Gaza and the European border regime: Connecting the struggles

May 10th, 2024 - written by:

As Israel’s genocidal assault[1] on the Gaza Strip shows no signs of relenting, the situation increasingly lays bare broader inequalities, hypocrisies, and tendencies in global politics. This moment compels those of us working against European borders and border externalization to think about the many connections and parallels between the genocidal Israeli occupation and the global border regime. Israeli apartheid and the global border regime share an assumption that segments of humanity can be permanently confined, contained, and warehoused, surrounded by affluence that springs from their dispossession.

Israel has long been a part of the European border regime, and its technologies of surveillance and control inform bordering practices elsewhere. The state of Israel inflicts racial violence and hierarchies upon the Palestinian people akin to the violence that migrants experience in the Sahara, the Mediterranean, and on Europe’s eastern maritime and land borders. In the Occupied Territories, a regime of legal apartheid severely restricts human mobility and access to social resources enacting a hierarchy of racial exclusion and privilege. Scholars who think of border regimes as global apartheid describe this in similar terms. In Gaza, meanwhile, the same logic of racial supremacy has degenerated into outright genocide against those deemed racially inferior. Whether this becomes a blueprint for how “unwanted” populations are treated in the future is a question that concerns all of us.

Both border regimes and the war on Gaza involve extensive Western support to authoritarian governments and the nourishment of fascist tendencies. In the face of Israel’s policies of deliberate starvation, the systematic targeting of civilians, and the destruction of vital infrastructure, Western allies continue to fund and arm these war crimes. The most extreme elements of Netanyahu’s war cabinet are among the main beneficiaries of this Western policy approach. In a similar vein, Western backing and funding to non-democratic governments has contributed to the gross human rights violations carried out by European externalization partners like Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Sudan. In each case, the values that “the West” claims to uphold are eroded, exposing an authoritarian, fascist, and genocidal underside.

Indeed, when placed in a historical context, events in Gaza today are the latest destructive episode in a continuous history of enclosure, expulsion, dispossession, displacement, and ethnic cleansing going back 76 years in the region. Palestine, moreover, is not an exception. Colonial conquest and genocide are constitutive of modernity. This connection between nation-statehood, genocide and extreme political violence can be seen in Tigray/Amhara (Ethiopia), in Darfur (Sudan), the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere. The situation in the West Bank and Gaza is not a departure from this colonial genealogy of the nation-state. On the contrary, it is a direct consequence of this genocidal history as it unfolded in the 20th century, including global population displacements after the Second World War, the persecution and expulsion of Jews from Europe (the flight from the Holocaust), and the export of European nationalism and racial ideologies.

At the same time, Gaza is a 21st-century refugee camp, where the wretched of the earth are warehoused in increasing numbers. Combining the governmental form of the prison with that of the concentration camp, the Gaza siege aspires for total control and surveillance of its incarcerated population, which it frames as a threat deserving its fate. In a global context of climate breakdown and economic crisis, this could well become a global model of refugee containment. Yet to paraphrase Yasmeen Daher, why should Palestinians and the formerly colonized be the perpetual refugees in our world?

Unprecedented destruction

The scale of destruction and atrocities committed after the Hamas attack on 7 October, 2023 by the Israeli Defence Forces in Gaza is in many ways unprecedented. Using publicly available data, Oxfam calculated that the number of average deaths per day in Gaza (250) is higher than in any recent major armed conflict including Syria (96.5 deaths per day), Sudan (51.6), Iraq (50.8), Ukraine (43.9) Afghanistan (23.8) and Yemen (15.8).2 More UN workers have been killed since October in Gaza than in any other conflict since the founding of the UN. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more journalists have been killed in the first 10 weeks of the Israel-Gaza war than have ever been killed in a single country over an entire year.

Gaza Bombing 2023
Damage following an Israeli airstrike on the El-Remal aera in Gaza City on October 9, 2023 ( CC BY-SA 3.0)

By December 30, 2023, almost half of Gaza’s buildings had been damaged or destroyed, a figure that also accounts for almost 70 percent of its 439,000 homes. Satellite images show the widespread and targeted destruction of the entire Gaza Strip through Israel's bombing campaign, including farmland. In December 2023, more than 8,000 Palestinians were being held in Israeli jails amid an intensified wave of arrests and detentions in Gaza and the West Bank since the 7 October attacks by Hamas, according to human rights groups. Even before October 7, 2023, Israel was holding 5,200 Palestinian political prisoners.

This is a war not just against Hamas but against the "stateless" population in Gaza and, by extension, against the population of the other occupied Palestinian territories. The war waged by Netanyahu and his right-wing extremist coalition and war cabinet is also further militarizing Israeli society and turning the entire region into a war zone, with an imminent risk of potential for global escalation.

Early and repeated warnings of an imminent humanitarian catastrophe and genocide went unanswered. In February, the United Nations World Food Programme warned of an impending famine. With the threat of defunding UNRWA[2], the largest humanitarian agency active in Gaza and on which 2 million people are depending for shelter and basic supplies, the situation has further deteriorated. A CNN report shows that Israel’s security forces are confiscating items such as water filtration systems, dates, and sleeping bags, thus violating the requirements by the International Court of Justice' to allow adequate aid deliveries. On March 28, 2024, the International Criminal Court ordered the Israeli government to allow unimpeded access to food aid in Gaza, where sections of the population are facing imminent starvation. While states and non-governmental organizations have made efforts to provide humanitarian aid via planes and ships, the only solution is an immediate ceasefire.

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification - famine gaza
IPC projections for spreading famine in Gaza for 2024. Credits: Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC)

In sum, Israel’s willful withholding of essential humanitarian aid is responsible for famine in Gaza, and the situation is set to deteriorate further with an impending military campaign in Rafah.[3] At the same time, decisive calls for an immediate ceasefire remain marginalized and shunned by Western political leaders and Western mainstream media, and their proponents are regularly attacked as Hamas supporters or anti-Semites.[4] Without concrete actions to pressure the Netanyahu government, such as stopping arms exports or imposing sanctions, recent calls for a ceasefire by some Western governments are bound to remain mere lip service.

Repression of opposition and anti-migrant racism

The intensification of war, occupation and expulsion of Palestinians has been accompanied by a crackdown on democratic opposition and the weaponization of anti-Semitism. Critical voices, journalism and peaceful protests are being repressed in Israel, the Palestinian territories and Western societies. Civil liberties such as freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly as well academic freedom have also been restricted in Western Europe. This is exacerbated by a sustained news blockade from Gaza, where the killing of at least 107 journalists has prompted investigations by the International Criminal Court.

The governing powers in Germany frame criticism of the Israeli right-wing extremist government or the war as „Israel-oriented anti-Semitism“.This concept, essential to repressing all opposition to Israel’s genocidal actions and German complicity, relies on the German government’s restrictive interpretation[5] of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) „working definition of antisemitism“. The two-sentence-long IHRA definition, embraced by many governments, media, cultural and educational institutions, does not itself equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. However, the list of 11 examples, often considered as part of the definition, strongly suggests this equation. This interpretation and the definition itself have been criticized and challenged by many. Jewish and Israeli historians and scholars have, for instance, argued that it undermines the fight against antisemitism.[6] As the Diaspora Alliance notes: „The Israeli government and its allies are promoting the use of the IHRA definition in order to curtail protected free speech… [and] to reframe legitimate criticism of well-documented Israeli state violence against Palestinians as anti-Jewish bigotry …to silence critics of the State of Israel and of Zionism.“

European governments and public institutions have issued bans on demonstrations, excluded critical voices from public forums and universities and defunded cultural spaces, particularly harshly in Germany. This amounts to a systematic violation of the constitutional principles of freedom of expression and opinion and therefore erodes the freedoms of all. The shutting down of the Palestine Congress in Berlin in April exemplifies this regression. Ultimately, this strategy will only reinforce societal division and polarization – instead of combating anti-Semitism or racism. In fact, the equation of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism has been used to fuel racism against Arabs and Muslims.

This trend of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism provides a fertile ground for the ongoing deportation campaigns, European asylum reform and intensification of border externalization. The German Chancellor Olaf Scholz explicitly made the link between 7 October, deportations and suspicion of Arabs in his November 2023 announcement of “deportations on a large scale” The major opposition party CDU (Christian Democratic Union) at the same time called for “physical violence” against “irregular migrants” at Europe’s external borders. This institutionalization of direct violence is also evident in the adopted reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), which envisions the massive incarceration of newly arriving migrants at the EU’s external borders. And while the German right-wing party AfD is openly discussing the “re-migration” of persons with “migration background” – a plan to revoke citizenship and deport millions – members of the Netanjahu cabinet are doing the same for the Palestinian population in Gaza.

If the current conjuncture is one of escalating border violence, apartheid, global militarization, and expanding far-right forces, it is vital to connect the struggles against these forces.

Connecting struggles: Against borders and apartheid?

To summarize, there are at least four elements connecting Israeli apartheid and the global border regime. Apartheid and global border regimes are both productive of racialized difference and segregation; they both feed authoritarian and fascist tendencies; they are bound up in the history of colonial genocide and nation-state building, and they provide respectively a framework for containing the displaced and dispossessed in a 21st century of climate and economic crisis. At present, Gaza is the site of unprecedented destruction and violence. Precedents are also being set in “the West” in that constitutionally protected freedoms are being withdrawn to repress those protesting this violence and destruction. All of this feeds a growing overlap between racist sentiment, far-right exclusionary nationalism, and liberal technocratic border governance projects.

In such a conjuncture, it is neither feasible nor desirable to separate the struggle for freedom in Palestine from the struggles against racism and border regimes “at home” in Europe. Many groups and individuals already participate in several of these struggles. Our infinite respect and solidarity goes to those already doing this work. Yet matters have now become entangled in a fashion that heightens the urgency to deepen these connections in our movements. As an activist research collective documenting and critiquing European border externalisation, we wish to provide resources and perspectives towards this end.

Collection of resources

  • Diaspora Alliance is an international organization dedicated to fighting antisemitism and its instrumentalization by promoting the values of multiracial, pluralistic democracy:

  • B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories strives for a future in which human rights, liberty and equality are guaranteed to all people, Palestinian and Jewish alike, living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea: &

  • Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture, a research team based at Goldsmiths, University of London, provide a detailed reconstruction of the events in Rafah from 1 August until 4 August 2014. The report exposes the Israeli army’s response to the capture of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin and its implementation of the Hannibal Directive – a controversial command designed to deal with captures of soldiers by unleashing massive fire on persons, vehicles and buildings in the vicinity of the attack, despite the risk to civilians and the captured soldier:

  • Al-Haq is an independent Palestinian non-governmental human rights organisation based in Ramallah, West Bank:

  • Jewish Voice for Peace is the largest progressive Jewish anti-Zionist organization in the world. They are organizing a grassroots, multiracial, cross-class, intergenerational movement of U.S. Jews into solidarity with the Palestinian freedom struggle, guided by a vision of justice, equality, and dignity for all people:


  1. On 26 January the ICJ concluded it was plausible that Israel was committing genocide in Gaza and issued six provisional measures aimed at ensuring Israeli forces do not commit the crime of genocide. There has been little indication that Israel has since abided by these measures.

  2. Israel’s government claims that UNWRA is cooperating with Hamas, leading to drastic budget cuts for the UN agency. Twelve employees were accused of being active Hamas-supporters. To put this into perspective, UNWRA has around 13,000 in employees in Gaza and over 30,000 in the Middle East. At least 136 UNRWA employees have been killed. On April 22, 2024 an independent panel released its final report, providing 50 recommendations and noting that Israeli authorities have yet to provide proof of their claims that UN staff are involved with terrorist organisations.

  3. There now roughly 1,5 people trapped in Rafah, a city with a pre-war population of around 200.000. 80 percent of the population have been pushed to the South of the Gaza strip.

  4. See for example when Israel’s Foregin Minster Eli Cohen attacked the UN General Secretary’s call for a humanitarian ceasire as „constituting support for Hamas“.

  5. While the additional statements to the IHRA definition explicitly note that „criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic“, the German Federal Government has expanded the definition by stating that „the state of Israel, being perceived as a Jewish collective, may be the target of such [antisemitic] attacks." Blurring the lines between Judaism and the state of Israel has opened the floodgates to practically equate radical criticism of Israel’s violence against Palestinian and resistance to it as antisemitic.

  6. The Jerusalem Declaration of Anti-Semitism has for instance been proposed as an alternative to the IHRA working definition of anti-semitism.