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The Legacy of Internment and Ethnic Cleansing – OpEd – Eurasia Review

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Last night I watched a fascinating documentary on PBS, Manzanar, Diverted: When Water Becomes Dust. We all know or think we know Manzanar. It was the “flagship” incarceration camp for Japanese Americans interned during World War II (there were others in Arizona and Idaho). World War II internment decreed by Pres. Rooselvelt, was the third worst travesty of human rights in Republican history (slavery and the Native American genocide being the others). Manzanar was such a scourge that he became a supreme symbol of injustice in our nation’s history.

This documentary expands our view of the camp and its place in a larger story of ethnic cleansing and genocide. While Japanese citizens were rounded up from their homes across California and forcibly deported to what were, in effect, “benign” concentration camps, there was a much longer and equally troubling injustice around Manzanar.

Namely, the Native American Paiute and Shoshone tribes lived in the Owens Valley and around its defining geographic feature, Lake Owens. The lake was a huge salty sea, which captured all the water that flowed from the eastern Sierras to the valley below. For 3,000 years the tribes have fished, hunted and farmed in the fertile soil and abundant water resources available.

But in the 1860s, conflicts and troubles arose between the natives and the white settlers:

[The] The discovery of gold and silver in the Sierra Nevada and Inyo Mountains attracted a flood of prospectors. Ranchers and farmers followed, often using Paiute’s irrigation systems and grasslands. A harsh winter and scarce food in 1861-1862 forced the Paiute and settlers into open conflict. The army intervened and in 1863 forcibly moved 1,000 Paiute to Fort Tejon in the mountains south of Bakersfield.

The entire national history of Indigenous-White relations has involved conflict over land and its wealth. Whether the land had gold, silver, water, or other resources, once the white men arrived, they took it. If the native inhabitants resented or resisted, they were expelled either by violence, trickery or outright theft. To cite just one example, nearly 1,000 tribal members met with US Army officers and agreed to end hostilities in 1863. The army then forced them to march 200 miles south to Fort Tejon . Some died on the way and others escaped and returned to their ancestral home. Once they were thrown there, they received little to support themselves. The food offered was little more than starvation rations.

In the case of the Paiute tribe and Japanese Americans, they were seen as a danger and a threat to white people. In the case of the Paiute, the military’s response to Native American raids on the settlers was either to kill them or to evict them. Japanese Americans, on the other hand, put up no such resistance. So they were treated a little better. Their internment only lasted three years. As the Paiute continue their battles with the government to this day.

Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink

In 1913, a new calamity befell the tribes. Los Angeles, to the south, had become a booming metropolis. With its mild climate and fertile farmland, it has become a beacon for Eastern and Midwestern Americans. The population has grown by leaps and bounds. The city fathers/power brokers determined that the only resource missing from the growth they envisioned was water. There just weren’t enough.

For this, they looked north at the Owens Valley and its lake, which encompassed more than 100 square miles of pure mountain runoff. Los Angeles water engineers, led by the infamous William Mulholland immortalized in Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, coveted the resource and devised a method to divert it to Los Angeles, 200 miles to the south. The city’s water engineer led the effort to build the California Aqueduct, which stole water from the valley and shipped it to the City of Angels.

Mulholland handled the engineering and left the matter of securing water rights to power brokers, land agents, and city attorneys. By legal means if possible and by subterfuge if necessary, they secretly buy back the water rights held by all the farmers of the Valley. Most of them left after they no longer had access to the water necessary for their agricultural activities.

But the tribes posed a more difficult obstacle. As indigenous inhabitants, they not only lived in the valley for thousands of years, but they had a primary right to the water that had sustained them throughout that time. Eventually, some members of the tribe agreed to a population transfer, which offered them land to resettle within the city limits of Los Angeles. In exchange for the land, the tribes gave up most of their water rights in the valley. Thus, the infamous Department of Water and Energy took control of the Owens Valley water, enabling the creation of the sprawling urban monster that Los Angeles eventually became.

Intersectionality: Japanese internment and Native American expulsion

By linking the Japanese internment at Manzanar to the displacement of Native Americans, the PBS documentary offered a whole new perspective on these phenomena. California and the United States trampled on the rights of the two internees and indigenous peoples. For the former, the injustice lasted three years. For the latter, it dates back to the 1860s, when Native Americans were first ethnically cleansed from the valley.

The two groups have come together over the past decade, both to preserve the Manzanar National Monument that the federal government dedicated; and to defend the rights of the remaining native residents of the valley. Together they lobbied the DWP to return some of the water diverted to the lake, although quantities are limited (the dry lake bed remains the biggest source of dust pollution in the country ). It is moving to see the 2019 Manzanar ceremony in which dozens of survivors returned, joined by Native Americans and even Muslim Americans wearing the hijab. It’s a dramatic example of the power of intersectionality.

Slavery and Ethnic Cleansing – “The American as Apple Pie”

State-sponsored crimes in the Owens Valley are not one-time events. You could even say, with H. Rap ​​Brown, that ethnic cleansing is as American as apple pie. American plantation owners were instrumental in the African slave trade, in which victims were taken from their homes and forcibly transported across the sea to work as slaves. Later, when the abolitionist movement began, many liberal white Americans believed that the best way to deal with the “race problem” was to ship freed slaves. return to Africa because they could not be integrated into civilized society. This would have resulted in another displacement from America. Ironically, the main driving force behind this project was the American Colonization Company. By its very name, it declared that the freed slaves would themselves be part of a new colonization effort to bring enlightenment and civilization to African “natives” via this new state, Liberia.

Throughout human history, tribes have slaughtered, expelled or, in less traumatic cases, mingled with rivals. There have been huge migrations of populations around the world due to economic or climate-related upheavals. Many of these disturbances also resulted from invasions, conquests and plunder. We are a (human) race prone to mass violence and genocide.

In the 19th century, Europeans excelled in this type of rape and plunder of the resources and human capital of their colonies. In the Congo alone, King Leopold of Belgium was responsible for the death by disease and murder of 4 million indigenous inhabitants. In Latin America, Spain devastated the natives with European diseases and worked the rest to death extracting gold and silver, which were sent back to the mother country.

European colonialism offered the Zionists a model of ethnic cleansing

Which brings us to Israel-Palestine: Herzl and the early Zionists saw their business in a very similar way. They saw themselves as Europeans bringing the values ​​of Western civilization to the “natives”, the native Arabs of Palestine. They adopted the colonial attitude of the “uprising” which persuaded them of the merits of their cause. But when the going gets tough, when the Arabs stand in the way of progress, they will later be shunned in the same way as the Californian tribes.

As early as 1937, if not before, Ben Gurion wrote in a letter to his son that the Palestinians would be swept away by the Zionist enterprise. Yes, there were other passages in which he softened his rhetoric slightly. But the message remained clear: Zionism demanded a Jewish state with a Jewish majority. To achieve this, there was a two-pronged strategy: bringing Jewish immigrants as pioneers into the Zionist state to populate it with Jews; and the suppression of the Arab population.

In 1948, Ben Gurion took advantage of the war he provoked to set up a vast campaign of ethnic cleansing, the Nakba. As a result, almost a million indigenous Arabs were forcibly expelled from their homeland. Only 250,000 remained after the 1948 war. Those expelled were barred from returning, on pain of death. This is how he implemented his earlier vision of maintaining a Jewish majority. To this day, Palestinian refugees and their descendants languish in camps spread across the Middle East. Nor have they assimilated into their host countries. They remain stateless after their homeland deprived them of their identity.

Like the Paiute in the 1880s, Palestinians fled and resettled in many neighboring Arab states (mainly Jordan, Syria and Lebanon). The camps are reminiscent of the reservations in which Native Americans were confined during the westward expansion. and white colony. But unlike the experience of Native Americans, who enjoy special status, rights and obligations from the federal government, Israel has adamantly refused any obligation to those it expelled. He even refuses to recognize that they are refugees. Nor did he attempt to normalize relations with the remaining Palestinians. Thus the Nakba remains, like slavery for America, the Original Sin of the State of Israel. A spot and a stain on his nationality. One that cannot be redeemed without Israel’s recognition and repentance for the great affront it has committed against the dignity of the native Palestinian inhabitants of this land.

This article was published on Tikun Olam