How Universities Can Use the Palestine-Israeli Tragedies to Decolonize Themselves and Create Life Worlds Instead of Death Worlds

I open this short paper by noting the possibility that it will be quickly hidden or rejected by those who do not wish to consider all sides in authentic dialogue on behalf of transformative peace-making. Indigenous activist, Winona LaDuke explains why in in her 2012 Facebook posting.

…euro-americans in the United States can’t talk about Gaza, because we can’t talk about Israel. Because we can’t talk about the fact that the world is not suffering from a Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but that the world is suffering from the fact that Europe has never been able to deal with it’s ‘Jewish Question’ without some sort of intense barbarity and horror from the Inquisition to the Holocaust. And that Europe, in particular ‘Great’ Britain, the masters of divide an conquer ‘solved’ the problem by supporting the radical, terrorist, extremist Zionists and their mad plan to resettle the ‘homeland.’ We can’t talk about Israel because we can’t talk about Wounded Knee. Because we can’t talk about Sand Creek or Carlisle ‘Boarding School.’ Because we can’t talk about forced sterilization or small pox blankets or Kit Carson and his scorched earth policy in the Southwest. Because we have Andrew Jackson on our twenty dollar bill. Because we are one huge settlement on stolen land. We can’t talk about Israel because we are Israel.

This said, there is no way to rationalize the Hamas attack that killed innocent people, including women and children. Nor can we rationalize the Israel attack on Gaza. Of course, such rationalization has a long history, such as that relating to support for dropping atomic bombs Hiroshima and Nagasaki. and many other violent interventions in war.  Post-colonial warfare has always rationalized away the killing of innocents.  However, pre-colonial warfare seldom, if ever targeted children, elders, trees, rivers and wildlife as a initial or retaliatory practice. Whether discussing just or unjust violence in higher education, it is past time for reflection on pre and post colonial moral precepts.

This paper is about bringing such dialogue into higher education as relates to pre and post colonialism. When I think of such educational goals, my first consideration relates to spiritual interconnectedness with all and how it guided most of humanity before the onset of colonization. My second goal is critical research and counter-hegemonic dialogue that emphasizes both this pre-colonial way of being in the world and the process decolonizing hegemonic thinking.  It is colonial hegemony that is bringing us to the edge of extinction, with hegemony being defined as to how the ruling elite manage to present their worldview in ways that cause the rest of us to accept it as common sense and how any groups who present an alternative view are therefore marginalized.

While most institutions of higher education are are far from being immune from hegemony and its suppression, a number are at least occupied by a few brave professors using their more liberal academic freedom for critical discussions relating to decolonization. This article aspires to encourage more professors to take the opportunity to use the current Palestine-Israel situation for understanding the great risks for survival on planet Earth that stem from colonization.

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With spiritual interconnectedness in mind, we cannot rationalize any intentional effort to murder innocent people, especially children, whether perpetrated by Hamas or Israel. The ultimate goal cannot be revenge but should be to bringing opposing parties back into community. Such a non-duality approach reflects the moral precepts of the pre-colonial worldview. By actively engaging in seeing parallels between colonized Indigenous and Palestinian people, universities might be able to dismantle status quo settler colonialism and its legitimacy in dominant cultures and re-embrace the concept of oneness. Once colonial structures, policies and assumptions are identified, then the process of accountability and reconciliation brings back the interconnectedness principle of complementary duality.

With the aforementioned in mind one can see the importance of considering the parallels between colonized Palestinians and colonized American Indians. I first realized this when I lived and worked as Director of Education at Oglala Lakota College on the Oglala Lakota Reservation at Pine Ridge in South Dakota. Having written about the Indigenous worldview, the University of Tel Aviv invited me to keynote its “Militarism in Education” conference to talk about Indigenous worldview and peace-keeping. I was ignorant about the truths surrounding the Israel occupation of Palestine and managed to get into Ramallah to see first hand what was happening. It did not take long to see the parallels with Pine Ridge. Simply put, both places were trying to stand defiant against settler colonialism. Both have histories of forced relocation. Both continue to suffer ongoing colonization and its abuse. Both have experienced genocide and ethnic cleansing. Both have witnessed destruction of their place-based ecological systems with outside intrusions relating to resource extraction or oil pipelines. Hegemonic media and governance continues unfathomable disrespect. Conquest masquerades as law.

Nick Tilsen, president of the NDN Collective and a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation, also emphasizes the parallels between the Lakota and Palestine. “We have seen what colonization looks like on this end of things,” he told Jewish Currents. “When I see Palestinians struggle, I feel it, the same way that I do when I see my own people suffer.” In fact, during my four “tours of duty” at Standing Rock, I saw a number of Palestinian Americans in solidarity with us. Indeed, there are many who recognize the bonds between Indigenous, African American and Palestinian groups, although few may know that after colonizing Indigenous peoples of the Americas, it was in Christopher Columbus’s master plan to colonize Palestine.

Engaging in discussions about similarities between Palestine and Indigenous oppression must include the role of the United States and its anti-Indian hegemony.  American colonial beliefs and policies strongly support Israel colonizing of Palestine. It is no coincidence that the Zionist settlers who came to Palestine in the 1920s referred to Palestinians as “Red Indians” who were just animals to be removed so as to create the Zionist state. Nor is a coincidence that the U.S. military referred to Osama Bin Ladin as Geronimo.

The Zionist project thus replicated the continuing European attitudes toward domination. Although too many individuals and groups are in ignorance and anger practicing the same antisemitism that led historically to Zionism, American hegemony has propagandized it in ways that censor anyone critical of the colonial occupation that has turned Palestine into a prison camp. In the recent text, Confronting Antisemitism on Campus (Equity in Higher Education Theory, Policy and Praxis (2003), of the numerous chapters I have the only one about the many false allegations of antisemitism on campuses that stifle authentic concern about the apartheid situation and US support for it.

This comparison of the Palestinian struggle to that of the Indigenous peoples on the North American continent allows an understanding of the structures of power and domination that settler states share. Until we can realize that settler colonialism “destroys to replace” and that such destruction of cultures and the ecological systems the original inhabitants preserved, all of life on earth is doomed. If higher education fails the decolonial/Indigenizing movement that seek a healthy balance between the worldview precepts behind colonialism and those that guided us for 99% of human history, perhaps leaders will emerge to rebuild in ways that do not look like most of the post-apocalyptic movies I’ve watched that tend to start where we left off.

Looking at the Palestine-Israel situation as I suggest doing in higher education will not be easy. Israel will not forget the brutal attack by Hamas on October 7th, 2023.  Nor will 50 years of the brutal treatment of Palestinian people be easy to reconcile, not to mention the disproportionate bombing of Gaza in the past days. However, the goal of traditional pre-colonial ways of being in a nature-based kinship worldview was bringing everyone back into community as the laws of nature have always intended. Despite our outrage, fears, hatreds and tragic loss of friends and relatives, we must bury the hatchet on behalf of future generations.


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