Indigenous Palestinians? Not really

On March 1899, Yousef Zia Al-Khalidi, a prominent Ottoman Empire politician (Muslim of course) who was born in Jerusalem, wrote a letter to Rabbi Zadok Kahn, the chief rabbi of France, in which he said: “The idea itself is natural, fine and just. Who can challenge the rights of the Jews in Palestine? Good Lord, historically it is really your country. What a wonderful spectacle that will be when a people as resourceful as the Jews will once again be an independent nation, honored and complacent, able to make its contribution to needy humanity in the field of morals, as in the past.”

 It seems that a lot has changed in 116 years.

On October 2015, Ilan Pappe, the director of European Center of Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter, stated on Al-Jazeera, that the root cause to the Palestinian violence and terrorism against Israelis is the occupation and the expanded Jewish colonization. What is much more disturbing on the same context is the following quote by Pappe: “more than a century of [Israeli] colonization and nothing has changed in the complete denial of the native Palestinians’ humanity or their right to the place”. He was not referring to the Israeli military hold of the West Bank, but to the very existence of a Jewish state in the land of Palestine. According to his ideology, the Jewish people are foreigners to the holy land, and the Palestinians are indigenous.

In his book, Catch the Jew, Tuvia Tenenbom depicts his meeting in Ramallah, with Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian legislator, scholar and a member of the PLO executive committee; she describes to him, how the Palestinians have been living in their historical land for thousands of years, and suddenly out of nowhere, people came and told them that they must renounce the majority of their land, amid the formation of another state a stone’s throw away from them (Israel). Another example is the frequent statements by the former Palestinian Authority Minister of Religious Affairs, Mahmoud Al-Habbash, claiming that the Palestinians have been living on this land for 5,000 years. This claim, and the ones above it, are but fractions of the propaganda to portray the Palestinians as the indigenous people to the land.

In order to find out who is considered indigenous, let us check the legal term; according to the United Nations, the legal definition of indigenous people is as follows: “Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing on those territories, or parts of them.”

According to this definition, one would assume that if the Palestinians are indigenous to this land, by historically reviewing the dynamics of the land during the 17th and the 19th centuries, for example, we should expect to find native Palestinians in significant numbers living there in communities. The evidence at hand actually attests to the contrary.

In 1695, Adriaan Reland, a Dutch scholar, geographer, cartographer and philologist traveled to Palestina, surveyed approximately 2,500 places where people lived that were mentioned in the bible or mishnah. His most prominent conclusions were:

First, the land was desolate. Almost all of the inhabitants were concentrated in the towns of Jerusalem, Acre, Safed, Jaffa, Tiberius and Gaza, when most of them were Jews and Christians. For example, the majority of the 5,000 people in Jerusalem at that time were Jewish. The demographic Jewish dominance in Jerusalem has lasted to these very days.

Second, not one settlement in the land had a name that is of Arabic origin. All of the names originated from either in Hebrew, Greek or Latin. Even Ramallah (the capital of the Palestinians these days) was called Bet’allah – from the Hebrew name Beit El (House of God).

Third, there was no proof of Arabic heritage. The book strengthens the connection and kinship of the Land of Israel to the Jews and the absolute lack of belonging to the Arabs.

172 years later, it appears that nothing has substantially changed, when the famous American author Mark Twain visited the land of Palestine in 1867. In his letters, he described what he saw: “…a desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds-a silent mournful expanse….A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action….We never saw a human being on the whole route….There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of the worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.”

Going forward 23 years in time to the year 1890, a British investigation came up with an estimation of the total amount of the Arab population in Palestine – 473,000. It is more than suggested that this apparent sudden increased in Arab population, reflects the heightened economic activity in Palestine, along with relative liberalism by the Ottoman rulers, and increase influence of the Western powers and Russia in the Holy Land. Interestingly, it is also a time of increased Jewish immigration to Palestine (an Arab response to the increased Jewish population?).

Leaping forward in time again, to 1915, the Arab population grew to 590,000; a 0.8% per year growth rate. Based on this growth rate, by 1947, the Arab population would have been expected to be approximately 785,000. But in fact, the figure was 1.3 million Arabs in Palestine (the information was taken from a Harvard article). How could this be?

The answer is simple – immense waves of immigration from other Arab countries. When the British took over the land from the Ottoman Empire, the economy grew, railroads were built and new opportunities emerged. Who wouldn’t want to come and live under the British when opportunities were thriving?

So, why is all this information relevant? Again, the answer is simple – unlike all of those who claim that the Palestinian people have been living here for centuries, and are the indigenous people of Palestine – in fact, it appears very convincingly that the majority of them came to this land in the late 19th century – early 20th century. According to the United Nations, peoples are considered indigenous to their land, if a historical continuity can be shown. My question is – how could you define a people as indigenous, when the vast majority of them, have lived there for 3-4 generations?

Critics will probably say that most of the Jews living now in Israel have also come in recent generations. Unlike the Palestinians, the Jewish people have been perpetually living in this land for over 3,000 years up until today. Evidence to that can be found everywhere – in writing, archeological sites, artifacts and more. Critics might also say that the bible is not a history book; that claim is debatable by many, but in this case, I would suggest reading about the unbelievable discovery of Joshua’s Altar on Mt. Ebal, by an Israeli archeologist, Adam Zertal.

“You shall make an altar of earth for me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause my name to be remembered, I will come to you and bless you.” (Exodus 20:24)

‘If you make an altar of stone for me, you shall not build it of cut stones, for if you wield your tool on it, you will profane it. ‘And you shall not go up by steps to my altar, so that your nakedness will not be exposed on it.” (Exodus 20:25-26)

In addition, among much other archeological evidence for Jewish continuity in this land, another amazing archeological finding in the City of David in Jerusalem is the two clay bullae with two biblical names, traced to the First Temple time. The names they bear are identical to the biblical text referring to the same period of time (two high officials).

These amazing archeological discoveries match almost completely the biblical descriptions, and go back to almost 1,300 BC.

Going back to the beginning of the article – detractors may claim that the pro-Jewish statement made by Al-Khalidi represents the view of a single, eccentric Muslim figure. Well, it is not an eccentric view: the holy Quran, explicitly states that the Holy Land is dedicated to the Jewish people. See for yourself:

Still arguing that Jews are strangers to this land?

About the Author
Itai Hacham is graduate in International Relations and Business Administration from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Striving to help shaping Israel's public image and to share the truth with the rest of the world.
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