Monday, May 23, 2011

Israel's Manifest Destiny

Nineteenth century America was pockmarked with deplorable actions which were justified with the concept of “Manifest Destiny” (a quasi-religious ‘right’ for America to expand it’s borders across all of North America), notably the genocide of the indigenous Americans. Similarly, since its creation in 1948 (and the ensuing conflict), Israel has expelled Palestinians from their homes, prohibited economic development and annexed Palestinian land- all justified with a religious mandate to return ‘home’.

The first major expulsion of Palestinians (called the “nakba”, or catastrophe, by the refugees) came during the war succeeding the creation of Israel by the UN- over 700,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes, and Israel quickly passed laws and demolished homes to prohibit the Palestinians from returning. After 1948, Israel continued to expand it’s borders by evicting Palestinians (or bulldozing their homes, if they would not leave). The similarities to The Trail of Tears are striking- an indigenous people forced to away from their homes and prohibited from returning by law.

The expansion is justified several ways. The first of which is the concept, “to the victor goes the spoils,” with the idea being that because Israel won the Six Day War, they have a right to claim land that was previously occupied by Jordan. The Mexican-American war can serve as a very close analogy to the Six Day War- they were both aggressive wars, both resulted in expanded borders for the victor, and both are justified by a predestined mandate to expand their territories. The idea that the annexation of Jerusalem is justified by war would be much more convincing (though still, in my opinion, immoral) if the land was being taken from Jordanian civilians. While it’s true that Jordan occupied Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories at the time of the war, the civilians that were disenfranchised were natives to the land- Palestinians. Through no fault of their own, these citizens were forced out of homes they had been in for years.

Another rationale for both Manifest Destiny and Israel’s expansion is a religious right to the land. The first usage of the term ‘manifest destiny’ said that the North American continent was “allotted by Providence”. In other words, the land was a God-given right. Prime Minister Netanyahu told the Israeli Parliament last year that Jerusalem was Israel’s "eternal and indivisible" capital, and claimed that it’s mention in the Torah 850 times was justification for it’s annexation.

The similarities don’t end there. The Indian Removal Act bears a striking resemblance to the use of "settlement expansion, house demolitions, discriminatory housing policies and the West Bank (Separation) barrier as a way of 'actively pursuing the illegal annexation' of East Jerusalem,” as revealed by an EU in a confidential report filed in 2008. The Indian Appropriations Acts are similar to the measures taken by Israel to prevent economic growth in Palestine, including the sanctions and blockades imposed by Israel, in that they arbitrarily limit trade on certain luxury goods (alcohol and chocolate, for instance) among the indigenous people. The massacres during Operation Hiram by the IDF are similar in nature (though much less prolific) to the massacres of Native Americans by the United States military.

The term “manifest destiny” isn’t very popular in America any more, but our imperialism remains (as demonstrated by our intervention in Iraq and Pakistan, among others). Israel’s expansion onto lands previously occupied by Palestinians is increasingly controversial (with human rights organizations in Israel, such as B’Tselem advocating the cessation of violent annexation), but it remains to be seen if the lasting influence of that expansion on foreign policy and military doctrine will mirror Manifest Destiny’s effect on the United States.

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