Various anti-Israel groups argue that the Palestinians are like Israel’s “Native Americans. However, the truth of the matter is that the Jewish people are the closest thing to an indigenous people within the Holy Land, while the Palestinian Arabs ancestors sprung out from centers of empire.
Despite all of the facts proving the contrary, some anti-Israel activists have falsely compared the Palestinians to the Native Americans. For example, during this year’s Palestinian Solidarity Week at the University of Maryland at College Park, the UMD Students for Justice in Palestine hosted a lecture titled “Two Trails of Tears: From Turtle Island to Palestine.” In this lecture, the UMD Students for Justice in Palestine held a discussion on “settler colonialism, ethnic cleansing, broken treaties and racist policies as a form of systematic oppression for the Palestinian and Native American peoples.”
Unfortunately, the UMD Students for Justice in Palestine is not the only anti-Israel group to seek to compare the Palestinian cause to the Native American struggle. This type of rhetoric disregards Jewish history within the Land of Israel dating back to antiquity and is an attempt to re-write history by anti-Israel groups in order to belittle the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel. This propaganda is so popular among anti-Israel groups that in one anti-Israel protest outside of Nablus, Palestinians even dressed up like Native Americans in order to make a political point. Many Native American’s find this offensive and an unethical form of cultural appropriation.
The Palestinians are not like us. Their fight is not our fight. We natives believe in bringing about change peacefully and we refuse to be affiliated with anyone who engages in violence targeting civilians. I cannot remain silent and allow the Palestinians to gain credibility at our expense by claiming commonality with us.
I cannot stand by while they trivialize our plight by tying it to theirs, which is largely self-inflicted. Our population of over 65 million was violently reduced to a mere 10 million, a slaughter unprecedented in human history. To compare that in whatever way to the Palestinians’ story is deeply offensive to me. The Palestinians did lose the land they claim is theirs, but they were repeatedly given the opportunity to build their state on it and to partner with the Jews — and they persistently refused peace overtures and chose war. We were never given that chance. We never made that choice.
According to Ward Churchill, a professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado, 12 million Native Americans used to inhabit North America in 1500. They were the continent’s first original indigenous human inhabitants and some of the tribes referred to their ancestral homeland as Turtle’s Island. Yet today, after experiencing massacres, persecutions, outright racism, ethnic cleansing, systematic oppression, and having their traditional lands colonized by European settlers who refused to permit them to live beside them even if they were peaceful and adopted aspects of European culture, their population size was reduced to 237,000 by 1900.
During the infamous Trail of Tears, about 20,000 Cherokees were forcefully expelled from their homes and sent on a death march, where up to 8,000 of them perished. The Cherokee nation endured all of this suffering, despite the fact that they were very much assimilated into the society, rejected utilizing violence, and had legal documents in their possession demonstrating what land was supposed to belong to them. It was one of the darkest chapters in American history.
Despite all Palestinian propaganda points to the contrary, the Palestinians are not Israel’s “Native Americans.” In fact, the Jewish people, composed of the twelve tribes of Israel, not Muslim Palestinian Arabs, made up the majority of the population in Israel up until 135 CE, when the Jewish people through massacres, brutal oppression, persecutions, and ethnic cleansing were forcibly made into a minority within their own country. Just like the Native Americans, the fact that Jews were made into a minority within their own country does not rob them of their indigenous status nor does it imply that they abandoned their country.
In fact, Jews continued to live in Israel throughout history, regardless of which regime was in power. The Jewish Virtual Library estimates that in 1517, well before the Zionist movement existed, there were only around 300,000 people living in Eretz Yisrael, where 5,000 of them were Jewish. According to the Ottoman Turkish Census of 1893, there were 371,959 Muslims, 42,689 Christians, and about 9,000 Jews living in Israel. These statistics demonstrate that Jews were living in the Land of Israel well before Zionism and the Balfour Declaration. Muslims were never the sole inhabitants of the land like the Native Americans were in the United States.