'Settler colonialism' applies to this country, not that one

There is a nation prominent on today's world stage whose origins are rooted in settler colonialism and white supremacy. No, it's not Israel. Though a proud American, I must confess with shame that it's the United States.

First let's discuss Israel. American partisans of Palestinian Arabs accuse Israel of settler colonialism - that the country has been populated by white Europeans who displaced Indigenous people of color.

There have been Jews in the Holy Land for over 3,000 years. A 1993 archaeological find confirmed the existence of a King David and successors. Jews, then, are Indigenous peoples themselves.

Of course, Arabs have lived for millennia in what's now the state of Israel, too. In fact, a recent study by geneticist Michael Hammer of the University of Arizona shows that 70% of Jewish men and half of Arab men are descended from the same paternal ancestors going back to prehistoric times. (Claims that Jews are descended from the Turkish tribe known as Khazars are pseudoscience invoked by Israel's enemies and anti-Semites.) The Israeli Law of Return allowing Jews to move back to Israel is aptly named.

During and after Israel's 1948-49 War of Independence, around 700,000 Arabs left or were expelled from what is now Israel. Over the next 50 years, almost 900,000 Jews were pushed out of Arab lands - about two-thirds of them were resettled in Israel. Sadly, this was, in essence, a population swap or ethnic cleansing. Around the same time, a population swap following the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947 saw between 14 million and 18 million people move from one country to the other.

In 1948, Israel's population was 82% Jewish and 18% non-Jewish citizens who were overwhelmingly Arab. Today, the numbers are 73% Jewish and 27% non-Jewish. So over the last 75 years, Israeli Arabs grew as a percentage of Israel's population; they were not displaced. Moreover, calling the Jews white Europeans is misguided; almost half of Israel's Jews trace their recent ancestry to the Arab and Muslim world and another 3% from Ethiopia.

What about the United States? Of course, there were no national censuses conducted before Columbus arrived in the New World. Estimates made by experts in the last 20 years for the Indigenous population in North America in 1491 range from 3.5 million to 7 million. The U.S. census in 1900 showed 237,196 Native Americans out of an overall population of 76 million, or 0.3%. Massacres, starvation and disease had decimated the Native Americans.

Motivated by a sense of "manifest destiny," white Americans believed they had a divine mandate to conquer and settle the continent from sea to sea. The displacements, suffering and deaths of Native Americans were not overlooked. They were part of the plan. In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act. Treaties with Indian tribes were disregarded. In 1851, California's first governor, Peter Burnett, told the state legislature to expect war "until the Indian race becomes extinct."

Americans have long gloried in their colonial settler past. Colonial houses and colonial art are still sought after. After dying at Little Big Horn, Col. George Custer was made a martyr. His troops were there to force members of the Sioux tribe onto a reservation. Recently, former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said, "In every single war that America has fought, we have never asked for land afterward." He should bone up on his history. Even setting aside the Mexican American War, Wikipedia lists over five dozen American Indian Wars between 1776 and 1918. According to one estimate, the United States has taken over some 60% of its territory from native peoples since the Declaration of Independence.

Are Americans ready to give up the land on which they live, commute, study, work and vacation to the descendants of Indigenous peoples who were displaced? In his bestselling book "Palo Alto: A History of California, Capitalism, and the World," author Malcolm Harris suggests that Stanford University kick off the process by returning its land to members of tribes who lived there centuries ago. How likely is Stanford to give up its 8,180 acre campus in the midst of Silicon Valley? How many Americans would be willing to give up their homes to compensate for the sins of their forebears? What about recent immigrants whose ancestors did not even live in the United States?

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch has attacked those who "just cast a blind eye" at the "sadly familiar pattern" involving Native Americans where "promises were made, but the price of keeping them has become too great." Well said, Mr. Justice, but can you imagine any future where most of the land of the United States is turned over to the descendants of displaced tribes?

In this year's National Book Award winner "The Rediscovery of America," Ned Blackhawk asks, "How can a nation founded on the homelands of dispossessed Indigenous peoples be the world's most exemplary democracy?"

That's the irony of Americans protesting against Israel. They're accusing Israel of what their own country is guilty of. The protesters cry out that a state of Palestine should displace Israel "from the river to the sea." That's misguided and wrong. Logic and history dictate they should instead be shouting, "From sea to shining sea, give Native Americans back their territory."

Here's a message for those Americans who condemn Israel for settler colonialism: It's a lot easier to peer through a distorted telescope at a faraway country than to look into a mirror for a clear view of yourselves.

© Creators, 2023

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