Photo by Mohamad Torokman


Any time the ever-present colonial violence in Palestine takes the form of conventional warfare we are likewise thrust into a parallel front of contesting polemics. Hardline reactionary Zionists use “blood and soil” language to locate proximate fighting in a grand narrative of civilizational clash in barely concealed racial terms. Liberals, Zionist and occasionally anti-Zionist, describe a conflict of competing nationalisms within the Wilsonian framework of national self-determination. Anti-Zionists on the left leverage a decolonial model to analyze the modern history of Palestine through the settler-native relation. Of course, all of these ways of explaining mix and bleed into each other. Many Zionists shift between reactionary and liberal polemics depending on a variety of particulars, just as many anti-Zionists shift between liberal and left polemics. This is not a result of confusion: that Zionism (and inversely, Palestinian emancipation) advances rhetorically on ideologically heterogenous grounds reflects a mixed semiotic inherent to the real nature of the project. This makes an accurate accounting of Zionism as a politics quite difficult. Diagnoses of Zionism as either liberalism or fascism par excellence always fail to adequately account for what happens in Palestine; Zionism as a political project does not have a coherent ideological program. From its origins, Zionism has been constituted by contrasting and partially opposed semiotic flows that combine in the state form, an emergent product determined as much by the tensions between its foundational currents as by the formal directives of its leaders. 

That Zionism appears to us whole and coherent (at least on the surface) is a phenomenon that Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari call faciality.1 For Deleuze and Guattari, the face is what emerges at the intersection of contrasting regimes of signs, or semiotics. In this sense, a semiotic is an ideological current that emerges from the interrelation of signs and signals, both within language and without. Faciality is produced at the site of a particular colonial encounter: a liberal semiotic and a fascist semiotic meet to form heterogenous combinations within a social body that act in concert as a singular rubric of control. “The face is a politics.”2 Critically, the formation of the face is machinic rather than conscious and is presupposed by the subjects it acts upon: Zionism as an abstract apparatus of power speciously appearing to us in the form of a coherent political ideology consciously authored by human subjects. “The inhuman in human beings: that is what the face is from the start.”3 This is not to suggest that Zionism does not come from people—the underlying semiotics are largely the products of human expression—but rather that Zionism is the face of a collective social body: the settler-colonial state.

This only accounts for Zionism insofar as it exists as a superstructural phenomenon: in discourse, as ideology, as culture. However, Zionism is also embodied in physical structures and operates on land to form territories and enclosures: the actually existing state of Israel, its walls, its roads, its tanks and bombs. Here too, in the realm of the actual and material, an emergent logic serves as a rubric of control for the settler-colonial state. We call this logic of violence and enclosure counterinsurgency. Whereas faciality creates the political subjects—both settler and native—of the colonial state through the codification and regulation of deviance, counterinsurgency weeds out and annihilates challenges to this political structure and creates the territory of the state through processes of enclosure. It is through the practice of counterinsurgency that the mixed semiotic inherent to Zionism is continuously realized on the ground, as the state oscillates between highly systematized forms of control and extravagant performative violence. Zionism’s embodiment as a material force through its processes of violence and enclosure does not result from its political-discursive form; they are instead mutually constitutive.4 These processes operating through and within each other produce Zionism.

Critical to our analysis is a unity without identity between Zionism and Palestinian nationalism. By this we mean that both political projects take as their subject a common people inhabiting a common land unified through the common product of human industry. Palestinian nationalism, emerging from a mixed decolonial-liberal semiotic, is fully contained within Zionism. And Zionism’s mixed fascist-liberal semiotic is likewise contained within Palestinian nationalism. They are in mutual presupposition. Zionism and Palestinian nationalism are thus contrasting orientations toward an emergent settler-colonial process in motion. Within this unity without identity exists the possibility of an emancipatory project of undoing the dual logics of faciality and counterinsurgency. This means dismantling the face that regulates and codifies deviance and bursting open the territory enclosed by counterinsurgency. As Zionist coloniality will neither collapse on its own nor fall to an external revolutionary force, decolonization will require an autophagic process wherein the violent and ill-functioning structures of Zionism are subsumed and reconstituted in an emancipated Palestine. 

A Mixed Semiotic

From its origins, the Zionist state-building effort has been both a liberal-nationalist and a fascist-colonialist project. This is evident from the contradiction at the surface of its founding mythology: Zionism on the one hand as a marriage between a land without a people and a people without a land, and on the other as a civilizing mission to bring modernity to the Holy Land’s barbaric inhabitants. As we will see, this contradiction serves as an aspirational limit toward which Zionism functions—both premises must be made true. “In this sense the despotic state is indeed the origin, but the origin as an abstraction that must include its differences with respect to the concrete beginning.”5 Israel is defined by the actualization of its foundational myth. A great mass of people must be expropriated from the soil, and those that remain must join the colonists in adopting a rubric of individuation. Marx accounts for this process in his description of so-called primitive accumulation as an overcoding by the emergent state of the old social organization: Palestine “must be annihilated; it is annihilated.”6 Zionism is the continuous reproduction of a “land without a people” through the process of ethnic cleansing and the continuous reproduction of a “people without a land” through the process of ethnonationalist racialization. And yet the civilizing mission has never receded: within the bounded territory, a promise of progress (technological, environmental, sexual) reverberates. 

We can find reflections of Zionism’s dual character in the writings of its founding figures. On the one hand, the project is unmistakably organized toward establishing territorial enclosures based on new racial hierarchies. Theodor Herzl, heralded as the father of modern Zionism, wrote a letter to Cecil Rhodes (memorialized in Herzl’s diary) seeking financial aid and public support for the project. His plea:

“You are being invited to help make history. . . It doesn’t involve Africa, but a piece of Asia Minor, not Englishmen, but Jews. How then, do I happen to turn to you, since this is an out-of-the-way matter for you? Because it is something colonial, and because it presupposes understanding of a development that will take twenty or thirty years. . . What is the plan? To settle Palestine with the homecoming Jewish people.”7

Herzl clearly intended Israel to follow the settler-colonial model exemplified by Rhodes’ state-building excursion in Southern Africa. Colonists from Europe were to build new developments on the purportedly unsettled land of Palestine with the explicit intention of creating a new state. There was no misunderstanding about what this would entail for the Palestinians inhabiting the land. Elsewhere in his diaries, Herzl writes:

“We must expropriate gently the private property on the estates assigned to us. We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it employment in our own country. The property owners will come over to our side. Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.”8

In short, the colonial project would require ethnic cleansing. Herzl’s insistence on a “gentle,” “discreet,” and “circumspect” expropriation belies the violence inherent to the proposal and reflects a sensitivity to its anachronism, but there is no mistaking the consciousness with which Herzl anticipates the Nakba. 

On the other hand, Herzl’s vision for Israel carried the promise of a liberal egalitarianism. Despite disavowing “pure democracy,” Herzl called for a regime of tolerance: “Every man will be as free and undisturbed in his faith or his disbelief as he is in his nationality. And if it should occur that men of other creeds and different nationalities come to live amongst us, we should accord them honorable protection and equality before the law.”9 And it was not just Herzl who espoused a liberal vision for Israel. Early prominent Zionists of the Labor movement, so critical to the founding of the state, insisted on righting the wrongs of the Jewish experience in Europe by founding an egalitarian society in which national identity eclipsed all other social distinctions. Of course, this egalitarian spirit was not extended to the indigenous Palestinians, but it predominated within Israeli social and political identity for the first three decades of the state’s formal existence and cannot be dismissed as mere cover for an underlying fascism. 

The kibbutz movement of early Zionism exemplifies the conjunction of these semiotic currents. Founded on quasi-socialist principles of communalism, the early kibbutzim were collective agricultural settlements of Jewish migrants to Palestine. Based on communalist property relations and agricultural innovation, the kibbutzim typified the progressive egalitarian spirit of Labor Zionism. However, they also played a critical role in establishing territorial enclosures and fostering pre-1948 Zionist militarism. The land for the settlements was provided by the Jewish National Fund, the agency tasked with buying up Palestinian land from absentee land-owners in the inter-war period to serve as the territorial basis for the Israeli state. The kibbutzim were strategically placed on the frontiers of territorial expansion, particularly as it became clear that the United Nations would offer a partition plan (in an effort to “claim” strategic territory in advance of the drawing of partition maps). Moreover, the kibbutzim served as a recruitment base for the Haganah and other Zionist paramilitary groups that fought indigenous Palestinians alongside British colonial forces directly in the leadup to Israel’s declaration of independence and the Nakba.10

Following the 1948 war and the establishment of Israel, the Labor Zionists held political power for three decades. This period saw Israeli wars of expansion as they invaded and conquered the Sinai peninsula in 1956 (which they were ultimately forced to concede) and fought the Six-Day War in 1967 that formally commenced the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights. A wave election in 1977 brought the Israeli government under control of a right-wing coalition that has largely maintained power through the present, save for a brief period in the mid-‘90s that saw the signing of the Oslo Accords.11 Critically, despite variations in the precise composition wherein one or the other semiotic predominates, Zionism as a historical force emerges from both its liberal and fascist throughlines in conjunction. 

This is all true as well for Palestinian nationalism, which exists as the direct correlate of Zionism. The highly influential right-wing Zionist Ze’ev Jabotinksky recognized this as early as 1923, writing: “Every native population in the world resists colonists as long as it has the slightest hope of being able to rid itself of the danger of being colonised. That is what the Arabs in Palestine are doing, and what they will persist in doing[.]”12 It is precisely this resistance to colonial violence and enclosure that marks one pole of Palestinian nationalism. The other pole, by contrast, is the liberal conception of self-determination (in the Wilsonian sense) shared by Zionists and Palestinians. This is not to suggest that Palestinian nationalism is a reaction to Zionism. Together they emerge, and together they proceed upon the body of the desert. Rashid Khalidi is essential here: 

“Palestinian identity and nationalism are all too often seen to be no more than recent expressions of an unreasoning (if not fanatical) opposition to Jewish national self-determination. But Palestinian identity, much like Zionism, emerged in response to many stimuli, and at almost exactly the same time as did modern political Zionism. The threat of Zionism was only one of these stimuli, just as anti-Semitism was only one of the factors fueling Zionism.”13

Palestinian nationalism thus emerges from the same conjuncture as Zionism, as anti-colonial resistance meets a current of progressive liberalism. In this sense we can say that Zionism and Palestinian nationalism do not represent competing ideological projects so much as contrasting orientations towards emergent processes of enclosure and subject formation. 

A failure to recognize this unity (i.e. conceiving Palestinian nationalism as an individuated political response to Zionism) can lead to the erroneous attempts at transcending nationalism altogether. This error comes in two main formulations: the anarchist-inflected call for a “no state solution,” and the Marxist call for cross-national proletarian revolution. As to the former, opposing all nationalisms in Palestine errs by presuming that states are constructed out of and by nationalist movements. The reverse is true: nationalism is a political orientation toward an emergent state and its functions. Palestinian identity and nationalism thus form a politics of resistance against the settler-colonial processes of enclosure and demarcation that Zionism as a politics maintains. As to the latter, calls for cross-national proletarian struggle in Palestine fail to recognize the present conjuncture as pre-capitalist, insofar as the colonial process is anterior to the capitalist mode of production. This is not to suggest that capitalism has not reached Palestine, but rather that the Zionist state is more preoccupied with performing colonial functions than with facilitating market forces. In Deleuze & Guattari’s schema of universal history, this state form approaches the “Urstaat,” a “primordial despotic state”14 that has not yet been subsumed by relations of private property. In Marxian terms, this places us within the regime of so-called primitive accumulation:15 Zionism is operating to demarcate subjects and territories that factor into capitalist production. The anachronism of a 20th century settler colony serves to foreground processes already subsumed elsewhere and informs the frequency with which western Marxists fail to grasp what is happening “over there.”

In short, Zionism as a political project and socio-semiotic system is neither completely liberal nor fascist, and instead moves between those ideological poles as is necessary for the maintenance and advancement of the settler colonial state. Zionism as a kind of conscious nationalism is a particular ideological orientation toward the operation of the state and its generation of subjects and territories. Conversely, Palestinian nationalism is an ideological commitment to asserting the very subjectivity Zionism is intent on erasing and to bursting open the territories it encloses. These two parallel processes of Zionist coloniality are faciality and counterinsurgency. 


In their elaboration on the formation of the state and its modes of violence, Deleuze and Guattari employ Georges Dumézil’s thesis that political sovereignty exists between two poles: the despotic magician-emperor and juridical priest-king.16 It is here that we locate Zionism’s mixed semiotic. On the one hand, through the fascist organization of the former: Zionism that carves land to form territories and marks bodies to form subjects. On the other, through the liberal organization of the latter: Zionism that issues decrees, makes treaties, sells arms. Of course, there is only one Zionism, the face produced as the juncture of these currents.

So, what is the face? Thus far we have insisted that the settler colony is not the product of conscious human innovation, but exists rather as a social organism itself, a megamachine that is anterior to the formation of particular subjects and territories. If the body of this organism is the physical space and structures it occupies,17 “the face is a map,”18 telling us who is (allowed to be) who and what is (allowed to be) what. In short, Zionism as a process of territorial enclosure relies for its continual maintenance upon a set of ideas, values, and narratives about who everyone in the polity is and how they ought to behave. This set of ideas, values, and narratives is Zionist faciality. Faciality as an abstract machine operates to codify and measure: this is the face of a Jew, this is the face of an Arab. This racial coding is not a binary sorting but a measure of deviance from an ideal:

“Racism operates by the determination of degrees of deviance in relation to the White-Man face, which endeavors to integrate nonconforming traits into increasingly eccentric and backward waves, sometimes tolerating them at given places under given conditions, in a given ghetto, sometimes erasing them from the wall, which never abides alterity (it’s a Jew, it’s an Arab, it’s a Negro, it’s a lunatic . . .) From the viewpoint of racism, there is no exterior, there are no people on the outside. There are only people who should be like us and whose crime it is not to be.”19

Measures of deviance in relation to the ideal constitute the basis for stereotypes codified as criminality. This is a familiar process in the United States: the criminalization of poverty setting out the poor as lazy and unwilling to work wage-labor; the criminalization of sex work setting out women as promiscuous in contrast to domesticated social reproducers; overpolicing and mass incarceration setting out Black people as a threat to the social order rather than a permanent underclass, to name some prominent examples. This is American faciality, protecting a regime of accumulation. In Palestine, by contrast, faciality maintains processes of territorial enclosure. It is for this reason that the most paramount identitarian categories in Palestine are not racial as such but territorial: the primary function of an identity card is to determine where someone can or cannot go, can or cannot live. 

It is through the process of faciality that each individual forms a subjective identity and ideological orientation, an individual face. “You don’t so much have a face as slide into one. . . .”20  Measures of deviance from the face set the bounds for subjectification. “Choices are guided by faces, elements are organized around faces: a common grammar is never separable from a facial education. The face is a veritable megaphone.”21 Blue passport, blue identity card, green identity card, no card at all: turn sixteen and come collect your card with a little photo of your face attached. Hand it to the soldier at the checkpoint to see if you may pass.22 It is in the process of being measured against the ideal face that one attains a subjective identity as deviances are coded and qualified. 

And the face really is ideal: it is the face of no one. “It is not even that of the white man; it is White Man himself. . .” The face of Zionism is the Ashkenazi Jew, Eli Valley’s Israel Man (“not Englishmen, but Jews”23), the standard against which all concrete, actual faces are measured by the abstract machine of faciality. This measuring and sorting is happening constantly and everywhere. Identity cards sort Palestinians into various circuits of constricted movement. Airport personnel distribute a numeric code on covert stickers affixed to the passport of all travellers, indicating a perceived threat level (“what’s your father’s name?”) and determining each person’s path through the security apparatus. Mizrahi Jews too are measured against the Ashkenazi face and denied access to Ashkenazi neighborhoods by residential “admissions committees.” Ethiopian Jews are ghettoized, abused by police, and have even been forcibly injected with birth control. Ashkenazi Jews too must conform or risk the mark of deviance: serve time either in the occupation force or in prison. What is measured is not a binary insider/outsider distinction, but deviance marked qualitatively as a distance from the ideal: “racism never detects the particles of the other; it propagates waves of sameness until those who resist identification have been wiped out (or those who only allow themselves to be identified at a given degree of divergence).”26 As such, anyone who accepts faciality’s taxonomy of difference may have some access to the polity, so long, for example, as one is Arab Israeli (a measure of difference, a minority) and not Palestinian (an anti-colonial subject). 

It is a function of faciality that many Zionists will insist on the nonexistence of Palestinians. Being Palestinian is not a measure of distance—it is to undermine the facial map entirely as an act of terrorism, deviance itself. For the faciality machine, there can only be historic Palestine and its Israelification, natives and their civilization within the narrow territorial and demographic confines set out by the state. Thus, Golda Meir, former prime minister of Israel, can say: “there were no such thing as Palestinians. . . they did not exist.”25 Palestinian in this sense does not denote a particular person but rather a particular orientation toward collective social forms. Faciality operates by a strict denial of non-conforming subjectivity. There can be no Palestinians because Palestinian as a nationalism is not inherently defined against a particular phenotypical or ethno-religious identity and is instead based on the bursting open of Zionist enclosures. By contrast, an Arab Israeli exists as an enclosed minority. This is the meaning of Israel’s nation-state law to the Palestinians: relinquish your nation and you may exist at the margins of the state.26

Plainly denying the existence of Palestinians is not the exclusive manner in which faciality operates to reformulate all identities against the Ashkenazi Jew: everywhere Palestinian subjectivity takes root, Zionism is there to displace it. This is evident in the discursive arenas external to Palestine but that are nevertheless foundational to Zionist coloniality. In the United States, Zionist faciality (both through official hasbara channels and more decentralized diffusions) operates to reframe instances of Palestinian identity and nationalism as exterior threats to Jewish subjectivity. This is increasingly accomplished with the deployment of overbroad allegations of antisemitism at anything resembling Palestinian nationalism: in particular, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, but also the expression of anti-Zionist sentiments as such. Thus, Palestinian experiences and harms are evacuated from the discourse in an act of displacement; no longer measured against their truth, these expressions of subjectivity are measured as a degree of harm against a Jewish protagonism. This is the program of “Woke Zionism,” which presses a contemporary social justice frame into the service of faciality.

It is here that the mixed semiotic constitutive of faciality once again surfaces: contemporary liberal discursive currents and frameworks are put to fascist use in defense of Zionism. Thus it is no contradiction that as the state project becomes increasingly right-wing politically it would launch a critique rooted in principles of liberal multiculturalism: faciality is reactive, adaptive, and beholden to neither of its ideological poles. Guattari: “One of the essential tasks of the media consists in continuously adjusting facial formulas, calculating them in order to answer for every possible situation.”27 In short, the abstract machine of faciality operates to codify and regulate deviance, and to target and eliminate all that resists its taxonomy of difference. 


“Now the face has a correlate of great importance: the landscape.”28

Faciality, composed of its ideas, values and narratives, does not constitute the totality of Zionist coloniality, but rather serves as the script from which a settler-colonial material reality is produced. The process of subject formation and regulation of deviance is necessarily situated within a context, a space, an environment that gives it its vitality and its potency. For Deleuze and Guattari, this foundational counterpart to the face is known as the “landscape.” The two are mutually constitutive, constantly informing and forming each other: “All faces envelop an unknown, unexplored landscape; all landscapes are populated by a loved or dreamed-of face.”29 Together, the face-landscape forms the deceivingly coherent whole that is Zionist coloniality. While the landscape does represent the material reality through which the politics of the face are always mediated, it should not be conceived of as only a physical space but as a parallel logic. “The not just a milieu but a deterritorialized world.”30 Just as faciality emerges from the mixed semiotic forming a logic that controls and dictates discursive space, so does the logic of the landscape as it fractures, encloses and polices physical space. We call this emergent and parallel logic counterinsurgency. 

The mixed semiotic that is foundational to the Zionist project is constantly reproduced on the ground through counterinsurgency. On the one hand, liberal elements of counterinsurgency manifest through highly systematized forms of control and enclosure—walls, checkpoints, detention, settlements—that surveil, regulate and terrorize populations in service of upholding an (imagined) status quo. On the other hand, fascistic elements—assassinations, maiming, demolitions, expulsion—encompass direct forms of violence, often performative and extravagant, that advance the aspirations of the settler project, conquering land and eliminating its native people, through force and the threat of force. While neither of these elements exist in their pure form at any one time, their mutual presence results in a strange social organism. Israel is at once a highly sophisticated and technological apparatus of control that is substantively unthreated by its immensely weaker adversary and a decentralized enterprise of conquest that indulges in gratuitous violence fuelled by the existential paranoia associated with Palestinan persistence. The combination of these forces make up Zionist counterinsurgency. 

Though the term counterinsurgency has a recent and very specific history, its true substantive origins go back much further. First emerging as a term in the Cold War era and gaining popularity during the War on Terror, counterinsurgency is conceived as a tactical repertoire used to combat a range of illegitimate revolts against established governments. However, a deeper investigation into the tactics utilized by counterinsurgency—mass detention, surveillance, divide and rule, ethnic cleansing—and the contexts where it has been waged—Black and Indigenous Liberation, anti-colonial uprisings, decolonial and leftist movements—reveal a much older form of warfare concerned with smothering political alternatives to colonial and otherwise reactionary projects. Thus, the contemporary invention and use of the term counterinsurgency is best understood as a liberal rebranding of a much older form of imperial domination. Counterinsurgency, in this sense, serves both as a logic of Zionist coloniality that divides, manages, dominates and patrols physical territory in a manner that parallels faciality’s purview over discursive and ideological space, and as a form of warfare that grew out of centuries of colonialism and imperial domination tailored to the particularities of the Zionist project. 

While the component parts of counterinsurgency—enclosure and performative violence—have undoubtedly existed throughout history, their codification into a coherent logic emerges with the ascent of Western coloniality and thus its intertwining with facial politics. Counterinsurgency doctrine as it has been adopted and developed by the Zionist project exists at the nexus of the French, British and American traditions. While these empires have been the most influential in defining the theoretical precepts of counterinsurgency, the British and American connections to the Zionist movement are far more direct, tangible and concrete than epistemic. Most evident is the groundwork laid and the legacies created by British colonial policies, institutions and personnel administering the Mandate in Palestine after the First World War. Laleh Khalili’s Time in the Shadows brilliantly details the fluidity of the colonial era and the independent Israeli state. In one particularly salient case, British colonial intelligence officer Orde Wingate, who was set to become Israel’s first defense minister had he not died prematurely, created Special Night Squads during the Arab Revolt (1936-39) that were notorious for their brutality—terrorizing, humiliating and killing Palestinian villagers throughout the Galilee.31 This served as a precursor to the consolidation of the British colonial police forces and Jewish paramilitary groups and later became the model for the Israeli forces. In the words of long time defense minister Moshe Dayan, “in some sense, every leader of the Israeli Army even today is a disciple of Wingate. He gave us our technique, he was the inspiration for our tactic, he was our dynamic.”32 Khalili emphasizes that the British bolstered these direct forms of violence with legal scaffolding: 

“The Emergency Regulations of 1936 and the Palestine (Defence) Order in Council of 1937 permitted collective punishments of fines and house destructions, significantly loosened the burden of evidence, legalized unannounced punitive searches, and expanded death-penalty sentencing.”33

Centuries of colonial excursions by the British around the globe meant that a refined system of divide and rule that relied on intricate legal mechanisms and performative violence arrived in Palestine in the early 20th century and has remained the backbone of Israeli policy. 

The conclusion of the Second World War brought the partition of Palestine, independence for the Israeli state, and a shift in the colonial metropole from a de jure status in London to a de facto one in Washington. The British no longer directly enforced and facilitated Zionist aspirations on the ground; instead, the Israeli state embodied Zionism, with the US as it main protector and benefactor. Despite constant attempts to paint the US’s immense and unrelenting material support for Israel as mutually beneficial, prominent scholarship has shown that this is unsubstantiated.34 The relationship is more accurately understood on the basis of coloniality. US counterinsurgency, itself born from settler-colonial conquest and racial apartheid and refined through imperial excursions and neocolonial domination, serves as a paradigmatic model both practically and narratively for the Zionist project. The founding US mythologies of terra nullius and manifest destiny that were reinforced by policies of land conquest and indigenous erasure directly parallel the myth and aspirational limit of Zionism: a land without a people for a people without a land. When oriented properly within the genealogy from which they emerge, Zionist forms of enclosure and brutality reveal themselves as a particular, albeit anachronistic, iteration of Western coloniality. 

The most central and defining feature of counterinsurgency throughout historic Palestine is the elaborate layers of enclosure that fracture, constrain, surveil and terrorize Palestinians and their livelihoods. This is done through quadrillage, or the gridding of space, as termed by French counterinsurgency doctrine. It has been carried out in Palestine through the use of walls, checkpoints, settlements, detention centers and special security zones.35 The planned 712 kilometer Apartheid Wall, of which 65% is complete, divides the occupied territories (OPT) from Israel, severing West Bank Palestinians from their Palestinian citizens of Israel and Gazan counterparts.36 The Wall is built almost entirely in West Bank territory serving to concentrate Palestinians on a massive scale, ensure constant surveillance, and test new technologies and tactics.37 The Wall is bolstered by nearly six hundred checkpoints and roadblocks that regulate and monitor Palestinian movement.38 Combined, the Wall and checkpoints function as the enforcement mechanism of the pass system, first created by the British during the Arab Revolt and codified in its current form after 1967. This system divides Palestinians into thirteen clusters of permits, where each permit works for only one checkpoint for a given period of time, nighttime access requires an additional permit and the process of obtaining one is based on “colossal inefficiency, unpredictability, unaccountability, conflict orders, [and] unpublished rules.”39 The pass system endured by Palestinians under occupation is juxtaposed against a separate road system that connects Israel to its settlements and to each other, built in a way that obscures the existence of Palestinian villages and livelihoods. 

Settlements embody the essence of settler-colonial counterinsurgency: they are the most direct and egregious form of conquest and dispossession, they serve as military and paramilitary outposts, they are strategically placed in relation to other settlements (to form blocs) and Palestinian villages (on higher ground), they subsume the surrounding natural resources, and they function as decentralized nodes of police and vigilante violence. Even before their more recent escalation in scale, the settlements represented a continuation of the British obligation under Article 6 of the League of Nations’ Mandate for Palestine to encourage “close settlement by Jews on the land.”40 Further, each of these pieces of colonial counterinsurgent infrastructure includes surrounding security zones, where Palestinian livelihoods are prohibited and varying degrees of violence can be expected. These forms of enclosure are cross cutting and overlapping in such a way that regulates people and movement, severely hampering political unity and organizing, while also their “dizzy complexity and arbitrariness...create[s] disorientation, confusion, and uncertainty, excellent techniques for maintaining control over civilians.”41

If quadrillage defines the forms of enclosure that divide the territory, another French counterinsurgency term, ratissage or “raking it clear of enemy and/or logistical supplies”42 encapsulates its constitutive violence. The technical and routinized nature of enclosure and its processes always operate against the backdrop of violence and the threat of violence. Raids, searches and sweeps are ratissage par excellence as they penetrate and violate intimate spaces, inject daily doses of harassment and terror, and sow seeds of suspicion into communities.43 Mass incarceration and particularly extraterritorial detention were central elements of the British approach to counterinsurgency. Commonly they sent Palestinians to the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean to “keep them out of sight, out of mind,” and to suspend their legal status to ensure they could not pursue due process.44 Since 1967, about 40% of the male Palestinian population has been detained, including in “administrative detention”, a British colonial era policy that allows for extended imprisonment without the protects of due process. Israel is the only country in the world that systematically and consistently prosecutes children in military courts without appropriate legal rights and protections. 

The blockade of Gaza represents the utilization of an age old counterinsurgent technique: the destruction of food and other vital resources, euphemistically called “resource control.” The refusal to end the blockade has left Gaza in an unlivable and destitute situation, requiring international aid and NGOs to keep the population from the brink of mass starvation. These forms of direct violence are bolstered and accompanied by even more routine and quotidian ones: harassment and torture at checkpoints and road blocks, police and occupation force brutality, chemical inundation from tear gas, as well as maiming with rubber and live ammunition.  

Despite the apparent contradiction of these liberal and fascist elements, they continually reinforce each other in service of the settler-colonial project as a whole. The overlapping layers of enclosure that divide space and the systematized processes that regulate them are initiated and maintained using direct forms of violence. The gratuitous and performative violence serves a particular purpose for the maintenance of these systems—even when violence is not present it is always implied. The threat of force looms large with each form of enclosure: occupation infrastructure such as walls and checkpoints are always accompanied by soldiers, security cameras and weapons; prisons always carry the threat of mistreatment and torture; life in Gaza means the constant threat of extinction and bombardment. Enclosure only fully serves its purpose when the use and threat of overwhelming force accompanies it. Viewed from the other side, forms of enclosure set the parameters from which direct violence can be expected to take place, making senseless violence sensible: Palestinian livelihoods are destroyed because they are too close to a settlement; a Palestinian is detained because of an expired pass at a checkpoint; a Gazan boat is sunk because it violates the blockade; a refugee camp is systematically raided and gassed due to its proximity to the apartheid wall. Thus, enclosure ensures that settler-colonial violence is never out of place, while violence constantly reaffirms that these forms of enclosure expand and persist. This relationship between enclosure and direct violence forms the logic of counterinsurgency.

On Decolonial Autophagy

The two abstract machines of faciality and counterinsurgency operate together to sustain the settler-colonial social organism. Counterinsurgency clears away all who resist facial taxonomies of difference just as faciality organizes and codes all threats to counterinsurgent enclosures. Enclosure, fortified by (the threat of) violence, regulates and maps the physical bounds of deviance through criminality, which requires violence as a deterrent. Here, Zionist faciality and counterinsurgency are seen clearly working in tandem. The regime of facial politics sets the abstract parameters of deviance, giving cues that instruct and inform counterinsurgency tactics in the regulation of that deviance. Faciality points to who should be the target of violence (Palestinian subjectivity, non-Ashkenazi Jews) and which populations need to be fractured and divided (Palestinians in Jerusalem, in refugee camps, near settlements, between the river and sea).

In turn, the realities of the enclosure and violence that follow create an infinitude of deviance that reinforce and insulate faciality. Criminality is established by violating the constraints of enclosure—having the wrong pass, being too close to colonial infrastructure—or resisting the established cycles of violence—fighting back, persisting, refusing humiliation. Thus, the anti-colonial Palestinian subject demonized by faciality also becomes violent, conniving, irrational and dangerous. Faciality and counterinsurgency cue and enrich each other, functioning as two complimentary logics that work in service of Zionist settler coloniality, conquest and erasure. This system of settler-colonial maintenance is by no means exclusive to the particular case of Palestine: wherever there is a settler-colonial state, there exists some iteration of faciality and counterinsurgency. As such, an emancipatory program of settler decolonization necessarily entails a radical transformation of the state through the dismantling of these machines. 

We are certainly not the first to offer such a program. Certain postcolonial scholars have theorized a “logic of elimination” as foundational to settler-colonialism in a manner similar to the faciality-counterinsurgency schema elaborated here. They assert that settler-colonialism is defined by this logic, which obscures the relationship between settler and native and presupposes native erasure and land conquest.45 It is a logic based fundamentally on territoriality, not race (or religion, ethnicity, etc) and one that “destroys to replace.”46 The emancipatory program that follows requires an undoing of the structurally entrenched discontinuity between settler and native, one where native permanence is acknowledged and sustained.47 Thus, it is “only when the original demand to disappear is at last abandoned can a post-settler condition supersede the need for indigenous survival.” This articulation is a helpful analysis of settler-colonialism as process, and commensurate with the understanding of Zionist coloniality offered here. However, it falls short of fully explicating the mechanics of how such an eliminatory logic might be abandoned. 

We can theorize a new emancipatory process by analyzing the particular logics constitutive of the settler-colonial social organism as a whole while maintaining the unity without identity of Zionism and Palestinian nationalism. In Palestine, existing nationalisms represent contrasting orientations toward the state and its settler-colonial social character: Zionism is the will to preserve and regenerate Israel whereas Palestinian nationalism is the will to emancipate Palestine through radical transformations. These transformations, dismantling the face and bursting open counterinsurgent enclosures, will come neither through a process of destruction nor through a natural death. Zionism will not be defeated, and nor will it simply die. “The death of a social machine has never been heralded by a disharmony or a dysfunction; on the contrary, social machines make a habit of feeding on the contradictions they give rise to, on the crises they provoke, on the anxieties they engender, and on the infernal operations they regenerate.”48 As such, a program of emancipation must encourage and facilitate a distinctly radical process of feeding and regeneration: a decolonial autophagy. A social organism, like a cellular organism, must deconstruct and repurpose its component parts that no longer serve sustainable functions. This means leveraging an emancipatory nationalism against the processes of faciality and counterinsurgency and reconstituting the structures of the one existing state toward liberatory ends: through dismantling the face, everyone becomes Palestininian; through bursting open counterinsurgent enclosures, all becomes Palestine.

Emancipation demands a productive dismantling of both of these constitutive processes of Zionist coloniality. This is, of course, no easy feat. Where counterinsurgent enclosures are threatened, faciality steps in to codify and criminalize deviance, and where the social codings of faciality are rejected, counterinsurgency intervenes to clear away those out of compliance. However, it is not impossible. Resistance targeted directly at faciality and counterinsurgency can dismantle the settler colony beyond the possibility of recapitulation.

Dismantling the face—the becoming-Palestinian of all who reside in Palestine—requires radical assertions of Palestinian subjectivity in defiance of the facial regulatory regime. Pushed to the limit, this involves the total deconstruction of all codified measures of deviance: all categories based on citizenship, nationality, and residency must collapse into a singular nationalism and national identity invested in and defined by the process of decolonial autophagy. This is not to suggest a flattening of all identities. Preserving a religious pluralism is essential to the process of reconciliation. However, national identities based on deviance from an ethno-religious ideal (and this is what Zionism is) must be totally supplanted by a singular national identity based on affirming difference within a shared polity. 

Likewise, unwaging counterinsurgency requires radical acts aimed at bursting open the territories formed by counterinsurgent enclosure. Achille Mbembe writes that this pursuit of disenclosure empowers “the colonized to reconquer the surface, horizons, depths, and heights of their lives.”49 Thus, disenclosure attacks the central logic of counterinsurgency, quadrillage and ratissage, by rupturing the contours of gridded space and recontextualizing the routine and extravagant violence for what it is—colonial brutality. Zionist enclosures that restrict movement and livelihoods, that foster invented forms of criminality and identitarian divisions across Palestine, must be burst apart. Crucially, this is not a destructive process but a constructive one, one that is “synonymous with opening, a surging up, the advent of something new, a blossoming.”50 The process of disenclosure will not destroy Zion, but it can lead to a transformation, where all land is Palestine and all its inhabitants are Palestinians. Rather than this process representing a full departure from the Zionist/Palestinian nationalist dynamic, it is endogenous to the unity without identity that joins the two. It is for this reason that the process is best understood as autophagic in nature. 

These decolonial processes have, to a greater or lesser extent, been the history of Palestinian resistance. The Arab Revolt of 1936-1939 posed a direct challenge to decades of advancing realms of Zionist colonial enclosure—economic, political and territorial. The revolt had two distinct phases, each radically asserting Palestinian subjectivity and attacking forms of enclosure. At its onset, a six month general strike and the formation of a unified political entity for the Arab majority, the Arab Higher Committee (AHC), targeted an increasingly closed Jewish economy and defied British divide and rule policies. The final two years saw a shift to violent guerilla struggle that directly targeted colonial infrastructure. The PFLP hijacking missions of the late 1960s and 1970s, in particular Leila Khaled’s infamous 1969 hijacking of TWA Flight 840, were likewise profound acts of disenclosure. Khaled commandeered the plane, originally headed from Rome to Tel Aviv, and ordered the pilot to fly over Haifa so she could see her birthplace before diverting the flight to Damascus. Khaled rejected both the bounds of territorial enclosure excluding her from her homeland and her status as refugee, and for it she became an icon of Palestinian resistance. The First Intifada of the late 1980s and early 1990s was a radical assertion of Palestinian subjectivity on the international stage. Through a largely nonviolent series of protests, strikes, and other acts of civil disobedience, Palestinians provoked a crushing violent response from the Israeli state that drew international condemnation, including from the United Nations. For the first time, the Palestinian story of resistance and struggle transcended the coding of faciality to reach a global audience. Currently, the BDS Movement serves as a decentralized vehicle for both fostering Palestinian subjectivity through bonds of solidarity and specifically targeting the infrastructure of territorial enclosure through boycotts and divestment campaigns. It should come as no surprise, then, that each of these avenues of resistance, which cut directly at the abstract machines upholding the settler colonial state, has been met by an overreaction which is largely detrimental to the Zionist project.

These forms of resistance are autophagic insofar as they attack the constitutive elements at the core of Zionist coloniality by exposing and targeting their brutality and disfunction. Radical assertions of Palestinian subjectivity and the bursting open of colonial enclosures are particularly threatening precisely because they lay naked the absurdity and violent brutality of Zionist coloniality. They recontextualize, if only for a moment, the preposterousness of Palestinian nonexistence and the quotidian violence of occupation within an increasingly emancipatory nationalism. 

It is here we see that the Zionist project, in its proximity to the despotic pole of sovereignty, is marred by a “cruelty . . . equaled only by its incompetence and naivete.”51 Effective forms of decolonial resistance cause the apparatus to flail, to overreact by undertaking actions that unnecessarily reinforce its coloniality. The 2018 nation-state law codified a de facto apartheid reality into law, garnering immense international scrutiny and opening the door for entirely new avenues of criticism. Bombardments of Gaza in response to armed resistance desolate an already ravaged population, revealing to the world that Zionist cruelty knows no depths. Panic in the face of relatively banal expressions of support for Palestinians from corporations belie an embarrassing sensitivity to expressions of Palestinian subjectivity. These reactions are not missteps per se, as they work in service of Zionist colonialty; however, they create cracks in the machinic edifice that can be pried open. Further radical investments against these machines will continue to provoke wildly disproportionate reactions that accelerate their breakdown and expose vulnerabilities in the settler-colonial social organism. 

A Palestine liberated of these colonial machines would be able to repurpose their material components for decolonial ends. This is autophagy: a right of return wherein Palestinian refugees born in exile are resettled in existing formerly-Israeli settlement communities as technologies of division are made redundant. The walls must come down, but the buildings and roads can simply open up. Jewish Palestinians living in the physical homes of returning refugees can be resettled on land formerly enclosed by military occupation (such as the Jordan Valley). Presently-Zionist military, financial, educational, and social insitutions can be brought under democratic control. 

This vision is nonexclusive. New and creative subversions that pry open repressive apparatuses both discursive and physical will lead to new frontiers of transformation. Our hope is that the framework described here can help to illuminate conscious modes of resistance against Zionist coloniality and toward an autophagic emancipatory transformation in Palestine. 


[1] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, "Year Zero: Faciality", A Thousand Plateaus, 1987, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press), pp. 167-191

[2] Id., p. 171.

[3] Id., p. 181.

[4] “These are the two aspects of a becoming of a State: its internalization in a field of increasingly decoded social forces forming a physical system; its spiritualization in a superterrestrial field that increasingly overcodes, forming a metaphysical system.” Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, 1977, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane (New York: Penguin Books), p. 222.

[5] Anti-Oedipus, p. 219.

[6] Karl Marx, Capital: Volume 1, p. 762.

[7] Theodor Herzl, The Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl, 1960, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Herzl Press and Thomas Yoseloff), III, p. 1194.

[8] Rashid Khalidi, The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine, 2020 (New York: Metropolitan Books), p. 4.

[9] Herzl, "The Jewish State".

[10] Alison M. Bowes, "Image and Reality in the Israeli Kibbutz", Int. J. Middle East Stud. 22, 1990, p. 89.

[11] Labor also briefly held power around the turn of the millenium.

[12] Khalidi, p. 12.

[13] Id., p. 13.

[14] Anti-Oedipus, p. 218.

[15] “. . . there is primitive accumulation whenever an apparatus of capture is mounted . . .” A Thousand Plateaus, p. 447.

[16] A Thousand Plateaus, p. 424.

[17] A "landscape" ordered by a logic of counterinsurgency, as we will see below.

[18] A Thousand Plateaus, p. 170.

[19] Id., p. 178.

[20] Id., p. 177.

[21] Id., p. 179.

[22] “. . . the abstract machine of faciality assumes a role of selective response, or choice: given a concrete face, the machine judges whether it passes or not, whether it goes or not, on the basis of the elementary facial units. . . . At every moment, the machine rejects faces that do not conform, or seem suspicious. But only at a given level of choice.” A Thousand Plateaus, p. 177.

[23] The Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl, p. 1194.

[24] A Thousand Plateaus, p. 178.

[25] Golda Meir, Sunday Times, June 15 1969.

[26] The alternative contained in this ultimatum is to face removal via the territorial enclosures of counterinsurgency, the physical counterpart of faciality.

[27] Guattari, The Machinic Unconscious, 2010, trans. Taylor Adkins (Cambridge: MIT Press), p. 91.

[28] A Thousand Plateaus, p. 172.

[29] Id., pp. 172-3.

[30] Id., p. 172.

[31] Laleh Khalili, Time in the Shadows, 2013 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press), pp. 30-31.

[32] Id., p. 31.

[33] Id., p. 69.

[34]  John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy explores the way in which the US-Israel relationship is detrimental to US foreign policy pursuits and its overall interests. They suggest as well that the relationship, in some ways, harms Israel as well.

[35] This far from an exhaustive list of Zionist settler colonial infrastructure. See the work of Eyal Weizman for a thorough investigation of how architectural elements pervade nearly all aspects of the occupation, fracturing Palestinians and making life unlivable while obscuring this violence from Israelis.

[36] UN OCHA, Barrier Update 2021.

[37] Khalili, p. 187.

[38] UN OCHA, “Occupied Palestinian Territory (oPt) Humanitarian Needs Overview 2021”.

[39] Khalili, p. 200.

[40] Id., p. 35.

[41] Id., p. 189.

[42] Id., p. 29.

[43] Id., p. 191.

[44] Id., p. 70.

[45] Lorenzo Veracini, “Introducing: Settler Colonial Studies,” Settler Colonial Studies 1, no. 1, 2011, pp. 1–12.

[46] Patrick Wolfe, "Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native", J. of Genocide Res. 8, iss. 4, 2006, p. 388.

[47] Veracini p. 7.

[48] Anti-Oedipus p. 151.

[49] Achille Mbembe, Out of the Dark Night: Essays on Decolonization, 2021 (New York: Columbia University Press), p. 44

[50] Id., p. 61.

[51] A Thousand Plateaus p. 178.