We 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