Remembering the Nabka

Many thanks to our webinar participants. We had a wide range of contributions over 90 mins which you can re-watch above. Contributions included

  • An illustrated introduction to the first Nakba
  • Family experience of dispossession by Asad Abu Sharkh.
  • Eyewitness accounts of the ongoing Nakba in the South Hebron Hills and Hebron by returned Irish human rights monitors, Finn Stoneman and Sophie Gregg.
  • A comparison of the colonial structures used in Palestine and North America against the indigenous people by Shadia Qubti – Shadia has kindly given us the text she used during her presentation which we present below.
  • A prayer-reflection by Pastor Tim Bowen-Evans.

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A comparison of the colonial structures used in Palestine and North America against the indigenous people by Shadia Qubti

One of the aftermaths of the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, at the start of each meeting, a Land Acknowledgement is expressed where one recognizes who had been living in these lands before it became a nation-state. As a Palestinian on commemorating the Nakba, I particularly highlight that land acknowledgement is an affirmation that the land was and is not empty upon the “discovery” incursions of European tradesmen and settlers. I acknowledge that I am speaking to you from the unceded and traditional territories of the Masquim, squamish and Tslelauith nations nations. 

One of the reasons I enrolled to the Inter-religious and Indigenous Studies this program is to explore how indigenous peoples in North America – like what Finn called ‘hidden’ history of Canada and U.S. – especially those who adhere to the Christian faith, navigate their experiences of othering. On the one hand, they were othered as uncivilized/savages and biblical Canaanites yet on the other hand they are God’s children and a community of Creation in a sacred covenant with God. One of the outcomes of this learning process is to converse as a Palestinian Christian with North American indigenous understandings of land in theological discourses. Today, I present an anecdote of some conversations that are already taking place in academia and tailoring them to put into perspective the commemoration of 75 years of the Palestinian Nakba. 

Conversations about similar yet different experience of settler-colonialism

An article co-written by Mike Krebs (Blackfoot) and Dana M. Olwan, a Palestinian Canadian, informed by their co-resistance activism, identify for the purpose of this presentation two kinds of similarities between Canadian and American settler-colonial projects. (1) both projects involve the displacement of Indigenous people from their land, and the theft of that land and its resources for the use and benefit of the settler population. On the shared experiences of dispossession, they draw parallels between the establishment of the Canadian reserve system and the ongoing Nakba for Palestinians, which started in 1948, intensified in 1967, and created the apartheid wall in 2001. On the theft of land, both settler-colonial projects used force and laws, such as the Indian Act and cultural genocide in Canada. (2) both projects use the tool of controlling the movement of Indigenous people. Canada used the Pass System, which is similar to the Palestinian reality of extensive system of permits, checkpoints, and the apartheid wall, restricting and regulating the movement of Palestinians in the oPt, and the siege of Gaza since 2006. 

Waziyatawin, a Dakota scholar, who wrote an article after she visited the oPt in 2011 along with other women of colour, one of them is Angela Davis. She describes the Israeli occupation as a “high-speed and high-tech version of the colonization of American Indian homelands.” She compares Zionist Ideology to Manifest Destiny, noting, “[Israeli and US colonization] are based on a belief in a divinely-sanctioned right to occupy someone else’s land.” On colonial ideology manifesting in judicial and legislative laws, Waziyatawin compared the experience of the Dakota people to the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of Jerusalem. In both places, the respective governments used legal tactics to physically erase Indigenous people from their lands. In addition, she compares the tactic of erasure through re-naming landscapes and denying Indigenous placenames to impose a colonial identity on the land. “All such efforts,” she explains, “are designed to assert a claim to land, while simultaneously attempting to make the indigenous the foreigner.” 

It is important to note that some scholars are cautious of using the comparative approach because they collapsing histories in these contexts. One apparent example is the role of military rule and governance. In Canada, the dominant instrument used in indigenous elimination for territorial expansion has been biological and cultural warfare rather than military occupation, which is the predominant Israeli instrument towards the Palestinians. 

In addition, a settler-colonial paradigm is flawed in recognizing the dual positionality of Palestinians living in North America (and other colonial contexts). They have been displaced as a result of Israeli colonization and are in place of stolen lands in a different context (North America). The lack of attention for this dual positionality impacts co-solidarity. Fostering a global solidarity with Palestinian people while addressing Indigenous struggles for sovereignty and self-determination in Canada, for example, cannot be separated from capitalist and imperial structures.  Race, class, and gender relations are intertwined with each other. Disregarding them weakens their role in solidarity works. 

Throughout these rich conversations, the large role that Palestinians and North American indigenous peoples play are as colonized while the majority focuses on the colonizer. This begs the question of our agency in academic discourse beyond casualties or subjects of colonization. Similar dynamics was apparent in my research of theological conversations. To start with, there were only a few conversations that are taking place. And the main discourse in these conversations is also about the colonizer, particularly the role of conquest in biblical narrative to justify the annihilation of indigenous peoples for the benefit of settlers, who interpret and place themselves as God’s Chosen People in their Promised land. 

Theological relationships – Conquest

A literary scholar in Native Studies, Steven Salaita’s, work The Holy Land in Transit where he attributes the American conquest of the New World to a biblical understanding of conquest, then he shows how the same biblical understanding of conquest has been transferred from the New World back to the Holy Land. 

Looking at writings of American Christian Pilgrims (towards the second-half the end of 19th century when travel was made more accessible to Palestine partly due to the development of Steamships). Robert Smith observes that the “geographical imagination” of settler-colonialism, across different sectors (archeology, literature, pilgrimage) depends on the extensions of a white settler-colonial gaze. He shows that the American self-understanding of settler-colonial logic, expressed in Manifest Destiny, has transferred to Palestine. He elaborates how such settler-colonial gaze proclaimed Palestinian lands as Terrae Nullius “even (and especially) when Indigenous peoples are in plain sight.”

The seminal work of Robert Allan Warrior (Osage), “Canaanites, Cowboys and Indians” which is usually paralleled with Naim Ateek’s Justice and Only Justice in how they critique liberation theologies’ interpretation of the Exodus story. God the liberatory of the Israelites is also the conqueror of the Canaanites. 

So, how do theologians, both representatives of these respective contexts and their allies, who are adherents of the Christian faith navigate the double-edged sides of interpreting the Bible? 

To start with, they name and identify ways Academia in general, and the school of theology in particular, were and continue to be colonial sites. For example, while western theory claims that objectivity can be achieved, non-western scholars collapse this binary because their lived experiences are at the forefront of their writings/interpretation. The creation of de-colonialization in general and in theological discourse, albeit expressed differently in these two contexts, is a means to decenter western dominant theologies and at the same time create space for indigenized theologies. Mitri Raheb’s Palestinian theology for example does not separate the Bible from its geo-political context. The Holy Land does not exist in a vacuum nor a replica of a western screenshot of an overly-spiritualized biblical western gaze. 

While we commemorate 75 years of the Nakba today, there is a need to expand our theological conversations with other indigenous peoples to foster a global solidarity. For example, there is ample of evidence to show that Canadian and Israeli governance employed similar processes, tactics and structures to dispossess and displace their indigenous peoples, why then is there discomfort in acknowledging Israeli settler-colonialism? Why does it feel like we are still withheld from naming things for what they are? Is 75 years not enough? I’ll end with quoting one of Waziyatawin’s learnings from her visit to the oPt. She was inspired by Palestinian resistance. She distinguishes between the aspirations expressed in the resistance of Palestinians and her Lakota people. She says, “Given the similar processes of invasion, occupation and colonization, what is striking is not that our Peoples have similarly suffered, but that in the twenty-first century our responses to the suffering are so vastly different.” 

Copyright © 2023 Shadia Qubti

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