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Apartheid, (De)colonization, and the Palestinian Right to Health, December 2022




Apartheid, (De)colonization, and the Palestinian Right to Health

Guest Editors: Yara Asi, Weeam Hammoudeh, David Mills, Osama Tanous, Bram Wispelwey

In recent years, considerable academic attention has been focused on settler colonialism, a distinct type of colonialism that relies primarily on the elimination – rather than the exploitation – of indigenous peoples in the quest to appropriate their land for the creation of a separate and expanding settler polity. Settler colonialism’s ongoing structural manifestations in Palestine/Israel have been extensively analyzed by a new generation of Palestinian scholars over the last decade. This framework has the advantage of more comprehensively explicating the lack of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights of Palestinians throughout the region, whether they are citizens of Israel, living stateless in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), or ensconced in refugee camps in neighboring countries.

One of the well-described manifestations of settler colonial domination is the system of apartheid. The prolonged mass depopulation and slaughter that characterized other settler colonial settings, including North American and Australia, did not occur to the same extent in historic Palestine, where the settler state instead developed (and the international community has allowed) an intricate system of apartheid to fragment, control, and contain the Palestinian people who still make up one half of the population within Israel and the oPt. This fragmentation is frequently reinforced in the academic literatures where Palestinian health is framed as ‘refugee health’ for Palestinians in neighboring Arab countries, ‘conflict and health’ for those in the oPt, and ‘minority health’ for the Palestinians in Israel. The health of Palestinians is thus often excluded from the growing literature on indigenous health and the health impacts of colonization.

Decades after Palestinians and some international observers recognized the apartheid reality, preeminent international and Israeli human rights organizations, including B’Tselem, Yesh Din, and Human Rights Watch, have recently joined the growing consensus that Israel’s regime fulfills the definition. This regime operates in the oPt as well as in Israel itself, utilizing historical and contemporary means of structural and institutional racism to operationalize its efforts, where Palestinians lack equal rights and face numerous forms of discrimination codified under law, including limitations on housing and employment. Palestinians experience multiple forms of cultural and structural violence daily, but are also regularly exposed to direct violence, including the killing of hundreds of adults and children by settlers, police, and military forces in 2021 alone. If these violations and violence are acknowledged by Israel and its allies, the common justification is security, an invariable trope of all settler colonies in seeking legitimacy for their policies of expansion and dispossession.

Extensive efforts by Palestinian, Israeli, and international human rights organizations have demonstrated the power of a human right-based approach (HRBA) in linking the political sphere to Palestinian health access and outcomes. Whether analyzing military checkpoints, the permit regime for health access in the oPt, late night home invasions, torture, home and village demolitions, or the detaining of children without charge, the HRBA has been essential to both documenting rights violations and forming the bedrock of international advocacy. To date, however, the HRBA has remained largely separate from, if not inimical to, a settler colonial framing.

This special section aims to explore the conceptual and material connections between settler colonialism, including manifestations like apartheid and the logic of elimination, and Palestinians’ right to health. Of special interest are papers that examine/identify:

  • The implications of integrating a framework of apartheid, settler colonialism, or structural racism with the HRBA to Palestinian health and wellbeing
  • Decolonial and/or anticolonial means of achieving the right to health within the current Palestinian context
  • The role of international organizations, donors, and third states in maintaining or weakening Palestinians’ right to health via their relationships and posture toward the settler colonial context
  • Environmental justice, health rights, and settler colonialism in Palestine/Israel
  • Analyses of the successes and/or failures, or inherent strengths and limitations, of a HRBA to health and human rights in any of the Palestinian contexts to date
  • Comparative analysis between Palestine/Israel and other state/geography/population contexts with regard to settler colonialism, racism, or apartheid and the right to health
  • The use of security justifications in Palestine/Israel (+/- comparative analysis with other settler colonial contexts) and the abrogation of the right to health, life, and wellbeing
  • The outsourcing of healthcare under settler colonialism and the question of health rights when treated by colonial healthcare teams and institutions
  • The impacts of systemic, structural, or direct racism on the health of Palestinians

Submission details

  • Papers and Perspective Essays must be submitted by 20 June 2022
  • Full papers have a maximum word length of 7,000 words, including references. We also invite Perspective Essays of up to 3000 words, including references, and Viewpoints of between 900-1500 words, including references, on this topic.
  • Author guidelines are available here.

Questions about this special section and outline abstracts can be directed to Bram Wispelwey: bwispelwey@bwh.harvard.edu