Title: Backgrounding: The meaning of cleansing in Israel/Palestine, 1948
Name: Tom Pessah
Year: 2012
Type: Dissertation Fellowship

Political sociologist Michael Mann posits the existence of a relationship between democracy in settler states and the massive cleansing of indigenous groups. The connection, according to Mann, is that these democracies represented settlers who shared a consensual ideology that denigrated indigenous groups and justified their cleansing. Through a series of comparisons between several settler democracies: California in 1860, Colorado in 1864, Queensland (Australia) between the 1860s and the 1880s, New Zealand in the 1860s, and Israel in 1948, I show that these settler societies were more ideologically diverse than Mann and others claim, and therefore more prone to internal disagreements. To overcome this diversity, the initiators of the cleansing used indiscriminate violence towards indigenous groups but were forced to present their actions as discriminate before state officials: they used one type of classification to overshadow another. This was a crucial condition for securing state resources for large-scale operations that caused massive deaths and displacement of indigenous groups. It also served to enhance the economic resources and status of the perpetrators both in relation to these groups and in relation to rivals within the settler society. In addition, the state’s representation of the cleansing has long-reaching effects on the legal status of indigenes and their lands and on the official narration of this history. The empirical chapters describe struggles within these democratic settler societies showing that securing the representation of the cleansing was crucial to its execution. The chapters on California, Colorado, and Queensland rely upon the protocols of investigative committees set up after episodes of costly state-sponsored violence. New Zealand is described through secondary sources. The chapter on Israel discusses the army’s operational orders, as well as interviews conducted with veterans, which can help us reconstruct how official representations were interpreted by actors on the ground.