LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Settler Colonialism

What’s happening today and for the last 100 years in Palestine is consistent with the history of the West for the last 500 years, a reader writes.

Approaching Chimney Rock (1931), painting by William Henry Jackson, depicts pioneers approaching the Nebraska landmark on the Oregon Trail. (National Park Service)

To the Editor:

If you’re confused or just don’t know much about Palestine/Israel take a look at the creation of Israel in 1948 and the Ideology of Zionism.

From the beginning Zionism was and remains a Western colonial project. As a religious nationalist project on Palestinian land Zionism followed in the Western tradition of settler colonialism.  The inability of Americans to understand their own history as a settler colonial society limits the ability to understand the basics of what has been happening in Palestine for the last hundred years.

The same people that are remaining neutral today are following in the same tradition as all the people that remained neutral for the hundreds of years in which the Europeans were colonizing the “Americas,” Australia, New Zealand and parts of Asia and Africa by exterminating native populations. What’s happening today and for the last 100 years in Palestine is consistent with the history of the West for the last 500 years. 

 America had an ideology that summed up settler colonialism very well, “Manifest Destiny,” the idea that it was divine providence that white Europeans would bring civilization to the “savages.” In the Declaration of Independence Liberal darling Thomas Jefferson refers to the indigenous nations as “merciless Indian savages.”

What Israel is doing today is a much smaller scale of what the British and Americans did to the indigenous on this continent for 300+ years. What both Zionism and Manifest Destiny have to offer people is the bribe of land and wealth. People have a long history of trading their integrity for a little land and wealth.

This history of white supremacy has been difficult to defeat because it is built on a collaboration between the working class and the ruling class. White supremacy is the most extreme form of cross class solidarity. The Palestinians are waging an anti colonial struggle, that is what so many don’t understand.

Here in California the genocide of the natives has been buried and isn’t taught in schools. The first eight governors supported and funded Indian hunting campaigns from the years 1849-1873. The “Founding Father” of California, the 1st governor, Peter Hardeman Burnett said,  “A war of extermination will continue to be waged between the races, until the Indian race becomes extinct.” The next seven governors, including Leland Stanford, the namesake of the famed University, would support extermination policies, Indian hunting campaigns and vigilante violence so the white settlers could “manifest destiny.” 

The last thing you need to do is remain neutral. Remaining neutral is a tacit approval of the status quo. It is only through raising our voices that we can effect change. Don’t be afraid of pushback, that means you are doing your job. Be afraid of silent complicity, that means the flame of your soul may be dampened. 

Ace Thelin
Forest Knolls, CA

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30 comments for “LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Settler Colonialism

  1. Mark D Hughes
    October 30, 2023 at 00:17

    On October 27 Ryan McMaken posted an essay on Mises Wire that makes a similar argument. See: “American History Is a Preview of the Israel-Palestine End Game” hxxps://mises.org/wire/american-history-preview-israel-palestine-end-game

  2. Ray Snew
    October 29, 2023 at 10:38

    Ace Thelin has written a fine letter, which carries a very important message. We MUST not be silently complicit. Please join us in the BDS movement (hxxps://bdsmovement.net/), and boycott products made by Israel & by Zionist-led companies outside Israel until a two-state, just solution is achieved (and reparations are made by Israeli’s to the Palestinians they have brutalized for so long). The “country” of Israel is not even a true nation because it has no fixed borders, nor a genuine constitution. And of course – as any objective, thinking observer can attest – it is not a true democracy, since it systematically violates the human rights of its Muslim citizens. Let’s Talk Truth: The entity called “Israel” is an Apartheid-practicing rogue state, with religious zealots and terrorists heading both its government and its military. Its war criminal leaders recently make even Turkey’s Erdogan look relatively palatable!

    Besides the BDS boycotts, moral people living outside the US & UK (two nations which blindly support fellow rogue state Israel at all times, regardless of international law) should also try buying fewer products made in those supporters of “Israel”. Please don’t give the true “Axis of Evil” (Washington-London-Tel Aviv) your money! By taking away their revenue, all three nations (which almost every month run large trade deficits, and also have massive debt loads) will inevitably self-destruct (the BRICS nations know this, and are preparing for it).

    Finally, though I’m not a lawyer, I believe that someday anyone who knowingly supported (financially or otherwise) the ruthless rogue states’ crimes against Palestine runs the risk of being tried for aiding and abetting those crimes.
    So, to any Zionists out there – Are you ready for LIFE in prison – and in Iraq/Afghanistan/Syria/Libya/Gaza? If not, you better take a LONG, hard look at yourselves in the mirror…

  3. Valerie
    October 29, 2023 at 03:28

    And the brits won’t be let off the hook easily. Here is a comprehensive testament to their evil-doings:

    “5 of the worst atrocities carried out by the British Empire”

    independent.co.uk January 19th 2016

  4. D'Esterre
    October 28, 2023 at 21:53

    “…Europeans were colonizing the “Americas,” Australia, New Zealand and parts of Asia and Africa by exterminating native populations.”

    I’m a NZ citizen, with a pretty good grasp of our history. Include this country out of the above characterisation. Possibly Australia as well: recent claims notwithstanding.

    In NZ, during the Musket Wars in the early years of the 19th century, the indigenes (the Maori) made a pretty effective job of exterminating each other. The death toll is believed to have been between 20,000-40,000, with tens of thousands enslaved. This out of a population plausibly estimated (by James Cook in 1769) to have been around 100,000. Numbers of Western settlers at that stage were tiny, and they played no part in the conflict.

    I have read historical analysis suggesting that it was the terrible death toll of the Musket Wars which spurred many chiefs into signing the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. They wanted no repeat of such a massacre. The signing of the Treaty put an end to slavery and cannibalism, both routinely practised here by pre-European Maori, and of course to chances of a repeat of the Musket Wars. At first Western contact, this country wasn’t a bucolic paradise: it was Hobbesian.

    The first Europeans to arrive here were the whalers and sealers, in the late 18th century. They came to the far south of the South Island; intermarriage followed very quickly. In the decades since, the indigenous and settler populations have intermarried, to the extent that neither peoples are what they were at first contact. There are likely not many old pakeha (white) families which don’t have Maori in their genealogy. Mine certainly does, though I’m not of Maori descent.

    Regarding the depredations of the colonisers, as noted in the above post, these were awful. But nothing can now be done to rectify the damage. Where land was stolen (or confiscated, as happened here), for the most part it cannot now be returned, without creating further injustice. The exception is publicly-owned land, at least in NZ.

    As to Israel, I was (like many of my generation, born immediately after WW2) comprehensively propagandised about its founding. I was an adult before I found out how that had actually come about. Nowadays, my compassion is for the Palestinians.

    But it’s very important that the contemporary situation vis à vis the Palestinians and Israelis isn’t conflated with that of other former British colonies. It isn’t necessarily analogous.

    • Susan Siens
      October 29, 2023 at 16:33

      I’m not even going to read your excuses for colonization. My mother told me many decades ago that the British hunted Maori for fun, and I would not believe any “history” written by settlers (and, yes, my family were settlers as well and I live on stolen land). What NZ seems good at is the same thing liberal Americans are good at: We no longer call it Columbus Day in Maine, U.S.A., we call it Indigenous Peoples Day as we continue to deny Maine indigenous their water rights, their federal rights, etc. And in NZ you use Maori words and continue to treat the Maori as though they are “excess humans.” Ditto, Australia.

      • Anon
        October 29, 2023 at 18:44

        Just sayin’… Agree w/ this comment quite more than the one apparently excusing Maori genocide.
        America’s French Indian War (to my understanding) involved, in part, tribal conflict…
        Are we to whitewash obvious history (including Mr Thelin’s above) of land theft (& it’s continuing successor international resource theft) using connected conflict as an excuse?
        (& BTW doesn’t escape my notice CN PUBLISHES a Reader’s Letter… PROPS all!)

        • D'Esterre
          October 30, 2023 at 20:56

          Anon: “…the one apparently excusing Maori genocide.”

          Aside from the Musket Wars in the early 19C – which involved only Maori killing each other – there has been no “genocide” here in NZ. If you believe that you have evidence to the contrary, please provide it by way of a link to an authoritative source.

          Here’s a thing. My knowledge of what happened in the Americas is pretty sketchy, which is why I don’t comment on it.

          It’s evident that your knowledge of what happened in NZ is equally sketchy. In my view, you’d best keep quiet about it.

          I am a NZ citizen, and I’ve long had an interest in NZ history. I confine my comments to that topic, about which I have some knowledge.

          In my original comment, I took issue with the conflation of NZ with other former British colonies. My point stands: their histories aren’t necessarily analogous. And certainly not with the tragedy unfolding in the ME at present.

      • D'Esterre
        October 29, 2023 at 22:46

        It’s a great pity that you haven’t read my comment.

        It’s also clear that you don’t live here. Nor do you know the history of this country.

        “…the British hunted Maori for fun…”

        I’ve got a pretty good handle on NZ history, both the good and the bad. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard this. I’d regard it as anti-British propaganda. If you’d read my comment, you’d see how many indigenes there likely were at the time of the Treaty’s signing. Certainly not enough for “hunting” for fun or otherwise. I suggest that you read The Ara, the NZ history site. It’s online.

        On the other hand, there’s this:

        And this:

        Note that both accounts come from a government site. No plaster saints anywhere, it seems.

        NZ has been self-governing since the 1850s. And the Maori Parliamentary seats were first established in 1867. See this:

        My point stands: it’s best not to conflate the situation vis à vis Palestinians and Israelis with that of other former British colonies. They aren’t necessarily analogous.

  5. Jan
    October 28, 2023 at 21:50

    Those dots have needed to be connected for a long time. Americans support the ethnic cleansing of Palestine because of their own ethnic cleansing of North America. Americans are expressing solidarity with fellow colonial settlers. I highly recommend the essay by Barry Lopez, Rediscovery of North America.

  6. wildthange
    October 28, 2023 at 20:54

    Don’t forget Spain and all the empires of western civilization from the Roman’s onward. Maybe monotheism was invented just so god is on anyone’s side that is the most powerful super-power. They have weaponized antisemitism as well that continues to reverberate from the middle east and is still aiming for China and India.

  7. RomeoCharlie
    October 28, 2023 at 18:04

    I see Australia is mentioned in the list of nations colonised by Europeans. Not many readers would know that our country has just failed miserably in an attempt to come to terms with the genocide perpetrated against our own First Nations people.
    In 1788 when Australia was claimed for the English Crown, and subsequently ‘settled’ by a motley crew of alleged criminals and their keepers, the original inhabitants were treated as non-existent in an unoccupied land, Terra Nullius. The doctrine of Terra Nullius was finally overturned with a ruling of our High Court not too many years ago and led eventually to a national gathering of hundreds of Indigenous people from which, seven years ago emerged a consensus document known as the Uluru Statement from the Heart, Uluru being their name for what was once called Ayer’s Rock, the mighty monolith close to the centre of Australia. The Uluru statement sought a modest advance for First Nations people: a mention in our Constitution of the place of First Nations people, and a voice ( an advisory body) to give non-binding advice to Parliament on matters affecting those people. That simple proposition was put to the people in a referendum this month and, after a lengthy campaign where many lies were told by opponents, and much misinformation and disinformation was disseminated, it was soundly defeated in what some are seeing as a day of shame for the nation. As an old white male I am part of the demographic seen as most opposed to ‘The Voice’ as it was known but I am a solid supporter of what I consider was a modest request. Australia’s continued oppression of its first people, is not dissimilar to what has happened in the United States and indeed so many colonised countries where the original inhabitants were slaughtered in the name of ‘civilisation’. And so to Palestine where, for more than 70 years, original inhabitants have been displaced, oppressed and subjugated by a colonial settler society. The actions of Hamas in killing innocent civilians must be deplored. But the attack itself must also be seen as the natural reaction to decades of repression, cruelty and simple mean-spiritedness on the part of Israel. The fact that Israel, in its punishment of Hamas is indiscriminately (despite its claims of Hamas targeted attacks) killing civilians, including children in numbers far in excess of those killed in the break-out must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. Finally, a question, if the Hamas attacks occurred on Palestinian land illegally occupied by Israel, can it legitimately be called an attack on Israel or is it a defensive action in its own land, a rebellion?

    • D'Esterre
      October 30, 2023 at 04:12

      “…our country has just failed miserably in an attempt to come to terms with the genocide perpetrated against our own First Nations people.”

      Being a NZ citizen, and with family in Australia, I’ve taken an interest in the Voice referendum. I’ve done a fair bit of reading about it.

      Your country has just dodged a constitutional bullet. Identification of specific ethnic groups has no place in the constitution of a representative democracy, regardless of said group’s provenance. Nor is it a means to make amends for historical mistreatment of aborigines.

      In truth, there’s no fixing the sins of the past. The best we can do is to focus on the future and make our country the best it can be for all citizens. We have extended family in central Europe, where truly awful things happened in WW2: this is their philosophy. I agree with them.

      But at least the citizens of Australia got to have a vote on this. That’s more than we in NZ have had.

      “…subsequently ‘settled’ by a motley crew of alleged criminals and their keepers….”

      Have a care how you characterise those first arrivals. Have you read Thomas Keneally’s “The Great Shame”? I do hope so. I’m of Irish descent: “settler” is not the term I’d use for Irish political prisoners and those sentenced to transportation.

      “….it was soundly defeated…”

      Indeed. It’s best not to accuse people of racism, as I’ve heard some do over the past little while: it’s just another epithet which is used instead of arguments.

      “Australia’s continued oppression of its first people…”

      What does this mean? Could you provide supporting evidence, please? Last I heard, Australia puts a great deal of money into the welfare system, which benefits the poor and disadvantaged. That category includes many aborigines, although obviously not all of them. As in NZ, welfare assistance in Australia is based on need, not on ethnicity, or so my relatives have told me.

      • JoeSixPack
        October 30, 2023 at 12:12

        First the author said, “The inability of Americans to understand their own history as a settler colonial society limits the ability to understand the basics of what has been happening in Palestine for the last hundred years.”

        Then the author said, “The same people that are remaining neutral today are following in the same tradition as all the people that remained neutral for the hundreds of years in which the Europeans were colonizing the “Americas,” Australia, New Zealand and parts of Asia and Africa by exterminating native populations.”

        Finally, ” What’s happening today and for the last 100 years in Palestine is consistent with the history of the West for the last 500 years. ”

        To sum up, understanding the past to understand the present. Your comments do not dispute these claims. What you say in defense of settler colonialism is, hey the indigenous people were already slaughtering each other so what the Europeans did after wasn’t that bad. Then, hey there’s a welfare state so the indigenous people have nothing to complain about.

        The term morally bankrupt comes to mind.

        • D'Esterre
          October 30, 2023 at 22:28

          JoeSixPack: “What you say in defense of settler colonialism…”

          I find that it helps to read what others say. I took exception to the conflation of NZ with other colonies, including assertions of “extermination”.

          That didn’t happen here. I invite you up read up on our history, of which you’re clearly unaware.

          And I questioned a commenter about “continued oppression” of Australian aborigines. What is the evidence for this? A reasonable question in the circumstances.

          “The term morally bankrupt comes to mind.”

          I assume that you’re American. It is best if you confine your comments to what has happened there.

          There’s a deep history of colonialism worldwide. What’s your solution, in some cases so many centuries after the fact? Decolonisation? How would that work, exactly?

          The situation vis à vis Palestinians and Israelis is a tragedy. What solution do you propose?

  8. Adam Gorelick
    October 28, 2023 at 17:26

    Americans would not tolerate many U.S.policies and acts of military aggression if they understood only some basic history – of their own country and what has proceeded the hegemonic nation’s foreign policy decisions. Ignorance is the greatest hindrance to maintaining a democracy; which explains how The United States – never a pinnacle of representative democracy – became a nominal one. A quality formal education and curiosity, satiated by reading from a variety of sources, have become relics of the past. According to a recent poll, most citizens of the Land Of The Free get their “news” from headlines only. Which is tragic, given the colonial atrocities of apartheid state Israel might be lessened or halted by a public that demanded a cessation of tax-payer money supporting such barbarism. The truth, obfuscated by official disinformation, could be easily discerned if supplanted by factual information. Armed with a basic understanding of what Israel has been for 75 years and the cruelties endured by Palestinians, more Americans { and thankfully some are } would be shouting in the streets for an end to an active genocide.

  9. Elial
    October 28, 2023 at 15:53

    Hear! Hear! Well said.

  10. Scott Kremer
    October 28, 2023 at 15:00

    Exactly. The American Indians and the Palestinians are treated the same way–treaties were repeatedly broken by the invading settlers and their government, then the natives are herded into miserable reservation/refugee camps on the worst possible land where they are guarded by the settlers’ soldiers while subject to disease and near starvation. Attempts to resist are met with annihilating force by a vastly superior military.

    The big difference this time, however, is that the natives have many supportive countries and cultures surrounding the conflict. As Dennis Kucinich wrote: “There are hundreds of millions of Muslims and Arabs in the neighborhood now seething at the injustices of the massacre of innocents, and only nine million Israelis…” This implies the possibility of a global scale reprisal echoing Custer’s Last Stand.

  11. Emma M.
    October 28, 2023 at 13:34

    Thanks for this, both to Ace Thelin for the wise words and good, informative writing as well as CN for publishing it. Although I had heard of monstrous Indian hunting before, I’m surprised to learn just how many governors in California’s history supported it, and I’ll have to remember that about Stanford especially.

    It’s interesting to read a guest post from another reader here; I would love if quality “letters to the editor” like this were to become a regular feature and let us hear from people who one would not normally get to hear from. It sounds like it’d be healthy for the demos and like it’s something the newspapers of long ago might’ve done, not that I would know at my age!

  12. October 28, 2023 at 12:56


  13. Jack
    October 28, 2023 at 12:10

    The “settler colonialism” started with Columbus 531 years ago and was heavily influenced by the deliberate spread of Christianity to the New World . Jefferson’s comment about “savages” simply means non-Christians.

    Christians have tried to spread their religious beliefs to many countries over the last 500+ years including China, India etc.

    • michael888
      October 28, 2023 at 18:34

      The extermination of the Native Americans owed more to the introduction of measles (much more contagious and just as deadly to the indigenous as smallpox; Europeans had survived these and other endemic diseases as children. Native Americans had no immunity) than to the hatred and murder of the final 1% of their population. In the 100 years between Columbus and the English settlers in NC and VA, most Native Americans had died off (source “1491”). To the arriving Europeans in the 17th century, the Americas seemed an empty Paradise (only humans were wiped out by the introduction of disease; the food persisted in abundance). The evidence suggests that there were more Native Americans than Europeans when Columbus arrived.
      As evil as most Europeans were at that time, their childhood diseases were more devastating.

  14. Vera Gottlieb
    October 28, 2023 at 12:03

    My freedom of speech consists in expressing the same ideas of those who are granting me this ‘freedom of speech’. The entire white race should hang it’s head in shame…if it knows what ‘shame’ means.

    • Susan Siens
      October 29, 2023 at 16:37

      You just hit the nail on the head. The U.S. is a SHAMELESS nation filled with SHAMELESS people, unfortunately. And we wonder why we have so many substance abusers? One of the key attributes of people who seek solace in booze and drugs is that their behavior is very often shameless while they are filled with shame they do not want to acknowledge.

  15. October 28, 2023 at 11:08

    The phrase “Never Again” maybe the most bereft of meaning and hypocritical ever uttered. Something I’ll remember whenever the Nazis and the Holocaust are mentioned.

  16. Susan O'Neill
    October 28, 2023 at 10:42

    There have always been and always will be, people with an “entitled” mind set, often in a race to do better than the Jones’ and if people who have had it good for so long ever realised that they would have to make sacrifices so that others might succeed, there would be silence from a great many more than there are today.
    As a white person living in a diverse culture I know only too well, be they white or black or people of a “funny tinge” that their firm belief is one of superiority over the “lesser races” as Churchill quaintly put it(he really was that serious a racist bigot)and will not forego their sense of entitlement. The question is: Just how many “entitled” folk can even recognise their tainted belief?

    • Susan Siens
      October 29, 2023 at 16:41

      I have found that entitled people never recognize their own entitlement. My partner is a working-class white man whose entire life has reeked of entitlement and his response was, “I don’t feel entitled.” No one feels entitled, but behavior driven by entitlement is ugly, exploitative, and often vicious. I personally think entitlement is a mental illness as are racism and misogyny, but you won’t see them listed in the DSM. (Probably because the authors suffered from entitlement!)

  17. mgr
    October 28, 2023 at 10:38

    Spot on, especially about being neutral. Justice is important, for the Israelis, but also for the Palestinians. Israel rejects this out of hand and prefers to cling to a combination of exceptionalism and victim-hood, and this is where its arguments and outrage fall apart.

    John Mearsheimer made an important point in his excellent discussions with Judge Napolitano regarding Hamas. Hamas, he said, is a resistance movement, albeit, a resistance movement that, as the events of 7-Oct show, uses terrorist tactics. The object though is not simply terror for terror’s sake. Hamas, he said, was born and continues to exist in opposition to Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians, which includes of course the stealing of their land. If Israel ceased its oppression, Hamas would cease to exist as well (at least as a resistance movement).

    Israel has been pushing Palestinians off their land and gifting it to Israeli settlers for many decades. It is simply colonialism and certainly mirrors America’s own actions in opening the West, i.e. Manifest Destiny (unfortunately, just a fancy term for stealing the land of others).

    Again, it’s not rocket science. Yes, we all have the right to defend ourselves if attacked. No, we do not have the right to commit murder. Israel’s ongoing oppression and even murder of the Palestinian people is a fact that the world has tragically turned its eyes from since the founding of Israel itself. It seems that that is finally coming to an end which is a profoundly good thing. I believe that if Israel wants to survive at all, it needs to make a fundamental change in its character, if it can.

    Western support for Israel’s current genocidal actions is beyond the pall. Western nations are complicit and should be held accountable, if not by the UN’s legal bodies, then by the world at large. There should be real consequences because assholes seldom change unless they are forced to.

  18. SteveK9
    October 28, 2023 at 10:33

    The Diversity Myth by Benjamin Schwarz, The Atlantic, May 1995

    Moreover, building America required nearly 300 years of genocidal wars against Native Americans, a fact that impels today’s historians to characterize American expansion on the continent as “invasion” rather than “settlement.” These wars, one of the longest series of ethnic conflicts in modern history, were resolved not by power sharing but by obliteration. Although this record engenders much handwringing today, it is impossible to imagine the United States existing if a more reasonable course had been pursued. For from the “American” point of view, a reasonable accommodation would have required that, in Theodore Roosevelt’s blunt phrase, the vast continent be set aside “as a game preserve.” America’s great ethnic struggle should have taught Americans that many conflicts are simply irreconcilable. As Representative Richard Wilde, of Georgia, asked with resignation in 1830, describing the United States’ destruction of Native Americans as the price of its development, “What is history but the obituary of nations?”

    • Cal Lash
      October 29, 2023 at 03:09


  19. Lois Gagnon
    October 28, 2023 at 10:03

    Thank you to Ace Thelin for writing this straight forward letter. It puts the lie to those who use the excuse “it’s complicated” to what’s happening in Gaza. The struggle to free the Palestinians is the struggle of all people who have been oppressed by colonialism. It’s looking like the colonial powers are so hell bent on continuing their genocidal rampage across the planet, they are willing to risk the unthinkable end game. It is incumbent on all of us living under this system to disabuse the lunatics in control of this policy it is in their interests to reverse course.

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