Promoting the “Palestinian” Fallacy
When Arab writers and pro-Israeli activists I respect (or respected in the past), such as Fred Maroun, cry out that the Palestinians exist and we cannot say they do not, they are falling into the trap of promoting the lie. I deny the existence of a nation called Palestine, something that never existed in human history. I do not, of course, deny the existence of individuals who now refer to themselves as Palestinian. The two are not the same.Does this mean that I need to agree to call these Arabs, Palestinians? I think not. Maroun would say that I am being pathetic – in fact, he used that very word in a number of responses to comments on his Facebook page and on the blog post itself. And even in the title to the post: It is Pathetic to Deny the Existence of Palestinians.
Just because someone calls himself or herself something does not make it so.
Names and Labels Are Important For Indigenous Peoples
Indigenous groups around the world are fighting for the right to call themselves by the names by which they know themselves, and not some moniker applied by colonial powers that conquered them. The Inuit of Canada, for example, rose up as recently as the 1970s and insisted they be called by their true name and not the scornful label “Eskimo”. You will not find many Canadians who continue to call them Eskimos.
I think people started referring to the Palestinian Arabs as Palestinians merely because it took too much energy to say things like: the Arab refugees from the former British Mandate of Palestine, or the Arabs living in the former British Mandate of Palestine, or Arabs in the Palestinian Authority, accurate as such terms may be. It is far simpler just to say: the Palestinians.
At first the Arabs rejected that term. They (rightly) declared that “Palestinian” referred to the Jews. Before 1948, the rest of the world agreed with them, chanting: “Jews, go back to Palestine”. (Note the “go back” and not “go”, but that would be material for a separate article.)
In fact, as late as 1996, Azmi Bashara, then an Israeli Arab Member of Knesset, stated clearly on an Israeli television interview programme that the Arabs are NOT Palestinians and never were (view on the video below).
Bishara was not the only one. To this day, there are Arabs living in this region who claim that there is no such thing as a Palestinian.
(I state in a separate post why the Arabs-who-now-call-themselves-Palestinians began applying that label to themselves. It is beyond the scope of this post.)
On his Facebook page, Maroun writes in response to a commenter (October 29):
Anyway, we are straying far from the topic which is simply to accept the widely accepted term “Palestinian” and move on from ridiculous and pointless debates about its origin.
Would Maroun, a Canadian citizen, also say that the debate about the origin of the name of the football team, the Edmonton Eskimos, is ridiculous and pointless? Once upon a time, “Eskimo” was a widely accepted term. Even though the Inuit are no longer known by that name, they resent seeing anything called by what was once the colonial term applied to them.
Ashinabe Niigaan Sinclair, head of the University of Manitoba Native Studies Department says:
. . .the term is disrespectful and should no longer be the name of the team. It’s not easy to divorce ourselves from these terms, but history will eventually rid ourselves of these racially inappropriate, misdescribing names.
The team’s name is derogatory and disrespectful. And it is derogatory and disrespectful precisely because of its origin. If that is true for a football team, is it not also true for a group of Arabs who openly declare their desire to erase from the face of the Earth those to whom the term “Palestinian” was first affixed? In my opinion, for an Arab to call himself or herself a “proud Palestinian” is both pathetic and wrong. And pardon me, if this is not PC and if it hurts someone’s feelings.
Feature Image Credit: By Alex:D (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Interesting. I don’t disagree with most of what you wrote Sheri, but I still think that challenging the use of the term today is pointless. And it has nothing to do with being PC; being PC is not something that I ever worry about. If Jews wanted to keep the term Palestinian to themselves, they should have started this debate when the term was first used by Arabs. In fact they should have called their state “Palestine” not “Israel”. Now no one will take such claims seriously, and as I said, it is a waste of time.
I can accept that you think it is a waste of time. For me, I can think of few better ways to spend my time than working toward correcting corruptions of my history and setting the record straight. We Jews did not want to keep the term “Palestinians” any more than the Inuit want to keep the name “Eskimo”. Doesn’t mean that we Jews or the Inuit are happy to find other entities using the colonial name once assigned to us or to them. The Inuit (and Native Americans facing similar issues) are not giving up and neither will I.
Well written piece and I agree that to give assent to the term “Palestinian” lends legitamacy to the aspirations of people who self identify as such, for their own state.
I think this is the key sentence, “Just because someone calls himself or herself something does not make it so.” If somebody wished to call themselves a Jedi Knight then it is patently true they are not because such a thing only exists in the fantasy called Star Wars.
It is a good point you make that the Inuit were given the title of “Eskimo” and my research shows that this title was rejected by indigenous peoples because it was used by people who discriminated against them. The Romans first used the name “Palestine” perjoratively against the Jews so why would anyone wish to appropriate the name now, Jew or Arab?
I think as you say, as long winded as it might seem to do so, something like “the Arab inhabitants of the former British Mandate of Palestine,” needs to be used often so that it gains currency.
In my understanding, there are only some 30,000 people left alive today anywhere in the world who who fit the above description. The rest are inhabitants of the countries in which they now find themselves. It is a shame that Israel did not permanently annex the areas it captured in 1967 and give its inhabitants citizenship. The population of those areas was far fewer then. Had they done so, this discussion would have been put to rest 50 years ago.
I have a feeling there are many Israelis today regretting what seemed to be a wise decision then and has turned out to be one of our greatest errors of judgement.
Even if “[t]he population of those areas was far fewer then”, Arab reproduction rate would not change if same Arab has a Jordanian or an Israeli passport.
I learned something, Sheri. I did not realize Eskimo is derogatory. I’ll keep that in mind.
Happy to provide new learning, Brenda.
This is a subject upon which we both agree. Amazingly, even my own partner was under the mistaken notion that the “Palestinians” were somehow a wronged people. I set that error straight quickly, with historical proof that there were never any such people until someone invented them. We Americans have our own problems with names from the beginning of our history when we landed here and met the natives. We called them Indians and they went by that for centuries, even created their own organizations with that term in it. Now they prefer Native American, to American Indian. The Inuit and the Tlingit would sympathize I’m sure. So what’s in a name? As Shakespeare famously wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” I understand people yearn to have an identity, but shouldn’t it be based on a measure of authenticity? Arabs are Arabs, have been for centuries, that IS their inheritance. They can’t choose to be Palestinians just for the purpose of laying claim to land that they never owned in the first place. Good writing!!
I am amazed how many educated people think that the “Palestinians” were a sovereign Arab nation before we Jews came back.
How can it be: PUBLISHED DECEMBER 8, 2015 · UPDATED DECEMBER 7, 2015 ?
Shouldn’t it be the other way around (namely, before something can be updated, it has to be published first)?
You must be an editor to always pick up on this kind of thing and my typos and other errors. The way this happened is that my last draft revision was on Dec 7 and I only published it the next day.