Who Owns America

Read the following keeping in mind that I’m outraged  at the treatment that Israeli have imposed on Palestinians.

I’d feel more sympathetic with the academics’ boycott of Israel if they decided to boycott every nation with a similar history of colonial abuse, etc etc. We might start by boycotting ourselves. We actually are living on land that is not, as in Israel, strictly speaking “ours.” We occupied the land from coast to coast by might of force, and never have had any intention of returning it to its original owners. We claimed it because—we could. Or because we were fleeing from oppression and needed a place where we could be free (and sometimes that meant free to be just as oppressive to others not like us). We murdered off or imprisoned in reservations the previous natives. And unlike the Israelis, Europeans had no ancient claims to the Americas, nor were there any Europeans with long distant and continuous roots in the land.

Would we seriously consider that Whites should go back where they came from? After all, it is not the Native Americans’ fault that they were mistreated elsewhere. Nor is the Native Americans’ fault that African-Americans were brought to the Americas against their will.

While I want us to respond morally to the Palestinian’s just arguments, I’m not willing to select the Israelis as the target—among all the villains—of my righteous indignation until I face squarely how I might react to giving all of my land back to its natives much less all of it, “from sea to shining sea.”

We White Americans are not alone in being the victors of a colonial adventures. There are probably very few nations today with a history of continuous occupation of “their own” land—rather than dispossessors of one after another natives. But, I’m still stuck siding with the “losers”—and wish that there was a way that allowed both Native Americans and European settlers to more fairly co-exist, as I wish the people now residing in the land of Palestine could find such a solution before their rights too are a matter of distant memory, if remembered at all. And I applaud putting pressure on the Israelis, but….  But righteousness doesn’t sit comfortably on my shoulders given how unwilling I am to spend a lot of energy making things right for those “I” displaced (at the time, my ancestors were in parts of Poland and the Ukraine, but then that’s another whole story.)

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11 Responses

  1. This is a gorgeous, brilliant letter I will keep and refer to. Thank you for writing it.

  2. Oh, that we had more people speaking to us with such a deeply reflective perspective. Indeed, your letter brought me up short! Thank you.

  3. Well done. On a related subject, have any colleges or universities asked you to teach classes (not just speak in a class)?

  4. Is there a movement to boycott the U.S. for colonial abuse? Point me to it and count me in.

    The global movement for a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and human rights was initiated by Palestinian civil society in 2005. The movement is growing and is having an effect, in Europe, today in Argentina, and on U.S. college campuses. In Israel, the movement is called Boycott from Within.

    Of course wed all like to take a stand against every nation with an abusive history. We did against apartheid South Africa. (Did you refrain from that?) and against our own governments war on Vietnam. We fought here for labor rights and civil rights. By taking a stand in support of BDS we stand with Palestinian civil society in their struggle to bring justice where there is none. See The Law In These Parts, 5 Broken Cameras, Ilan Pappe (Israeli), Ali Abunimah (Palestinian).

    Our government sends 3 billion dollars a year to prop up Israel. Doesnt that give us reason enough to take a stand? I wonder if your lack of sympathy is less connected to issues in U.S. history than to other feelings about the need for an Israel in the Middle East.

    Sincerely, Gail Miller

    • Palestinians have an abusive history. Why don’t you take a stand against them. Vietnam has an abusive history so why don’t you take a stand against them. Iran? USSR? Native Indians have the most abusive history ever. Why don’t you take a stand against them. Native Indian tribes make Hitler look like Gandhi. Their history is a history of genocide and slavery against other tribes. I wonder whether your lack of sympathy had more to do with your shitty left wing politics then it does abusive histories.

    • It is interesting that we pick on Israel to select as the country most worthy of censure. A couple of people who replied to Deb’s post mentioned you have to start somewhere. Gail mentioned the support the US Government supplies them. But among oppressive nations Israel is certainly not one of the most oppressive, nor alone in getting US aid. China has Most Favored Nation status as a trading partner I believe, yet in terms of human rights and oppression of minority populations and even taking over the nation of Tibet, makes Israel look like saints. Think of all the Arab governments that did or do not even pretend to be democracies that we have supported with massive military and other aid? I couold go n to list many others. Again, why is it Israel that gets selected as needing particular condemnation and a place to start this fight against oppression of minority or annexed groups?

  5. Thank you Gail Miller. I am greatly impressed with Deb Meier’s work, which I’ve only recently discovered via Alfie Kohn, but I don’t agree with this post, and I wish it was better informed (the sources you mentioned, Gail, are a good place to start). The fact that there are other colonial settler states and other abuses cannot be turned into a cover for this one. No one concerned about universal rights or justice can accept this type of excuse. Deb refers to the civil rights movement frequently. Opponents of that movement used to say (I was just watching Buckley use this argument in a 1965 debate with James Baldwin) that Black people lived better (under Jim Crow) than Black people in Africa. Should the civil rights movement have accepted that? Should they have refused to “single out America among all the villains”? The Belgians were doing worse in the Congo in the 1950s than the US was doing in the South. Should supporters of civil rights have been quiet?

  6. […] to Meier herself in this recent post, Who Owns America, America doesn’t belong to us, nor does Israel belong to the […]

  7. […] to Meier herself in this recent post, Who Owns America, America doesn’t belong to us, nor does Israel belong to the […]

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