I have read in responses to posts on the Times of Israel Blog that there is no such thing as the Palestinian people. Palestinians have been referred to as Arabs who inhabit the region between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. This follows the statement by Golda Meir in 1970: “I don’t say there are no Palestinians, but I say there is no such thing as a distinct Palestinian people.” When Golda Meir said it, it was incorrect. Today, it is merely absurd.
Let us examine three interrelated concepts: people, nation, and state. There is a state called the United Kingdom. It comprises four entities: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. In terms of peoplehood, there is a Scottish people, a Welsh people, an English people, and, less clearly perhaps, a Northern Irish people. But there also is a British people that contains these other peoples. Similarly, the Belgian people contain the Flemish people and the Walloon people.
Historically, there was a country called Poland, or the state of Poland before 1795. In 1795, Poland was partitioned between Russia, Prussia, and Austria. Poland as a state came into being again in 1919. During that period of well over a century, there was a Polish people. I think they would have considered themselves a nation, but a nation lacking a national state.
South Sudan is the world’s newest nation, becoming a state in 2011. There is a state called South Sudan, a nation called South Sudan, and, therefore, a South Sudanese people. The peoplehood exists however much the country may be tribally and linguistically divided. The South Sudanese peoplehood exists even if most South Sudanese define themselves more as members of a local tribe.
I have had rather silly disputes with those who say that Jews are not a people but only a religion. Non-Jews do not have the right to apply European ideas of peoplehood and 19th-century ideas of nationhood to a people that have defined themselves as a people for more than two millennia.
Without getting into details of each, I think it is clear that there is a Scottish people, a Catalan people, a Kurdish people, and a Rohingya people each of whom for historical, linguistic, cultural, religious, or self-identification regard themselves as a people. Whether any of them form a national state only the future can say.
How do these various examples relate to the Palestinians? The Palestinian people have built a shared cultural, historical, and national identity. Their experiences of displacement and rejection, especially the 1948 Naqba, have caused strong aspirations for a state of their own. The current Israel-Gaza war will have a probably Palestinian death count of over 40,000 when the bombed, those buried under rubble, shot, starved, dead from disease, and dying from lack of medical care are finally tallied. This disaster for the Palestinians will strengthen their sense of Palestinian peoplehood.
Let us permanently bury the myth of the non-existence of the Palestinian people.