American Indians and Palestinians have supported each other’s struggle since at least the 1970s when the American Indian Movement hosted a delegation of leaders from the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
“What the American Indian Movement says is that the American Indians are the Palestinians of the United States, and the Palestinians are the American Indians of the Middle East,” the late great Indian leader Russell Means said many times. So it is no surprise that Palestinian activists are coming out in support of Idle No More.
In little more than two weeks since the December 10 launching of the Idle No More movement by First Nations in Canada oppose a Senate omnibus budget bill that leaves them with no power over their lands and resources, dozens of organizations and hundreds of individuals supporting Palestinian liberation and human rights have endorsed the Palestinians in Solidarity with Idle No More and Indigenous Rights statement of support of the continuing Native protest that has spread across Canada, the U.S., some European countries and into the Middle East. Palestinians in Solidarity with Idle No More and Indigenous Rights calls for justice, dignity, decolonization and protection of the land, waters and resources.
“We recognize the deep connections and similarities between the experiences of our peoples – settler colonialism, destruction and exploitation of our land and resources, denial of our identity and rights, genocide and attempted genocide,” the statement says. “As Palestinians, we stood with the national liberation movement against settler colonialism in South Africa, as we stand with all liberation movements challenging colonialism and imperialism around the world. The struggle of Indigenous and Native peoples in Canada and the United States has long been known to the Palestinian people, reflecting our common history as peoples and nations subject to ethnic cleansing at the hands of the very same forces of European colonization.”
The statement goes on to recognize that the Indigenous resistance movement in Canada “includes struggles against the ongoing theft of indigenous lands, massive resource extraction and environmental devastation (including tar sands and pipelines), the continuing movement of survivors of the genocidal residential school system, and movements to demand an end to the colonial and gendered violence against Indigenous women.”
Palestinians In Solidarity with Idle No More and Indigenous Rights was launched by Vancouver resident Khaled Barakat, a Palestinian writer and community activist whose organization Samidoun focuses on the plight of political prisoners in Israeli jails and also works with Native activists and groups.
“As a Palestinian I try to study the history of the struggle here in Canada and I also see in the present conditions among Native communities that we have a common interest, a joint struggle in so many different ways,” Barakat told Indian Country Today Media Network. “I have a personal conviction that the Palestinian struggle and the struggle of all indigenous peoples around the world are connected.”
Barakat noted that both Palestinians and Native peoples have similar challenges in terms of a lack of unified representation and leadership and that one of the most effective colonialist strategies – divide and conquer – is still alive and well and working to the detriment of unity. “The Zionists, for example, are working so hard on trying to get some of the Native leaders to go and support Israel and some of these chiefs who don’t really represent the actual population and people go to Israel and try to portray that Natives and Israelis have bonds, not Natives and Palestinians, but in the final analysis those individuals’ numbers are not significant. Our numbers and support have to do with grassroots and people in the streets so eventually we will win,” Barakat said.
The core issue for both Native peoples and Palestinians is land, Barakat said, noting that Israel has violated dozens of United Nations resolutions and international laws in illegally occupying and expropriating Palestinian lands for Israeli settlers. “Land is definitely the main issue because of the resources, but it’s also the culture, it’s the history, it’s the ownership. And the economy is a major determining factor in the conflict – whether it’s among First Nations and other Indigenous Peoples here in Canada and the U.S. or Palestine – and the land is very much connected to that,” Barakat said.
An empathy with Native peoples goes back to Barakat’s childhood. As a young boy growing up in Palestine he saw that the Israeli media always portrayed Native peoples as savage, barbaric terrorists – the same terms used to portray Palestinians in the media, he said. “So even when we were children we would fight over who would play the cowboys and who would play the Natives, because everybody always wanted to play the Natives,” he said.
Barakat said it was no coincidence that he chose to begin the call for the Palestinians in Solidarity with Idle No More statement lines from the late Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish’s great epic poem The Speech of the Red Indian. In this poem written in 1992, Darwish captures the passion and sorrow of both Palestinians and Native Americans over what has befallen their peoples – invasion, colonization, ethnic cleansing, genocide, land theft, and imprisonment on tiny postage stamp-sized areas of what had once been their vast homeland.
You who come from beyond the sea, bent on war,
don’t cut down the tree of our names,
don’t gallop your flaming horses across
the open plains….
Don’t bury your God
in books that back up your claim of
your land over our land,
don’t appoint your God to be a mere
courtier in the palace of the King.
“It’s almost an instinctive feeling to see ourselves in the indigenous struggle,” Barakat said. “It’s because of this that Palestinians in general see that what happened and is still happening to Natives in Canada and the U.S. is actually happening now in Palestine.”
The below video features the late Russell Means speaking about American Indians and Palestinians relationship.