I was interviewed for a job by a prominent Jewish leader a few years back, and when asked about the “Palestinians” I answered that it depends how you define “Palestinians.” After all, my father-in-law’s birth certificate read Palestine, would he have been considered a “Palestinian?”
The answer I received was that we lost that battle. I was taken aback, as this was a person for whom I have great respect, and thought that he would think it to be unconscionable to accept this false proposition. After all, if we are having conversations and presentations based on the premise that there are a people called “Palestinian,” then how are we to expect others to understand the truth of the situation in Israel? If we perpetuate the lies, then we cannot expect less from others. With that in mind, let’s clarify a few things, shall we?
There were both Arabs and Jews living in the area called Palestine, a name which was given to the region by the Romans, named after the people who were against the Israelites in the biblical story of David and Goliath. By this action, the Romans sought to eliminate Jewish identity with Israel. However, there was never a country called Palestine, with its own government, leadership, culture and monetary exchange. Since the Temple fell and the indigenous Jewish community was no longer the sovereign (though Jews still remained in Judea and Samaria) the land has been ruled by outside entities, including the Romans, the Crusaders, the Mamelukes, the Byzantines and until WWI, the Ottomans. It was after the fall of the Ottoman Empire when it became Palestine under the British Mandate.
After the War of Independence in 1948 the international community drew an armistice line, known as the Green Line (named after the color pen that was used to draw on the map – yep, it’s that simple). An armistice line has no legally binding value. It is a way for the sides to stop fighting and take a breather. The breather lasted about nineteen years. During this time Jordan illegally occupied Judea and Samaria. It attempted to annex it, but only two countries, Great Britain and Pakistan acknowledged it. The Arab League was actually against it. While Jordan illegally occupied this area, as some call the West Bank (we don’t call Jordan the East Bank, why do we call Judea and Samaria the West Bank?), it destroyed no less than 58 synagogues, used the headstones from the Jewish cemetery, The Mount of Olives, for walkways, and either killed or expelled all the Jews from the area. There’s an expression for that – ethnic cleansing. For the first time in millennia Eastern Jerusalem and the surrounding areas were judenrein. And no one said a word. Nor did anyone try to set up a “Palestinian” state. Why? Because Jordan was the Arab Palestine, and everyone knew it. The Arabs in that region became Jordanian citizens.
In 1964 an Egyptian by the name of Yasser Arafat (you may have heard of him) founded the PLO. Many think this is the Palestinian Liberation Organization. It is not. It is the Palestine Liberation Organization. See the difference? Palestinian connotes a people, while Palestine connotes a region. In 1964 Judea and Samaria were in Jordanian hands. So what were they liberating, exactly? The rest of what was once Mandated Palestine under the British, or Israel. That is the charter of the PLO – to eradicate the only Jewish nation on the face of the earth. The militant wing of the PLO was responsible for atrocious terrorist activities around the globe, such as the killing of 11 Israeli weightlifters at the 1972 Munich Olympics, the hijacking of planes, and let’s not forget the throwing over board of the wheelchair bound quadriplegic Leon Klinghoffer off the Achilles Lauro. It was only when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin made the egregious error of legitimizing the PLO at Oslo did the terrorist organization gain the respectability of statesmen, and adopted its new name, the Palestinian Authority. The term “Palestinian,” when referring to Arabs (because it was the Jews who were referred to as Palestinians before 1948) only came into fashion after the Six Day War in 1967. It was then, after the Arab world lost their offensive war to the little State of Israel, and Jerusalem was once again united under the Jewish State, that all of a sudden the Arabs living in Judea and Samaria became “Palestinians.” And an illustrious thousands year history was born.
There is much more history to the saga of Israel, the Jews and the Arabs, and the situation is ever evolving. As we sit in our comfortable living rooms and make armchair assessments of a region in which we don’t live, the least we can do is honor its history from a place of truth. We must start with truth.