The 15-member United Nations Security Council took a highly controversial step on Friday, December 23, 2016 by voting 14-0 to condemn Israel’s construction of so-called “settlements” on the occupied West Bank taken after the 1967 War with its Arab neighbors.
Though the United States chose to abstain, throughout his presidency, Barack Obama has voiced the long-standing official policy of his country by designating Israeli settlements as a major impediment in any hoped-for two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President-elect Donald Trump, on the other hand, blasted the United Nations’ vote. And Trump’s proposed U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a far-right-wing lawyer, does not support a “two-state solution,” but does support a Jerusalem capital, the “settlement” program, and Israel’s annexation of the occupied West Bank.
Though declared illegal under international law, approximately 570,000 Israelis live in the more than 130 so-called “settlements” (a.k.a. stolen land) since the 1967 War. If the Trump, Friedman, and Netanyahu plans are enacted, they will hammer the final nail into the coffin of a Palestinian/Israeli peace.
Many see Israel’s “settlement” policy on the occupied West Bank in the same light as Russia’s illegal incursion into Eastern Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, which likewise threaten political and military stability in the area and further endanger world peace.
Historian Joel Spring refers to this “cultural genocide” defined as “the attempt to destroy other cultures” through forced acquiescence and assimilation to majority rule and standards. This cultural genocide works through the process of “deculturalization,” which Spring describes as “the educational process of destroying a people’s culture and replacing it with a new culture.”
An example of “cultural genocide” and “deculturalization” is evident in the case of Christian European American domination over Native American Indians, whom European Americans viewed as “uncivilized,” “godless heathens,” “barbarians,” and “devil worshipers.” White Christian European Americans deculturalized indigenous peoples through many means: confiscation of land, forced relocation, undermining of their languages, cultures, and identities, forced conversion to Christianity, and the establishment of Christian day schools and off-reservation boarding schools far away from their people.
The expansion of the republic and movement west was, in part, justified by overriding philosophical underpinnings since the American Revolution. Called “Manifest Destiny,” it was based on the belief that God intended the United States to extend its holdings and its power across the wide continent of North America over indigenous peoples from east coast to west. The doctrine of “manifest destiny” embraced a belief in American Anglo-Saxon superiority.
“This continent,” a congressman declared, “was intended by Providence as a vast theatre on which to work out the grand experiment of Republican government, under the auspices of the Anglo-Saxon race.”
A mid-19th century missionary wrote: “As tribes and nationals the Indians must perish and live only as men, [and should] fall in with Christian civilization that is destined to cover the earth.”
Throughout the Alaska territory, Christian missionaries, including Presbyterians, Catholics, and Moravians, vied to win converts. Simultaneously, the United States government issued laws barring Alaskan Indian ceremonies regarded as “pagan” and contrary to the spread of Christianity.
During the early years of the new republic, with its increasing population and desire for land, political leaders, such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, advocated that Indian lands should be obtained through treaties and purchase.
President Jefferson, in 1803, wrote a letter to then Tennessee political leader, Andrew Jackson, advising him to convince Indians to sell their “useless” forests to the U.S. government and become farmers. Jefferson and other government leaders overlooked the fact that this style of individualized farming was contrary to Indian communitarian spiritual and cultural traditions.
Later, however, when he inhabited the White House, Jackson argued that white settlers (a pleasant term for “land thieves”) had a “right” to confiscate Indian land. Though he proposed a combination of treaties and an exchange or trade of land, he maintained that white people had a right to claim any Indian lands that were not under cultivation. Jackson recognized as the only legitimate claims for Indian lands those on which they grew crops or made other “improvements.”
The Indian Removal Act of May 28, 1830 authorized President Jackson to confiscate Indian land east of the Mississippi River, “relocate” its former inhabitants, and exchange their former land with territory west of the River. The infamous “Trail of Tears” during Jackson’s presidency attests to the forced evacuation and redeployment of entire Indian nations in which many died of cholera, exposure to the elements, contaminated food, and other environmental hazards.
The Naturalization Act of 1790, excluded Native American Indians from citizenship, considering them, paradoxically, as “domestic foreigners.” They were not accorded rights of citizenship until 1924, when Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act, though Asians continued to be denied naturalized citizenship status.
In addition, though Jackson founded the Democratic Party and brought greater popular control to government, as a farmer, his wealth increased enormously through his enslavement of Africans, and he gave the lash to any who attempted escape.
I found a definition of “settler” as “a person who settles in an area, typically one with no or few previous inhabitants.” I would add an essential condition that for this person to settle, the area must not have prior claim by others who call it their home.
How could Columbus have discovered what would later be called “the Americas” when people lived on this land for an estimated 12,000 years after coming over the Bering Isthmus during a glacial age when sea levels dropped? How can one “discover” people who have been here so long? Actually, First Nation people discovered Columbus on their land!
We must interrogate (analyze) the concept of “settler,” of “discovery,” of “the New World” as distinguished from “the Old World.”
Say, for example, I own a house, and someone knocks on the door, walks in, pushes me outside, and claims: “I like your house, and I am now settling here. You be on your way. Goodbye!” And he slammed the door in my face.
“Manifest Destiny,” “annexation,” “settlements” represent different terms with similar meanings: unethical and immoral muggings and robbery of other people’s land. I fully support the United Nation’s courageous resolution.
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