Nitzan Hamburg

Free Palestine, Free Navajo, Free Aotearoa: The Hypocrisy

Protesters gather with placards and Palestinian flags during the ‘London Rally For Palestine’ in Trafalgar Square, central London on November 4, 2023. (Justin Tallis/AFP)

The glaring double standards that characterize much of the pro-Palestinian activism in the Western world demand our attention and scrutiny. As someone who supports the rights of Palestinians to self-determination and freedom from occupation, I cannot help but notice the selective outrage and inconsistency with which these principles are applied, particularly when compared to the treatment of indigenous rights issues in other contexts.

The histories of countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand – often celebrated as beacons of democracy and human rights – are marked by the displacement, marginalization, and, in some cases, the genocide of indigenous peoples. The Trail of Tears, part of the larger Indian Removal policy, saw the forced relocation of over 60,000 Native Americans from their ancestral lands in the 1830s. The Indian residential school system in Canada, which began in the late 19th century and was phased out in the 1970s, forcibly separated indigenous children from their families and subjected them to physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. The Stolen Generations in Australia, spanning from the late 1800s to the 1970s, involved the forced removal of thousands of Aboriginal children from their homes by the government. The dispossession of Māori lands in New Zealand, despite the Treaty of Waitangi signed in 1840, continues to be a focal point of Māori rights activism. The ongoing struggles of indigenous communities in these countries, from issues of land rights and cultural preservation to political representation and socioeconomic inequality, are a testament to the enduring impact of these colonial legacies.

Similarly, the Sámi people of Scandinavia, the Ainu of Japan, and the indigenous populations of French overseas territories like French Guiana have all faced histories of forced assimilation, cultural suppression, and land dispossession. The British government’s expulsion of the Chagossian people from their homeland in the late 1960s and early 1970s, to make way for a U.S. military base, and the ongoing dispute over the Falkland Islands, are further examples of the colonial legacy’s impact on indigenous peoples. These cases serve as poignant reminders that the oppression of indigenous peoples is a global phenomenon, extending far beyond the more well-known cases in popular discourse.

Yet, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, many pro-Palestinian activists in the West display a level of passion and outrage that is often absent when addressing the plight of indigenous peoples in their own countries. Where are the calls for “Free Navajo” or “Free Aotearoa” that match the passion of “Free Palestine” chants? It’s a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black – they criticize Israel for the very same faults that are deeply embedded in their own nations’ histories and ongoing practices.

Furthermore, the often-heard slogan “From the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea, Palestine will be free” is problematic, as it promotes a maximalist position that denies Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and rejects any compromise or coexistence. While the desire for Palestinian liberation is understandable and justified, it cannot come at the expense of another people’s basic rights. The Jewish people also have a deep historical and cultural connection to the land, and their aspirations for self-determination must also be recognized.

As a Jew, I am deeply troubled by the double standards and the disproportionate focus on Israel that often carries undertones of antisemitism. The singling out of the world’s only Jewish state for condemnation, while ignoring or downplaying similar or worse human rights abuses by other nations, is a disturbing trend that cannot be ignored.

To be clear, none of this is to suggest that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not deserving of attention or that the grievances of Palestinians are not legitimate. The occupation, the expansion of settlements, and the human rights abuses committed against Palestinians are real and urgent issues that must be addressed. However, the selective application of human rights principles and the lack of consistency in advocating for indigenous rights ultimately undermine the credibility and effectiveness of pro-Palestinian activism.

If we are to build a truly just and equitable world, we must be willing to apply the same standards and principles to all situations, regardless of the identities of the oppressors or the oppressed. This means confronting not only the injustices of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but also the ongoing legacies of colonialism, ethnic cleansing, and genocide that continue to shape the lives of indigenous peoples around the world.

It is time for a global reckoning, an honest accounting of the ways in which the rights of indigenous peoples have been violated and continue to be threatened. This requires not only acknowledgment and apology but also concrete actions towards decolonization, self-determination, and justice. We must be consistent in our commitment to anti-colonial struggle and be willing to confront the uncomfortable truths of our own histories and the ongoing complicity of our governments in the oppression of indigenous peoples. I expect that an American or Canadian citizen who reads “Free Palestine” will also agree that American natives should be allowed to return to their lands that were taken, and establish an indigenous state there if they so desire. Only by holding ourselves to the same standards we demand of others and standing in solidarity with indigenous peoples everywhere can we hope to build a truly effective and principled movement for justice.

About the Author
Nitzan Hamburg is a writer, Hebrew lover and medical student.