Monday, July 18, 2011

What was the identity of the Arabs of Palestine at the end of the Ottoman Empire?

What was the identity of the Arabs of Palestine at the end of the Ottoman Empire?

  • On August 11, 1919 in a memorandum to Lord Curzon, Lord Balfour stated that "whatever be the future of Palestine, it is not now an 'independent nation,' nor is it yet on the way to becoming one". Professor of history Reverend James Parkes wrote in Whose Land that "before 1914, ... the mass of the population [in Palestine] had no real feeling of belonging to any wider unit than their village, clan or possibly confederation of clans". He stressed the point that "up to that time it is not possible to speak of the existence of any general sentiment of nationality". A Palestinian Arab, Professor of history Rashid Khalidi recently confirmed Balfour's and Parkes' statements that the population of Palestine at the beginning of this century did not represent a distinct nation. In his book Palestinian Identity, he wrote that only at the beginning of the twentieth century did the Arabs of Palestine start to see "themselves as part of other communities, both larger and smaller ones. This identification certainly did not include all sectors or classes of the population. But it did constitute a new and powerful category of identity that was simply nonexistent a generation or two before, and was still novel and limited in its diffusion before World War I".
  • ...the non-Jewish residents of Palestine tried to don several different identities. First, they attempted to become Ottomans. This attempt failed after the defeat of the Ottoman army and subsequent withdrawal of Ottoman authority from Palestine. As Khalidi wrote, "in a period of a few years, Ottomanism as an ideology went from being one of the primary sources of identification for Palestinians, to having no apparent impact at all". Then came the turn of the Syrian identity that did not last long either. When the French crushed the two-year-old independent Syrian state in 1920, the elite of the Palestinian Arabs decided to change orientation again. Khalidi quotes the nationalist leader Musa Kazim Pasa al-Husayni, who said, "Now, after the recent events in Damascus, we have to effect a complete change in our plans here. Southern Syria no longer exists. We must defend Palestine". It is important to note that the nationalist movement among the non-Jewish residents of Palestine did not originate on its soil, but was imported from Egypt, Turkey and France. Parkes wrote that it was "exclusively political in the narrowest sense, and showed little awareness of the day-to-day problems which would arise if its political objective were reached". Illiterate fellahen became the pawns in the game of power-thirsty Arab nationalists who tried to repeat King Abdulla's success in Jordan at a smaller scale in the remaining part of Palestine.

Are the Palestinians a separate and unique people, different from the other Arabs? When did the notion arise - of the Palestinians as a separate Arab people?

  • There is no language known as Palestinian. There is no distinct Palestinian culture. There has never been a land known as Palestine governed by Palestinians. Palestinians are Arabs, indistinguishable from Jordanians (another recent invention), Syrians, Lebanese, Iraqis, etc. Keep in mind that the Arabs control 99.9 percent of the Middle East lands. Israel represents one-tenth of 1 percent of the landmass. But that's too much for the Arabs. They want it all. And that is ultimately what the fighting in Israel is about today. Greed. Pride. Envy. Covetousness. No matter how many land concessions the Israelis make, it will never be enough.
    - Joseph Farah,
    Arab-American journalist,
    editor and CEO of WorldNetDaily
  • The concept of "Palestinians" is one that did not exist until about 1948, when the Arab inhabitants, of what until then was Palestine, wished to differentiate themselves from the Jews. Until then, the Jews were the Palestinians. There was the Palestinian Brigade of Jewish volunteers in the British World War II Army (at a time when the Palestinian Arabs were in Berlin hatching plans with Adolf Hitler for world conquest and how to kill all the Jews); there was the Palestinian Symphony Orchestra (all Jews, of course); there was The Palestine Post; and so much more. The Arabs who now call themselves "Palestinians" do so in order to persuade a misinformed world that they are a distinct nationality and that "Palestine" is their ancestral homeland. But they are no distinct nationality at all. They are the same - in language, custom, and tribal and family ties - as the Arabs of Syria, Jordan, and beyond. There is no more difference between the "Palestinians" and the other Arabs of those countries than there is between, say, the citizens of Minnesota and those of Wisconsin.
    What's more, many of the "Palestinians", or their immediate ancestors, came to the area attracted by the prosperity created by
    the Jews, in what previously had been pretty much of a wasteland.
    New York Times, June 12, 2000 (via CFICEJ's ISRAEL REPORT May/June 2000)
  • Meeting in Cairo in 1964, the Arab League resolved to divert the waters of the Jordan River, which are vital for Israel's existence. At that same conference, there was a public declaration of the intention to destroy Israel, and the PLO was founded. - Anita Shapira, The New Republic, 29 November, 1999
  • It is mainly in the past few decades that "Palestinian" has been co-opted by the Arabs, as if the name belongs exclusively to them, pretending to have a long history and independent national identity. Until 1967, most of those who now call themselves Palestinians were reasonably happy with their Jordanian citizenship and with calling themselves "Jordanians" Even today, there is strong support among the "Palestinian" majority of Jordan for their Hashemite monarchy, though King Hussein relies on his Bedouin troops when he needs absolute loyalty. The use of a term like "Palestinian" without the suffix "Arab" and the term "Israeli-Occupied Palestine" have served to confuse the public into thinking that there has always been an independent "Palestinian" people which hasn't been given the opportunity for self-determination. In fact, any such failure has been the fault of the government of Jordan, which covers the majority of what was once known as "Palestine" and in which the majority of Palestinian Arabs live.
  • "Palestinians" [are an] Arab people no one heard of before 1967 before Israeli governments certified this piece of propaganda... As has been noted many times before, prior to 1948, that is before Jews had begun to call themselves Israelis, the only persons known as "Palestinians" were Jews, with the Arabs much preferrring to identify themselves as part of the great Arab nation. - David Basch
  • The actual word "Palestine" came from the Romans, not the Arabs, and there has never been an independent country or state of Palestine, nor a Palestinian rule. Yet we are led to believe that there are Palestinians and then there are Arabs.
  • Avi Erlich wrote in his book Ancient Zionism, A Palestinian Arab claim to the Land of Israel cannot rise above a claim to houses, lost from the larger Arab Empire. Neither Moorish homes in Cordoba nor Arab homes in Jerusalem can reasonably constitute lost nations. ...Homeland represents the grafting of a specific place with a specific national idea. No Palestinian idea beyond the claim to land or other lost property has ever been articulated. Borrowed and usurping nationhood does not count.
  • Palestine has always constituted a single geographical, political and demographic unit with Greater Syria and Egypt. On its soil the civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt intermingled. Palestine also witnessed, as a land bridge linking Asia, Africa, and Europe, several movements and waves of conquerors who dominated it for different periods of time and left behind varying degrees of influence. - By Abdul Jawad Saleh, in Transformation of Palestine, printed in Challenge, February 1995, published on the WWW by the Center for Research and Documentation of Palestinian Society, Bir Zeit University, the West Bank
  • Prior to partition, Palestinian Arabs did not view themselves as having a separate identity. When the First Congress of Muslim-Christian Associations met in Jerusalem in February 1919 to choose Palestinian representatives for the Paris Peace Conference, the following resolution was adopted:

    "We consider Palestine as part of Arab Syria, as it has never been separated from it at any time. We are connected with it by national, religious, linguistic, natural, economic and geographical bonds."
  • "There is no such country [as Palestine]! 'Palestine' is a term the Zionists invented! There is no Palestine in the Bible. Our country was for centuries part of Syria." - Auni Bey Abdul-Hadi, a local Arab leader, to the Peel Commission, 1937
  • "Palestine was part of the Province of Syria...
    the Arabs of Palestine were not independent in the sense of forming a separate political entity.
    " - The representative of the Arab Higher Committee to the United Nations submitted this in a statement to the General Assembly in May 1947
  • "It is common knowledge that Palestine is nothing but southern Syria." - Ahmed Shuqeiri, later the chairman of the PLO, to the UN Security Council
  • The Romans had changed the name of the Land of Israel to "Palestine." But from A.D. 640 until the 1960s, Arabs referred to this same Land as "Southern Syria." Arabs only started calling the Land "Palestine" in the 1960s. Until about the eighteenth century, the Christian world called this same Land, "The Holy Land." Thereafter, they used two names: "The Holy Land" and "Palestine." When the League of Nations in 1922 gave Great Britain the mandate to prepare Palestine as a national home for the Jewish people, the official name of the Land became "Palestine" and remained so until the rebirth of the Israeli State in 1948. During this very period, the leaders of the Arabs in the Land, however, called themselves Southern Syrians and clamored that the Land become a part of a "Greater Syria." This "Arab Nation" would include Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Transjordan as well as Palestine. An observation in TIME magazine well articulated how the Palestinian identity was born so belatedly in the 1960s:
    Golda Meir once argued that there was no such thing as a Palestinian; at the time, she wasn't entirely wrong. Before
    Arafat began his proselytizing, most of the Arabs from the territory of Palestine thought of themselves as members of an all-embracing Arab nation. It was Arafat who made the intellectual leap to a definition of the Palestinians as a distinct people; he articulated the cause, organized for it, fought for it and brought it to the world's attention.
    If there was an
    Arab Palestinian culture, a normal population increase over the centuries would have been expected. But with the exception of a relatively few families, the Arabs had no attachment to the Land. If Arabs from southern Syria drifted into Palestine for economic reasons, within a generation or so the cultural tug of Syria or other Arab lands would pull them back. This factor is why the Arab population average remained low until the influx of Jewish financial investments and Jewish people in the late 1800s made the Land economically attractive. Then sometime between 1850 and 1918, the Arab population shot up to 560,000. Not to absolve the Jews but to defend British policy, the not overfriendly British secretary of state for the colonies, Malcolm MacDonald, declared in the House of Commons (November 24, 1938), "The Arabs cannot say that the Jews are driving them out of the country. If not a single Jew had come to Palestine after 1918, I believe the Arab population of Palestine would still have been around 600,000. . ."
    Arabs until the 1960s spoke of Palestine as Southern Syria or part of Greater Syria, in 1919 the General Syrian Congress stated, "We ask that there should be no separation of the southern part of Syria, known as Palestine." In 1939 George Antonius noted the Arab view of Palestine in 1918:
    Faisal's views about the future of Palestine did not differ from those of his father and were identical with those held then by the great majority of politically-minded Arabs. The representative Arab view was substantially that which King Husain [Grand Sherif of Mecca, the great grandfather of the current King Hussein of Jordan] had expressed to the British Government. . . in January 1918. In the Arab view, Palestine was an Arab territory forming an integral part of Syria.
    Referring to the same Arab view of Palestine in 1939, George Antonius spoke of "the whole of the country of that name [Syria] which is now split up into mandated territories..." His lament was that France's mandate over Syria did not include Palestine which was under Britain's mandate.Syrian President Hafez Assad once told PLO leader Yassir Arafat:
    You do not represent Palestine as much as we do. Never forget this one point: There is no such thing as a Palestinian People, there is no Palestinian entity, there is only Syria. You are an integral part of the Syrian people, Palestine is an integral part of Syria. Therefore it is we, the Syrian authorities, who are the true representatives of the Palestinian people.
    Assad stated on March 8, 1974, "Palestine is a principal part of Southern Syria, and we consider that it is our right and duty to insist that it be a liberated partner of our Arab homeland and of Syria."
    In the words of the late military commander of the
    PLO as well as member of the PLO Executive Council, Zuhair Muhsin:
    There are no differences between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. We are all part of one nation. It is only for political reasons that we carefully underline our Palestinian identity....yes, the existence of a separate Palestinian identity serves only tactical purposes. The founding of a Palestinian state is a new tool in the continuing battle against Israel.
    The following are significant observations by Christians of the Arabs in Palestine in the 1800s:
    The Arabs themselves, who are its inhabitants, cannot be considered but temporary residents. They pitched their tents in its grazing fields or built their places of refuge in its ruined cities. They created nothing in it. Since they were strangers to the land, they never became its masters. The desert wind that brought them hither could one day carry them away without their leaving behind them any sign of their passage through it.
    Stephen Olin, D.D., L.L.D., called one of the most noted of American theologians after his extensive travels in the Middle East wrote of the Arabs in Palestine "...with slight exceptions they are probably all descendants of the old inhabitants of Syria."
  • Palestinian Arab nationalism is largely a post-World War I phenomenon that did not become a significant political movement until after the 1967 Six-Day War and Israel's capture of the West Bank.
  • ...the Arab leadership realized how much more effective they could make their efforts to "throw the Jews into the sea" if they became Palestinians rather than Arabs. By then, the Jews of this country (the only people called Palestinians before the War of Independence) were named Israelis. Even The Palestine Post became The Jerusalem Post. By adopting the name 'Palestinians' the Arabs succeeded in converting the Arab-Israeli conflict from a war of annihilation against the Jewish population to a struggle of dispossessed natives against colonialist invaders. It was a spectacularly effective canard, eventually adopted by Israel's own fiction weavers, the 'new historians.' - David Bar-Illan, The Jerusalem Post, 'Eye on the Media', November 5, 1999

What was the initial reaction of the Arabs of Palestine to this new and separate national identity?

  • ...after the Six-Day War, when Yasser Arafat and Fatah tried to establish their infrastructures in what they referred to as the West Bank they were rejected by the Arabs themselves. Neil Livingstone and David Halevy wrote in Inside the PLO, "The effort, however, turned out to be one of Fatah's greatest failures, not so much because of Israeli efficiency in ferreting out the secret network as because of Palestinian apathy. At that point many Palestinians living in the West Bank were actually relieved to be out from under the oppressive yoke of Jordanian rule and simply wanted to find some kind of accommodation with the Israelis. Within months Arafat was forced to leave the West Bank on the run". The Arab leaders are well aware of the fragility of the Palestinian identity for the majority of the Palestinian Arabs. This is the main reason why they have not allowed the Palestinian Arabs living in the refugee camps, for almost half a century, to intermingle with Arabs of their countries. Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri confirmed this on February 5, 1998 in an interview with London MBC Television. He said the following; "We do not want to fall into the trap of resettling the Palestinians. This would lead to resettling the Palestinian refugees and their eventual assimilation. The Palestinians themselves have consistently rejected this approach so that their cause and characteristic identity might not be lost".
    When Al-Hariri said, "the Palestinians themselves rejected this approach", he missed one important word - leaders. It is the Palestinian leaders who try to prevent the assimilation of
    the Arabs among the Arabs. It is the Palestinian leaders who today more and more openly declare the Israeli Arabs to be their "property", to be an unquestionable part of the "Palestinian people". If Israel does not confront this dangerous tendency she arrives at an extremely perilous situation. There is a way to deal with this matter. Edward Said wrote that, "Unlike other peoples who suffered from a colonial experience, the Palestinians do not primarily feel that they have been exploited but that they have been excluded, denied the right to have a history of their own". Israel has an excellent chance to mend this problem. As was stated earlier, the non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine tried to take on several different identities; none of them brought relief or happiness, most likely because all of them were artificial.

Who is the real enemy of the Palestinian Arabs?

  • "Arafat himself is one of the world's foremost terrorists. He knows it, we know it, and he knows that we know it. So what's he up to? Muddying the waters, that's what.... The [Jerusalem marketplace] massacre was, he said, nothing to do with him. But where's the evidence the Israelis are trying to starve the Palestinians into submission? There isn't any. Where's the evidence the Israelis have a siege mentality against the Palestinians? Again, there isn't any. The truth is ... the Arab world has repeatedly tried to destroy the only democratic nation in the entire Middle East. If Arafat wants he can make a legitimate deal with the Israelis right now and end the so-called 'state terrorism' against his people. Yet instead he prefers to use his own people as pawns in his own cunning, devious game. It is Arafat himself, not the Israeli people, who is the enemy of the Palestinians." - Editorial (Canada's Calgary Sun, Aug 12, 1997)

What will be the function of the new 'secular, democratic' Palestinian state?

  • First of all, who really believes that a Palestinian state will be either secular or democratic?
  • A secular Islam a contradiction in terms; in the Middle East, the idea of a secular State is merely a weapon recently added to the armoury of the PLO. - Jacques Givet, "The Anti-Zionist Complex"
  • "We are slowly and dangerously moving towards a police state where intimidation and threats become the norm instead of the rule of law." - Daoud Kuttab, a prominent Arafat supporter and Palestinian journalist, after he was fired from his job for signing a petition protesting the P.L.O.'s decision to shut down a pro-Jordanian newspaper (Reuters, 6 August 1994)
  • "I am not Mr. Chairman. I am His Excellency, the President of Palestine." - Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the P.L.O., in response to a greeting by Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt (Jerusalem Post, 17 December 1993)

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