AT-TUWANI/ABORIGINAL JUSTICE REFLECTION: Seeking the peace of Palestine by engaging our own settler reality


27 September 2010
of Palestine by engaging our own settler reality.

by Steve Heinrichs

A life-changing thought came to mind
this past week while I was serving in the village of at-Tuwani. I was out
with Palestinian shepherds, watching the Jewish settlers of Ma’on construct
another large chicken barn on stolen Palestinian land. As I watched, all of a sudden, the
armed Jewish settlers and their bulldozers vanished from sight, only to be
replaced by other white settlers—persons of European origin, carrying Bibles,
guns, and Christian civilization. Then the Palestinian shepherds next to
me, a couple of young Muslim teenagers, also disappeared, and in their place
stood two men of First Nations origin.  And before I knew it, the desert
land beneath my feet began to tremble, and thousands of huge Douglas Firs
erupted from the hillsides, while a raging river full of salmon and steelhead
burst forth from the rocky valley below. 

There was no mistaking it.  I was
in my “home and native land,” my country of Canada, my province of British
Columbia. And as I looked around, I perceived the disturbing truth of the

Historian Norman Finkelstein thinks
what happened to the indigenous of Turtle Island (North America) is the best
analogy one can draw on to understand current events in Palestine—the ethnic
cleansing, the theft of lands, the racist policies. But I’m pressing
beyond illuminating parallels. Could
it be that the oppressions of these two peoples are connected in some deeper
way?  And could it be that we North Americans who seek justice in
Palestine cannot actually do this work with efficacy, let alone integrity,
unless we are seeking the same justice for the host peoples in our

We see (or read about) the Israeli
colonialists grabbing more and more land, and getting rid of more and more natives. We see and we cry out; we rage and resist. But where is the similar
protest on behalf of the peoples who have suffered the largest holocaust the
world has ever known?  Conservative estimates assert that there were at
least 10 million Native persons living on Turtle Island when Columbus
came. By 1900, only 250,000 were left. 

Where is our rage? And where is
our repentance as inheritors and benefactors of the North American settler
movement? If we condemn today’s Israeli settlers for stealing Canaan from
the Palestinians, what will we do about the Promised Land our settler forefathers
wrested from indigenous people, land that we’ve inherited, land that we live on
(and land, of course, symbolizing all our stolen wealth, power, privilege,
culture, etc.). Is that simply all
in the past?

We North Americans who are seeking
justice and peace for the people of Palestine need some new priorities: to get
to know the “Palestinians” back home, to hear their stories, and seek justice
in solidarity with them. If we did, greater integrity would certainly
come our way, but also something much more important. For in a cosmos in
which Creator has made everything interrelated, the fight for justice in both
places (abroad and at home) might mean that both peoples will experience some
kind of just peace sooner.

The distinguished Palestinian poet
Mahmoud believed and proclaimed that Palestinian and Native suffering were
profoundly connected. In his poem, “The Speech of the Red Indian,” he
tells settlers of all stripes—be they Jewish, North American or European—the
posture that we need to adopt in order to heal our one human body. It is
not a comfortable posture for us settlers. But it is the right and
necessary one, and so deserves the last word:

are dead who light up the night


the dead who come at dawn

to drink your tea

peaceful as on the day your

mowed them down.

you who are guests in this place,

leave a few chairs empty

your hosts to read out

conditions for peace

in a treaty with the dead.

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