Judith Davis

How “Palestinians” Arrived in Palestine

When Allied Forces liberated Nazi concentration camps, General Eisenhower insisted the ghoulish conditions of the camps and their victims be documented by photographs, movies and other kinds of records “…in case,” he said, “there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda.” Eisenhower took these precautions because he saw for himself the consequences of wielding propaganda to distort history, the Nazi fabrication of Jewish responsibility for the world’s ills.
I was reminded of Eisenhower’s warning when the world renowned scientist Stephen Hawking announced that he would boycott a conference in Israel “based on advice from Palestinian academics…” Then the Scottish Church — under the influence of its partner, the NGO Sabeel, “a radical Palestinian-Christian organization that is a major actor in the anti-Israel BDS” (boycott, divestment, sanction) movement — issued a paper titled “The Inheritance of Abraham? A Report on the ‘Promised Land’” which rejects “the connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel.” Bowing to Sabeel’s propaganda and repudiating historical and archeological findings made daily in Israel, the Scottish Church has waved aside 4000 years of Jewish history and urges both the UK and the EU to follow suit.
This statement by the Scottish Church echoes Article 18 of the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) Charter, adopted in 1964: “…The claims of historic and spiritual ties between Jews and Palestine [Israel] are not in agreement with the facts of history…” echoes one of Yasser Arafat’s great legacies: Turning history on its head, he claimed that the Palestinians are a distinct entity, a separate people originating in Palestine; that they, not the Jews, are the indigenous people of Israel whose provenance precedes and supersedes that of the parvenu Israelis. This argument is repeatedly and successfully used to delegitimize Israel as we see in the examples above. If, as the Palestinians claim, Jewish Israelis, returning from exile in the four corners of the earth, brutally robbed the land from Palestinians who were rooted there from time immemorial, then clearly the Israelis have no right to be there and the Jewish state should cease to exist. But a review of history will demonstrate that there were no people known as “Palestinians” until Arafat founded the PLO in 1964: they were merely Arabs.
One of the earliest refutations of the current Palestinian claim to descend from inhabitants of a mythical ancient “Palestine” can be found in an unexpected source, the Koran, written in the seventh century. The Koran “…clearly declares the Jews (Bani Israil) as the only owners of the land of Israel…” A Dutch scholar, Adrian Reland, who visited to the Holy Land in 1665, wrote about the lack of Arab place names which, if they had existed, would provide some credence to a significant early Arab presence, even if not a specifically Palestinian one. He notes that the country was very sparsely populated and occupied primarily by Jews and Christians. The Muslims he saw were nomadic Bedouins. He made no mention of Palestinians.
Some confusion stems from misunderstanding the name “Palestine” and the widespread misconception that Roman destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. and its subsequent victories over Judea (ancient Israel) completely eliminated Jewish presence from the Holy Land. Roman conquest ended Jewish governance. The Romans took thousands of Jews as slaves, and eventually renamed Judea “Palestine,” a name that persisted until the end of the British Mandate in 1948. (At that time, the U.N. partitioned the land into a Jewish state, which the Jews named “Israel” and an Arab state which was rejected by the Arab League and never founded.) Historical and archeological records attest to the continuous presence of Jewish communities from Biblical times to the present. In short, although they were no longer its rulers, Jews never abandoned the land they occupied for thousands of years.

Modern Arab residents of the area have a very different history, one that goes back hundreds, not thousands, of years. In fact, many writers note, contrary to Arafat’s claim, “… Palestinian Arabs did not view themselves as having a separate identity. When the First Congress of Muslim-Christian Associations met in Jerusalem in February 1919 to choose Palestinian representatives for the Paris Peace Conference, the following resolution was adopted: “We consider 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.” (“Palestine” here refers to the area under British Mandate.) Later, in 1936, another Arab leader, Auni Bey Hada, agreed. In his report to the Peel Commission, convened to investigate conflicts in the region, he stated, “There is no such country [as Palestine]. Palestine is the term the Zionists invented! There is no Palestine in the Bible. Our country was for centuries part of Syria.” Even today, the Gaza Minister of the Interior can be viewed on Youtube declaring, “…every Palestinian…can prove his Arab roots…Brothers, half the Palestinians are Egyptians and the other half are Saudis. Who are the Palestinians?…We are Egyptians. We are Arabs. We are Muslims. We are part of you!”
If they were not indigenous “Palestinians,” who were the Arab inhabitants of the Holy Land prior to Arafat’s designation of them as such in 1964? It is clear that although “a small Arab population in Palestine…could trace its roots back for centuries,” scholars believe Arabs, primarily nomadic Bedouin tribes, came to the area in the 7th century. Most Arab migration occurred during the middle of the 19th to the middle of the 20th century, as workers were brought in by the Ottoman Turks and later by British rulers to serve absentee landlords and work on various infrastructure and agricultural projects. These Arabs immigrated from other parts of those empires such as Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. Palestinian family names further corroborate these non-Palestinian origins; “Masri” means “from Egypt,” “al-Yamani” means “the Yemen,” “al-Shami” means “the Syrian,” “al-Lubani,” the Lebanese and so on. Not even Yasser Arafat, born in Egypt and an Egyptian citizen, was a Palestinian.
The 19th and 20th century Arab immigration actually paralleled that of European Jewish immigration as new Zionists sought escape from pogroms and poverty. As one writer noted, “Overall, the Arab population, which had remained dormant for centuries, began to blossom only after the beginning of Jewish immigration and the subsequent improvements in economic conditions, infrastructure, and agricultural techniques.”
When the U.N. partitioned British Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state in 1948, the Jews declared independence and the Arab League, rejecting statehood on behalf of the Arab residents of the area, declared war. (The Arab population of Mandate Palestine lacked a unified self-governing structure so the Arab League made the decision.) Israel was attacked by the Leagues armies which included Egyptians, Saudis, Jordanians, Lebanese, Syrians, and Iraqis aided by Arab inhabitants.
Jewish leaders appealed to the resident Arabs to remain and participate in the development of the new state. They sent vehicles with loudspeakers through the streets distributing leaflets and asking the Arabs, “Do not destroy your homes…and lose your sources of income and bring upon yourselves disaster by evacuation…stay and return to your regular work.” The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel codifies and repeats this sentiment:
“WE APPEAL — in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months— to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.” (emphasis mine)

However, while Jews were begging the Arabs to stay, there is ample documentation in Arab and other sources that Arab leaders were insisting that they flee. For example, the Near East Arab Broadcasting Station in Cyprus in 1949, stated, “[I]t must not be forgotten that the Arab Higher Committee encouraged the refugees flight from their homes…” And The London Weekly Economist wrote in 1948, “The most potent of the factors were the announcements made over the air by the Higher Arab Executive, urging the Arabs to quit. It was clearly intimated that those Arabs who remained…would be regarded as renegades.” These leaders expressed the hope that Israel would be economically paralyzed by loss of their labor. They expected that the refugees would be returned to their homes and given Jewish properties-within a week or two- by the triumphant Arab armies. But Israel miraculously prevailed and built a country.
The fate of the Arabs has been very different. Those who remained became Israeli citizens and today one million of them live in the Middle East’s only democracy. They hold all the same privileges as Jewish, Christian or Druze Israelis including representation in the Knesset and on the Israeli Supreme Court. Those who left faced a harsher destiny.
As is usually the case, affluent Arabs left even before war erupted. What happened to the ordinary people, the approximately 700,000 Arab refugees who fled in 1948? According to Abu Mazen, aka Mahmoud Abbas, current President of the Palestinian Authority, “The Arab armies entered Palestine to protect the Palestinians from the Zionist tyranny but, instead, they abandoned them, forced them to emigrate and to leave their homeland …and threw them into prisons similar to the ghettos in which the Jews used to live in Eastern Europe…” These “ghettos” are the 58 refugee camps created by the United Nations Refugee and Works Agency (UNRWA) to house the fleeing Arabs until they could be resettled. However, none of the 22 Arab countries from which these same Palestinian Arabs originated would accept them as citizens, a source of constant humiliation. In 1952, an UNRWA official said, “The Arab States do not want to solve the refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore, as an affront to the United Nations and as a weapon against Israel.”
Palestinian identity was forged in these overcrowded camps where the PLO provided a new identity that transmuted humiliation into pride. Palestinian historian, Salim Nazzal explains that the PLO entered the camps and “enhanced and rebuilt Palestinian identity through various political, social and cultural activities.” Another Palestinian writer states, “By 1970…[the PLO formed] a government in exile establishing embassies and diplomatic relations across the world.” Thus were the “Palestinians” born and with them the powerful and effective myth that is used to delegitimize Israel today.
References provided upon request.

About the Author
Dr. Judith Davis is a wife, mother, grandmother and a retired clinical and organizational psychologist, graduate of Hadassah Leadership Academy. Having spent a lifetime studying individuals, groups and other human systems, she is an irreverent observer of details that may be unremarkable to others.