This week, nearly 40 passengers (unarmed peace activists and media people) will board The Audacity of Hope, a U.S. flagged boat, which will set sail from Greece and join the international Freedom Flotilla II. These courageous passengers join people from over 20 countries who will take part in the Freedom Flotilla sailing the last week of June to break the blockade of Gaza. The Israeli-led and U.S.-backed siege and blockade is the longest in modern warfare. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and many human rights organizations have all called the siege and blockade a violation of the human rights of the 1.5 million Palestinians who live in the Gaza strip since it constitutes a form of collective punishment in violation of international humanitarian law. The passengers on the U.S. boat include men and women from virtually every geographic region including people of color and American Jews. Alice Walker, one of America’s great novelists, will take part and has said the flotilla is the “Freedom Ride of this era.” The effort has been endorsed by more than 85 organizations across the United States and supported by thousands of individuals.
Certainly any analysis of the Palestinian condition should resonate for indigenous peoples around the globe. The Israeli government is forcibly subjecting Palestinians to brutal settler colonialism—the policy and process of conquering a distant land to send settlers so as to reshape it to resemble the land of the colonizer—that pushes for the destruction of indigenous societies and then imposes assimilation programs for those who survive the process of systematic extermination and removal. Many indigenous peoples throughout North America have had their eyes on Israel given the comparative issues of indigeneity and sovereignty raised in the conflict. As Steven Salaita argues in The Holy Land in Transit: Colonialism and the Quest for Canaan, the European settlement of the New World and the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous peoples that went with it informs the European Jewish settlement of Palestine and founding of Israel at the expense of the original Palestinians who were living there.
The historical and political parallels between these cases are especially striking when comparing the enduring ideology of Christian Manifest Destiny with Jewish Zionism. As Stephen Newcomb argues in his book, Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery, U.S. federal Indian law and policy are premised on Old Testament narratives of the chosen people and the Promised Land. This premise is exemplified in the 1823 Supreme Court ruling Johnson v. McIntosh that states that the first “Christian people” to “discover” lands inhabited by “natives, who were heathens,” have an ultimate title to dominion over these lands and peoples. M. Shahid Alam argues that European Zionists determined to create a Jewish state in Palestine induced Western Jews to become colonists; and, above all, recruited Western powers to adopt their colonial project. Their state-craft was supported by the ideology of Zionism in claiming the Holy Land as the rightful place for the existence of a sovereign Jewish state in what looks like the re-creation of “Indian Country.” Commonalities in these two cases studies include the culture and politics of occupation, colonialism, land dispossession and forced removal. Also, indigenous resistance to settler violence in both cases has been construed as alternately “savage” or “terroristic.”
People of conscience can stand in public solidarity with the Palestinian people in their quest to break the siege against Gaza by supporting the international Freedom Flotilla II. The Israeli and U.S. governments have deemed the project one of “provocation” as though non-violent resistance gives them license to criminalize protest, providing a rationale for attacking protestors like they did last year when Israeli forces killed nine people (including one U.S. citizen) aboard the Mavi Marmara. Let us be clear here: it is the Israeli government that is engaged in an unlawful and brutal occupation. People in support of those on The Audacity of Hope can act right away by serving as a “boat watch” volunteer and calling their U.S. Senators and House Representatives, the U.S. State Department (#202-647-4000); and the U.S. Israeli Embassy to: 1) let them know you support this heroic human rights mission; and 2) that they insist that Israel take a “hands off” attitude to the boat. The people of Gaza have the human right to receive humanitarian aid, and all Palestinian people have the right to live free from illegal occupation, settler colonialism, and violent state terrorism under Israel.
J Kēhaulani Kauanui is an Associate Professor of American Studies and Anthropology at Wesleyan University. She is the author of Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism and the Politics of Sovereignty and Indigeneity (Duke University Press, 2008). She is also the producer and host of a public affairs radio program, “Indigenous Politics; From Native New England and Beyond” which is syndicated on ten stations across the United States. Kauanui serves as an Advisory Board member for the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.
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