by Susan J. Abulhawa
Often times, friends of Israel invoke the tragedy of Native Americans to excuse the tragedy of Palestinians. "Your house belongs to the Lenape, give it back" is what one reader said in response to something I wrote about the dispossession of Palestinians and their right of return and restitution.
Of course, my house was not built or ever occupied by an American Indian. But there are certainly many parallels between Palestinians and Native Americans.
On December 21, 1866, in a little valley by Peno Creek, nearly one hundred American soldiers lay dead, disemboweled, dismembered and scalped. White men would come to call it the Fetterman massacre, named after the slain commander, Captain William Fetterman.
Native Americans called it the Battle of the Hundred Slain, where a coalition of Arapahos, Cheyenne and Sioux held a rare victory against invading settlers.
Colonel Carrington, who witnessed the aftermath of the battle, concluded that the Indians were savages driven by a wild impulse to commit slaughter upon the white man. But had he been near Sand Creek, less than two years earlier, he would have seen the result of a raid carried out by soldiers under the command of Colonel Chivington. He would have seen 135 mutilated Cheyenne, most of them women and children. All were scalped. One woman was ripped open exposing her unborn child.
During that massacre, Chief Black Kettle stood with squaws and children beneath the American flag, which was given to him by President Abraham Lincoln with a promise that no soldier would ever harm him or his people beneath that flag. Almost all who cowered under the flag, including babies, were shot, clubbed or knifed to death. Chief White Antelope's privates were cut off by a soldier who said he was going to make a tobacco pouch out of them.
Chivington defended the killing of all Indians that day, even babies, saying that "Nits make lice."
Almost two centuries later, in another land, one of Israel's leading ministers defended Israel's efforts to brutalize and expel Palestinians, saying they are "lice" and a "cancer" that must be excised.
Like the sometimes merciless acts of violence by Native Americans, recent suicide bombings have left 25 Israelis dead, almost all of them brutally dismembered and torn.
Retired General Anthony Zinni called the act "evil" and laid a wreath at the site of the blast. Yet, only one-week before, five Palestinians boys from the same family, walking to school at 5:30 in the morning, were blown to pieces by a bomb, which the IDF admitted it had planted inside a heavily populated refugee camp. Zinni had no wreaths nor expressed sadness for them.
Had Zinni been to Bethlehem, only one month before, he would have seen the altar boy in Manger Square gunned down by Israeli soldiers. He would have seen children shot dead outside their school, a mother of eight mowed down by machine gun fire, cars and shops squashed beneath the weight of tanks. He would have seen the daily torment and humiliation with which Palestinians live. Zinni would have seen 20 innocent Palestinians willfully and deliberately killed in a span of 4 days with American-supplied guns.
Later, American-made F-16 fighter jets terrorized Palestinians in Gaza during a six-hour bombardment of what is believed to be the most heavily populated place on earth. Eyewitness accounts told of close range executions in the West Bank by undercover Israeli death squads. One man was shot in his home in front of his wife and children. A boy in Khan Yunis was shot in the head as he walked out of his home. Two more Palestinians were shot during a funeral procession.
An Israeli soldier said on national television that "we [IDF] shoot them in the head and no one asks any questions."
Palestinian schools are closed, electricity is shut off. Water tanks are destroyed. Not even the sick can cross checkpoints to seek medical attention. Those who can cross are humiliated, like the university students who were ordered to walk on all fours across the checkpoint or undress to their underwear first.
The whole Palestinian population is terrorized. They're besieged in their own homes, which are being bulldozed by the dozens each day or arbitrarily occupied and turned into army outposts. But when the next Palestinian living under Israeli brutality decides to blow himself up in a shopping mall, it will saturate the media and people of the world will look disgustingly at Palestinians, believing the lie that Arabs are inherently "terrorists," as those before them believed that Indians were inherently "savages."
It's the same ancient script of colonialism and domination. Only the people, time and place are different:
The natives are brutalized and dispossessed. They are murdered or removed from their ancestral homeland for being "savages" or "terrorists."
So, it is appropriate to invoke the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans when speaking of the Palestinian plight. It is, however, a bitter irony that such an ugly part of history is invoked as a precedent, rather than in the context of "never again."
Susan J. Abulhawa is a Palestinian who resides in Pennsylvania. She is the founder of Playgrounds for Palestine, a non-profit organization dedicated to building playgrounds and recreation areas for Palestinian children living under military occupation. To find out more about this vital project, visit: http://www.playgroundsforpalestine.org/. Susan can be contacted at: JABROLE@aol.com