Peace in the land of Kanaan
The dispute between Jews and Arabs in the ancient land known variously as Kanaan (Canaan), Palestine (Filistina), and Israel seems to be irresolvable, and yet I believe that one can find solutions. From a Native American perspective we are able to sympathize with both the need to return to a homeland of one's own, and the desire not to be displaced by "settlers."
I have great respect for the contributions made by Jews to the struggle for justice, in the U.S. and elsewhere. Still, the history of settler-colonialism teaches us that any ethnic group can be corrupted by becoming engaged in the process of occupying lands, homes, and towns formerly possessed by a different ethnic group. This corruption has happened to many Jews in Palestine, just as it happened to British settlers in North America, Dutch settlers in South Africa, French settlers in Algeria, et cetera.
Settlers, literally guns-in-hand, behave in surprisingly universal modes of aggression, self-justification, rationalization, assertions of racial/cultural superiority, doctrines of divine favor or manifest destiny, and extreme anger and hatred at efforts made by the displaced populations to assert rights or to resist. The resulting struggle remakes the colonial-settler's culture into a classic one of superiority and imperialism, with justification often for the use of terror, mass expulsions, torture, and, in general, the suspension of the higher religious and ethical values which may have prevailed among the settlers. Thus the settlers become a new kind of people, as do those who are displaced.
The basic principle of my plan is that every person having a stake in Kanaan/Palestine/Israel must be treated as having rights: what is offered to one must also be offered to the other. This is a principle of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and of international laws and treaties. In practical terms, this means that if "the right of return" and assistance is to be available to Jews it must also be available to Muslims, Christians, and others of Palestinian/Kanaanitish origin.
A second principle is that the several regions of Kanaan are so connected economically, geographically, historically, and spiritually, that an entity must be established which brings together all peoples of the land, which enables them to deal with issues of trade, water, pollution, waste, development, protection of historical and religious places, etc. I suggest the formation of an all-Kanaan entity which might be called the Organization of Kanaan or the Union of Kanaan or the Commonwealth of Kanaan. Kanaan is suggested as the name because of the neutrality of this ancient name.
A third principle is that contested areas shall be placed under the jurisdiction of the Organization of Kanaan rather than under the jurisdiction of Israel or a Palestinian state. This means that Kanaanitish authority would exist over the contested holy sections of Jerusalem and also probably over highways connecting Gaza and the West Bank, and perhaps over port facilities needed by both entities, along with the vital watershed's used by both member entities.
A fourth principle is that the Organization of Kanaan would be constituted in such a way that gradually, as greater trust is developed in the region, its functions might be expanded to include jurisdiction over commerce and related matters so as to lead to the existence of a common economic community, but that would be for much later.
A fifth principle is that some form of neutral judicial entity be created so as to deal with questions of land seized illegally, persons ousted from their homes by violence, the restitution of lost property, et cetera, based upon principles of fairness without regard to the religion or language spoken by claimants, but with due regard to the principle that equity requires a balancing of interests in a supremely humanistic manner.
In 1879 Nez Perce Chief Joseph said: "If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian he can live in peace... Treat all men alike. Give them all the same law. Give them all an even chance to live and grow. All men were made by the same Great Spirit Chief. They are all brothers. The earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it... Let me be a free man--free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade, where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to think and talk and act for myself--and I will obey every law, or submit to the penalty." Isn't this a recipe for peace in Kanaan?
© 2002 Professor Jack D. Forbes, Powhatan-Delaware, is a historian, social critic, and poet, covering issues of international and inter-ethnic relations for 45 years. He is the author of Red Blood, Africans and Native Americans, Apache, Navaho and Spaniard and other books. He is professor emeritus of Native American Studies, University of California, Davis. He can be contacted at his web site.
This article was originally published in News From Indian Country mid August 2002 issue.