Foreign Affairs

The Tactical Myth of Palestinian Identity

pal flag disintegratingFollowing the rise of the arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat to the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organisation in 1969, there was a push to convince the world that Palestinians are a unique people of Arab origin who had inhabited the lands of Israel for thousands of years. The uninformed and gullible believed it, and leftists still promote it.

In fact, there are no such people as Palestinians and there never have been. If anyone doubts this they should consider the following statement made in 1977 by Zahir Muhsein, a PLO executive committee member, during an interview with the Dutch newspaper Trouw:

The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a “distinct Palestinian people” to oppose Zionism.

Nor was there ever a state called Palestine or a Palestinian culture or a Palestinian language. Like the Jordanians, Palestinians are a recent creation. If truth and justice prevail over revisionist history promoted by the Left, there never will be a state called Palestine in place of Israel and the word will remain no more than the name of a geographical region.

The Roman emperor Hadrian, in an effort to destroy Jews once and for all, renamed the territory of Judea (the present-day West Bank), Palaestina, after the Philistines, an Aegean people who had conquered the coast of Canaan. They appear in the Old Testament as depraved pagans and have long since vanished from history.

Hadrian’s intention was to eradicate memory of the Jewish people whom the Romans exiled from their homeland as punishment for having rebelled against them in 130 AD. Nevertheless, a handful of Jews remained in Israel, and their descendants have been a Jewish presence ever since. In fact, Jews are the only group of people to have lived continuously in Israel for the past 3700 years.

With the fall of the Roman empire, a host of interlopers took over the region called Palestine—Umayyads, Abbasids, Fatimids, Crusaders and Mamluks—but they never created an independent country. Even under Ottoman rule (1517 to 1917) Palestine did not become a state.

Following the defeat of the Ottomans in the First World War, the term “Palestinian” most often referred to the region’s Jews, not least because so few Arabs were prominent in the British mandated territory of Palestine. For example, there were the Jewish newspaper the Palestine Post and the Jewish Palestine Symphony Orchestra (later the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra).

Present-day Arabs who call themselves Palestinians are relative newcomers to the region. The earliest Arabs arrived in small numbers in 632 as part of the Muslim invasion. However, they had no historical ties to the ancient land of Israel or the territories of Judea and Samaria (popularly but mistakenly called the West Bank).

In Jerusalem, Jews have been a majority since the 1840s. In 1899, the Arab mayor of Jerusalem, Yusef Diya al-Khalidi, said, “Who can challenge the rights of the Jews in Palestine? Good Lord, historically it is really your country.”

In addition to the early Muslim invaders, large numbers of Arabs from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq settled in the region in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, attracted by the commercial opportunities opened up by newly-arrived Jewish settlers, mainly from Eastern Europe and Russia, pursuing the Zionist dream of re-establishing their homeland and transforming it into the biblical land of “milk and honey”.

In 1948 about 1.2 million Arabs lived in Palestine. However, with the invasion of the territory by Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq on the day the modern state of Israel was founded, the demographics of the region changed quickly. Large numbers of Arabs fled to escape war and because false tales of Israeli atrocities, spread by the invaders, caused them to panic.

However, instead of being welcomed and helped by their brother Arabs, they were herded into concentration camps, to be used as pawns in the Arabs’ neverending attempts to liquidate Israel. Jordan offered them some comfort but even that was intermittent.

If Arab invaders had succeeded in destroying Israel, it is unlikely that the Palestinian Arabs who had taken flight would have been allowed to return to their homes. There is no love lost among Arabs. The spoils would have been shared out among the victors; the people we call Palestinians would have received nothing.

To appreciate the plight of the Palestinians it is important to understand that the Arabs are largely a tribal people whose first loyalty is not to the nation-state but to their families, clans and tribes. They see Palestinians, not as brothers, but as landless aliens.

People in the West who pity today’s inhabitants of Gaza and the West Bank would do well to remember who put them there—not Israel, but their fellow Arabs.

Leftists who call for the destruction of Israel and its replacement by a Palestinian state should compare Israel’s one and half million Arabs who enjoy the benefits of full citizenship, to Palestinians in Arab countries who are looked upon with contempt. Israeli Arabs hold seats in the Knesset, run successful businesses and serve in Israel’s civil and diplomatic services. Unlike most Jewish Israelis, they are exempt from serving in the Israeli Defence Force. Only in Israel are Palestinian Arabs treated humanely and their rights recognised.

UN Resolution 181, passed in 1947, spoke of the founding of a Jewish state and an Arab state. Yet the prospect of there ever being an independent Palestinian Arab state is about zero. This is not because Israel opposes a two-state solution (in fact, it has consistently favoured it) but because no Arab country seriously supports it. To do so would mean recognising the right of Israel to exist.

A Palestinian state at peace with Israel is anathema to most Arabs. Moreover, peace between a Palestinian state and Israel would be a stumbling block to Iran’s ambition of becoming the region’s dominant power. Only the existence of Israel thwarts Iranian imperialism.

Consequently, the sight of Mahmood Abbas negotiating a peace deal with Israel, under pressure from Obama and Kerry, is a pathetic farce and the actors know it. The slightest compromise by Abbas would effectively sign his own death warrant. The farce of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations proceeds largely for the benefit and amusement of the rest of the world.

There is an even deeper reason why an Arab peace with Israel is unlikely. According to Muslim law, once a territory has been under Islamic control, it may never revert to ownership by non-Muslims. It is the Islamic version of the Brezhnev Doctrine, under which a communist country must never be allowed to revert to a non-communist one.

Meantime, the talks will go on, terrorist attacks on Israel will proceed under Iranian and Syrian directives, and Palestinian Arabs living beyond Israel’s borders will continue to wallow in the ordure created for them by their fellow Arabs.

Brian Wimborne wrote “The Inexorable Expansion of the Welfare Class” in the May 2013 issue.


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