The defeat of 1967 evokes the temporal nature of settler colonialism. The loop between the naturalization of history and “crisis” best expresses this temporality. The defeat of 1967 naturalizes the Nakba of 1948, while the Oslo process of 1993 tries to naturalize the defeat of 1967, and the Wall tries to naturalize the failures of the Oslo process. Settler colonial time methodically moves the signposts, the territory, the subject of “crisis,” forward. The more temporally bounded a “crisis” is, the more consolidated and “natural” settler colonial power, and its “facts on the ground” can begin to appear.
These appearances are not confined to Palestine alone. They emerged to me in Michigan, where I recently visited my mother’s family. There, I spent time in closets, under beds, and in drawers gathering papers for new research. Everywhere I looked, in the house where my mother grew up, there was paper—in boxes and envelopes, solitary and in groups, organized and haphazard, originals and photocopies, hand-written and typed. There were letters, maps, census documents, land allotments, testimonials, blood-quotients, and drawings. This paper is the legacy of my grandfather and his relationship to both indigeneity and whiteness. From birth until death, he was a member of the Lake Superior Tribes of Ojibwe Indians, the son of a white man and a woman who the government abducted as a child from her family and placed in a “civilizing” Christian boarding school. The oldest piece of paper dates from the mid-nineteenth century, the most recent from 2017. Nothing is discarded; some nullify or reaffirm those that precede it.
This collection of paper evoked Palestine and Palestinian loved ones who collect, maintain, and protect paper. This paper lives in expectation of law, of displacement, of return. In the absence of recognition or historical redress, there is a material accumulation of paper. Proof—in a box, in closet—just in case. In case of further displacement or further loss of land. In case one must prove a “right of return” or a “right of inheritance.” In case one must prove the right to exist, again.
It does not end with paper. In the backyard where I drink my morning coffee, there are two birch trees. They are intimately connected to the Ojibwe peoples. My grandfather brought them as babies from his family home on the Bad River Reservation in Wisconsin. He planted them in a private housing complex on a lake where he and my grandmother bought their first and only home. The complex practiced “redlining”—the barring of African Americans from owning property—in its association bylaws in effect until the mid-1990s. In this housing complex, my grandfather was understood to be and acted as a white man. He protected this currency. Yet there, in his backyard, were his Bad River Reservation-born birch trees. The birch trees are large today, but not large enough to produce the canoes, medicine, fishnets, rope, art, and food the Ojibwe used them for. The birch tree, here, like the olive tree in Palestine, is a site of capture, resilience, and memory.
Last year, my mother and her siblings sold a parcel of their land back to the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa [Ojibwe] Indians of the Bad River Reservation, of which they are enrolled members. In 2016 the Band won a legal case against the US government. They received funds and the ability to buy back individually held reservation land for communal purposes at market prices. The land my family sold bordered white landowners and was impossible to access without their permission. The US government has allowed (and some argue encouraged) non-Native Americans to privately own land on Indian reservations since the inception of reservations. Today, many reservations are pockmarked and non-contiguous due to non-native (mostly white) land-ownership. This makes the maintenance of the “nested sovereignty” of Native Americans, which Audra Simpson so aptly theorizes, even more contradictory and liminal. Non-native bodies carry US state law with them onto Indian reservations, just as Israeli settlers bring Israeli civil law with them into Areas A and B, producing hybrid legal systems and racial-legal forms of accountability, criminality, and redress. As Sierra Crane-Murdoch explained in the Atlantic, law on reservations, just as land on reservations, is pockmarked.
The erasure of Indian life and presence does not only proceed through legal, religious, and racial power and coercion. It also functions through the brutal logic and realities of capital. My family’s “ownership” of eighty acres of land on the reservation is the legacy of a colonial technology that aimed to make them less Indian through the concept of “individual land ownership.” That concept was incomprehensible and barbaric to Native American civilizations. Today the land is also evidence of a familial resistance. Generations chose to consolidate their land allotments, willing and deeding them to each other, in order to thwart incremental dividing partition and confiscation.
Historical exceptionalism is seductive. These two distinct histories are not equivalents. Yet, the experiences of dispossession as well as the consolidation and naturalization of settler colonialism resonate broadly. The processes that 1967 heightened are venues to think about the histories and presents of Palestine, of Israel, and far beyond. The connections between these histories, like power itself, are not linear, or geographical, or disciplinary. The defeat of 1967 and the realities it consolidated might offer us a trespass, a theoretical wormhole, into a captious analysis of settler colonial power. It might offer a detour from the archives of states in search of the baby olive trees planted in Tetra milk cans in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, or the paper that accumulates and is inherited, the paper that lives in expectation of becoming evidence, the paper that is a signal of the corrosive need for evidence. The paper that is an embodied, material expression of the multiple temporalities and geographies of colonization, dispossession, and presence.