legitimacy of the Western project, the collapse of a capitalism that can no longer reproduce itself on its own terms.

Today we do not have the luxury of returning to our daily lives. We are surrounded by violence and fighting against an increasingly violent system will not be easy. However, the false idols of Zionism and false solutions are losing more and more legitimacy every day. As Ilan Pappe proposes, we are seeing ‘the beginning of the end’ for both the Zionist project and the legitimacy of these reductionist views of the climate crisis. However, actions to end these forms of oppression will require understanding our lives, wherever we are, as a permanent socio-ecological conflict: a refusal of the terricide that is perpetuated in the name of sustainable development, national security, modernity, progress, etc. As Said reminds us, “the struggle against imperialism and racism are civilizational struggles and we cannot wage them effectively unless we understand the system and the ideas from which it originates. Only then can we scientifically fight against them.”

Carlos Tornel is a researcher, writer, translator and activist. [email protected]. This article first appeared in Spanish in Translation by the author.