The Invention of Palestine

by Michael Freund

What a remarkable breath of fresh air.

For the first time in recent memory, a prominent American politician has had the courage to speak some unvarnished truths about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

In video footage released on December 9, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich told the Jewish Channel, a cable TV network, that the Palestinians are an “invented people.”

“Remember, there was no Palestine as a state – it was part of the Ottoman Empire,” the former speaker of the House of Representatives said.

“I think we have an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs and historically part of the Arab community,” Gingrich declared.

Whatever one might think of Gingrich’s stance on various other political matters, in this case there can be no disputing the historicity of his remarks.

Palestine and the Palestinians are in fact a modern invention, a fiction created with the aim of dismantling Israel and undermining its claim to its ancient patrimony.

Indeed, prior to the 1947 UN partition plan, even Palestinian Arab leaders openly affirmed this to be the case.

Take, for example, Auni Bey Abdul-Hadi, who testified in 1937 before the Peel Commission, which was established by the British government to investigate the outbreak of Arab violence in British-ruled Palestine. Abdul-Hadi told the 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.”

A decade later, in May 1947, the representative of the Arab Higher Committee told the UN General Assembly much the same.

Palestinian nationalism only gained steam in subsequent decades, as the Arab states found it to be a useful proxy tool in their ongoing war against the Jewish state. They cultivated a Palestinian national consciousness and identity in order to create a narrative of Arab victimhood and Israeli aggression, which suited their political agenda.

Thanks to the left and the media, the Palestinians’ claims to the Land of Israel became amplified and even accepted by a large percentage of people around the world, many if not most of whom do not know the first thing about the history of the Middle East. Sadly, even many Jews are no longer cognizant of or familiar with the historical record and have come to accept Palestinian assertions as true.

But as Gingrich correctly pointed out, there has never in all of history been a Palestinian state.

His comments echoed similar remarks made by the late Golda Meir. In an interview with the Sunday Times on June 15, 1969, Meir said, “There were no such thing as Palestinians. When was there an independent Palestinian people with a Palestinian state?”

Furthermore, she noted, “It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.”

To our ears, such assertions may sound jarring because they are so at odds with what has come to be accepted as the conventional wisdom. But that is merely because we have succumbed to decades of pro-Palestinian propaganda and indoctrination.

Needless to say, the reaction to Gingrich’s remarks by the Palestinians and their supporters was predictably swift and vitriolic. The PLO’s Hanan Ashrawi accused Gingrich of “ignorance and racism,” while Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called his assertions “despicable” and “the lowest point of thinking anyone can reach.”

Neither, of course, dared to challenge Gingrich with evidence, presumably because they have none in their favor. They know he is on to something, and so they resort to name-calling and venom in an effort to delegitimize the opinions he expressed.

But we cannot allow them to succeed. The brouhaha surrounding Gingrich’s statements provides an important opportunity for pro-Israel activists to right the historical record and begin to undercut decades of successful Palestinian propagandizing.

We must seize on this opening to remind people of what many have forgotten: Palestine is a myth with no basis in historical reality. Last Saturday night, during a Republican presidential debate, Gingrich was asked about his comments regarding the Palestinians. Refusing to back down, he reiterated that what he said had been factually correct, and added that, “Somebody ought to have the courage to tell the truth.”

Here’s hoping others will follow in his wake.

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22 comments to The Invention of Palestine

  • Tal Benschar

    I was born in Israel, and while I came to the U.S. in 1969, I visited there on numerous occassions. The people in question where always referred to by my relatives as the “Arabs,” not Palestinians, until well into the 1980s.

    That said, I am not sure what all of this gets you. The indigenous Arab population has a distinct language, culture and religion from the Jewish/Israeli polity that governs the State. While it is true that there never was an independent “Palestine,” there was an Ottoman Empire, and the area in question was made up of mostly Arabs. When the empire split up after WWI, several new states were born — including Syria, Jordan and Iraq. Tgat was a result of importing ethno-nationalism from Europ. Had there not been a Zionist movement, then the area in question would likely have become an independent country like Jordan or Syria, or been folded into one of them. Whether it would be called Palestine or something else, or just been folded into “Greater Syria” is besides the point.

    The bottom line is, the world does not believe in the TOrah’s promise of EY to the Jews. Accordingly, the question is why the Jews are more entiteld to a State than the indigenous Arabs of that region. Most of the world thinks they are. Whether they want to call their state Palestine, or the Arab Republic of Palestine, or whatever, seems to me to be a dodge.

    (By the same token, there were those who wanted to call the new state, Judea. Doesn’t really change our claim to the land.)

  • Rejewvenator

    It’s absurd that a people who had to go back 2000 years to find a claim to their land will deny the claim of those who lived on that land for 1400 years because the residents forgot to make their own flag.

  • Bob Miller

    Obama’s public persona was manufactured in much the same way as the “Palestinian people”, as a political tool serving a radical agenda.

  • Mr. Cohen

    Historians possess detailed genealogies for the kings of:
    southern England, central England, northern England, Russia,
    Spain, China and numerous of other lands.
    But there are no genealogies of Palestinian kings of Palestine,
    because there was never an independent nation of Palestine.

    “…what the Arabs envisioned was something that could
    achieve Israel shrinking to indefensible size…”
    SOURCE: From Time Immemorial:The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict
    over Palestine (chapter 2, page 14) by Joan Peters, 1984, JKAP Publications

    [Mohamed] Heikal [editor of the influential Al Ahram Egyptian newspaper,
    in year 1971] called for a change of Arab rhetoric: no more threats of
    throwing Israel into the sea; and a new political strategy aimed at
    reducing Israel to indefensible borders and pushing her into
    diplomatic and economic isolation. He predicted that “total withdrawal”
    would “pass sentence on the entire state of Israel.”
    SOURCE: From Time Immemorial:The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict
    over Palestine (chapter 2, page 14) by Joan Peters, 1984, JKAP Publications

  • Charlie Hall

    Yes, Palestinian nationality is a new creation. It was created by the League of Nations Mandate, which took effect in 1923. (The terms Palestinian Arabs, and Palestinian Jews, were commonly used.) Israeli nationality is even newer, coming into existence on May 15, 1948. Yes, Am Yisrael is an ancient people but there is a difference between Am Yisrael and Israelis — I am not Israeli, as I have always lived in the diaspora, and 20% of Israelis are not members of Am Yisrael. There are over 50 sovereign states in Africa alone and almost every one was created, along with a corresponding nationality, after Israeli nationality came into being.

    Gingrich has inadvertently given ammunition to our enemies, who can point out that “Israeli” is also an invented nationality. The fact is that there are millions of people who identify as Palestinians, many of whom are actually citizens of Israel and therefore also Israeli. Most of the rest have no other nationality.

  • Reubi Friedman

    The irony of the above piece, is that, the writer stops where we need him to elaborate – the alternative to a Palastinian State. Could the writer possibly add a new piece where he describes this alternative?

    The logical conclusion of the writers argument is a ‘one state solution’. A state where all the peoples between the Jordan and Mediterranean are equal citizens; where all its population are able to vote in elections(unless he advocates ethnic cleansing or apartheid – which I sure he isn’t). That wld (in the medium to long-term) be the end of Israel as a ‘Jewish’ State.

    The writer, seems to have misunderstood, why, so many of us are desperate for a Palestinian State. It’s because we love Israel. We know that without a Palestinian State, Israel – as a Jewish State – is not possible.

    This is what Rabin understood. This what Ariel Sharon understood. This is what Obama understands. This is what Tzipi Livni and Kadima understands. Those who oppose a Palestinian State must (possibly inadvertently – but, all the same true) also be advocating the destruction of Israel as an independent ‘Jewish’ state.

  • Bob Miller

    We entered Canaan with Joshua when the Canaanites were well established. For all we know, Canaanite city-states had flags. Regardless, we had a Divine command to conquer the Land and make it a demonstration project for Torah values. If our presence there was reduced for many years because of oppression, that is no reason to let the most recent oppressors continue to occupy it.

  • Barry Dolinger

    To echo some of the other comments, I’m not really sure why it matters when the Palestinians developed a unique national consciousness; they have one now. That the Israelites developed a national consciousness long ago doesn’t make our claims more legitimate per se. Every nation develops its consciousness for a variety of reasons at a given point in time; it has to happen that way. I think these types of comments are a distraction from the real issues.

  • Tal Benschar

    The writer, seems to have misunderstood, why, so many of us are desperate for a Palestinian State. It’s because we love Israel. We know that without a Palestinian State, Israel – as a Jewish State – is not possible.

    The problem is, Reubi, that those who push for a Palestinian state fail to appreciate the converse of this point — that Israel cannot survive WITH a Palestinian state, because such will never accept it as a legitimate neighbor and be in a perpetual state of hostility, if not war, with it. (see Gaza strip as Exhibit A).

    So there really is no natural solution — all of the choices are politically unacceptable or lead to destruction.

    Having reflected a bit more, there is one point which Gingrich’s idea makes a difference — whether there has to be an independent Arab Palestine, or whether it could be part of a greater Arab whole. Egypt and Jordan ruled over the respective areas in 1948 to 1967, and neither made any efforts to create a “Palestine.” The local Arabs may have a legitimate complaint that they don’t want to be ruled over by the Jews, but they can hardly complain if they are ruled over by other Arabs. Or at least that is the corrollary to what Gingrich is saying. So perhaps asking Jordan to reassert its rule is the best solution, or at least the least bad solution.

  • Micah Segelman

    I object to the rejectionist and deligitimizing posture towards the Palestinian position that seems to be implicit in this article.

    As believing Jews, we consider it axiomatic that we were given the Land of Israel. From this perspective, no other claim can possibly have standing. However, if this were our only claim, then no matter how correct it is, we would not have legitimacy in the eyes of the world. The claim that gives us standing is that we have a historical and legal claim to the Land.

    But we are deluding ourselves if we ignore the fact that the Palestinians can also make compelling arguments based on history and law, despite the fact that Palestinian nationalism per se lagged behind the Zionist movement. The international community has rejected the Kahane like views expressed by this author that the Palestinians can simply be expelled or repressed while we establish a state in all of our homeland.

    The argument that we can and must make is that the Palestinians have consistently and completely rejected any Jewish rights to Israel – in their 1937 response to Peel, in their 1947 response to the UN partition plan, and more recently in Arafat’s rejection of the Barak / Clinton Camp David offer and perhaps also in Abbas’ rejection of the Olmert offer.

    To maintain the moral high ground we must tell the truth. To distort history doesn’t strengthen our position.

  • Shimshon

    Newt Gingrich says one right thing, that is otherwise irrelevant, and some Jews rejoice. Meanwhile, a real candidate, Ron Paul, is running on a platform of Eisav laying down its weapons, and Jews the world over have no idea what to do if the guy actually wins.

    For those who question the “Eisav” approbation:

    The US is the most militaristic nation on earth. It alone spends over 50% of world military expenditures. If you take into account direct (eg foreign aid) and indirect (subsidies, loan guarantees etc), I wouldn’t be surprised if the US is responsible for something north of 60%.

    The US has an obscenely large prison population. A significant number of those prisoners are guilty of nothing more than non-violent drug usage.

    “Eisav” is perfectly appropriate.

    Ron Paul is calling on Eisav to VOLUNTARILY lay down its weapons. When Eisav falls (and who cares whether its by choice or by war), Israel CAN rise. But WILL Israel rise to the occasion? Or are we, as Jews, going to let the world continue to be taken in by the false morality of the nations?

  • Leon Zacharowicz MD

    Note to Newt: don’t confuse us with the facts,

  • Mr. Cohen

    Palestine was divided into two parts.
    The part east of the Jordan River (78%) for Arabs.
    The part west of the Jordan River (22%) for Jews.
    The Palestinian Arabs already have a state; it is called Jordan.

  • L. Oberstein

    Although it is much more satisfying to agree with Mr. Cohen that we should insist on the original partition plan that gave Transjordan to the Arabs and the entire West Bank to the Jews, I have to admit that Rejewvenator is much closer to reality in his comment:

    “It’s absurd that a people who had to go back 2000 years to find a claim to their land will deny the claim of those who lived on that land for 1400 years because the residents forgot to make their own flag”

    The “reine emes” the undiluted truth is that the Modern State of Israel is a product of late 19th century ideas that miraculously came to fruition in the immediate guilt and shame of the world after the Holocaust. If we study the truly amazing series of improbable events that led to the UN Partition vote and the Israeli victory in a war that no one but Ben Gurion thought they could win, it leads one to believe in Divine Providence. The modern State of Israel has a lot in common with the Hasmonean victory of Chanukah, 1. The war wasn’t over when the holiday was declared. 2. the leadership of the state was in the hands on those who did not follow Rabbinic Judaism fully.3. the State was in reality a vassal of a great power.

    Let’s do all we can to keep Israel viable and stable,but let’s not lie to ourselves.

  • Bob Miller

    Exactly what persuasive arguments for Israel will move today’s international community and international institutions, all corrupt to the core? In the US and very few other places, our Biblical claims can have some resonance in some quarters, but, worldwide, money talks. They disdain the rule of law in their daily lives, but we still expect our legal arguments to be heard?

  • Mr. Cohen

    According to the laws of Islam, ANY Jewish state anywhere in the Middle East
    is forbidden, regardless of its size or the shape of its borders.

    Even if Israel withdrew to the pre-1967 borders, its continued existence
    would still be a violation of Islamic law,
    and Muslims would still be compelled by their religion to destroy it.

    Even if Israel shrank to the size of a football stadium,
    its continued existence would still violate Islamic law,
    and Muslims would still be required by Islam to destroy it.

    This principle is rarely discussed in America, yet it is innermost essence
    of the conflict between Israel and Arabs;
    the Palestinian issue is merely a diversionary tactic.

  • Mr. Cohen

    My great-grandfather made aliyah from Chutz LaAretz to Jerusalem in 1877, 71 years before the modern State of Israel.

    He married my great-grandmother, whose family had been living in Jerusalem continually since 1492, having fled the Spanish Inquisition.

    I still have relatives in Jerusalem whose are part of a Jewish family living in Jerusalem continually since 1492.

    500 American Indian nations gave up their land in exchange for peace. Most of them are now extinct.

    “People tend to forget that the doctrine of territories for peace was used by Hitler in 1939,
    when he declared that he would leave Europe in peace if territories in Poland that Germany lost
    in World War I were ceded to Germany.”
    SOURCE: Moshe Arens, former Member of Knesset and Israeli Minister of Defense, HaAretz, 2004/1/22

  • Isaac Betech

    Mr. Cohen
    Could you please provide any source of the Islamic law mentioned?
    Thanks

  • Charlie Hall

    “Palestine was divided into two parts.
    The part east of the Jordan River (78%) for Arabs.
    The part west of the Jordan River (22%) for Jews.
    The Palestinian Arabs already have a state; it is called Jordan.”

    Jordan is the one Arab state that really IS at peace with Israel and you want to destabilize it? STOO-PID!

    In addition, your history isn’t even correct. Trans-Jordan was never administratively part of the Palestine Mandate. The Hashemites marched an army in and took it before the Mandate took effect; Trans-Jordan then became a separate Mandate. Furthermore, the Palestine Mandate itself does NOT say that Palestine is to be the Jewish National Home, it says that the Jewish National Home is to be “in” Palestine.

    We rightfully complain about Arab distortions of history. The correct response is to tell the truth, not to respond with our own distortions, no matter how self-righteous they make us feel.

  • Charlie Hall

    “They disdain the rule of law in their daily lives, but we still expect our legal arguments to be heard?”

    Israel’s government disdains the rule of International law with its continuing willful violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Of course its arguments will not be heard!

  • Charlie Hall

    “From Time Immemorial:The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict
    over Palestine (chapter 2, page 14) by Joan Peters, 1984, JKAP Publications”

    We also do ourselves no good by citing Peters’ thoroughly debunked work.

  • Mr. Cohen

    From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine
    by Joan Peters, has been attacked by liars and hypocrites, including Arabs,
    Muslims and their traitorous Jewish Liberal allies, but it has not been debunked.
    The enemies of Israel are afraid of that book because it tells the truth,
    so they do everything they can to slander it.

    I also recommend Churchill and the Jews by Martin Gilbert
    for all true pro-Israel activists.
    For those who do not have time to read the book, read these quotes instead:

    Churchill and the Jews, chapter 5, page 46:
    Negotiations with the Arab leaders beyond Palestine were being carried out
    by T. E. Lawrence, who informed [Winston] Churchill on 17 January [1921]
    that he had concluded an agreement with Hussein’s* eldest son, Emir Feisal,
    under which, in return for Arab sovereignty in Baghdad, Amman and Damascus,
    Feisal “agreed to abandon all claims of his father to [West] Palestine**.”
    * Sherif Hussein of Mecca
    ** West Palestine means Israel and East Palestine means Jordan.

    Churchill and the Jews, chapter 8, page 91:
    This comment from Winston Churchill appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle
    dated 1929 September 12, one day after he said it:

    “The Jews have developed the country, grown orchards and grain fields
    out of the desert, built schools and great buildings, constructed irrigation
    projects and water power houses and have made Palestine a much better place
    in which to live than it was before they came a few years ago.
    The Arabs are much better off now than before the Jews came,
    and it will be a short time only before they realize it.”

    Churchill and the Jews, chapter 8, page 92:
    The 1929 September 13 edition of the New York Times printed an article
    which quoted Winston Churchill saying:

    “To Jewish enterprise, the Arab owes nearly everything he has.
    Fanaticism and a sort of envy have driven the Arab to violence
    and for the present the problem is one of proper policing
    until harmony has been restored.”

    Churchill and the Jews, chapter 8, page 92:
    As for the Arabs of Palestine, [Winston] Churchill wrote
    [in year 1929], they had been brought, as a result of the
    Jewish presence there:
    “Nothing but good gifts, more wealth, more trade, more civilization,
    new sources of revenue, more employment, a higher rate of wages,
    larger cultivated areas, a better water supply; in a word,
    the fruits of reason and modern science.”

    Churchill and the Jews, chapter 11, page 131:
    [Winston] Churchill was emphatic that the partition [of Palestine]
    would be a mistake.
    The small Jewish State envisioned in the Partition plan, he argued [in 1937]:

    “Can be ravished by its enemies, defeated in war,
    annexed to other powers or suffer any of the other incidents
    that are common to small States in the fortunes and chances of war.”

    Churchill and the Jews, chapter 10, page 115:
    [Winston] Churchill did not accept that the Jews were a foreign race
    [to the Holy Land]. He said [in 1937] it was the Arabs who had
    been the outsiders, the conquerors.

    Churchill and the Jews chapter 10, page 116:
    Winston Churchill said this in 1937:

    “When the Mohammedan upset occurred in world history, and the great hordes
    of Islam swept over these places, they broke it [Palestine] all up,
    smashed it all up.
    You have seen the terraces on the hills which used to be cultivated,
    which under Arab rule have remained a desert.”

    Churchill and the Jews, chapter 13, page 154:
    “One result of this particular appeasement policy [towards the Arabs and Muslims]
    was an upsurge in official British pressure against Jewish refugees
    from Germany and Austria who were trying to reach Palestine without
    Palestine certificates, the essential documentation without which
    they would not be allowed to enter.
    With Lord Halifax’s approval, British diplomatic pressure was put
    on five governments, those of Greece, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Bulgaria
    and Romania, not to allow illegal immigrants to transit their
    countries en route for Palestine.”

    Churchill and the Jews, chapter 14, page 157:
    At the same time [in year 1939], at least 500 Arabs had been killed
    by their fellow Arabs because they had advocated good relations
    with the Jews, and were unwilling to oppose continued Jewish immigration.

    Churchill and the Jews, chapter 15, page 168:
    After stressing, as he [Winston Churchill in year 1940] had done
    several times before in the House of Commons; that the Jewish settlers
    had made “tremendous strides in recent years, while there was no prospect
    that the Arabs would ever abandon their primitive methods of cultivation.”
    Churchill told his War Cabinet colleagues that it was a “striking fact”
    that the Arab population had shown the largest increase in those areas
    where land had been purchased by Jews.

    Churchill and the Jews, chapter 17, page 194:
    Determined to keep Jews from Palestine, on 12 May [1942] Haj Amin
    [al Husseini, the Mufti* of Jerusalem] asked Hitler to press the
    Bulgarian government not to allow the [Jewish] children to leave.
    His intervention was effective. On 27 May [1942], Clifford Norton
    reported from Berne that the Bulgarian government
    “have now decided, under German pressure,” to close the Bulgarian
    Turkish frontier “to all Jews.”
    * NOTE: A mufti is an Islamic scholar and interpreter of Islamic religious laws.

    Churchill and the Jews, chapter 18, page 205:
    Speaking of the Arabs [in year 1944], Churchill remarked that:
    They [the Arabs] had done very little [to help fight Nazi Germany],
    and in some instances had made things difficult for us.

    Churchill and the Jews, chapter 26, page 292:
    Churchill said [in year 1955]:
    “You ought to let the Jews have Jerusalem; it is they who made it famous.”