December 4, 2009
A People’s History of Thanksgiving
By Ramzy Baroud
This week Americans will observe ‘Thanksgiving’ commemorating a romanticized era in their nations record, celebrating the supposed solidarity and brotherhood enjoyed by the first settlers and the indigenous people of what is now called the United States. However, this fantastic tale of friendship contradicts the candid remarks of many notable personalities in US history.
Few can be as blunt regarding the legacy of the United States toward the native people of this land as the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. In his narrative, “The Winning of the West,” Roosevelt spoke about the “spread of the English-speaking peoples over the world’s wasted spaces.” He wrote: “The European settlers moved into an uninhabited waste…the land is really owned by no one…. The settler ousts no one from the land. The truth is, the Indians never had any real title to the soil.”
In an interview with the British Sunday Times, on June 15, 1969, former Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir made similar claims, stating, “There was no such thing as Palestinians. It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country from them. They did not exist.”
While Native Americans and Palestinians were the ancient indigenous peoples of their lands, this was of little or no relevance to the foreign settlers. What really mattered was “Manifest Destiny”, what really mattered was “Zionism”.
Roosevelt goes on: “The world would probably not have gone forward at all, had it not been for the displacement or submersion of savage and barbaric peoples as a consequence of the armed settlement in strange lands of the races who hold in their hands the fate of the years.”
In the mid forties, David Ben-Gurion declared that Israel is adopting a system of “aggressive defense. With every Arab attack we must respond with a decisive blow: the destruction of the place or the expulsion of the residents along with the seizure of the place.”
My grandparents, mother and father, along with nearly one million people were expelled from their land after the brutal destruction of 418 villages and towns, and the murder of thousands of Palestinians. They spread in all directions, mostly on foot to clear space for the Chosen People. They settled in refugee camps, concentration camps, which are still in existence until today. My grandparents along with my mother, father and brother are buried in one of those camps.
Ben Gurion retired in 1963, four years before Israel invaded the rest of Palestine, the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. It created another tragedy, another dispossession, all with the hope that the state of Israel can become purely Jewish. Israel defied international law that called for the right of return for Palestinians refugees. Instead, it instituted its own law, shortly after its establishment in 1948, issuing the right of return for Jews only. Any one of Jewish race, anywhere in the world was and is still allowed to come to Palestine, granted citizenship, to live free of charge on a land that is not his, in a place where he does not belong.
Amid this savagery, land grabbing and dehumanization of the victims, both the United States and Israel have managed to convince themselves that the way they treated their victims was in fact humane and civilized. “No other conquering or colonizing nation has ever treated savage owners of the soil with such generosity as has the United States,” Roosevelt said.
Likewise, what many have called “the most moral army in the world”, many Israeli officials could very well be held to international account for their involvement in Israel’s infamous Operation Cast Lead, which lead the to deaths of nearly 1,500 innocent civilians in the Gaza Strip just about one year ago.
From targeting civilians to completely ravaging the civilian infrastructure to using civilians as human shields to using illegal weapons on civilians, the Israeli army rose to new heights regarding the capacity and potential of human savagery.
Judge Richard Goldstone, who lead the UN delegation said that he had witnessed things in Gaza that would give him nightmares for the rest of his life. Such contemporary acts of barbarity bring to mind comments made by Roosevelt regarding the conduct of his armies: “No other conquering or colonizing nation has ever treated savage owners of the soil with such generosity as has the United States.”
Please allow me to shift the course of my thoughts to finish with these great words from the 1927 Grand Council of American Indians:
“We want freedom from the white man rather than to be integrated. We don’t want any part of the establishment, we want to be free to raise our children in our religion, in our ways, to be able to hunt and fish and live in peace. We want to be ourselves. We want to have our heritage, because we are the owners of this land and because we belong here.
“The white man says, there is freedom and justice for all. We have had their “freedom and justice,” and that is why we have been almost exterminated. We shall not forget this.”
Similar are the sentiments of Abdelrazik Abu al-Hayjah, the Palestinian Administrator of the Jenin refugee camp, who declared after the Israeli massacre of Jenin in 2002:
“If they will destroy the camp many times, the people of Jenin will rebuild it, because with every time the peoples’ courage and determination intensify. The more Israel brutalizes Palestinians, the stronger their resistance shall be. Israel cannot resolve its problems by force. They have to understand that Palestinians’ quest for freedom cannot be stopped. Its only human nature for people to resist, to regain their freedom.
“The (Palestinian) people do not hate Israelis because their names are different, or because their language is different. Nor do they hate them because they have anything against the Jewish religion, but because they are occupiers, and as long as they are occupiers, the resistance will go on. The Palestinian resistance shall live as long as the occupation lives.”