The events that unfolded on October 7 in Israel and Palestine culminated, for me, in a self-taught crash course on Middle Eastern history. I quickly realized how lopsided my education of the intricate and devastating history between these two nation states had been. The more I witnessed events unfolding, the more aghast I became, and the more questions I had.
The attack by Hamas on an Israeli music festival seemed horrific enough. From the information we received online, on the radio, and on television, it was being touted as an unprovoked attack by a terrorist organization. Within a couple of days, however, the violence exacted in supposed “defense” by the Israeli government nagged at me. It reminded me of something all too familiar to me and my family, members of the Hupa tribe of California: the genocide of American Indians, first by European and British settlers, and then the US government, under the guise of “manifest destiny.” While the timelines are not the same, the similarities between the socalled “Indian Wars” and the current violence unfolding in Gaza and the West Bank are stark, and are reminders that these things do not happen in a vacuum.
In the developing United States, what began in the 1600s as the usual commerce, political, and religion-driven violence wrought by European countries, soon evolved into campaigns by white settlers to take every speck of land and resources on the continent. By the 1830s, when westward expansion went into overdrive with the discovery of California gold, tribes were given two options in what was called the “Indian Removal Act,” dreamed up by the man on the USD $20 bill, Andrew Jackson. They could either be herded off their ancestral lands onto reservations or be legally murdered by the military and armed settlers. This is the exact same “choice” being thrust upon Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank right now.
Oftentimes, as with the Sand Creek massacre of 1864, even treaty agreements did not protect Indigenous people from the US government’s unending greed. Under the direction of Colonel John Chivington, a Methodist preacher and – ironically – an abolitionist, the First Colorado Regiment was given the go-ahead to slaughter
every Indigenous man, woman, and child on sight. The excuse was that a group of rebellious Indians, already outgunned and outmanned by the US government, had violently protested their land being stolen from them. As with the Hamas fighters in Israel, they were killed, but the government decided that a lesson still had to be
taught, and the massacre commenced. According to the US, it was only incidental that even more land was available for the taking. A dead Indian, like a dead Palestinian, will not complain when their land is stolen from them.
As this violence against Palestinians continues, it exhibits every aspect of that unhinged American settler-colonial mindset, the type that springs from a lumbering, blind, monolithic power, whose only purpose is to grow larger. Governments like this destroy until nothing is left but the material things it hungers for: land and resources. Much like the Indigenous tribes of 1800s US, residents of Gaza and the West Bank, who once moved freely throughout Palestine, have had their land violently taken by outside forces and parceled, divided, and parceled again, shrinking in less than a few decades to mere smudges on the map. Their freedom was tightly muzzled for decades, and now they are being murdered before our eyes. Like my ancestors, their very existence stands in the way of a power-hungry government’s desire to grow unimpeded.
I see the commonalities between America’s history of violence against Indigenous people and the current iteration of Israeli violence against Palestinians as taking three dominant forms. The first is dehumanization. To this day the Declaration of Independence refers to Indigenous Americans as “merciless Indian savages”; Nazi Germany referred to Jews as “racially inferior”; Golda Meir simply announced that Palestinians “do not exist”
and current heads of the Israeli state refer to all Palestinians as terrorists and human animals. The second is resource and movement control. Whether instating crippling blockades or doling out life-giving resources such
as water, settler-colonial governments know it’s easier to break the will of a people if it’s nearly impossible for them to conduct everyday business. The third is the weaponization of victimhood. As people, including Jews, begin to speak out against Israel’s blatant genocide, Israel’s supporters try to silence them with references to the Holocaust – an undeniable horror we have vowed never to allow again – and in this they have been successful. American governmental authorities would often portray Indian self-defense as a kind of terrorism, and levy this narrative as an excuse for mass killings in the conquest for more.
In this, the Israeli and US governments are the same to me. According to them, the Palestinians and American Indians are just the soft tissue that gets in the way of the machine. Is this Israel’s manifest destiny?
Come support Palestinians, Jews, Indigenous people, and allies alike every Sunday at 2 p.m. in Santa Rosa’s Courthouse Square.
Oona Risling-Sholl is a Hupa/Karuk/Yurok/white writer and artist residing in Sonoma County.