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ethnic cleansing: israel's history and my own

On my very first day of this program, in New York City, I took a tour of the city’s Financial District led by Ryan Victor “Little Eagle” Pierce. Ryan is a member of the Lenape, an indigenous people that once lived on present-day New York, New Jersey, and northern Delaware. He walked us through the Financial District, an area of New York I knew very well, pointing out what remains of the Lenape: names of street signs, a plaque in the middle of a park, a museum. Most surprising, he explained how Broadway, one of the only streets in New York that does not run on a perfect square grid, adopted it’s winding shape as it was originally a main Lenape trading route.

Despite the four ‘Advanced Placement’ history classes I took in high school, and the history classes I have taken in college, the Israeli-Palestine conflict has remained a mystery to me. I remember turning to my father at some point in high school with questions about the conflict after a segment on the news, but ending up with more questions than answers. The issue was not untouched by those in my circle; many of my progressive peers are explicitly pro-Palestine, many of my Jewish peers recount their visits to Israel on the ‘Birthright’ program.

To explain the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an oblivious American, perhaps you should tell them what happened to the Lenape. I wonder what it must have been like to leave home, certain you would be able to return. Trying to contend with the ethnic cleansing of Palestine is inextricable from confronting the shameful history of the country my grandparents adopted in the 1960s. In the book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, historian Ilan Pappe identifies a “deep chasm between reality and representation” that is particularly bewildering in the case of Palestine. It seems that the same is true in the United States. Despite our own history of ethnic cleansing of the indigenous peoples in America, every November we celebrate Thanksgiving as a time when indigenous peoples and settlers cooperated harmoniously. “For many Zionists, Palestine was not even an ‘occupied’ land...but rather an ‘empty’ one” Pappe continues. The stories I have read in American history books about the colonial period read similarly. I have been thinking about the power of language: how “soldiers” or “resistance fighters” can become “terrorists”, “natives” can become “savages”, “occupied” land can become “empty”, all depending on who is telling the story.

In the 1919 Resolution of General Syrian Congress at Damascus, the Congress refused a Zionist state and suggests that President Wilson and the American people will be supporters of the Palestinians, as Americans have no “thought of colonization political ambition” in Palestine. I forget, sometimes, that the United States was not always the world superpower it is now. Just as Israel has largely erased the history of atrocities and human rights abuses committed as the nation was being born, so too did the United States of America. It is through the history I have learned here in Jordan, that I begin to understand my own

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