the Palestinian experience through the historical monocle of Native Americans

‘‘I now think a little powder and lead is the best food for [the Indians]’
(S. Colley, U.S. Indian agent, quoted in Brown, 1972: 62).

The similarities between US and Israeli armies are startling- this is evident both in terms of tactics and strategies. Both armies had their roots in militias; both were reorganised for fighting guerilla warfare; both evolved through massacres, terrorism, assassinations, bounty hunting, scorched earth policies, collective retribution and economic co-option of the enemy; both armies are at the cutting edge of technical advancement and warfare theory; and, finally, both were directly politicised in the process of land grab and primitive capital accumulation necessary for the expansion of US and Israeli capitalism in a hostile environment. It is these factors rather than the magical power of Hollywood propaganda (cf. Churchill, 1998) that explains the deep-seated affinity of large segments of the US and Israeli populace with their respective armies.

The massacres at Sand Creek (1864) and Deir Yassin (1948) have eerie similarities. The Sand Creek massacre is sometimes dismissed as the result of the machinations of a racist ex-preacher, Colonel Chivington, who ‘seeking fame … deliberately stirred up trouble between the whites and the Indians, providing him with the excuse to attack the peaceful camp of Black Kettle’ (Hughes, 2001: 11). Likewise the massacre at Deir Yassin is at times simplistically blamed on the over-zealous Zionist militia of Menachem Begin (Rose, 1986: 53). Both incidents, however, were part and parcel of capital’s march towards expansion and consolidation. They were also examples of what nowadays is referred to as ‘ethnic-cleansing’- psychological and/or physical acts of terrorism calculated to change the demographics of conquered land. An alternative method of terrorism was to delegate responsibility to fringe groups thus exonerating the state from blame. For example, in 1982 the Israeli army used Lebanese fascists to ‘methodically slaughter’ the inhabitants of Sabra and Shatilla Palestinian refugee camps (Chomsky, 1983).

The superiority of the US and Israeli armies vis-à-vis their antagonists was underlined through a series of vicious tactics. Assassination of recalcitrant guerrillas was rife. Kicking Bird of the Kiowas had his coffee poisoned. At least he died with no ‘collateral damage’. Today ‘trigger happy mobile phones’, ‘hit squads’ and ‘smart missiles’ are deemed a more cost-effective method of dispatching Palestinians. Water supplies are destroyed/contaminated/stolen in a bid to both slow down enemy advance and/or limit the economic self-sufficiency of reservations (Melancholic Troglodytes, 2003). Each time the primitive accumulation of (Palestinian) capital approaches critical mass, a well is destroyed, rerouted or cordoned off.

Bounty-hunting which used to remove troublesome elements such as pirates and bandits deemed to be obstacles in the path of ‘progress’ has become an essential propaganda device designed to police entire nations. The Israeli army uses Druze Bedouins as ‘low-ranking desert trackers’ against other Arabs in a re-run of US use of ‘Indian scouts’. The Bedouin population has been subjected to waves of military ‘transfer’ from its Negev Desert grounds. Again in a bizarre replay of the story of Native Americans, the reclaimed Negev Desert is used by the Israeli army for its nuclear reactors and most of its nuclear arsenal (Cook, 2003). The use of torture in prison against Palestinians by Israel and Native Americans by the US was sanctioned at the highest levels with the aim of breaking the enemy. The Hamas electoral victory in Palestine allowed the US/Israeli axis to ignore some of the real differences between the historically non-religious Palestinian struggle and modern Islamists. The closer the Palestinian proletarian archetype merges with the Islamist in public perception, the easier it is for Israel and US to legitimise the torture and assassination of all political opponents.

Both the US and Israeli armies have been instrumental in not only defeating ‘the natives’ but also grabbing land and expanding the boundaries of capitalism. The so-called wars of independence are a case in point. The War of 1812 led by land speculators such as Andrew Jackson was not ‘just a war against England for survival, but a war for the expansion of the new nation, into Florida, into Canada, into Indian territory’ (Zinn, 1999: 127). Likewise a cursory look at the maps depicting Israeli expansion between 1947-49 shows clearly how wars were used to expand the frontiers of Israeli settlements and establish camps, ghettoes or reservations for the defeated Arabs. In the West one method of transforming reservations into camps was to allow cattle barons to graze across Native American land for a paltry fee. Soon larger tracts of land would be required and colonisation speeded up at the expense of the hunter-gatherer economy of the Natives. In Palestine the Wall plays a similar function in grabbing strategic land for the Israeli state and simultaneously ensuring the economic unproductivity of the remaining Palestinian reservations.

On a similar trajectory, Rodinson reminds us that, ‘Kibbutz collectivism was far more important for settling territory and guarding borders against dispossessed Arabs than for opening up a road to Jewish socialism’ (Rodinson, 1988: 21). Many working class Israeli settlers are manipulated by the state to move into zones of conflict in order to act as a buffer in the same way that in the 18th century the colonial officialdom had monopolised the good land on the eastern seaboard of America and was now forcing ‘landless whites to move westward to the frontier, there to encounter the Indian and to be a buffer for the seaboard rich against Indian troubles, while becoming more dependent on the government for protection’ (Zinn, 1999: 54). In both cases, the army was crucial in policing this anti-working class stratagem. And in both cases, the abused gradually transformed itself into the abuser as a matter of survival.

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If you sit by a river long enough, you'll see the body of your enemy float by.
Old Japanese proverb