31.1.13

Radical

My White mother told me this story once.

I was arguing with her about the need for Palestinian sovereignty in their own land when she brought up that the blame was not to be laid entirely on the Jewish settlers since the land was parceled up and distributed to them by the British government. Outraged, I shouted at her:

It was never theirs to give away to begin with!

Suddenly her voice got very quiet, thoughtful.

You know, she mused, that's exactly what a Palestinian once told me, back in the seventies when I was in college and we were having a debate about Palestine.

It was a time when the whole world was changing, different things were being contested, new things were suddenly being introduced to us, she carried on. Africa was fighting for freedom and suddenly it sprang up in our minds not as some dark savage continent made up of backwards people who would sell their own into slavery, but as a real place with some level of history and diversity and culture. In the midst of this we also had the Vietnam War going on, and people beginning to really question the values and morals our parents' generation had passed down to us. We started questioning the validity of what we had been taught and started rejecting more and more of it, especially seeing for the first time that these other people we were told for so long were so different from us were suffering by our hands in very recognizably human ways.

I was never a part of any of the movements that were going on around me. I felt an urge to, I wanted to be a part of this change that was happening from my generation, the young people demanding our elders live up to the spirit of the morals they kept insisting we follow....but I never got involved in anything. I don't know why, don't ask me. I wanted to, I just didn't. It wasn't my place.

Anyway, there was a Palestinian student studying at UNO where your father and I were also attending. I remember, this guy would go on and on about the British and the Israeli occupation. He was so angry about it, so adamantly against it, but the more I listened to it, the more it sounded to me like the state of affairs here in the United States. What with AIM and the Red Power movement and Wounded Knee looming large in our consciousness with demands for re-instatement of treaty rights and Indian sovereignty in their lands, what this young man kept telling me about Palestine began to sound to me exactly like the situation of the Indians in the U.S. And that's when it really hit home to me, what really struck some deep chord in me. I would ask him, okay, so if you kick all the Israelis out, where are they supposed to go? If you kick the Americans that originally immigrated and settled here all out, where are they going to go? You're talking generations of people! He would tell me "back to their homes!" or "somewhere else!" but as soon as I had made that connection in my mind to the Israelis and to my own Northern European immigrant ancestors here, his argument lost all ground with me. So, what, would you have all of us leave this place, too? This land wasn't originally ours, but now it's our home, so where would you have us go? Back to Europe? I don't think so.

It's a similar situation, Mom, but the difference is length of time, I reasoned. You're right, Israel is pursuing almost the exact same course that the Europeans did in coming to the Americas, but the difference is they've been at it for a shorter period of time. Here we're too mixed up in each other for it to make any sense to say "get out!" But at the time that Palestinian man was talking to you it could have been accomplished in Palestine even as it was being accomplished in Algeria and Tunisia and Ghana and South Africa and Vietnam. It may even still be able to be accomplished, since we're dealing with a shorter period of time that settler colonialism's been going on in Israel-Palestine, even though the longer things are postponed the more complicated and harder to extricate themselves they become. But I am also absolutely for Native American sovereignty as well, and the recognition of land and treaty rights here and for there to be a strong American Indian presence in the government and for them to be dealt with as sovereign nations of equal voice in the government of this nation and the decisions it makes. All these things need to happen, there needs to be a real recognition, an acknowledgement of native sovereignty over themselves and their land, both here and in any colony or settler colony-

It won't happen. My mother set her voice into a stubborn angle I knew too well, and I could see the mental walls going up. It won't happen. You're dreaming, girl. Get your head out of the clouds. It won't happen, she repeated a third time. Yet each time she circled back to the same three words it began to sound more and more to me like it wasn't me she was trying to convince, but that it was herself she was excusing.

As if to vindicate herself and her ancestors further, she continued:

Besides, if you look at the American Corners in these places, supporting the native people's control of their own information is exactly what they're all about! I mean, take Iraq for example-

We already did, Mom, I quipped.

Well......yes...but look at the American Corners there- and Iraq is doing so much better now, I just talked to some of the American diplomats who just came back from there, they all have very positive reports- they have funds set aside for the Iraqis to build their own libraries with. They just provide the money, and the Iraqis are able to build libraries in their communities and fill them with the books they want- within reason, of course. Isn't that great? And there's American Corners in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Israel- all over the Middle East and Africa and Asia. All over the world. So we are helping native people to manage their own resources. That's what American diplomacy is all about.

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