Reservation Politics: the Palestinian experience through the historical monocle of Native Americans - Melancholic Troglodytes

Palestinians in Native American costume protest Condoleeza Rice visit

An historical examination of the similarities and differences in the situations of the Palestinians and the Native Americans.

"Our historical analogy aimed to demonstrate the failure of the present course of action for the region’s proletariat and suggest an alternative. It is the social and not the military dimension of the struggle that has the potential to transcend capital."


Reservation Politics: the Palestinian experience through the historical monocle of Native Americans
(Melancholic Troglodytes, 2007)

The current plight of Palestinians increasingly resembles the tragic demise of Native Americans. To have become refugees in their own land, hounded and derided by a superior military and economic entity, and to have endured mostly apathy from the outside world as well as the inevitable corruption and authoritarianism of ‘their own leaders’ are markers of both experiences. The aim of this short essay is to demonstrate (some of) the commonalities and differences that have shaped these two struggles.

‘Why is it that the Apache wait to die - that they carry their lives on their fingernails?’
(Cochise, Apache leader, quoted in Brown, 1972: 169).

If today, notwithstanding the bombastic posturing of Hardt and Negri (2000; 2004), nationalism runs rampant, it is because we are weak. Anton Pannekoek put it in a nutshell: ‘As has often been pointed out, the working class is not weak because it is divided; on the contrary, it is divided because it is weak’ (Pannekoek, 1936). In other words, if we consciously foreground our class interests in our daily lives, the shibboleths of the bourgeoisie -nationalism, racism, religion- would be unable to take root.

Benedict Anderson (1990) described nationalism as an ‘imagined community’. Imagined because ‘regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship’ (Anderson, 1990: 16). For nationalism to appeal to the proletariat it must be contrasted favourably with its cruder appendages: the reservation, the ghetto and the concentration camp. So much of contemporary ‘western’ political discourse is geared toward foregrounding this contrast. More specifically, today we observe a concentric relationship between the nation-state, reservation, ghetto and concentration camp. The four circles are intertwined and at the same time placed on hierarchically organised layers. They expand and contract, weave in and out of each other and in the process keep the threat of a borderless communist community at bay. In short, they provide the bourgeoisie with a fantastically simple and effective regulating mechanism. And since through the establishment of borders capitalism acquires a ‘law-like’ character, the plethora of borders going up all over the world are also indicative of a drive to modernise the Law as a more effective weapon of suppression (cf. Mitropoulos, 2006: 40). Below we attempt to unpack this concentric, multi-layered relationship.

‘'One does not sell the earth upon which the people walk.’
(Crazy Horse, leader of Oglala Lakota, quoted in Brown, 1972: 217).

It is common knowledge how the British bourgeoisie erected internment camps during the Second Boer War (1899-1902), although they do not seem to have been the first. The Spanish ruling class used them in the Ten Year’ War (1868-1878) against slaves in Cuba and the US government used them to devastating effect against ‘insurgents’ in the Philippine-American War (1899-1913). However, the British use of camps against Boer internees and black African ones (and they were detained in separate camps) signifies the first large-scale example of internment camps. They were originally set up for ‘refugees whose farms had been destroyed by the British Scorched Earth policy … However, following Kitchener’s new policy, many women and children were forcibly moved to prevent the Boers from re-supplying at their homes …’ (Wikipedia, ‘Second Boer War’).

It was left to the Nazis to establish a firm division of labour amongst camps. Under their rule there were three types of camps: concentration camps like Buchenwald which were huge prisons, organised for the purpose of control; work camps such as the huge IG Farben camp at Auschwitz which employed over 15,000 Jewish slaves on average at any time; and, extermination camps like Treblinka specially designed to ‘biologically remodel the human race’ (Traverso, 1999: 67; also see Postone 2000, for an interesting take on concentration camps). This categorisation was ‘marked by a constant tension between extermination and exploitation, each advocated by a different sector of the SS and Nazi regime’ (Traverso, 1999: 58).

During the 20th century the configurations of choice for dealing with Palestinians were the work and concentration camps- the former for those wage-slaves beneficial to the Israeli economy and the latter for the reserved army of unemployed. In recent times, Israel’s conscious strategy to limit its ‘dependence’ on Palestinian workers has transformed many work camps into concentration camps. This means Israeli capitalism is not even keen to use Palestinian proletarians as generators of absolute surplus value anymore, as was clearly indicated in March 1993 when 130,000 Palestinian workers were barred indefinitely from their jobs in Israel.[1] In the case of Native Americans, the same two camp configurations were occasionally morphed into extermination camps with predictable results. If it is true that the Palestinians put up a greater fight against internment than Native Americans ever did, it is probably due to spatial anomalies. Native Americans lived in a continent with vast unchartered territories making escape and exodus a more attractive option. The Palestinian camp internees have nowhere to run to and quite literally ‘nothing to lose but their chains’. This desperation incidentally also throws light on the more uncompromising attitude of camp refugees to negotiations with Israel compared to Palestinian villagers who live under a (relatively) less draconian military occupation and depend on the good will of the Israeli state for their agricultural activities.[2]

By comparison with the camps, ghettoes offered their inmates a modicum of ‘self-sufficiency’. A ghetto was a part of the city (usually the poorest part) designated for the habitation of a ‘racially’ or ‘ethnically’ specific group of people (usually Jews between the 16th and 19th centuries but more recently extended to other ‘races’ such as ‘blacks’ in the USA or Roma in the Czech Republic). Ghettoes usually had their own justice system. For example, the Israeli elite were content to allow Palestinian ghettoes to be ruled by Arafat and his cronies. He had fostered groups based on clan loyalties, with their own militias. It is the collapse of Arafat’s network of patronage that has contributed to the inter-clan fighting between Hamas and Fatah in recent times (Lederman, 2006: 3).

Ironically, the reappearance of ghettoes during W/W II initially gave a false sense of security to inmates since it was believed the separation of Jews and non-Jews might result in less direct intimidation (Bresheeth et al, 1997: 59). The essentialism practiced by the dominant force against ghetto inhabitants requires a coherent, homogenous culture and/or religion at its point of contact. For this approach to be effective, class struggle within the ghetto has to be covered up. The fact that the ghetto was a space within an existing city, isolated from the dominant ‘race’ or ‘ethnicity’ and revolved around wage-slavery (as opposed to the direct slavery of the artificial camps) offered some prisoners the illusion of safety. The Warsaw ghetto, for instance, included 73 streets out of 1800 where 55,000 inmates were paid some sort of wages (Traverso, 1999: 82). The ghetto was encouraged to elect its own Jewish Council to ensure compliance with Nazi authorities and run services such as food distribution, Jewish policing, hospitals, sanitation and the work places. Consequently, when the Nazis decided to transport the inmates to extermination camps many voted against resistance believing they would be allowed to go on producing. In fact, the internalisation of authority was so intense that one marvels at the bravery and daring of all those who did finally resist their captors in the 1941-43 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (cf. Edelman, 1994).

The transfer of Bedouins from their Negev lands to areas attached to Israeli towns like Ramle or Beersheva is a more contemporary example of ghettoization. The semi-nomadic Bedouin has finally been made into a wage-slave eking a precarious existence at the mercy of the Israeli boss. Those Bedouins who are deemed surplus to capital requirement are shunned onto semi-permanent concentration camps instead of ghettoes. Some of their land is taken over by bourgeois ranchers (e.g., former Prime Minister Sharon owned a large ranch in the Negev desert); some of the land is re-populated by poor Jewish farmers who have to be financially induced to relocate and the rest given to the army. This long-running, low-intensity war against Bedouins was also the main strategy employed against ‘non-combative’ Native American tribes.

When camps and ghettos are deemed impractical and the granting of ‘full national sovereignty’ not a viable solution, reservations become the regulating mechanism of choice.[3] Reservations are sold to their inhabitants as a lifestyle, with their own permanent governing bodies and culturally sensitive structures. Today, some Native American reservations have been graciously granted license to experience the joys of capitalism first-hand by setting up a string of tourist-friendly casinos. More commonly as Howard Hughes (2001: 18) describes: ‘Indian reservations … look more like caravan sites … a huge trailer park, with 4x4 pick-ups parked outside … But how did the Indians end up in such a predicament- second-class citizens in their own land?’ The answer, of course, is deceptively banal: unlike nationalism which can be sold as a viable commodity on the market, the reservation, ghetto and camp are a hard sell. Rather they have to be imposed and maintained through coercion and fear of punishment.

When following the discovery of gold in the Black Hills, the Native Americans refused to sell their land or become wage-slaves, President Grant treated all as antagonists and ordered them to be rounded up in reservations (Hughes, 2001: 52). The tactics of hostage-taking and the human shield were added to the repertoire of the US army by General Custer. In Kosova, reservations are policed by the KFOR multinational ‘peacekeeping’ force, a process charmingly referred to as ‘enclavization’. Likewise, the West Bank is a reservation rather than a viable economic territory. The labyrinthine roadblocks and 760 Israeli checkpoints are testimony to this reality which is accurately captured by the Arabic term Ihtilal- the Suffocation. Israel prevents Palestinians from operating a seaport or an airport, limits the movement of goods, confiscates the Palestinian Authority’s tax revenues and stops Gaza’s supply of fuel and electricity almost at will (Grossman, 2006: 2).

For years, the West Bank and Gaza were propped up artificially by outside money. Before the recent Hamas election victory, European capitalism was the biggest donor with $600 million a year followed by the US at $400 million. Since then Hamas has failed to pay its bureaucrats on time leading to anti-Hamas demonstrations.[4] Meanwhile, the Iranian mullah-bourgeoisie has attempted to win influence by allocating millions to Hamas. This is a ploy that resonates favourably with Palestinians who are extremely critical of the corruption and inefficacy of Palestinian non-governmental organizations. In all three examples cited above (the Black Hills, Kosova and the Occupied Territories), the maintenance of reservations allowed mafia-style gangs to strengthen their power-base at the expense of both the proletariat and orthodox bourgeois governance.

The accumulation of capital requires blood as well as sweat which is why the US and Israeli armies have played such a crucial role in pacifying Native Americans and Palestinians respectively. Whilst political discourse has attempted to limit the notion of freedom to nationalism, military subjugation has forced Native Americans and Palestinians on a merry go-round of camps, ghettos and reservations. This state of permanent emergency was the subterfuge under which US enclosures were expanded at the expense of Native Americans. A similarly induced strategy of tension is responsible for justifying the Israeli ‘security’ Wall and the land-grab it promotes.[5] It is to a brief analysis of these military manoeuvrings that we now turn our attention.

‘‘I now think a little powder and lead is the best food for [the Indians]’
(S. Colley, U.S. Indian agent, quoted in Brown, 1972: 62).

The similarities between US and Israeli armies are startling- this is evident both in terms of tactics and strategies.[6] Both armies had their roots in militias; both were reorganised for fighting guerilla warfare; both evolved through massacres, terrorism, assassinations, bounty hunting, scorched earth policies, collective retribution and economic co-option of the enemy; both armies are at the cutting edge of technical advancement and warfare theory[7]; and, finally, both were directly politicised in the process of land grab and primitive capital accumulation necessary for the expansion of US and Israeli capitalism in a hostile environment. It is these factors rather than the magical power of Hollywood propaganda (cf. Churchill, 1998) that explains the deep-seated affinity of large segments of the US and Israeli populace with their respective armies.[8]

The massacres at Sand Creek (1864) and Deir Yassin (1948) have eerie similarities. The Sand Creek massacre is sometimes dismissed as the result of the machinations of a racist ex-preacher, Colonel Chivington, who ‘seeking fame … deliberately stirred up trouble between the whites and the Indians, providing him with the excuse to attack the peaceful camp of Black Kettle’ (Hughes, 2001: 11). Likewise the massacre at Deir Yassin is at times simplistically blamed on the over-zealous Zionist militia of Menachem Begin (Rose, 1986: 53). Both incidents, however, were part and parcel of capital’s march towards expansion and consolidation. They were also examples of what nowadays is referred to as ‘ethnic-cleansing’- psychological and/or physical acts of terrorism calculated to change the demographics of conquered land. An alternative method of terrorism was to delegate responsibility to fringe groups thus exonerating the state from blame. For example, in 1982 the Israeli army used Lebanese fascists to ‘methodically slaughter’ the inhabitants of Sabra and Shatilla Palestinian refugee camps (Chomsky, 1983).[9]

The superiority of the US and Israeli armies vis-à-vis their antagonists was underlined through a series of vicious tactics.[10] Assassination of recalcitrant guerrillas was rife. Kicking Bird of the Kiowas had his coffee poisoned. At least he died with no ‘collateral damage’. Today ‘trigger happy mobile phones’, ‘hit squads’ and ‘smart missiles’ are deemed a more cost-effective method of dispatching Palestinians. Water supplies are destroyed/contaminated/stolen in a bid to both slow down enemy advance and/or limit the economic self-sufficiency of reservations[11] (Melancholic Troglodytes, 2003). Each time the primitive accumulation of (Palestinian) capital approaches critical mass, a well is destroyed, rerouted or cordoned off.[12]

Bounty-hunting which used to remove troublesome elements such as pirates and bandits deemed to be obstacles in the path of ‘progress’ has become an essential propaganda device designed to police entire nations. The Israeli army uses Druze Bedouins as ‘low-ranking desert trackers’ against other Arabs in a re-run of US use of ‘Indian scouts’. The Bedouin population has been subjected to waves of military ‘transfer’ from its Negev Desert grounds. Again in a bizarre replay of the story of Native Americans, the reclaimed Negev Desert is used by the Israeli army for its nuclear reactors and most of its nuclear arsenal (Cook, 2003). The use of torture in prison against Palestinians by Israel and Native Americans by the US was sanctioned at the highest levels with the aim of breaking the enemy. The recent Hamas electoral victory in Palestine has allowed the US/Israeli axis to ignore some of the real differences between the historically non-religious Palestinian struggle and modern Islamists. The closer the Palestinian proletarian archetype merges with the Islamist in public perception, the easier it is for Israel and US to legitimise the torture and assassination of all political opponents.

Both the US and Israeli armies have been instrumental in not only defeating ‘the natives’ but also grabbing land and expanding the boundaries of capitalism. The so-called wars of independence are a case in point. The War of 1812 led by land speculators such as Andrew Jackson was not ‘just a war against England for survival, but a war for the expansion of the new nation, into Florida, into Canada, into Indian territory’ (Zinn, 1999: 127). Likewise a cursory look at the maps depicting Israeli expansion between 1947-49 shows clearly how wars were used to expand the frontiers of Israeli settlements and establish camps, ghettoes or reservations for the defeated Arabs. In the West one method of transforming reservations into camps was to allow cattle barons to graze across Native American land for a paltry fee. Soon larger tracts of land would be required and colonisation speeded up at the expense of the hunter-gatherer economy of the Natives. In Palestine the Wall plays a similar function in grabbing strategic land for the Israeli state and simultaneously ensuring the economic unproductivity of the remaining Palestinian reservations.

On a similar trajectory, Rodinson reminds us that, ‘Kibbutz collectivism was far more important for settling territory and guarding borders against dispossessed Arabs than for opening up a road to Jewish socialism’ (Rodinson, 1988: 21). Many working class Israeli settlers are manipulated by the state to move into zones of conflict in order to act as a buffer in the same way that in the 18th century the colonial officialdom had monopolised the good land on the eastern seaboard of America and was now forcing ‘landless whites to move westward to the frontier, there to encounter the Indian and to be a buffer for the seaboard rich against Indian troubles, while becoming more dependent on the government for protection’ (Zinn, 1999: 54). In both cases, the army was crucial in policing this anti-working class stratagem. And in both cases, the abused gradually transformed itself into the abuser as a matter of survival.

‘‘If you owned Hell and [Jerusalem], live in Hell and rent out [Jerusalem]’
(Paraphrased from Hughes, 2001: 72).

The lure of gold and arable land was not a sufficient motivating factor for proletarian migration into contested and dangerous territories. This is true of both North America and Israel. In addition, it was necessary to imbue the flock with a missionary zeal. For example, in 1910, the ‘socialist’ Zionist Yavni’eli was sent to Yemen in order to recruit Yemenite Jews as a cheap labour force to undercut the (already) cheap labour of the Palestinian Arabs. To persuade Yemenite Jews to leave their homeland and embark on an uncertain journey, Yavni’eli ‘presented himself to them as a herald of the Messiah and declared that the day of salvation had arrived’ (Ein-Gil, 1981: 111).

In the absence of any other form of legitimacy, the Christian and Jewish Fundamentalists who colonised Native America and Palestine respectively based their claim on sacred texts. This is the junction when it became useful to mix a sense of racist superiority with a desire for racialist separatism. The mission had to get nasty. Jewish settlers of the West Bank, for example, cite self-serving passages from the Talmud regarding God’s regret for creating the Ishmaelites and refer to the Gentiles as ‘a people like a donkey’. Maimonides is quoted approvingly when he claims conquered people must ‘serve’ their Jewish masters and be ‘degraded and low’ and ‘must not raise their heads in Israel but must be conquered beneath their land … with complete submission’ (cf. Rose, 1986: 65). Only a few, including ‘spiritual Zionist’ theoreticians, pointed out that Palestine was not empty and that this may prove a problem in the future (Rodinson, 1988: 39). In fact before 1948 there were Jewish theologians such as Martin Buber who advocated a binational state of Jews and Arabs and fought for the repatriation of expelled Arab refugees. Buber argued that Zion referred to a unique place and not a chosen people. The Jews were as far as he was concerned mere caretakers of the ‘holy’ lands (Magid, 2006: 24).

The almost complete marginalisation of this brand of mystic Zionism by the exclusionist-settler wing of Zionism is a feature of more recent times. The notions of a ‘promised land’ and ‘Manifest Destiny’ appear frequently in the religious and secular discourse of both Jewish and Christian exclusionists. The ‘promised land’ needed to be de-populated in imagination before it could be de-populated in actuality. Only when the conquered were killed, driven off, incarcerated, turned into harmless caricatures or placed out of site could ‘Manifest Destiny’ be fulfilled.

The Pilgrims to New England, for instance, were aided by a declaration from the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to the effect that their intended land was a ‘vacuum’. It was ingeniously argued that since Native Americans had failed to ‘subdue’ the land, they only had a ‘natural’ right and not a ‘civil (legal) right’. The Puritans conveniently appealed to the Bible, Psalm 2:8, to back up such legal judgments: ‘Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession’ (cf. Zinn, 1999: 14). Many years later the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, did not mince his words when he declared, ‘The European settlers moved into an uninhabited waste ... the land is really owned by no one ... The settler ousts no one from the land. The truth is, the Indians never had any real title to the soil’ (quoted in Baroud, 2003). The same formula was followed by another racist conqueror, Golda Meir, former Israeli Prime Minster, ‘There was no such thing as Palestinians. It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country from them. They did not exist’ (ibid.).

Racist superiority was intermixed with racialist separatism in order to cement bourgeois rule. But it is essential to remind ourselves that prejudice was directed simultaneously against both the other in the shape of the ‘dirty Arab’ and the ’savage Injun’ and also the other in the shape of the lower class Jew and American. Both sets of others were expendable pawns in the hands of the bourgeoisie to be used and when necessary sacrificed to capitalist profitability. Both sets of others have to be incarcerated within borders characterised by camps, ghettoes, reservations or nationalisms.

‘‘Today is a good day to fight; today is a good day to die’
(Crazy Horse quoted in Hughes, 2001: 55)

One way of concluding this text would be to indulge in escapist nostalgia (e.g., we could give a litany of past instances of joint activity by Arab and Israeli proletarians or solidarity amongst Native American tribes). Joel Beinin (2001: 123) reminds us of a period not so long ago when even Palestinian Stalinists felt obliged to speak ‘in the name of both the Arab and Jewish working classes’ as an alternative to contending nationalisms. Scholarly work from a different perspective has foregrounded numerous proletarian coalitions that existed in the past (cf. the journal Khamsin played a key role in this discovery). Likewise the extremely uneven collection of essays edited by Ward Churchill (1992) is testimony not only to the atavistic nature of US Marxism but also occasionally to the potential for cross-cultural alliances between Native Americans and various immigrant groups in the USA (cf. Sakolsky & Koehnline, 1993).

However important as these examples are, it might be more instructive to end by pointing out a number of crucial differences between past Native American struggles and contemporary Palestinian resistance. This will, hopefully, prevent our analogy being taken over and misrepresented by romantic leftists.[13]

In general, the impetus of past Native American struggles (and this is also true of some current trends) was toward the preservation of a (by and large) class-less tribal community based on a gift exchange ‘economy’ and a minimal social division of labor. This way of life was based on a recognition of mutual dependence and non-hierarchical interaction. In places it promoted the existence of ‘tri-racial isolate communities’ and almost everywhere it celebrated sensual living and joy. The Native Americans’ desire for liberty and equality had a direct impact on European immigrants to the USA as well as the Founding Fathers. The notion of self-regulation without state intervention and consensus decision-making without compulsion influenced the likes of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson (Johansen, 1991: 59). Thomas Paine admired the native societies’ lack of poverty.

One feels that even disempowering tendencies such as gender divisions were contested affairs. The latest research indicates that in most areas native men and women freely married at the onset of adulthood (Nassaney, 2004). More significantly, ‘a woman could initiate a divorce by placing her husband’s belongings outside of her house …’ (Nassaney, 2004: 343). Both men and women are known to have held positions of leadership in the seventeenth century. During their struggle against colonialism women’s struggle against male domination was not put on the back-burner as the debates about women taking up tobacco smoking (with all that it entailed in terms of shamanistic power and status) readily attests to. Native societies were not perfect and the romantic histories of tribal culture have been rightly discredited. However, there was a fierce and healthy contestation of commodification, exchange values, gender division and hierarchy. By contrast, and this is a contrast that no amount of wishful-thinking can deny, the current Palestinian struggle has been taken over by capitalist, patriarchal and suicidal impulses. Reactionary currents have become sedimented leaving little room for self-criticism and strategic re-adjustment.

Of course, revolutionaries amongst the Palestinian resistance were from the outset outnumbered by reactionaries but never quite as marginalised as they are today. It was the left wing of capital (various Leninist and nationalist groupings) that made the running in the first few decades whilst today it is the right wing of capital (Hamas and nationalist groupings) that have taken over the leadership. The Palestinian proletariat has only managed to exert its autonomy in spits and spurts, the initial weeks of the first Intifada (1987) and the first few days of the Al Aqsa Intifada (2000) being prime examples. It was the defeat of this first Intifada (by the Israeli and Palestinian elites) that paved the way for right-wing Islamic discourse. Whilst for us there is no substantial difference between the left and right wings of capital, the shift is, nonetheless, indicative of a loss of political consciousness. Political discourse, as a set of statements and practices that make and re-make the subject of study, has been severed from the dynamics of struggle and reified into yet another border with its own law-like protocols. The militarisation of the Intifada and the ascendancy of religious discourse have played a significant role in this deterioration.[14] Occasionally we come across Palestinian proletarians who fully understand the counter-productive military tactics of the Islamists (cf. McCarthy, 2006). Sadly, for the time being, they appear powerless to stop the Islamists. Never before have capitalist, racist, sexist, homophobic and superstitious perspectives been so much at the forefront of the Palestinian struggle.

Those who choose not to see the qualitative differences between the Paiute Ghost Dance and the Shi’a ritual of Ashura are doing all of us a great disservice. The Ghost Dance was a convergent ritual which affirmed life and re-animated the collective historical memory of Native Americans. Ashura is a divergent ritual (setting Shi’a against Sunni, fundamentalist Shi’a against mystic Shi’a, and men against women), which celebrates death whilst distorting history. The Ghost Dance was more akin to a serious carnival. Ashura and Hajj gravitate toward the spectacle. Palestinian proletarians today are being bamboozled by both Sunni and Shi’a examples of the spectacle. A spectacularised-religious-sensibility has now invaded and cemented the secular-martyrdom-sensibility which was already observable amongst some Palestinians. The hero-worshipping, martyrdom-seeking, suicidal tendencies promoted by this desperate millenarianism may be in the interests of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, PLO, the Israeli, Iranian and US ruling classes but our interests lie elsewhere. Today, monotheistic religions are wholly counter-revolutionary. Those sections of the proletariat with daily experience of this reality are in an enviable position to renew atheism as part of their struggle against the totality of capitalist relations. Ironically we feel the prospects of this proletarian atheism are greater amongst Iranian and US proletarians than Palestinian and Israeli ones.

Our comparison of Palestinians with Native Americans was posited neither to elicit pity for ‘Palestine’ nor to promote a moralising discourse. We did not dwell on the Nakba (the expulsion of Palestinians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war), the two Intifadas and many more familiar signposts of the standard narrative in order to get away from the dead weight of a certain kind of history. Our historical analogy aimed to demonstrate the failure of the present course of action for the region’s proletariat and suggest an alternative. It is the social and not the military dimension of the struggle that has the potential to transcend capital. Sadly so long as Native Americans, US immigrants, Palestinians and Israelis are reduced to choosing between the camp, ghetto, reservation or nation-state, the consciousness of the universality of our struggle will remain marginalised. To paraphrase Crazy Horse, ‘Today is a difficult day to fight; tomorrow may be a better day to die’.

Melancholic Troglodytes
غارنشينان ماليخوليايی

Date completed: 22 April 2007, Prague


Postal address: Melancholic Troglodytes, c/o 56 Infoshop, 56a Crampton Road, Walworth, London SE17 3AE, United Kingdom

Acknowledgments: Melancholic Troglodytes wish to thank the following for reading and commenting on earlier versions of this text: Fabian, Asim, Loren and Richard. We are grateful to RM for making this text available online.


1) The Palestinians who are still tolerated as labourers go almost unnoticed such as the Basket Children of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Freedman (2007) describes how these children make a pittance carting heavy loads for customers shopping at the local souk on the orders of stern shopkeepers. Since they are also illegal workers, they are ripped off by unscrupulous employers.

2) By 2000 the agricultural sector accounted for only 7% of the GDP of the combined economy of the West Bank and Gaza Strip (OTR Palestine, 2001). Apart from the usual factors such as migration from the countryside, there are also additional circumstances specific to Palestine such as expropriation of arable lands by Israeli colonies, the wilful blocking of exports and water-theft which explain this decline. Occasionally the Israeli state has used herbicides to destroy crops. For example, in 2003 helicopters sprayed Bedouin crops at Abda apparently undeterred by the presence of children playing in the fields (Cook, 2003).

3) In South Africa the ‘reserves’ created for Black people between 1913 and 1936 became known as ‘Bantustans’ at the end of the 1940s. A Bantustan was a territory designated to a tribal homeland with its own local elite.

4) Howard Zinn explains in relation to Native Americans how, ‘Food shortages, whiskey, and military attacks began a process of tribal disintegration. Violence by Indians upon other Indians increased’ (Zinn, 1999: 134). Replace ‘Indians’ for ‘Palestinians’ and ‘Whiskey’ for ‘religion’ and the above quote would serve as an accurate description of the current state of affairs in Palestine. At least since the first Intifada, Israel has been using curfews to starve whole villages and towns. Sometimes the only Palestinians with food are the collaborators who use it as a bargaining chip to regain lost prestige amongst Palestinian proletarians (Shahak, 1988: 11).

5) We suspect there are many reasons behind the Israeli Wall, chief among them the desire to grab land by stealth, limit proletarian mobility, enhance Israeli patriotism and limit ‘insurgent’ attacks across the border. In the late 1960s the US military also tried to set up ‘an electronic battlefield’ across the border with North Vietnam in order to prevent attacks and the establishment of supply routes. It was an abject failure (cf. Barbrook, 2005). We are not in a position to ascertain whether the Israeli Wall will be a more effective barrier.

6) In our youth, many members of Melancholic Troglodytes were hopelessly inaccurate with the molotov-cocktail, barely competent with the rifle and woefully inept with the bazooka. We are, therefore, not laying claim to expert status in military affairs. However, we feel this historical analogy between US and Israeli armies (and Native American-Palestinian resistance to it) is one worth pursuing. Needless to say, we would be grateful to specialists in this area willing to correct our shortcomings.

7) Eyal Weizman (2006) describes the bizarre example of the Israeli Defence Forces studying post-structuralist theoreticians such as Deleuze and Guattari on ‘space’ as well as the Situationist writings of Debord on ‘urbanism’. The aim, it seems, is to work out new post-modernist tactics for defeating the enemy whilst creating a sanitised and seductive discourse of warfare. In practical terms, this translates into ‘going through walls’ in dense urban areas instead of going round them with the media’s seal of approval! Without wishing to indulge in impotent armchair speculation it seems the Israeli army were not served at all well by Deleuze, Guattari and Debord during their recent Lebanese foray. Lederman (2006: 2) argues that the Israeli army’s post-modern turn was a direct response to Yassir Arafat’s introduction of the twin notions of tribal governance and tribal warfare (circa. 1994). Again Melancholic Troglodytes do not feel sufficiently well informed to comment on this.

8) It also explains the affinity between the Israeli and US armies. An Arab member of the Israeli Knesset points out the complex web of interests between both the civilian and military wings of the Israeli state and the US establishment in terms of key personalities: ‘The difference between Barak and Netanyahu is that as a member of the military establishment, Barak may be more pragmatic than Likud's Netanyahu. The military establishment shows greater strategic awareness and understanding for America's needs in the region and is more open to American considerations than Likud's settlers and religious coalitions. But on those issues requiring an Israeli national consensus, including an independent state, Jerusalem as its capital, settlements, refugees and borders, we believe there is no difference’ (Bishara, 1999).

9) Massacre of camp inhabitants is not confined to the Israeli ruling class. In 1970, semi-autonomous (and armed) Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan were attacked and crushed by the Jordanian ruling class. The PLO ‘withdrew from Amman, thus allowing the massacre of the proletarians who remained in the city’ (Aufheben, 2002: 30).

10) David Ben-Gurion, onetime prime minister of Israel, wrote in 1948: ‘… Blowing up a house is not enough. What is necessary is cruel and strong reactions. We need precision in time, place and casualties. If we know the family, strike mercilessly, women and children included … At the place of action there is no need to distinguish between guilty and innocent’ (quoted in Rose, 1986: 26).

11) Melancholic Troglodytes wrote in 2003: ‘Israel suppresses Palestinian development of water collection as a matter of strategic policy. Since 1967 Israel has allowed Palestinians to drill only 13 wells in the West Bank. Even then Israel insists that Palestinians use only the Israeli drilling company, Mekorot, which can charge whatever it wants and schedule the work at its whim. Control of water is an indirect method of limiting Palestinian population growth and development. Whereas Israel has the technological capacity to treat and reuse waste water, Palestinian farmers cannot afford the procedure. The same is true of desalination plants that are beyond the means of Palestinians. Moreover, when Ariel Sharon was minister of infrastructure, he insisted that all waste water, treated or not, had to go to Israel’. The Oslo agreement left ultimate control of water flow in the hands of Israel.

12) In an insightful article Eyal Weizman (2004: 110-111) demonstrates how ‘sanitary-margins’ on each side of the Israeli roads consume much of the Palestinian territory on the West Bank. Weizman also shows how planting has become a geo-political tool. For example, ‘pine trees leave the ground acidic … and thus grazing, farming, and other Palestinian branches of the economy cannot take place …’ (Weizman, 2004: 108).

13) Leftism is a derogatory term used to designate all those individuals, groups and ideologies occupying the left wing of capital. This includes Leninism and Anarchism, but also (most currents within contemporary) Autonomism, Left-Communism, Libertarian Socialism and Situationism.

14) The role of the secular Arab bourgeoisie in dividing, abusing and discriminating against Palestinian refugees must not be camouflaged. An academic (nonetheless useful) recent document worth consulting is Chatty & Hundt (2005). Another article (Lederman, 2006) convincingly demonstrates how Arafat created a centralised fiefdom where all lines of wealth generation and communication ended at his headquarters in order to marginalise his political rivals. Also it is noteworthy how Palestine is increasingly discussed by the media in therapeutic terms. In this discourse borrowed from the psy-complex, Palestinians are treated as children who are ‘vulnerable’ and ‘traumatised’. There is even a British charity supporting a ‘mobile therapy centre’ in the West Bank ‘offering psychological tests and support, play and speech therapy, physiotherapy and drug therapy’ to traumatised children (O’Neill, 2006). Finally, a cursory look at the economics of the Gaza Strip shows how ‘development’ was deliberately suppressed first by the Jordanian/Egyptian states and later by the Israeli state (Avnery, 2006). All these factors forged the preconditions for the rise of Islamic reaction.


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