By Justine Mccabe
Published on 5/29/2005, The Day, New London
Justine McCabe, Ph.D., is a cultural anthropologist and clinical
psychologist who lives in New Milford.
Palestinians salvage belongings in the rubble of destroyed buildings and
houses in the Jebaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip, in this Oct. 16,
2004 file photo.
Amnesty International on Wednesday, May 25, 2005 accused Israeli soldiers
operating in the Palestinian territories of committing war crimes,
including unlawful killings, torture, destruction of property and
targeting medical personnel.
The London-based human
right's group's report for 2004 also condemned the deliberate targeting of
Israeli civilians by Palestinian militants as a crime against humanity.
Controversy over Indian rights in Connecticut recently intensified when
the federal government reversed its recognition of Stonington's Eastern
Pequots and Kent-based Schaghticoke tribes. Overall, officials and the
public appear pleased. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said, �One
reason this is so historic is because no positive recognition decision has
been reversed before. This is a first for the nation, which makes it all
the more significant and satisfying,� according to The Litchfield County
Clearly, it's not satisfying for Connecticut's indigenous peoples as their
rights and attachment to the land continue to be challenged even centuries
after first contact with European settlers.
Due-process arguments put into high relief the irony experienced by
America's native peoples in obtaining recognition: they must prove they
exist. They must demonstrate that their people and cultures actually
survived government intentions to eradicate them and seize land on which
Meanwhile, the original injustice is submerged in a bureaucratic system
organized to disavow it: even applying for BIA recognition costs millions,
encouraging many tribes to resort to casino investors despite their
corruption of traditional native values. Indian participation (let alone
success) in this admittedly suspect process arouses only insecurity and
hostility among my non-Indian Kent neighbors. Tellingly, references to
original dispossession and the enduring traumatic impact of European
contact are circumvented. Expressions of collective responsibility or
apologies are absent.
Most Americans experience a kind of collective denial about our shameful
history. Yet its legacy lives dangerously on � not just at home but also
in our foreign policy.
As Attorney General Blumenthal began challenging Schaghticoke recognition,
then-Palestinian presidential candidate Mahmoud Abbas was visiting some of
the 400,000 Palestinian refugees in camps in Lebanon, reassuring them that
their right to return to their homes in what is now Israel would not be
abandoned in future negotiations.
There are more than 6 million Palestinian refugees who have been waiting
to go home since the 1947-49 Naqba(�catastrophe�). Most refugees live
within 60 miles of their former homes, some close enough to see and weep
for lost orchards and fields.
Like America's native peoples, Palestinians bear the burden of proof of
their existence and right to their ancestral lands.
Possession of keys and deeds, or official registration as refugees with
the U.N. haven't succeeded. Neither has international law. In fact, in
keeping with several bodies of law, the U.N. explicitly conditioned
Israel's 1949 U.N. admittance on its implementation of Resolution 194
affirming Palestinians' inalienable right to return home. Despite this,
Israel has refused to allow its native peoples to return. The U.S. has
implicitly supported this since the Truman administration.
Indeed, American Indian dispossession is older than that of the
Palestinians. But the same national formative act � and its denial �
constitute a significant component of the �special relationship� touted
between the U.S. and Israel. This denial begs attention to fully explicate
the complacency of American foreign policy in the face of undeniable
antipathy toward the U.S. that has only grown since the invasion and
occupation of Iraq.
Like Americans, Israelis �know� what their own historians have amply
documented: Palestinian dispossession is the foundation of their state.
Between 1947 and 1949, more than 75 percent of the native population was
expelled by Zionist forces that seized their lands for exclusive
Jewish-Israeli use. Then, in 1967, 35 percent of the population of
Palestinian Gaza and the West Bank were forced out, some made refugees
twice in a generation.
But for Palestinians and Israelis, this colonial past is present.
Every day since 1967, the 3.3 million Palestinians in the Occupied
Territories continue to experience the post-modern version of manifest
destiny: 400,000 Jewish settlers facilitate an ongoing Israeli land grab �
200,000 during the Oslo �peace� period. In the past four years alone,
Israel confiscated over 56,000 acres of Palestinian land, razed another
18,000 acres of farmland, uprooted over 1.1 million trees. Over 250 miles
of Israeli-only bypass roads and hundreds of checkpoints have created more
than 200 disconnected Palestinian reservations. Even if Israel evacuates
Gaza, Prime Minister Sharon insists that the huge (illegal) West Bank
settlements will stay. His intention is underscored by the
soon-to-be-completed �separation� wall, which will seize another 15
percent of West Bank land and leave 600,000 Palestinians in an open-air
prison between it and the Green Line.
Meanwhile, Israel's non-Jewish citizens cannot rent, own or live on
�state� lands reserved exclusively for Jews � 93 percent of the country.
Under Israel's Law of Return, any Jew born anywhere can immigrate to
Israel and become a citizen, yet indigenous refugees cannot go home.
Why does Israel continue violating international law? Its answer embraces
that historically familiar � but no less ethnocentric � assertion: to
maintain its �Jewish� character. Yet even within the Green Line, Israel is
now, and has always been, a multicultural land where about 28 percent of
its citizens are non-Jews, including at least 20 percent who are
But to the world's formerly colonized people � the vast majority of the
world's population�there's strong identification with the injustice to
Palestinians that sustains hostility toward Israel and the U.S., and
threatens the security of Americans as well as Israelis. At the deepest
psychological level, American Indians and Palestinians bear witness to the
fact that human attachment to home and land can neither be dismissed nor
divided by politicians with impunity.
But it's not too late. Israel has not reached the entrenched U.S.
condition that reduced American Indians to less than 1 percent of our
population (about a third of whom live on reservations to which they were
confined over a century ago). Instead, 78 percent of Jewish-Israelis
occupy only 15 percent of the country, making it feasible for Palestinian
refugees to return to largely unoccupied land with little displacement of
Israelis living there now. Sharing the land is a matter of fairness and
international will, not viability.
Like the European colonization of America, the colonization of Palestine
began with the imperial mindset that particularly flourished in the 19th
century. We give Israel billions of dollars annually in aid, weapons and
political support to underwrite those 19th-century colonial practices for
which, surely, most 21st century Americans and Europeans are ashamed,
however much they may want to forget.
We cannot return to colonial America to undo the degradation of our own
native peoples. But we can act to make sure ethnic cleansing doesn't
continue in Palestine, now, in our names and with our money.
Justine McCabe, Ph.D., is a cultural anthropologist
and clinical psychologist who lives in New Milford.
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