As They Laid Down Their Cables | Lalel Khalili | Granta

As They Laid Down Their Cables

Laleh Khalili

Golda Meir visited Iran as Israeli Foreign Minister in July 1965. Her unmarked aeroplane landed in the darkness before dawn at Mehrabad Airport, and she was ushered to a special guest house in northern Tehran. Meir’s advisers were keen to publicise her visit but the Iranians insisted on keeping it secret. The secrecy provided the Shah with cover during a moment of upheaval in the world of oil: Iran was expected to present a united front with Arab states in their negotiations with the Seven Sisters, the European and American oil companies that controlled the majority of global production.

At the time, the Seven Sisters were reluctant to openly sell oil to Israel, lest they anger the increasingly assertive Arab states. Given that a spot market in oil was only to emerge more than a decade later, Israel was determined to find a reliable supplier of crude. Meir spoke directly to the Shah. She suggested a joint venture between Iran and Israel whereby Iranian oil, shipped on tankers to the sleepy port city of Eilat on the Gulf of Aqaba, would slake Israel’s energy needs. Eilat would be one terminus of a large-diameter pipeline, covertly constructed to traverse Israel from the Red Sea to Ashkelon on the Mediterranean. Trucks, smaller tankships, and narrower pipelines would then carry the oil internally to the refinery in Haifa. 1 What would be of interest to the Shah was the excess petroleum, shipped on Israeli tankers to markets in Europe. Meir had already visited Romania and secured an agreement from Bucharest to purchase this excess Iranian oil.

The Shah was non-committal about the pipeline suggestion at first, but things changed with the closure of the Suez Canal in the 1967 war two years later. The crisis gave Iran the impetus it needed for the provision of oil to Israel and sale of oil to European customers through Israel. It would corner a comparative advantage against its Arab rivals by the lower carriage costs that came from not having to transport the oil around the Cape of Good Hope. Iran commissioned a feasibility study. The men in charge were National Iranian Oil Company’s Fathollah Naficy and Felix Shinar, who had just concluded his tenure as the head of the Israeli reparations mission to Cologne. In 1968, the two countries incorporated a joint-venture company named Trans-Asiatic in Switzerland and bought the infrastructures of an already existing smaller pipeline between Eilat and Be’er Sheva from the Rothschild Group. Trans-Asiatic also ordered tankers to transport the oil by sea. Hermann Abs of Deutsche Bank met with Shinar and Naficy in Switzerland to hash out the financing for the larger pipeline, with the West German government guaranteeing a more generous interest rate than loans on open markets. Abs had been one of the most powerful bankers to the Third Reich and, as the head of Deutsche Bank’s foreign department, had been responsible for the expropriation of European Jewish assets and the looting of European banks in occupied areas. After the war, Abs was sent to unstitch his earlier handiwork: he was put in charge of the German restitution to Israel and in that capacity had developed a cordial working relationship with Shinar.

The Eilat–Ashkelon pipeline went into operation in 1969, on the eve of the nationalisation of oil. The loosening of the grip of the Seven Sisters, and the coming Arab–Israeli War in 1973 opened up a space for independent traders to make deals with buyers and producers. The problem was how to get the oil from the Gulf to its buyers in Europe and the Americas while the Suez Canal was closed. As Iran did not want to be seen to be trading directly with Israel or shipping its oil through Israel to European customers, middlemen were needed.

Enter Marc Rich, a Belgian-American commodities trader who foresaw the seismic transformation of the oil market and decided to take advantage. Rich’s American business partner Pincus Green, who had inked major metals contracts with Iran and spoke Persian, introduced Rich to Iranian oil men. Rich began to cultivate a relationship with the oil technocrats, and with the Shah himself, who took his skiing holidays in St Moritz, where Rich owned a chalet on the Suvretta slope. Rich managed to sign a long-term oil contract with Iran that secured his company Iranian crude at $5 per barrel for the duration of the deal, just as the price of oil was about to skyrocket from $3 to $11.50 a barrel. Rich then sought buyers who were not already in hock to the majors.

Since the Suez Canal was still closed, Rich began negotiating independently with the Israeli government. The French bank Paribas financed Rich’s large shipments of oil from Iran. The tankers unloaded their cargo at Eilat, with some of the oil making its way to the Haifa and, later, Ashdod refineries. Rich’s ships collected the excess at Ashkelon and transferred the cargo directly to US and European buyers. Refineries, petrochemical industries, power plants, and governments made excellent customers for the Marc Rich + Co trade in oil. Rich even bought substantial shipments of Iranian oil for the United States Defence Fuel Supply Center and shipped it through the Eilat–Ashkelon pipeline. In some years Rich sold more oil than some producing nations. Many years later, Rich told his biographer, Daniel Ammann, that the pipeline had given him ‘a big price advantage. The transport of Iranian crude through the pipeline was much cheaper than going all the way around Africa’. Marc Rich became fabulously wealthy from the stealth trade through the Eilat–Ashkelon pipeline. The deal also benefited Iran, whose oil was now more attractive to Europeans because of its lower freight markup; and Israel met its energy needs and bolstered its foreign reserves.

Rich courted Iran even after the revolution that toppled the Shah. While the deals between the National Iranian Oil Company and the majors fell apart in 1979, it continued to honour its deals with Marc Rich, selling him around 70 million barrels of oil per year, a good deal of which made its way to the oil terminal at Eilat. In the twenty years he helmed his trading company, Rich sold Israel up to 20 per cent of its annual oil needs. Revolutionary leaders in Iran were content with symbolic gestures of enmity against the ‘Little Satan’, but never weaponised the oil trade with Israel.

Rich’s lack of scruples in dealing with revolutionary Iran irritated chauvinists in the United States. Rudy Giuliani, then an upstart federal prosecutor looking to make his name in New York, brought charges of trading with the enemy against Rich and Green in 1983. For seventeen years thereafter, their faces appeared on the FBI’s Most Wanted posters.

While evading extradition to the US, ensconced in his mansion in Lucerne or travelling to do business, Rich was guarded by former Mossad agents. Then, out of the blue, Bill Clinton pardoned both men on his last day as president in January 2001. Rich’s ex-wife Denise had donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Democratic Party and to the Clinton Presidential Library; but more importantly, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and former head of Mossad Shabtai Shavit had both lobbied the Clinton Administration on Rich’s behalf. As Ammann writes, Rich had ‘organised contacts in places where Mossad had none. He offered money in situations where Israel officially could not’. Rich was dubbed a sayan, a helper to the intelligence agency. But far more important than the intelligence work had been Rich’s delivery of oil.

Even before the Israeli state was founded, energy politics influenced the relationship between the settlers of the Yishuv and the indigenous Palestinians. 2 Between 1920 – when Britain and France divided the Ottoman Empire’s Arab provinces between them – and Israel’s founding in 1948, the World Zionist Organisation established a number of proto-governmental institutions for the Jewish settler community in Palestine. One of the earliest and most important among them was the Palestine Electric Company, the chief subject of Fredrik Meiton’s definitive history of energy and Zionist state-building.

The British mandatory powers in Palestine granted Pinhas Rutenberg of Palestine Electric concessions for the construction of power plants and an extensive electricity grid. A veteran of the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917, who would have a hand in founding organisations from the Haganah, the precursor of the Israeli military, to Palestine Airways (later, El Al), Rutenberg planned to produce hydroelectric power, drawing from the Jordan River at its confluence with the Yarmūk River, and at the Auja River (which runs east–west from north of Jericho to the Mediterranean). His plan to expand north and exploit the Litani River, well within Lebanese territory, for the same purpose, continued to shape Israeli policy towards Lebanon until the end of the twentieth century.

To produce hydroelectric power, the company claimed it needed to control extensive tracts of land in the river basins, including some of the most fertile farmland in Palestine proper, as well as chunks of territory across the Jordan River, in Transjordan. The planned power grid criss-crossed the whole of the map of Palestine and would require the possession of land along the routes designated for the high-tension wires. The land acquired for the building of the power stations and the grid infrastructure was also used to build Jewish settlements.

As in other countries, the production of energy went hand in hand with territorial control over geological features – rivers, seas, shorelines, as well as undulations of land that signalled the possible presence of oil reservoirs. Rutenberg’s scheme received British approval and support, even as British officials acknowledged that the uneven development and asymmetric utilisation of an infrastructure that extended from the river to the sea gave, in the words of a British colonial official, ‘a grip over the whole economic life of Palestine’ to the Jewish settlers. Palestinians, in turn, recognised the territorial ambition, economic import, and political meaning of the electrification plans as foundational to the colonial project that was already beginning to displace them. In a series of protests and uprisings, starting in Jaffa in 1923, and spreading all over Palestine as the years went on, they resisted the expropriation of their lands, the transformations in their lived environments, and the hostile settlements created on the Palestine Electric Company lands. In some places, Palestinians tried to challenge the monopoly of the company by setting up smaller diesel-operated generators. Others threatened sabotage.

To sap Palestinian resistance, Rutenberg suggested deferring the large-scale hydroelectric project in Auja in favour of a diesel-fuelled power station in Tel Aviv/Jaffa, and later a steam turbine in Haifa. The massive power plant at the confluence of the Jordan and Yarmūk rivers came online in 1932. Power was distributed unevenly, with Jewish residential and commercial consumers receiving the lion’s share of the electricity. Nocturnal Tel Aviv was brightly lit; Jaffa wasn’t. The labour used to construct the infrastructures was racialised, with Palestinian workers earning a fraction of the wages of Jewish labourers. By 1948, Jewish settlers in Palestine constituted less than 40 per cent of the population of the territory and owned only 7 per cent of the land, but consumed ‘90 per cent of the quarter million kilowatt-hours sold’ by the Palestine Electric Company.

The widening economic and political gaps forged by this energy infrastructure has continued to shape Israel’s relationship with Palestinians. Within the nascent Israeli state’s borders, even as Jewish settlements enjoyed extensive infrastructures, the vast majority of Palestinian citizens who continued to live in neighbouring villages were denied access to these services. As one Palestinian council member in Nazareth complained, ‘The government supplies every new Jewish colony with roads, electricity, and water before anyone moves in. Why would electricity poles and water pipes pass Arab villages but leave them dark and dry?’3 The unequal allocation of energy resources inside Israel have continued until today. Official governmental Judaisation policies in the Negev and Galilee, where Palestinian citizens of Israel are concentrated, have translated into Kafkaesque housing policies that at the very least circumscribe new construction in or expansion of Palestinian communities. These policies have been reinforced by deliberate denial of access to vital infrastructures – including electricity or water – in both settled and Bedouin Palestinian communities.

Being connected to the Israeli electricity grid, however, has its own disadvantages. Only a few days after the occupation of East Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza in 1967, Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Dayan remarked, ‘If Hebron’s electricity grid comes from our [Israeli] central grid and we are able to pull the plug and thus cut them off, this is clearly better than a thousand curfews and riot-dispersals.’ In November 1967, Israeli Military Order 159 placed all electricity infrastructure in the occupied territories under the control of Israeli military administration. Today, Palestinians in West Bank produce only 14 per cent of their own electricity and are dependent on Israel for the rest. Before 1967, Israel regularly denied Palestinians within its borders access to electricity; after 1967, the occupied territories were made deliberately reliant on Israeli infrastructures that could be switched off at a flick of a switch. One by one, independent power plants in West Bank and Gaza have been shut down and Palestinian communities have been forcibly attached to the Israeli power grid.

Golda Meir was neither the first nor the last Israeli prime minister to secretly fly to Iran. Before the Iranian monarchy was overthrown in 1979, every Israeli prime minister bar one visited Tehran. David Ben-Gurion inaugurated such visits in 1961 as part of his ‘periphery plans’ to build alliances with non-Arab states – Iran, Ethiopia, Turkey – that encircled the Arab world. After Ben-Gurion, Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Yigal Allon, Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin, and almost every Israeli foreign and defence minister flew secretly to Iran. The only prime minister not to pay his respects to the Shah was Moshe Sharett and he was in post for less than a year in the mid-1950s. The vast majority of these visits were related to Israel’s desperate need to secure energy resources and energy supply routes.

In the half-century-long Israeli search for hydrocarbons, the Sinai was the byword.

The southward-pointing Sinai wedge separates – or joins – the African and Asian continents. Sharm el-Sheikh sits at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, where the gulfs of Suez and Aqaba meet to form the Red Sea. In the early twentieth century, imperial British geologists produced intricate survey maps of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern shorelines they controlled, searching for reservoirs of water and eventually petroleum. Writing for the Geological Magazine in 1940, two geologists described the geography of the region as an arc of exploration for petroleum that ran from Syria, Palestine and Sinai to Iraq, Iran and Arabia, all the way to Oman.

Explorations in Palestine, and later Israel, however, proved largely futile. The absence of petroleum inside the 1949 armistice line must have been galling to Israeli leaders, given the relative proximity of Saudi Arabia, or Iraq, or even the Sinai, where British companies had discovered reserves of oil in the late 1940s. Titular Arab rulers in the Gulf balked at selling oil to the fledgling Israel. In its early years, the Israeli economy was dependent on agriculture, and oil-fuelled Israeli desalination plants used to irrigate water-intensive farm products produced for export. Anglo-Iranian Oil Company subsidiaries in Kuwait and Qatar sent secret tankerfuls of oil to their refinery in Haifa, which they finally sold to Israel in 1958.

Israel’s energy needs and dependence on secret and unreliable sources was considered a national security concern – for Ben-Gurion, a ‘matter of life and death’ – the publicising of which could expose a significant Israeli vulnerability. Sinai tantalised not only with its strategic command over the Suez Canal, the Gulf of Aqaba, and the Strait of Tiran, but also with its petroleum potential.

In 1956, after Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal Company, high-ranking officials from Israel, Britain and France secretly met in Sèvres, France, to plot the invasion of Egypt. France and Britain both wanted to regain control of the canal. Ben-Gurion saw in the imperial anxiety over the Suez Canal an opportunity to expand Israeli territory beyond the 1949 armistice line. His ambition was not only the overthrow of Nasser, but a wholesale transformation of the geopolitical map of the region, including the division of Transjordan between monarchical Iraq and Israel, resettling of Palestinian refugees outside the borders of Palestine, the expansion of Israel north into the Lebanese territory to the Litani River, and control over Sinai. None of this would be possible without a powerful European sponsor. Ben-Gurion recorded a side meeting at Sèvres with French Prime Minister Guy Mollet in his diary:

I told him about the discovery of a great deal of oil in south-western Sinai, and that it is worthwhile to detach this peninsula from Egypt for it does not belong to her, but the English had stolen it from the Turks when they thought that they had Egypt in their pocket. I proposed laying down an oil pipeline from Sinai to the refineries in Haifa, and Mollet expressed interest in this suggestion.

During the four months between October 1956 and March 1957 that Israel occupied Sinai, the Geological Survey of Israel mapped the peninsula as they searched for oil with an eye to future control of the area. Once it was clear that the Eisenhower Administration would insist on Israeli withdrawal from Sinai, the Israeli military looted pipes, pumps and other equipment they found there to hobble Egyptian oil production, some of which found its way into the earlier, narrower version of the oil pipeline from Eilat.

The Israeli military reoccupied the Sinai, alongside West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights in June 1967. In Sinai, Israel took over 117 offshore and onshore oil wells near Abu Rudeis on the Gulf of Suez. 4 The wells had been operated since 1954 by a joint consortium of the Italian ENI and the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation. As it reorientated its search for a powerful patron from the declining European empires to the United States, Israel left the oil fields of the American Oil Company undisturbed. If the country wanted to continue its territorial expansion and ensure a stable energy supply, it needed to do so under the US aegis.

A 1972 CIA report on oil developments in Israel, declassified in 2011, confirmed that the stolen oil from Sinai

has enabled Israel to hold its imports of oil from foreign countries below the pre-war level. The foreign exchange savings to Israel has been on the order of $25 million a year. In 1969, imports of crude oil from Sinai were about 2 million tons and those from Iran a little over 3 million tons.


Golda Meir visited Iran again in 1972. The Shah’s confidant and Minister of Royal Court, Asadollah Alam, recorded the occasion in his secret diaries:

Thursday, 18 May – Audience. Golda Meir flew in at 7 this morning and I reported that she was taking a short rest. ‘That old woman has such stamina,’ HIM [His Imperial Majesty] said. He then asked after the time of their meeting which was scheduled for 3 p.m. She was received for around two and a half hours, before returning to the airport for her flight back to Israel.

The 1972 visit was arranged two years after the death of Nasser of Egypt, who was loathed by the Shah and Israeli leaders, both for the military threat he presented and his popularity across the Third World. With Nasser gone, the Shah had developed a personal friendship with his successor, the Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. During the meeting with Meir, the Shah conveyed a message from Sadat, requesting Israel withdraw from Sinai, which it had occupied since 1967.

Since making those territorial gains, Israel had become dependent on the Egyptian oil it was illegally extracting in Sinai and Meir chose to rebuff Sadat’s overtures. A few months later she hinted at the reason in a joke she told at a reception for the West German Chancellor Willy Brandt: ‘Moses took us forty years through the desert in order to bring us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil.’ Rapprochement between Egypt and Israel would have required Israel to return Sinai to Egypt; permitted the reopening of the Suez Canal; and downgraded the Eilat–Ashkelon pipeline as an energy route and source of dollars. For months after her visit to Iran, Meir ignored a series of secret warnings from King Hussein of Jordan and the Shah of Iran about possible Egyptian retaliation.

In a move that took Israel and Meir in particular by surprise, the Egyptian military crossed the Suez Canal and overran the supposedly invincible Bar-Lev Line in October 1973. The repercussions of the initial roust of Israeli forces were wide-ranging. Golda Meir was forced to resign a few months later. She was succeeded by Yitzhak Rabin, who signed a separation-of-forces agreement with Egypt in May 1974. As evacuation from Sinai and the loss of its oil fields loomed, Rabin abruptly reversed Israel’s opposition to apartheid South Africa and began negotiations over deliveries of coal from KwaZulu-Natal for new coal-powered electricity plants.

Meanwhile, the dependence on Iranian oil, as a source both of energy and foreign currency, intensified. So much so that Israeli officials considered a rival Egyptian plan to link the Gulf of Suez and the Mediterranean a direct threat to their domination of the overland route and the flow of petrodollars for the oil traded through the Eilat–Ashkelon pipeline. The Financial Times reported laconically that Tel Aviv must have felt ‘extra piquancy’ at claiming that it had bombed a ‘military installation’ in September 1969, when it targeted a hotel full of civil engineers working on the Suez–Alexandria pipeline.

Israel also signed a secret memorandum with the United States, which committed Washington to respond ‘on an on-going and long-term basis to Israel’s military equipment and other defence requirements, to its energy requirements and to its economic needs.’ A 1978 diplomatic cable from the US Embassy in Tel Aviv explicitly stated the reason: ‘This country runs on oil and has no real short-term alternative. That is the reason it insisted in Sinai II (Agreement) on the US supply commitment.’ The extravagant annual transfers of US aid and armament to Israel were institutionalised.


Map illustrated by Manuel Bortoletti

In the decades that followed the Camp David Accords, Israel continued to receive secret shipments of oil from a now functioning spot market, while expanding its coal-fired electric plants. It licensed oil companies to search – unsuccessfully as it turned out – for oil in the Negev, as well as occupied West Bank and Golan Heights. Even after the Oslo Accords of 1993, which led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority and its control – albeit nominal and uneven – over Gaza and West Bank, Israel continued to search for energy in the occupied territories.

In 1999, British Gas found vast reserves of natural gas off the coast from the Gazan shore, a field now known as Gaza Marine. This was within twenty-nautical-miles of Gaza, a region the Oslo Accords specified as the Palestinian maritime economic zone. With the discovery of the gas reserves, there has been successive Israeli efforts to shrink Palestinian access to the sea, first to twelve nautical miles in 2002, then six nautical miles after Hamas’s election in Gaza in 2006, and finally to three nautical miles after Operation Cast Lead in 2008–9. While officially Palestinian fishermen are permitted to work within this three-mile zone, the Israeli Navy has reduced this zone of access to one nautical mile, by firing at will and arbitrarily at Gazan fishermen. Almost every month in 2023 before October, the Israeli Navy shot rubber or live bullets at Palestinian fishermen, rammed their boats, or drove them back to shore using high-velocity jets of water. In the latest Israeli onslaught on Gaza, one of the earliest targets of the Israeli Navy’s bombing was the fleet of Palestinian fishing boats in Gaza City. The complete Israeli control over Palestinian seas, and its refusal to allow the Palestinian Authority or Hamas to make a deal with British Gas on their terms, led the company to abandon its plans to develop Gaza Marine.

In 2009, a decade after Gaza Marine was discovered, Israel found reserves of gas in the Tamar and Leviathan fields further out to sea and up the coast. The Israeli national oil company Delek partnered with Noble Energy of Oklahoma to exploit the two fields (Noble was later bought out by Chevron). In 2017, Jordan agreed to buy natural gas from Israel for its industrial facilities on the Dead Sea, thus indirectly financing the development of Tamar and Leviathan. The convergence on natural gas as the transitional fuel and the sabotage of Russia’s Nord Stream pipelines to Germany have made the gas reservoirs in Europe’s peripheries – Israel, Egypt, Algeria, Greece, Cyprus and Norway – all the more important. Tamar today provides 70 per cent of Israeli energy needs (with the rest still covered by coal, now imported from Russia and Colombia). Leviathan’s gas is almost entirely exported – after it is shipped to Egypt for liquefaction, and, eventually, hydrogen production. While Israel’s Arab neighbours make a show of disapproval about its depredations against Palestinians, they quite happily make back-room energy deals, away from their citizens’ condemnatory scrutiny.

In June 2023, Netanyahu’s government announced that it had agreed with the Palestinian Authority to grant licences for the development of Gaza Marine. It was clear that the policy was intended to shore up Mahmoud Abbas’s regime in Ramallah, as the formal economic deal excluded Hamas. A proportion of the financial bounties of the deal was intended to trickle down to Gaza, thus effectively bribing Hamas into docility in Gaza. Then on 7 October 2023, Hamas militants broke through the Iron Wall, or as Palestinian analyst Mouin Rabbani has called it, a ‘billion-dollar physical, electronic and digital barrier’ surrounding Gaza, murdered around 1,200 Israelis and foreigners – about a third of whom were military forces – and took hundreds hostage. 5 The Israeli response was merciless.

Even in the heat of the hostilities, in November 2023, Israel granted twelve new licences to BP and ENI to develop other fields near Leviathan, though not Gaza Marine. European hydrocarbon companies, which have seen some of their most profitable years in their entire history, are actively looking for new sources of gas close to Europe. The concessions, given while Israel slaughtered at least 29,000 Palestinians, were Israel’s means of reminding Europe that winter was coming. Europe, desperate to diversify its energy supply, would feel pressure to include Israeli natural gas among its sources. It remains to be seen whether Israel will also expropriate Gaza Marine.


In 1989, the National Iranian Oil Company sued Israel in an arbitration court in Switzerland to force it to pay for cargoes of oil delivered just before the victory of the revolution between September and December 1978. In 2016, twenty-seven years after the case was brought, the Iranians won more than $1 billion from Israel. Israel has refused to acknowledge the validity of the judgement or pay Iran. In January 2023, the Israeli Knesset renewed its confidentiality order on the Eilat–Ashkelon pipeline, which has been a ‘secret’ since the 1960s. After Netanyahu signed the Abraham Accords between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Emirati oil has flown through the pipeline, built with Iranian money on Israeli soil. The UAE is also a major investor in Israeli gas fields in the Mediterranean.

Israeli trade through Bab el-Mandeb was blockaded by Egypt in successive twentieth-century wars. In the third decade of the twenty-first century, the Houthis in Yemen have effectively enforced a blockade on ships going to Israel through the strait. The Houthis belong to the Zaydi community of Yemen, whose imam in the 1960s was aided surreptitiously by Saudi Arabia and Israel to fight against Nasser of Egypt. Egypt, once the foremost enemy of Israel, is led by General El-Sisi’s government, which provides intelligence to and coordinates with Israel on security in Sinai and Gaza. Iran, once the most intimate ally of Israel in the region, is now its sworn enemy. South Africa – once the closest friend of Israel on the African continent, its primary source of coal and uranium, and its collaborator in developing and testing nuclear weapons – has dismantled apartheid and sued Israel at the International Court of Justice to hold it account for genocidal violence in Gaza.


In his analysis of settler colonialism, written in 1965, Palestinian scholar Fayez Sayegh describes the fate of Palestinians, who are subjected to

foreign domination, exploitation, and dispossession. The territory of Palestine is under alien rule. Its resources are exploited by others. Its people are exiles from their homeland. The remnants of its Arab inhabitants languish under a regime of racist discrimination and oppression as harsh as any race-supremacist regime in Asia or Africa. All this has been accomplished by connivance with Imperialism, and by terror and violence.6

In the six decades since these words were written, more Palestinian territories have fallen under Israeli control. Deliberate policies of de-development have hardened Israel’s grip on Palestinian natural resources and economy. Where Palestinian communities, businesses and life-sustaining infrastructures are not razed to the ground, they are remade to depend for their survival on Israel. Israel has insulated itself from international condemnation by becoming, in former US Secretary of State Alexander Haig’s words, ‘the largest unsinkable American aircraft carrier in the world’. If this was once true, it may no longer be the case. European, especially unconditional German, support for Israeli domination of Palestinians, as well as the more mundane trade in hydrocarbons acquired from and through Israel, have closely interwoven Israel into European energy networks. Today, Israel’s future seems poised uncertainly between self-implosion and continued coddling by the Western powers. Given the carte blanche Israel has been accorded, it is not implausible that it will remain the US’s gendarme in the region, consolidating and expanding its natural-gas brokerage to Europe and its supine Arab allies.


Artwork © Chantal Jahchan

1  Uri Bialer, 2007, ‘Fuel Bridge across the Middle East—Israel, Iran, and the Eilat–Ashkelon Oil Pipeline’, Israel Studies 12(3): 29–67

2  Fredrik Meiton, Electrical Palestine: Capital and Technology from Empire to Nation (University of California Press, 2019)

3  Shira Robinson, Citizen Strangers: Palestinians and the Birth of Israel’s Liberal Settler State (Stanford University Press, 2013), 181

4  Elias Shoufani, 1972, ‘The Sinai Wedge’, Journal of Palestine Studies 1(3): 85–94

5  Mouin Rabbani, ‘Gaza Apocalypse’, (6 January 2024)

6  Fayez Sayegh, Zionist Colonialism in Palestine (PLO Research Centre, 1965), 50

Laleh Khalili

Laleh Khalili is the author of, most recently, The Corporeal Life of Seafaring, published in 2024.

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