Ralph Buntyn

The Palestinians: A question of semantic larceny?

“There are no differences between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians, and Lebanese. We are all part of one nation. It is only for political reasons that we carefully underline our Palestinian identity because it is in the interest of the Arabs to encourage a separate Palestinian identity in contrast to Zionism. Yes, the existence of a separate Palestinian identity is there only for tactical reasons. The establishment of a Palestinian state is a new expedient to continue the fight against Zionism and for Arab unity.”

–Zuheir Mohsen, head of the Saiqa terrorist organization, head of military operations for the PLO and a member of its Supreme Council as interviewed by James Dorsey in the Dutch daily Trouw, March 31, 1977.

There you have it: maybe the best explanation of this political masquerade was uttered by a military leader for the PLO almost a half century ago. The effectiveness of redefining the conflict in terms of the “Palestinians” as exclusively indigenous Arab inhabitants of the land implies there must be a struggle between the native population and foreign invaders. It is a propaganda triumph of the first order.

Much can be learned from the reading of Arthur Kahn and Thomas Murry’s marvelous little book “The Palestinians: A Political Masquerade” published by Americans for a Safe Israel in 1977.

We are reminded that until 1948, the Jews-not the Arabs were considered Palestinians. The Palestinian Club of Paris was a Zionist club whose invitation cards were printed in Hebrew and French. The Anglo-Palestine Bank, the Palestine-British Bank, the Palestine Electric Company, the Palestine Foundation Fund, the Palestine Workers Fund, the Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra, the Palestine Maritime League, and the Palestine Potash Company all were organized and run By Palestinian Jews.

In the United States Jewish young people in the 1920’s and 30’s sang “Palestine, My Palestine,” “Palestine Scout Song” and “Palestine Spring Song” and record companies and music publishers distributed collections entitled “New Palestine Songs” and “Songs of the Palestine Pioneers.” And so it went.

So completely had the meaning of “Palestinian” been altered in public consciousness that when Golda Meir, in objecting to the claims of Palestinian national identity being advanced by the PLO, announced “We, the Jewish pioneers were the Palestinians.”

Until the establishment of the state of Israel Palestinians were simply called “Arabs.” There was no national feeling toward Palestine as a nation state. Those familiar with the history know the name Palestine is derived from the biblical Peleshet designating the coastal plain in which the Philistines (Pelishtim) settled during their 12th century B. C. expansion into the eastern Mediterranean. In 135 A. D. after their conquest of Judea, the Romans renamed the country Syria Palaestinas, to cancel out the Jewish claim to the land. They destroyed Jerusalem, rebuilt it as a Roman city and renamed it Aelia Capitolina.

Perhaps David Ben-Gurion who became Israel’s first Prime Minister, summed it up best when he gave his own testimony before an Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry in 1946, “In Arab history there is no such thing as Palestine. Arab history was made in Arabia, in Persia, in Spain and North Africa. You will not find Palestine in that history, nor was Arab history made in Palestine. Yet, in recorded history there is a country by the name of Judea or as we call it, the land of Israel. We have called it Israel since the days of Joshua, the son of Nun. And this little country made a very deep impression on world history and on our history. This country made us a people and our people made us this country.”

The very currency of the term “Palestinian” to mean Arabs exclusively is a propaganda ploy. It is true that Arabs have lived there in greater or lesser numbers for 1,200 years. It is also true that Jews have also lived there in greater or lesser numbers uninterruptedly for 4,000 years. Palestine is a geographic term just as America, France, or England whose inhabitants include other immigrants and nationalities.

And so here we are seemingly stuck in the sad truth that the Israelis and Palestinians are locked in an endless war for a land they both call their own.

The “Two-State” rhetoric currently being pushed by the U.S. and its international allies neither ensures Israeli security nor Palestinian self-determination, yet their destinies are intertwined. Israelis have not and will not allow Palestinians to govern their own borders, airspace or — as history has shown — democratic process.

Perhaps there was a chance for two states during the time of Yitzhak Rabin, when settlements were few and the road map was open. Today, those opportunities are gone.

It is time to look ahead. We need progress that will improve the lives and the livelihoods of the people of Gaza and the West Bank while providing the security for the people of the state of Israel. A warring past is not easy to forget but Israelis and Palestinians must find a way to work together to resolve a mound of grievances and heal decades worth of wounds. Only pragmatic steps will lay the foundation for positive change.

First Hamas, who came to the forefront during the first intifada, must be removed from the equation. Opposing the secular approach of the PLO from the beginning the radical group attracted an ever-larger following. They contested the 2006 election for the PA’s legislative body and won the majority of its seats challenging the PLO’s dominance within Palestinian society. Tensions between the PLO and Hamas came to a head in 2007, and an armed confrontation in the Gaza Strip left Hamas in control of the region.

Israel is presently working to correct that issue.

Israel needs and deserves a legitimate partner for peace and that means a partner willing to make their peace with Israel’s existence. This peace must be built on foundations of compromise, security, justice, and above all, truth. The conflict has persisted because the Palestinians have never been willing to do the same. In fact, if you look at their negotiating position today, it is as recalcitrant as it was nearly a century ago.

Unless that changes, we appear stuck in the “Groundhog Day” scenario of rinse and repeat.

About the Author
Ralph Buntyn is a retired marketing executive for a Fortune 500 company. He is executive vice-president and associate editor for United Israel World Union, an 80 year old Jewish educational organization dedicated to propagating the ideals of the Decalogue faith on a universal scale. An author and writer, his articles and essays have appeared in various media outlets including The Southern Shofar, The Jerusalem Post, and the United Israel Bulletin. He is the author of "The Book of David: David Horowitz: Dean of United Nations Press Corps and Founder: United Israel World Union."
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