Bearing Witness to Similarities between Native Americans and Palestinians

Guest contribution by Wafai Dias

When I first visited a Native American reservation in South Dakota with my school, Temple University, the similarities that I observed between Native Americans and Palestinians were so vast that they just kept piling up in my mind as the trip went on.

Both Palestinians and Native Americans are victims of ethnic cleaning, colonization and settler colonialism. The two peoples are far too familiar with war, death, occupation and bogus peace processes and negotiations that have only resulted in the loss of more of their land.

On our trip I learned that the Black Hills are extremely sacred land to Native Americans. Initially respecting this religious significance of the Black Hills, the United States government signed a treaty with the Natives in 1868 that clearly stated to all parties that the Black Hills belonged to the Native Americans.

However, when gold was discovered in the Black Hills the U.S. passed a treaty that in effect stole the Hills, to a point where today the Native Americans barely own 10 percent of their sacred land. In the early 1900s the faces of four Presidents were carved into these Hills — known today as Mount Rushmore — and the rest of the remaining land was turned into state and national parks. Although Natives today are allowed to practice their religious ceremonies in the parks within the Black Hills, they are regularly interrupted by the masses of tourists that flock to visit these landmarks.

As a Palestinian, one of the first places I visited on my trip to Palestine was the Al-Aqsa Masjid and the Dome of the Rock because of the importance of these sites to Islam and to me as a Muslim woman. Formerly this was Palestinian land; Muslims, Christians, Jews and the usual tourists enjoyed access to this area freely. But in 1967, Israel occupied Jerusalem, making visitation to the holy city dependent on which I.D. one holds, although this is illegal according to international law. Under relatively lax conditions, Palestinians holding either Israeli, foreign, or Jerusalem I.D. cards are allowed to visit the Al-Aqsa Masjid and the Dome of the Rock, typically for a very limited amount of time. On the other hand, Palestinians with West Bank I.D. cards are only allowed a visit during Ramadan, and even then there are restrictions on age and gender. Palestinians from the Gaza Strip are not allowed into the West Bank in the first place.

In many ways, Jerusalem is to Palestinians what the Black Hills are to Native Americans. Although some Palestinians are allowed to visit Jerusalem, we too are continually interrupted by sizable groups of tourists who seem unaware of the meaning of this land to us as the indigenous population. Tourists of the Black Hills gaze at the faces of the Presidents and the parks in amazement and admiration, unconcerned with the history of death and theft that led to its formation. Similarly, in Jerusalem, thousands of tourists flock to the area of the Al-Aqsa Masjid, oblivious of the history of Palestinian uprisings that attempted to end the obvious and deplorable occupation of the land

Some tour guides in the Black Hills and Jerusalem are trained to give cursory acknowledgement of the recorded history of Native Americans and Palestinians. However, most of the information provided on the tours is blatantly biased and inaccurate as it masks land theft and violation of the rights of indigenous people by both the United States and Israel, respectively.

Of course not all tourists are ignorant; some will do their own research and will recognize propaganda for what it is. But the vast majority of tourists are more likely to believe and regurgitate the propaganda to their families and communities.

Just as the Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem stare Palestinians down, constantly reminding us that we no longer control Palestine, the faces of the Presidents carved into the Black Hills is a constant reminder to Native Americans that they no longer own their land.

Just as the United States dehumanized Native Americans by calling them “savages,” Israel continues to dehumanize Palestinians by labeling us all as “terrorists.”

Poverty and unemployment are far too rampant amongst Palestinians in Palestine and amongst Native Americans living on reservations.

Despite the systematic oppression that both peoples face I noticed that we also share several cultural similarities.

Native Americans bead beautiful traditional accessories with several colors that signify their heritage. Likewise, Palestinians sew in a traditional stitching pattern known as tatreez with colorful patterns that are specific to our villages and towns.

Both peoples dance traditional folklore dances during weddings, graduation ceremonies, and other important events. At these events Palestinian woman swing their tongues from cheek to cheek to let out a joyous sound known as zaghareet. While I was at a Powwow, a traditional Native American ceremony, I was astonished to find out that Native American women also zaghrit just like us Palestinians!

Both peoples have elders that are always more than willing to share their endless knowledge of their historic and cultural heritage.

Both peoples are still living despite decades of desecration. Both peoples are still surviving, and both peoples are still existing.

This existence is resistance. And this type of resistance stands tall and strong against all of the systematic oppression that we face. We haven’t disappeared, we haven’t forgotten our history, and we refuse to let anyone take away our opportunity to be proud of the positive aspects of our history and culture.

The more that both peoples bead, sew, and dance traditional dances, the more we show the world that we are the sole owners of our history and culture, not the United States or Israel.

Every time we educate another generation about our history and culture, we prove that existence truly is resistance.

Wafai Dias is a recent graduate of Temple University where she majored in journalism. At Temple, Wafai chaired Students for Justice in Palestine and actively coordinated speakers and events throughout Philadelphia with groups working for justice in Palestine.


There are 10 comments

  1. J. L. Courtney

    Dias: “Both Palestinians and Native Americans are victims of ethnic cleaning, colonization and settler colonialism” True for Native Americans. Grossly false analogy, however, Native Americans living on patches of their ancient lands, surrounded by overwhelming numbers of people of like mind who disdain their sovereignty. Also true for Israelis: surrounded by overwhelming numbers of people of like religion, mind and same goal: eradicate them. Valid and firmer analogies exist for Israelis and American Indians. Nada for the Palestinians, though simplistic ones pop up once in awhile.

    1. David Wavey

      By the same token, the young USA Republic was surrounded by competitive and advanced European empires intent on possessing more of the world. Your analogy is worthless.

      As for “eradication,” this is the guilty conscience speaking not a statement of Palestinian political goals or intentions, or for the matter even historical war objectives. The guilty conscience of supremacists/colonialists is projected onto the “natives” such as to justify unsavory exclusivity and oppression of other people. Israel always faces extinction despite its defeat of armies, expansion of territory and support by the US. It is nonsense.

      Germans became more adamantly and murderously more “anti-semitic” as they became more threatened by civil (and eventually military) strategies from outside, starting with the 1933 Jewish boycott of Germany! Yes, apparently boycott is an acceptable strategy against a nascent Nazi state whose crimes against Jews were very limited at the time compared to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians today. Duplicity and Zionism are twins born of the same mother, supremacism/racism.

  2. RajaiD

    This is an amazing account of both Palestinian and Native American Culture and History. I would love to read more of what you have written. Your writing is intelligent and intriguing. Thanks for sharing!

  3. tim74836

    Sovereignty!!! I cant get that word out of my head. The Native American Indians lost it when the British left to get out of debt. Palestine lost it when the Zionist plan for a new territory, and resources became available thanks to WWI. The African Continent has lost it time and again for the same reasons. Turkey just sold out. Syria and Iran are fighting for theirs, and thank God they Zionists were kicked out of Russia, or they wouldn’t have a chance. Maybe now, in the golden age of the information super highway more unenlightened people like me will see that its no accident that colonialism is the death of Sovereignty. The Spanish did have the right idea when they removed the blood rituals from the Aztecs during their “investigation” in South America; in that respect, Spain did a good thing. Years later the Blessed Mother will ask a young native, (a christian convert on a pilgrimage), to gather some flowers.

  4. tim74836

    I forgot one of the most important countries, and a shining example of artificially instigating shame on an entire race; Germany didn’t just get rid of a dictator, they were brought down to a level of modern slavery using guilt.

      1. tim74836

        We all know Adolf Hitler was the most diabolical dictator of all time. He made Saddam Husein look like Saint Theresa. In the grand events that led to WWII the option was to remove him at all costs. That was taught in 4th grade history class. What isn’t sold to the public, or history lessons, however, was the populations desire to meet levels of Sovereignty using Hiltlers political, economic, scientific, and military establishments and use these tools to dig the population out of a great depression, and free them from usury. It worked, until the dictator used his military to place everyone he didn’t agree with in detention camps. The rest is morbid, and I don’t like to go their, we all know the details.
        What reactions did the US, Britain, France and Poland have toward the limited and screened television and radio broadcasts conveying the German public demeanor? Where they victims of a tyrant, or where they chastised as racists?
        For the first time in history a population took the fall for the leaders judgement, and accepted his war crimes as their own. The guilt in and of itself is a form of bondage that cannot be removed, no matter how much effort is placed on change.
        Lets compare: Do U.S. citizens, and the rest of the globe feel quilt toward the Native American Indians and how does that compare to how we all feel about WWI and WWII Germany? Slavery isn’t just about picking cotton, its a being unable to free the spirit from quilt.

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