DEMYSTIFYING THE QUEST FOR CANAAN
Subscribing to this tradition of decontextualization—most likely unwit-tingly—respondents to my newspaper column assumed that I also shared theseassumptions and therefore would be receptive to pragmatic arguments thatdelegitimate Palestinian aspirations by transferring attention to the supposedfolly of such ights of fancy in the United States. Yet in reality—again, mostlikely unwittingly—my argument was only reinforced and, with some work, canbe made stronger and more useful. For I have only a simple response to thequestion ‘If we return land to the Palestinians does this mean we should returnthe land to the Indians?’: Yes, the United States
return stolen land to theIndians. It is, after all, Indian land.
Savages, Terrorists, and the Animal Kingdom
Natives and Palestinians are perhaps the most versatile of earth’s species. In theirexperiences with colonization, their images have traversed much of the animalkingdom. Not only have they always been savages and terrorists—insults that,no matter how dehumanizing, at least imply humanity—they also have been,alternately or simultaneously: cockroaches, lice, moles, snakes, swine, grass-hoppers, beasts, ticks, leeches. At other times they are transposed from livingspecies to inanimate objects such as fecal matter or dead skin.These monikers are almost amusing in the sense that the racist impulsesinspiring them are so severe that one is hard-pressed to take them seriously. Infact, however, all of them can be found in the written American and Israeligovernment conceptualizations of Indigenes at a time when those governmentswere deciding and debating how their domestic policies should be constructed.Each of the monikers was uttered by an American president or Israeli primeminister, or by some other high-ranking government ofcial.
Given this reality,it is easy to understand how racism was institutionalized into colonial nations.The expressions of that racism change over time and according to expediencyof the moment, but they have yet to be eliminated. Expressions of racism mutatebased on the evolution of national culture, but they never can be expungeduntil national culture transforms itself by enacting meaningful reparations.Confronting transgressions with honesty is a prerequisite.One need not turn solely toward Native and Palestinian scholarship in orderto formulate a comparison between the two peoples. It is quite possible to do soby letting the United States and Israel speak for themselves. Robert F. Berkhofer,
American culture has evolved to the point where no American politician would say such things—unless he orshe is interested in a public relations nightmare. Therefore, in the United States, public discourse has beentransformed to a more civil framework, even if underlying attitudes have not evolved at all in some cases, asevidenced by the absence of apologies or meaningful reparations on the part of American leaders. In Israel,unfortunately, racist insults in the media and government are frequent. While those insults elicit protest, it is notyet enough for a politician actually to damage his or her career. This difference can be attributed to a timelineof acculturation. Israel is still a edgling nation involved in real wars with its Indigenes. The United States, forthe most part, has moved past that point in its history; battles are now conducted in the courtroom and media.When physical wars occurred, however, many of its leaders were no different from the variety evinced now inIsrael.