Tuesday, January 29, 2002

Palestinian Nationalism

In 1948, there was no talk of a state for the Palestinians. If one walked on the streets of West Jerusalem in those days and asked a random person where the closest Palestinian place of worship was, he would be pointed to a synagogue. Today’s main English Israeli Newspaper, the Jerusalem Post, was then known as the Palestine Post; the Palestinian Philharmonic was comprised of Jews, as was the Palestinian unit in the British army that fought in the Second World War. That’s because the term “Palestine” referred not to a national or ethnic identity, but simply to an area of territory. The 1922 League of Nations’ Mandate for Palestine refers to those who inhabited the country as either “Jews” or as “…non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” The lack of the word “Palestinian” is not some gross bureaucratic oversight, but simply a reflection of the reality that, at that time, there was no cohesive national group that laid claim to Palestine other than the Jews. Therefore, anyone who lived in this area was referred to as a Palestinian, much like anyone residing in California is called a Californian, without regard to race, religion, nation of origin, or language. Furthermore, Californians do not have a national identity distinct from Oregonians or Arizonians. They are all Americans, just as 1922 Palestinian Arabs, Syrian Arabs, and Egyptian Arabs, while identifying first and foremost by tribe, clan, and religion; identified collectively as Arabs.

Prior to the birth of Zionism in the 1890’s, there was already a tiny population of both Jews and non-Jews. Jews, mostly religious pilgrims, attained a majority in Jerusalem in the 1850s, and many other holy cities attained Jewish majorities shortly thereafter. Still, the country was largely empty. In 1857, the British consul to the region commented, “The country is in a considerable degree empty of inhabitants and therefore its greatest need is of a body of population." Mark Twain published a book on his travels to the Holy Land, Innocents Abroad, in 1867. He describes The Jezreel Valley, originating in the Judean hills and terminating in Israel’s third largest city, Haifa, today the breadbasket and industrial powerhouse of the State of Israel, as desolate and abandoned. “There is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent [valley of Jezreel] -- not for 30 miles in either direction. . . . One may ride 10 miles hereabouts and not see 10 human beings.” Mark Twain also visited the major Arab cities of Nazareth, Jericho, and Bethlehem, from which suicide bombers and mortars are emanating every day in the fight for “free Palestine.” “For the sort of solitude to make one dreary, come to Galilee... Nazareth is forlorn... Jericho lies a moldering ruin... Bethlehem and Bethany, in their poverty and humiliation... untenanted by any living creature... A desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds... a silent, mournful expanse... a desolation... We never saw a human being on the whole route... Hardly a tree or shrub anywhere. Even the olive tree and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country... Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes... desolate and unlovely...” His words are confirmed by a Turkish Census of 1882, which counts the Muslim population of Palestine as 141,000, on a land which is today home to 9.2 million people.

The Arabs living in Palestine today are, in fact, a collection of people from every corner of the Arab world and even Europe. Their mass immigration to Palestine is well documented by Ottoman, British, and even Arab sources. By 1939, even Winston Churchill had noticed that, “Far from being persecuted, the Arabs have crowded into the country and multiplied.” Spurred in large part by the rapid economic growth and employment opportunities created by Zionist and British land reclamation and industrialization products, Arabs began immigrating as rapidly as the Jews.

The first mass riots and violent disorder in Palestine began in 1929 when the Arabs came to realize that they would soon lose their majority. Under the leadership of Haj Amin al-Husseini, Mufti (caretaker) of the Dome of the Rock and Al Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem, politically the Yassir Arafat of his day, the Arabs revolted in an attempt to become a part of the future state of Syria. As a local Arab leader proclaimed to the British Peel Commission in 1937, "There is no such country as Palestine. 'Palestine' is a term the Zionists invented. . . . Our country was for centuries part of Syria. 'Palestine' is alien to us. It is the Zionists who introduced it." Over and over again, Arab historians and spokespeople repeatedly denied the existence of “Palestine.”

The idea of the existence of the Palestinian people did not begin to pick up steam until after 1967. Between 1948 and 1967, the “Palestinians” of Judea and Samaria, known today as the West Bank, were called Jordanians, carried Jordanian passports, and identified Jordan’s King Hussein as their leader. Likewise, Gaza was a part of Egypt and the Arabs there were identified as Egyptians. The rest, those who had remained living under Israeli sovereignty, attained full citizenship, carried Israeli passports, and identified themselves as “Israeli Arabs.” Those “Southern Syrians” who had left Palestine as refugees during the 1948 war and wandered to Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt found themselves as permanent refugees, denied citizenship in any country. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO,) today headed by Yassir Arafat, was not founded until 1964. It was first chaired by Ahmed Shukairy, who had denied the existence of Palestine less than 10 years earlier. Then, after the Six Day War of June of 1967, the map changed, and so did everything else.

This heterogeneous assortment of Egyptians and Jordanians, Christians and Muslims, who had been living in the Jordanian West Bank and Egyptian Gaza were suddenly dominated by Israel. Israeli Jewish Western culture is a polar opposite from the surrounding Arab Eastern culture, and the Arabs were unable to adjust. One can never expect an Arab to stand tall, place his hand on his heart, and proudly cry out they lyrics of Hatikvah, the Israeli National Anthem, “The soul of a Jew yearns… To be a free people in our own land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem!” The surrounding Arab nations, their armies smashed, decided that they could not militarily defeat Israel, and these former Jordanians and Egyptians were left to their own devices.

This assortment of people, refugees in countries which refused to offer citizenship, former Egyptians and Jordanians living in the West Bank and Gaza, and Arab citizens of Israel, now had much in common. None of them belonged to a nation. The Syrians had Syria, the Egyptians had Egypt, what did they have? When someone came along and offered them a unifying vision, told them that they were something, Palestinians, rather than nothing, who can blame them for believing it? Just as the Pre World War II Germans, defeated and starving, were ready to believe Hitler’s myth that they were really heroic superhuman “Aryans,” the descendents of ancient pure Nordic stock; so all the refugees and defeated, stateless Arabs became “Palestinians,” descendant from the ancient “Philistine” people of the bible. A proud and dignified history stretching from the beginning of time was retroactively applied to these people whose original homeland had been “unjustly stolen” by the Jews.

But why does all this matter? Every nation on Earth was created for a heterogeneous mixture of peoples at its origin. The Jews, descended from Abraham, a Babylonian from the city of Ur, have picked up people from every race and nationality throughout their travels on the globe. The Palestinians today fit the definition of a nation, sharing a language, a flag, a leader, an identity, and a future. A nation formed 4,000 years ago does not have stronger rights than one formed 35 years ago, just as a 75 year old man does not have stronger rights than an 18 year old boy. Likewise, by the standards of secular western culture, the inalienable human rights of people who live in the West Bank and Gaza are not nullified by the fact that they believe in the Palestinian Lie. Greek soldiers, while making war with the Turks, would often recite lines from the Illiad and the Oddysey to each other as a battle cry to boost morale. Nobody believes that Odysseus actually battled a real Cyclops, but it is still a part of the collective national history of the Greek people and in no way diminishes their claim to nationhood.

The danger of the Palestinian Lie is that it serves as the basis for an even bigger lie, that of the yearning for a Palestinian state. Every day we hear that Palestinians are fighting for an “independent Palestine.” Under the guise of a movement of national liberation, the Palestinians have, in fact, seized on every justification that Zionism used to create Israel and perverted them into justifications for the destruction of the State of Israel. The Jews have the right to a state? Well, so do the Palestinians! And, since the borders of the ancient Palestinian homeland, in an act of cosmic coincidence, just happen to perfectly correspond to those of the modern Jewish homeland, then Israel must become Palestine. The Jews have a Diaspora? Now the Palestinians have a Diaspora whose number Arafat places, through another coincidence, at “Six million refugees!” The Jews have an ancient history here? So do the Palestinians, who are now the descendents of the ancient Philistines. The Jews wanted to be able to breathe free? Well, the Palestinians just want to breathe free of the Israeli occupation. The Jews have the Holocaust? The Palestinians have Al-Nabka, the “tragedy” of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

It sounds so symmetric, so perfect, but it’s really just a thin veneer. Of course, the words always come out perfectly. The simple Palestinian desire for the “Right of Return of the Palestinian Refugees” which is “enshrined in international law” sounds like a just and noble cause for which to fight, but it is not. International law makes no stipulation for a “Right of Return” of Palestinian refugees, only of a “just settlement” which can include compensation or integration into the local society. While the Geneva Convention does, in fact, call for repatriation of refugees, the Palestinians are not signatories and never can be as long as they continue firing rockets and mortars from built-up civilian areas and intentionally targeting Israeli civilians, acts which are themselves naked violations of the Geneva conventions. The constant refrain of, as Palestinian Spokesperson Saib Erakat loves to bark out, “A Palestinian State based UN Security Council Resolutions 224 and 338!” is yet another hollow farce. A quick glance at the text of these resolutions reveals that the word “Palestine” and “Palestinian” does not in fact appear in these resolutions. The resolutions only call for a partial Israeli withdrawal from “territories occupied” in the Six Day War and the recognition of other states living in the area.

The best indicator of intent is action, and the actions of the Palestinians are not those of a people fighting for a state. If the Palestinians are truly fighting for an independent state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, why did they reject one at Camp David II? When asked this very question on his recent visit, President Clinton simply and honestly responded, “I don’t know.” It is said that Arafat had to reject the offer due to domestic pressure, a fact which says more about the true objectives of the Palestinians as a whole than about Arafat. The idea that Arafat and the Palestinian leadership viewed the Oslo accords as a lead-up to a Palestinian state is fiction. This is where Palestinian Nationalism’s mimicking of Zionism stops. From the beginning of the 20th century, the goal of Zionism was to create a Jewish state. The first step was the creation of agricultural projects throughout the wasteland, followed by road building, the construction of an electric grid, the formation of hospitals, schools, universities, and, eventually, local government and leadership. The idea of a Jewish army was never spelled out as a goal of Zionism and was mentioned only in passing. In fact, the first units of what would later become the Israeli army were simply small bands of armed Jews defending their collective farms, only later to be unified into a single fighting force. By contrast, Arafat’s first and only act of leadership in the Palestinian Authority was the formation of militias and the procurement of arms to be used in a future conflict with Israel. The Palestinians were happy to continue receiving their electricity, water, and basic needs from Israel, even as they plotted to destroy it. The Palestinian Authority did not construct roads, bridges, homes, universities, water purification plants, or any sort of local economy. The dirty work of administering the territories was left to Israel, or simply not done at all, and the Palestinian people sat in increasing squalor.

In fact, the Palestinians have never been truly inspired by statehood. The most revealing document is the Palestinian National Covenant, drafted in 1964 as the founding document of Yassir Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization. This document does not contain the term “Palestinian State” and refers vaguely to the Palestinian right to live, ”.. in accordance with their wishes and entirely of their own accord and will.” (Article 3.) It is a statement that could mean anything, including annexation of Palestine to Syria, Jordan, or Egypt. If the PLO’s goals with regard to statehood are vague, their goals for Israel are delineated with deadly precision; “..the Palestinian… must be prepared for the armed struggle and ready to sacrifice his wealth and his life in order to win back his homeland and bring about its liberation.” (Article 7) “…the retrieval of Palestine and its liberation through armed struggle.” (Article 8) “Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine.” (Article 9) “Commando action constitutes the nucleus of the Palestinian popular liberation war.” (Article 10) “national (wataniyya) unity, national (qawmiyya) mobilization, and liberation.” (Article 11) “…the liberation of Palestine” (Article 12) “..the liberation of Palestine will destroy the Zionist and imperialist presence…” (Article 22.) The list goes on and on.

Palestinian nationalism is Zionism’s evil twin brother. Zionism’s primary goal is to gather in the Jews of the world and create a sovereign Jewish state. Palestinian nationalism’s goal is to destroy the Jewish state and disperse or murder its inhabitants. That is why, at Camp David II, when Arafat was forced to choose between a viable Palestinian State in exchange for declaring an end to the conflict, he ran for his life. A Palestinian state ends the statelessness of the Palestinian people, thereby removing the justification for armed struggle. A Palestinian State reveals Palestinian nationalism for what it really is, simply a disguise for the unchanged goal of the complete destruction of the State of Israel. No compromise can ever be reached between these polar opposites, and until the Palestinians relinquish the dream of eradicating Israel and reversing Zionism, there is nothing to discuss.

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