The lesson of Algeria for the Israelis

Yossi Schwartz ISL (The RCIT section in Israel/Occupied Palestine), 12.12.2023

While there are various differences between Palestine and Algeria there are many aspects that are similar and the future of the Israeli colonists may be to some degree similar to the solution for the European clones of Algeria.

In its first attempt to control Algeria in 1827, France blockaded Algiers for three years (shorter than the 16 years Israel imposed on Gaza). Then, using the failure of the blockade, it was used as an excuse for a military expedition against Algiers in 1830. (like the war on Gaza). By 1848 nearly all of northern Algeria was under French control, and the new government of the Second Republic declared the occupied lands an integral part of France. (Like Netanyahu’s plan for Gaza) This allowed a stream of Europeans to settle as settler colonialists.

“The crucial date in this story was April 30 1827. On that day, consuls and diplomats were gathered for an official assembly held in the palace of Hussein Dey in Algiers. One of them was Pierre Deval, the French consul. The meeting was held in the midst of a harsh conflict between France and Algeria, over a huge French debt from 30 years earlier. During the party, Hussein Dey could keep silent no more, and defiantly asked Deval when his country was intending on paying the debt.

Let’s hold the scene now, in order to explain how Jews were related to the debt’s origin. During the 17th century hundreds of wealthy Jewish immigrants came to northern Algeria from Livorno, Italy, in search of financial opportunities. They were merchants, descendants of Jews expelled from Spain, settled in Northern Africa and soon became a central factor in international commerce between Algeria and Europe. Two of the most prominent families from the Jewish Italians were the Bacry family and the Boujanah family, who merged by the end of the 18th century and formed a large corporation which had exclusive monopoly over the export of goods to Europe, especially wheat.

At that time, Napoleon Bonaparte embarked on his never ending campaigns and conquests, and produced the famous quote “an army marches on its stomach”, therefore he was always looking for a regular supply of wheat for his hungry soldiers. The Bacrys and the Boujanahs were willing to join the war effort and Napoleon hired them as wheat suppliers of the army. But as the wars expanded, Napoleon started to run out of funds. At some point they failed to deliver the amounts of wheat, and turned to Hussein to allow the French some credit. And so, the French growing debt was endorsed from the Jewish businessmen to the Algerian ruler. Years passed, Napoleon died, but the debt was never paid off.

Back to the scene in Hussein Dey’s palace now: Hussein asked Deval about the debt that was listed high on the agenda of the two states for three decades, with lots of excuses made, and none payments transferred. The local ruler was starting to feel humiliated by the foreign consul, who dared to mock him at his home court. As the Frenchman replied that to his knowledge there was no advancement with regard to the debt, Hussein lost his temper and hit him in the face with a hand fan he was holding. A more restrained diplomatic version of the story suggests that he was just aiming at an annoying fly, accidentally hitting the consul’s face” [1]

From 1933 to 1936, sharp social, political, and economic crises in Algeria led the Arab population to political protest, and the government responded with more restrictive laws. Algerian Muslims joined French imperialism in World War I and WWII. The colonists were generally sympathetic to the collaborationist Vichy regime established following France’s defeat by Nazi Germany.

The years 1830–47 laid the groundwork for a pattern of rule that French Algeria would maintain until independence. It was characterized by the use of force and humiliation by the French rulers and the Arab mass population, and an ever-growing French settler population (also known as pieds noirs) who demanded the privileges of a ruling minority in the name of French democracy. When Algeria eventually became a part of France juridically, that only added to the power of the colonists, who sent delegates to the French parliament. They accounted for roughly one-tenth of the total population from the late 19th century until the end of French rule.

Until 1870 with the Third Republic in France, Algeria remained largely under military administration, and the governor-general of Algeria was a military officer until the 1880s. Most Algerians – excluding the colonists – were subject to rule by military officers organized into Arab Bureaus, whose members were officers with an intimate knowledge of local affairs and of the language of the people but with no direct financial interest in the colony. The officers sympathized with the outlook of the people they administered rather than with the demands of the European colonists for independence. This was a better situation than a civilian and democratic government for the colonists by the settler colonialists.

A large-scale program of confiscating cultivable land, after resistance had been crushed, made colonization possible. Settler colonization was of mixed European origin—mainly Spanish in and around Oran and French, Italian, and Maltese in the center and east. The presence of the non-French settlers was officially regarded with suspicion for quite a while, but the influence of French education, the Muslim environment, created in the non-French a European-Algerian subnational sentiment. This would probably have resulted, in time, in a movement to create an independent state if Algeria had been situated farther away from Paris and if the settlers had not feared the potential strength of the Muslim majority.

Colonization continued with renewed energy. With the establishment of the French Second Empire in 1852, responsibility for Algeria was transferred from Algiers to a minister in Paris, but the emperor, Napoleon III, soon reversed this disposition. While expressing the hope that an increased number of settlers would forever keep Algeria French, he also declared that France’s duty was for the three million Arabs. While he also declared that Algeria was “not a French province but a colony”, he also aroused certain hopes among Algerians, but they were destroyed by the emperor’s downfall in 1870. After France’s defeat in the Franco-German War, settlers felt they could gain more land., Algerians united in 1871 under Muḥammad al-Muqrānī in the last major Kabylia uprising. Its brutal suppression by French forces was followed by the appropriation of another large segment of territory, which provided land for Europeans from Alsace. Much land was also acquired by the French through loopholes in laws originally designed to protect tribal property. Notable among these is the sénatus-consulate of 1863, which broke up tribal lands and allowed settlers to acquire vast areas formerly secured under tribal law. Following the loss of this territory, Algerian peasants moved to marginal lands and in the vicinity of forests.

It is difficult to gauge in human terms the losses suffered by Algerians during the early years of the French occupation. Estimates of the number of those dead from disease and starvation and as a direct result of warfare during the early years of colonization vary considerably, but the most reliable ones indicate that the native population of Algeria fell by nearly one-third in the years between the French invasion and the fighting in the mid-1870s.

Gradually the colonists established nearly total political, economic, and social domination over the country and its native inhabitants. Settlers owned most Western dwellings, Western-style farms, businesses, and workshops. Because employment was concentrated mainly in urban settlements, underemployment and chronic unemployment disproportionately affected Muslims, who lived mostly in rural and semi rural areas.

Some 200,000 Algerians fought for France during WWII and more than one-third of the male Algerians between the ages of 20 and 40 resided in France during that time.

In March 1943, Muslim leader Ferhat Abbas presented the French administration with the Manifesto of the Algerian People. The manifesto demanded an Algerian constitution that would guarantee immediate and effective political participation and legal equality for Muslims. Instead, the French administration in 1944 instituted a reform package based on the 1936 Viollette Plan that granted full French citizenship only to certain categories of “meritorious” Algerian Muslims, who numbered about 60,000. The tensions between the Muslim and colon communities exploded on May 8, 1945, V-E Day. When a Muslim march was met with violence, marchers defended themselves. The army and police responded by conducting a prolonged and systematic repression of suspected centers of dissidence. According to official French figures, 1,500 Muslims died as a result of these countermeasures. Other estimates vary from 6,000 to as high as 45,000 killed.

“The Setif massacre occurred on May 8, 1945, the day that Germany surrendered in World War II. In celebration, Algerian forces, who fought for France, displayed an Algerian flag as a symbol of freedom. French soldiers responded by shooting, and several demonstrators were killed. Riots followed and after five days of chaos, 103 pieds noirs were killed. The subsequent French retaliation was overwhelming: a conservative estimate places the dead at 15,000 Muslims” [2]

In August 1947, the French National Assembly approved the government-proposed Organic Statute of Algeria. This law called for the creation of an Algerian Assembly with one house representing Europeans and “meritorious” Muslims. It was opposed as the Muslims saw it as very short of their expectations and the colonists because it went too far.

In the early morning hours of November 1, 1954, the National Liberation Front (Front de Libération Nationale-FLN) launched attacks throughout Algeria in the opening act of a war of independence. An important event in this war was the massacre of civilian colonists by the FLN near the town of Philippeville in August 1955. The government claimed it killed 1,273 guerrillas in retaliation; according to the FLN, 12,000 Muslims perished in an orgy of bloodletting by the armed forces and police, as well as colon gangs. After Philippeville, an all-out war began in Algeria.

From its origins in 1954 maquisards [resistance fighters] numbering in the hundreds and armed with a motley assortment of weapons, the National Liberation Army (Armée de Libération Nationale-ALN), the military wing of the FLN, had evolved by 1957 into a disciplined fighting force of nearly 40,000 that successfully applied hit-and-run guerrilla warfare tactics. By 1956 France had committed more than 400,000 troops to Algeria. In 1958-59 the French army had won military control in Algeria, but political developments had already overtaken the French army’s successes. During that period in France, opposition to the conflict was growing, and international pressure was also building on France to grant Algeria independence.

The full-scale insurgency began when the FLN started launching coordinated, small-scale attacks against French military posts, while also killing small numbers of civilians, including European-born pied noirs and loyalist Algerians (Hakiris). The French military responded with ratissage, the “raking over” of towns and villages through bombing, arrests, and torture. This attempt at pacification by employing both targeted raids as well as mass punishment characterized the French strategy throughout the conflict.

When Charles De Gaulle became premier of France in June 1958, he was given carte blanche to deal with Algeria. De Gaulle appointed a committee to draft a new constitution for France’s Fifth Republic, with which Algeria would be associated but of which it would not form an integral part. Muslims, including women, were registered for the first time with Europeans on a common electoral roll to participate in a referendum to be held on the new constitution in September 1958. Despite threats of reprisal by the FLN, 80 percent of the Muslim electorate turned out to vote in September, and 96 percent of them approved the constitution. In February 1959, de Gaulle was elected president of the new Fifth Republic.

Then, in a September 1959 statement, de Gaulle uttered the words “self-determination,” which he envisioned as leading to majority rule in an Algeria formally associated with France. Claiming that de Gaulle had betrayed them, the colonists, backed by units of the army, staged an insurrection in Algiers in January 1960 that won mass support in Europe. French forces defused the insurrection. However, in April 1961 important elements of the French army joined in another unsuccessful insurrection intended to seize control of Algeria as well as topple the de Gaulle regime. This coup marked the turning point in the official attitude toward the Algerian war. De Gaulle was now prepared to abandon the colonists, the group that no previous French government could have written off. A war that costed the lives of at least 1.5 million Moslem Algerian. However, in October 4th 2021 Algeria said that the French army and the armed colonists killed 5.6 million Algerians from 1830-1962. [3]

Algeria was proclaimed on September 25, 1962 an independent state as the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria. This made the colonists leave Algeria and return to their countries of origin in Europe.

Whether the Israelis will remain in red and free Palestine from the river to the sea depends on their behavior in the next years. If they will continue to support the genocide and the new Nakba for the Palestinians, they will act as the colonists of Algeria who ran away. Already close to half a million Israelis left Israel from October 7th. If they break with Zionism, they will be able to live in Palestine as a minority with social, religious and cultural rights.

Down with the Zionist apartheid state from the river to the sea!

For Palestine red and free from the river Jordan to the sea!





Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top