by Eli E. Hertz
The Palestinians claim that they are an ancient and indigenous people fails to stand up to historic scrutiny. Most Palestinian Arabs were newcomers to British Mandate Palestine. Until the 1967 Six-Day War made it expedient for Arabs to create a Palestinian peoplehood, local Arabs simply considered themselves part of the 'great Arab nation' or 'southern Syrians.'
"Repeat a lie often enough and people will begin to believe it." -- Nazi propaganda master Joseph Goebbels
"All [that Palestinians] can agree on as a community is what they want to destroy, not what they want to build." -- New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman
There is no age-old Palestinian people. Most so-called Palestinians are relative newcomers to the Land of Israel
Like a mantra, Arabs repeatedly claim that the Palestinians are a native people. The concept of a 'Stateless Palestinian people' is not based on fact. It is a fabrication.
Palestinian Arabs cast themselves as a native people in "
Until the Jews began returning to the
The land's fragile ecology had been laid waste in the wake of the Arabs' 7th-century conquest. In 1799, the population was at it lowest and estimated to be no more than 250,000 to 300,000 inhabitants in all the land.
At the turn of the 20th century, the Arab population west of the Jordan River (today,
The collapse of the agricultural system with the influx of nomadic tribes after the Arab conquest that created malarial swamps and denuded the ancient terrace system eroding the soil, was coupled by a tyrannous regime, a crippling tax system and absentee landowners that further decimated the population. Much of the indigenous population had long since migrated or disappeared. Very few Jews or Arabs lived in the region before the arrival of the first Zionists in the 1880s and most of those that did lived in abject poverty.
Most Arabs living west of the Jordan River in Israel, the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and Gaza are newcomers who came from surrounding Arab lands after the turn of the 20th century because they were attracted to the relative economic prosperity brought about by the Zionist Movement and the British in the 1920s and 1930s.
This is substantiated by eyewitness reports of a deserted country –– including 18th-century reports from the British archaeologist Thomas Shaw, French author and historian Count Constantine Volney (Travels through Syria and Egypt, 1798); the mid-19th-century writings of Alphonse de Lamartine (Recollections of the East, 1835); Mark Twain (Innocents Abroad, 1867); and reports from the British Consul in Jerusalem (1857) that were sent back to London.
The Ottoman Turks' census (1882) recorded only 141,000 Muslims in the
Aerial photographs taken by German aviators during World War I show an underdeveloped country composed mainly of primitive hamlets.
The fallacy of Arab claims that most Palestinians were indigenous to
Family names of many Palestinians attest to their non-Palestinian origins. Just as Jews bear names like Berliner,
Palestinian nationality is an entity defined by its opposition to Zionism, and not its national aspirations.
What unites Palestinians has been their opposition to Jewish nationalism and the desire to stamp it out, not aspirations for their own state. Local patriotic feelings are generated only when a non-Islamic entity takes charge –– such as
A Palestinian identity did not exist until an opposing force created it –– primarily anti-Zionism. Opposition to a non-Muslim nationalism on what local Arabs, and the entire Arab world, view as their own turf, was the only expression of 'Palestinian peoplehood.'
The Grand Mufti Hajj Amin al-Husseini, a charismatic religious leader and radical anti-Zionist was the moving force behind opposition to Jewish immigration in the 1920s and 1930s. The two-pronged approach of the "Diplomacy of Rejection" (of Zionism) and the violence the Mufti incited occurred at the same time Lebanon, Syria, Transjordan and Iraq became countries in the post-Ottoman reshuffling of territories established by the British and the French under the League of Nation's mandate system.
The tiny educated class among the Arabs of Palestine was more politically aware than the rest of Arab society, with the inklings of a separate national identity. However, for decades, the primary frame of reference for most local Arabs was the clan or tribe, religion and sect, and village of origin. If Arabs in
In his book Greater Syria: The History of an Ambition, Daniel Pipes explains:
Syrian maps in the 21st century still co-opt most of Greater Syria, including
The Grand Mufti Al-Husseini's aspirations slowly shifted from pan-Arabism –– the dream of uniting all Arabs into one polity, whereby Arabs in
Much like Yasser Arafat, the Grand Mufti's ingrained all-or-nothing extremism, fanaticism and even an inability to cooperate with his own compatriots made him totally ineffective. He led the Palestinian Arabs nowhere.
The 'Palestinian' cause became a key rallying point for Arab nationalism throughout the Middle East, according to
From the 1920s, rejection of Jewish nationalism, attempts to prevent the establishment of a Jewish homeland by violence, and rejection of any form of Jewish political power, including any plans to share stewardship with Arabs, crystallized into the expression of Palestinianism. No other positive definition of an Arab-Palestinian people has surfaced. This point is admirably illustrated in the following historic incident:
"In 1926, Lord Plumer was appointed as the second High Commissioner of Palestine. The Arabs within the Mandate were infuriated when Plumer stood up for the Zionists' national anthem Hatikva during ceremonies held in his honor when Plumer first visited Tel Aviv. When a delegation of Palestinian Arabs protested Plumer's 'Zionist bias,' the High Commissioner asked the Arabs if he remained seated when their national anthem was played, 'wouldn't you regard my behavior as most unmannerly?' Met by silence, Plumer asked: 'By the way, have you got a national anthem?' When the delegation replied with chagrin that they did not, he snapped back, "I think you had better get one as soon as possible."
But it took the Palestinians more than 60 years to heed Plumer's advice, adopting Anthem of the Intifada two decades after
Under the Mandate, local Arabs also refused to establish an 'Arab Agency' to develop the Arab sector, parallel to the Jewish Agency that directed development of the Jewish sector (see the Chapter "Rejectionism").
In fact, the so-called patriotism of indigenous Muslims has flourished only when non-Muslim entities (the Crusaders, the British, the Jews) have taken charge of the
Why hasn't Arab representative government ever been established in
Palestinianism in and of itself lacks any substance of its own. Arab society on the West Bank and
Eli E. Hertz is president of Myths and Facts, Inc.
This article was published March 31, 2008 on the Myths and Facts website
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.