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This land has been here longer than you and me

Even if we can’t accept each other’s historical narratives, it is still possible to acknowledge that there are both Israelis and Palestinians living here today.

By Alex Stein

Orthodox Jews look out over the Palestinian village of Silwan in East Jerusalem. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Orthodox Jews look out over the Palestinian village of Silwan in East Jerusalem. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

MK Anat Berko (Likud) kicked off a storm in the Knesset last week when she pointed out that Arabic doesn’t have a ‘P’ sound, meaning that Palestinians themselves can’t pronounce Palestine (Arabic softens Ps into Fs, which is why the Arabic word for Palestine is Falastin). This led to uproar in the Knesset, with MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) shouting out “Are you for real?” and several members of the Joint List walking out. Much of the media incorrectly reported Berko as saying that, as a result of this consonant deficiency, the Palestinian nation didn’t exist. Berko clearly didn’t say that, but, given that she was speaking on the same day as Prime Minister Netanyahu once again said that the time wasn’t right for a two-state solution, it’s no surprised that there was disquiet following her remarks.

On a factual level, her point is correct. Palestine is quite clearly a pre-Arabic name for the area between the river and the sea, probably derived from Philistine, although there are some other interesting theories, including the wonderfully ironic idea that it’s actually a Greek pun on the name Israel! And while it’s clearly not particularly constructive to point such a fact out in today’s Knesset, it’s important to acknowledge the context in which such notions take on importance, namely the systematic denial of the Jewish connection to historic Israel/Palestine, most recently with repeated and ludicrous assertions that the temple never existed. At the same time, this systematic denial of Jewish history needs to be understood in the context of the ongoing failure to establish a Palestinian state.

On one level, these arguments regarding historical claims are irrelevant. Even if one thinks there was no ancient Kingdom of David or that Palestinians didn’t exist before Zionism, it’s possible to acknowledge that there are currently Israelis and Palestinians living here today. But disputes about national legitimacy cut to the bone, and in order for there to be any possibility of a lasting peace, more thought needs to be put into reconciling these historical disputes. To achieve this, we need to get beyond the competing histories of Jews and Palestinians and begin thinking more deeply about the history of the Land itself.

One of the most surprising moments during my time studying to be a tour guide came when one of our lecturers, one of the pioneers of Land of Israel Studies and by no means a radical leftist, recommended that we buy one of the books produced by Zochrot, a far left Israeli group working to promote the Palestinian right of return. He said that he didn’t support their political positions but that the book was vital for understanding the history of the Land. A fluent Arabic speaker, he had also composed a map of Israel that included forgotten Arabic place names.

Palestinians put a sign marking the destroyed village of Lajjun in northern Israel, Nakba Day, May 15, 2015. (Photo by Omar Sameer/Activestills.org)

Palestinian citizens of Israel place a sign marking the destroyed village of Lajjun in northern Israel, May 15, 2015. (Photo by Omar Sameer/Activestills.org)

“Between Tanakh [the Bible] and Tashach [1948]” goes the old Zionist saying, as if the intervening centuries didn’t matter. It’s particularly ironic given the important Jewish events which took place between these eras, for example the composition of the Jerusalem Talmud in Tiberias or the Golden Age of Safed. But even without these, surely love of the Land should entail a passion for all its history, even those periods in which the history was made by non-Jews? Take the example of Daher el-Omar, who ruled northern Palestine in the mid-18th century. By securing autonomy from the Ottomans, he could be regarded as a forerunner of the Palestinian national movement. At the same time, he invited Jews to resettle in Tiberias and Akko, in the hope that they would promote economic growth. In the unlikely event of a one-state solution, he’d surely be prime contender for a place on one of the banknotes. And then there’s the fact that the only reason we know the location of many of sites inhabited by Jews in ancient times is that their names weren’t changed by the Palestinians.

The Palestinian national movement has frequently denied the Jewish connection to Israel/Palestine. Sometimes this denial has been particularly ridiculous. Take the Arabic name for Al-Quds, for example. It means “the holy” and is short for “Beit al-Quds”, or “Beit Ha-Mikdash” in Hebrew, the name for the Temple. When the Caliph Omar entered Jerusalem in the seventh century, one of the first things he did was ask where Solomon’s Temple had been located. Indeed, in the first half of the 20th century, tourist brochures issued by the Waqf happily acknowledged that the Dome of the Rock was located on the site of the Solomon’s Temple, whereas now the Muslim authorities routinely deny that such a building ever existed.

Palestinian youth hold a Palestinian flag outside the Aqsa Mosque in the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound, East Jerusalem. (Photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Youth hold a Palestinian flag near al-Aqsa Mosque in the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound, East Jerusalem. (Photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

In 2016, there is no Jewish history in Israel without Palestinian history, and there is no Palestinian history in Palestine without Israeli history. Instead of using our competing claims to score political points, we should acknowledge the rich Jewish and Palestinian histories here, not to mention the histories of peoples who belonged to neither group. Acknowledging these histories should not undermine our historical claims, at least not if efforts are redoubled to build a solution around the most obvious reality; namely that two national groups share this land and there will only be a solution when both their national rights are acknowledged. I’m aware that, in the midst of what I think is best understood as an intifada of attrition, that many people will dismiss these ideas as naive, and I’m happy to admit that right now there is little chance of educators in either camp trying to move in the direction I’ve suggested. But I still think it’s the correct approach, and if a lecturer in Israeli tour guide school can recommend a Zochrot publication without the world caving in, then others can make similar gestures.

Alex Stein is a tour guide and writer based in Jerusalem. He blogs at The Blog of Disquiet and his website is www.israelwithalex.com.

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    COMMENTS

    1. What about the millions of Palestinians exiled to nearby refugee camps for nearly 70 years? They’re still waiting to come home, but articles like this rarely mention them or factor them into discussions about lasting peace and justice…

      Reply to Comment
      • Whonoze

        The expulsion and ethnic cleansing of Jews from Arab countries

        750.000 Palestinian Arabs fled the war at the behest of their leaders. Compare that to the more than 1.000.000 Jews who were expelled from Arab countries with the overwhelming majority of them (those who survived slaughter by Arab mobs) fleeing and finding refuge in Israel. These Jews make up more than half of the population of Israel. What about them: the Jews who were ethnically cleansed from Arab countries?

        How about the Arab States take care of their Palestinian Arab refugees and Israel takes care of Jewish refugees? That the meaning of justice.

        Isn’t it grave injustice that Arab states keep Palestinian Arab refugees impoverished and destitute in refugee camps for generations and use them as a weapon to fulfill their quest to wipe the tiny country of Israel off the map, while non-Muslim Arab countries in the West naturalize and integrate their Palestinian Arab refugees? Isn’t that what you should worry about if you were for human rights, truth and justice (which obviously you are not)?

        “A major obstacle to peace in the Middle East is the Palestinian refugee problem. Yet, a key component to understanding this problem has been overlooked and obscured in the current dialogue. Without understanding this element, a truthful discussion aimed at creating a lasting and cohesive peace in the region is impossible. This elusive component is the history of human rights violations, including ethnic cleansing,’ of the Jews from Arab countries. These Arab Jews and their descendents compose roughly 50% of the population of Israel”

        Read more here: http://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1881&context=ilj

        Reply to Comment
        • Bruce Gould

          I agree: everyone should have the right to go back to wherever they were ethnically cleansed from.

          Reply to Comment
          • Whonoze

            Horror Dreams of Genocide you have there – just like your forefathers Haj al-Husseini, Yasser Arafat had before you (except that they, unlike YOU, did not hide behind Jewish sounding names to propagate hate against Jews). The ONLY reason why you pretend to “care” about Arab refugees is because it serves ONE purpose: destruction of Israel.

            Jews were subjugated to all kinds of barbarism, pogroms, Dhimmitude and Farhud (I am sure YOU being a Muslim know what Farhud and Dhimmitude mean, dontcha?) in Arab countries from where they were expelled to the “state of the Jews” (as your Arab brothers called Israel while they were kicking Jews out). Israel absorbed them, integrated them and helped them rebuild their shattered lives. Now you dream of depopulating Israel of its Jews and deporting them back to certain death in the same Arab countries they fled and then flooding Israel with YOUR Muslim Arab brothers and accomplish what you could not accomplish militarily during all of the wars of extermination your Muslim Arab brothers fought against Israel – without a sing shot fired? Dude, you are not even clever enough to hide your hypocrisy, towering stupidity and contempt for- and callous indifference to the catastrophe of your fellow human beings because they are Jews.

            Reply to Comment
          • TB7

            And that’s – ladies and gentlemen – how you propagate hate against Arabs to justify the destruction of Palestine and the extermination and depopulation of its Arabs.

            Reply to Comment
          • Whonoze

            Make up your mind if you want to pose as BruceGould or TB7 or Ben or Carmen or Monsieur, or etc., moron. You really come across as stupid and a very disturbed psycho when you are transforming from one alias into another. Need your meds, perhaps?

            Reply to Comment
          • carmen

            It amazes me to read your demands to other posters. There are a number of different people posting here, but it seems your fragile state of mind needs to claim we are all one. Did you actually have a point besides this queer outburst? Didn’t think so.

            Reply to Comment
        • andrew r

          Whonoze, what the Jewish nationals of Arab states went through post-WWII does not absolve the Zionist movment of its principle sin: It started off from day one (i.e. 1897) with a vested interest in creating a Palestinian refugee crisis. That’s how their basic objective of a Jewish state was accomplished.

          Reply to Comment
          • Whonoze

            Right! The earth is flat and the sun orbits it.

            “In 1948, Azzam Pasha, then League secretary, had “assured the Arab peoples that the occupation of Palestine and of Tel Aviv would be as simple as a military promenade … Brotherly advice was given to the Arabs of Palestine to leave their land, homes and property, and to stay temporarily in neighbouring fraternal states.”

            – Habib Issa, secretary-general of the Arab League, writing in the New York Lebanese daily al-Hoda, JUNE 8, 1951,

            That’s what caused the Palestinian refugees. Prior to that, is the Arab rejection of the UN-Partition Plan that divided the land into two: one part for an ARAB State, the other mostly arid/dessert part for a JEWISH State. The Arabs rejected that Partition Plan and started a war to throw the Joos into the sea and wipe Israel off the map. The Arabs however lost war. As the Arabs made their bed, so they laid on it and continue to this day.

            Facts are stubborn things.

            Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            This 30-years-behind-the-curve, pre-Benny Morris hasbara has the same two contradictions it always had:

            1. The civilians fleeing a conflict were guilty of conspiring to commit genocide
            2. There would have been no refugees had there been no war. Yet if the refugees return, there will be no Israel. So obviously it was the Palestinian refugee crisis that created Israel, and Israel would not have existed at all had there been no refugee crisis. Duh?

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            What a silly attempt at logic…

            Had there been no war between Arabs and Jews, the Arabs would not have been a threat to us would they?

            But after their blood curdling threats against us and the war of 1947/48 in which 1% of our population lost their lives, we consider the Arabs to be a threat.

            The Arabs had their chance to live with us in what most would describe as a binational state with a slight Jewish majority. All they had to do was to accept the UN partition plan but they decided to make war on us instead.

            Truthfully? Had they accepted the partition, in all likelihood we would have tried to persuade many of them to move to the Arab state in order to make room for more Jewish immigrants and refugees. We would have persuaded them by paying them to move. We would not have used force because we would not have wanted to risk war with the Arab world. Then as now, we were not interested in war. We are interested in building our country and in order to do that it would be easier to have good relations with our Arab neighbors. But if THEY are interested only in warring with us, we give them war. This way it is a lose-lose equation. Without war, it would be a win-win. But hey, we don’t set the rules. The Arabs do.

            Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            By the way, if you want proof I’ve done way too much reading on this subject, I know off-hand where your crappy citation comes from.

            http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/refugees.html

            750,000 people did not flee their country because some political higher-up ordered them to. At no point in history have masses of civilians ever voluntarily left their homes to make way for an invading third party. That flies in the face of everything we know about human behavior. It’s an asinine assertion. And the Haganah/IDF had a lot more agency in creating the refugee crisis than you’d like to believe.

            Reply to Comment
          • carmen

            “At no point in history have masses of civilians ever voluntarily left their homes to make way for an invading third party.”

            Exactly. So why is this so difficult for the zionists to admit to? They’re obviously living in denial, which has to be a coping mechanism to enable them to continue to live as if they were lords of this land. It is steadily unraveling; however, and I hope we’ll soon see the end of the zionist state and a new democratic state for all with equal rights for all.

            Reply to Comment
          • Whonoze

            Fact : Arabs Reject UN Partition of the land, Zionists Accept!

            Fact : The Arabs declared war on a few hours old Israel with the intention of wiping Israel off the map and driving the Joos into the sea.

            Fact :The Arabs called on the local Arab population to evacuate themselves and move into neighboring Arab states to create room for the invading Arab armies to the great slaughter of the Joos.

            “The Arab states… encouraged the Palestinian Arabs to leave their homes temporarily in order to be out of the way of the Arab invasion armies.”
            – THE JORDANIAN daily Falastin, February 19, 1949.

            The Arabs are not only guilty for the war, but also guilty for the ethnic cleansing of Jews in Arab countries and the creation of the Palestinian “refugees”.

            Facts are stubborn things!

            Reply to Comment
          • Whonoze

            “At no point in history have masses of civilians ever voluntarily left their homes to make way for an invading third party.”

            1. That’s silly. The Arabs called on their people to leave and that those who remained behind would be considered partisans and they did as told. “Voluntary”? “Involuntary”? Irrelevant, moron!

            2. THE JORDANIAN daily Falastin, February 19, 1949.

            “The Arab states… encouraged the Palestinian Arabs to leave their homes temporarily in order to be out of the way of the Arab invasion armies.”

            Facts are stubborn things!

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Are you claiming that those citations which threatened the extermination of Jews in Palestine were not made, Andrew? Or are you just objecting to who claims that those threats were made. Careful how you answer coz you open YOURSELF up to the accusation that YOU are the liar.

            As for the Arab refugees. Watch this BBC video. Many Arabs themselves admit what happened…

            http://youtu.be/72Ata-hY9WQ

            Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            Gustav:

            Had they accepted the partition, in all likelihood we would have tried to persuade many of them to move to the Arab state in order to make room for more Jewish immigrants and refugees. We would have persuaded them by paying them to move. We would not have used force because we would not have wanted to risk war with the Arab world.

            So let me get this straight, now: Had the Palestinians/Arab states accepted the UN partition, the UN-proposed Jewish state would have only paid a number of Arabs to relocate, and those who refused would have been left alone – even though in all likelihood so few would have relocated voluntarily the UN-created entity wouldn’t have been viable as a “Jewish” state in the long run. Essentially, the Palestinian Arabs would have defeated Zionism once and for all by doing absolutely nothing.

            I find this comment fascinating in how it manages to be lucid and clueless at the same time. You admit the Zionists had an interest in removing non-Jews from the prospective “Jewish” state and implicitly accept that without resorting to force, the whole idea of a Jewish-majority state would have failed on its own terms. It begs the question, if they were so prepared to accept their entire life’s work become an abject logistical failure, what the hell were they doing in Palestine to begin with?

            It’s not such a puzzle to me: They were doing whatever was convenient at the time. If the WZO could have invaded Palestine with an infantry in 1897, they would have bypassed the Balfour Declaration altogether. The Zionist movement started off handicapped, not peaceful.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Yes Andrew, you ARE clueless because you are blinded by your bias.

            Zionism was a reaction to the historic oppression of the Jewish people in many places including in Arab lands. Zionists believe that so long as Jews are dispersed minorities at the mercy of majorities, our oppression will continue.

            That is why we wanted to return to our ancestral homeland and to rebuild a our state where we are a majority.

            You ask whether we would have left those Arabs who would have refused to move, in exchange for substantial monetary rewards, alone? The answer is a resounding YES. Here is a clue for you. Even in the midst of 100 years of war and animosity towards us from the Arabs, we have 1.2 million Arab citizens which is 20% of our total population.

            You falsely claim that if so, the whole idea of the Jewish state would have failed, reveals more about YOUR mindset than reality. No it would not have failed…

            Firstly because in all likelihood the Jewish majority would have remained because of Jewish immigration and the fact that many Arabs would have accepted the monetary incentives.

            Secondly, even if I am wrong (which I am not), the solution would not have been deemed a failure. In the worst case scenario, it would have resulted in a bi national state in which two ethnic groups would have lived peacefully side by side in harmony and would have built a country for everyone’s benefit. You say that’s impossible? Then why are so many lefties advocating that solution for us even today?

            The third possibility is that it would have blown up in everyone’s face and violence would have been the result. Then you’d see either what we have today or worse, from our point of view, yes, the Arabs would have taken over, they would have murdered a lot of us and the rest would have been allowed to stay would have returned to our third class citizen status.

            Have I left any other possibility out, Andrew?

            Reply to Comment
    2. Bruce Gould

      It is indeed true that many Jews were ethnically cleansed from Arab countries, but as a practical matter there are some problems with equating this with the Nakba: firstly, I know of no organizations that genuinely promote the idea that the Iraqi Jews (for example) should be able to return to Iraq; the issue seems more of a hasbara talking point than anything else. Secondly, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Israel is going on right now, this very minute, through home demolitions and other means. Thirdly, whatever the Jews suffered historically can’t possibly be an excuse for the brutal policies of the Occupation.

      One reason these discussions go on endlessly without resolution is that some people buy into the idea that justice is something that happens between ethnic groups (“the Arabs” did this, so “the Jews” have a right to do this, etc), while others – myself included – believe that every effort should be made to move towards a way of thinking which treats justice as an ethnic-identity neutral affair between individuals.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        What would happen if Jews who are Israelis would be foolish enough to even want to return to Arab countries?

        They would be harassed, persecuted and murdered from time to time as has been the practice of the Arabs with Jews for centuries.

        What would happen if millions of descendants of Arab refugees would be allowed to live in Israel?

        They would quickly bring about the collapse of Israel from within. They with the help of Arabs from neighboring countries would take over and they would execute many Jewish Israelis en masse and exile the rest.

        No wonder Bruce is keen to promote the idea of mutual return.

        Now what is wrong with what happened elsewhere in the world after similar conflicts? For instance in India/Pakisten. Each side absorbed millions of refugees of their own kind. Each of those refugees made a new life for themselves amongst their own kind and we never hear about them anymore.

        It is only the Arabs who make a fetish out of playing the refugee card and wielding them as a propaganda weapon. And in the process, they prevent those refugees from living their lives.

        Reply to Comment
      • carmen

        +++

        Reply to Comment
        • carmen

          @Bruce – +++ was to you

          Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Precisely, Bruce. You hit the nail on the head. Superb comment.

        Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          Confucius (or someone like him) says…

          If one is a hammer then one thinks that everything is a nail.

          Reply to Comment
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