The One Palestine: Past, Present and Future Perspectives

By Pappe, Ilan | Nebula, September 2008 | Go to article overview

The One Palestine: Past, Present and Future Perspectives


Pappe, Ilan, Nebula


A clear sense of 'Palestine' as a coherent geo-political unit dates back, according to both the Palestinian and Zionist narratives, to 3000 BC. From that time onward, and for another 1500 years, it was the land of the Canaanites. In around 1500 BC the land of Canaan fell under Egyptian rule, not for the last time in history and then successfully under Philistine (1200-975), Israelite (1000-923), Phoenician (923-700), Asyrian (700-612), Babylonian (586-539), Persian (539-332), Macedonian (332-63), Roman (63BC-636CE), Arab (636-1200), Crusade (1099-1291), Ayubi (1187-1253), Mamluk (1253-1516) and Ottoman rules (1517-1917). Each rule divided the land in administrative way that reflected its political culture and time. But apart from the early Roman period and the early Arab period when vast population were moved out and in, the society remained--ethnically, culturally and religiously--the same. Within what we recognize today as Mandatory Palestine this society developed its own oneness and distinctive features.

In modern times, some of the above periods were manipulated and co-opted into a national, or colonialist, narrative to justify the takeover and conquest of the country. This historical chronology was used, or abused, by the Crusaders and later European colonialists and the Zionist movement. The Zionists were different from the others as they deemed, as did the powers that be when they emerged in 1882, the historical reference as crucial for justifying their colonization of Palestine. They did it as part of what they termed 'the Return' to or 'Redemption' of the land, which was once ruled by Israelites; as the historical checklist above indicate this is a reference to a mere century in a history of four millennia.

Apart from the national narrative, we should say that Palestine as a geo-political entity was a fluid concept since the rulers of the country quite often were the representatives of an empire, which disabled any local sovereignty from developing. The question of sovereignty began to be an issue--one that would inform the land's history and conflict until today--once the Empires disappeared. The natural progress from such disintegration, almost everywhere in the world, was that the indigenous population took over. Ever since the emergence of the concept of Nationalism, the identity of this historical revolution is clearer and common. Where the vestiges of imperialism or colonialism refused to let go--such as in the case of while settlers' communities in North and South Africa--the national wars of liberation lingered on. In places, where the indigenous population was annihilated by the settlers' communities, they became the new nation (as happened in the Americas and Australia).

The takeover from the disintegrating empires succeeded a longer process, so many of the theoreticians of nationalism believe, of social and cultural cohesiveness. The liberated land varied in structure and composition: some having a heterogeneous ethnic, religious and culture societies, finding it difficult to become a nation state, others, were fortunate due to their relative homogeneity--although they had their share of the economic polarity, social differentiation and a constant struggle between modernity and tradition. A liberated Palestine would have belonged to the latter model--which developed in Egypt and Tunisia--and less similar to the more troubled cases of Iraq and Lebanon.

With the turn of the 21st century, the political map of the world consolidated in such a way that only in very few areas where the nation building of the state still continues or the issue of sovereignty is still open. A rare case, which distresses the world at large and destabilizes it, is Palestine. Why did not this Arab land become another Arab nation state--as all the other states in the Middle East (including the smallest of the emirates in the Persian Gulf)--is a known story. What is quite often neglected is the fact that the present geo-political reality, while been depicted in the world as normal, is in fact a sui generis that runs contrary to the land's history and the wishes of its native population, who still constitute a vast majority of the people (the Palestinian refugee community and those living inside Palestine are double than that of the Jews inside the land). …

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