Israelis and Indians

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Apr 9 07:54:20 MDT 2002

Counterpunch, April 9, 2002

Israelis and Indians
By Michael Neumann

Palestinian tactics are often attacked or defended on dubious grounds.
Whether these tactics are terrorist is irrelevant; some terrorism is
defensible, some not. The same applies to whether the acts are murders.
Whether others are bigger terrorists or murderers is also irrelevant; two
wrongs don't make a right. Whether Israelis have committed crimes is not
directly relevant either; that they have committed crimes is not sufficient
to justify killing people, civilians, who have not committed them.

The problem, as anyone will tell you, is that Palestinians deliberately
kill civilians. You would think, then, that we would never do such a thing.
Maybe not. Those who conducted strategic bombing raids against Nazi
Germany, or for that matter those who set speed limits on our highways, did
not. These actions, it seems, were fine. Bombs would definitely stray into
civilian areas; lower speed limits would definitely mean fewer children
killed and maimed in accidents. We knew this with certainty, but we didn't
*intend* these consequences. Apparently this makes us far better than the
Palestinians. The scholastically fine distinction between deliberately
killing civilians and knowingly killing civilians has become, it seems, a
moral chasm.

Sometimes, though, we treat the deliberate killing of civilians with
reverence, or at least feel a special moral pride in our refusal to condemn
it. The best examples are from American history. We have not forgotten that
American Indians deliberately killed civilians, including children, and
sometimes as a policy. But no one demands an apology from contemporary
American Indian leaders; quite the reverse. Nor is this simply a matter of
the silly business of apologies or other manifestations of political
correctness. (If political correctness is involved, it comes from focusing
on the warfare of 1850-1890, when the whites were the worst killers, not on
the earlier periods when things were more even.) Why then, do we keep
silent about these presumably awful crimes? Why don't we rub them in the
faces of our children, so that they will never forget that such presumed
evils presumably tainted our land?

It is necessary to put the question more sharply to exclude weasely
answers. The Indians sometimes murdered innocent civilians, including
children. These acts were right, wrong, or morally indifferent. Which were

I can't see that they were morally indifferent, can you? Were they wrong?
If so, they must have been awfully wrong, because they involved murdering
children. Is that what we want to say?

I suggest not. I suggest the acts were terrible, cruel, and ultimately
justified. My reasons are familiar to everyone. The Indians' very existence
as a people was threatened. More than threatened; their society was doomed
without resistance. They had no alternative. Moreover, every single white
person, down to the children, was an enemy, a being which, allowed to live,
would contribute to the destruction of the Indians' collective existence.

The Indians had no chance of defeating the whites by conventional military
means. So their only resort was to hit soft targets and do the maximum
damage. That wasn't just the right thing to do from their point of view. It
was the right thing to do, period, because the whites had no business
whatever coming thousands of miles to destroy the Indian people.

The comparisons with the situation of the Palestinians are beyond obvious.
To start, what I have written sneaks in some misconceptions. There were no
people called "the Indians". They were diverse, as cultures and as
individuals, some peaceful, some warlike, some responsible for the
massacres, some not. It was, of course, the whites who lumped them together
and demonized them (just as this sentence does to the whites). The Israelis
kind of do that when they destroy the houses of old women and blockade
cities to the point of starvation and medical catastrophe. And when anyone
supports the Israelis, they are responsible for this sort of collective
'punishment', even if they don't - as they often do - indulge in the same
coarse generalizations.

As for the other points of resemblance, not only Israeli, but much
non-Israeli Jewish propaganda does its best to conceal them. But
concealment is impossible. Guess what? The Palestinians didn't travel
thousands of miles to dispossess the Jews. It was the other way around.
Often the Jews had very pressing reasons to leave Europe. So did the whites
who settled in North America. And both groups of settlers couldn't quite
take in what they saw: that gee, there were other people already there, and
the land was theirs. When possible, both engaged in sleazy land deals to
get their foothold; when not, force was used. But always there was no
question: the whole land would be theirs, and the state to be constructed
would be their state.

Both groups of settlers somehow contrived, despite these goals, to believe
that they wanted nothing but to live in peace with their 'neighbors'-
neighbors, of course, because they had already taken some of their land.
And sure, they did want peace, just as Hitler wanted peace: on his terms.
The most casual survey of Israeli politics indicates that mainstream,
official, respectable Jewish opinion asserts an absolute right to Israel's
present boundaries, and at the very least would never abandon the
continually expanding settlements. What is considered extreme Jewish
opinion, which asserts rights over the entire area occupied by Palestine,
is not the Israeli extreme. The far right in Israel claims a territory that
stretches as far as Kuwait and southern Turkey. This matters, because,
given Israel's fragmented politics, the extreme right wields a power out of
proportion to its numbers. The conclusion must be that Israel, as a
collective entity, wants peace with all the sincerity of, say, General Custer.

Like the Indians, the Palestinians have nowhere to go. All the Arab states
either hate them, or hate having them there. And, like Indians, Arabs and
Palestinians are not all alike: do we scratch our heads and wonder why,
when the Cherokee were kicked off their land, they didn't just join the
Apache or Navaho? Like the Indians, the Palestinians have not the slightest
chance of injuring, let alone defeating Israel through conventional
military tactics. Like the whites, every single Israeli Jew, down to and
including the children, are instruments wielded against the Palestinian

Of course the two situations aren't quite analogous. Things are clearer in
the case of Israel, where virtually every able-bodied adult civilian is at
least an army reservist, and every Jewish child will grow up to be one. And
the American settlers never spent years proclaiming how happy they would be
with the land they had before embarking on a campaign to take the rest of
it. One might add that the current situation of the Palestinians is more
like that of the Indians in 1880-1890 than earlier, because the
Palestinians have lost much more than half of their original land.

The Palestinians don't set out to massacre children, that is, they don't
target daycare centers. (Nor do they scalp children, but according to the
BBC, that's what Israel's clients did in Sabra and Shatila.) They merely
hit soft targets, and this sometimes involves the death of children. But,
like anyone, they will kill children to prevent the destruction of their
society. If peoples have any right of self-preservation, this is justified.
Just as Americans love to do, the Palestinians are "sending a message": you
really don't want to keep screwing with us. We will do anything to stop
you. And if the only effective way of stopping their mortal enemies
involved targeting daycare centers, that would be justified too. No people
would do anything less to see they did not vanish from the face of the earth.

Michael Neumann is a professor of philosophy at Trent University in
Ontario, Canada. He can be reached at: mneumann at

Louis Proyect
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