Indian Time - A Voice from the Eastern Door

The Iroquois Nationals and Israel: A Moral Dilemma


by Doug George-Kanentiio

This week the World Lacrosse Championship will begin in Israel. This is for field lacrosse and is sponsored by the Federation of International Lacrosse and Israel. Among the teams are South Korea, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, China, Slovakia, Colombia and Uganda besides the Iroquois Nationals, the US and Canada. Israel was awarded the games after England decided not to serve as hosts.

The issue for the Iroquois Nationals is that of Palestine and the Israeli government’s brutal suppression of the indigenous people of that region, the latest of which occurred in May resulting in the death of 119 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, a reservation located on disputed land between Egypt and Israel. It is an area fenced off by both those nations. The influx of indigenous refugees began in 1948 when Israel was created out of Palestinian lands, a displacement called the “Nakba” or “catastrophe”.

In many instances the Gaza and the West Bank have parallels with Native communities in North America: chronic unemployment (34%), a poverty rate of 70% and extreme overcrowding. Its 1,800,000 people are on the third most crowded land area in the world. Its 360 square kilometers (Akwesasne has just over 108 averages to over 3,600 residents per square kilometer. On the Lakota territory of Pine Ridge there are similar grim statistics: unemployment of 89%, 53% poverty rate, lowest life expectancy in the US and it is in the poorest county in the nation. This dire situation is the reality on many reservations in the US and Canada where Natives suffer from crippling rates of alcoholism, substandard education, chronic housing shortages, contaminated water and attendant violence.

The protests in Gaza this past spring resulted from the decision by US President Trump to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, an unnecessary act of provocation against an Islamic people who hold that city sacred. Almost all of the Palestinians were shot dead by snipers from the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) as they threw rocks, bottles and Molotov cocktails across the wire barriers. No Israelis were wounded in those incidents.

Among those targeted and killed was Razan Al Nazar, a 21 year old nurse who, with hands raised and clearly dressed as a medic, was struck in the chest by an Israel sniper as she went to the aid of a wounded protestor.

The Israeli news web site had a Jewish lawyer condemn the actions of the IDF as a violation of the human rights of the Palestinians. Lawyer Michael Sfard, in its July 10 report wrote:

“The state and army argue that the use of potentially lethal force against unarmed civilians is permitted even in circumstances where they do not impose an imminent danger to the lives of others,” he says.

“It seems to me that the huge number of casualties we have seen in recent weeks is a direct result of this legal thesis, which is completely baseless. It contradicts the most fundamental principles of laws governing the use of force, which adhere to the formula that endangering the lives of civilians can only be done to defend life – and nothing else.”

I have been to Palestine-Israel twice, in 1984 and again in 2012. I was able to meet with both Jews and Arabs, to listen to their concerns regarding the tensions between the two peoples. I entered the West Bank through a portal in a massive wall separating it from Israel. The design of the wall looked like a American maximum security prison similar to Dannemora near Plattsburgh.

This was, according to the Palestinians, no coincidence as it was meant to restrict the movements of the Arabs and to monitor their actions through opaque glass towers and ever present security cameras.

When completed the wall will be over 400 miles long and consist of concrete panels over 26 feet high and 10 feet wide to which is added miles of razor sharp wires atop chain link fences. The Israelis refer it to a “barrier” along the “Green Line” but there is nothing green or growing on either side of its perimeter. It is meant to humiliate and suppress the Palestinians, just as Trump wants to do along the American southwest in his effort to stop primarily Native people from entering the US.

I learned that the Israeli policies and regulations directed at the Palestinians were adopted from the American experience in undermining, isolating and destroying indigenous people here. Natives who know their history see the similarities: restricted movements, removal to resource poor land areas, denial of nationhood, selective use of institutional violence to control dissent, suppression of culture and denial of basic human rights.

The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) passed in 2007 is meant to apply to the Palestinians as native peoples who may not be removed from their ancestral lands without their “free, prior and informed” consent. The Haudenosaunee, among hundreds of other aboriginal peoples, spent decades in securing UNDRIP’s passage. Now the issue is whether that work may be undermined by the decision to take part in an athletic contest without the approval of the Palestinian people upon whose land the games will take place.

Their representatives have now called on the Nationals to withdraw from the tournament as a show of solidarity with the Native people of the occupied areas.

This could have been avoided if each national team had taken an aggressive approach to reaching out to the Palestinians, to solicit their support, to promote the game, to visit their schools and to provide cultural exchanges meant to enhance peace and understanding.

It must also be noted that the late Mohawk Nation chief Jake Swamp went to that region and planted a tree of peace on the boundary lands. It would be good to know if that tree still grows.

Lacrosse was created to end wars, not to provoke hostilities. In this instance it would be ideal for the Iroquois Nationals to find a way to acknowledge its intent by somehow joining the Israelis and Palestinians into a unified team. That is unlikely to happen, but we can hope that something tangible can come from the tournament and the games will do what is was meant to do: honor the Creator and raise the human spirit.


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