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University of East London - Dialogue of the Deaf with Haim Bresheeth (Dept. of Cultural Studies)

Seth Frantzman conducted an email dialog with Haim Bresheeth, which is displayed below:


Date: 04/05/2008

From: "seth frantzman" wrote:

To: H.Bresheeth

Subject: Question about the word indigenous

Prof. Bresheeth,

I am a PhD student studying Arab villages in Palestine. I was interested to read the letter in the Guardian signed by yourself in regards to not celebrating Israel's 60th anniversary. I agree with some of the points you raised but two things struck me as interesting. You mention that Israel's creation caused the cleansing of the 'indigenous' Palestinian people. If the Palestinians are 'indigenous' to Israel then what are Jews indigenous to? What are you indigenous to? Or me for that matter?

You also noted that you will not be celebrating Israel's independence day. But why would you celebrate it, you are not an Israeli citizen? Shouldnít you, as a citizen of the U.K, be questioning celebrations of national holidays in your country and the way in which British history is also marked by massacres and ethnic-cleansing?

Thanks for your thoughts on my questions,

Seth Frantzman

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem


Date: 5 May 2008

From: H.Bresheeth

To: sfrantzman

Subject: Re: Question about the word indigenous

Mr. Franzman,

Thank you for your lovely message...

As to your queries: I suspect that you may be, judging from the tenor of your letter, indigenous in Manhattan or somewhere nearby, something you are obviously aware of. I also assume you have not come to Israel as the result of terrible anti-Semitism rampant in the USA, unless I am very mistaken. Despite the fact that I am citizen of Israel, contary to what you have written, and may have even invested in it more than you ever could, I have signed this letter and agree with every word in it.

You have a problem, donít you? Palestinians are NOT indigenous to Israel, but to Palestine, which seems to be a place you are unaware of. There is nothing you can do to remove this fact from reality. Maybe you should think seriously what you are doing there, as long as your attitude is what the message reflects.

And to make you even happier. I have long questioned the long history of imperialism for which Britain is responsible for, including the latest war in Iraq, and have written and argued against it. I cannot say I have read much from your good self on the topic, or on any other topic. Maybe you can advise me on this?



From: seth frantzman

To: Haim Bresheeth

Sent: May 06, 2008

Subject: RE: Question about the word indigenous

Unfortunatly you are not correct in placing my birthplace as Manhattan. I would have expected more from someone of your stature and age rather than the type of email I received. Nevertheless I will ask again: What country or place or land are you indigenous to? I am asking again because you did not answer me. You did clarify that you are an Israeli citizen. Your notion that Palestinians are 'indigenous' to Palestine and not Israel is a misnomer. Palestine is Israel. That is why Palestinians are often described as the 'indigenous' people in Israel much the same way Native-Americans are described as 'indigenous' to the U.S. Their being indigenous means their existence in the country pre-dates the U.S. One does not say 'Native Americans are indigenous to Native America'. Just as Aborigines are indigenous to Australia, even though they pre-date Australia. Are you understanding? One might also say, for instance, that Armenians are 'indigenous' to parts of Turkey. Turkey is merely the modern manifestation of what has been other entities and the name Turkey is based merely on the Turks who are modern immigrants to the country in contrast to its long history.

Now to return to Palestine. Palestinians are said to be indigenous to Palestine but today when people say 'Palestine' some of them mean the West Bank and Gaza (such as Jimmy Carter's reference in his book 'Palestine: peace, not Apartheid' or the way that the 'Economist' uses the word) and some of them mean the whole land of British Mandatory Palestine. Some of them might even include Jordan. It is often clear that when people say that Palestinians are 'indigenous' to the Holy Land they mean Israel and Palestine, not just the West Bank, hence the reason it is an 'injustice' that Palestinians were 'ethnically-cleansed' from their land, which is to say the modern state of Israel.

I don't have any problem with the semantics. It is the word play that I am interested in. If Palestinians are indigenous to Israel (and to Palestine, and the West Bank and Gaza), then what are the Jews indigenous to? What are you indigenous to? You have already insinuated that had I been born in Manhattan I would have been 'indigenous' to Manhattan. But this is actually not the definition of the word 'indigenous'. Indigenous does not mean 'born in'. A Navajo Indian who is born in Texas is not 'indigenous' to Texas. He is indigenous to Canyon de Chelly in Arizona. The fact that his parents moved to Texas does not make him indigenous to something else. An Aboriginal Australian who moves to America and has children does not make his children 'indigenous' to the U.S. They are still the indigenous people of Australia. Edward Said's children, who were born in the U.S are not 'indigenous' to the U.S. They can well make the claim that they are 'indigenous' to Palestine or Israel. So I ask again, what are you indigenous to? What are the Jews indigenous to?

As for what I have written on British colonialism I don't see what this has to do with anything. The history of the British empire and its crimes in places like Kenya or South Africa is not my specialty. Should I be writing editorials on it to 'prove' that I oppose British history? I don't see how it bares on this at all.

I hope that your next email will be more mature than the last one, perhaps not condescending. But you can keep guessing as to where I was born. Just please answer my question.

Seth Frantzman


Date: 6 May 2008

From: H.Bresheeth

To: sfrantzman

Subject: RE: Question about the word indigenous

Dear Seth Franzman,

If you think me condescending, you should know - just read your own letter...

About "indigenous" I have little to add. You are telling me I am not correct about you being born in Manhattan - I apologise profusely - but it seems I am not far out, placing you as an American Jew. Arizona may be a long way off, but it is still in the USA. So, you - an American Jew, is indigenous to palestine, which you typically tell me is Israel, the occupying power... So is someone from Russia, even if they are not Jewish. The only people who have no right to live in Palestine, are of course the Palestinians. This is so simple, just and self-evident that it is breath-takingly obvious.

I love people with clarity of mind, so set that no facts shall confuse them. Don't you agree?



Sent: May 11, 2008

From: seth frantzman

To: Haim Bresheeth

Subject: RE: Question about the word indigenous

You have not answered my question again. What are you indigenous to? I am not from Arizona. I don't know where you got that idea. I didn't claim to be indigenous to Palestine or Israel. I asked you what you were indigenous to?

You say "the only people who have a right to live in Palestine are Palestinians." Would you say the same thing about England? The only people who have a right to live in England are English people? How about Germany? The only people who have a right to live in Germany are Germans. That was, in fact, precisely the Nazi logic of 'blood and soil'. Only the German people have a right to Germany. So as a Jew, where do you, Prof. Bresheeth, have a right to live? Where are you indigenous to?

This is my question.  This is the third email in which I have asked it. I am still waiting for an answer. This question of being 'indigenous' is not about me because I am not the one who ever claimed Palestinians are Jews were indigenous to Israel or Palestine. You claimed Palestinians were indigenous to Palestine and to Israel. That is why I was interested in what you saw yourself as indigenous to. All people must be indigenous to somewhere. Greeks to Greece. Albanians to Albania. Russians to Russia. Basques to Spain and France. Kurds to Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq. Zulus to South Africa. So where are you indigenous to, since it is not Israel or Palestine?

Please respond to my question.

Seth Frantzman


Date: 11 May 2008

From: H.Bresheeth

To: sfrantzman

Subject: Re: Question about the word indigenous

Take me to court for not answering your questions... Your question was actually different:

What are you indigenous to? Or me for that matter?

As you have not answered your question, I have not either. I find your tenor disturbing and hardly academic, so I cannot see why I should continue to converse with someone who is not listening. Why donít you publish your own version of reality?



Date: 12 May 2008

From: sfrantzman

To: h.bresheeth

Subject: RE: Question about the word indigenous

The question I have been trying to get at is what are the Jews indigenous to if the Palestinians are indigenous to the entire land of Palestine? Since you used the word 'indigenous' to describe the Palestinians I was wondering what you saw yourself as indigenous to. Why is this such a hard discussion to have? Is it, perhaps, because you cannot answer the question. I don't have to answer the question because I reject the very notion of people being 'indigenous'. I think it is a meaningless term that is falsely applied to human society. No people are indigenous to anything because the history of human societies is 40,000 years old and during that time all the people of the world have immigrated from one place to another. There are 'first peoples' in the sense that the first native-Americans to cross the land bridge or the first Aborigines in Australia were the first ones to arrive on those landscapes. But the notion that anyone is 'indigenous' to the Levant, the area considered Palestine or Israel, is a myth. There are no indigenous people in the Middle East because the history of the Middle East is a history of people in flux and immigration. Thus your notion that the Palestinians are 'indigenous' to Palestine is incorrect. But since you assert that Palestinians are indigenous therefore you must also believe that Jews are indigenous to something, since all people are indigenous to somewhere according to your view.

So why can't you simply explain what you are indigenous to? An academic such as yourself should be able to answer this eminently simple question without ridiculing others.

Seth Frantzman


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