RUSSELL RICKFORD: We are going to get started. We got a lot of work to do. Either there are more anti-imperialists at Cornell than I had imagined. Or maybe they all are here to heckle-- maybe a little of both.
Good evening. My name is Russell Rickford. I teach in the history department. And I'm a member of Black Lives Matter Ithica. As always, we begin this evening by acknowledging that we stand on the traditional homeland of the Cayuga Nation.
I'd like to thank our many co-sponsors. Conversations about liberation at home and abroad are critical in this moment. We are grateful for those who help to make this evening possible.
And they include American Indian and Indigenous Studies, Latina/Latino Studies, American Studies, Asian American Studies, Feminist Gender and Sexuality Studies, Africana Studies and Research Center, Institute for Comparative Modernities, Society for the Humanities, Government, Anthropology, Near-Eastern Studies and Comparative Literature. That's quite a roll call, isn't it? That's all the knowledge you need. You might need some history, too, though.
Of course, we owe a special thank you to Ula Piasta-Mansfield of the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program. She played a huge role in putting this together. Where is Ula? Stand up, Ula. Come on. Thank you so much.
Thanks to all the young radicals. Y'all can give yourselves a round of applause.
The anti-racist, the antifascist, the anti-sexist, the anti-imperialists-- and, oh, yes, the anti-capitalists. You aspire us to keep organizing and keep raising hell.
I'd like to ask you to briefly frame the historical moment in which we find ourselves and in which we Steven to campus. And I got about four minutes left. We good.
I've been thinking a lot about irony lately. A recent leak of government documents revealed that the FBI has identified, quote, "black identity extremists" as a major threat to law and order. This at a time when, on an almost daily basis, deeply alienated white men, members of the grotesque fraternity of gun cultists and domestic abusers, go on shooting rampages slaughtering scores of innocents.
On one hand, you have a group of people claiming that black life matters, that black people will not subject to ethnic cleansing. According to the state, these folks are fanatics. They must be brought to heal.
On the other hand, you have perpetrators of mass killings. Well, those people are troubled. They are misfits and lone wolves. We can't possibly stop them. Of course, our thoughts and prayers go out to the families.
Well, that strikes me as ironic. But if we're honest, we have to recognize that such contradictions lie at the heart of white supremacy and the empire. Empires lies, distort and deceive. They always have.
Imperialism cannot tell the truth. It cannot reveal its mission. It cannot simply confess that its aims are conquest, domination, and expropriation profit. So it deploys the standard rationales. It claims to be acting in the name of security, stability, or most laughably, democracy.
The War on Terror is a modern version of the civilizing mission. It is a pretext for colonial occupation. It exists to legitimate a permanent war on all enemies, domestic and foreign.
The savage, you see, must be killed or contained with drones, or tanks, or checkpoints, or apartheid walls, with fire hoses, or poisoned blankets, contaminated water, or withhold water altogether, denying electricity. Bulldoze her home. Steal his harvest. Settle on her land.
Force him onto a reservation. Imprison her. Militarize his neighborhood. Capture and traumatize her children-- degrade, de-humanize, de-base. Standing Rock, Ferguson, Gaza-- kill the savage or contain her. Label him a criminal, a thug, an enemy combatant, an illegal, bad hombre.
And through all this, never the colonialist carries out the act of terror, who commits the capital offense The white nationalist, the finance capitalist, the militarist, the mercenary, they are exempt. But the refugee, the [INAUDIBLE], the displaced, the dispossessed, they are guilty at birth. Indeed, their birth is their crime.
So imperialism demonizes them, declares them an existential threat. In other words, it lies. And if those lies do not sufficiently demoralize the opposition, the Black Lives Matter activists rush to Standing Rock to help confront Stormtroopers.
Or if residents of the occupied territories tweet advice on dealing with tear gas to protesters on the streets of Ferguson, then imperialism turns to other forms of repression. It criminalizes descent. It attempts to outlaw the surging, Boycott, Divestment and the Sanctions movement, or BDS.
It equates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. It promotes blackness and witch hunts. It levels conspiracy charges.
Ultimately, however, these are rearguard actions. Sure, most intellectuals are intimidated into silence. But there will always be those who refuse to bow to reaction.
They know that all empires collapse, and that colonialism and apartheid are as indefensible today as they were in the previous century. So we gather this evening in the spirit of resistance and in the hope that this event can help invigorate traditions of anti-imperialsm and principle descent on this campus and far beyond. And on that note, let me introduce the comrades who conceived and planned this event, Darlene M. Evans.
Darlene is the Director of Writing Outreach for the Knight Institute. She has a background in English education, multicultural literature, critical literacy and gender theory. And she is a member of Jewish Voice for peace. And I understand there are some JVP folks here tonight.
Beth Harris-- Beth Harris is a retired Ithaca College professor. She sits on the National Board of Jewish Voice for Peace and belongs to that organization's local chapter, as well. And finally, Eric Cheyfitz-- Eric Cheyfitz is the Ernest I. White Professor of American Studies and Humane Letters. He teaches American Literatures, American Indian Literatures and US Federal Indian Law. And he has the honor of introducing our special guest this evening. So without further ado, Eric.
ERIC CHEYFITZ: Thanks, Russell. And thanks. Everybody's helped put this together. I'm going to put my glasses on. We have hand-held mics. I want to thank Ula, again, and the American Indian Indigenous Program, of which I am affiliated faculty and former director, as well as a member of the English department.
Steven Salaita is an internationally-recognized scholar activist, who, since 2006, has published eight books dealing with subjects from Arab-American literary fiction-- one of his titles-- to colonialism in Israel, Palestine, and most recently, the intersection of Palestinian and Native American Colonialisms and resistance to them, a intersection that brought Steven and I together in 2014 when we wrote companion essays on this topic for the Native American and Indigenous Studies Journal. His last two books are Uncivil Rites, Palestine and the Limits of Academic Freedom, 2015, and Internationalism, Decolonizing Native American Palestine, 2016, a topic he will address tonight.
By way of a somewhat fuller appreciation-- if you give me a few minutes-- of Steven's scholarship and his activism, which are intertwined. I'd like to read a short review I wrote of Uncivil Rites that is forthcoming in the Native American and Indigenous Studies Journal. I'm going to give you a context for Steven's presentation.
At the center of Uncivil Rites is Steven Salaita's precise and thorough commentary on his firing in August of 2014 from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign after his hiring by the University's American Indian Program, a hire approved in late September of 2013 by the interim dean, Brian H. Ross. Professor Salaita accepted the position in early October, resigned his tenured position at Virginia Tech, and in the summer of 2014, was preparing to move his family to Champaign when he was peremptorily fired on August 1. Before he ever got to assume his position as associate professor with tenure.
The letter of termination, signed by Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Christophe Pierre. It gives no reason for the termination, but simply refers to a pro-forma sentence in the dean's letter offering the position to Salaita-- quote, "this recommendation for appointment is subject to approval by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois." It was in boilerplate.
The citing of this sentence was followed by the blow, quote, "we write to inform you that your appointment will not be recommended for submission to the Board of Trustees." The letter and the dean's letter, along with a letter from the acting director for the American Indian Program, Dr. Jodi Byrd, outlining the terms of a hire are reprinted in the appendix of Salaita's book. They are important reading for those who want to understand the institutional violence in this case.
Salaita's firing, then, was a violation of expected university hiring practices, where the faculty and the dean are typically entrusted with such decisions. Thus, the preemptory firing constitutes a subversion of faculty governance, department program autonomy, and as it turned out, Professor Salaita's academic freedom. For the firing and subsequent events made abundantly clear it was based on Salaita's principled stand and support of Palestinian rights, particularly his support of Palestinian Civil Society's nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, BDS, aimed at legally resisting Israeli colonialism.
A particular irony in this regard is that dean's letter offering the position to Salaita contained the following boilerplate-- it wants a boilerplate-- quote, "at the University of Illinois, like most universities in this country, we subscribe to the principles of academic freedom and tenure laid down by the American Association of University Professors," the AAUP. Forced to come up with some reason for his termination, then, the Administration cited Professor Salaita's "uncivil"-- I put that in quotes-- Twitter feed in support of Palestinian rights as a reason to deem him unfit to be a teacher and colleague at Illinois, even though his record at both caps of Virginia Tech was impeccable, and even though extramural speech is protected under the cannons of academic freedom developed by the AAUP, which can vote those cannons in unequivocally condemning Chancellor Wise's decision driven by the Board of Trustees backed by certain University donors.
But of course, the Administration's emphasis in criticizing Salaita's twitter feed was on his incivility, not on his criticism of Israel state policy. Because the Illinois Administration had to try to maintain the increasingly transparent illusion that universities are supporters of academic freedom and diversity in all matters-- which, of course, they aren't. Salaita does a splendid job deconstructing this particular fiction while analyzing the limits of academic freedom so evident in this case and others. In this respect, chapter 1 of the book, "Tweet, Tweet"-- nice chapter opens with the question, does Twitter lend itself to civility?
Salaita's answer is emphatically, no. Nor, he explains, is Twitter intended to be a platform for civility. I know that our current president, I guess, is an example of that. Nor, for that matter, is it anybody's business under both the First Amendment and the canons of academic freedom to judge a discourse of civility, whatever that word may mean. You To emphasize its meaning, which he does with incisive analysis in the course of the book, Salaita focuses on the colonial origins of the word civility, its precise use in the imperial discourse of savagery to distinguish them from us. As Salaita remarks, quote, "civility exists in the lexicon of conquest, in the language of Cotton Mather's diatribes. It is the discourse of educated racism. It is the sanctimony of the authoritarian. It is the pretext of the oppressor," end quote.
And in understanding the global dimensions of this particular case, Salaita kept comments on the reach of colonialism in Israeli-occupied Palestine and US-occupied Indian country into the academy. And he rightly links these to colonialism, which he will talk about tonight. And I quote-- and I'm almost done-- "that I was hired to teach teach"-- this is a quote from the book-- "that I, Salaita, was hired to teach in American Indian Studies is crucial, because my termination isn't simply a personal problem, but a representation of a marginal standing of American Indian and Indigenous Studies and the Humanities and Social Sciences, more broadly." I'm certain they're experiencing that at Cornell today. "That University Administration deployed the language of civility in the wake of its decision illuminates a model of governance deeply rooted in colonial ethos," end of quote.
Uncivil Rites is an important book in furthering our understanding of the colonial reach of the corporate university, which is where we are all situated today at Cornell on the traditional homelands of the Cayuga people, taken by the US by force and fraud in the early 19th century. and in a university that, since 2011, has formed a partnership with Technion Institute of Israel, which is deeply involved in the militarization, the theft of Palestinian land. It is, then, in context local and global, a privilege and a pleasure to introduce Steven Salaita, whose talk this evening is titled Native and Palestinian Resistance in the Age of US Imperialism.
STEVEN SALAITA: Thank you. Hi.
OK, I've turned the mic on. Is my voice OK?
STEVEN SALAITA: Is it too-- OK. I want to say, if it becomes unpleasant for you to let me know. But I want to specify, if it becomes unpleasant in volume to you, let me know. It might be unpleasant to you otherwise. I guess we'll find out.
But before I get started, let me thank all of you, first of all, for coming out and spending this evening with me. It's really a pleasure to be here. I've been treated wonderfully. And I've been enjoying myself tremendously.
I want to thank all the many co-sponsors. My picture looming over me is kind of freaking me out. But I'll not that look at that guy-- and particularly, Professor Rickford and Professor Cheyfitz. Professor Cheyfitz has been sort of carting me about all day, teaching me about the place, telling me about the University, just being of a wonderful teacher, in general. And I'm tremendously grateful to him for his hospitality and his patience.
He might not know it-- or we didn't know it at the time. But Professor Cheyfitz actually has a chapter in the saga of the University of Illinois that we would not have been aware of at the time. I think it was around the time that the American Studies Association was doing its academic boycott resolution, which ended up making a whole ton of news. Professor Cheyfitz was one of two panelists on a debate at Democracy Now.
And I remember very well, watching it. And the other panelists opposing the boycott resolution was Cary Nelson, the sort of former AAUP stalwart and kind of the man or the person synonymous with academic freedom. And that kind of the first inkling that a lot of us had that this person might have some troublesome politics. And then, of course, he ended up being the University of Illinois' largest professorial cheerleader during that one very interesting year of my life.
Anyway, that was sort of the moment that a lot of us knew that, oh, my goodness, this guy is absolutely a reactionary. And then I still remember that debate very well. And Professor Cheyfitz pretty much wiped the floor with him. But we can talk about that another day.
So I want also to recognize that I'm here in the homeland of the Cayuga people and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, more broadly. It's my first time on this part of the continent. And it's a treat being here. Thank you for having me. If anybody from these parts ever gets a chance to come to Palestine, it would be my absolute honor to host you and to try my best to return the hospitality that I've received.
I haven't thought about the term incivility for a while. But as Professor Cheyfitz was giving us his introduction, it sort of occurred to me that we often flatten notions of civility and incivility. And in turn, that flattening can produce ambiguities. And those ambiguities can be exploited for negative political purposes.
There's an incivility of tone. There's an incivility of mannerism. There's an incivility of interaction. In other words, there are different forms of incivility. If one were to stand up and start screaming at me or throwing something at me, that might be classed as a form of incivility. But I would argue that that particular action doesn't necessarily cohere in any structural or physical way with the act of sending, let's say, an angry tweet or putting forward a political position that, in and of itself, is considered hostile, no matter what tone the speaker uses to present it.
And so, you won't get an incivility of tone, or mannerism, or interaction from me this evening. But I do hope that I'll be able to provide a kind of incivility of commentary. That is to say that no matter in what language or tone I put forward my arguments that we understand that what I'm saying is necessarily an inherently hostile to certain centers of power in this world. And in fact, I believe that this kind of hostility is essential to the production of decent scholarship and activism not only in our current age of Trump, but in an era which portends ecological disaster, an era in which economic inequality is becoming outrageous to the point of revolt, in an era in which open racism has been normalized-- it always has been, but it's not supposed to be-- in an era, in other words, in which we are seeing a certain set of reactionary forces trying to maintain a world that leaves the majority of us in deeply troubling circumstances.
And we must be uncivil when we are discussing those centers of power. They don't need to be accommodated. They don't need to have their narrative heard. Their narrative provides the normativity that we encounter daily and nightly, too. So that's just a word on incivility.
Now in thinking about Palestinians and natives, I want to give you just a little bit of a context and a backstory. This became my dissertation project back in graduate school many years ago. It's been almost 20 years since I started my PhD program.
And there wasn't much work noting the intersection between discourses of colonization in Palestine and North America. But I found enough to sort of theorize a set of connections. And that ended up becoming my first book in, I think, 2006, The Holy Land in Transit.
And so I ended up sort of reworking the topic for internationalism about 10 years later. And in those 10 years, a tremendous amount of material had become evident, intellectual material, activist material, philosophical material, and so forth. In that, as well, we've seen the development of an association for Native American and Indigenous Studies, called NAISA. And in that Association, Palestinians have been active, or the topic of Palestine has been common enough to where it would not be considered an aberration.
So I started thinking about these facts. Like, how did Palestine become a topic of import in the fields of American Indian and Indigenous Studies? Why? What does it have to offer? What responsibilities must it bring into the field-- these sorts of questions, normal, intellectual questions. But really, the answers lie mainly not in what we manage to uncover or invent in intellectual spaces, but what Israel has done in the world and how its performance as geo-strategic partner of the United States has negatively affected people around the world well beyond the Palestinians themselves.
So I went to Palestine with a group of activists once a long time ago. It was in PhD school. And we met somewhere in Upstate New York. I can't remember. And we flew to Tel Aviv from JFK.
And I ended up making friends with a guy there. He was close to my age. And we just sort of hit it off. And so we became roommates for the trip.
And the night before we were going to JFK, we were all sitting outside just sitting in a circle, smoking cigarettes, chatting about our backstories and whatnot. And we were talking about what got us interested in Palestine. Why were we going on this trip?
And for me, the answer was simple. I'm of Palestinian background. It's just something I've always been interested in.
And then my friend explains that his father was Guatemalan. He had grown up in the Mission District. My friend had grown up in the Mission District in San Francisco.
And he tells me that his father had fought with the leftist rebels in that country in the 1980s. And his father had been captured by the right wing government headed by Generalissimo Rios Montt. Look him up if you don't know who that is. He's not what you would consider a kind human being. And his father ended up being tortured to death in a Guatemalan state prison.
And so my friend, of course, that became sort of the most significant event of his life and of his consciousness. And we started researching it. And he explains to us that the more that he researched what had happened in Central America during the so-called civil wars of the 1970s and 1980s-- I say so-called civil wars, because, in fact, they were genocides. They were genocides of indigenous, largely Mayan populations, and in Guatemala particularly. A genocide had occurred in the 1950s, in 1957, specifically. And another genocide of Mayan populations had occurred in the 1980s.
And in fact, Rios Montt was found guilty for his role in perpetuating that genocide. And Rios Montt was a staunch ally of who? The state of Israel. Rios Montt was funded by the Israeli State. He was given arms by the Israeli State. And his agents of imprisonment and torture were trained by the Israeli State.
If you believe that this sounds fanciful, just Google Rios Montt Israel. And enjoy the reading. Google Israel and El Salvador, Israel and the Nicaraguan Contras, and enjoy the reading. And I point this out because we don't normally think of these events like the Contra Sandinista War of the 1980s in Nicaragua as being centered around indigenous peoples. But they very much were.
The greatest victims of government violence and government excess-- that would can be a euphemism-- were indigenous communities. And that's always the case wherever a substantial native community exists in the Western hemisphere. Whenever there is a moment of strife, or civil war, or whatever you want to call it, it's always the indigenes who pay the greatest price, in terms of lives, lost livelihoods, and the expropriation or theft of their resources. And this is precisely what had happened in Central America through the conversation of the United Fruit Company, through the American installation of right wing puppets, through basically the corporate looting of their lands and everything that those lands made available to them.
We cannot separate the behavior of Israel in the world from the behavior of the United States. The two countries, at this point in time-- and it's been this way for a while-- are simply too closely aligned. As Professor Rickford noted, it comes out again and again during the repression of Black Lives Matter marches that police forces in the United States, dozens-- possibly even more than 100-- have been trained in Israel or have security exchanges with Israel. Israel does not carry out any of its policies without at least the implicit consent of the United States.
What I'm trying to say, I guess-- I can go ahead and wrap it up and get to the point. When the United States engages in an act of violence against indigenous communities within its own borders or within the Western hemisphere, more broadly, then you can safely assume that Israel, in some way, is implicated in that violence. Just as when Israel performs an act of violence in Palestine or elsewhere, then you can safely assume that the United States is implicated in that violence.
The two differ around color schemes on their flag, branding, language, a few other things. But in terms of their geopolitical role in the world and whose global class interests they work to preserve, these are two states that are working almost completely in concert. And reams of evidence back up that assertion. Pardon me.
But the basis for comparison goes beyond militarism and geopolitics. Have you ever heard the phrase coming out of the mouth of a US or an Israeli politician, our nations have shared values? Yeah, of course you've heard it. It's been repeated over, and over, and over again. Israel and the US have shared values. We have shared values.
And there are different variations of the notion of shared values. But when politicians put forward that idea, they're not incorrect. They are interpreting those values in a way that we should find mortifying, as good things, as forces for civility in the world. But the mere fact of the existence of shared values is beyond doubt. The US and Israel do share very deeply a set of values-- all depends on how you want to interpret them, as forces of good, or as forces of bad, or somewhere in between.
But it goes back to the European settlement, particularly the Puritan settlement, of New England. The landscape, largely by the Puritans, was conceptualized as a new promised land, a land of milk and honey. The natives were conceptualized as Amalekites, and Canaanites, and Jebusites, and Hittites. And the settlers imagined themselves as being compelled or commanded by God to displace them, to take over the land, and to civilize it, to transform it into a New Canaan. And that's precisely the discursive motivation they provided to themselves.
So the idea that Zionism originates specifically in a Middle Eastern dialectic is not completely true. It has specific new world features to it, as well. And in particular, the idea of draining the swamp-- we've heard that Zionist myth over and over again-- draining the swamp, a land without a people for a people without a land, every single Zionist myth that you've ever heard, the ones that most of us understand now just to roll our eyes about.
Because they're so silly at this point in time. Because they are so contra-distinctive to the actual scholarship that exist. And the realities on the ground that exist have an antecedent in the European colonization and conquest of the Americas.
Beyond the Holy Land discourse, both the US and Israel conceptualize themselves as predestined for a sort of greatness in the world. They conceptualize themselves, as well, as an unshakable force for good. They conceptualize themselves as harbingers and arbiters of civilization. And they conceptualize themselves as constantly under attack by the forces of pre-modernity.
They see themselves as advanced, capitalist, technocratic societies. I have experience arguing with the pro-Israel folks on Twitter and elsewhere. It's just something I've done for decades now. I mean, that's what people around the issue do. It's notorious for creating acrimony for a reason, because it creates lots of acrimony. And that's just the way it is.
And one thing that I hear over, and over, and over again as a justification for Israeli policy is its supposed technological prowess. Oh, that chip in your computer that you're typing on was made in Israel. Or if it weren't for Israel, you wouldn't have X, Y and Z gizmo. It's like, well, I mean, that's a bad argument to use against me, because I actually don't own those gizmos. I'm a Luddite.
But anyhow, leaving that aside, I'm not saying that Israel is not technologically advanced. I'm saying that using Israel's advanced technology as a rationalization for settle recolonisation bespeaks a kind of attitude that is also deeply inscribed in exceptionalist narrative in the United States.
We're meant not to worry about climate catastrophe, because we just know that technology is going to save us. Or Elon Musk is going to get us to Mars and then start building colonies there. I just wrote about that on a trip to Hawaii. And I was thinking about the idea of sort of colonizing space, and building human settlements in space and so forth.
And it's like, I don't understand why there's a certain class-- and I don't want to run afoul of any STEM folks here, really. I don't want to be uncivil to science. But there's a particular discourse of science. The new atheists, for example, love it, the idea that the science will save us. Religion is backwards.
And it's like, I can't really see anything in religion that is quite as superstitious as the belief that colonizing space and importing capitalism to outer space is going to save the species. That's an idea for which zero evidence exists. It just means that we're going to fuck up space, just like we fuck up Earth. That's the outcome that's going to happen. There's no other possibility.
Anyway, these are central notions of national identity. I've already passed judgment on those notions of national identity. But you don't even need to pass judgment on them to make sense of the comparison I'm trying to get at, that their sense of national selves aren't necessarily identical. But they are remarkably similar. And in some cases, they are one and the same. And these are some of the ways in which that's true, beyond the issue of policy and discourses of settlement.
Well, another thing that I want to, I guess, put forward as an idea this evening is what it means, then, to do Palestine solidarity work in the United States or in North America, more broadly. We're close enough to Canada to where I guess I can include it. A word about Internationalism, the book, it's published by University Press. But it's kind of more polemics than scholarship.
I'm organizing some theoretical concepts out of American Indian and Indigenous Studies. I'm trying to make sense of the theoretical concepts. But I'm basically making an argument that there is a political ground for natives and Palestinians to work in concert with one another around a set of shared issues, and trying to acknowledge that that's also a really difficult proposition to put forward inside actual communities. You encounter all kinds of problems, problems of skepticism, people not feeling that they can overcome certain differences, maybe a shared visions of what the ideal outcome of any action might look like, and so forth. And these are things that always need to be discussed and debated.
But I've been speaking in large part to the Palestine solidarity folks here on this continent in the book. And I'll do that again right now. We oppose the Israeli colonization of Palestine for historical reasons, for material reasons, for moral reasons, for political reasons, for personal reasons in a lot of cases. Some of us are the descendants of refugees. Some of us are escapees of military occupation, whatever the case may be.
But we approach Palestine seriously. That's one thing we do in the Palestine solidarity community. It's gotten to the point-- and I think this is, by and large, a good thing-- that most of us don't really have patience for the old multicultural cliches about dialogue and coexistence that were bandied about so frequently 20 or 30 years ago. We think about the problem more and more-- again, a good thing-- in terms of disparities of power, in terms of structural injustice, in terms of legal iniquity.
And the idea that Israelis and Palestinians don't know one another is utterly, contemptibly false. That's absolutely not true. So there is a certain kind of thinking that says, well, you know, they can just talk to each other. They could work out their differences.
Just sit them around at a table. Here, go find a Muslim. Go find a Jew. Do you know what I mean? Buy them a coffee. And then everything will be fine.
And Jews lived in Muslim-majority lands for centuries. They know one another. This is not to say that they did not face oppression in Muslim-majority countries. In many cases and in many ways, they did.
But it looks nothing like the type of oppression they faced in Europe. And I would say, in fact, that, if there is any population that does not know the Jew, and the Arab, and the Muslim, it would be Europe much more than those situated in the Southern hemisphere. Israelis and Palestinians have been in one another's presence for over 100 years now. They don't need dialogue.
What needs to happen is that Palestinians need to get free. Palestinians need equal rights. Palestinians need to be included in the economy. Palestinians need to not have their homes bulldozed and destroyed. Palestinians need to be able to travel.
Palestinians, in other words, need basic human rights. We didn't go beyond that. But that's what they need. They don't need to be told, I admire your culture, or that I understand that Jesus is a profit of Islam. They need a social, and economic, political transformation that allows them to breathe, that allows them to exist, that allows them to be.
So, having said that, my argument is that, when we are raising these points and having these conversations in North America, we ought to take equally, if not more seriously, the issues of continued colonization that are happening on the ground on which we stand, that we cannot simply limit our focus to Palestine, no matter how spectacular the violence of Palestine might seem to us-- and it is, very often, spectacular. Because there is structural, legal, economic, political inequality right here that derived from another project of settler colonization. Only this time, we're implicated in that project of settler recolonisation on the side of the settler, rather than the indigene. And we have to think about that.
And so when we undertake Palestine solidarity work or BDS work here in North America, whether it's in Ithaca or in Arizona, we have to remember our responsibility. And I know scholars hate the word responsibility. But I like it. It's compelling in its own way. And if people don't like it because it makes them feel shame, then, yeah, it's a word that's meant to shame you into doing something. And that's not always necessarily a bad thing.
It depends on what you're being shamed into doing. But I'm saying we have a responsibility to the indigenous peoples of this hemisphere. It's getting more difficult to say, anyhow, that we don't know.
I got to college before I had even a vague sense that natives were still alive, that they were still engaged in struggle, that they still held nationalist aspirations, that they were fully-formed, complex human beings, and that they were, most important, actual, national communities. We made, too often-- if we acknowledge them or all-- to think of them as cultural groups in a multi-ethnic taxonomy. But we have to think of them as a set of national community in the same way that Palestine as a national community, and having the same aspirations for autonomy, self-determination, sovereignty, whatever term you want to use as do the Palestinians.
And there are ways that we can supplement one another's desires for those outcomes. But the first way that Palestinians can do it or allies of Palestinians here in North America can do it is by upholding their obligations to the colonized societies in which they are implicated in settler violence. Think about it this way. I don't know. This is a trick I always use.
Palestinians have a lot of visitors-- fewer of these days. Because Israel is getting really stingy about letting people in, because of so many anti-Zionists are trying to go there now. Zionism is not the light onto the nation's narrative that the Israelis like to brag about.
But when non-Palestinians come to Palestine to help, to work, to learn, we expect them to behave in a certain way. We expect them to be respectful. We expect them to listen, to not talk over us the entire time, to not keep giving us solutions to our own problems, to learn, to engage, to ask questions, to be willing to be educated. And it's a beautiful thing, to be willing to be educated, to listen, to be taught. That's a beautiful skill, the willingness to be taught, the willingness to go, and see things, the willingness not to be everybody else is center of attention, or importantly, not to keep taking advantage of our hospitality.
Well, this is the same rule book that we can use in North America vis-a-vis native nations. We listen. We learn. We visit with respect.
We work hard to understand the language they use in talking about their own history, their own present and their own liberation. And that's the language that we respect and adhere to when we're speaking to others about conditions of colonization and decolonisation on this continent. So for example, as somebody of Palestinian origin, I don't like the term conflict, you know, the conflict, the conflict.
It's like, no, no, no, Palestinians do not follow the conflict. Very few Palestinians do. Maybe the ones writing in, like, foreign affairs or whatever do. But I mean, it's not a word you hear on the streets, in those infamous streets over there in the Arab world. It's an occupation. It's colonization.
And that's the kind of language I try to adhere to. Because that's the language that the colonized community is using. And so I suggest we try our best to listen to the language that our native brethren use to describe their political and socioeconomic conditions. And that's the language we ought to adhere to.
Now there are more than millions of differences among natives and Palestinians. And this is where I want to sort of draw a boundary around some of the limits of comparative work. I think it's important to do.
But also, there are millions of differences among native nations themselves. And sometimes those inhibit transnational organizing. That's just the way of the world. But there are significant differences within Palestinian society itself.
I'm saying that differences are to be expected. And they don't necessarily shut down cross-communal organizing. But what they do is they should illustrate to us that, sometimes, certain native nations have different visions for what a just outcome will look like for them than Palestinians. And we have to be able to respect and work around those differences. Sometimes tactics will vary.
I don't think it's particularly useful, anyway, to raise an activist movement around notions of cultural affinity or shared ceremonial practices. Those things are important. And we can connect around them. Don't get me wrong.
But I think, in the end, it's most useful and-- is it my mic?
SPEAKER 1: [INAUDIBLE]
STEVEN SALAITA: Oh, go ahead. That's OK. The room seems less lively now. There's just a pall of sadness here. But anyway, OK, miraculously, I remembered what I was saying. This never happens.
So I do think that the best-- not the only, but the best-- basis of shared activism, or transnational activism, or international activism is economic, and political and discursive. There are forms of US militarism and forms of US corporatism, as we saw and continue to see in Standing Rock, for example, that are palpable, and that are easy to organize around, and that are very easy to attach to the kind of militarism and corporatism that Palestinians suffer. There is a flow of resources from indigenous communities-- and the Southern hemisphere, more broadly-- into advanced capitalist industrialized societies.
There is an expropriation of resources. There is a withholding of legal and political rights. These are things that give us a basis for working together and for better comprehending one another's political economic conditions, and our aspirations, and our situations. I've been talking for a long time. So I'm going to go ahead and close up in here in just a moment.
But again, for those who are primarily focused on Palestine solidarity, this comes out of an ethic that I've been preaching to the tremendous annoyance of a lot of my friends-- and enemies, too, probably. But I don't mind annoying them-- that anti-Zionism has to remain a revolutionary concern. Anti-Zionism should not be compatible with right wing isolationism. Anti-Zionism is not or should not be compatible with sexual violence, with racism, with anti-blackness, with settler colonization in parts of the world other than Palestine.
This is the beautiful thing about being involved in Palestine. We keep getting in trouble. We keep losing our jobs. We keep getting defamed as anti-Semites, and jihadists, and terrorists, and horrible. It's not pleasant, in that sense.
But Palestine also is a remarkable site for visualizing a better world. It really is. It's a place where you can imagine people overcoming confessional biases. It's a place where you can imagine people rising up and creating a better society than what they were forced into. And the only way to make that happen is by making it happen everywhere.
When I visited Hawaii, that was really an extraordinary experience for me. The thing that kept going in my head was that I'll never consider Palestine liberated unless Hawaii is also free. And that's not just, I guess, a poetic way of saying we ought to work together. It's a way of saying that-- I was being literal.
It was a political proposition, that you cannot remove the sources of power that cause Palestinian suffering and leave them in place for others to suffer. It doesn't work that way. Your work will not have been done until the power is extirpated all together. And as pie in the sky is that seems-- and it is-- that's still, in the end, the only goal worth working for, even if you don't think that it's possible.
We have to imagine that we can make it possible. Because I guarantee you, in 1880, you could have gone to East Jerusalem, or to Nazareth, or to Jaffa and had a conversation at a coffee shop with the locals and told them, hey, a bunch of European Jews are going to create a national movement, kick your ass out, and then become the second, or third, or fourth strongest military in the world all within 100 years, and they would have fallen over laughing. This is not to say that we want to reproduce that outcome.
What I'm saying is that we should never reduce Palestine, or Native America, or the Pacific, or any other colonized space to the limits of the pragmatic colonial imagination. Make something greater. And if we can't see in what ways they can be made greater, then we have to work to create the conditions that allow them to be great.
Finally, as a final point-- and then I'll spare you all. Some of you are starting to look really tired. One way, actually, that I've seen that kind of internationalism among natives and Palestinians play out was in my own situation at the University of Illinois. And I don't really talk about that situation much. I mean, I know it was only three years ago, but it seems like it happened a long time ago.
It's kind of hard to explain that I was in Beirut for two years. And I kind of quit thinking about it. And so I came back to the United States and started thinking about it again. And as horrible as that was, and for some people, continues to be-- for a lot of people. We're way beyond me-- some really extraordinary things happened in that moment, as well. It was a really fruitful and inspiring coming together of different ethnic and racial communities, natives and Palestinians, particularly.
Of all the ways that I've been in trouble for my advocacy of Palestine throughout my life, never, ever, ever have I received a warmer, more intelligent and hardier defense than I did from my colleagues in the American Indian Studies there, Robert Warrior and and Jodi Byrd, Vince Diaz, Tina DeLisle. They were absolutely extraordinary. And none of us would allow the other to get lost in the process of waging a media or a legal war.
That is, I refused to talk about the situation simply as one of a repression of Palestinians or a repression of BDS. It was clearly, also, a repression of American Indian Studies that happened in the context of a university and a community notorious for their anti-Indian racism. So there was a context there. There is a framework that we had to look at.
And nobody in the department considered the hire to have actually been stopped. We still call one another colleagues. That's still how we refer to one another. And there's still a sense of togetherness we have, an understanding that, hey, it took a bunch of ugly things happening, but we see from the emails that the University was forced to release, from the reaction among right wing-- and very often, liberal-- community members, that we are, in fact, battling a single source of power, that there is an economy wrapped up into the anti-Indian racism that, itself, cannot accommodate anti-Zionism, that there is a structure governing the University that not only has no room for Palestinian voices, but is simultaneously looking for any reason to marginalize its native voices, as well. And that became hugely and remarkably clear to us.
And we can see that sort of thing play out over and over again. I thought a lot about American Indian Studies during that time. And I finally concluded in internationalism-- and I might have concluded wrongly-- that the narrative was that, oh, American Indian Studies was disliked. It had a sort of hostile community reaction.
The administration never liked it, because that program was always causing trouble and being uncivil on campus-- in other words, trying to get rid of a racist mascot, and trying to survive, trying to advocate for native communities. These are big sins on a lot of college campuses. And they were never wanted.
And so the thinking goes that, well, once you add Palestine into the mix, the pressure just became too much. And it just sort of overwhelmed them. But I don't know that that's necessarily true. I don't know that Palestine was, to use an orientalist-- I'm not going to say nothing about Shiraz or camels. That's just a bad metaphor.
But anyway, think about it this way, that anybody who has argued with Zionists knows that they don't like being implicated in civil recolonization. They just don't. They don't want to hear it.
They want to talk about how Arabs are terrorists, how they're not native to the land, how Hamas makes Israel do every bad thing that it's ever done, and on, and on, and on. There are certain argumentative techniques there, but Israel as settler colonial society, no. Maybe before 1948, but that's history. And history is over. And we need to move beyond history-- now, no. Whatever bad things Palestinians suffer, Palestinians are responsible for.
Well, think about, then, what it means, if you dislike being implicated in settler colonization in Palestine, what it means to be implicated in another form of federal recolonisation here in North America. And I think that's what drove a certain kind of anger or a certain kind of hostility towards both Palestinians and natives. It's not just that Palestine is making a presence in an American Indian Space. It's that we are being asked to simultaneously acknowledge two forms of civil recolonisation in which most people share some kind of complicity.
And I think that's what was created a certain framework for hostility. I could be wrong. But that's the way that I ended up thinking about it. So I'm going to go ahead and stop. I've been talking for about 40, 45 minutes now. We'll get to some questions in a second.
I guess just as a basic proposition, in closing, if the environment goes to hell, as models are increasingly predicting, we're going to be in trouble together. We're beginning more and more to realize, that, yes, the wealthy will always have advantages. They will always have access to things that might save them.
But outside of the 1%, those waters start rising. The atmosphere keeps getting hotter. Resources start getting scarcer. We're all going to be in trouble together.
And based on that simple principle, we think we get the sense of how internationalism can function. In other words, because we can all suffer a Mercurial world, we all ought to think about us having a place in this world. If what happens has the ability to affect everybody, then everybody ought to have an ability to affect what happens. It's that simple.
And I would say that, any more, we have no other choice but to find ways to overcome colonial taxonomies and work together. And as we've seen, when people suffering colonization manage to transcend boundaries and work together, it absolutely pisses off the colonizer. And I would say that alone is a good reason to work together.
I'm going to go and stop now. And I'll take, I guess, questions or comments. So thank you, again.
ERIC CHEYFITZ: Thanks.
STEVEN SALAITA: Oh, yeah.
ERIC CHEYFITZ: Great. Let me just make a couple--
STEVEN SALAITA: Yeah, of course.
ERIC CHEYFITZ: And thanks, Steven. Before we have Q&A, just a little bit of housekeeping. There's a reception upstairs in the English lounge 236 right upstairs after the talk. You're, obviously, all invited. We really appreciate the turn out very, very much.
I also wanted to give Steven a gift from the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program for coming to Cayuga territory and for speaking to us about this important subjects that you did. So the gift is here. This is from us to you. Thanks again.
STEVEN SALAITA: Thank you so much.
ERIC CHEYFITZ: So there are some announcements. Some people asked to make announcements before we have Q & A so that this won't take long. And I appreciate you. These are all important announcements.
So those folks who wanted to talk-- I know, Kareema, you wanted to make an announcement. So why don't you do that?
KAREEMA: Yeah, hello. You've got it. My name is Kareema. I'm an international exchange student. And I want to tell you, tomorrow right here at 6:00, there is an event going on, which is tragically related to what we've been discussing tonight. It's a panel discussion about the Rohingya crisis and the genocide of Myanmar.
This is one of the big events that we have going on this week as part of our Rohingya Week of Action, which is organized my many student organizations here. You are very welcome to attend. There will be a visual display in the auditorium, as well, afterwards. There'll be free food. A wonderful four-head panel will gives us a really quick perspective on this. So, yeah I hope to see you all there.
ERIC CHEYFITZ: Thanks. So Mary Anne?
MARY ANNE GRADY FLORES: Hi, I'm Mary Anne Grady Flores. And I wanted to invite you--
I have many friends here. So just really quickly, have you not heard of Ramsey Clark? Raise hands. OK. And I understand why. Many of you are younger.
Ramsey Clark is a world-renowned human rights activist who happened to defend the Palestine Liberation Organization in the World Court since the 1970s. He's now turning 90. And we have a new film about his life that's going to be shown downtown. How many of you know of Cinemapolis?
All right, OK, so if anybody doesn't, just grab your neighbor and tag along. So December 5, we're going to have a screening. So the film is not finished. It's a little fundraiser-- 6:45. And we'll have a Q&A afterwards. You're welcome to come up and ask me.
Because it's Ramsay's birthday on-- I think it's December 18. We're going to have to have a birthday card signing. And I'm going to make-- how many of you know of my rum cake? So we'll have rum cake. We'll celebrate. We'll sing happy birthday to Ramsey. We'll put it on film and bring it down to him.
Anyway, look him up. There is a trailer for the film. And we have fliers. Please take holsters and put them around. We want to fill the theater. And thank you.
ERIC CHEYFITZ: OK, thanks. I should say, I once worked with Ramsey Clark briefly on behalf of the Navajo Nation and something called the Navajo Hopi Land Dispute. And so I had a moment of glory sitting at the table with him and his legal team.
Anyway, then Jewish Voice for Peace is here. And please, we have some materials, as well, ma'am.
SPEAKER 2: Right. I brought this over from Ithaca Chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace and Committee for Justice in Palestine. And we've had several campaigns. And one that we're really highlighting this year is called the Deadly Exchanges, which is a lot what Steven talked about, very specifically how US police, and surveillance, and ICE, and border control are exchanging what we call worst practices with the Israeli government. And this affects vulnerable people in our country, and of course, the Palestinians in Israel.
We have literature, and some books, and buttons-- I have more buttons if you'd like-- and a sign-up. And I don't think there is a Jewish Voice for Peace chapter on this campus. But I would love to see Cornell have one. Because they're all over the country. And they're doing great, great work. And thank you.
ERIC CHEYFITZ: Thank you. Yeah, one more announcement then.
SPEAKER 3: One last. In solidarity with the Students for Justice in Palestine, our local chapter here at Cornell, and Jewish Voice for Peace, and the Committee for Justice in Palestine, we are interested in forming a Cornell faculty staff for Justice in Palestine. Maybe we should [INAUDIBLE] Jewish Voices.
One way or the other, I do have a sign-up sheet for anyone who is interested in showing that solidarity with our students and forming a Cornell faculty staff for Justice in Palestine. Were going to leave this sign-up sheet on the table. So, before you leave.
ERIC CHEYFITZ: Are there any more announcements, particularly of a radical nature? All right, so I know Steven will take questions. I can call on them. How do you want to do it from here?
STEVEN SALAITA: It's up to you.
ERIC CHEYFITZ: All right. So over there. Yeah?
AUDIENCE: My name's [INAUDIBLE]. I am an Israeli. I'm actually a [INAUDIBLE] alumna. And I wanted to ask you, what do you want to do about me?
STEVEN SALAITA: I would love to share a country with you and equal rights.
I would love to be your neighbor.
AUDIENCE: So in your vision of justice, it doesn't involve displacing me from my home town?
STEVEN SALAITA: No, I don't adhere to any vision of justice that involves upheaval or displacement anywhere, whether it's in 48, Israel or elsewhere. One of decolonization is-- in Palestine, North America, other places-- is figuring out how to accommodate different populations on different landscapes. But as far as Palestine/Israel are concerned, to me, it's a simple matter of erasure of colonial borders, and institution of a secular democratic system in which everybody there shares equal rights. But I think it's a big mistake for people to look at anti-Zionist movements in both the West and the Middle East as being focused on kicking Israelis into the sea, or displacing, or killing Israelis.
And in fact, I would really suggest that anybody who's interested in learning more about the Palestinian National Movement, there is a wide variety of documents available online, intellectual work coming out of Palestinian society going back to the 1920s-- some of it even before-- That talks about what a movement against settled recolonisation in Palestine looks like and what kind of outcome that it might desire. But nowhere in this national movement, nowhere in its intellectual traditions, and certainly nowhere in the BDS movement is a inverse notion of creating suffering, and displacement, and dispossession along ethnic or religious lines. And I say an inverse notion, because that's precisely what the Israeli government wants to do to me, and what it has already done to my family, and what it continues to do to millions of my compatriots today.
So I actually don't think that the question should be, what would you do with me? I don't have power to do shit to you. I think the question is, what is Israel going to do to me? What is Israel going to do to the Palestinians?
ERIC CHEYFITZ: Got another question? Questions? Over here.
AUDIENCE: I really appreciate all the ideas you presented tonight. I want to thank you for reporting on them. My question Is what do you think is the best formula for Israel to liberate itself, free itself from Western influence, American Western imperialism and establish a society that has Palestinians in place in a sense that they're dignified and they have equal say, equal rights alongside Israelis? What do you think is the best formula for [INAUDIBLE]?
STEVEN SALAITA: OK. Thank you. That's a good question, a hard question, a question whose answer is either going to be ridiculed as unrealistic slash pie in the sky or that is going to cause somebody to get upset. So let me dive in and try to accomplish both goals.
Israel emerges from these Western colonial slash imperial spaces in the first place. So I think, when we talking about what Israel can do to extricate itself from a kind of American imperial influence, then we're talking about actually Israel re-imagining its very origin, re-imagining its very presence. I actually don't see any way to separate Israel from its alliance with the United States, in so far as that alliance is so deeply baked into the national discourses of both countries that it requires something more than a geopolitical change. It requires a psychological or a cultural change. It requires the sort of change that Fanon talked about in Wretched of the Earth, where all our notions of order get upended. And a new world, then, can be created.
In terms of a resolution that allows dignity for Palestinians, one reason why I believe it's important to focus on native communities in addition to Palestinian communities-- and in fact, to indigenous communities around the world-- because I don't imagine any kind of so-called solution between the Israelis and Palestinians happening beyond the direct influence and control of the US. So the Palestinians and the surrounding Arab nations, many of whom are also now satellites of the US-- so the Palestinians, in other words, aren't just dealing with an Israeli adversary. They're dealing with a US and the Canadian adversary. They're dealing with the Gulf state adversaries in Saudi Arabia and the UAE particularly now.
So in other words, I don't see-- this is where the pie in the sky comes in. I don't see how Palestinians can achieve freedom simply in the provincial context of their own issue without a larger social and economic transformation that can affect various states simultaneously. Is such a thing possible? I don't know.
But my mind keeps going back to those old PLO slogans from the '60s and '70s about the road to Jerusalem leads to Riyadh. The road to Jerusalem leads through Dubai, and so forth. And that's increasingly becoming true. And that's a kind of allied economic force that the Palestinians, but so many other colonized communities, face.
And that's why they need to work together. Because I don't see one site of power-- let's, say, Israeli power-- being displacable to the point that Palestinians can affect it and influence it without the participation of the US, and Canada, the Gulf states, and then other people who are economically invested in the status quo in the West Bank and Palestine right now.
But another very simple, straightforward answer, again, is, to me, by national democracy. That's the solution that I generally support. But in the end, I try my best to follow the impulses and the ideas that are coming from the Palestinians in Palestine.
ERIC CHEYFITZ: Hand back from there. Great sweater, [INAUDIBLE].
AUDIENCE: Yeah, OK. So at the outset of the talk, you mentioned the Rios Montt dictatorship in Guatemala and the sort of general reactionary role that Israel plays in geopolitics, along with the US, well outside of the Middle East, for example, here in the Western hemisphere. The question that I have for you is going to dovetail to some extent with the last remark that you made. Some people, perhaps, would be surprised to hear that Israel is not actually the oldest and closest American ally in the region.
That distinction, of course, belongs to Saudi Arabia. And at this present moment, we're witnessing an unprecedented diplomatic and economic rapprochement between the two countries. The clown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mr. bin Salman, seems to be priming the Israeli leadership and the paper tiger Israeli Army for yet another disastrous invasion of Lebanon. And I'm just curious to get your thoughts on these developments.
STEVEN SALAITA: Thank you. But first, a question for you-- did you just call him the clown prince? OK, just making sure. OK, I like that. OK, approve.
First of all, when it comes to the interests of the poor, the colonized, people of color, black people in the Western hemisphere and elsewhere, all of these potentates and dictators are clowns. Quite beyond their overt personality, they're more than clowns. They're depraved. And they're given, by necessity, to doing horrible things to fellow human beings. And I think the Saudi leadership is a good example of that.
I've been following along with the spectacle. I know it's more than a spectacle. From a kind of tabloid point of view, I'm not really an expert in diplomatic matters-- obviously, I'm not.
But I'm not an expert in that sort of geopolitics. I'm not an analyst of geopolitics. So I'm kind of following along with everybody else. I'm thinking about it, of course, in context maybe of some issues that might be unseen. And I'm interested, most of all, as I am with almost everything else, in the discourses, how this imbroglio was being covered, what's being said about it, what different nations are saying about it.
And quite beyond the utility or the effectiveness-- depending on how you want to define that term-- of what Salman is doing with the UAE, and with Israel, and the United States, I can't see that it portends good things for anybody other than the ruling classes of the nations involved. And that's the assumption that I take into it. And when I say it portends bad things, it portends bad things for the Israeli population, for the Palestinians, almost certainly for the Lebanese, almost certainly for the middle-class and lower-class Saudis, particularly the Saudi Shia in the Eastern region. It portends bad things for Shia minority in a lot of places.
I guess what I'm saying is, we're seeing a souped-up version of what I've come to understand-- even though it's more complicated-- as a type of class warfare. And so I've been increasingly thinking about the role of Israel in certain class paradigms and class struggles. And this seems, to me, to be a really strong example of one of them, that there's no sense of loyalty or kinship among these different state actors according to ethnic, or linguistic, or religious grounds. But there is a very deep sense of kinship, or at least shared economic interest, on the grounds of money and power. And that's what's driving it.
And I want to say that he's such a buffoon that it's going to backfire. But we've been waiting for dumb leaders to run things for a very, very long time. And yet, they never do, which makes me suspect that, instead of waiting for buffoons like Trump, and Netanyahu, and Salman to mess things up, that we ought to just throw a wrench into the structure of things. Because it's the structure that maintains their buffoonery. But thank you.
ERIC CHEYFITZ: There's another question [INAUDIBLE]
AUDIENCE: OK, so as a Palestinian, I would like to add my voice to our Professor Salaita's voice and other Palestinian scholars. And I will be advocating for a one-state solution. And let me make one point about that. There's this one guy who said, but what will you do with me in one-state, basically?
Can you hear?
AUDIENCE: So is that better? Better?
AUDIENCE: So one gentleman there comment, what will you do with me as an Israeli in one-state reality? And there's one problem with that question. And that problem is by sort of thinking about it this way, we may be thinking of Palestinians in an orientalist point of view, that there are these savage people ready to go, and get, and kill all the non-Palestinians living in that area.
And the other thing is, another point-- I'm not saying that's what you are planning. I'm saying that some people may think of it this way. But the other thing that I also would like to point out is that a quarter of the-- we talk about, basically, about colonialism and how we're sitting on US-occupied native lands as we speak right now.
And the same logic that the so-called Israeli state is sitting on Palestinian land before 1948. Now don't get me wrong. That does mean that Palestinians are going to do the same that has been done to them to liberate themselves.
But it seems like to maintain the this 1948 borders and continue to colonize what is left of 1967, Israelis are engaging in massacres every other year. And so liberating Palestine and getting a fair solution that does not create an injustice to the Israelis who are living there, despite what maybe their ancestors have done to Palestinians, is not only liberating Palestinians. But it's also liberating Israelis from being the oppressor year after year. Thank you.
ERIC CHEYFITZ: OK.
AUDIENCE: Yeah, I just want to-- hi, my name's Chad. I wanted to ask you-- do you want mics? Do you need mics?
AUDIENCE: All right. I hope I'm not the last question. Because I tend to bum people out. I'm wondering if you'd provide any observations. What have you noticed--
ERIC CHEYFITZ: Red will turn it on.
AUDIENCE: Red will turn it on. What have you noticed in your interactions with indigenous communities here in this hemisphere, as far as the type and level of conversations that are to be had about the parallels that you're drawing attention to in your piece? I mean, the solidarity that became to Ferguson, that came to Standing Rock, that came to a variety of these actions were celebrated, obviously.
But we're also living in a time when some of the tribes that hold the largest mineral resources are outwardly and expressing alliance with Israel, the state of Israel. And at the same time, people who are working for cultural, and religious, and spiritual revitalization and liberation in these communities are so beset that have this type of international perspective. It's almost a luxury.
And nice is fine. I belong to to [INAUDIBLE]. But it's also, who's [INAUDIBLE]? Nobody cares when I go home about these types of things.
And I'm wondering if you could give me a sense of what you have noticed about what is happening? I mean, you talk about the streets of Palestine. Have you heard anything in your travels, from your colleagues about what's happening on the streets, on reservations, [INAUDIBLE] territories in this hemisphere?
STEVEN SALAITA: Thank you. That's a great question. I'm mostly limited to my own intellectual, and activist, and political spaces, more than I would like to be. And in those spaces, they tend to attract a certain kind of political consumer, very often academics, very often folks who are widely read in some kind or other of leftist tradition, a particular Marxist tendency, or a de-colonial theory.
So I guess, in terms of what's happening in communities, no, the best example I can think of would be Standing Rock recently, where people from all over the hemisphere sort of came together. And it seemed to me a decent portent of what can happen when people are given the space to talk. I know that at a governmental level certain native nations are working with Israel or have been wooed successfully by Israel. Some folks have taken to calling it red washing.
I know that in, let's say, non-academic communities, there's very often an indifference to this particular issue or a sense that, like you said, we're overwhelmed with our own problems. But no, I think that part of any project of decolonisation is speaking with people whom we have access to. And that's crucial.
I can speak a little bit more to my impressions of American Indians in Palestinian communities and in Lebanon, specifically. Because that's where I just was. And a certain set of misapprehensions can exist there, or a certain set of misconceptions, even.
I think what I encounter a lot is the idea that history ended in North America. And we, the Palestinians, don't want the same thing to happen to us. We don't want to be defeated. We don't want it to end.
And so the idea then, is that indigenous peoples here have no recourse. It's not a lack of sympathy. There's a tremendous amount of sympathy for native peoples and an identification with them, but then also a sense that it's too late, that history has sort of passed a certain point, and there's no going back.
And in those cases, because I've had access to those communities, that's where I try to spark the conversation. But I don't have access, really, to native communities on reservations or activists communities outside of academe where I would necessarily feel comfortable going in there and raising the conversation. Does that make sense? I know that's a little bit of a cop-out.
But it's not a place where-- I'll get off my ass and do more. There, that's what I'm thinking about it. There's more to do there. There's more to do there. There is more to do there.
ERIC CHEYFITZ: We'll take a couple more questions. And then we can go upstairs and [INAUDIBLE]. I just wanted to make sure I'm not missing anybody around the room.
AUDIENCE: Over here.
ERIC CHEYFITZ: Yeah, I saw you. Carol?
AUDIENCE: OK, cool. I'm glad to see you all people thinking of Puerto Rico from that side. Because it's become so blanant and so transparent to everything. And I'm from the Caribbean. And it's one of the most hateful experiences we've had, just witnessing how we are treated by the States. So I'm wondering, are there connections made with [INAUDIBLE]? Could you comment?
STEVEN SALAITA: Sure. There's been a lot of-- and thank you, [INAUDIBLE]. There's been a lot of solidarity work among Palestinians and Puerto Ricans. A decent amount of scholarship has been published, too.
I know, in New York City particularly, where there are significant populations of Puerto Ricans and Palestinians, certainly more of the former. There have been a lot of shared aspects of activist solidarity. And I would say that there's a good basis for it.
The kind of exertions of US power throughout the Caribbean are of a sort that will be deeply familiar to anybody with even a basic understanding of the exertions of US power on the mainland, or fact, the exertions of US power throughout the Southern hemisphere, like in the Philippines, in Central Asia, in the Middle East, and Sub-Saharan Africa, and elsewhere. In other words, the Caribbean has always been seen as hosting a set of markets to be controlled by US business interests.
And Puerto Rico, in particular, has been seen as an important site of strategic military installation. And in that sense, it actually shares a lot in common with Hawaii. And it's really in Hawaii, more than any other place, that the US controls the topography of the Pacific, and allowed the US to maintain a certain set of East Asian interests, and allowed, in fact, the conquest of the Philippines in the late 19th century, where they committed a genocide, a familiar pattern.
And so what I'm saying, what's gone on in Puerto Rico shows us in no uncertain terms that life as an American colony dooms you to a kind of subservience economic, political, and otherwise, that only liberation can mitigate. And you compare, actually, the responses to the hurricane in Cuba, an independent state and a communist state, and in Puerto Rico. And it's absolutely mind blowing the way that the largely-impoverished Cuban state, nowhere close to the type of resources that it's gringo neighbor has, the way that it managed to collectively respond to the tragedy, while the US federal government did all its thumbs and watched dozens of people dying, people suffering, people going hungry.
And there's no logic under US colonialism that emphasizes doing right on behalf of fellow human beings for ethical reasons. Everything's driven by a profit motive. And everything is driven by the interests of the business elite. And so, yeah, there are plenty of connections to be made between Puerto Rico, on Palestine, and Hawaii. And in fact, I think that those three places would make a mighty interesting study if there are any ambitious graduate students who haven't found a thesis or dissertation topic yet.
ERIC CHEYFITZ: I'm going to take one more question. And then come upstairs and we'll still be up there, won't you?
STEVEN SALAITA: Yeah.
ERIC CHEYFITZ: I'm not leaving. You can ask your questions there. Sorry, I know you've had your hand up for awhile.
AUDIENCE: Yeah. You've spoken very passionately about the common bond between Palestinians and Native Americans, both whom have sadly been oppressed and slighted throughout the course of history. However, throughtout the course of history, I would suggest that, perhaps, no people have suffered more than the Jewish people.
Yet, rather than validating the right to the Jewish people who live in a Jewish state alongside an independent and free Palestinian state, you say it's that Zionism has-- and I quote-- "transformed anti-Semitism from something horrible into something honorable." Can you please explain why is that some oppressed people are deserving of the right to self-determine, while the Jewish people are not?
STEVEN SALAITA: OK. Thank you. This seems like a good question to end the communal proceedings. I don't know by what metric we can rank the amount of suffering that different peoples have endured. But there's certainly no question among anybody rational that the Jews of modern Europe, in particularly, have suffered tremendously, that their suffering lasted over the course of centuries. And they endured a kind of brutality that is remarkably difficult even to think about. There's no question about that.
But I am skeptical about a moral paradigm in which that particular history takes priority over the current and contemporaneous suffering-- very real, very profound suffering-- of Palestinians to the point where their national rights are suppressed. Zionism, no matter what motivated individual Zionists, is, and was, and began as a settler colonial movement. It has a long history of literature illustrating beyond a shadow of a doubt that the purpose from the get-go was to displace Palestine's native Arab Palestinian population.
Plan Dalet, carried out from the years 1947 to 1949, resulted in numerous massacres of innocent civilians-- the most notorious being Deir Yassin, others including [INAUDIBLE], but certainly not limited to those two-- and that, now, the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are 2 million. They live in a geographical space that's twice the size of Washington, DC physically. It's very small. They are confined to the territory.
Israeli politicians, who use the most racist discourse among leaders anywhere in the world today-- and I'm not even talking about marginal figures. I'm talking about the president. There are various ministers. Aylet Shaked, who has something horrible and something shitty to say like every two weeks, and on, and on, and on, talks of putting the people of Gaza on a diet, or talks of mowing the lawn in Gaza. And yeah, that means exactly what you think it means.
People are dying of cancer, because they can't get out of the territory in order to receive treatment. The people there are suffering an embargo where medicine can't come into the territory. It is a life of misery. And I understand what you're saying.
But in the face of this kind of visible suffering, this kind of torture that an entire people is collectively being made to endure right now in the name of a state that you profess to support, and fully funded, and supported by a state in which you're currently living and to whom you pay taxes, I can not understand how your empathy is not with those 2 million people who, right now, are living in conditions that nobody, worst enemy alive, should have to endure for even the duration of five minutes. What is happening in Gaza now is an absolute disgrace to humanity, the kind of thing that we're going to be talking about for decades into the future, saying, when that shit was happening, what the hell were you doing about it? Were you trying to argue that one group of people based on how the state defines their religion should have more rights than another group of people of a different religion? Or were you doing something about it, and saying, I empathize with fellow human beings who are living in the most shitty conditions imaginable?
And so, any time the word suffering in relation to Israel or Palestine comes up, I'm sorry-- not really sorry-- but my heart, first and foremost, is going to go to the people who are suffering tremendously right now, and who need our care, and our attention, and not towards narratives of history that are in vote for the purposes of exploitation in the name of maintaining a system of unequal rights and a system that causes the suffering of Gaza-- and I'll add, the West Bank-- in the first place. It just doesn't work for me.
So I would say that those who are concerned about suffering, go. Talk to your politicians. Talk to anybody you can. And tell them to raise this blockade.
Because it was just two years ago that the Palestinians in Gaza were having to store the bodies of toddlers and children in ice cream freezers. It was just three years ago that 522 children died over a period of 51 days. I cannot and will not entertain any narrative about suffering that doesn't put this first and foremost in our attention. Thank you.
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Steven Salaita is an independent scholar and author of 'Inter/Nationalism: Decolonizing Native America and Palestine.' His Nov. 15, 2017 talk explored how Natives and Palestinians develop mutual strategies of resistance, and the prospects and problems of these alliances.