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Monday 18 March 2024

Palestinians Are Just Like Other Arabs?


One of the most consistent arguments made by Christians who believe that Israel is the favoured nation of God, is that Palestinians are just Arabs who should just move out of the land of Israel and become Jordanians, or Syrians, or Egyptians, etc, etc. I have heard this argument many times in my life, I even once was convinced by it when I was much younger, less informed and had not really considered the issue from every angle. Palestine is its own nation, this is an undisputable fact, I have written about this here, if you would like to see a more developed argument. But in this piece I would like to let a Palestinian make this argument for you.

Before the founding of Israel, indeed, before the 20th century, there was already a national understanding amongst the Palestinians that they were a people, who were tied to their land. As we read in the book The Hundred Years War On Palestine,

“This sentence is sometimes cited, in isolation from the rest of the letter, to represent Yusuf Diya’s enthusiastic acceptance of the entire Zionist program in Palestine. However, the former mayor and deputy of Jerusalem went on to warn of the dangers he foresaw as a consequence of the implementation of the Zionist project for a sovereign Jewish state in Palestine. The Zionist idea would sow dissension among Christians, Muslims, and Jews there. It would imperil the status and security that Jews had always enjoyed throughout the Ottoman domains. Coming to his main purpose, Yusuf Diya said soberly that whatever the merits of Zionism, the “brutal force of circumstances had to be taken into account.” The most important of them were that “Palestine is an integral part of the Ottoman Empire, and more gravely, it is inhabited by others.” Palestine already had an indigenous population that would never accept being superseded. Yusuf Diya spoke “with full knowledge of the facts,” asserting that it was “pure folly” for Zionism to plan to take over Palestine. “Nothing could be more just and equitable,” than for “the unhappy Jewish nation” to find a refuge elsewhere. But, he concluded with a heartfelt plea, “in the name of God, let Palestine be left alone.”

Herzl’s reply to Yusuf Diya came quickly, on March 19. His letter was probably the first response by a founder of the Zionist movement to a cogent Palestinian objection to its embryonic plans for Palestine. In it, Herzl established what was to become a pattern of dismissing as insignificant the interests, and sometimes the very existence, of the indigenous population. The Zionist leader simply ignored the letter’s basic thesis, that Palestine was already inhabited by a population that would not agree to be supplanted.”[1]

The idea that there were never any “Palestinians” or that they are just the same as other Arabs and should move on is debunked by the people’s own understanding of themselves as Palestinian in the quote shared above. These people saw themselves as indigenous to the land (something genetic studies also support), they felt a tie and kinship to each other, apart from Arabs in other parts of the Ottoman empire, and therefore they believed they should be respected in this self-determination. They had this understanding at least as early as the 19th Century. 

The Palestinian author being quoted above also predicts the many conflicts that would result, how this would cause conflict for Jews in other Muslim lands, and for all people in the land formerly called of Palestine, which is now re-established as Israel. His observations are insightful, but also really what should have been predicted. The only result of such colonization would be conflict. Also you can’t respond to a people who do not exist, and a people who do not exist do not resist their land being colonized. The international power brokers may have ignored the reality of these people living in the region who are of the region, but often when we try to ignore reality it jumps up and slaps us in the face. Reality always gets the last vote.

What also helps us establish that Palestinians are their own people is that Jordanians and Palestinians know they are separate nations, just as are the Germans and the French, even though the Franks were a Germanic tribe originally. Khalidi notes,

“Dr. Husayn knew that Ismail was going to Amman at the behest of the Arab-American Institute to see King ‘Abdullah of Transjordan, and he wanted to send him a personal but official message. When my father heard its contents, he blanched. On behalf of Dr. Husayn and the Arab Higher Committee of which he was the secretary, Ismail was to tell the king that while the Palestinians appreciated his offer of “protection” (he had used the Arabic wisaya, literally “tutelage” or “guardianship”), they were unable to accept. The implicit meaning of the message was that were the Palestinians to succeed in escaping the British yoke, they did not want to come under that of Jordan (which, given pervasive British influence in Amman, meant much the same thing). They aspired to control their own fate.

 My father weakly protested that passing on this most unwelcome news would ruin his visit, which was meant to gain the king’s support for the work of the Arab-American Institute. Dr. Husayn cut him off. Other envoys had brought King ‘Abdullah the same message repeatedly but he had refused to listen. Given the importance of family ties, he would be obliged to believe it coming from Dr. Husayn’s own brother. He curtly told Ismail to do as he had been asked and ushered him out of the office. My father left with a heavy heart. Respect for his older brother obliged him to transmit the message, but he knew that his visit to Amman would not end well.

King ‘Abdullah received his guest and listened politely but without great interest to Ismail’s enthusiastic report of how the Arab-American Institute was working to change American opinion on Palestine, which, even then, was overwhelmingly pro-Zionist and largely ignorant of the Palestinian cause. For decades, the king had attached his fortunes to those of Great Britain, which subsidized his throne, paid for and equipped his troops, and officered his Arab Legion. By contrast, the United States seemed far away and insignificant, and the king appeared manifestly unimpressed. Like most Arab rulers at the time, he failed to appreciate the postwar role of the United States in world affairs.

Having carried out the main part of his mission, my father then hesitantly conveyed the message Dr. Husayn had entrusted to him. The king’s face registered anger and surprise, and he abruptly stood up, compelling everyone else in the room to stand as well. The audience was over. Exactly at that moment, a servant entered, announcing that the BBC had just broadcast the news of the UN General Assembly’s decision in favor of the partition of Palestine. It happened that my father’s meeting with the king had coincided with the assembly’s historic vote on November 29, 1947, on Resolution 181, which provided for partition. Before stalking out of the room, the king turned to my father and said coldly, “You Palestinians have refused my offer. You deserve what happens to you.”[2]

A lot of Palestinians do live in Jordan. But they are not Jordanian, they are Palestinian. And before the founding of the modern state of Israel took place the Palestinians and Jordanians recognized each other as different, and even had their own separate goals for their interactions and nations. As this Khalidi notes, the Palestinians wanted to control their own fate, the right of self-determination, which is a right of all nations. This feels like pointing to the sky being blue, but in the case of Palestinians many Christians think the sky is green; that is they can’t see reality or they simply deny it, for ideological reasons.

A lot of arguments about the nature of Palestine and the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians people are based on ignorance - sometimes well-meaning ignorance - of both the facts on the ground, but also the concepts of nationhood, self-identity and self-determination.

As I noted in my article on the subject referred to above when the Palestinian people were conquered by Israel in 1948 this gave every one of them a national origin story, just as the did the Exodus for the Hebrews in the Scriptures. I’ll come back to this in a later piece. But it should be noted, that as with the Hebrews, they still had a recognition of their national identity before this, this catastrophe, the conquering of regions of Israel partitioned for the Palestinians, simply reinforced it.

Palestinians are Arab, just as Danes are European, but this is not their nationality. So, we should never let the error be stated that Palestinians are not a nation, or that they are just the same as other Arabs. Many nations make up the people group called the Arab peoples, just as many nations make up the people group called Europeans. Palestinians are no more Jordanians, than Italians are Swedes. We need to look at this topic not through surface level theology, but through the Biblical understandings of nationhood and nationality. Esau, and Jacob both had the same father, but they founded different nations. This happens throughout history. Australians are not English, or even British, though we stem from the British isles and have a unique kinship with Britian over other lands. Australian is no older an ethnic identity than the most modern Palestinian self recognition we observed above, yet people recognize how distinct Aussies are. Everyone can tell the different between a Brit and Aussie. So why can’t many do this for Palestinians?

The answer is because of ideology, not reality.

List of References

[1] Khalidi, Rashid . The Hundred Years' War on Palestine: The New York Times Bestseller (p. 5). Profile. Kindle Edition.

[2] Khalidi, Rashid . The Hundred Years' War on Palestine: The New York Times Bestseller (pp. 57-58). Profile. Kindle Edition.

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