Gaza is the New Wounded Knee

By L. Janelle Dance and Selma Hedlund*

On December 29, 1890, the U.S. Calvary opened fire on Lakota Indians who had been rounded-up like animals into a refugee camp. The U.S. Calvary killed 300 persons, two-thirds of whom were women and children. This atrocity happened at Wounded Knee Creek located within the once vast territories of the Lakota Indians, territories that have been reduced today to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in the Midwest of the United States. At the time of the massacre, the Lakota territories were under the protection of Chief Red Cloud. A group of Lakota had been led to Wounded Knee Creek by their Chief, Big Foot, in order to find a safe haven away from U.S. soldiers. [1] Sadly, instead of a safe haven, Wounded Knee became the site of one of the bloodiest massacres ever committed against the Lakota by the United States government.

This atrocity was a continuation of earlier and ongoing brutalities committed against the Lakota as the U.S. government relentlessly occupied Lakota territory, took Lakota lands, allowed the bison upon which the Lakota depended to be hunted to near extinction, facilitated the theft and desecration the Lakota’s sacred Black Hills, murdered many Lakota in the name of “self-defense”, and illegally opened Lakota lands for White settlers. Chief Red Cloud had once lamented, “When we first had this land, we were strong. Now our nation is melting away like snow on the hillsides where the sun is warm; while the white people grow like blades of grass when summer is coming.” [2]

Now in November of 2012, as was also the case in December of 2008, the Israeli military opened fire upon Palestinians in Gaza. Since Israel occupied Gaza in1967, Palestinians in Gaza have been rounded-up into one of the largest refugee camps of the 20th and 21st centuries. Quantitatively larger than the population of Lakota at Wounded Knee Creek, Gaza has an estimated population of 1.7 million [3] However, qualitatively similar to the Lakota at Wounded Knee, the civilians of Gaza are entrapped: The Israeli government and military have placed Gaza in a blockade, controls the airspace, determines what people can go in and out of Gaza, what goods can go in and out of Gaza, and even how far out to sea Palestinian fishermen can venture. Like the U.S. Calvary killed Lakota at Wounded Knee Creek, the Israeli Military has been indiscriminately killing Palestinians in Gaza [4]. Similar to Wounded Knee, the dead include women, children, elders, and other civilians.

Back to December 29, 1890. There is debate over who fired the first shot during the Wounded Knee Massacre of American Indians. According to novelist and historian Dee Brown, Colonel James W. Forsyth who was commander of the U.S. 7th Calvary had issued an order that Big Foot’s band was to be disarmed, and that all weapons were to be handed over to the military forces surrounding the camp. Not satisfied with the amount of weapons received, Forsyth had the tents and tepees thoroughly searched. Apart from knives and axes, two rifles were found, one belonging to the young, deaf warrior Black Coyote. He hesitated to give up his new Winchester and accidentally fired his gun as the impatient soldiers grabbed hold of him. [5]

It is historically accurate to say that any shot fired by the Lakota would have been fired not to provoke, but in retaliation. Also, the Lakota at Wounded Knee, as well as other Lakota Indians relegated to other camps, were forcibly contained in dehumanizing living conditions by a military power—the U.S. Calvary/Government—that was determined to kill Indians. And the U.S. Calvary used military force—namely, Hotchkiss guns—disproportionate to the Lakota retaliation. The Lakota at Wounded Knee were largely unarmed just like Palestinian civilians in Gaza are largely unarmed.

In addition to similarities like largely unarmed civilians who act in retaliation, there are several other parallels among what has happened to the Lakota and many other Indigenous peoples of the country now known as the United States, what has happened in Palestine, and what has been happening in Gaza. [6] Europeans colonized North America just as Europeans colonized Palestine with Anglo-Protestant-Americans becoming the core group in the U.S. and Ashkenazi-Jewish-Israelis becoming the core group in Israel. European colonists in North America, and then the U.S. officials, eventually resulted in white supremacist ideology and claims of being God’s chosen people to justify the ethnic cleansing and the illegal dispossession of American Indian lands. As explained by historian Ronald Takaki,”The doctrine of ‘manifest destiny’ embraced a belief in American Anglo-Saxon superiority…. ‘This continent’, a congressman chimed, ‘was intended by providence as a vast theatre on which to work out the grand experiment of Republican government, under the auspices of the Anglo-Saxon race.’” [7]. European colonists in Palestine and then Israeli officials result in white supremacist ideology and claims of being God’s chosen people to justify the ethnic cleansing and illegal dispossession of Palestinian lands. As explained by former Deputy Major of Jerusalem Meron Benvenisti, in the 1940s there was “a ranking system according to which Muslims…are on the bottom rung. This patronizing attitude, based upon a sense of European superiority, reflects Zionist pretensions regarding the ‘progress’ that the [European] Jews would bring to the ‘backward’ East…” [8]

There are even more parallels. Instead of accurately describing the slaughter of American Indians as massacres, U.S. officials used words/terms like “battles” and “wars” just as Israeli officials refer to the slaughter of Palestinians as “wars” fought in “self-defense”. Just like the U.S. government allowed illegal settlements of European-Americans to flourish in Lakota territories, the Israeli government has allowed illegal settlements of European-Israelis to flourish in Palestinian territories. [9]

Gaza is the new Wounded Knee. It is a place where Palestinians have been illegally contained, blockaded, and restrained. It is a space from which Palestinians retaliate against the disproportionate use of force by an occupying military. It is a large refugee camp where Palestinians, especially civilians (women, children, elderly, and those who are infirm) are dehumanized and slaughtered while Israeli officials have the audacity to justify this slaughter of Palestinians as a “war”. American Indians and Palestinians are still fighting to reclaim rights and sovereignty over their territories. However, there is one major difference. More and more mainstream Americans and U.S. officials are acknowledging that the U.S.’s claims about “savage” Indians are the pathological lies of the American government covering-up the atrocities committed against the Indigenous peoples of U.S.-North America. For example, in 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Lakota regarding the Lakota territories, namely the Black Hills, which were seized illegally.[10] In contrast, due to powerful pro-Zionist propaganda from organizations like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, too few mainstream Americans and U.S. officials have acknowledged that Israeli claims about “terrorist” Palestinians are the pathological lies of the Israeli – and American – government attempting to cover up the atrocities committed against the Indigenous peoples of Palestine, the Palestinians. Israeli leaders like Netanyahu as well as pro-Zionist organizations are masters of hyperbole. President Obama basically parrots what Israeli leaders say.

So when you hear Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders or Obama and other American leaders justify the slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza in the name of “self-defense”, remember the parallels between the massacre of Lakota at Wounded Knee and the current slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza. Don't believe Netanyahu's or Obama's hype!


[1] Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West (New York: Owl Books, 1970).

[2] E. L. Sabin, Building the Pacific Railway (Philadelphia, 1919, page 233) quoted in Ronald Takaki’s, A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America, Revised Edition (New York: Back Bay Books, 2008, page 97).

[3] “Gaza Strip Demographic Profile 2012”, Index Mundi (; retrieved November 28, 2012)

[4] Phyllis Bennis, “The Roots of Israeli Attack on Gaza,” The Real News, November 18, 2012. See also Brown, Bury My Heart and Mark Levine, Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine since 1989 (Nova Scotia: Fernwood Publishing Ltd, 2007]

[5] Brown, Bury My Heart.

[6] See Brown, Bury My Heart; Takaki, A Different Mirror; Ilan Pappe, The Forgotten Palestinians: A History of the Palestinians in Israel (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011)

[7] Takaki, A Different Mirror, page 164.

[8] Meron Benvenisti, Sacred Landscape: The Buried History of the Holy Land Since 1948 (California: University of California Press, 2000).

[9] Takaki, A Different Mirror; Meron Benvenisti, Sacred Landscape.

[10] “United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians, 448 U.S. 371 (1980), U.S. Supreme Court Center (, retrieved November 28, 2012).


*L. Janelle Dance is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Ethnic Studies at the University of Nebraska and a visiting scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in Sweden. Dance is currently living in Sweden.

*Selma Hedlund is a Bachelor’s Candidate working on an Honor’s Thesis about the dehumanization of American Indians. Hedlund is completing her final semester in the Human Rights Studies Program of Lund University in Sweden.