(Originally published in Indian Country Today)
During a meeting at Wi’am, a conflict resolution center in historic Bethlehem, a gentlemen shared a moment of either resignation or despair with our delegation: “It’s not part of their mentality to let us live as Palestinians.” Their mentality was a reference to the collective actions of the U.S. and Israel—actions which clearly demonstrate more than a desire to destroy the spirit of self-determination among the Palestinians.
Bethlehem and other cities, towns, and villages in the West Bank are enclosed by the notorious apartheid walls and barriers and are tightly controlled by the Israeli military. Furthermore, the West Bank itself is imprisoned by the apartheid barrier, as is its neighbor 25 miles away, the Gaza Strip. (The West Bank and the Gaza Strip also are known as the “Occupied Territories.”) This horrific nesting doll set of containment has its heart of darkness squarely embedded within the United States. When one replaces the misleading and tightly-controlled rhetoric that predominates mainstream U.S. media with the actual first-hand witnessing of the algebra of conditions that Israel, sponsored by the annual $2 billion in military assistance from the United States, imposes on a basically unarmed and defenseless Palestine, one cannot help but solve the equation: Israel’s objective, with U.S. backing, is not to destroy the Palestinian will to sovereignty and so to compel them to surrender to a life under occupation. Rather, the intent of the U.S. and Israel is to coerce and forcibly remove the Palestinians out of the region completely.
As Indigenous Peoples, we are not amateurs to this game. We have inherited the meme (albeit it lies dormant in some of us who still insist on protecting the fort) that provides insight into the politics and culture of occupation, colonization, and removal—wherever it occurs.
Contrary to widely-held beliefs, the crisis in Palestine is relatively recent in origin. As historians and scholars will remind us, Jewish people generally thrived and lived in respectful coexistence with Christians and Muslims in Palestine while they were subjected to prejudice (and far worse) in Europe and the United States. It was only during the mid-20th century that sustained violence began to occur between the populations—when the U.S. and Europe, out of their collective guilt for allowing the Shoah to happen, formed the state of Israel on top of Palestine.
This formation did not occur on empty land. Known as “Al-Nakba” (Arabic for “the cataclysm”), this 1948 event involved the expulsion of an estimated one million Palestinians from cities and villages, massacres, torture, rape, and the destruction of nearly half a thousand Palestinian villages. Zionism, which Gabe Camacho has correctly described as synonymous with Manifest Destiny, is the hegemonic ideology of the colonizers in the Holy Land. And one of the ideas of Zionism/Manifest Destiny is the concept of “Indian Country,” an anti-human rights activity that the U.S. exports internationally.
“Indian Country” is a U.S.-designated term for our remaining and secondary homelands; however, the term also is common in the U.S. military and colonization parlance such as when it was employed in the invasion of Viet Nam or as seen in use in the ongoing occupation of Iraq. We see this term in action, too, in Palestine.
Although we and the Palestinians are at different places in the politics of colonization and decolonization, as survivors of Manifest Destiny (and often combatants against present-day cultural practices of anti-Indianism), we immediately—and viscerally—recognize the extraordinary historic and contemporary parallels between the Palestinians and our nations and tribes. Perhaps one of the most recognizable similarities that we encounter is the theft and fractionalization of Palestinian land, a process that we might know better as “removal” and “allotment.” A strengthened and stabilized land-base is the basis of self-determination, and the Palestinian struggle to liberate and protect their land certainly resonates with our people.
While in Palestine last summer, I saw billboards and other advertisements for new housing developments for Israelis (on land stolen from the Palestinians); Israelis are given financial incentives to move to these areas, much like how the settlers were provided for by the United States regarding our lands. Yet land theft, no matter how it is sanitized or censored in the political, educational, and cultural arenas, is an attack on human rights. Land theft also is in violation of the UN Genocide Convention which recognizes that such robbery is accompanied by an assault on the families, languages, religions and spirituality, and other cultural practices of a tribe or nation. The theft of a people’s land results in the fracturing of the community and families, directly interfering with social relationships, economies, and languages. It brings intergenerational consequences for families, especially children. Indigenous Peoples recognize the relationship between land and the well-being of a people, and are on an intimate basis with the damage that occurs when this relationship is severed by military force and on-going colonization.
Thankfully, the U.S. and Israel’s land theft and other anti-human rights practices are monitored not only by Palestinian and United Nations agencies, but also by Israeli-based human rights groups, such as B’Tselem, and counter-recruitment organizations, including New Profile, which seek not only to document these atrocities but also to bring to a halt, using public pressure, these egregious practices.
In the meanwhile, the current U.S.-Israel’s one-sided war in the Gaza has resulted, so far, in the death of over 800 people, injury of thousands, and as yet undisclosed damage to the infrastructure and environment of the area. Apart from this invasion, Palestinians are punished by the Israelis for speaking Arabic. Palestinian families are forcibly separated and the Israelis are incarcerating the men at alarming rates. Palestinian land continues to be seized and there exists Palestinian villages that are officially “unrecognized” and thus shut off from resources such as water and electricity. Palestinians are portrayed as terrorists—modern day savages—in the mainstream media.
As Indigenous Peoples, we can supplement our local and tribal self-determination activity by setting aside just a few hours to locate and work through an international political or human rights organization that promotes informed solidarity and intelligent mutual support with the Palestinians. In doing so, we can bring to a halt the U.S. and Israel’s attempt to re-create “Indian Country” in the Occupied Territories.