Last week, Elder of Ziyon described an interesting conjecture on the origin of the word “Palestine”: that it is derived from the Greek word for “wrestler,” which is part of the name taken by Jacob when he wrestled – “isra” – with an angel of God, “El.” So “Palestine” means “Israel.”
Is it true? Who knows? But it is ironic in the light of the assertions of the Palestinian Arabs that they are “natives,” an indigenous people that were “colonized” by the European Jews who, according to them, are not even a people but just a religious sect.
This is the heart of the Palestinian narrative that is presented as a justification for their violent struggle to expel the Jews from Eretz Yisrael. The post-colonial ideology that is current today, especially on the part of European former colonialists, demands that colonists turn control of the lands they exploited over to the indigenous residents. If the colonists refuse to do the right thing, then the natives are – if not entirely justified in turning to violence – at least understood and sympathized with. The Palestinians even make the absurd claim that the UN Charter, which permits victims of aggression to defend themselves, approves.
The oldest indigenous people on the land, and the most legitimate claimants for aboriginal rights, are the Jewish people. The fact that they won their battle – against British and Arab colonists of their ancestral land – does not change that. The fact that Jews may have been a minority in the land on any particular day from biblical times to the present, does not change that. The fact that most of the Jews living in Israel today are descended from Jews that had been living in exile in Muslim countries, Europe, Africa, India, and other places, does not change that.
The Palestinian Arab claim to being an aboriginal people that was invaded and colonized is false in two respects: first, specifically Palestinian peoplehood did not exist to a great extent before the mid-1960s, when it developed in opposition to Zionism. And second, few Palestinian families have a connection to the land that extends more than a couple of generations before the arrival of the Zionists.
Prior to the appearance of Palestinism, which was catalyzed by the KGB-advised PLO in the 1960s, Arabs in the land primarily viewed themselves as members of their extended families or tribes. The land itself was considered “southern Syria,” and there are numerous quotations from Palestinian Arab leaders, as late as 1977, that deny the existence of a Palestinian identity in favor of a pan-Arab one.
There may be Palestinian Arabs that are descended from people that lived in the land during biblical times, or arrived in the Arab conquest of the 7th century. But almost all came no earlier than the invasion of Syria (which included Eretz Yisrael and Lebanon) by Muhammad Ali (not the boxer) around 1830, and many of them migrated from the surrounding countries to take advantage of the economic development of the land by the Zionists and later the British Empire. When the UN defined “Palestinian refugee” in 1948, it included “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948…”, to include numerous recent migrants.
The last time Eretz Yisrael was governed by its indigenous inhabitants was during the Hasmonean Dynasty (140-137 BCE), the folks that gave us Hanukah. Since then, it has been ruled by a succession of invaders, including the Romans, Byzantines, Persians, Arabs, Crusaders, Mamelukes, Turks, and British. Until the advent of the Palestinian Authority in 1993 and the Hamas takeover in Gaza, there has been nothing approaching Palestinian sovereignty anywhere.
A recent NY Times hit-job on Israel inadvertently made the oppositional nature of Palestinism clear. Asmaa Azaizeh, an Arab citizen of Israel and an intellectual, was quoted thus:
“Being a Palestinian is a way of resisting injustice,” she said. If there was nothing to resist, “I wouldn’t care if I was Palestinian or Egyptian or Lebanese or Jordanian.”
Palestinians are Arabs and they share the language, religious beliefs, and customs of Arabs in the surrounding countries. What makes them specifically Palestinian, as Ms. Azaizeh says, is their opposition to Zionism and the Jewish state. It doesn’t need to be said that in comparison, the Jewish people have a unique language and religion, as well as a relationship to this particular piece of land that goes back for millennia. As explained in the Torah, this land is inseparable from Jewish identity.
As I wrote last week, we are engaged in a conflict of tribes over the land. Regardless of the justice of their position, the tribe that prevails will have the land, and the loser will disappear.
The Arabs that call themselves Palestinians understand the importance of the land to their ideology far better than secular Jews do. That is why, with all the divisions and rivalries among them, they can agree almost single-mindedly on their goal of recovering their land and their honor.
One of the biggest mistakes that Israel makes in dealing with Arabs is in failing to understand the importance of maintaining her own honor. In the Middle East, honor is the greater part of deterrence. There is a Bedouin story about a rich man with many animals, several wives, and a number of sons. One day he sees someone steal a goat, and does nothing. He has many goats; maybe the thief is hungry, he thinks. The thief is emboldened and brings his friends. Little by little they take everything the man has. He has lost his honor, and without honor has no rights. Soon he finds his animals gone, his sons murdered, and his wives raped. He is left sitting outside the tent that used to belong to him.
Every time a Jew is humiliated on the street, every time they steal a car, burn a centimeter of land or make us afraid to walk on it, the Arabs move forward, closer to their goal. Every time a Jew moves away from the periphery of the country because of crime and insecurity, we lose ground. When we allow Arabs to shoot at us, or God forbid, kill us, without taking revenge, they gain and we lose.
There is a strategy for us to win in this conflict. It is to push forward in all parts of Eretz Yisrael to fully control the land, to make the Arabs understand that they have no hope of driving us out. It means increasing Jewish presence and control at the Temple Mount, and not the opposite, as has been happening since 1967. It means ending the no-go zones inside our capital. It means adopting a death penalty for terrorist murderers, and meeting Bedouin banditry in the south with overwhelming force. It means crushing the genocidal regime of Hamas, even if it requires a military occupation of Gaza. It means stopping the flow of money from the EU into illegal Arab building in Judea and Samaria, and encouraging hundreds of thousands of Jews to move there. It will probably also mean targeted killings and expulsions.
Life would not be as easy or pleasant for the Jews of Israel as it is now if they take on this task. It would require more military service, and it would cost money and lives. The state would have to become less open, liberal, and democratic. There would be opposition from the Israeli Left, Europe and America. The special position of the Jewish state as “the Jew of nations” ensures that, even if the nations of the world generally went out of their way to intervene on the side of justice, they would not choose our side.
On the other hand, if we don’t do it, if we allow the Arabs to continue their incremental gains and their erosion of our sovereignty, the day will come that we find ourselves outside our tent with no sons, wives or camels. There isn’t another alternative.
There is no doubt in my mind that we have the resources and the ability to win, to assert Jewish dominance over all of Eretz Yisrael. The harder question is this: how can we develop the will and the unity required to do it?