Settler colonial occupation. These words have been added to my everyday vocabulary, and my framework for understanding the world, since my visit to Palestine. It’s not that I hadn’t heard them before, or that I don’t know the history of my own country – but I’ve been trained to ignore such history, to silence the disturbing questions this history raises, and to think of such atrocities as happening centuries ago in the United States, before our country was “civilized.” The benefits I have as a Euro-American are so normalized that I’m often an unquestioning benefactor of the ill-gotten gains of land theft, resource theft, ethnic cleansing and targeted killing that continue to shape my country and its vast assets that are enjoyed by some at the expense of others.
Palestine has suffered from Israel’s colonial settler project for 100 years. Since the catastrophe of 1947, more than 550 villages have been destroyed, over 7 million refugees live in diaspora and another 720,000 live as refugees in their own land. All the while, their homeland has been filled with more than 600,000 Israeli settlers and the establishment of more than 240 illegal settlements/outposts (https://uscpr.org/learn/togetherwerise/not-that-complicated/#1497288348678-2211f8d9-4819). Current practices of home demolitions, targeting of villages, occupation, military control, and mass incarceration, as well as land and resource theft, continue at aggressive rates. All the while, Israeli propaganda is hard at work actively spinning webs of lies to confuse people, distort reality and rewrite history.
Recently destroyed homes in Qalandiya, just outside of Jerusalem
Two members of our delegation, Amy Juan and Nellie David, Native Americans of the Tohono O’odham Nation on the U.S./Mexico border, helped me make sense of the current realities in Palestine and their intricate connections with the centuries of colonizing practices in the United States.
The ways in which their experiences have paralleled those of the Palestinian people is revealing: similar experiences of being relegated to a confined piece of land and separated from their larger community due to outsider created and imposed borders, of being a desert people whose access to water has been stolen, and of seeing their land filled checkpoints and surveillance towers to control their movements and limit their freedom. The ways in which both indigenous peoples had European governments give away their land, colonists come and try to wipe out their existence, and when that failed, sought to re-write history to “civilize,” assimilate and eradicate their ancient cultures also matches. Both groups live with the reality that their very existence negates the false history of settlers that the land they settled in was unoccupied, free for the taking. Their very presence compromises the propaganda of “benevolent benefactors.” Even the rhetoric with which their oppressors sought/seek to dehumanize the indigenous communities was/is similar: poor, uneducated, unorganized, criminal. The maps below provide a visual of the parallel realities of land loss both indigenous groups have endured – and continue to fight: (https://uscpr.org/learn/togetherwerise/freedom-bound/)
In witnessing the Palestinian experience of aggressive and blatant attempts at colonization, I couldn’t help but think of the history of the United States. Conversations with Amy and Nellie helped me connect dots not only with U.S. history, but also to the ongoing realities of living in our colonial context. Many of the parallels listed above are from their current – 21st century – struggles for freedom, justice and self-determination, especially as the U.S. continues to militarize the border with Mexico, 75 miles of which are on Tohono O’odham land.
As the United States celebrates Thanksgiving, a holiday steeped in apocryphal myths of colonial and indigenous relationships, it is important to remember our country’s larger history of colonization: occupation, land and resource theft, and ongoing mistreatment of the first peoples of the land. As people gather around tables of abundance and offer gratitude for what they have, it is important to also acknowledge the ways in which what many in the United States have belonged to people long before the U.S. existed, and in many cases was violently taken from them. In this season of gratitude, I encourage you to keep in mind the ways in which the relationship between those who have and those who do not is intricately connected. In claiming this truth, may we continue working toward a day when our country truly provides freedom and justice for all.