University of California, Berkeley 7:30 pm 315 Wheeler Hall September 23, 2014
I dedicate my words to Samer Tariq Issawi, and his mother, Layla Issawi. Samer was taken as a political prisoner during the second intifada, after a 266-day hunger strike he was released in December 2013, and rearrested in June. He and his mother are again on hunger strike. I dedicate my words to Hasham Abu Maria, director of the Defense of Children International in Hebron, who was shot dead center in the chest during a demonstration in June. Samer, Layla, and Hasham were among the 189 individuals that our delegation met with in January and my prayers and thoughts are with them and their families. I dedicate my words to the 1,000s of murdered and missing Indigenous women along the extraction sites and transportation routes of oil and fracking in the US and Canada. What is happening to Indigenous women is not okay—energy extraction and its violence to the land and to women here on Turtle Island is about supporting a globalization of the U.S. military invasion and its oppressions in Palestine and elsewhere.
I acknowledge that UC Berkeley is on Chochenyo Ohlone territorial lands. The fact that neither the US nor California recognize the Chochenyo Ohlone as a legally-righted Indigenous people is important for many reasons, beginning with how the lack of that status means that federally-funded institutions like this university are not required to consult with the Ohlone over the terms or conditions of land use and access, nor the possession and control of their ancestral remains and cultural objects. These issues are related to those experienced by Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. Tonight I want to identify some of the parallels between the experiences of Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island and of Palestine as a way of provoking our thinking together about the real need for effective strategies for solidarity against oppression.
I am a member of the Delaware Tribe of Indians. We call ourselves Lenape which means people. The Lenape are indigenous to a territory called Lenapehoking (“Lenape country”), including parts of what are now the states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.
Under the relentless conditions of military invasion, sexual violence, the economic coercion of poverty resulting from exploited labor and diminished resources (including restricted use of historical hunting and fishing areas and water for agriculture), malnutrition and disease, the Lenape were forced into land cessions by 18 congressionally ratified treaties between 1778 and 1866. Each treaty forced the Lenape—as declared “enemies” or neutral “friends”—to cede and relocate to ever smaller reservations in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Indian Territory, and Cherokee lands. As a direct result of this history, there are now seven different “recognized tribes” of Lenape in the U.S. and Canada but none hold any independent territorial rights.
The criminally fraudulent, armed conflicts, and treaty violations that characterized Lenape land cessions have never been redressed by the United States. The U.S. claims plenary power in altering Indigenous treaty rights in the name of its national interest—or merely by the power to do so—and then conducts itself through illegal, fraudulent, and violent actions. This would seem encapsulated in 2006 by the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals which dismissed the Lenape’s efforts to redress one moment of the fraud in a claim to a modest 314 acres in Pennsylvania. Though the court acknowledged that Lenape title had been extinguished by fraud, it ruled that the court did not possess the ability to provide adequate resolution of the complaint.
At the same time, Congress and the Supreme Court have shored up eminent domain over tribal lands and resources by subjugating tribes as “domestic dependents” with limited sovereignty, no rights to treat or trade except through Congress, and land titles that amount to nothing more than a “use and occupancy” right that can be extinguished by the courts or congressional law. Today, tribes do not own one acre of the 57 million acres of lands that are held “in trust” for them by the federal government, nor do they control access and use of the natural resources and water on those lands. At the same time, in every way that matters to their health and well-being, they are disproportionately represented in the criminal system—from arrest to sentencing to incarceration—as well as in incidents of rape, poverty, unemployment, ill-health, and child adoption and foster care.
On May 14, 1948, Jewish leaders issued a Declaration of Independence announcing the establishment of the State of Israel on Palestinian lands that they had been aggressively privatizing since 1897. Aligned with other Arab countries, Palestine fought back but Israel prevailed. In January 1949, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt signed an armistice agreement with Israel. At that time the Gaza Strip was occupied by Egypt and the West Bank by Jordan.
Israel enacted its statehood through a series of property and citizenship laws and military service and benefits policies meant to facilitate Jewish settlement and rights over and against Palestinians. One of the earliest laws that they enacted suppressed and criminalized Palestinian political descent, legalizing detention, imprisonment, deportation, property destruction, area closure, and censorship, all without charge, legal representation, or trial.
Israel extended its occupation of Palestinian lands in the Six Day war of 1967. The war concluded with Israel taking the Gaza Strip and Sinai from Egypt, the West Bank from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria, forcing over 335,000 Palestinians into refugee status without the right to return.
Israel declared and then enacted by law that these and other refugees who fled the conflict had “abandoned” their homes, so making those homes eligible to be confiscated for settlement. While Jewish citizens were provided with virtually free housing, electricity, and water, Palestinians were charged exorbitant fees or denied water altogether, severely impacting their agriculture. Transport of produce across borders was made all but impossible, requiring permits almost always denied. Further, Palestinians were denied building permits to build or repair homes and businesses, and were restricted from fishing to 5 miles off the coast. Travel permits—whether for work, business, medical aid, leisure—were greatly restricted if not outright prohibited. And the right of return was always tenuous.
The First and Second Intifadas occurred in Gaza and the West Bank against these conditions, which the United Nations and several international human rights organizations have classified as apartheid.
One of the core ideological requirements of imperial-colonial state formations like those of the US and Israel is the racialized distortion and debasement of Indigenous history and culture. This takes on several forms. It renders Indigenous peoples as the already dead and gone and so all but irrelevant in today’s modern world. It represents Indigenous people as inauthentic frauds, falsely claiming an identity that they merely use to gain social cred, legal privilege, or economic gain. And it identifies Indigenous people and their allies as complicit with threats against national security and social stability.
I find it more than interesting that along the extraction sites and transportation routes of oil and fracking in the US and Canada, there has been a real resurgence in the representation of Indian people as savages and barbarians, a discourse that too easily rationalizes violence against women (because they are barely if at all human) and violence against the land (because it is property). In fact, Indigenous women are being kidnapped and enslaved at “man camps” along these sites and routes to serve the workers, literally turned into nonhuman, disposable objects of pleasure.
But for imperialism and colonization, it is never enough merely to destroy, they have to reinvent the history of the land so that that destruction is rational and inevitable.
Until 1948, Ayn Aawd was a Palestinian village of about 900 people in Mount Carmel, in the middle of an olive forest on which the village depended. As depicted by Israeli director Rachel Leah Jones in her powerful film 500 Dunam to the Moon (2002), Israel so relentlessly attacked the village during the 47-48 war that villagers were forced to flee, finding some safety in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank.
After the war, Israelis settled the village that they claimed was “abandoned.” Using materials from “demolished” buildings in Haifa, they rebuilt the village as close to its original architecture as possible, to preserve its history, and then settled artists to literally recreate its history as uniquely Israeli. (One of these recreations was that the olive press was a technology imported by Palestinians from Poland.)
A single extended Palestinian family of about 25-28 people moved about 1.5 kilometers away to rebuild. They were not permitted electricity, water, or building permits. Defying these restrictions to build a village, the IDF cordoned their homes off with barbed wire, to prevent further expansion—which, at least in the documentary, the villagers appear to use as clothes lines when not pulling it down altogether.
In 1965, Israel directed the Ministry of the Interior to produce a zoning map of the 1948 territory. Only 125 villages were allowed to be identified—about 40 altogether erased. Ein Hod—old and new—were not included on the zoning map. The Ministry then used this map to create the Carmel National Park as a public space, mandating the destruction of all houses within the area and clearing out of the historic olive trees to replace them with cypress, pine, and palm.
The new village (artists colony), Ein Hod, now includes a gift shop, homes, convenience stores, restaurants and bars, and a stone walk way through gardens peppered with outdoor sculptures. Guided tours are told that the artists transformed an ugly, “abandoned” Palestinian village into a thriving community.
When these kinds of practices of erasure and representation fail to rationalize colonization for anyone but the already convinced, the imperial project demands that any remaining vestiges or expressions of Indigenous history and culture be confiscated, bull-dozed, and destroyed.
While in Ramallah, we met with Iman Hamoury, director of the Popular Art Center, which works to strengthen the cultural identity and history of Palestinians against the concerted efforts of Israel to criminalize them. It accomplishes this through art, dance, music, playwriting, storytelling, festivals, and archival work. The importance of cultural identity and expression is not lost on Israel. Israel has imposed severe restrictions on the center’s travels through checkpoints, curfews, and detentions. Dance gear and musical instruments are regularly confiscated and destroyed. The center’s offices have been raided and computers and materials taken. Artists, musicians, and dancers have been arrested for their performances, sometimes even for just carrying recordings and writings with them, as acts of terrorism or threats against Israeli national security.
In Ramallah we also met with one of the Palestinian leaders of alQaws, a group that works on queer rights in the 48 territories. He spoke with us about the links between sexuality and the occupation, including the need of queers to engage PACBI’s call and oppose the occupation but also their need to connect with international movements working on human rights issues. alQaws’ projects include Singing Sexuality, a group that connects historical and contemporary songs to rebuild their sense of community. Members of Singing Sexuality have been detained and their recordings destroyed as materials that threaten Israeli national security.
Another but core apparatus of imperial-colonial state formations is the open disregard of Indigenous humanity. Let’s talk about how imperial states treat Indigenous dead.
In the US, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 attempted to right the historical wrongs of grave desecration and cultural object theft and trafficking. NAGPRA provides for a modest protection of Indigenous grave sites on public and trust lands and the repatriation of Indigenous ancestors and cultural objects from federal agencies and federally funded institutions. Those that NAGPRA identifies as possessing the requisite legal status to make claims under its provisions include “lineal descendants,” “Indian tribes,” and “Native Hawaiian organizations.” To repatriate, those with the requisite status must be determined to be “culturally affiliated” to the human remains and cultural items they claim. NAGPRA directs that they consult with all of those who “may be” or are “most likely” associated with the geographic sites from where the remains and items originate. But, as I mentioned earlier, none of the Ohlone people are recognized by the US or California as a legally-righted Indigenous group. That lack of recognition has been used by UCB and others to avert consultation with the Ohlone on the affiliation of their dead. This has had real consequences, such as those confronted when a developer built the Emeryville Mall and apartment complex over an ancient village site. The Ohlone said no but the developer proceeded, disinterred some and left others to be sealed under the concrete. As compensation, he named a couple streets and erected a faux mound and basket in honor of the Ohlone people.
Meanwhile, in 1986, Israel reassured UNESCO that it was safeguarding ancient Muslim burial sites in the 48 and included Ma’man Allah (Mamilla) Cemetery in East Jerusalem on its Antiquities Authority list of historical sites. At the same time, it allowed the municipality of Jerusalem to dig up a number of graves, destroy the remains, and turn a portion of the cemetery into a public park called “Independence Park.” Israel advertises the park as “the city’s gay cruising ground.” On January 15th, 2005 the Israeli Electricity Company performed further excavations, obliterating more tombs in order to lay down cables.
In 2004, California Governor Schwarzenger laid the foundation stone for the “Center for Human Dignity—Museum of Tolerance.” The museum is a joint project between Israel and The Simon Wiesenthal Center of Los Angeles. In 2005, construction began. This has resulted in the disinterment of numerous graves and individual remains. The continuing desecration and vandalism of the cemetery (including graffiti that reads Die Arabs!) is not only disturbing. It is as if Israelis are telling—screaming, really—at Palestinians that they do not matter—neither them, nor their ancestors or their descendants, for thousands of generations behind them and another thousand ahead.
The dehumanization of Indigenous women along the oil and fracking sites and transportation routes in the US and Canada has included an active sex trade involving rape, prostitution, kidnapping, mutilation, and murder. Indigenous women have been organizing to get these issues addressed in a real way by federal and local officials but rarely are their reports investigated, let alone prosecuted. Not to suggest, of course, that our current “criminal justice system” ever truly results in the justice part. More importantly, the “incidents” are treated as minor deviations in an otherwise good democratic society. Rarely are we seeing government or corporate officials truly question the “free market” ideologies that hold capitalist exploitation and militarization together.
At the same time, we are reminded this summer of the ongoing dehumanization of Palestinians by Israel and within the US (did you know that the Southern Poverty Law Center lists 77 hate groups in California, with over 10% specifically targeting Muslims and Islam and some of the most well-funded?).
For 51 days in Gaza, over 2,100 Palestinians were killed, including 500 children, over 11,000 wounded and over 100,000 made homeless. Last week, many attempted to flee the poverty and despair and died at sea. All the while, images of Palestinian bodies and sound-bites of screams and mourning against invasion and occupation are squeezed into corporate news in between corporate ads like unfortunate and regrettable tragedies of the war but somewhat, entirely due: Palestinians had earned it, they said, because they had started it, they said; Palestinians are, after all, inherently violent, irrational, and criminal, they said. Savage really. And in times like these, it is hard to tell whether or not they are human at all.
And now, you can barely find a footnote to what is going on in Gaza. No bombs, no news.
I see our responsibility here tonight as insisting on an otherwise. As Palestinian spoken word artist Rafeef Ziadah speaks so powerfully about Palestinians waking up every morning to teach the rest of the world life, certainly here—in the relative shelter of a democratic society’s space for free speech and academic freedom—we can stand up and teach one another about our shared humanity.