Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Israel's Trail of Tears
In violation of the law and for demographic reasons driven by the personal obsession of the former general who had become the leader of the country, the government decided to forcibly evict communities of thousands of people from their homes and turn over their land to others. Most of those evicted refused to leave and put their faith in the courts. They signed petitions. They pointed to their industry and the lives they had lived here and the benefits they brought to the country. A minority agreed to an evacuation of their lands in exchange for a small payment and lands provided to them elsewhere. But finally the day came and the army arrived to drag thousands of people, men, women and children out of their homes and transport them away under miserable conditions ending a long series of broken promises.
The time was the summer of 1838 and the place was Georgia. The President was former General Andrew Jackson who had once been the staunch ally of the Cherokee he would then obsessively work to evict from their homes, disregarding law and loyalty. The Cherokee would travel under harsh winter conditions along the road known as the 'Trail of Tears.'
The time was the summer of 2005 and the place was Gaza. Much of the ethnic cleansing of the Jewish population of Gaza would echo the Cherokee Trail of Tears. Once again the military was used to forcibly evict an unarmed civilian population. General John Wool who was assigned to the task refused and resigned. General Moshe Ya'alon expressed doubts about the disengagement and was removed from his post.
When only a few years earlier the representatives of the Cherokee had met with President Jackson, he assured them that, "You shall remain in your ancient land as long as grass grows and water runs." So too Prime Minister Sharon had promised that Kfar Darom was as much a part of Israel as Tel Aviv and the settlers were safe there. The words and false assurances spoken echo from one era to the next.
In President Jackson's address to Congress, he promises that the Removal Act will benefit the Indians themselves by improving their demographic position. Sharon too gave a similar rationale for the Disengagement. Both praised those who were to be deported and promised them new lands and a new future. General Winfield Scott who was in charge of the Trail of Tears addressed the Cherokee pronouncing the supremacy of government and the law as General Dan Halutz who supervised the Disengagement later would. Like Israel's leaders, General Scott blamed the Cherokee for not leaving voluntarily in the time alotted pointing out that they had been repeatedly warned to leave, encouraged compliance and as would be later echoed by Sharon, called himself an "old warrior" who did not wish to see any more blood spilled. The Cherokee were encouraged to think of the soldiers who had come to drive them out, as their friends.
Even as in Israel a program had been worked out to safeguard, "All other moveable [sic] or personal property, left or abandoned by the Indians, will be collected by agents appointed for the purpose, by the Superintendent of Cherokee Emigration, under a system of accountability, for the benefit of the Indian owners, which he will devise." As in Gush Katif of course the property was stolen. The Cherokee no more saw their goods again than those Jews forced out of their homes in Gaza have, where that much of their property which wasn't stolen remains locked up in containers.
Despite the protests of the Cherokee their resistance came to nothing and most voluntarily complied. Those who did not were forcibly driven out. The promises of sensitivity and care for both the Cherokee and the residents of Gush Katif proved to be obscene lies.
The Cherokee were sent to forts, instead of to a new land, their possessions they had brought with them were stolen. The food and clothing they were promised were instead sold to locals. Their living areas were filled with excrement. The evacuation that then followed was rough and brutal with families sleeping on the ground in sub-zero temperatures without proper clothing or supplies.
The Jewish residents of Gaza were forced out of their homes, placed forcibly on buses that were delayed for hours forcing some to have no choice but to soil themselves. The promised payments were withheld, so were the promised accomodations. Most remain unemployed. Many live in tent cities in winter time. The coats donated for them were stolen. 30 tons of goods shipped to America for them has been lying at Ben Gurion airport because the government demands at 28.5 percent tax on them.
Ultimately both the Cherokee and the people of Gush Katif had faith in the government and believed the rhetoric coming from the politicians and generals that despite the act of cruelty being inflicted on them, that they would be treated well. But this faith was tragically misplaced. The governments in question had neither humanity nor concern for the individuals seeing them as nothing except a demographic problem to be eradicated and a means for figures attached to those politicians to profit from. The land seized from the residents of Gush Katif and the Cherokee was worth many times the fradulent compensation offers. And in Gush Katif even those pitifull sums remain unpaid.
We like to believe that we learn from history but to learn from history requires understanding that the same patterns continue to resound throughout history and that a lesson from history is worth little unless it is applied in resisting the evil that governments do. We look back at the past and deplore the atrocities and crimes we find there, yet the men who carried them out and more importantly the men who gave their agreement to them, were not very different from us. The same lies, the same justification, the same unwillingness to see wrongdoing for what it is when it is easier to close our eyes remains unchanged now or a thousand years ago.
Francis Fukuyama was wrong. It is not merely those who forget history who are condemned to repeat it. It is those who lack the courage to confront and oppose its repetition.
"We, the great mass of the people think only of the love we have to our
land for...we do love the land where we were brought up. We will never let our
hold to this land go...to let it go it will be like throwing away...[our] mother
that gave...[us] birth."
Letter from Aitooweyah, to John Ross, principal chief of the Cherokees.
"The Judaism [Jews] in the Diaspora will only be strengthened through a deep
involvement with the Land of Israel. Only through their longing for the Land of
Israel, will exilic Judaism receive its inherent qualities and essential
characteristics. Yearning for Salvation, is the force that preserves Exilic
Judaism, it gives the Jews of the Diaspora the power to continue, whereas the
Judaism of the Land of Israel, is the very Salvation itself."
Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook