Palestinians and American Indians

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Apr 21 08:58:00 MDT 2002


Los Angeles Times, April 21, 2002

MIDDLE EAST
Will Palestinians Go the Way of Native Americans?

By LAILA AL-MARAYATI, Laila Al-Marayati is a Los Angeles physician
and spokesperson for the Muslim Women's League.

While in Monterey last week, I was drawn to a mural alongside a bike
path. It depicted the history of the region, starting with images of
the Native American tribes indigenous to the area and continuing from
there. Looking around, I saw no one who resembled the members of
those early tribes, long wiped out by disease, starvation and the
abuses of early California settlers. It suddenly occurred to me, as a
Palestinian American, that some day, years from now, my history and
heritage could be reduced to images on a wall for tourists to
admire--in Jerusalem, perhaps. Renewed attempts by the Israeli army
in recent days to eradicate whole villages in my father's native
Palestine made me wonder if the mural before me foreshadowed the
future.

Back in my hotel room, I turned on the television for the latest
updates. On every channel, pundits justified Israeli incursions into
the West Bank. The resulting slaughter got barely a mention. The
Israelis are acting in self-defense, the commentators said. If
Americans were subject to suicide bombings within their borders,
wouldn't they do the same? But these rationalizations have become an
endorsement of collective punishment. Today, most Americans do not
believe that the decimation and expulsion of entire Indian tribes in
response to "terrorist" attacks against wagon trains was justified.
But, as one caller to a syndicated radio program suggested, since
we're not about to give anything back to the Indians, why should the
Israelis be expected to return stolen land to the Palestinians?

Why? Because we live in a different time and place. The U.S.
government could not massively displace Native Americans now, in a
time of blanket media coverage, international and civil rights law.
We would become worldwide pariahs for committing such egregious human
rights violations against an indigenous population. Fortunately for
expansionists, such pressures were not at play 150 years ago. America
is what it is, and now we draw pictures on the wall, set up special
museums and publish politically correct textbooks to tell the truth
and lament the sins of our forefathers. Revenues from lucrative
casinos notwithstanding, many of today's Native Americans struggle
with poverty, alcoholism, joblessness and other social ills. Attempts
at reparations have been woefully inadequate.

At a meeting in Washington, D.C., a pro-Israel conservative once told
me that the Palestinians just have to accept defeat, because in this
world, "there are winners and there are losers." In other words, the
sooner the Palestinians admit that they have lost, the better. Let
Israel annex the West Bank and Gaza Strip and confine Palestinians to
reservation-like towns. Eventually, curious onlookers from Israel and
elsewhere could come to observe the "natives" in their "natural
habitat," sample their cuisine, maybe volunteer in social-service or
education programs and leave satisfied with themselves.

Years from now, perhaps, fits of consciousness-raising might result
in books about the deliberate Israeli destruction of Palestinian
society. Scholars and collectors would covet Palestinian embroidery,
which has an appeal similar to the fine artifacts made by American
Indian tribes. Preserving and valuing artifacts would be seen as
proof that Palestinian contributions were finally being recognized.
Superficial celebrations of Palestinian culture would masquerade as
displays of respect for the Palestinian people, absolving Israelis of
the responsibility to do anything meaningful and truly conciliatory,
like enabling Palestinian families to return to their homes (for
which they have legal deeds) in places like Haifa, Jaffa or
Jerusalem.

Palestinians today are resisting attempts to transform them into an
anthropological curiosity. It seems like time is not on their side.
Illegal settlements continue to be built on their land. The
institutions of civil society are being dismantled or destroyed as
Israel has reoccupied the West Bank and Gaza, and the U.S.
government, unwilling to seriously pressure Israel, acts as an
accomplice to the crime. Even U.S. Secretary of State Colin L.
Powell's recent visit ended without condemnation of Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon's goal of bringing the Palestinians to their
knees to force a surrender.

Like their Native American counterparts, the Palestinians are a proud
people who will fight until the bitter end. They will use whatever
means they have at their disposal, with no champions other than each
other. Perhaps this conflict will end like others before it, where
the stronger party subjugates the weaker into complete submission.

Or perhaps not. Today, satellite television and the Internet expose
these current atrocities to the world in real time. In response,
people of conscience who reject apologists for the brutal Israeli
occupation, people who refuse to accept the "inevitable" defeat of
Palestinian resistance and realize that the loss of a people
diminishes us all, must intervene and make a difference. Maybe this
time the history books will tell a different story, and, instead of
showing my children pictures of their ancestral homeland, I will be
able to take them there.

--
Louis Proyect, lnp3 at panix.com on 04/21/2002

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