The Palestinians and their supporters have attempted to present their struggle as parallel to that of the Native Americans. This push was led by George Bisharat, an anti-Israel activist whose ancestors only immigrated to the holy land in the 1920’s, yet who nevertheless insists that he is an indigenous person who was forcefully uprooted, just like the Native Americans were. In reality, the Jews are Israel’s indigenous people, but that has not stopped pro-Palestinian organizations such as Adalah and the Students for Justice in Palestine from playing on the Native American struggle to serve their own interests. However, numerous Native Americans have rejected any comparison between their struggle and that of the Palestinians, preferring to identify with Israel instead.
As Ryan Bellerose, a member of the Métis nation in Canada, wrote, “The Palestinians are not like us. Their fight is not our fight. We natives believe in bringing about change peacefully, and we refuse to be affiliated with anyone who engages in violence targeting civilians. I cannot remain silent and allow the Palestinians to gain credibility at our expense by claiming commonality with us. I cannot stand by while they trivialize our plight by tying it to theirs, which is largely self-inflicted. Our population of over 65 million was violently reduced to a mere 10 million, a slaughter unprecedented in human history. To compare that in whatever way to the Palestinians’ story is deeply offensive to me. The Palestinians did lose the land they claim is theirs, but they were repeatedly given the opportunity to build their state on it and to partner with the Jews — and they persistently refused peace overtures and chose war. We were never given that chance. We never made that choice.”
To the contrary of Palestinian assertions, Bellerose sees parallels between the Native American struggle and that of the Jewish people. He asserted, “The Jews also suffered genocide and were expelled from their homeland. They were also rejected by everyone and forced to wander. Like us, they rebelled against imperial injustice when necessary and, despite their grievances, strived for peace whenever possible. Like us they were given a tiny sliver of their land back after centuries of suffering and persecution, land that nobody else had wanted to call home until then. Like us, they took that land despite their misgivings and forged a nation from a fractured and wounded people. And like us, they consistently show a willingness to compromise for the good of their people.”
Ryan Bellerose is far from the only Native American to feel this way. Santos Hawk Blood, a full blooded Native American who is an activist for Native American land and fishing rights, similarly proclaimed, “One indigenous people should support another indigenous people. I come from the same Apaches as Cochese and Geronimo, the Chiricahua people from Southern Arizona. Like all Apaches, we were warriors. When more passive Indians were attacked by marauding groups, we fought for them. It is a part of Apache culture to stand up for oppressed people and to respect all people who cherish their ancestral land. I admire the people who take a stand, and that’s why I admire the people of Israel: They’re people who stand up to defend their homeland. We are not with the Palestinian people.” His mother also declared, “The Jews are people like us. They have been forced from their land, forced to move from place to place. They have suffered like us and have been attacked wherever they go.”
Chief Anne Richardson of the Rappahannock Tribe in Virginia and Kathy Cummings-Dickinson, head of the Lumbee tribes in North Carolina, are supporters of the State of Israel as well. When the two female chiefs visited Israel in 2009, they declared, “We are here to deliver a message to the residents of Israel: Stand firm and united against the threats and pressure. We want to encourage Israel and the newly elected Knesset not to give in to those who try to pressure them to give up parts of the homeland. Surrender to this pressure is not a recipe for peace, but rather war. We stand beside you.” As Native Americans, they understand more than anyone else the consequences of attempting to give up land for peace.
Indeed, the Jewish people, who have always sympathized with the oppressed and have a history of assisting the Native Americans in their just struggle for civil and human rights. In 1973, over 500 Native American activists were jailed after battling with American forces at Wounded Knee. Over 80 percent of the lawyers assisting these Native American activists were Jewish. Israel has also formed a close relationship with the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana. Israel assists them with agriculture and trade, and the Coushatta have shown their appreciation by recognizing May 14th, Israel’s Independence Day, as a national Coushatta holiday. The Coushatta nation, like many other Native Americans, feel a special bond with the Jewish people due to the fact that both peoples have endured centuries of persecution, relocation and prejudice, while holding on to a strong commitment to their ancestral homeland.
By Rachel Avraham