A Column By Jack D. Forbes
Native American Studies
University of California, Davis

Warsaw Ghetto and Indian Wars Remembered

Ariel Sharon's massive and apparently brutal assault on Palestinian cities and refugee camps in the West Bank brought to my mind several distinct, but parallel situations. First, I was struck by the experiences of Jews in pre-1939 Eastern Europe where government policies, especially in the Russian empire, had confined Jews to particular regions and to ghettoes within those regions. What is striking about this is that it directly parallels the Israeli expulsion of Palestinians from large areas of the West Bank and Gaza and their confinement in ghettoes located between and among Israeli settlements, military zones, and Jewish-only highways .


Is it true, then, that the Muslim and Christian Palestinians have become the " new ghettoized Jews, " restricted in their movements, locations, and livelihoods ? But even more striking is Sharon's attack upon the Palestinian "ghettoes" with a modern, mechanized, overwhelmingly powerful military force. Many Palestinians chose to fight back with what weapons they had available, including Palestinian Authority Police (who seem to be a target of Israeli attacks).


The Palestinian " uprising " reminds many people of the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto, when Polish Jews fought desperately and heroically against the Nazi Wehrmacht's attack with overwhelming military superiority. In both cases the attacking armies possessed immense tactical dominance. In both cases, defenders fought a desperate battle against time, with massive destruction all around them. Of course, I realize that Israeli expansionists and settlers in the West Bank and Gaza will deny the similarities but to me the facts are undeniable: the Israeli seizure of more and more land and resources in the post-1967 “occupied territories" ( " the Jewish pale " ) , the destruction of Palestinian economy and economic enterprises ( restriction of livelihood ), the ghettoization of Palestinians ( even to the denial of the use of exclusive Jewish highways ), the legitimacy of resistance against settler expansionism , further ghettoization , and military incursions ( the legitimacy of the uprising against Nazi authority in the Warsaw zone); and finally, the hostility or indifference of the Israeli and German majorities, apparently, to the predicament of 1939 Polish Jews and today's Palestinians. Many Germans of 1939 had, of course, become convinced that the Jews were a danger to the German Reich , that they were dangerous " others ". Today, many Israelis have also come to see Arabs, whether Christian or Muslim, as dangerous " others. "


But in looking at the land of Canaan (Kanaan) today, I am also drawn to the analogy of the " frontier " and the " Old West " in North America where the indigenous people, the so-called Indians, came to be seen as " dangerous others " whose very presence had to be erased in order to provide lebensraum ( living space ) for white settlers. The white settlers often put forth theories of " Divine Providence , " “God's will," " manifest destiny, " and racial or cultural superiority to justify the killing, removal and ghettoization of Native Americans . Everyone who has seen U.S. movies knows the story of white settlers moving on to Indian lands, the retaliation by Native warriors, the arrival of the White soldiers or militias, the defeat of the Natives, and the placement of the survivors in ever diminishing territories, such as Indian Territory, which soon, however are broken up by new white settlements. Indians are then confined to smaller reservations under the ever watchful eyes of soldiers and government agents.


The White settlers were always armed and always right! And so it is with the Jewish settlers placed in the Occupied Territories since 1967 and even since the Oslo peace accords.


It seems clear as a bell to me: the Arabs have become Israel's Indians. It's the Old West again, now acted out with the extra passion and fears resulting from the terrible Holocaust inflicted upon the European Jews by the Nazis. But even this is not totally different, since many white settlers in North America themselves had possessed ancestors persecuted in Europe because of religious beliefs or class origins. But it is clear that prior suffering, no matter how intense, does not always guarantee that settlers will feel empathy towards those whom they displace.


Native Americans often fought back against the invaders of their lands , sometimes killing civilians. Often this was because the overwhelming military superiority of the white army created the civilians as the only available targets. Similarly, the very success of the Israeli war machine has, tragically and ironically, made Israeli civilians the only realistically available target for most Palestinians. Settler expansionism into the lands of others often breeds violence, whether we approve of it or not. Can you imagine Native Americans trying to resist white expansion by nonviolent marches? They would have been mowed down like the Cheyennes were at the Sand Creek Massacre or Lakotas were at Wounded Knee! I certainly hope that the Muslims and Christians can adopt non-violent forms of resistance to Israeli settler expansion, but will the Israeli military respond positively?


I fear that the Israeli State is led by those who, like Andrew Jackson, are determined to take as much of the lands of the “others" as they can grab (and which now claims about 42% of the West Bank I am told). Is there not a simple solution: absolutely equal rights and treatment for all Israelis and Palestinians, whether refugee or rich, Jew, Christian, Muslim, Samaritan, Druze, or atheist/agnostic? What a radical idea! Any ethical people out there thirsting for “righteousness”?

[Jack Forbes, Powhatan-Delaware, is a historian, social critic, and poet, covering issues of international and inter-ethnic relations for 45 years. His web site is <://>