Book – Greater Than the Sum of Our Parts: Transnational, intersectional feminism and Palestinian solidarity

Ramona Wadi

The New Arab  /  April 19, 2023

An intersectional unpacking of settler colonialism, Zionism and Palestinian liberation, Nada Elia’s thought-provoking book connects the dots of transnational solidarity and how Palestinian activism benefits from interconnectedness.

At a time when the pro-Palestine narrative is heavily dominated by an exclusive focus on Israel’s apartheid practices, Nada Elia’s recent book, Greater Than the Sum of Our Parts: Feminism, Inter/Nationalism and Palestine (Pluto Press, 2023) does the important job of diverting attention back to the premise that the Palestinian struggle is an anti-colonial struggle.

Since the Israeli non-governmental organization, B’Tselem declared its designation of Israel as an apartheid state in 2021, other rights groups have followed suit.

As a result, while Israel’s apartheid policies garnered more attention, the settler-colonial reality experienced by Palestinians has been further marginalized.

Speaking to The New Arab, Elia explained, “My emphasis on settler colonialism, which is land theft, is partly in response to the many books, reports, and publications that have come out in recent years, documenting how Israel practices apartheid. That is something I would never dispute, it’s been the lived experience of Palestinians since the onset of the Nakba when Israel instituted two systems of law: civilian for Jewish citizens, and military for Palestinians. Apartheid is not something Israel has recently begun to practice.

“But as I say in my book, the apartheid analysis can eclipse the reality of settler colonialism, so that one can think that by abolishing apartheid, there will be justice in Palestine. Does abolishing apartheid secure the rights we lost as a people who have undergone settler-colonialism, who has been displaced, dispossessed of our lands, our homes, our orchards?”

Elia’s book does an impeccable job of bringing a discussion of Palestine through forgotten protagonists, as well as by illustrating the common ground between the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle and that of other Indigenous populations.

Land theft is one common factor which enabled the current Israeli apartheid practices and which needs to be considered within the settler-colonial context. Basing arguments on the apartheid designation and rights are inadequate – Elia’s book points out that ending apartheid in South Africa did not bring about land restitution to the people.

“The violence of Israel’s settler-colonial politics must be addressed beyond “equal rights” amongst all citizens, the settlers and the Indigenous,” Elia elaborates. “If we don’t address settler colonialism, we can end up with a situation like the US, where the Indigenous theoretically have equal rights with the settlers, but no sovereignty, besides some limited form of it within the reservations. They also remain disproportionately represented among the unhoused communities, the incarcerated, those who fall between the cracks, because there has been no attempt to redress the wrongs that settler colonialism has inflicted on them.”

“Decolonization in a settler-colonial context simply cannot be achieved without land restitution,” Elia writes in her book. The book illustrates how Israel emulated the US in erasing the Palestinian people. Elia describes how the US persists in the elimination of its Indigenous population through the carceral system, foster care, the killing of Native Americans and selectivity when it comes to immigration.

Erasing the Indigenous populations is a feature of Western imperialism, under which Palestine was colonized. “The first Zionist thinkers were European, the British Mandate was a form of European imperialism, the division of historic Palestine into a viable Israel and fragmented and ever-shrinking “Palestinian territories” is a Western design.

“The settlers violently attacking Palestinians and moving into their homes today, like Yacob Fauci, are Westerners, and the current diplomatic immunity Israel enjoys, as well as the billions of dollars it receives in foreign aid from the US, are all manifestations of Western imperialism. So it is impossible to discuss Palestine without discussing Western imperialism. Western imperialism has ravaged more than Palestine, so a global discussion, foregrounding the commonalities, is necessary.”

While Palestine has its own particular history, Western imperialism and settler colonialism have ravaged other populations. Hence an internationalist anti-colonial struggle is possible. The ramifications of white colonialism on the Indigenous populations have particularly rendered women vulnerable, despite the role they play in mobilization and organization, challenging “the gendered violence of settler-colonialism,” as Elia writes.

The book discusses how Palestine is eliminated from a feminist discourse by the Global North, while also taking into account how white feminism and Orientalist imperialism hijacked the discourse on liberation in Afghanistan, without consulting or involving Afghan women.

We need to distinguish between genuine feminism, which is rooted in the radical love of community, and of the more vulnerable members of the community, from the so-called feminism of Hilary Clinton, or the Zioness Movement, which really is not feminism at all, as far as I am concerned because feminism cannot be reconciled with racism and militarism, “ Elia asserts.

“The so-called feminism of the likes of Clinton and the Zionesses simply wants a bigger piece of the pie, whereas Indigenous feminism sees an unhealthy pie, and determines to change the ingredients and create a different pie altogether. Because Indigenous feminism seeks the empowerment of the most disenfranchised and is grounded in sustainable ways, it is transformative, rather than accumulative, and has the capacity to create a society where all can thrive.”

Israel, on the other hand, has normalized the discourse and acts of violence against Palestinian women, which can be traced back to the 1948 Nakba. Within Palestinian societies, the traditional patriarchal system is further fuelled by colonial oppression and economic deprivation, which results in control of the domestic sphere and additional violence exerted against Palestinian women.

“Colonial violence is always gendered, and yet there are entire libraries of analysis of colonialism that don’t have a passing reference to the gendered aspect of imperialism. The age-old and quasi-universal expression “Rape, pillage, loot” is indicative of the crimes committed during colonial conquest, and yet, again, it has taken Palestinian and other Indigenous feminist narratives to centre this aspect in our discussions. We are bringing attention to the many consequences of the loss of land, from displacement and impoverishment to the changed social dynamics within the colonized society, as our cultures, our sustainable traditions, our collective wellbeing, are threatened.”

Contrary to other narratives about Palestine, Elia’s book is written in an encompassing manner. It deviates from the more mainstream perspectives to showcase a different form of politics and what can possibly be achieved through a unified struggle that is both supportive and aware of similarities and differences.

This would stand in contrast to the joint ventures that imperialism is conducting through military and surveillance tactics and training. As imperialist forces unite and advance Israel’s surveillance practices, such as in the case of the US, for example, the colonized are also able to unite against the system oppressing them. Elia makes one important point in her book – the Indigenous see history as reversible, hence the possibility of undoing settler-colonialism and its violence upon the land and the people.  

Palestine is both unique and similar in what it suffered, but Elia makes it clear that exceptionalism is not her narrative. Abolishing colonial and imperialist violence is a collective task and the alternative to the defunct diplomacy aiding and abetting settler-colonialism lies in the hands of the Indigenous people.

Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger specializing in the struggle for memory in Chile and Palestine, colonial violence and the manipulation of international law