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Posts Tagged ‘wounded knee’

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.

—Arundhati Roy

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Lakota Sioux along the Brule River

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Wounded Knee, December 29, 1990

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The medicine man

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Ibrahem Shatali

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Palestinian men bury the body of 4-year-old Lama Hamdan at Beit Hanoun cemetery in the northern Gaza Strip December 30, 2008. Lama and her sister were reportedly riding a donkey cart Tuesday near a rocket-launching site that was targeted by Israel. (MOHAMMED SALEM/Reuters)

INTRODUCTION

The Lakota Sioux Indian people, those massacred at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890 (that anniversary came just two days after the beginning of the massacre, December 27, 2008] had lived on the Plains for more than 100 years, long before white people settled there. And their roots on the North American continent continue back for perhaps 15,000 years. They were long-term residents. Whites entered the region in the early 1800s, mainly in wagon trains heading further west—to settle, they were settlers, they built settlements. Many of these whites believed god was on their side, that they had rights to the land because of their superior culture and because of their affinity with god.

Are there significant parallels between the massacre at Wounded Knee and the current massacre in Gaza?

OUTLINE

Lakota Sioux, 1890 Palestinians, 2008-2009
Some 300 killed As of January 9, 2009, more than 780 killed, 3300 injured and increasing
A few rifles, knives, perhaps bows and arrows Rudimentary rockets and mortars, some rifles
Against rapid firing Hotchkiss cannon
and other heavy weapons
Against Apache helicopters, F16 fighters, artillery, gun boats
Few noticed but some outcry existed Few noticed or spoke out, even among Arab-Muslim states, limited UN role
Massive firepower did not discriminate between Indian and civilian Massive firepower did not discriminate between Hamas militant and civilian
Forced onto reservations Forced into a concentration camp
White fear, in part a misreading of the Ghost Dance Jewish fear, in part a misreading of the Hamas Covenant
Memory of Indian raids, and especially Custer’s loss 14 years earlier Memory of the holocaust and two millennia of persecution of Jews
US belief in armed force, the
government resisted negotiations
Israeli belief in armed force, the government resists negotiations
Faulty treaties Faulty agreements, such as Oslo
Awarding Congressional Medals of Honor to 27 officers and soldiers Possible lauding of the officers and soldiers
Widespread white support Widespread Israeli and international Jewish support
Last major armed confrontation between Indians and rulers Last major armed confrontation between Palestinians and rulers?
Cemented white supremacy in the
United States
Cemented Israeli supremacy?
Accountability: virtually none altho some called for a truth and reconciliation process Accountability: virtually none altho some might call for a truth and reconciliation process, tribunal, or other forms of international adjudication
No rebuilding of the nation How will rebuilding of Gaza occur?

SET THE STAGE

For most of the 19th century the US army had forced American Indians from their ancestral areas into confined zones, mostly reservations with few natural resources. The Lakota Sioux people, a vigorous and hearty group of Plains Indians with roots on the east coast, were first “transferred” onto the Great Sioux Reservation (GSR), a large area in what is now South and North Dakota and Wyoming. This region shrank dramatically when gold was discovered in the Black Hills, originally a part of the GSR and for at least 2 centuries a sacred site for Lakota. By 1890 the remaining lands were minuscule compared with what Lakota roamed over in the late 18th century.

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General Sherman and other government officials with Lakota Sioux meeting about the treaty forming the Great Sioux Reservation in 1867

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For good reason many Lakota resisted this imprisonment, notably Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. Whites orchestrated the murder of Crazy Horse by his own people, and then in December 22, 1890, Sitting Bull, also by his own Lakota. A band led by the peace chief, Big Foot, fled south. They were trapped along the Wounded Knee creek in the Pine Ridge Reservation. Next morning, surrounded by elements of Custer’s old unit, the 7th Calvary, they were massacred. Some 300 died, most of them women and children and elderly. Warriors offered little resistance, since they lacked effective weapons. (Incidentally, early road signs erected by the state of South Dakota called the massacre a “battle” until many opposed this misnaming and the state agreed to change the wording to “massacre” at Wounded Knee.)

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Chief Big Foot propped up in death for a photograph

Prior to the massacre, whites had been settling in the area. Observing the Ghost Dance of the Lakota people, a failed attempt to non-violently resist white incursion, local whites mistook this for a war dance. They feared; they demanded army protection. Using newly developed weaponry which had not been fully field tested, mostly the Hotchkiss rapid firing cannon, the soldiers, some of them reportedly drunk, many of them recalling the debacle of their once heralded leader, General George Custer at the Battle of Greasy Grass or Little Big Horn, fired on everyone in the camp. Chief Big Foot, already sick from pneumonia, was one of the first killed.

People in the East noticed; there was an outcry against the massacre, leading to a hearing that questioned the officers. They were cleared, and many officers and soldiers awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

POSSIBLE PARALLELS

Now, what might be parallels with the current killings in Gaza? Is it fair to call the Israeli attack on Gaza a massacre? Is it a battle? Is it the proper and legal exercise of Israel to defend itself? Is it justified killing?

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A wounded Palestinian girl is carried into the Al-Shifa hospital on December 28, 2008 in Gaza City, Gaza. (Abid Katib/Getty Images)

As of this writing, January 9, 2009, at least 795 Palestinians are now dead (martyred in in the language of many Palestinians—a word I concur with), upwards of 3300 are injured (400 of them dangerously), at least 10 Israeli soldiers and 5 Israeli civilians are dead, some soldiers by friendly fire, some by militants shooting rockets and perhaps using other weapons. An unknown number of casualties lie beneath rubble. Among the dead—230 are children, 92 women, 60 elderly men, 6 medical assistants, 2 journalists, and 3 foreigners. (statistics based on UN and Red Cross figures) Estimates of the  proportion of civilian causalities ranges from 20% to more than 60%, that percentage rising with the ground campaign now underway. The carnage continues as I write this.

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Many bodies lie outside the Hamas police headquarters following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on December 27, 2008. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)

Most media and most governments in the western world state, “Israel has a right to defend itself. The attacks will stop when Hamas stops firing rockets. Hamas broke the truce with their rockets.” However, numerous observers counter this and declare, “Back up a few steps. Israel has kept the Gazans under siege for nearly 2 years, ever since Hamas was elected in an open, fair, democratic election. Gazans have been suffering food, water, medical, and educational deprivations during this period, on top of the occupation that dates back to at least 1967. During the recent 6-month truce, ending on December 19th, Israel did nothing to end the siege. Palestinian rocket fire decreased dramatically.

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Samera Baalusha (34) (right) sits with her daughter Eman (15) and surviving son Mohamad (15 months) while waiting to see the body of her 4-year-old daughter Jawaher Baalusha during the funeral held for Jawher and her four other sisters who were all killed in an Israeli missile strike, on December 29, 2008 in the Jebaliya refugee camp, in the northern Gaza Strip. Jawher Baalusha and her sisters were killed during an Israeli air raid while they were sleeping together in their bedroom. Medics stated that the raid had targeted a mosque near their home in Jabalia. (Abid Katib/Getty Images)

Until recently the US either blocked the UN Security Council from issuing a cease-fire demand or abstained from voting. In addition, the US Senate voted unanimously for an unqualified declaration of support for Israel. Should Israel be found to be committing war crimes, the US Senate is complicit. Not only that but the US supplies most of the weapons used by Israel, including helicopters, fighter jets, heavy artillery and communication equipment.

In early November Israel broke the truce by attacking tunnels and homes at the ends of those tunnels that they claimed were used by militants to bring in weapons. They killed some 5 Palestinians. Only then did Hamas and other armed groups significantly increase launching their home made, poorly targeted rockets and mortars on Israeli civilians. They also deployed for the first time longer-range rockets. Indeed, Israel’s attack did nothing to stop the rocket fire, it exacerbated it. These rocket attacks on civilians are deplorable and constitute war crimes. I and many others oppose them. Do they justify the disproportionate Israeli attacks?

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A medic crouches over the body of an Israeli man after he was killed in a rocket attack launched from the Gaza Strip and hit the southern Israeli town of Netivot on December 27, 2008 following Israeli bombardment on the Palestinian costal strip. The rocket attack killed one man and wounded four others, according to the Magen David Adom, Israel’s equivalent of the Red Cross. (HAIM HORENSTEIN/AFP/Getty Images)

During the late 1800s, whites claimed Indians had few rights to the lands they’d inhabited for centuries, and that Indian attacks on setters were grounds for retaliation. North American rulers left out the prior history—American Indian domination of the entire continent. And the fact that Indians never invited whites into their lands. Whites invaded and called it the equivalent of “Manifest Destiny,” or god’s will. They did not recognize the Indians rights to defend themselves, violently if necessary. Instead Indians were termed bloodthirsty savages, the 19th century equivalent of “terrorists.”

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Rosemary Jumping Eagle, town of Wounded Knee, 1982

Moreover: overwhelming white firepower against the Lakota matches Israel’s overwhelming force. World opinion, at least the western world, then and now, match. Resisting honest negotiation matches. Source of weapons matches for the most part: cannon, rifles, revolvers and ammunition used at Wounded Knee, and Apache helicopters, F-16 fighter jets, 155 mm artillery rounds, artillery firing those rounds, missiles, rockets, bombs, all or mostly all USA made, and communication equipment made at least in part by Motorola, bulldozers if used manufactured by Caterpillar. Motives match: wipe out the Indians, wipe out the Palestinians, whether with the velvet glove, making conditions of survival so dismal that most, if allowed, would flee (as is happening in the west bank), or under cover of the “right to defend itself” commit outright murder—the Hanukah Massacres.

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An Israeli F15 fighter made in the United States flies over the northern Israeli-Gaza Strip border on December 28, 2008. (JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

OUTCOMES

Will results match? American Indians, altho surviving, are much diminished. What will become of the Palestinians? How will the Gazan nation—and the equivalent of a small nation it is—rebuild itself? Till now Israel prevents all building materials and most chemicals, experts, and money from entering. Unless the world community, thru the United Nations and the international court system, applies significant pressure, I’m afraid Israel will maintain its course of impunity. One possibility, as might be happening now in the US: self-destruction. A suicidal course. The minor empire in the Middle East, the “only democracy in the Middle East with its “army of pure means,” might founder. Israel, like the US, struggles with a hopelessly contradictory set of founding principles, more dishonored than honored. Can a nation hope to survive with such cognitive dissonance? Perhaps Marx will be right after all, not about the imminent implosion of capitalism, but of certain western nations whose war making boomerangs on them.

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PERSONAL INVOLVEMENT

I am personally involved in both themes, American Indians and Palestinians. I’ve visited Wounded Knee several times, most recently for the Big Foot Memorial Ride to Wounded Knee in 1990, commemorating the centennial of the massacre. Inspired by Black Elk who prophesied that the seventh generation of Lakota would be the last generation able to “Wipe Away the Tears” and  “Mend the Sacred Hoop,” i.e., end the mourning period and rebuild the nation, for two weeks the ride traversed the same path at the same time of the year used by Big Foot and his people. I’ve camped near Wounded Knee, summer and winter, and have felt the powerful negative—and positive—force fields emanating from the earth. I grieve for the Lakota people and all native peoples who have been dispossessed. However, I do not feel their cause is hopeless.

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Big Foot Memorial Ride to Wounded Knee, December 1990

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Big Foot Memorial Ride to Wounded Knee, December 1990

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Big Foot Memorial Ride to Wounded Knee, December 1990

Similarly I’ve been 3 times to Gaza since 2004, most recently just one year ago, January 2008. I’ve lived under the siege, suffering the loss of electrical power, the sealed borders, the lack of food, the buzz of the drone that might target me at any moment, the nearness of death—and the presence of resilience, sumud, in Arabic, steadfastness. I’ve met young men volunteering in their communities to serve the poor, I’ve met members of the Palestinian Initiative, a group dedicated to nonviolently ending the fighting between rival political parties, I’ve worked with the Gaza Community Mental Health Program watching as psychologists assessed the psychic damages of the siege on children (their offices suffered indirect attacks recently and are closed), and the American Friends Service Committee’s youth programs training in community building and leadership skills. And I’m in close daily contact—if electricity and Internet work—with friends in Gaza. I also hope to return in summer 2009. What and who will greet me then?

I was not able to be present during the Wounded Knee of 1890. I’m unsure what I’d have done if knowing about the impending massacre, or what I’d call for once I’d learned its results. I am sure about Gaza: the occupation of Palestine is apartheid, the attack on Gaza is a massacre, several parties are committing war crimes, and all must be held accountable, as is true for all those governments supporting Israel’s occupation, siege, and ruination of Gaza. Which includes me, as a citizen of the United States. Especially if I pay income tax. I can act, you can act. Now.

Some are guilty but all are responsible.

—Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

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The body of a Palestinian security force officer lays in the rubble after an Israeli missile strike on a building in Gaza City, Sunday, Dec. 28, 2008. (AP Photo/Fadi Adwan)

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Eli Azran father of Irit Shitrit (39), a mother of four, leans over her dead body as he mourns during her funeral on December 30, 2008 in Ashdod, Israel. Shitrit was killed yesterday by a Hamas rocket in Ashdod, Israel, after hearing a warning siren and taking shelter in a roadside bus stop. (Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

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Holocaust Remembrance Day, 2009

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Links:

Truly horrible photos from inside Gaza

“Too much to mourn in Gaza”
By Eva Bartlett, Live from Palestine, 8 January 2009

“US weaponry facilitates killings in Gaza”

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