So Just Who is a Palestinian?

November 3, 2010 by Alan Gold
Read on for article

It started with Alan Gold who received a response from Peter Slezak and then David Singer joined in. Alan Gold returns with his third article on a debate initiated by media attention paid to Jewish activist Anna Baltzer….

Alan Gold

The recent disputation on this website concerning a young Jewish woman of limited experience, advocating on behalf of the Palestinians has, perhaps, deeper implications than appear at first sight.

I wrote a column criticising the media for giving Anna Baltzer, the granddaughter of Shoah survivors, so much time and space in her propagation of the Palestinian cause. Academic Peter Slezak wrote condemning me for attacking Baltzer while ignoring what he termed the ‘uncontroversial evidence’ she was propounding.

Slezak’s column made me think about the nature of the evidence which anti-Zionists and pro-Palestinians are currently using to support their case.

Following on the heels of my response to Slezak, Sydney lawyer and foundation member of the International Analysts Network, David Singer, wrote a forensic deconstruction of how Slezak and his allies are using inaccurate, biased information to prove their case.

But what doesn’t seem to be happening is that anybody is asking the questions, “Who are these Palestinians who are demanding their own historical and inalienable nation called Palestine?”

Where did the idea of ‘Palestine’ come from? A few years before he died, Yasser Arafat came out with one of his jaw-dropping prostitutions of reality, a Palestinian revisionism of the history of the area. He said that the Palestinian connection to modern-day Israel dated back to the time of the Canaanites, at least 7,500 years. Other Palestinian historical revisionists have been rewriting the history of Jewish connection with the Holy Land for some time now, in order to undermine Jewish claims to Jerusalem and other centres. Here’s what the Supreme Islamic Council of the Palestinian Authority declared last years: “The Arabs have been living in Palestine since 7,500 BCE and then it was decided by the Heavens to announce the Islamic nature of the land 1500 years ago.”

Strangely, those who quote such ‘uncontested’ facts and figures seem to ignore the fact that the name Palestine was used by the Romans in 136CE as a substitute for the Land of Judea/Samaria because of the Jewish uprisings against Roman rule; further, the historical revisionists also seem to forget that Islam came into being in 610 CE and the Arab armies arrived in Israel as invaders in 637 CE. But let’s not allow facts to get in the way of a good story.

What is of greater concern, however, isn’t the hysterical Palestinian propagandists using Stalinist techniques to re-write their inconvenient history, but the fact that the United Nations, and Western intellectuals such as Chomsky, Judt and Cole are being so selective of their facts to prove Israel’s amorality and undermine its existence.

Indeed, the nature of the concept of Palestine is a good case in point.

Right now, the UN itself is in the process of rewriting history by calling the West Bank and Gaza ‘occupied territories’. What this does is to effectively anoint a contested and conflicted area with the sanctity of statehood, especially when recent UN documentation calls it the ‘Palestinian Occupied Territories’. A recent examination by the indefatigable Eli Hertz, President of Myths and Facts Inc., comments “No legal binding authority has empowered any UN organ, including the International Court of Justice, to decide that the territories of the West Bank, known as Judea and Samaria, and Gaza could be transformed into ‘Occupied Palestinian Territories’ or ‘Palestine’.

Hertz goes on to say, “The use of the word ‘Palestine’ was adopted by the Arabs specifically for political gain, to brand Israelis as invaders and to inherit the geographic area called Palestine as exclusively belonging to the Arabs. The artificiality of a Palestinian identity is reflected in the attitudes and actions of neighboring Arabs who never established a Palestinian state or advocated one prior to the Six-Day War in 1967. What unites Palestinians has been their opposition to Jewish nationalism and the desire to stamp it out, not aspirations for their own state. Local patriotic feelings are generated only when a non-Islamic entity takes charge….it dissipates under Arab rule no matter how distant or despotic, as it was under the rule of Jordan prior to 1967.”

There’s always a danger of using history as a prop for arguments concerning current geo-politics. We’ve seen it countless times in Europe when centuries-old disagreements suddenly erupt to justify modern hatreds. Yet the anti-Zionists rely on their interpretation of history to justify the elimination of Israel and the imposition of a one-State solution.

Perhaps Slezak and his friends had better start thinking about who is a real Palestinian before they bleat about the theft of ‘Palestinian’ land. After all, Jews living there have only called themselves Israelis since 1948; before that, they were proudly known as Palestinians. They read the Palestine Post (now the Jerusalem Post), banked at the Anglo-Palestine Bank (now Bank Leumi), settled in the area courtesy of the Jewish Agency for Palestine (now the Jewish Agency), listened to the Palestine Symphony Orchestra (now the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra), and much more.

Just something to consider….

Alan Gold is a novelist and literary critic

Comments

10 Responses to “So Just Who is a Palestinian?”
  1. david singer says:

    # Reply to Peter Slezak

    Peter –

    I gave you five specific cases of Arab lies and propaganda that you propagated in your article – which I
    claimed were factually false or misleading.

    The veracity of these five matters relied on by you are critical to a proper understanding of the conflict, the reasons that have failed to see it resolved for the last 130 years and that are preventing it being concluded at the present time.

    You have not in your latest letter above sought to deny my claim that they are false and misleading for the reasons I fully detailed.

    You, as an intellectual, surely understand that people formulate views on the basis of facts presented to them in material they read. If people are fooled into believing facts that are demonstrably false or misleading then this will have a major bearing on how they view any particular issue.

    Your intellectual reputation and that of the other intellectuals you name – who apparently according to you are sprouting the same five pieces of Arab propaganda – is now on public display and you cannot run away those five specific claims you have made.

    I challenge you to specifically rebut my claims in relation to the five specific examples given by me.

    You further ask – as if almost admitting your five statements were incorrect:

    “Even if, for the sake of argument, we fully grant the history lessons of Gold and Singer, how can this justify the cruelty, crimes and collective punishment today against the Palestinian people?

    Peter – Cruelty, crimes and collective punishment have not been the exclusive preserve of the Palestinian Arabs. Jews have also been – and continue to be – victims of this long running conflict that has defied any settlement for the last 130 years and has caused misery and suffering on both sides.

    Jews being blown up on buses or in discotheques or pizza bars cannot be justified either. Jews being slaughtered in the Hebron massacre in 1929 or during the Arab Revolt in 1936 is apparently to be overlooked – not to mention the many wars since 1948 that have seen Jews give their lives to preserve their very existence. Having thousands of rockets indiscriminately fired into Jewish civilian population centres for years on end seems to not concern you. Drive by murders of pregnant Jewish women and Jewish children becoming orphans supposedly evokes no sympathy from you.

    I feel the Jewish pain as I feel the Arab pain. This conflict is not a one sided affair. It needs to be resolved in the interests of both Jews and Arabs.

    We would not be having this argument today – and the Palestinian Arabs would have had their own Jew free independent state long ago – and in an area far greater than they are currently demanding – had they:

    1. Accepted the Peel Commission proposals in 1937
    2. Accepted the UN Partition Plan in 1947
    3. Not sent six Arab armies to invade Palestine to wipe out the nascent Jewish State in 1948
    4. Not voted to unify the West Bank and the East Bank in a renamed state called Jordan in 1950
    5. Created an independent state between Jordan and Israel at any time between 1948-1967 when what they are supposedly fighting for today – and more – could have been created by the Arab League at the stroke of a pen in those 19 years whilst not one Jew was living in the West Bank or Gaza.
    6. Refused to negotiate with Israel between 1967-1993.
    7. Rejected offers made by Israel in 2001 and 2008.

    Their refusal to do a deal on so many occasions has been driven by their unyielding opposition to accept that the Jewish people have the right to self- determination in a State where they comprise a majority of the population.

    57 such Moslem countries exist today pursuant to that principle– 21 of which happen to be Arab. Why do the Arabs continue to deny the Jews the same right in their ancestral, biblical and internationally recognized homeland?

    The Arabs must accept the consequences of their actions. Their decisions to oppose Jewish self-determination have come at a very heavy price in terms of continued suffering for themselves – which could have been eliminated had they adopted a more reasoned and compromising approach.

    Blaming their continuing victimhood solely on the Jews – and having Jews argue in that manner based on false and misleading Arab propaganda – is your perfect entitlement to propagate if you desire.

    It is certainly not my viewpoint.

    When I see these false Arab claims repeated ad nauseam – especially by Jewish intellectuals – then I will not remain silent.

    So Peter – if you are prepared to reply to this letter I would ask that you don’t go off on a tangent once again.

    I have made five detailed challenges to the credibility of five specific statements made by you.

    Five responses are required.

    Please let me have them.

    If you wish to specifically rebut the new facts I have presented in this letter feel free to do so and I will answer them.

  2. Peter Slezak says:

    The debate following Alan Gold’s piece on Anna Baltzer is to be welcomed and Jwire is to be commended for giving space to divergent views that are too infrequently aired publicly in the Jewish community. Nevertheless, one might have hoped for a more productive and appropriate, not to mention more courteous, exchange.

    It is assumed by Gold and Singer that those with a different view of political and historical matters deserve to be slandered and misrepresented. This lack of civility among “defenders” of Israel, would not merit comment and might be overlooked as a character flaw perhaps due to bad upbringing. However, its near-universality suggests other causes that do not give confidence about the prospects for rational discussion.

    The absurd and racist charge that only Arab lies and propaganda provide Baltzer’s disturbing picture suggests how isolated mainstream Jewish communities and their leaders have become from the world of serious intellectual and academic discourse. Moreover, the charge is easily refuted by consulting Israel’s human rights organization B’Tselem and, indeed, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. Contrary to Gold’s misrepresentations, I did, in fact, deliberately cite Israeli sources which are not “a pipeline” for Arab propaganda and amply document what diaspora communities are discouraged from knowing about. The insults and derision of Gold and Singer reflect even more poorly upon them when we mention notable Israelis who share the Baltzer’s views and who are unlikely to be “useful idiots” reciting Arab propaganda. These include former Knesset members Uri Avnery, and Shulamit Aloni, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Jeff Halper, the late academic Tanya Reinhart, journalists Gideon Levy, Amira Hass, Tom Segev, Akiva Eldar, and historians Ilan Pappe and Benny Morris. We might mention also other significant Jewish scholars such as Avi Shlaim, the late Tony Judt and leading expert on Gaza, Harvard’s political economist Sara Roy, among many others. Of course, these people might be mistaken in their criticisms of Israel, but they pose a challenge that must be taken seriously by Jewish communities.

    Instead, Gold and Singer resort to invective and epithets only because they can safely assume that their audience remains unaware of dissent among well-intentioned and well-informed Jews within Israel and worldwide. Gold and Singer attempt to maintain the illusion that Jewish community leaders and Israeli Hasbara apparatus are telling the unvarnished Truth.

    Gold has not failed to notice my echoing Anna Baltzer’s plea for upholding international law, humanitarian principles and traditional Jewish universalized ethics. His response is mockery. He refers contemptuously to fulminations from my “moralistic pulpit” from where I cite facts that he dismisses as “boring the pants off” readers because I “trot out” or repeat “propaganda gushing daily out of the Palestinian Victimhood Press.” Apart from anything else one might say about the depths to which such denialism descends, it’s not a good look for Jews who have had a near-monopoly of the “Victimhood Press” and who demand that the world should not deny or forget. It is difficult to know how to reply to someone who responds with sarcasm, scorn and slander when appeal is made to their sense of justice,
    fairness and humanity. What can be said to someone who thinks that the suffering of Palestinians for which we are responsible is a matter for derision and ridicule? Above all, it is difficult to know what to say when such reactions are considered acceptable, indeed, widely shared and applauded in the Jewish community.

    It may “bore the pants off” Gold to remind him of the cost to the Palestinians when the State of Israel was established in 1948. Gold sinks so far as to even deny a Palestinian identity before 1967.
    According to Gold, they didn’t exist. Presumably this exonerates us for present, ongoing violations of international and humanitarian laws, since the human rights of Palestinians don’t exist either. We Jews may feel reassured that we having nothing to feel guilty about concerning the 800,000 Palestinians – half the population – who were forcibly evicted amid many massacres from over 500 villages that were
    destroyed in accordance with Hagana’s ‘Plan Dalet’. If Gold is bored by being reminded of such atrocities, an alternative model of what it is to be a Jew today is provided by Israeli historian Ilan Pappe whose recent book has documented ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine’. He
    writes:

    I am also part of the society that stands condemned in this book. I
    feel responsible for and part of the story and, like others in my own
    society, I am convinced … that such a painful journey into the past is
    the only way forward if we want to create a better future for us all,
    Palestinians and Israelis alike. (2006, p. xvii).

    Gold’s scornful denialism can only be received with equanimity in the Jewish community because there is no awareness of the dramatic shift in the historical picture that has emerged over recent years, largely to the credit of Israeli and other Jewish scholars relying on official Israeli records. Singer, too, attempts to give a history lesson but simply repeats the very claims that have been discredited by
    respectable Israeli historians themselves.

    The “revisionist” account of the “New Historians” is undeniably shocking and cannot be justified in the pages of Jwire. My point was precisely to encourage Jews to check for themselves. Is B’Tselem to be
    so disdainfully dismissed? Is anyone, including Zionists such as Judge Goldstone, to be treated with contempt for no other reason than their criticism of Israel?

    Similarly, Baltzer’s claims are not to be so contemptuously dismissed as a “propaganda rag” that I have uncritically relied upon since, as I indicated, she gives copious references to the authoritative, often
    Israeli, sources of her claims.

    Serious discussion would not resort to the tactics Gold and Singer, but would begin to confront the radically different story of 1948 and since that has now emerged. Despite some differences among scholars, the broad outline is clear and demolishes the self-serving mythology that we have grown up with. It’s admittedly disturbing to discover that we, too, have been victims of systematic propaganda.

    Perhaps the most intellectually and morally bankrupt excuse for the crimes against Palestinians is Zionist appeal to the historic presence of Jews in the holy land. If it were not nearly universal as a
    justification for the ongoing brutal dispossession, injustice and oppression of Palestinians, it would be almost incomprehensible that rational and otherwise decent people might make such claims.

    Even if, for the sake of argument, we fully grant the history lessons of Gold and Singer, how can this justify the cruelty and collective punishment today against the Palestinian people? It is understandable
    that Gold doesn’t want to be reminded of the horrors of the military occupation and wishes to avert his gaze from the crimes for which Jews are responsible today in Gaza and the West Bank. For example, Israeli Jeff Halper reports that over 24,000 Palestinian houses have been demolished in the Occupied Territories since 1967 based on information, not from the “Palestinian Victimhood Press” but from the
    Israeli Ministry of the Interior, the Jerusalem Municipality, the Civil Administration, International Human Rights Watch and other sources. These demolitions, like shooting of unarmed civilians demonstrating in their villages, have nothing to do with the defence of the State of Israel but are among the many forms of oppression and discrimination against Palestinians by the Jewish State in our name.

    A striking feature of the exchange in Jwire is the fact that in replies to my criticisms, Gold and Singer entirely avoid these issues I described as urgent moral, factual and political questions facing Jews. This is so striking as to deserve special emphasis. To take just one form of discrimination under the occupation, do Jewish-only roads in the West Bank derive their justification from the purported history
    that Gold and Singer recite?

    Like other decent human beings, Jews would be moved and disturbed if they learned full the extent of the historical and ongoing Palestinian tragedy and the extent of our responsibility for it. Gold’s mockery of Palestinian suffering and his slander of Jews who speak out about it would be of little interest as a matter of his own individual psychology. However, he does the Jewish community a grave disservice
    by presuming that others share his callous indifference to the plight of Palestinians and their tragic history at our hands. Gold accused Baltzer of ignoring facts, but he didn’t actually mention any himself.
    Instead, he relied on personal abuse. Amusingly, when I pointed this out, Gold’s reply was entirely personal abuse.

    The issue is not just a matter of civility. The ability of the Jewish community to face well-informed, well-intentioned criticism has predictable effects on others in the wider community. Intolerant repudiation of criticism, vilification and tribal ostracizing of dissenters are giving the Jewish community a bad name.

    The importance of someone like Anna Baltzer is precisely that she cannot be so easily defamed and discredited in order to discourage other Jews from taking her seriously. However, Gold was right about one thing: He recognized the significance, indeed the threat, of Baltzer’s youth, intelligence and education. She represents the demographic shift among Jews that Peter Beinart referred to in a
    recent explosive article in the New York Review of Books (NYRB). Baltzer represents the new generation of Jews who are no longer wedded to the myths of those referred to as AKZs – Alte Kakke Zionists. (Following Gold’s erudite scholarly practice of citing sources for his insults, I emphasize that the term is Beinart’s and not mine.)

    I began by asking how “pleas for upholding international law and humanitarian principles on the grounds of traditional Jewish values can elicit the scorn and gross misrepresentations of Alan Gold’s
    discussion of Anna Baltzer”. Neither Gold nor Singer has even addressed these questions. They could hardly have done anything more to illustrate the force of Baltzer’s hand-out slogan “Silence is complicity”.

    JWire has made an important contribution by helping us to confront the clash of “narratives” and it is to be hoped that the exchange might encourage a more open and more productive dialogue. Gold’s articles present us with a choice. We may follow those like Gold who belittle Palestinian suffering and deny our responsibility for it. Or we may heed others like Baltzer and the Israelis and Jews I have mentioned who remind us of the lessons we learned from our own tragedy: First, to universalize our ethical concerns by standing for justice and equality for everyone. Second, of all people, we cannot use the excuse “we didn’t know.”

  3. Alan Gold says:

    Zak, you are given to quoting one or two sources to prove your case for the origins of the Palestinian people. So it’s incumbent upon me to advise readers that within your diatribe of ad hominem remarks (to which, by the way, I’m immune. I prefer the use of intellect rather than abuse), you omit a raft of social, genetic, anthropological and historical reality. These may be found in the innumerable scholarly works which have been written on the subject.

    However, your argument is undermined by the Palestine National Council itself, which, in their Charter of 1968, defined Palestinians as Arab nationals. In other words, their own definition is not a religious one but includes Christians, Samaritans, Druze and Jews, provided that they normally resided in a Palestine “with the boundaries it had during the British Mandate…”

    The British Mandate! From the end of World War 1 until 1948. So, Zak, by the Palestinian Council’s own words, you’re proven wrong. Of course, since time immemorial, there have been Arabs, and Jews and, since the beginning of the Christian era, followers of Jesus, residing on the land. But they were residents of the various conquering forces which took ownership. They were not Palestinians….they were, at various times, inter alia Ottomans and Syrians and Egyptians. Then, from the collapse of the Ottoman empire, they became subjects of the conquering British until the creation of modern Israel. Now those Arabs who live within Israel are Israelis.

    The historian Rashid Khalidi (the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University) has written that Palestinian identity has never been an exclusive one, with ‘Arabism, religion and local loyalties’ playing an important role.

    Khalidi warns today’s Palestinians against ‘anachronistically’ reading back into history a nationalist consciousness that is, in fact, ‘relatively modern’.

    Zak, are you aware that until the Six Day War, almost all Palestinians referred to themselves as either Egyptians, Jordanians or Syrians. You have to come to terms with the fact that Palestine, and the Palestinians, are a recent political construct. This doesn’t deny them rights or their recent legitimacy. It just denies them the history which their revisionists are relying upon to undermine the legitimacy of Israel. Palestinian identity was a construct of those Arabs who opposed Zionism.

  4. Zak says:

    Dear oh dear, you poor man. You say: “The vast majority of the Arab population in Israel and the territories migrated into Israel from surrounding Arab countries over the past century. Economic prosperity in the growth of Jewish Palestine-Israel was the cause of the migration, for employment and so that the Arabs from neighbouring countries could enjoy the better standard of living.”

    You’ve been reading Joan Peter’s “From Time Immemorial”, haven’t you? Because a thesis as preposterously deceitful as this certainly couldn’t have come from anyone else—except from your namesake Alan Dershowitz, who was daft enough to plagiarise the book, even AFTER “From Time Memorial” had been exposed as a monumental fraud!

    Did you not know this? Did you not know that even Daniel Pipes, not exactly renowned for being a dedicated anti-Zionist, poured scorn on Peters’ book?

    I don’t have more time, Alan, friend of Alan. But if you value one iota whatever reputation you enjoy as a writer, I’d get my act together if I were you. And I’d take a look at Baruch Kimmerling’s The Palestinian People some time.

    It’s your literary bed, sunshine. I’d give some thought as to how you make it.

  5. Alan Gold says:

    Somebody called ‘Zak’, calling me a sophist of unusually energetic vulgarity, feels that I’ve disgraced myself by ignoring Palestinian traditions, folklore, ways of life and their deep and intimate ties with the land (far predating Zionist settlement).
    Perhaps ‘Zak’ would like to present me with his research which will prove his case. Then I’ll write a full and profound apology for my errors.
    Meantime, instead of gratuitous insults, perhaps ‘Zak’ might like a bit of a history lesson. And please feel free to check this out in any authoritative historical textbook.
    Only after Jews re-inhabited the area of modern Israel did the myth of an Arab Palestinian nation become currency and was promoted world-wide. There is no language known as Palestinian, nor any Palestinian culture distinct from that of any Arab nation in surrounding countries. There has never been a Palestinian land, culture or tradition governed by Palestinians. Palestinians today are Arabs totally indistinguishable from any other Arab. The vast majority of the Arab population in Israel and the territories migrated into Israel from surrounding Arab countries over the past century. Economic prosperity in the growth of Jewish Palestine-Israel was the cause of the migration, for employment and so that the Arabs from neighbouring countries could enjoy the better standard of living.
    The very name “Palestine” comes from the Latin Palestinia, which the Romans used after they banned the use of the name Judea. And ‘Palestinia’ was derived from the Hebrew Philistinim, meaning the people of the southern coastal area around Gaza….who were an ancient sea-faring people of doubtful antiquity…though possibly archaic Greek.
    So ‘Zak’, instead of throwing around uninformed and gratuitous insults, might I suggest you read some history. And then, if you’re right and I’m wrong, I’ll certainly apologise. Meantime….

  6. Samuel-Yermiya says:

    An historical fact for Farabi, a late relative of mine from the Jeremiah clan called Albert Einstein said referring to the zionists “a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties” (The New York Times, 4/12/1948)*.

  7. Zak says:

    Alan Gold shows again that he’s a sophist of unusually energetic vulgarity. One feels almost embarassed for him. He certainly disgraces himself by showing that he thinks Palestinian traditions, folklore, ways of life and deep and intimate ties with the land, far predating Zionist settlement, are something to be arrogantly ignored for the sake of adolescent polemical games.

  8. Farabi says:

    Thanks for the valuable historical facts.

  9. Samuel-Yermiya says:

    Good work? A multitude of dullard postings to make one vacuous and irrelevant point that Anna Baltzer is a pretty woman and that is why people listen to her? Or is it because it gives you the opportunity to expose yourself in public? Or is this referring to the hasbarah that this Gold rabid blogmania is? It definitely lacks wit and imagination to be called chutzpah or beyond..hint…hint. Can’t mention the NF word here on what should be called z-wire not J-wire. Calabrian peasant saying that “when washes the head of a donkey one wastes both soap and water. Shalom-Salaam to the few human beings out there reading this and not playing with themselves.

  10. Closer to home says:

    Good work Alan,

    However, we arre straying from the point a little.

    In my view people like Baltzer, Slezak and Lowenstein leave a lot to be desired on a more primary level.

    How can Slezak and Lowenstein reconcile themselves with living in Australia given the atrocities committed against indigenous Australians (and the ongoing injustices still being committed today) given their views on Palestinians?

    Austen Tayshus put it to Anthony beautifully in the television prorgram “John Safran vs God” – unfortunately there are no links to this clip that I could find.

    Maybe it makes it easier for these people to reconcile this issue by focussing instead on Palestinian issues?

    Australia is a free country with freedom of speech, which includes hypocrisy – which is the biggest issues of these two folks.

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