“Anything but history, for history must be false.” One-time British Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole could very easily have been concerning the Middle East, in particular the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, when he muttered those words. In no other region of the world is every argument and grievance so centered on the past. Regrettably, in no place has it been so distorted, revised and mangled.
Before any discussion on the topic can ensue, one simple but valuable question needs to be asked: Where should the historical discussion of Palestine begin? Many Jews point to the arrival of the Moses and Israelites in Canaan, a land that was promised to Abraham and the Jews a millennia earlier in the Bible. But applying a biblical birthright to a national claim will get you few sympathetic ears in modern times. Muslims will inevitably point to the invasion of Israel in 632. Some Arab archeologists have even claimed their ancestors are the original Canaanites.
But if the first declaration of a Palestinian national identity is the point we must return to, there is no choice but to begin with the years leading up to 1947’s War of Independence – what Arabs refer to as nakba or "catastrophe," a phrase coined by Syrian scholar Constantine Zurayk, who defined the war as “one of the harshest trails and tribulations with which Arabs have been afflicted throughout their long history.”
In The Palestinian People: A History, authors Baruch Kimmerling and Joel S. Migdal argue, rather unpersuasivly, that the peasant revolt in Palestine against the Egyptian ruler Muhammad Ali in 1834 was moment the Palestinian people coalesced into a nation. This is a noteworthy assertion. It strategically denies that Palestinian nationalism was a direct consequence of Zionism. It rejects the notion that Jewish immigration and appeals for statehood sparked counter-nationalism in Palestine. In other words, it manufactures history.
If the nation of Israel had never been realized, would the world have seen the emergence of a Palestinian nation? Not only was the Arab population ignorant of a momentous national awakening before Zionism, their leaders struggled against its initiation. In 1918, the legendary Arab enthusiast, T.E. Lawrence, confessed in a confidential report that Arab nationalism in Palestine “was invented in Cairo as a common denominator…it was convenient to pretend to find a common ground in all of them.” The very next year, Arab representatives to the Paris Peace Conference stated that they “considered 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.”
This disconnect with a independent sub-Arab identity was reaffirmed in 1937, when top Palestinian leader, Auni Bey Abdul-Hadi, told the Peel Commission, an official British committee that came to investigate the roots of the Arab-Jewish conflict ultimately suggesting the partition of Palestine, that "there is no such country. 'Palestine' is a term the Zionists invented …Our country was for centuries part of Syria." This sentiment was reiterated by Arab leaders prior to 1947 – and occasionally after, when it could potentially damage the Palestinian public relations’ cause. A high-ranking PLO official, Zuheir Moessein, claimed in 1977 that “there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians and Lebanese; we are all members of the same nation. Solely for political reasons are we careful to stress our identity as Palestinians.”
Masking their extreme revisionism in scholarly language, Kimmerling and Migdal liberally disregarding the words and deeds of the Arab leadership in this era. The rest of The Palestinian People follows a similar pattern and is unmistakably a politically motivated chronicle. Proof of this can be discerned from a remarkable disclaimer in introduction of the book that may reveal more than intended regarding the historical authenticity of the Palestinian national movement:
“For convenience we will refer to Palestinian Arabs as Palestinians, and to the country as Palestine, even when applied to periods in which such usage in anachronistic – when the Arabs’ sense of participations in a common history had not yet evolved, and when the territory was administratively figurative”
In other words, the authors apply nationhood to people before they are aware of its existence. How convenient that must be for a historian. Palestine, the nation, of course, still happens to be anachronistic, another fact ignored by the authors. But this stance isn’t surprising. Kimmerling’s zealous leftist and anti-Zionist positions, like his validation of terror as a justifiable tool of resistance, are the norm in The Palestinian People.
In his recent book Politicide, Kimmerling purports to “expose the brutality of Ariel Sharon and his junta’s ‘solutions’” and “indiscriminate slaughter.” The word “solution” in this context is a less-than-subtle reference to the Nazis’ Final Solution, imagery that is a standard and cruel tool of anti-Zionists. What makes this Nazi correlation particularly ironic is that The Palestinian People glosses over the significant role of Haj Amin al-Husseini, Yassir Arafat’s mentor, Mufti of Jerusalem from 1921-1936 and the father of Palestinian nationalism. For not only did al-Husseini engineer the bloody riots against Jews in 1929 and 1936, but he was directly involved in the mobilization of support for Nazis among Muslims. In 1941,the Mufti met personal with Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Joachim Von Ribbentrop and numerous other Nazi leaders. al-Husseini, it turned out, was a conspicuously successful Nazi, recruiting 20,000 Muslim volunteers for the SS, many of which participated in the killing of Jews in Croatia and Hungary. Kimmerling does not venture a guess as to what this man held for the Jews in Palestine had he and the Arab nationalists had their way.
Another topic of considerable dispute virtually ignored by the authors, is the issue of pre-1948 immigration by Arabs into Palestine. Early on, the authors dismiss Joan Peter’s widely read From Time Immemorial, which contains 490 pages of heavily footnoted evidence asserting that the Arab population in Palestine developed as much through immigration as natural growth. It is discarded in a single sentence as the authors claim “numerous sober historians” had already dismantled its basic arguments. The principal ‘sober’ historian who targeted Peters’ work is Noam Chomsky disciple Norman Finkletstein, whose outrageous claims about the Holocaust , Israel and terror should disqualify him as a reputable commentator on issues relating to Jews.
And what about terror? Who can deny that it has been a considerable part of the national Palestinian identity since the progroms against Jewish civilians in the 1920s. Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, is personally responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians. Nevertheless, a close look at the index of The Palestinian People, uncovers that the word “terror,” does not have a single entry, instead we are told to “see violence.”
Despite the Palestinians’ tenuous claim to a distinct nationalism, no one can deny they exist as people. Women, children live in squalor, men have no work and misery is ubiquitous. They have suffered not only under Israel, who captured this land in a defensive war, but also beneath the significant burden of their own autocratic rulers, who often fall prey to the bellicose political manipulation of the Arab world. Unfortunately, Kimmerling and Migdal fail to accept that the Palestinian leadership, the land’s people, should also be faulted, at least in part, for the many tribulations they face. After having systematically aligning themselves with the losers of history from Hitler to Gamal Abdel-Nasser to Saddam Hussein, many of the same mistakes are being repeated.
After 9-11, thousands of Palestinians paraded through cities in the West Bank and Gaza, celebrating the attacks. Just last month, even as coalition troops entered Baghdad and spontaneous celebration by residents erupted all over the city, Palestinians watched in disbelief and bitter disappointment. "We were certain that the Iraqis will win the war and that this will be the end of U.S. and Israeli suppression," a 32-year-old Amjad Shaaban from Gaza told the AP. "I'm terribly disappointed."
Palestinians should be terribly disappointed by history. By the end of last year, almost 2000 Palestinians, many of them suicide bombers, Molotov cocktail hurlers and other terrorists leaders, have been killed since the start of the “al-Aqsa Intifada.” A revolting death cult has emerged, and the now a people find themselves further from statehood than a decade ago when it seemed inevitable.
While the indignation and non-stop violence directed at Jews that dare live on Arab soil continues, Palestinians argue for a “right of return” for refugees and their offspring into Israel. With potentially three million refugees, not to mention a million Arab-Israelis, “right of return” is a suicidal proposition for Israel. Kimmerling and Migdal view this demand as wholly reasonable, categorizing it as the “right of return” as the “fundamental building block of Palestinism.” They write that heading to 2000 talks at Camp David that would have created an autonomous Palestinian state with huge concession offered by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, “Arafat felt that Palestinians were not ready for such far-reaching compromise” on this issue. What issue has the Palestinian leadership compromised?
Today, Palestinian society is in disarray and Arab nations continue to promote terror, a policy that breeds hopelessness and destruction for the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinian Authority, a diluted version of the PLO terror organization, is still administrated by former (possibly current) terrorist Arafat, it suffers in financial ruin despite generous help from around the world. Its political prospects in shambles, the PA’s popularity shrivels daily while overt terror groups like Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad see their popularity swell. If The Palestinian People offers a true perspective of a people’s psyche – and I hope it doesn’t -- slight optimism for a future Arab state.