Palestinians are real? Real as what?

At the beginning of the 20th Century a new nation was proclaimed. This nation had its own particular language, dress, religious beliefs and even its own particular cuisine. Who would have guessed the future at that  auspicious moment in 1905 in the city of Szatmárnémeti, Transylvania when the Satmar Kingdom was born?

David Benkof in Palestinians Exist makes the ludicrous statement that “Palestine Denial, like Holocaust Denial, is easily refuted”, as if both are similar facts and those who hold one view are similar to those who hold the other. While perhaps Benkoff sees the moral equivalence of the these two drastically different types of “denial”, a reasonable person would come to the conclusion the later is a historical event limited to a time and a place while the first is at best unclear in its inception and ill defined in its definition. When Palestine came into existence and who were the first Palestinians, is, to my untrained eye, less defined than when the Satmar Hassidism began and who Satmar are.

Let us linger a bit on the “Satmar Kingdom“. Ideologically well defined, the Satmar Hassidim are a cohesive group, with common customs, songs, perhaps even having their own flag and anthem. Kiryas Yoel in New York is an autonomous, practically a “separate nation”. Any one seeing a Satmar Hassid can easily differentiate between a Satmar and, let’s say, a Gur Hassid. Certainly being a Satmar Hassid is better defined than being an “Asian American”. Does that mean the Satmar have national rights and an national identity?

In my opinion, the Satmar are a long ways off from the Catalonians, Basque, and Kurdish minorities. Catalonians have not only a shared culture, language and cuisine, but a shared history going back two thousand years. The Basque might be even older as a distinct grouping. In comparison, the Satmar may be a distinct group but as a group they have only a recent history. At the best, the Satmar are only a sub group with in a subgroup of the Jewish People. National rights is way out of the Satmar’s league.

If the Satmar are not entitled to their own nationality, what about Asian Americans? Benkof claims, in line with Benedict Anderson’s imagined communities (which does not mean imaginary communities) that Asian Americans are an identifiable group. But are they? If Pakiistan is part of Asia then is a Pakistani American also an Asian American? Being a white Caucasian Jew, I wouldn’t classify an Indian or Pushtan American as being an Asian American, but then why should I assume that some one of Japanese descent has anything in common with some one whose parents were from Vietnam? [Perhaps when Yuji Ichioka coined the phrase Asian American he perceived something akin to Arita Hachirō’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere? If so, he was perhaps using a similar paternalistic logic to aggregate dissimilar, even conflicting groups under Japanese tutelage?] Here is a flaw in the imagined community debate: it is not enough to claim that a group exists. There has to be more than a perception. There must be objective standards that differentiate one group from another and in turn connects a sub group with its dominate classification.

Perceptions are not facts and Benkof’s Jew baiting aside, most of us can differentiate between a perception like Palestine and a historical fact like the Holocaust. To the same extent there are objective criteria for aggregating all Germans or all Italians as their own separate nationalities. As for the Palestinians, their religion (Sunni Islam), language (Arabic) and dominate culture make them part of the larger Arab Islamic Umma stretching from Morocco to Iraq, with less than a 100 year common history to connect them as a separate group. Saeb Erekat can call himself a Palestinian, one cousin of his can be a Jordanian and yet another cousin a proud Saudi Arabian. What is more, should Erekat go to Jordan or Saudi Arabia he can easily acclimatize to either place practically seamlessly.

So is Palestine a myth? Perhaps a myth no longer, but even with all the hype invested in presenting a facade without real substance or history, we are not obligated to swallow the Palestinian narrative. We can and should point out that the Jewish People’s connection to the Land of Israel is long and constant. The Shiloh of today sits on the Shiloh from the third century which sits on the Shiloh from the time of Joshua. Erekat’s ravings aside, there is no historic justice in creating another Arab state, this time called Palestine, only a matter of practicality which may or may not be true.

Opposing a Palestinian State because there is evidence that it is only a ploy to destroy the Jewish State of Israel or because the Palestinians are no more of a separate people than the Satmar is legitimate. Still, we should, even must, try find some type of accommodation with the Arabs in Judea and Shomron. The Palestinians may be an imagined community, but our problems are far too real to be ignored.

About the Author
Shlomo Toren has been a resident of Israel since 1980, and a transportation planner for the last 25 years. He has done demand modeling for the Jerusalem Light Rail and Road 6. He is married to Neera and lives in Shiloh.