The argument for denying the Jewish nation their rights to political sovereignty on the Land of Israel a.k.a. Palestine is based today principally on the claim that there is an indigenous non-Jewish Palestinian nation whom the Jews have dispossessed, and one of the stronger (IMO) refutations of this is the counter-argument that there is today no nation indigenous to Palestine other than the Jewish nation. This clash of views may raise a cogent meta-question: Does the term “indigenous” have any objective meaning at all? Or, to put it another way, is there more to the clash than an ideological assault on Zionism and the Zionist response to it?
I contend that the term “indigenous” has significance beyond the subjective. That said, I will concede two points:
- The term has a relative, not absolute, meaning; we can objectively point out that a certain nation is indigenous to a land, but we can only do so in a context. That by itself explains why lovers of exactitude are reluctant to embrace such a term.
- There are many arguments for the rightness of Zionism; my choice of the indigenous argument over the others is indeed motivated by the prevalence of the “Zionists dispossessed the indigenous Palestinians” claim of the anti-Zionists.
The rest of the article will follow from these two points.
A Relatively Descriptive Term
Some may scoff at the term “indigenous people” on the grounds that it can mean anything one wants it to mean. While this is not so, it is easy to see how it is possible to reach such a conclusion: There is no absolute definition of the term as in more solid history, let alone the hard sciences, and the way the Progressive Left selectively applies the term “indigenous” also makes it seem arbitrary. I will deal with the significance of the second issue later; the first issue to be understood is that the term is meaningful but not absolute—it has a relative meaning.
Who, for example, are the indigenes of Britain? The answer depends on the context of the question. In the sense that the Celts had populated the island for thousands of years before the Germanic Anglo-Saxons invaded, conquered and pushed the Celts aside, the Celts are the indigenous British while the Germanic peoples are colonists. However, in the present-day context it is considered that the descendants of both the Celts and the Anglo-Saxons are indigenous British, while the modern colonists are the third-world immigrants of the last few decades. The Anglo-Saxons are colonists relative to the Celts, while the arrivals from the former overseas possessions of Britain are colonists relative to both Celts and Anglo-Saxons.
What about the American Indians? It is agreed that they are the indigenous peoples of America, despite the fact that it is well known today that they too are arrivals to America from the outside, although much further in the past than the Europeans in America, and by way of the Bering Straits rather than the Atlantic Ocean. The priority in time, as well as the fact of having a culture (or remains of it—more than you can say for the Arabs pretending to be “Palestinians”) that is tied to the land, are the reasons for calling the descendants of Siberians in America indigenous. Were America to be settled once again by a new nation from abroad, both American Indians and the descendants of European arrivals (and of African slaves) would be indigenous in relation to the new invaders.
We can see that the term “indigenous” is not devoid of meaning; but because of its relative sense, it is less precise than classifiers would like it to be. All attempts at defining “indigenous” in absolute terms have either been foiled by too many exceptions or have proven to be subjective, teaching us more about the user than the people referred to. One proposal to use the term “autochthonous,” meaning “sprung from the soil,” has been raised but solves nothing at all; it particularly fails on the common-sense ground that, well, human beings do not normally grow out of the soil (maybe into, but not out of). It is futile to square the circle; better accept that “indigenous” is a relative term and deal with it from that standpoint.
Bringing this relative term to the question of Palestine, we might now ask which nation passes. The Canaanites would be the indigenous Palestinians if they still meaningfully existed, but they have not survived culturally. Even if some of the speakers of Arabic in Palestine are genetically descended from the Canaanites, they are not meaningfully Canaanite because it is culture, not genetics, that makes a distinct nation. The oldest nation extant having a cultural connection to the land, a real, not imaginary one, is the Jewish nation. Runners-up would be the Samaritans, who are an ancient Palestinian nation too but later arrivals than the Jews. The Arabic-speakers are fully within the cultural and linguistic milieu of the Arab nation, in Palestine as in Iraq and Morocco; this makes them colonists in all lands outside the Arabian Peninsula, where they are the indigenes.
By now the readers may be frustrated by the depth of the terminological discussion and its application. They may well ask why this matter is so important that it needs to be delved into in such detail. The answer is that, for the Progressive Left, the term “indigenous” has a significance far beyond being a descriptive term.
A Morally Prescriptive Term
The Progressive Left does not freely allot the term “indigenous” to a nation, even when the case for it is overwhelming. The decision to call one nation indigenous and deny that status to another rests on political expedience, for the term “indigenous” in Progressive Leftist usage is quite apart from a description—it carries with it a moral dictum. To be accorded the status of “indigenous people” by the Progressive Left is to be handed a Moral Authority card, a certificate of Moral Absolution that grants the people in question the right to do things that the Progressive Left claims to stand against. Were this certificate put into formal writing, here is how it would read:
We, Progressives of the world, hereby give You, (name of nation), as the Indigenous People of (name of land), the Moral Authority to engage in acts that are criminal for Colonists to engage in. Included herewith is the agreement that Your wars against Colonists shall be called resistance, that Your war crimes against Colonists shall be called reaction to oppression, that Your bigotry and even racism against Colonists shall be blamed on the Colonists, that Your acts of terrorism against Colonists shall be considered as weapons of the weak, and that should You even engage in genocide against the Colonists, that shall be excused and blamed on the Colonists’ intransigence. Granted to You herein is Moral Absolution: Your crimes are not crimes, Your ethnic cleansing is not ethnic cleansing, Your atrocities are not atrocities, Your hatred is not hatred, Your bloodlust is not bloodlust and Your slaughter of innocents is neither slaughter nor are they innocents.
It is important to understand the impact of this unwritten agreement. Once the Progressive Leftists have labeled the one party “indigenous” and the other “colonists,” this is how they will judge the conflict between them. There will be no fairness toward the “colonist” side, and conversely, the worst acts of the “indigenous” side will be given a justification, and one that blames the “colonist” victims (who are never called victims, of course) at that.
The Progressive Left having decided that the Jews in the Land of Israel are “colonists” and the Arabs are the “indigenous Palestinians,” this is exactly what we see. The moral prescription overrides all—this explains why the Progressive Left anti-Zionists stand with Hamas despite the latter being a theocratic organization whose values are all diametrically opposed to what Progressives profess to stand for. So too in the news, on the Arab “indigenous Palestinian” side, the world gets to see women and children in their homes, while the same news “reports” show only soldiers or screaming men on the Jewish “colonist” side. The narrative feeds itself.
Let me be blunt: The portrayal of the Jewish–Arab Conflict as one between “Zionist colonizers” and “indigenous Palestinians” is, through the mindset of the Progressive Left, a wholesale license to murder Israeli Jews. They will deny it, of course; they will say, “A total lie! We do not condone hurting Israeli civilians.” Which is true, they don’t—they only make excuses as to how the Israeli Jews deserved it, how they made the “Palestinians” do it, when it happens. Over the years, through the trickling of this subtle message in the media, the world is primed to view the murder of Israeli Jews as comeuppance. That alone is the reason why the false narrative of the anti-Zionists needs to be struck at its root.