Reflections on demands for reparations and return of captured land.
Last Sunday, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of Israel’s Six-Day War, I drove out onto Old Hickory Boulevard near my Nashville home, savoring the Predators’ first-ever victory in a Stanley Cup finals game, one gained at the Penguins’ expense the night before. And I’d like to suggest a connection between Andrew Jackson, the NHL, and June 1967. I hope you’ll track with me for a moment.
First, it was “Old Hickory” who ignored a Supreme Court ruling and displaced the Cherokees native to the Southeast. He set them on a Trail of Tears to Oklahoma, where the ‘Talequah’ of their new home echoed the ‘Tellico’ of their old one.
Second, in case you missed it, the NHL-expansion Predators are threatening to bring championship trophy home to the arguably improbable city of Nashville, far from the colder regions which nurtured the sport. (And while a Detroit Red Wings fan may toss an octopus onto the ice, the Nashville devotee is likely to launch a catfish.)
Third, I recall my initial visit to the Holy Land in 1966, when the Mount of Olives was under Jordanian control and Israeli farmers in the Jezreel Valley worked in the shadow of Syrian artillery posted on the Golan Heights. Within a year, these foreign-held properties would pass to Israeli control.
Taken together, I think they speak to the Palestinian conflict, particularly to the matter of land ownership.
America’s President Jackson and Israel’s Prime Minister Eshkol have come in for their share of vilification for taking territory in their day. In the case of the Cherokees, lamentation persists, but as we approach the two-century mark since their displacement, we don’t hear calls to end the American “occupation” of Catoosa Country, Georgia. But the furor over Area-C, West-Bank, Israeli-settlement cities such as Ariel and Betar Illit is intense, with condemnation flowing freely from such heights as the Obama White House, the European Union, the UN General Assembly, Harvard, and the United Methodist Church, often with contemptuous and punitive stock divestments.
Many cry, “You stole it. You must give it back.” But, the moral logic is elusive. For one thing, the previous tenants were determined to destroy Israel. For another, the proposition, “We had it beforehand,” doesn’t entail “It’s still really ours.” And that’s where the Stanley Cup comes in. Unlike the other major sports trophies (NFL’s Lombardi; MLB Commissioner’s; NBA’s O’Brien), the Stanley Cup (like the Indy 500 Borg-Warner Trophy) rests on a base so grand that the names of the previous winners, including the players, are engraved for all to see.
Analogously, the Arabs (“Palestinians”) do, indeed, appear on the “Levant Trophy,” along with the British, Turks, Crusaders, Fatimids, Umayyads, Abbasids, Byzantines, Rashiduns, Romans, Greeks, Assyrians, Babylonians, Jebusites, and Egyptians. And the various land transfers were typically effected with violence. So where would we stop in our “give it back” program? Would we need a string of relinquishment ceremonies (Jews to Englishmen, Englishmen to Ottomans, etc.), ending in a surrender of the keys to Jerusalem to extant relatives of the Proto-Canaanites? Or do we simply, say, analogously, “Yes, Maple Leafs (including the Tim Horton of Canadian restaurant fame), you had it in 1967. We see your name down there. But it’s not been yours since then.”
If we can’t insist on deed transfers, might we think in terms of reparations, cash remittances from current to former holders? Well, Israel’s tried that, but the Palestinians who abandoned their homes during the multi-nation assault Israel faced soon after its birthday in 1948 refused it. They and their offspring have held out, continuing to demand restoration of the pre-1967 borders. Unfortunately, those 1940s Palestinians figured they could regain their land once their Arab allies had done the dirty work of erasing the nascent state, but they were in for a big surprise — as were Israel’s foes in 1967 and 1973, when Syria’s Yom Kippur surprise attack failed to reclaim the Golan.
But let’s see how the reparations program might work of we turn to the Cherokees. Imagine a present-day, Haitian immigrant homeowner in Dalton, Georgia, call him Jean-Baptiste. He resides on land once belonging to Indians. Should he send compensation to a Cherokee in Sallisaw, Oklahoma? If so, might he have warrant to first bill the descendants of tribesmen in Dahomey who kidnapped his ancestors in the Kingdom of Allada (now in Benin) and sold them to Arab and French slavers? And perhaps we could track down a Parisian whose family was blessed financially by a seagoing forefather who pocketed profit from the trade in human flesh. Maybe a resident on Montmartre could pitch in some francs to help our Haitian ex-pat do his financial duty to our man in Sallisaw.
But then, what if we discover that Jean-Baptiste lives in a sub-division carved from the former estate of a slave owner? Shouldn’t he reserve some of his compensation funds for the great, great, great grandsons of slaves who worked that very land? If so, he might first approach Anglican leadership in the UK for a donation, since it was their people who hounded the planter’s ancestors — Scots-Irish Presbyterians — off their Ulster land in the 18th century.
It gets complicated, but, however we do it, we need to take care of those abused Cherokees. But they could be thuggish too. Consider this passage I came across in the bookstore at D.C.’s National Museum of the American Indian (from War: Living Stories of the Cherokee, by Barbara Duncan, UNC Press). According to one account:
Grandpa told me a story once that Mink had told him.
This was in pre-Columbian times.
That a tribe from up north, somewhere in Virginia or West Virginia, maybe, had come down into northern Cherokee country and raided some villages and taken some slaves and had killed some women and children.
So they said out of vengeance The Cherokee nation went together and went up and completely exterminated that tribe, killed every one in the whole tribe.
So it wasn’t only non-Indians committing these atrocities against the Indians.
This kind of behavior was universal.
No matter whether you were Indian or non-Indian or African or Asian or whatever.
You know, this kind of thing, human beings been human beings since the beginning of time.
Indeed, and this principle extends to the violent seizure of land. Some takings have been bad (as when Hitler seized the Sudetenland), some good (as when the Allies seized Berchtesgaden at War’s end). Whatever the case, might doesn’t make right, but it certainly determines property. (Just ask those displaced by eminent domain.) So I’d suggest that the foes of Israel deal with the reality of their arguably justified loss.
There’s another June 4 connection that comes to mind. That Sunday morning, my preacher was named Jedidiah (“Beloved of the Lord”), the name the prophet Nathan gave Solomon (2 Samuel 12:25). This king of Israel was known for his wisdom, exemplified, for instance, by the book of Proverbs and his adjudication of a dispute between two women claiming the same child (1 Kings 3).
I think a rough analogue suggests itself. For when it comes to the best interests of the child (the “occupied” territories), and given the track record of the Hamasian Palestinians in Gaza (with their rocket attacks on civilians in Israel), I believe it makes sense to favor Israeli “parentage” for the land. As for the Arabs, they should remember that their Muslim ancestors weren’t tourists when they swept into the region in 637 and took Jerusalem.
Nevertheless, if the Palestinians want to torment Israel with their grievances, they might bolster their moral standing by first sending reparations to Christians in Istanbul’s Kumkapi neighborhood, believers whose fortunes might well have been damaged by the 7th-century Arabs who captured Judean land once held by their ancestors.