The idea of the ‘indigenous Palestinian’ is one that tugs at the heartstrings of Europe and indeed the wider Western World. This is the legacy of colonialism and imperalism in the ‘Old World’. With a macabre history of ethnic cleansing, proselytism and slavery perpetrated on every continent, Europeans are indeed repentant for their sins against indigenous peoples. The Palestinian propaganda machine knows that well, and as a consequence plays the ‘indigenous’ card- despite the claim of Palestinian indigeneity having zero historical or factual basis.
The ‘indigenous Palestinian’ idea was most recently expressed by Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat who invoked being ‘the proud son of the Canaanites who were there 5,500 years before Joshua bin Nun burned down the town of Jericho’. If the claim were true, the Palestinians would have a historical high ground. But what exactly is an ‘indigenous people?’
The claim to indigeneity can, fortunately for us, be checked using a list provided by none other than the UN. There are several criteria that can be fulfilled in order to be classified as being an ‘indigenous people’ that are as follows:
“Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion societies… consider themselves… distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing on those territories.
This historical continuity may consist of the continuation, for an extended period reaching into the present of one or more of the following factors:”
1. Occupation of ancestral lands, or at least of part of them;
2. Common ancestry with the original occupants of these lands;
3. Culture in general, or in specific manifestations (such as religion, living under a tribal system, membership of an indigenous community, dress, means of livelihood, lifestyle, etc.);
4. Language (whether used as the only language, as mother-tongue, as the habitual means of communication at home or in the family, or as the main, preferred, habitual, general or normal language);
5. Residence on certain parts of the country, or in certain regions of the world;
6. Other relevant factors.
When one compares the listed qualities of an indigenous people with those of the Palestinians, the results are more than contrary to the claims of Mr. Erekat.
1. Occupation of ancestral lands, or at least of part of them./5. Residence on certain parts of the country, or in certain regions of the world;
The claim of occupying ‘ancestral lands’ would require a very significant claim to accompany it- That Palestinians are Canaanites, as opposed to Arabs. That would be a culturally, genetically, linguistically, socially and historically farcical claim to make. With the Arab invasion of 637CE came the advent of Islam and Arabisation in the land. The overwhelming majority of Palestinians are descendants of those conquerors and the immigrants that followed. Indeed, according to Dr. Rivka Lissak, an enormous number of Palestinians came to the land between 1870 to 1948. Within this time frame, the Arab population of the land grew by an unprecedented 270%. Compare this with Egypt, a country that had the highest birthrate in the region, which grew by 105% in the given time frame. In that the tiny, unidentifiable and unverifiable minority of Palestinians that are in fact descendants of the Canaanites choose to identify as Palestinian Arabs, this factor cannot apply to the Palestinian claim to indigeneity.
2. Common ancestry with the original occupants of these lands
As has been pointed out in point 1, although it is likely that a miniscule minority of Palestinians have Canaanite blood, the claim is irrelevant on the basis of identification. Blood is not at all a sufficient basis for a national claim, particularly when it is the blood of a minority. For example, if a Briton who is distantly genetically related to the original Celtic inhabitants of England looks, acts, speaks, identifies, and is socially identical with the third-generation Polish immigrant next door- is the Polish immigrant also indigenous? Immigration statistics and various sources do immense damage to claims of indigeneity. Such an example is the town of Nablus in 1909. of which there is a picture below. By 2007, the tiny town in the picture had a population of 126,132 people. Talk about ‘existential growth’.
It is also worth pointing out the ‘Palestinian phone book’ dilemma. Like Western names, Arabic names are often telling of a family’s geographical location. So why would an indigenous Palestinian have a name like ‘al-Masri’ (the Egyptian), ‘al-Maghrebi’ (the North African), ‘Chalabi’ (Syrian) to give just a few examples. Go through a Palestinian phone book and see how many geographically based names you can rack up- Assumedly they date back to this location at the very most 500 years ago- It is a killer to the claim of the ‘indigenous’ Palestinian. Funnily enough, Palestinian cleric Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, who is today a Hamas idol, was wholly a Syrian. Recently, the blogger Elder of Ziyon also found out that the Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat who made the most recent claim of Palestinian indigeneity, is actually himself a Jordanian.
3. Culture in general, or in specific manifestations (such as religion, living under a tribal system, membership of an indigenous community, dress, means of livelihood, lifestyle, etc.)
Not much needs to be said, here. The religion of the Palestinian Territories is Islam, and there are no highly distinguishing cultural features between Palestinians and other Arab cultures that can be linked to Canaanites or any indigenous group. There is no history of Palestinian music, dance, or literature that can at all link back to the Canaanites. Palestinian culture exists, this is without doubt, but it has nothing to do with the Canaanites. The dichotomy is often spun and it becomes ‘give us an example of Israeli literature from before 1948!’- but Jewish literature is abundant and can link culturally, religiously, and linguistically back to Hebrew and the ancient land of Israel.
4. Language (whether used as the only language, as mother-tongue, as the habitual means of communication at home or in the family, or as the main, preferred, habitual, general or normal language)
An incredibly interesting detail regarding the Palestinian language- It’s Arabic! And with that, there are no features from the Canaanites or earlier occupiers (pre-Arab) of the alnd that distinguish it from other types of Arabic. alestinian arabic is not the same as all other types of Arabic, but that what distinguishes it from other dialects of Arabic has zero to do with the Canaanites. Indeed, as late as 1901, Palestinian Arabic was the same as Syrian Arabic. There is no linguistic root of Palestinian Arabic that extends back to the Canaanites.
If the historical, social, and cultural evidence is not enough, it should perhaps just boil down to a question of Palestinian self-identity. (Not that you can just call yourself Chinese and be Chinese) The whole ‘indigenous’ question can be answered with one question- Do the Palestinians wish to be Arabs, or Canaanites? Because it really appears that they’ve already chosen, with reference to their constitution.
Article (2) Palestine is part of the Arab homeland. The state of Palestine abides by the Charter of the League of Arab States. The Palestinian people are part of the Arab and Islamic nations. Arab unity is a goal. The Palestinian people work on behalf of its realization.
Article (5) Arabic is the official language and Islam is the official religion in Palestine.
This article does not serve to undermine the existence of a Palestinian people- for that, it is far too late. The Palestinians identify as being ‘Palestinian’ and the world recognises them as such. That said, if the leaders of the Palestinian people wish to evolve their national identity on the course of an ahistorical lie and a thoroughly baseless portrayal of Israel as a ‘colonist’ with themselves as the ‘persecuted indigenous people’, they do nothing but damage any prospect for peace. If a Palestinian national identity was, alternatively, grown on the basis of honesty and a desire to live amicably with their Israeli neigbours, perhaps Israelis could come closer to terms with the Palestinian narrative.