Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

The Rhetoric of Nonsense

Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

The Rhetoric of Nonsense

Article excerpt

Fabricating Palestinian History

For nearly two decades the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been denying Israel's right to exist, and a recent "Nakba Day" was no exception. In a Gaza speech on behalf ofMahmoud Abbas, his personal representative made the following statement:

National reconciliation [between Hamas and Fatah] is required in order to face Israel and Netanyahu. We say to him [Netanyahu], when he claims that they [Jews] have a historical right dating back to 3000 years b.ce. - we say that the nation of Palestine upon the land of Canaan had a 7,000-year history b.ce. This is the truth, which must be understood, and we have to note it, in order to say: "Netanyahu, you are incidental in history. We are the people ofhistory. We are the owners of history."1

This remarkable assertion has been almost completely ignored by the Western media. Yet it bears a thorough examination: not only as an indication of unwavering Palestinian rejection oflsrael's right to exist but as an insightful glimpse into the psyche of their willfully duped Western champions.

UNPACKING ABBAS'S SPEECH

Archaeologists have only the dimmest notion of prevailing ethnic concepts in 7000 B.CE. There may have been tribes and clans of some sort, and villages may have had names and a sense of collective or local identity, but their nature is completely unknown. Even with the elaborate symbolism of the period, as seen in figurines, and other data such as the styles of stone tools and house plans, nothing whatsoever is known regarding the content of the makers' identities. Writing would not be invented for almost another 4,000 years and would only reach the Levant a thousand years after that, bringing with it the ability to record a society's own identity concepts.

There were no Jews or Arabs, Canaanites, Israelites, or Egyptians. There were only Neolithic farmers and herders. In fact, none of the concepts that Abbas used developed until vastly later. The Plst - a Mediterranean group known to the Egyptians as one of the "Sea Peoples" and who gave their name to the biblical Philistines - arrived around 1200 B.CE. Arabs are known in Mesopotamian texts as residents of the Arabian Peninsula from around 900 B.CE. The concept of a "nation" emerged with the kingdoms of Israel and Judah and their neighbors sometime after 900 B.C.E. The Romans renamed the Kingdom of Judea 'Talestina" after the biblically attested Philistines, the hated enemy of the Israelites, following the defeat of the Bar Kochba revolt in 135 CE. The ethnic identity called "Palestinian," denoting the local Muslim and Christian inhabitants of the region south of Lebanon and West of the Jordan River, tenuously developed as an elite concept at the end of the Ottoman era and did not propagate to the grassroots until the 1920s and 1930s.2

Is there perhaps genetic continuity between modern Palestinians and Neolithic fanners and herders? Perhaps, but that is not what Abbas claimed. Is there cultural continuity, a nation with a name? Hardly.

TYPES OF PALESTINIAN RHETORIC

Why then should Abbas make such an incredible fabrication? And why lie in such a ludicrous and extravagant fashion? Part of the answer is that for Abbas, as it was for PLO leader Yasser Arafat before him, there is a reflex that simply and absolutely cannot accept the antiquity of Jews. Arafat famously told then-U.S. president Bill Clinton that there was no Jewish temple in Jerusalem, causing the usually unflappable Clinton to nearly explode.3 Denials regarding the Jewish historical connection to the Land of Israel generally and categorical denials that Jews constitute a nation are all frequently heard from Palestinian leaders, intellectuals, and others.

A useful avenue of investigation is to consider Abbas's words as a type of rhetoric with a form and underlying philosophy. When viewed in this way, Abbas's spokesman was not lying as such but doing something else. …

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