The “Palestinian narrative” insists that a discrete Palestinian Arab people has resided in “Palestine” from time immemorial. It claims this putative past trumps the Jewish peoples’ religious and historical ties to eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel).
In Munich on January 31, Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator in U.S.-mediated Israeli-Palestinian talks, reportedly asserted that Palestinian Arabs “cannot accept Israel as the Jewish state because they lived in the region long before the Jews. In the context of the current debate over the Jordan Valley [and Israel’s insistence on retaining its own forces in the area as part of an agreement with the Palestinian Authority], Erekat claimed that his ancestors were the real descendants of the Canaanites and lived in the area for 5,500 years before Joshua bin-Nun, [according to the Torah, Moses’ successor who led the Israelites into the Promised Land]” (“The fabricated Palestinian history,” Israel HaYom, Feb. 7, 2014).
Erekat was not exaggerating. He was inventing. The “Palestinian narrative” of millennia-deep roots in eretz Yisrael/Palestine is neither solid, liquid nor gas; it’s a vacuum.
In a magazine-length follow-up (“The fabricated Palestinian history,” February 7) Israel HaYom investigated Erekat’s fantasy with scholars of national movements, historians, Palestinian sources and the Quran. The conclusion? As Prof. Raphael Israeli, a Hebrew University Middle East scholar and expert on Islam put it, the Palestinian-Canaanite link Erekat asserts is “absurd. … The Palestinian don’t really have roots here. They know this very well, so they are trying to invent origins for themselves.”
Israel HaYom writer Nadav Shragai cited two methods of constructing a national identity. The first is determining a grouping “on the basis of a shared culture and history. The second method is used by nations who do not have such a common history and thus need to invent it all from scratch.”
Jewish culture and history, first rooted in and later focused on the land of Israel, goes back more than 3,000 years. Biblical and extra-biblical documents, supported by countless archeological finds, confirm it.
On the other hand, as Daniel Pipes has written, the notion of Palestinian Arab national identity goes back to 1920 (“The Year the Arabs Discovered Palestine,” Middle East Review, Summer, 1989.) Arab spokesmen themselves repeatedly have acknowledged the 20th century origins of Palestinian nationalism. For example, the First Congress of Muslim-Christian Associations, meeting in Jerusalem in 1919 to choose Palestinian Arab delegates to the post-World War I Paris Peace Conference, adopted a resolution reading:
“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.”
‘No such country as Palestine!’
In 1937, a Palestinian Arab leader named Auni Bey Abdul-Hadi told Britain’s Peel Commission that “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.”
Actually, from 1516 to 1917 when it was conquered by Great Britain during World War I, the area that became British Mandatory Palestine after the fighting had been part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. No district of it was called “Palestine” and the inhabitants of the region did not refer to themselves as “Palestinians.”
Nevertheless, as typified by Erekat’s claims, “the core of Arab propaganda has for years been based on the claim that the Palestinian people have been settling in present-day Israel for thousands of years, well before the Jews arrived as ‘occupiers,’” Shragai writes. “As the argument goes, the Palestinians, by virtue of their being descendants of the Canaanites, or the Philistines, or the Jebusites, are the real indigenous nation that sprung organically from this land. Then, as now, so the argument goes, they are being occupied by the Jews.”
This claim gained force—perhaps became necessary—among Palestinian Arab nationalists after Israel’s establishment in 1948 and its victorious War of Independence and additionally after it captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip from Jordan and Egypt, respectively, in the 1967 Six-Day War. (Jordan, following its illegal occupation in 1948, had renamed Judea and Samaria “the West Bank,” in part to distinguish it from Trans-Jordan, or “the East Bank” of the original Mandate lands.)
Inconveniently for Erekat’s historical revisionism, around 1,000 B.C.E. the Israelites under King David defeated the non-Arab, non-Muslim Jebusites and turned the latter’s main city in their own capital, Jerusalem. The Philistines, Mediterranean “sea people” whose culture resembled that of Crete and whose territory centered on the Gaza-Ashdod corridor, not the hill country of Judea and Samaria or the Galilee, vanished from history after being conquered by the Babylonians at the end of the seventh century B.C.E.
Unlike the Philistines, the Jews—taken into captivity two decades later—returned and rebuilt Jerusalem and Judea [Latin for the Hebrew Yehuda, land of the Jews] after Babylon fell to Persia.
Too conventional to fact-check
But news media often permit Erekat to outrun fact-checking (other examples are noted below). “Not only do the Palestinians deny, eras
e, and distort Jewish history—sometimes going to absurd lengths—but they also invent thousands of years of a new history of their own. All of sudden, the biblical Canaanites are Arabs, Jesus is a Palestinian [a favorite confiscation by another Palestinian spokesperson, Hanan Ashrawi] who preached the virtues of Islam and not Christianity, and Moses? Well, Moses was a Muslim, after all.”
In fact, as Shragai details, Hamas’ interior minister in the Gaza Strip, Fathi Hamad, declared, “every Palestinian in Gaza and all over Palestine can prove their Arab roots, whether they be in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, or anywhere else. … Speaking personally, half of my family is Egyptian.” Hence, the common “Palestinian” last name, al-Masri, the Egyptian.
Knesset (parliament) member Azmi Bishara, an Israeli Christian who fled the country after being suspected of working with Hezbollah, has written that Palestinian nationalism, “acting out of a need to compete with Zionism … has anchored its origins with those of the Canaanites.”
Walid Shoebat, a former Fatah member who converted to Christianity and speaks on behalf of his new religion and Israel, has said, “We knew full well that our origin was not Canaanite. … My grandfather would often remind us that our village, Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem, was empty when his father arrived there with six other families. Today, there are over 30,000 residents” in Beit Sahour, residents whose recent background was Arab but not Palestinian.
Contrary to Erekat’s Canaanites-as-Arabs fantasy—taught in Palestinian Authority schools as history—ancestors of the small population of Arabs resident in the land, mostly the 141,000 Muslims in 1878, the majority arriving beginning in the late 1400s and after from the Arabian Peninsula, Transjordan, Syria and Egypt, according to Prof. Shaul Bartal. Shragai quotes Bartal, a Middle Eastern scholar at Bar-Ilan University, as asserting that today’s Palestinian Arabs “are not the ‘farmers who have lived in Palestine for generations,’ but rather immigrants who only arrived recently.
“It was only toward the latter stages of the 19th century that the country began to blossom thanks to the emergence of a new presence—Zionism—and the amazing results.” Shragai adds “in 1939, then-U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt said that the immigration of Arabs to Palestine since 1921 was outpacing immigration of the Jews during that same period.” That was so in no small measure because the British authorities in Mandatory Palestine yielded in the face of Arab violence against Palestinian Jews and restricted Jewish, but not Arab, immigration.
The Quran against Erekat
Some of the “Arab” arrivals transformed into “Palestinians” were not Arabs at all, but Greeks, Bosnians and others from the Balkans and other parts of Europe, Turks, Armenians, Kurds, Sudanese, Circassians, even Persians and Afghans, as Joan Peters noted in her best-seller, From Time Immemorial.
Shragai quotes Prof. Nissim Dana, author of a new book, the Hebrew title of which can be translated as To Whom Does This Land Belong?—A Reexamination of the Quran: “In the Quran … there are 10 passages which state that Allah bequeathed the land to the Jewish people. … It is written that there is no only the right but the obligation placed on the Sons of Israel to inherit the land. On the other hand, there is no mention in the Quran of bequeathing the land to Muslims, Arabs, Palestinians, or any other nation not called the Jewish people.”
Can a fabrication be left in ruins? If so, that is where Saeb Erekat’s invention of millennia of Palestinian Arab history in “Palestine” lies. In eretz Yisrael archaeological ruins are inescapable. They attest to Canaanite, Israelite, Philistine, Jewish, Roman, Byzantine, Muslim, Mameluke, and Ottoman civilizations and rule. But there can be no physical traces of something that never was, despite Erekat’s claims and the “Palestinian narrative’s” attempted confiscations.
As for Erekat’s media credibility in general, CAMERA has noted previously that:
* In 2002 he infamously told Cable News Network (CNN) of an Israeli massacre in Jenin, with at least 500 dead. Eventually, Palestinian officials themselves put the figure at 56. Nearly all of them were combatants, killed in house-to-house combat in which Israel lost 23 soldiers, according to Israel’s military chief of staff at the time, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon.
* In a 2005 Op-Ed for the International Herald Tribune, Erekat alleged that Israel fielded the “fifth largest” military in the world. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the correct ranking for Israeli armed forces was 18th.
* That same year Erekat told Agence France Presse that the 2003 Israeli-Palestinian “road map” promoted by the United States, Russia, United Nations and European Union committed Israel to, among other things, releasing Palestinian prisoners. In fact, the “quartet’s” diplomatic initiative did not mention prisoners.
More recently, Erekat repeatedly has misconstrued Israeli positions in U.S.-mediated talks with the Palestinian Authority. Nevertheless, journalists—who perhaps rely too much on his ability to speak English—frequently treat him as a credible source. Perhaps their indulgence contributed to Erekat’s Munich invention of an nearly 9,000-year Palestinian Arab history in the land between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea.