Thank you for your kind response.
Not only is the Jewish state of Israel arguably the world’s first modern indigenous state (for how, please see below and in my book, Peoples of the Earth). More to the point in relation to its ultimate survival is the fact that precious little, if anything, of the indigenous argument has been consciously, conspicuously and responsibly incorporated in a way as to make the two-state solution not only plausible, but also actually workable.
An important point was made by a recently-retired special U.S. envoy to the region when he noted, “(Prime Minister) Netanyahu once said that if the Palestinians and Arabs could formally accept Israel as a Jewish state, his government’s ability to negotiate all the other issues surrounding the conflict would be greatly simplified.” The indigeneity perspective in “Common Lands, Common Ground,” he added, was an “interesting insight … novel approach [and] potential help.”
Israeli belonging to the world community of indigenous peoples is fully warranted given their determination to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, thus ensuring their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural mores, social institutions and legal system.
At the same time, although indigeneity remains largely sidelined in the debate on questions of contemporary Israeli and Palestinian interests, irresponsible partisans on each side claim exclusive indigenous identity for only one or the other peoples involved. (Please just Google “Israel,” “Palestine” and “indigenous” and you will see what I mean).
And yet, following on the authoritative definition of indigenous peoples in the famous “Study on the Problem of Discrimination against Indigenous Populations” by José R. Martínez-Cobo, an anthropologist and then the United Nations Special Rapporteur of the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, a historically correct interpretation shows that both are in fact native peoples. Unfortunately, the zero-sum gaming of arguments sustains one of the globe’s most difficult human rights challenges.
(The zero-sum arguments coming from more extreme factions on both sides focus on just how ancient –and thus, in their eyes, legitimate, to the Other’s expense–is the link between their people and land. Yet it should be pointed out that in the American southwest, the largest and arguably one of the most successful Indian tribes is the Navaho, whose Athabaskan ancestors entered the region from the north around 1400 AD, about a century before Christopher Colombus “discovered” the Americas. Yet no one seriously questions their rights to sacred territories in Arizona, even if tribes such as the Hopi were there much before.)
The admittance of Israel in the indigenous community is in keeping with the criteria set down by Martínez-Cobo. In favor of the Jewish state’s membership, about which you may know more than I, are the following facts: Its lands were occupied first by the Romans, then by the Arabs; it shares common ancestry with previous occupants; its “Jewish culture” can be traced directly to the Levant, while even though various communities have slightly different traditions, they all share the same unique root culture; its traditional language, Hebrew, has been resurrected as its primary language; it has spiritual ties to the land, which play an unquestionably important role in their traditions as a people, and archaeological evidence of the Tabernacle exists in the modern Jewish city of Shilo.
As noted in “Common Lands, Common Ground” (published months before ISIS’s brutal emergence as a force to be reckoned with in an Iraq now falling apart amidst tribal fractioning): “Increasingly, the still-yawning international vacuum on the rights of indigenous peoples has redounded negatively on Middle East development and security policies, with the fight between Israelis and Palestinians quickly growing into a verbal trench warfare reminiscent in style to the tragedy of World War I.”
Into that vacuum is an unhealthy if still backbench politicization of a common indigenous agenda, leading to a two-way dead end, an blind and banal debate about “who was there first” eons ago in the Holy Land. “In both the Israeli and the Palestinian cases,” the essay pointed out, “their unique self identity ratifies de Vos’s dictum that what is believed, not what objectively was, is the operative principle in the reconstruction of identity.”
Turning the current acrimonious debate on its head, reality-based indigenous approaches offer the prospect of badly-needed and currently scarce confidence building measures—on core issues such as borders, Jerusalem, security and refugees—unfolding in a timely fashion. An indigenous perspective can foster, unite and sanctify the dispirited apostles for peace in both Israel and in Palestine, including those of respective diasporas clamoring for understanding and participation.