Thursday, June 30, 2011

Jimbo on Flotilla 'Palestinians are living the American Indian Experience'

Palestinians are Living the American Indian Experience



By Jimbo Simmons, Choctaw


Photo: AIM's Jimbo Simmons, Bill Means, Lenny Foster and Mike Flores on Alcatraz. Photo by Brenda Norrell


I am one of a group of Indians from several tribes that have been keeping a spiritual vigil with a sacred fire burning continuously for more than two months at a place called Segora Te, which has held the remains of our ancestors for more than three thousand years. The city of Vallejo, California calls it Glen Cove, after one of the 19th century colonizers, and it now wants to develop the land. A similar project is taking place in Jerusalem, where Israel is building a so-called “Museum of Tolerance” on an ancient Muslim graveyard confiscated from Palestinians.
This is hardly the only experience that we share with Palestinians. Most of both peoples have been expelled from their ancestral lands. Both are denied anything more than token sovereignty for their people. Both are kept in abject poverty, which, in the case of the Palestinians, has been called, “putting Palestinians on a diet” by Israeli policy makers.
This year, I accepted an invitation from the Free Palestine Movement, a U.S. nonprofit, to sail to Gaza with the Freedom Flotilla. I recognize that Israel will probably not let us in, and may even use brutal means to discourage us. However, the 1973 Indian defense of Wounded Knee from assault by U.S. forces is also part of our experience, and a reminder that the struggle for our rights often demands sacrifice, whether we are Indian or Palestinian.
Israel claims self defense rights, but we pose no danger. We carry no arms, and no dangerous materials or persons. Under international law, Israel’s only right is to prevent the entry of arms, which will be assured by government inspection at the points of departure. However, we are very familiar with governments that use security arguments against defenseless civilians for the purpose of ethnic cleansing, and the way laws and treaties are disregarded by the powerful at the expense of the weak. This is unfortunately another experience that we share with Palestinians.
Over the last century, long after most of the great massacres of Indians had taken place, the federal government has been forcing us to chose tribal identities or to give up our native identity altogether, which is another way of erasing our identity. Little by little, attrition of our identity continues, as more members of our nations fail to qualify under standards that have been imposed upon us by agencies over which we have little or no control, and whose aim is to make Indians disappear entirely from the continent so that there will no longer be any discussion of allocating land or resources to us.
Our Palestinian brothers and sisters face a similar struggle. Today, less than half the Palestinians in the world possess an Israeli-issued identification card, which is their only means of remaining on their land. Israel also forces them to choose between jobs and education on the one hand, and retaining possession of their home on the other. Those who spend too much time away from home may be refused renewal of their residency permits, effectively exiling them forever from their ancestral home. For millions living in exile without ever having held such a card, the right to return to their homes remains a dream.
Where indigenous nations were once the only people in North America, they are now less than one percent of the population. Although a majority of Palestinians have also been driven out of Palestine, they still constitute almost half the population. Both of our peoples are resisting progressive genocide, which is why we have had an important solidarity relationship with each other for forty years or more. As a member of the American Indian Movement, I feel compelled to support and defend the indigenous Palestinian struggle and all other struggles for indigenous rights. We have welcomed and continue to value Palestinian participation in our struggle, so that all of our rights are respected and restored, and so that our people will live in full sovereignty in their homes.
William “Jimbo” Simmons is a member of the Choctaw nation and a member of the Governing Council of the American Indian Movement. He lives in Davis, California.

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