Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

Were the Arabs Indigenous to Mandatory Palestine?

Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

Were the Arabs Indigenous to Mandatory Palestine?

Article excerpt

Were the Arabs Indigenous to Mandatory Palestine? The Rape of Palestine, 1st ed. By William Ziff. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1938. Reprint. Mansfield Centre, Conn.: Martino Fine Books, 2010. 630 pp. $60.

The assertion that Palestinian Arabs are the indigenous population is central in their dispute with Israel. The message is that Jews stole and now occupy the land of the indigenous Arab population. Rarely challenged, the claim is widespread, such as this statement from Henry Cattan, a Palestinian Christian jurist and writer born in Jerusalem:

The Palestinians are the original and continuous inhabitants of Palestine from time immemorial.1

Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas elaborated this claim in a recent speech:

Our narrative says that we were in this land since before Abraham. I am not saying it. The Bible says it. The Bible says, in these words, that the Palestinians existed before Abraham. So why don't you recognize my right?2

Saeb Erekat, the PA's chief negotiator, stated:

I am the son of Jericho. ... the proud son of the Netufians and the Canaanites. I've been there for 5,500 years before Joshua Bin Nun came and burned my hometown Jericho.3

To be sure, some Arabs are descendants of the indigenous occupants. But waves of immigration into the Holy Land brought Jews, Arabs, and others to the territories, to the point that most of today's Arabic-speakers do not trace their roots back for centuries.

A number of analyses address the subject of Arab immigration to Palestine: Joan Peters' From Time Immemorial,4 Arieh Avneri's The Claim of Dispossession,5 and Fred M. Gottheil's essay, "The Smoking Gun: Arab Immigration into Palestine, 19221931."6 But, William B. Ziff's little remembered The Rape of Palestine, published in 1938, adds an important firsthand source to these recent studies. None of the modern authors used Ziff as a source, so this is new information to present-day analysts.

Ziff (1898-1953) was born in Chicago and co-founded the Ziff-Davis Publishing Company, which specialized in technical magazines in such subject areas as aviation, radio, and photography. Active in Zionist politics, his Rape of Palestine was considered by the British Foreign Office "a violent and offensive book," and for years afterward, the British monitored the Zionist writings and speeches of this "unscrupulous gangster," fearful that his audiences were "lapping this poison up."7

The thrust of Ziff's book is on British policy in Palestine during the mandate period, but what is especially interesting today are his comments on the migration of Arabs and the squelching of Jewish immigration by the British. The following extensive quotes show the value of his work.

"Indigenous" Pre-20th Century Foreigners

Ziff notes that foreigners already peopled the land:8

It was always the foreign soldier who was the police power in Palestine. The Tulunides brought in Turks and Negroes. The Fatamids introduced Berbers, Slavs, Greeks, Kurds, and mercenaries of all kinds. The Mamelukes imported legions of Georgians and Circassians. Each monarch for his personal safety relied on great levies of slave warriors. Saladin, hard-pressed by the Crusaders, received one hundred and fifty thousand Persians who were given lands in Galilee and the Sidon district for their services.

Out of this human patch-work of Jews, Arabs, Armenians, Kalmucks, Persians, Crusaders, Tartars, Indians, Ethiopians, Egyptians, Sudanese, Turks, Mongols, Romans, Kharmazians, Greeks, pilgrims, wanderers, ne'er-do-wells and adventurers, invaders, slaves ... was formed that hodge-podge of blood and mentality we call today "Levantine." ...

In the fourteenth century, drought caused the immigration into Palestine of eighteen thousand "tents" of Yurate Tartars from the Euphrates. Soon followed twenty thousand Ashiri under Gaza, and four thousand Mongols under Moulai, who occupied the Jordan Valley and settled from Jerusalem south. …

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