Who Are the Palestinians? At DePaul, Don’t Ask and Don’t Tell

Historically, Palestinian Arabs were not a distinct nationality. Though not all Muslims are terrorists, most major international terrorism today is committed by Muslims.

For making these two assertions, DePaul University adjunct professor Thomas Klocek was suspended fall quarter, 2004, then suspended without pay winter quarter, 2005.

Dean Susanne Dumbleton, in an Oct. 8, 2004 letter to the campus newspaper the DePaulia, suggests that Klocek assaulted the dignity of undergraduates at Students for Justice in Palestine and United Muslims Moving Ahead tables. The dean’s letter implies that Klocek, who reportedly had taught at the Chicago school for 14 years with no previous complaints, “verbally attacked” the students “for their religious belief or ethnicity,” “demeaned” their ideas and pressed “erroneous assertions” on them. She notes that she quickly suspended Klocek and met with the offended students and “apologized to them for the insult and disrespect they had endured.”

In June, Klocek’s lawyer, John Mauck, filed suit against America’s largest Catholic university for defamation of his client and breach of contract. The students, who were distributing what Klocek considered one-sided anti-Israel material, “got infuriated when he said that technically, there’s no such thing in history as a Palestinian [Arab] identity,” Mauck told CAMERA on Campus. In e-mails to Dumbleton, they alleged they’d had “a racist encounter” with the instructor, Mauck said.

Mauck claims Klocek was denied a hearing, that the dean lacked the authority to suspend him, and that her letter “basically said he’s a racist and a bigot.”

“This is messed up,” DePaul student Eliana Zaideman told The DePaulia. “All the Arabic and pro-Palestine teachers are able to speak their opinions, why can’t [Klocek]?” Indeed, Norman G. Finkelstein, an author well-known for alleging that Jewish organizations and Israelis have manipulated and exaggerated the Holocaust for fundraising and political advantage, that anti-Semitism is not as serious a danger as such sources maintain, and that Zionism rests on oppression of Arabs is a political science professor at DePaul.

Jay Ambrose, a columnist with Scripps-Howard News Service, wrote that

what’s going on at DePaul and elsewhere is a New McCarthyism, directed this time around not at suspected communists, but at those who voice views contrary to the politically correct, intellect-stops-here glop that passes for idealism.

DePaul’s president, The Rev. Dennis Hotlschneider, replied to Ambrose that “the issue is Klocek’s conduct, not the content of his speech,” for allegedly shouting and gesturing at students “in a belligerent and menacing manner.” Mauck said both the students and Klocek raised their voices, but that his client did not threaten students. “It was one against 20, and the one was a 57-year-old man with a kidney illness.” Regardless, Dumbleton’s letter focuses on content as well as alleged behavior.At press time, the university had asked for an extension to answer Klocek’s suit. Meanwhile, remedial history is in order at DePaul to clarify the issues underlying the encounter, Palestinian nationalism and Islamic terrorism.

Who Are the Palestinians?

“Palestinian” today typically applies to Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza Strip and to those who fled what became Israel in 1948 and their descendants. Often it also covers the Palestinian majority in Jordan, and sometimes even Israeli Arabs. Essentially, these are 20th century usages, like the adjectives Soviet and Yugoslav.

Although a distinct Palestinian nationalism is taken for granted internationally today, the notion of a Palestinian people separate and distinct from neighboring Arabs is relatively recent. Indeed, Zahir Muhsein, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee, told the Dutch newspaper Trau on March 31, 1977:

The Palestinian people does not exist . . . . The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity.

In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct “Palestinian people” to oppose Zionism.

Muhsein emphasized a point often made. The First Congress of Muslim-Christian Associations in Jerusalem in 1919, called to choose delegates to the Paris Peace Conference, declared:

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 geographic bonds.

In 1947, the United Nations was considering the second partition of British Mandatory Palestine (Transjordannow Jordan and 77.5 percent of the total areahad been separated in 1921 and Jews forbidden to settle there). The Arab Higher Committee informed the General Assembly that “Palestine was part of the province of Syria” and “politically, the Arabs of Palestine were not independent in the sense of forming a separate political identity.”

Early in the century a few Christian Arabs did promote the idea of Palestinian Arab nationalism to secure the social-political equality that pan-Islamic movements might deny them. But generally, after the collapse of Ottoman Turkish rule in World War I and subsequent British ascendancy, “Palestinian” referred to Jews. The Palestine Post, Palestine Land Development Company, Palestine Philharmonic and other similarly named institutions, all were Jewish enterprises, manifestations of the Zionist effort to renew Jewish sovereignty in eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel.

The PLO Charter, as rewritten in 1968, varies the definition of Palestinian in three separate articles. Article One declares that “… the people of Palestine is part of the Arab nation” while Article Five claims “the Palestinians are the Arab nationals who were living permanently in Palestine until 1947 … [or] anyone born of a Palestinian father after that, whether within Palestine or outside it ….” Article Six allows that Jewsat least some of themcould be Palestinians too: “Jews who were living permanently in Palestine until the beginning of the Zionist invasion will be considered Palestinian.”

In fact, today’s Palestinians, especially the large majority who are Sunni Muslims, have no significant religious, linguistic, cultural, or national differences from their brethren in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and even Egypt and Saudi Arabia. This is not surprising since many of their ancestors migrated from those areas in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Egyptians arrived with Mehmet Ali’s conquest in the 1830s and stayed. Hence the common Palestinian family or clan name, “al-Masri,” meaning “the Egyptian.” Later in the 19th century, Turkish overlords imported non-Arab Muslims from Sudan and the Balkans to western Palestine. Arabs from the Arabian peninsula set tled in the Hebron Hills.

As Zionist Jews built the foundation for a national home, economic and health conditions improved in western Palestine. Many Arabs migrated, often illegally, from Transjordan, Syria, and Lebanon, and internally from the West Bank and Gaza Strip into what would become Israel to take advantage of the higher standards. Between 1922 and 1947, for example, the non-Jewish populations in Haifa, Jerusalem, and Jaffa grew many times faster than accounted for by natural increase alone.

The related claim that Palestinian Arabs are not only an historically distinct people but also an ancient one are questionable as well. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) implicitly recognized evidence to the contrary when, after 1948, it granted refugee status to any Arab who had resided in what was now Israel for a minimum of two years.

Biblical Philistines

Historically, the biblical Philistines were not Arabs but rather Mediterranean sea people, whose culture was influenced by that of Crete. Landing in southwestern Canaan about 1200 BCE (Before the Common Era), they battled intermittently with the Israelites of the Judean and Samarian hill country until finally being erased from history by Babylonian conquerors late in the seventh century.

The substitution of “Palestine” for Judea, land of the Jews, was an early psychological warfare maneuver. After the second Jewish revolt, 132 – 135 CE (Common Era), Rome dispersed many of the survivors andto erase their connection to the landrenamed Judea “Palaestina.” Hence the derivation of the Arabic word Filastin, although Arabs did not settle west of the Jordan River in large numbers until the Muslim conquest 500 years later in the seventh century C.E.

“Palestine,” referring to an independent state supposedly limited to the West Bank and Gaza, became widespread only well after 1967 as a reaction to Israel’s conquest of those Jordanian and Egyptian occupied territories in a war of self-defense. If Israel and the Palestinian Authority eventually negotiate a settlement that realizes President Bush’s vision of “two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, side-by-side and at peace,” the citizens of the latter will be able to claim something newan actualized separate Palestinian national identity.

International Terrorists

And what of Klocek’s other apparently taboo statement, that while not all Muslims are terrorists, all international terrorists are Muslims? Exaggerated, but resting on fact. The vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists. But from the World Trade Center to nightclubs in Bali and the Underground in London, from Israeli buses to Spanish trains, a school in Beslan to a synagogue in Tunisia, throughout Algeria, Iraq, in Sudan, Pakistan and elsewhere, the perpetrators of most contemporary terrorist massacresincluding those with Muslim victimshave been Muslims.

Suppose the DePaul instructor had asserted instead that the main reason for today’s wave of Islamic terrorism is not poverty or despair but

the terrifying brainwashing suffered by most of the Arab youth at the hands of “religious clerics” and particularly at the hands of the extremists with backward views. [These “clerics”] nourish the Muslim youth with various kinds of racist views and destructive extremist principles, and nurse them with hostility, hatred, and resentment towards other people and towards members of other divine religions.

Would that claim by columnist Abdallah Rashid, writing in the United Arab Emirates’ daily Al-Itihad or similar points by other Arab and Muslim writershave been out-of-bounds at DePaul?

The university’s allegation that Klocek behaved unprofessionally, absent proof at a formal hearing, allows the school to evade the requirements of free speech, academic inquiry, and truth that it claims to uphold. That’s especially so given Dean Dumbleton’s article in the DePaulia, implying that Klocek had been suspended because “the students’ perspective was dishonored and their freedom demeaned. Individuals were deeply insulted.”

No doubt claims by Professor Finkelstein have “deeply insulted” people. No doubt allegations by the Students for Justice in Palestine likewise “dishonor the persepctive” of others. Like any university worthy of the name, DePaul should emphasize intellectual inquiry, not “victim group” politics. Fair play for Thomas Klocek is a prerequisite.

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