A thought occurred to me as we were reading the story of Ruth in synagogue this week: Palestinians must hate Shavuot.
If there is one Jewish holiday which overflows with reminders of the flimsiness of Palestinian claims against Israel, it’s Shavuot. Start with Megillat Ruth. The central events of the story all take place in Bethlehem. The first two verses identify the city as “Bethlehem, in Judea.” The residents are all Jews. They speak Hebrew.
There is no mention of any “Palestine” or “Palestinians.” Those terms did not even exist until many centuries later.
These facts cannot sit well with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority. As recently as March 21, Abbas declared on official PA Television: “We were in this land since before Abraham…The Bible says, in these words, that the Palestinians existed before Abraham.” I wonder which Bible it is that Abbas has been reading!
Similarly absurd statements were recently made by Abbas’s Advisor on Religious Islamic Affairs and Supreme Shari’ah Judge, Mahmoud al-Habbash. “We have been here for the last 5,000 years, and have not left this land,” he declared on PA Television on June 3. “Our forefathers are the monotheist Canaanites and Jebusites.” (Translations from Palestinian Media Watch.)
Of course, Habbash’s claims are nonsense. As every legitimate archaeologist, anthropologist, and Mideast historian will attest, there is no connection whatsoever between the Palestinian Arabs of today and the Canaanites. Islam did not even exist until the 7th century CE. The Arabs came here from the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century C.E.
A holiday which reminds everyone that Bethlehem was historically a Jewish city is of course terribly inconvenient for the Palestinian cause.
The second problem that Bethlehem poses for the Palestinians concerns the city’s role in Christianity. Because of Bethlehem’s centrality in Christian theology, it has attracted many Christian residents over the years, and by the early 1900s more than 90% of Bethlehem’s population was Christian. As late as the early 1990s, it still had a Christian majority. Today, however, Bethlehem is more than 80% Muslim. Why? Because Muslim harassment of Christians resulted in steady Christian emigration from the city, especially after 1995.
This brings us to the third problem that the PA faces when people talk about Bethlehem. Such talk reminds everyone about the myth of the “occupation.” In 1995, Prime Minister Rabin withdrew Israel’s forces from the cities where 98% of the Palestinians live–including Bethlehem. For the past twenty-one years, the Palestinian Authority has ruled over Bethlehem and presided over the Islamization of the city.
Advocates of the Palestinian cause still talk about “the occupation” as if 1995 never happened. But any visitor to Bethlehem today will find that there are no Israeli troops in the city. There is no Israeli military governor, as there was prior to 1995. The mayor of Bethlehem is a Palestinian. The city council consists of Palestinians. The Palestinian municipality collects taxes, runs the schools, holds local elections, and manages all other aspects of self-government.
So now you can see why Palestinians hate Shavuot. Everything about the holiday testifies to the Jewish right to the Land of Israel, and shatters the false claims of the Palestinians.
This column first appeared on Israel National News.