When U.S. military officials chose the code name Geronimo for Osama Bin Laden– and then bulletined his death as Geronimo EKIA (Enemy Killed in Action)– they unwittingly cast a harsh historical light on the United States, its ally Israel, and both states’ deplorable treatment of their indigenous populations.
Although Uncle Sam patriots glorify a distorted past that never was, in truth the U.S. was founded on a massive campaign of genocide and ethnic cleansing that annihilated most Native Americans and corralled the relatively few survivors into intolerable reservations. Stripped of their land base and way of life, American Indians today endure further devastation as greedy corporations encroach onto their small remaining territories to mine uranium and other resources, often exposing the populations to cancerous pollution.
Both the U.S. and the modern state of Israel were founded on an ideology of a promised land for a chosen people, and to hell with the natives. Israel’s policy of dismembering Palestinian communities, demolishing their homes, stealing their land, and packing them into fragmented urban islands echoes the U.S. treatment of its indigenous peoples.
In January 2007, when then-Secretary of State Condolezza Rice paid a visit to the Hawara movement barrier (checkpoint) near Nablus in the occupied West Bank, Palestinians dressed up in Native American costumes to protest the U.S. role in funding and arming their immiseration. The protesters held aloft signs that said, “Is this our reservation?” and “The Indian wars are not over Mrs. Rice… We are still here, too!” and “The roadblocks are ruining the Palestinian’s lives.”
Bush’s laughable explanation for 9/11 – “they attacked us because they hate our freedom” – evades the truth of blowback. According to a 2008 audiotape, one of Bin Laden’s primary motivations for the brutal September 11th, 2001 attack was the U.S. role in funding Israel’s theft of Palestinian land. Bin Laden’s murderous methods to express his grievances were despicable. That said, I suspect that those who misguidedly mourn Bin Laden do so for his temerity in opposing U.S./Israeli bullying.
Geronimo was a highly revered Apache warrior who resisted the ethnic cleansing and genocide of Native Americans. The U.S. government labeled him a terrorist. The real perpetrators of terror, those who ordered and carried out the destruction of indigenous societies, were never condemned in such terms. Apache and Native leaders castigate the Bin Laden analogy, which is part and parcel of a U.S. tradition of both calling its enemies indigenous names (translation: all Indians are enemies and vice versa), and appropriating Native culture in militaristic, imperial ways (ex., Apache helicopters, Tomahawk missiles).
It is telling that the U.S. chose Geronimo as Bin Laden’s moniker. At an unconscious level, perhaps U.S. officials realized that just like the famous Native American warrior, Bin Laden had a valid bone to pick with Western imperialism.
U.S. conquest and subjugation of its native population is an especially sordid chapter in the history of this settler-colonial nation, disturbingly similar to Israel’s recent history. It’s time for the U.S. to finally get on the right side of history, and change its foreign policy from bankrolling Israel’s confiscation of Palestinian land to funding and promoting Israeli-Palestinian equality and reconciliation.