“No Foreign Workers, No Agriculture, No Region”: Thai Farmworkers in Israel in the Wake of War


  • Matan Kaminer




There is perhaps no more paradigmatically settler-colonial activity than agriculture, especially in the Palestinian/Israeli context. Zionist strategists perceived the takeover of farmland from indigenous cultivators as a primary goal of their colonising project, pursuing it eagerly through purchase until the war of 1948, and primarily through violence since then. More than an economic sector, agriculture has served a strategic role in consolidating control over broad stretches of frontier, as well as the ideological purpose of emblematising the Jewish people’s return to its land (Shafir, 1989; Neumann, 2011). However, pace the emergent orthodoxy in settler-colonial studies – which has recently been subjected to strident critiques, not least in the Palestinian/Israeli context  – Israeli agriculture has not, for the most part, been characterised by an “eliminationist” attitude towards indigenous labour or by a serious commitment to exclusively employing the labour of settlers.[1] In fact, Israeli agriculture, like other low-wage sectors of the economy, has nearly always depended on Palestinian labour. When the First Intifada of 1987 to 1991 convinced Israeli policymakers that this dependency was dangerous, their response was to replace it not with the more expensive labour of Israeli citizens, but with the similarly cheap and skilled labour of migrant workers. The farm sector would quickly come to recruit the bulk of its workforce from Thailand, while continuing to employ thousands of Palestinians.