If Israel is not indigenous, no one is


By Ilse Strauss

“I want to apologize to the people of Israel for the terrible thing that the South African government did. We are sorry.”

Regent Xami Thomas, leader of the Khoi kingdom of Southern Africa, delivered this message to a packed audience in the heart of Jerusalem on Thursday evening.

The crowd’s applause was deafening. After all, these were words of support coming from a representative of the nation that dragged Israel to the International Court of Justice on accusations of genocide.

Thomas wasn’t done though.

“The government does not represent all the Khoi or all the people of South Africa. The allegations are without any substance. We are deeply troubled…”

Then came the vowel.

“Anyone who says that Israel is not indigenous does not know what they are talking about. If Israel is not indigenous, there is no indigenous nation on earth.”

Because of the current relationship between South Africa and Israel, Thomas’ message carried considerable weight. Yet his voice of support for a change was one from a crowd.

Thursday night marked the official opening of the world’s first embassy for indigenous nations, and delegations from Canada, Hawaii, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Togo and of course South Africa were in Jerusalem for the inauguration. Several others sent video messages.

The Indigenous Embassy in Jerusalem does not stand for a specific state or country. Rather, it represents the voices of indigenous leaders and their people from around the world and will serve as a center of information and a helping hand in the Promised Land.

But perhaps more importantly, the embassy – and those it represents – stands as a symbolic layer of support. This confirms that although criticism against Israel echoes from many quarters, these indigenous leaders and their people own the Jewish people as one of their own: an indigenous nation in their native land, the land of Israel.

The guest list for the evening included ambassadors, several tribal chiefs, a princess and a king. One by one, the indigenous leaders – all devout Christians who love and support Israel – moved behind the podium to bring messages of hope, love and encouragement to the Jewish people.

The representatives of Hawaii asked the native leaders to stand up and extend their hands over the audience of Israelis, while singing the Aaronic blessing in Hawaii. The delegation from Puerto Rico accompanied themselves on traditional instruments while also singing blessings over Israel. A representative of the Queen of Tonga read the hymn of Moses from Deuteronomy 32:1-43. And Thomas encouraged the audience with the promise that those who are for Israel are more than those who stand against her (2 Kings 6:16-17).

Add to that the shrill call of a ram’s horn that echoes every now and then, the rhythmic beat of drums and native leaders, decked out in bright traditional dress, dancing merrily to popular Jewish melodies, and you have what the master of ceremonies called the most joyous inauguration ever .

Dr. Sheree Trotter of the Native Coalition for Israel presented the idea for the Native Embassy in Jerusalem, then worked closely with the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, and the Friends of Zion Museum to make it a reality.

According to Hassan-Nahou, it is fitting that the world’s first indigenous embassy is located in Jerusalem, the city that colonial powers have tried to separate from its original inhabitants for generations.

“One of the most well-known strategies of those who hate us is to try to separate the Jewish people from the land of Israel. This is their tactic,” she said.

“Indigenous nations, however, understand that the definition of indigeneity entails that a people is formed in a specific country. The Jewish people became the Jewish people in this country. It is only by a miracle that we survived outside the country, and it is only by a miracle, by perseverance, by a lot of hard work and blood, sweat and tears that we returned. And now the strategy is to separate us from the country in which we were formed.”

She concluded by referring to Zechariah 8:22: “May this embassy be a foretaste of the day when all tribes and nations will come to Jerusalem.”

The Indigenous Embassy in Jerusalem – Israel’s 100th and the fifth to choose Jerusalem over Tel Aviv as its location – will be located in the Friends of Zion Museum in downtown Jerusalem. It boasts the support of indigenous peoples from the four corners of the world, including American Samoa, Australia, Canada, Cook Islands, Fiji, Hawaii, Native American Chiefs, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Singapore , Solomon Islands, South Africa, Tahiti, Taiwan and Tonga.

  • Ilse lives with her husband, little daughter and three dachshunds in Jerusalem. She serves as a volunteer at Bridges for Peace, a Christian organization that builds relationships between Christians and Jews.