Posted in Essay, First Peoples, General Interest, Islam, Judaism, Michael Watson, Peace & Justice

An Old Story

Summer_sunsetWe are a Jewish-Native household and events in the Middle-East have deep resonance for us. For the past two weeks we have watched and thought about the fighting in Gaza, our sadness, and sense of helplessness, growing daily.

Of course, it is impossible to know, with any certainty, the truth of things. Propaganda is unleashed by both sides. Still, there is something terribly familiar about the one-sided nature of the conflict. The history of the U.S., like that of Palestine, is usually told from the view of the dominant power. From our Indian perspective, the story is vastly different from that told in most history books.

We watched as the colonial powers invited landless Europeans to emigrate, and forced criminals and others who were disenfranchised to do so. Thus, they created an ever-growing hunger for land, a tidal wave that would eventually sweep over us.  We were under constant pressure to move West, and to relinquish our ancestral lands. The colonists made promises and gave us land that would be ours “forever”. Then they brought in settlers who lived in enclaves, always encroaching on our land. When our people attempted to defend the land the colonial powers had seeded to us, the colonial government made war against us. They killed our children and elders, and raped and murdered our women. They sought to destroy our cultures by stealing the land, our traditional knowledge and life-ways, and our children. Because we hold this knowledge, many of us remember, and observe remembrance of, the Shoah, the Holocaust, and acknowledge our kinship with those who were the victims of that genocide.

Let us remember that, like the Jews who made their way to the Holy Land, many of those early emigrants to our lands were the dispossessed. The British attempted to depopulate Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. They used war, famine, and desperation to drive people from their traditional lands. They employed “Acts of Enclosure” to force their own people to flee to the cities, hungry and destitute; many families eventually found their way to our lands.  Because they understood colonialism and genocide, because they understood trauma, many of these early immigrants married Native people. But soon, propaganda, hunger, greed, and the rising tide of immigration overwhelmed us.

Although they had killed ninety-nine percent of our people, forcing us to live on tiny reserves, starving and desperate, they continued their attack. They banned hunting, and our drums and our ceremonies, the heart of our cultures. This is not ancient history, it continues, as governments grab what little land we retain and willy-nilly destroy our sacred sites. It continues as Non-Natives rape and murder our women, and jail our young people, in vastly disproportionate numbers. When I see destruction of olive groves in Palestine, and hear reports of the rape of women and the murder of children, I am reminded of this. When I see the Bedouins forced into reservations, their traditional nomadic life forbidden to them, my heart breaks in recognition.

This is an old story. Those with superior numbers and weapons take land from people who have lived in a place for untold centuries. They use resistance to their domination as an excuse to make war on the people. As they do so, they often target children, women, and elders. Too frequently, women are raped and/or killed, children are murdered or traumatized, the land that feeds the stomachs and culture of the people is stolen. Thus the future of the people is threatened. These are acts of genocide. We cannot remain silent when we witness them. Our ancestors lived through this. They remember and whisper their experience in our minds. They are always with us, and they do not forget.

This post was originally shown on Dreaming the World.

– Michael Watson

© 2014, essay and photographs, Michael Watson, All rights reserved

michael drumMICHAEL WATSON, M.A., Ph.D., LCMHC (Dreaming the World) ~ is a contributing editor to Into the Bardo, an essayist and a practitioner of the Shamanic arts, psychotherapist, educator and artist of Native American and European descent. He lives and works in Burlington, Vermont, where he teaches in undergraduate and graduate programs at Burlington College,. He was once Dean of Students there. Recently Michael has been teaching in India and Hong Kong. His experiences are documented on his blog. In childhood he had polio, an event that taught him much about challenge, struggle, isolation, and healing.

6 thoughts on “An Old Story

  1. Michael, this piece/peace is so needed, so thoughtfully written. Thank you. For some reason since around 1975 or so (it is hard to pinpoint) I became rabidly zionist. There could be no one more pro Israel than myself. And I must say that it has little to do with being married to a Jew. It has more to do with The History of the Jews.

    But that kind of love and loyalty isn’t much good is it? No, for it fosters the idea of the “other side.” And there cannot be peace when there is the “other” side. I have always believed in the saying that “we are all one.” I just haven’t always promoted it. One must promote “oneness” or there will never be peace. And I do believe it must begin in one’s mind. Jamie had got me to thinking about this and now you have done so. I wrote a poem yesterday about this same subject in relation to Israel. My poem was the first time that I appealed to the Jews of Israel on behalf of the Palestinians. Thank you for you suffering. That may appear a queer thing to say. I hope not. It is heartfelt.


    1. Dear Raven Spirit, I find myself easily sliding into taking sides. Inevitably, I regret my reactivity. Yesterday this happened.

      I have long been a supporter of Israel. That began to change several years ago, as a result of the Israeli government’s terrible treatment of the Palestinians. So painful and complex. One can so easily find oneself locked into settler mind, with all the dangers inherent therein.

      As to suffering, it is both a gift and a burden. I know you know this. So human.


  2. And with the people, the land is raped and abused, oppressed and despairing. The cedars of Lebanon, the waters of the Colorado, the life-ways of interconnected living communities of plants & animals, all are victims of a cultural mindset of ownership, greed, and power. And now, most people think that is simply “the way it is”. No. It is not the Truth. Who will speak the Truth in this distant place? You, Michael. Keep speaking.


  3. My entire life I have felt ashamed of how your people were treated by the colonists. My ancient ancestors were Vikings, and they did their fair share of raping and pillaging; my ancestors on *this* continent were immigrants from Norway and Germany. I am not them, but there is still the sense of shame.

    I connect with the land and have often wished that we could all live as Native Americans lived, that is to say, in peace and spirituality WITH the land, revering and preserving it instead of trying to conquer it. You are right, it IS an old story. There will always be a ‘conqueror’ as long as there is something to be gained by it…whether the gain is more land, more money…simply “more” anything.

    What do those who suffer gain by fighting? They must follow the courage of their convictions, certainly, must be able to live with themselves, but to what end? To show the rest of the world that there IS still resistance? The children still end up just as dead, the women still end up raped or murdered, and the young men still fight and die by the hundreds/thousands. What is that old saw about “Staying quiet in the face of injustice is to be an accomplice to evil” or some such thing?

    It IS difficult not to take sides, and I am hard-pressed to ever side with the aggressor/oppressor in cases like these you have mentioned. There ARE sides, unfortunately, and anyone caught in the middle becomes just another casualty of war.


Kindly phrased comments welcome here.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.