This past week I met with tribal leaders of a local Pomo tribe with whom I am going to work on a grant proposal. Our meeting sparked me to think about tribes and land, indigenous people, and having one’s ancient homeland robbed by invaders. I come from a native tribe that was forced into exile thousands of years ago. Recently, within the past one hundred years, my tribe, by a miracle, was able to reclaim a small sliver of our land. It wasn’t the part of our original land that was arable or rich with resources, much like the land to which many Native American tribes have been relegated. Hardly anything would grow on it. In fact, it was mostly desert. But my tribe worked to make the land yield food and flourish against all odds. I have chosen not to return to my ancestral land. Like many native peoples who have been separated from their tribal land for generations, I was not born on the land and it does not feel like home to me. Those of my tribe who returned and settled there have clung to the land fiercely. Many countries and peoples throughout the world would like to take that tiny piece of land away from my tribe again. My tribe, of course, is the Tribe of the Hebrews and our ancestral land is Israel.
Like many Jews and many progressives, I am deeply disappointed by the way the Hebrews have conducted business and government, by the violence perpetrated against the Palestinian people, the oppression. I would have liked to think that my tribe would have acted with patience, grace, tolerance, compassion, and generosity. I would have liked for my tribe to stand out as a beacon of justice and an exemplary nation. After all the oppression, persecution, and horror that my tribe has experienced during the decades of our exile, I hoped that we would be incapable of visiting such oppression and persecution on others. I expected it. However, despite my deep disappointment (at times horror) at what my tribe has done with its nationhood, I have never questioned the right of my tribe to exist as a nation on our ancestral land. Many countries have behaved as badly or worse than Israel and yet no one questions their fundamental right to exist as a nation. South Africa under apartheid. Nazi Germany. Bosnia. Libya. Hussein’s Iraq. Pinochet’s Chile. Rwanda. El Salvador. Afghanistan. Horrific things happen in nations throughout the world every day; and compassionate, moral people oppose these horrific things. Sometimes giving their lives to oppose these horrific things. But in all of this, the right of these nations to exist is not questioned. So I must ask, why is Israel’s very right to exist questioned? Why is it politically correct in the progressive community to support the return of tribal lands to other indigenous peoples, but not to mine?