“Frontier settlement” as Transnational Colonisation: The Thailand-Israel connection

Today Thai migrant workers have largely replaced Palestinians as the mainstay of Israel’s agricultural workforce. Their importation has coincided with a shift in Israeli agriculture from extensive cultivation aimed at the local market to extractive, monocultural production for export. This economic and ecological shift results partly from the replacement of agriculture by suburbanisation as the main spatial mode of Zionist colonisation in Palestine. However, the supply side of the labour flow from Thailand to Israel also results to a great extent from the political-ecological dynamic of colonisation, as practised by the Thai state in its restive border zones. Thailand was chosen as Israel’s source of agricultural guest-workers due to the Thai regime’s interest in “frontier settlement” training for its civilian and military cadres. This interest, in turn, was anchored in worries about the ethnically marked population of Thailand’s northeast region (Isaan) turning to Communist insurrection. Isaan’s population, forced to abandon its own agricultural production due to internal and global pressures, also eventually became the main source of labour migrants to Israel. The linkage between state control, capitalist agriculture, and labour migration allows me to explore how the primitive accumulation of agrarian resources in two zones of the world-system has contributed to both the consolidation of political and economic power in the hands of a transnational ruling class and the emergence of a world-ecological regime characterised by environmentally destructive monoculture as well as cheap and disenfranchised labour.