13 July 2014

Settlers killed in Palestine—echoes of another colonialism

The killing of three Jewish teenagers from a West Bank settlement in Palestine brought to mind another colonialism—that of North America. As the Europeans swarmed across the Americas, the Native people found themselves overwhelmed. Sometimes they fought to keep the intruders out, but inevitably they found themselves outmatched by superior numbers and technology. Sometimes out of desperation they would commit violence against the invaders, attacking and killing settlers, the very ones they could see dispossessing them. The attacks could be savage, as acts of desperation often are.

There is a remarkable similarity to what we see happening in Palestine. Although the killers of the Jewish boys have not yet been identified, they may well be militant opponents of Israeli expansion. As with the Native peoples of North America, the Palestinians watch the seemingly inexorable theft of their land, unable to resist forcefully against overwhelming military superiority. Most patiently await the results of negotiated agreement, but a few, frustrated by endless and unproductive chin wagging, act out their frustrations with violence.

Today we would label the Indians who carried out attacks on settlers as terrorists, as indeed we label the Palestinians who echo their desperation. But these are less acts of terrorism than gestures against colonialism, against land theft.

Just as there are strong similarities between the two stories, there is also at least one significant difference. The Indians were doomed to lose their land, to be left with scraps, as their populations were decimated by the diseases the Europeans brought with them while the numbers of Europeans and others ultimately swelled into the hundreds of millions. The Palestinians, however, do not face the same smothering sea of intruders. Even in Israel, they make up 20 per cent of the population and in Palestine as a whole they make up nearly half, and then there is their diaspora in the surrounding countries, to say nothing of the hundreds of millions of Arab allies in the region. Unlike with the Indians, time and numbers are on their side.

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