They say that if you don’t learn from history, you will be condemned to repeat it. This could not be truer when one contrasts the destinies of the Native Americans and the Palestinian people. The determination and defiance of both groups, under dire circumstances, cannot be matched. Likewise, the mistreatment and the commonality in tactics and principals implemented by their invaders seem uncanny.
Lets take a brief look into history:
Few can be as blunt regarding the legacy of the United States toward the native people of this land as the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. In his narrative, “The Winning of the West,” Roosevelt spoke about the “spread of the English-speaking peoples over the world’s wasted spaces.” He wrote: “The European settlers moved into an uninhabited waste…the land is really owned by no one…. The settler ousts no one from the land. The truth is, the Indians never had any real title to the soil.”
In an interview with the British Sunday Times, on June 15, 1969, former Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir made similar claims, stating, “There was no such thing as Palestinians. It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country from them. They did not exist.”
While Native Americans and Palestinians were the ancient indigenous peoples of their lands, this was of little or no relevance to the foreign settlers. What really mattered was “Manifest Destiny”, what really mattered was “Zionism”.
Roosevelt goes on: “The world would probably not have gone forward at all, had it not been for the displacement or submersion of savage and barbaric peoples as a consequence of the armed settlement in strange lands of the races who hold in their hands the fate of the years.”
In the mid forties, David Ben-Gurion declared that Israel is adopting a system of “aggressive defense. With every Arab attack we must respond with a decisive blow: the destruction of the place or the expulsion of the residents along with the seizure of the place.”
Nearly one million Palestinians were expelled from their land after the brutal destruction of 418 villages and towns, and the murder of thousands of Palestinians. They spread in all directions, mostly on foot to clear space for the Chosen People. They settled in refugee camps, concentration camps, which are still in existence until today.
Ben-Gurion retired in 1963, four years before Israel invaded the rest of Palestine, the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. It created another tragedy, another dispossession, all with the hope that the state of Israel can become purely Jewish. Israel defied international law that called for the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Instead, it instituted its own law, shortly after its establishment in 1948, issuing the right of return for Jews only. Any one of Jewish race, anywhere in the world was and is still allowed to come to Palestine, granted citizenship, to live free of charge on a land that is not his, in a place where he does not belong.
Amid this “civilizing” savagery and land grabbing, both the United States and Israel have managed to convince themselves that the way they treated their victims was in fact humane and civilized. “No other conquering or colonizing nation has ever treated savage owners of the soil with such generosity as has the United States,” Roosevelt said.
On April 2, 2002, Israel attacked the Jenin refugee camp for nearly two weeks amid complete silence from the international community. For two weeks, hundreds of Israeli tanks, US-apache helicopters and thousands of soldiers brutalized and terrorized the 13,000 inhabitants of the camp living on barely one square kilometer of land. The people of the camp fought as much as homemade explosives, kitchen knives and a few bullets could take them. They fought and refused to give up since they knew that this defeat would be their last. By the end of the invasion, scores of Palestinian bodies were left to decompose in the streets of Jenin as the Israelis refused to allow access to the Red Cross to evacuate the dead. The entire population of the camp was forced to evacuate, and nearly 2,000 homes were destroyed or severely damaged by Israeli army tanks, bulldozers and air bombardment. .
This is what an Israeli army bulldozer driver, who is known as “Kurdi Bear” said in his testimony, of what took place in the camp as he narrated to the Israeli newspaper Yidiot Ahronot:
“Many people were inside the houses we started to demolish. They would come out of the houses while we where working on them. I found joy with every house that came down, because I knew they didn’t mind dying, but they cared for their homes. If you knocked down a house, you bury 40 or 50 people for generations. If I am sorry for anything, it is for not tearing the whole camp down. This is the way I thought in Jenin. I didn’t give a damn. If I had been given three weeks, I would have had more fun. That is, if they would let me tear the whole camp down. I have no mercy.”
Let me refresh your memory with what Roosevelt said about the conduct of his armies. “No other conquering or colonizing nation has ever treated savage owners of the soil with such generosity as has the United States.”
Roosevelt’s words resonated once again by the Israeli army commander, General Didi, who oversaw the historic invasion of Jenin in April 2002.
The Israeli army has behaved as “as the most moral army in the world and the most careful army in the world” he said.
Please allow me to shift the course of my thoughts to finish with these great words from the 1927 Grand Council of American Indians:
“We want freedom from the white man rather than to be integrated. We don’t want any part of the establishment, we want to be free to raise our children in our religion, in our ways, to be able to hunt and fish and live in peace. We want to be ourselves. We want to have our heritage, because we are the owners of this land and because we belong here.
“The white man says, there is freedom and justice for all. We have had their “freedom and justice,” and that is why we have been almost exterminated. We shall not forget this.”
Similar are the sentiments of Abdelrazik Abu al-Hayjah, the Palestinian Administrator of the Jenin refugee camp, who expressed to me with similar defiance;
“If they will destroy the camp many times, the people of Jenin will rebuild it, because with every time the peoples’ courage and determination intensify. The more Israel brutalizes Palestinians, the stronger their resistance shall be. Israel cannot resolve its problems by force. They have to understand that Palestinians’ quest for freedom cannot be stopped. Its only human nature for people to resist, to regain their freedom.
“The people of Jenin do not hate Israelis because their names are different, or because their language is different. Nor do they hate them because they have anything against the Jewish religion, but because they are occupiers, and as long as they are occupiers, the resistance will go on. The Palestinian resistance shall live as long as the occupation lives.”
-Ramzy Baroud is a veteran Arab-American journalist and the Editor-in-Chief of PalestineChronicle.com. This essay is part of his new book entitled, “A Force to be Reckoned With: Writings on the Second Palestinian Uprising”.