Who are the Palestinians?
Op-ed: ‘Palestinianism’ no more than political construct, rather than legitimate national identity
Published: 09.13.10, 18:50 / Israel Opinion
Prime Minister Netanyahu has called upon Palestinian leaders to recognize the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination – "two states for two nations." But are Palestinian Arabs a nation, or a people? What is "Palestinian national identity" based on? Although taken for granted today, Palestinianism has neither a long, nor distinguished history, which may explain why the peace process between Israel and the Arabs has failed and will continue to fail.
Palestinianism, inherently meant only one thing: the rejection of a Jewish state in any form. A few elite Arab intellectuals did talk about Palestinianism, but it was not widely accepted. As Columbia University Professor Rashid Khalidi shows in his book on the subject, not until Zionists began settlements did local Arabs seek an alternative.
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Focused on opposition to Zionists, rather than a positive self-definition, "Palestinian identity" then, as now, was negative. Palestinian leaders, like the mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husayni, an ardent supporter of the Nazis, and arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat - "fathers" of Palestinianism - rejected Zionism and promoted terrorism.
Anti-colonial and anti-Zionist uprisings against British rule were not directed towards another independent Palestinian state. Nor were Arab riots and pogroms, like those in 1929, 1936, for example, nationalistic. There were no calls for a Palestinian state; the battle cry was, "Kill the Jews."
Arab leaders like Auni Bey Abdul-Hadi told the Peel Commission in 1937: "There is no such country as 'Palestine'; 'Palestine' is a term the Zionists invented!"
During the 1930s, anti-British and anti-Jewish riots were enflamed by the newly created "Arab – not Palestinian - Higher Committee," the central political organ of the Arab community of Mandate Palestine.
In 1946, Arab historian Philip Hitti testified before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry that "there is no such thing as Palestine in history.” In 1947, Arab leaders protesting the UN partition plan argued that Palestine was part of Syria and “politically, the Arabs of Palestine (were) not (an) independent separate … political entity.”
In 1947, the UN proposed a "Jewish" State and an "Arab" – not Palestinian – State. Efforts to organize a political leadership in 1948, in response to the establishment of Israel, soon collapsed.
The womb of Palestinianism was war, the Nakba (catastrophe) in the Arab narrative, the establishment of the State of Israel. Five well-armed Arab countries invaded the nascent state, joining local Arab gangs and militias in a genocidal war to exterminate the Jews. This was not seen as a war for Palestinian nationalism, however; it was a genocidal war against Jews and Zionism itself.
‘Palestinians’ used to be Jews
Arab gangs that attacked Jews in 1947/8 were called the "Arab - not Palestinian - Army of Liberation." The reason is that prior to Israel's establishment, the notion of a "Palestinian people" was irrelevant, since Arab affiliations are primarily familial and tribal – not national. And also because "Palestinian" meant something else back then.
Before 1948, those who were called (and called themselves) "Palestinians" were Jews, not Arabs, although both carried the same British passports. In fact, only after Jews in Palestine called themselves Israelis, in 1948, could Arabs adopt "Palestinian" as theirs exclusively. Indeed, the central organ of the pre-Israel Jewish community was called "The Palestine Post" – later changed to the Jerusalem Post.