Palestine: The Lie of the Land
Until 1948 Palestine was synonymous with the Hebrew Eretz Yisrael [the Land of Israel]. The ‘Palestinian’ epithet was largely reserved for Jews and used by them. Local Arabs preferred allegiance to Greater Syria or Iraq. Golda Meir used to quip: ‘I am a Palestinian, but don't like the name. Palestine is a name the Romans gave Eretz Yisrael with the express purpose of infuriating defeated Jews... Why should we use a spiteful name meant to humiliate us?’ (Sarah Honig)
“The Palestinian people have no national identity. I, Yasser Arafat, man of destiny, will give them that identity through conflict with Israel. (Yasser Arafat)
One of the enduring myths of the Arab-Israeli crisis is that the Palestinians are an indigenous people. Palestinians are not an ethnic sub-group. Indeed, before the creation of Israel, anyone who lived in the land – Jew or Arab – were referred to as Palestinians. Since the 1960s, the word “Palestinian” has been invested with a political significance designed to undermine Israel’s legitimacy. Some people refer to them as "Pseudostinians." Exploding this myth involves deconstructing many smaller myths.
(a) The term “Palestine” is an echo of the word “Philistine” and was conferred upon the land of Israel by the Romans after their genocide against the Jews at the end of the first century CE and the beginning of the second century. The term was first used to denote an official province in 135 CE, when the Roman authorities combined Judea, Galilee and some smaller areas to form Syria Palestina. This was done in an attempt to eradicate Jewish identity.
(b) Before the rise of Islam, there was not an Arab population in Palestine. In contrast, the Jews have lived in Israel/Palestine for the past three thousand years and have continuously identified the land as their home and spiritual centre. Even after the Roman-inflicted holocaust, there has been a Jewish presence in Israel/Palestine. Moreover, the Jewish people have always considered Jerusalem to be their undivided capital. Jerusalem is the holiest site in Judaism. In contrast, the Palestinians turn their backs on Jerusalem when praying towards Mecca.
(c) Many of the Palestinians living in Israel in 1948 were themselves immigrants who came to the land in the wake of successful Zionist enterprises. The Zionists offered a better standard of living and higher wages than neighbouring Arab employers. Before the earliest Zionist settlers arrived at the end of the 19th century, the land was sparsely populated and desolate. The Jews transformed the land into a fertile province.
(d) The concept of Palestine as a nation and a people is relatively new, starting in the 1960s. Before that, the Palestinians referred to themselves as Arabs, some of whom yearned for a “Greater Syria.” There was no Palestinian nation at the time of Israel’s independence and there was no demand for Palestinian statehood when Egypt controlled Gaza and Jordan occupied Judea and Samaria from 1948 to 1967.
(e) The invention of Palestinianism is a political tool designed to delegitimize Israel. For example, in an interview with a Dutch newspaper in 1977, PLO executive committee member Zahir Muhsein stated: "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.”
(f) The Palestinians are not indigenous to the land. Most are culturally and ethnically identical to Arabs in Syria, Iraq, Jordan etc. The Arabs in the West Bank are from other parts of the Arab world and/or the former Ottoman Empire. The population in Gaza is largely Bedouin Arab in origin.