The Invention of the Palestinian People

The other day the question was put to me why so many keep saying that Palestinians are an invented people.

A simple question with a complex answer.

Until the late nineteenth century, the term Palestinian was used as a regional term.

Residents living in the region between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean identified themselves primarily in terms of religion: Muslims felt far stronger bonds with remote co-religionists than with nearby Jews and Christians. Living in that area did not imply any sense of common political purpose or sense of discrete peoplehood or nationhood.

An identity as a people is one precursor to nationhood. And nationhood is the presence of common identity together with the three key elements of sovereignty, self-determination and self-sufficiency.

The “Palestinians” have never had this, and they still don’t have it. The concept that such a people exists is being forced on the world to achieve a base political goal.

In actual fact, the deliberate creation of the “Palestinian people” as a discrete entity in 1967, and the political group known as the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1964 was for the political purpose of destroying a sovereign and legally mandated Jewish state.

Till that point in time, nor, it will be shown, after that time, was there ever ANY sense or mention of a “Palestinian” people or nation.

The term Palestinian was ALWAYS followed by a descriptive noun – Arab;  ie Palestinian Arab.

According to Palestinian historian Muhammad Y. Muslih, during the entire 400 year period of Ottoman rule (1517-1918), before the British set up the 30-year-long Palestine Mandate, “There was no political unit known as Palestine.”

When the Islamic armies conquered the Levant, they adopted the administrative name used by the Byzantines and dubbed part of Palestina Prima (“the first Palestine”) – more or less today’s Jerusalem area and the Shfela [coastal plain] – as “Jund Filastin.” Jund means “army;” Jund Filastin means “the Palestine military command.” In other words, the name did not signify the national identity of a “Palestinian people” who lived in the land, but instead, a military district, in line with the Byzantine nomenclature.

Until Israel was re-established as a nation in 1948, Palestine was the term for the territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. The word Palestinian was applied to anyone living in that area.

As late as 1909 the first recorded Arab to use the term “Palestinian” was Farid Georges Kassab, a Beirut-based Orthodox Christian who, in 1909, espoused sympathy for Zionism. Kassab’s 1909 book stated that “the Orthodox Palestinian Ottomans call themselves Arabs, and are in fact Arabs.” Even Kassab decried the use of the term “Palestinian” Arab. Nevertheless, apart from the ancient indigenous Jews in the Levant, the largely Muslim Arab population identified only as Arab and ONLY with the start of the British mandate, was the term used to describe both Jew and Arab. So, the term Palestinian did not take on its current popular meaning until the mid-20th century and was used as a regional reference.

On a related tangent, in 1948, the invasion of Israel by 6 pan-Arab armies had NOTHING to do with creating an Arab Palestinian state but ALL to do with a classic imperialist Muslim scramble for Palestinian territory. Had they succeeded, as the first secretary-general of the Arab League, Abdel Rahman Azzam, admitted to a British reporter, Transjordan “was to swallow up the central hill regions of Palestine with access to the Mediterranean at Gaza. The Egyptians would get the Negev. The Galilee would go to Syria, except that the coastal part as far as Acre would be added to Lebanon.”

Had Israel lost the war, its territory would have been divided among the invading Arab forces. The name Palestine would have vanished into the dustbin of history.

So, are the “Palestinians” an invented people for purely political (anti-semitic) purposes?

Well, even Mandate Palestinian Arab leaders during the British mandate era (1920-48) who, as products of the Ottoman imperial system where religion constituted the linchpin of the socio-political order of things, had no real grasp of the phenomenon of nationalism. Hence, they had no interest in the evolution of a distinct Palestinian nation, or acknowledging a Palestinian “people”, because there simply wasn’t one.

As an example that there was no concept of “Palestinian” nationhood or peoplehood, the April 1920 pogrom in Jerusalem was not in the name of independence of the “Palestinian people” of the Mandate area, but under the demand for its incorporation into the (short-lived) Syrian kingdom, headed by Faisal ibn Hussein of Mecca….

In 1926, the Arab Executive Committee still referred to Palestine as the unlawfully severed southern part of “the one country of Syria, with its one population of the same language, origin, customs, and religious beliefs (emphasis mine), and its natural boundaries, as I pointed out earlier.

In July 1937, the Arab Higher Committee (AHC) justified its rejection of the Peel Commission’s recommendation for the partition of Palestine on the grounds that “this country does not belong only to [the] Palestine Arabs (that qualifying noun again….) but to the whole Arab and Muslim Worlds (emphasis mine).”

And finally, as late as August 1947, three months before the passing of the U.N. resolution partitioning Mandate Palestine into Arab and Jewish states, the AHC’s mouthpiece, al-Wahda, advocated the incorporation of Palestine (and Transjordan) into “Greater Syria (emphasis mine).”

No, there was no concept of “Palestinian people” but rather, always one of Palestinian Arabs who were part of the wider Arab Muslim ummah.

How did they then suddenly appear as homogeneous ethnic group in 1967 when not even the Arab High Commission had ever heard of them?

There are undereducated misconceptions too that pan-Arabism was of no consequence in the dialogue surrounding the authenticity of the “Palestinian” “people”. This is untrue.

Even the younger generation of post 1948 Arab activists supported this ideal as evidenced by Ahmad Shuqeiri, a Lebanon-born politician of mixed Egyptian, Hijazi, and Turkish descent who served as the Arab League’s deputy secretary-general. As he put it, “Palestine is part and parcel in the Arab homeland.”

Asked to clarify which part of the “Arab homeland” this specific territory belonged, he added that Palestine “is nothing but southern Syria.”

And so, it is no surprise that Yasser Arafat, the (Egyptian born and educated) father of the “Palestinian people” followed this pan-Arab line. The 1964 PLO charter defined the Palestinians as “an integral part of the Arab nation”, rather than a distinct nationality (emphasis mine) and vowed allegiance to the ideal of pan-Arab unity – that is, to Palestine’s eventual assimilation into “the greater Arab homeland.”

In 1996, even that bastion which proclaims itself as the leader in the “struggle” for the Palestinian “people”, Hamas, said this, “Islamic and traditional views reject the notion of establishing an independent Palestinian state … In the past, there was no independent Palestinian state. … [Hence] our main goal is to establish a great Islamic state, be it pan-Arabic or pan-Islamic… This…land…is not the property of the Palestinians…. This land is the property of all Muslims in all parts of the world.”  (senior Hamas leader Mahmud Zahar, 1996)

And finally, on this line of reasoning, it is not possible to go past the words of Azmi Bishara, founding leader of the nationalist Balad Party (with seats in the Israeli parliament since 1999). In a statement he made in 2002 he said: “My Palestinian identity never precedes my Arab identity…. I don’t think there is a Palestinian nation, there is [only] an Arab nation…. “

Not much more needs to be said; the concept of a Palestinian “people” engaged in a struggle of “liberation” from a colonial Jewish “oppressor” is a purposely misleading one, invented solely for the purpose of de-legitimising the Jewish state and its people.

The Levantine Arabs, up to and including 1948 , ALWAYS identified firstly on the basis of religion and secondly on the basis of ethnicity. Thus the Levant contained Christian ARABS, Muslim ARABS but only and always, Jews. In other words, the identity of those Arabs who today would like to be known as an ancient “Palestinian “people” have in actual fact NO distinguishing markers of a discrete peoplehood (ever) given that their identity is mostly based on shared customs and beliefs of their Arab Muslim brothers, ALL of them mediated by Islam.

Till 1967, nobody had ever heard of the “Palestinians” as a people, let alone a “people” steeped in antiquity. Its subsequent use is merely a political tool to delegitimise the Jewish claim to what was left of the division of the British Mandate into two projected Arab Muslim entities and one Jewish one.

However, there are those who will use meaningless terms like endogenesis and ethnogenesis in an attempt to pointlessly philosophise with words that have no concrete impact on the issue to hand.

Besides, the concept of a homogeneous, ethnic and disparate “Palestinian people” (endo/ethno genesis) is frankly ludicrous when one considers that through centuries of Muslim imperialism right down to the end of Ottoman Empire in 1918, caliphs and other rulers brought in hundreds of thousands of soldier slaves loyal to their pay masters.

The Tulunides brought in Turks and Negroes.

The Fatamids introduced Berbers, Slavs, Greeks, Kurds, and mercenaries of all kinds.

The Mamelukes imported legions of Georgians and Circassians.

Saladin brought in 150,000 Persians who were given lands in Galilee and the Sidon district for their services.

In the fourteenth century, 18,000 Yurate Tartars from the Euphrates were brought in, soon followed by 20,000 Ashiri and 4,000 Mongols who occupied the Jordan Valley and settled from Jerusalem south!! Mongols…

In 1830, as a further example, Mehemet [Muhammad] Ali colonized Jaffa and Nablus (Jewish Schem before the arab invasion and occupation…) with Egyptian soldiers and their Sudanese allies. So much so that british estimates of the 13,000 inhabitants of Jaffa, for example, ran at 8,000 Turco-Egyptians, 4,000 Greeks and Armenians, and 1,000 Maronites. The british did not consider that there were any Arabs at all in that city. ….

For her/his part, it would be a brave soul who would deny the constancy of the presence of the Jewish PEOPLE in the Levant over the past 3,000 years.

No, the whole concept of a “Palestinian people” is a base political strategy invented not to build a state but to destroy a neighbouring one. For this reason, many who are knowledgeable on this issue will continue to say they are an invented “people”.

Today, while the term Palestinian is applied to the Arabic-speaking residents of what is largely the State of Israel, this usage is purposely misleading because for most of human history, a “Palestinian” was simply a person born or living in that land with no connotation of being a “people”.

When used in reference only to non-Jews, it implies an historical claim to the territory in opposition to Israel. In reality, the concept of Palestine as a nation-state in opposition to Israel or as a racial group ( a “people”) predating the presence of Jewish inhabitants is historically false and is currently pushed as part of a broader strategy of delegitimising Jewish connection to the Land of Israel.

The tactic of the myth of a “Palestinian people” is simple yet sophisticated: preaching and dispersing lies and distortions of reality. History proves that the bigger the lie and the more common its reiteration, the more it is accepted as authentic and genuine.

After all, who can believe that an entire national leadership would dare to totally distort and fabricate history in full?

But the notion of a “Palestinian people” has been forced on Europe and America through the ploy of telling all players what they want to hear.

To a guilty Europe, where there is a high level of guilt and remorse about its own colonialist past, the creation of Israel is pitched as an excess of a bygone European colonialist era where Europe is directly blamed for the creation of the Jewish state.

To the Americans, where many feel guilt and remorse over historic racism, the Palestinians depict Israel as a racist state, which treats them in the same way as African Americans were treated.

And for the broader international community and for human rights organizations, Israel is a cruel occupier that violates all human rights and freedoms of the Palestinians.

But no matter the myth of a Palestinian “people”,  ANY Palestinian national identity is overwhelmingly founded, and heavily predicated, on the negation of Jewish and Israeli identity, rather than on positive attributes or real history.

Arguably, the international community’s enabling and legitimizing of the wishes of a group of people with such an open hatred of a neighbouring sovereign state may be down to simple things: Oil, wilful naiveté, anti-semitism, and a politically correct unwillingness to offer any challenge to such falsehoods.

In the end though, it matters little. The modern re-constituted Jewish State of Israel and the Jewish people are celebrating 71 years of existence as contributing members of the family of nations; without the need to revise, falsify or fabricate its 3000 year old history.

The same cannot be said for the Palestinian “people”.

 

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