Terror, Land, and Silence

Imperialist Imagination and Indigeneity in Palestine and Native America

The unique relationship that exists between the United States of America and israel is obvious to even the most casual observer of global politics. Both nations were born from the confluence of similar ideological trends, despite their respective creations being nearly two centuries apart. These two settler states stand out (and stand together) in the history of colonialism for several reasons. This paper will trace the early days of settlement, focusing on the terrorism of Zionist militias in Mandatory Palestine, and the terrorism of the countless “Indian Wars” of the 19th century, evolving into these states’ contemporary systems of internal colonization. This process of constant warfare, international legitimization of the settler class as the legitimate government, and selectively silencing parts of memory and history served as both a way to alienate the indigenous from their own land while also providing a common point around which to create a shared, faux-indigenous identity for the settler.

Settler colonialism has been written about extensively, and the claim that israel and the United States follow many of the same historical beats and trends has been well documented by scholars for decades1. In Internationalism, Steven Salaita extensively compares the foundational principles of both states’ expansionist settler policies, touching on conceptions of indigeneity in both societies as well as providing analysis of future decolonization tactics. Additionally, I draw heavily from Warrior Nations by Roger Nichols, a detailed history of eight different “Indian Wars,” and State of Terror, a chronological account of Zionist terrorism from the late 19th century through the Suez Crisis of 1956. The comparison of American and israeli settler colonialism has been made countless times in academe, and in this paper I draw on various theories of colonialism, post-colonialism, and the nature of history from writers including Anne McClintock, Gloria Anzaldua, Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Robert Hind, John Chavez, Frantz Fanon, Edward Said, and Kwame Nkrumah. This work is a synthesis and exploration of these ideas.2

The concept of indigeneity has had countless interpretations and definitions, but the centrality of land in the indigenous identity is the unifying factor across many definitions. There is an inherent, intimate connection between the land and its native occupants that is expressed by the term indigenous. The original Latin “indigenus” comes from inde (thence, from there) and genus (born).3 However, given its history as a scientific word, when applied to peoples and cultures, it also carries a connotation that, like flora and fauna, the indigenes too are inextricable from the land. This sense of inextricability however never brings with it a recognition of the indigenes rights to or ownership of their lands, but erases those cultural, ethnic, and nationalist distinctions between different groups of indigenous. The Shawnee peoples of the Ohio Valley are rendered in history as nameless Indians, Palestinians reduced to the generic, indigenous Arab. Both “Arabs” and “Indians” are imagined by the West to be nomadic and transient as well, and as such represent a form of indigeneity that recognizes the indigenes place on the land and in the environment, but never their connection or rights to it. The Indian and the Arab alike can simply relocate deeper into “Indian Country” across the Mississippi, or into Syria or Jordan, Lebanon or Egypt with relatively little hardship in this historical narrative. Their dispossession is not injustice, but inherent to modernity.

This narrative of indigeneity has been weaponized by the governments of the United States and israel since their founding moments. In the decades prior to independence the United States cobbled together as much new territory as possible through settlement, treaties, and sales, a tactic which continued after the war with the British was over. From the earliest colonial period, the European settlers in North America imagined themselves as escaping persecution across the waters to forge a life in an unknown and hostile land. The plight of the Hebrews in Exodus was ever present in their Puritan worldview, as was the existential threat of the pagan natives. This entitlement, as well as almost three centuries of heavy colonialism across the new world, only further legitimized the American settler project internationally post independence. In this era the United States struggled with how to justify the continued occupation and annexation of native lands. The 1783 Treaty of Paris ended the conflict between the American colonial government and the British Empire also granted the new nation the rights to all of the land claimed in the British imperial imagination, extending the United States to the Mississippi River. This treaty effectively started a new era in history for the United States as it shed from its collective memory the colonial past, situating the Americans solidly as the underdog, the victor in the face of oppression from the British. Soon the reality that the Treaty of Paris provided no material legitimacy to the United States’ claims to the Northwest Territory (the Ohio Valley and western Great Lakes region), alternative methods of conquest took center stage.

In the international sphere, the United States’ legal claims to the Northwest Territory were validated and reaffirmed through the cooperation of the British and the recognition of the United States as a sovereign nation. This was all the legitimacy the new government needed to justify its expansionism. Expansion into the Ohio Valley and Lower Mississippi was non-negotiable for the new nation, and the American leadership was under no delusions about the necessity of violence to reach their goals. At this early stage in the nation’s history, the fighting force of the United States’ military was under 1000 officers and men, a force of only 762 in 1789, expanding to just over 1,200 the next year. White settler militias had relatively extensive experience fighting with the Shawnee of the Ohio Valley, participating in raids into Indian Country as well as being the victims of raids by the Shawnee. During the Northwest Indian War (sometimes called the Ohio Valley War), these militias were armed and placed under the command of the United States military under General Josiah Harmar, who “received orders to lead the campaign using mostly militia units from Pennsylvania and Kentucky, the very men who had raided the Indian villages repeatedly for years.”4

The war, which lasted for ten of the first dozen years of the United States’ existence, 1785-1795, saw some of the most profound military defeats in American history. Hundreds of American men were killed in early terror campaigns into Shawnee and Iroquois territory which were defined by massacres of natives and crop burnings, and direct conflict with Indian warriors. The duration of the war saw the creation of a loose confederacy of tribes in the Northwest Territory, with cooperation between Shawnee, Iroquois, Wabash, Miami, the Council of Three Fires, and the Seven Nations of Canada, among others. This resistance proved to be some of the most effective at repelling the American colonizers, with both General Josiah Harmar and Governor Arthur St. Clair suffering immensely embarrassing defeats at the hands of native warriors. The most devastating of these defeats was an ambush of St. Clair’s encamped forces in the dawn hours of 4 November 1791, from which less than 500 of the 1,400 man militia retreated into American territory uninjured. Defeats like this helped to catalyze changes in the policy of the United States towards natives, an early signal of the atrocities to come across the American frontier. For the new United States’ government, these attacks were existential and unprecedented and cause for self defense. Eventually through a combination of inter-tribal conflict, terrorism, and a reorganization of the United States’ military presence in the region under General Anthony Wayne the confederacy of the Northwest Territory was broken and various treaties with individual tribes ended open conflict and claimed more land for the settlers. The lessons and state myth-building of the Ohio Valley War (and clarified through subsequent Indian wars) has remained prominent in the American psyche for centuries. Decades after the Ohio Valley War, Andrew Jackson wrote “Is it more afflicting to him [the “wandering savage”] to leave the graves of his fathers than it is to our brothers and children?” He “understood that his vision of America was unfeasible without removal [of the indigenous population]”5

The earliest Zionist settlers in Palestine conceived of the native Palestinians in ways very comparable to those of the early American frontier. Through a combination of sales and theft, Zionist settlers established themselves in Palestine not as immigrants but as the rightful custodians of the land returning after a dispossession of thousands of years. This narrative, which places the Zionist project as the spiritual fulfillment of Jewish identity manifested materially, has been the one dominant in the West since 1948, but Zionism is more predicated on ethnic nationalism and colonialism than any sort of religious tradition. The central reality of this mindset is the categorization of Jews as a race unto their own. Jewishness, according to the Zionists, was determined by blood, and it is through blood that contemporary Zionist trace their Jewish lineage back to the ancient, debatably apocryphal united Kingdom of israel in the 10th Century BCE. From this context early Zionists began planning their colonial project. These early claims were immensely variant in what constituted the Promised Land. Every Zionist plan included all of Palestine, that is the land between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea. Many considered Transjordan (mod. Jordan) also to be part of israel. Some Zionist writers, taking the most literal interpretation of scripture, posited a Jewish state that extended, with some variations, between the Nile in the east and the Euphrates in the west, land that currently includes the Sinai (Egypt), Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and half of Iraq.

All of this is to demonstrate that just as coexistence with Native Americans was never honestly part of the United States’ national agenda, the Zionist leadership throughout the Ottoman and Mandatory British eras had no misconceptions about the actions necessary to achieve their goal of (white) Jewish supremacy. Zionists generally had little to say about their non-Ashkenazi brethren, especially in their including many Palestinian Mizrahim as Arabs, expelling them in al-Nakba along with Muslim and Christian Palestinians — the legacy of the Jewish people and the fulfillment of the Zionist project was explicitly for white European Jews. Reuven Abergal, a Moroccan born Mizrahi Jew attempted to emigrate to israel with his family in 1948. He, his family, and thousands of other North African Jews were interned for two years in Europe before being allowed entry into israel. When they finally arrived, they were settled along the border regions of the new state, in slums outside the city centers that had already been settled by Ashkenazim from Europe. Abergal said that this led to the Mizrahim feeling more solidarity with their Palestinian neighbors than the Ashkenazi elite that created these conditions.6

The Zionist project was legitimized via the old colonial system that gave birth to the United States through a declaration from the British Lord Balfour which promised English cooperation with Zionist aims in Mandatory Palestine. From the early days of Zionist settlement many Palestinians saw through the diplomatic charade. A 1929 Washington Post article comments on the intensifying Zionist-Palestinian conflicts reporting a statement from Amir el Hussein, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, “that peace between the races will never be effected while the Balfour declaration principles stand in the way of Arabian conceptions of their rights.”7 A Jewish majority was non-negotiable for the Zionists, and European Zionist leaders actively lobbied for countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom to close their borders to Jews fleeing persecution in Russia and Germany, thinking that it would be more beneficial to their cause to see half the population slaughtered and half the population in Palestine than risk loosing the demographic game in Palestine to Jewish immigration to Western nations.8

Violence between Zionists and Palestinians peaked in the 1930s and 40s. Irgun, Haganah, and Lehi, often called the Stern Gang, were three of the biggest and most active Zionist militias in Palestine, Irgun and Lehi specifically following the Revisionist Zionism of Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Whether or not the colonization of Palestine would be peaceful “depends,” wrote Jabotinsky, “not on our relationship with the Arabs, but exclusively on the Arabs’ relationship to Zionism.”9 The Revisionist Zionism of Jabotinsky was the foundational ideology of Irgun, and their terrorist tactics were not limited to targeting Palestinians. “The Irgun and the Stern Gang believed that British policies in Palestine in the post-war years — blocking the creation of an independent Jewish state — legitimized the use of violence against British targets.” This terrorism was seen as a serious threat to the British intelligence service MI5 in the post war years, even prompting them to take measures to prevent this terrorism from spreading out of Palestine and into England itself, which eventually did happen in 1947 when “an Irgun operative left a bomb at the Colonial Club, near St Martin’s Lane in the heart of London, which blew out the club’s windows and doors, injuring several servicemen.”10 These Revisionist groups also had little patience for Zionists using other methodologies, and throughout the late 1920s and early 30s “the rivalry between the Revisionist and Labor parties in Palestine had been so bitter that bloody clashes have sometimes resulted, and charges of terroristic tactics have more than once been made against the Revisionists.”11

In the decades leading up to the 1948 creation of israel these groups participated countless acts of terrorism against both Palestinians and the British forces maintaining the mandate, infamously the King David Hotel Bombing in 1946 by Irgun, and the 1948 Deir Yassin massacre of over an hundred Palestinian villagers by Irgun and Lehi. In 1948 when israel was officially established by the United Nations, these groups were subsumed into the structure of the israel defense force (IDF), with Haganah being the core.

The declaration of israel in 1948 saw the ethnic cleansing of over 700,000 Palestinians from their homes through violence and intimidation. Over 400 Palestinian villages were raised to the ground and resettled and renamed in Hebrew, the most extreme act of deliberate ethnic cleansing on the part of newly created israel. This event, known as al-nakba (‘catastrophe’ in Arabic; “The War of Independence” in Hebrew), served a similar purpose in the israeli national psyche as the United States’ war against the British. From the vantage point of the other side of 1948, national history pre-independence was summarily forgotten, al-nakba became an action of self defense. Internationally, the legitimization of the Zionist settler class as the government of Palestine came from the UN but most importantly from the assent of the United States. On the 15th of May, 1948 the United States became the first country to recognize israel’s status as a state barely more than ten minutes after the declaration of independence was signed.

This is the point in History that the relationship between israel and the United States became cemented in the form that it exists today. Recognition is an important form of legitimization, but up until this point israel had been a colony without an official imperial base. A colony cannot survive independently from an imperial base— it requires material, military, and ideological support from a greater power to sustain itself. Both the Americans and israelis realized this, and both governments saw the benefits of this sort of relationship. The United States gained an allied foothold in the region, beginning to assume the reigns of the crumbling British Imperial system, and the Zionists found a sponsor willing to support them in their mission.12

This legitimization from the international community shifts the historical narrative from that of colonialism to a conflict between two sides, both with valid claims to the land, regardless of the power dynamics on the ground. Recognition and (most importantly) the power conferred to a colony by its imperial base also legitimizes the settler’s incessant assertions of their own faux indigenous claims to the land in a material way— through a monopoly on violence and an intense disparity of hard and soft power between the sides. Power over peoples lives and movement, but also power over services such as school curriculum and tax collection, in “israel” and the Occupied Territories. It is through this use of force that historical narratives can be shifted and silenced, identities destroyed and reshaped.

Both the United States and israel have been in a nearly constant state of war since the nations were founded. An 1894 survey conducted by the Census Bureau calculated that, in the just over a century that the United States had been independent, the country had waged over 40 different “Indian Wars,” a new conflict roughly every three years. The turn of the century saw the United States looking outward, as the western frontier had been thoroughly colonized during the previous hundred years. Forays into Latin America and the Pacific became commonplace in the early decades of the 20th Century, and the country’s constant state of military mobilization has only increased dramatically in the post World War era.

After al-Nakba, israel assumed the role as an outpost for Western interests in the Middle East, first materially demonstrated in 1956 Suez Crisis in which israel, later aided by France and England, invaded Egypt with the goals of ousting President Gamal Abdel Nasser and reasserting Western control of the Suez Canal. This is the first of many instances in which direct intervention by the United States or the old colonial powers would have been politically difficult, but where initial intervention by israel was more acceptable politically. The Suez Crisis had mixed outcomes, with political and military defeats and victories for both sides, but remains historically important as the first external regional conflict for israel after al-Nakba.

Constant war allows for national preservation to take a central role in policy decisions. The constant, existential threat of the unknowable “other” is deeply ingrained psyche of both nations, who despite almost always having the upper hand materially, politically, and internationally, conceive of themselves as underdogs fighting for survival against a world that wants them dead for reasons indiscernible and illegitimate. The enemy in both cases are the indigenous bodies who with their very presence threaten the foundational principles of the nation. The terror that these two settler states inflicted on the indigenous populaces become, through a twisting of history, both forgotten and appropriated by the settler. Violence by the hands of Palestinian and Shawnee freedom fighters is devoid of context in the national narrative, painted as nothing more than mindlessly evil “terrorism” and a justification for further security measures.

This trend continues to this day. “Welcome to Injun Country was the refrain I heard from troops from Colombia to the Philippines, Afghanistan and Iraq,” writes Anne McClintock. The existential fight against the “red savage” is intimately ingrained into American military consciousness. The enemy has remained the Indian, the frontier Indian Country, no matter where in the world that takes the United States. The codename that the intelligence and military communities gave Osama bin Laden by during their hunt for the al-Qaeda leader was “Geronimo,” the name of the Chiricahua-Apache medicine man and resistance leader. There is a deep irony in this pointed out by McClintock that emphasizes the dual nature of both complete alienation of indigenous culture from its land and the wholesale appropriation of indigeneity through military strength:

“The jarring irony is that proportionately more American Indians serve in the United States military than any other group, fighting in helicopters and vehicles named after their own dispossessed peoples: Blackhawk, Apache, Chinooks (every American helicopter is named for an Indian tribe), firing Tomahawk missiles into Indian Country around the world. These appropriations, as well as the despised distortion Injun Country, are a form of imperial soul theft and symbolic wounding.”13

“Indian Country” in this context becomes amorphous, a figment of imperialist imagination. Of particular interest is McClintock’s theory of “Imperial Ghosting.” In the article quoted above, McClintock connects this trend in American history. Taking, for example, the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and analyzing how those events fit into the national consciousness. By pushing the consequences of the bombing out of public discourse (censoring images of the carnage, maintaining the necessity of the bombs despite overwhelming contemporary and historical evidence that Japan had already lost the war), the popular historical narrative shifted away from any sort of accountability. Throughout the Cold War, fear of a nuclear attack on American soil totally eclipsed any discussion of the bombings that actually happened, focusing on the hypotheticals. McClintock continues, arguing that in referring to the remnants of the World Trade Center as Ground Zero the American narrative “summoned the nuclear atrocities inflicted on Japan at the very moment that it ghosted them from memory.” This selective memory allows the United States to claim victimhood on the scale necessary to justify constant war.

With this concept, McClintock places the War on Terror within the context and tradition of the United States’ colonial past and imperial present, regardless of President George W. Bush’s assertions in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks that “the past is over.”14 These sorts of silenced histories are integral to the sustaining of every colonial project. A nation predicated on the levels of human suffering required by the American and Zionist projects cannot look truthfully at its past without jeopardizing it’s position in the present. In this sense history began for the United States in Paris on 3 September, 1783 as the complex political past between settlers and natives was erased and america (and Americans) were born.. History began again on 6 August 1945, and the aggression of the United States was channeled into fear that that same destruction that the United States released on Japan could be released in the states. Defense, not remorse once again defined the nation. Then, again, as Bush administration repeated vocally on multiple occasions, history began again on 11 September, 2001, as did the War on Terror.

israeli history began over three thousand years ago with the United Kingdom of israel under King David in the tenth century BCE. History then stops in 70 CE with the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem before beginning again, essentially uninterrupted, on 15 May 1948. In this way the Zionists erased the interim history of the Jewish diaspora, a period of almost 2000 years, while simultaneously tapping into deep emotions and collective memory of dispossession at the hands of the Romans. This selective memory effectively erases the indigeneity of Palestinians from the national history as well as making lesser the Eastern European Yiddish Jewish culture that had developed in the interim. This is especially present in the language that many israelis use. For example campaigns by the israeli government advertise archaeological finds as relics from “pre state israel,” and earlier this year [in February 2017] israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted, in a statement after a meeting with President Donald Trump, that European Jews “are not foreign colonialists in Judea.” The use of the biblical name Judea connects the modern, white supremacist, colonial israel with Biblical time, making israel not just a continuation of Judea, but literally the same, in spite of history. Earlier that same week Netanyahu, again in conversations with US President Donald Trump, stipulated that any “solution” to the “israeli-Palestinian Conflict” would require israeli security control over all the land west of the Jordan River. It is evident that the Zionist aims have not shifted and neither has the United States’ position on the project.

The questions that McClintock explores connecting “Indian Country” and the War on Terror has many contemporary implications when expanded to include israel. The phrase “forever war” has appeared with increasing frequency in national conversation around the War on Terror, and israel has been the United States’ most important ally in that “war” as a military base and strategic point in the region. The policies and practices of the United States and israel in the Middle East in the War on Terror are the succession of centuries of terrorism and selective memory. It is in this context that we must examine the contemporary policies and actions of the United States and israel, and plot our own path towards justice.


Baker, Robert L. 1934. “A Zionist Peace Pact.” Current History (New York) 41 (3): 379. https://search-proquest-com.libproxy.temple.edu/docview/1310914238?accountid=14270.

Chàvez, John R. “Aliens in Their Native Lands: The Persistence of Internal Colonial Theory.” Journal of World History 22, no. 4 (2011): 785-809. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41508018.


By Clifton Daniel, Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. New York Times (1923-Current file); Aug 3, 1947; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times with Index pg. E3

Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Translated by Richard Philcox. New York: Grove Press, 2011.

HALPERIN, LIORA R. 2015. “A Murder in the Grove: Conceptions of Justice in an Early Zionist Colony.” Journal Of Social History 49, no. 2: 427-451. Historical Abstracts with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed April 5, 2017).

Hind, Robert J. “The Internal Colonial Concept.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 26, no. 3 (1984): 543-68. http://www.jstor.org/stable/178555.

“JEWS IN TIBERIAS REPULSE BEDOUINS.” 1929. The Washington Post (1923-1954), Sep 03, 1. https://search-proquest-com.libproxy.temple.edu/docview/149923274?accountid=14270.

McClintock, Anne. “Imperial Ghosting and National Tragedy: Revenants from Hiroshima and Indian Country in the War on Terror.” Pmla 129, no. 4 (2014): 819-29. doi:10.1632/pmla.2014.129.4.819.

Mordecai M. Noah, his life and work from the Jewish … 1917. Makover, A. B.

Nichols, Roger L. Warrior Nations: the United States and Indian Peoples. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013.

Salaita, Steven. Inter/nationalism: Decolonizing Native America and Palestine. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016.

Suárez, Thomas. State of terror: how terrorism created modern Israel. Northampton, MA: Olive Branch Press, 2017. Print.


The Scotsman (1921-1950); Aug 21, 1939; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Scotsman pg. 10

Walton, Calder. “How Zionist Extremism Became British Spies’ Biggest Enemy.” Foreign Policy. January 01, 2014. Accessed April 30, 2017. http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/01/01/how-zionist-extremism-became-british-spies-biggest-enemy/.

A Zionist Peace Pact Baker, Robert L Current History (New York); Dec 1, 1934; 41, 3; ProQuest pg. 379

  1. Chàvez, John R. “Aliens in Their Native Lands: The Persistence of Internal Colonial Theory,” 2011; Salaita, Steven. Inter/Nationalism, 2016; Hind, Robert J. “The Internal Colonial Concept,” 1984.; among others. The above sources are ones that particularly influenced my thinking on this paper, even when not cited directly.
  2. These authors I did not necessarily consult directly for this paper, however have greatly influenced my thinking with regard to the field of History and the subject of Colonialism and Decolonization at large.
  3. Etymology via wiktionary.org.
  4. Nichols, Warrior Nations. 21-2
  5. Salaita, Inter/Nationalism. 74-79
  6. Reuven Abergal, in a talk given 19 April 2017 at the Wooden Shoe Bookstore. Philadelphia, PA. The talk was hosted by the Philadelphia chapter of Jewish Voices for Peace. At this talk Abergel talked about his involvement with the israeli Black Panthers and the experimental radiation treatment for ringworm conducted by israel and the United States on tens of thousands of mostly Mizrahim children in israel, including Reuven. For more, look up the Ringworm Affair (1948-1960).
  7. Jews in Tiberias Repulse Bedouins, Washington Post, 1929
  8. Suárez, 28
  9. Jabotinsky via Salaita, 83. Emphasis mine.
  10. Walton, “How Zionist Extremism Became British Spies’ Biggest Enemy.” Foreign Policy
  11. A Zionist Peace Pact, Baker, 1934
  12. Lamis Deek, a Palestinian Human Rights Lawyer and Activist in a talk given 20 April 2017 at Temple University. Philadelphia, PA. The event was hosted by Temple University Students for Justice in Palestine. The subject of the talk was the Oslo Accords and how the framework of international human rights has crippled Palestinian resistance.
  13. McClintock, Imperial Ghosting and National Tragedy: Revenants from Hiroshima and Indian Country in the War on Terror. 826
  14. McClintock, 820