Now in this respect I want to say that the Palestinians are the indigenous people of Palestine. They are descendants of the Semitic tribes that came and inhabited Palestinian territory since thousands and thousands of years, certainly long before Abraham set foot on the Palestinian territory.
– Haider Abdel Shafi, head of the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid Conference of 1991.
Who were the original Palestinians?
The Philistines were an Aegean (Cypriot) people that died out almost 3,000 years ago. There is absolutely no connection between this tribe and the modern day Arabs that identify as Palestinian. Even the land the two people dwelled in was different, Philistine was a tiny stretch of land in the same location as Gaza. At this time the much larger area of Israel and the West Bank was almost exclusively inhabited by Jews. To suggest the Palestinians descend from this tiny tribe is positively absurd – they were a different ethnicity, with a different language and no traces of their culture exists in Palestinian culture today. This people became extinct 3,000 years ago, they are not the Palestinians.
The word Philistine stems from a hebrew word “Pilishtim” which was the Biblical name of this tribe. It is a hebrew (Jewish) word which translates to invaders, as the Philistines were not indigenous.
Where was Syria-Palestina?
When the Romans crushed the Jewish revolt of 132 CE they attempted to discourage patriotism and renamed the region Syria-Palaestina (exiling many of the Jews at the same time). Syria-Palestina stretched from Egypt to Turkey and from Israel to Jordan, it had a diverse demography but the majority population was Phoenician, Greek and Roman.
Syria-Palestina was a foreign name forced upon a region that had never been unified. The Romans chose to name it after two ancient kingdoms Assyria and Philistine, both of which had long ago died out. This Roman province had nothing to do with the modern day Palestinian state, either geographically or ethnically.
So who are the Palestinians?
The Palestinians are a mixed people and while the majority descend from recent economic migrants, who flocked to the area between 1850 and 1950. A few Muslim families trace their history to the Arab conquest of Jerusalem and some Jewish and Christian families go even back further. However, very few Palestinian Arabs are indigenous 1 – Arabs are not indigenous to the Levant (unsurprisingly they originate from Arabia, they arrived in the Levant with the Muslim conquests of the 7th century).
A Hamas leader explains how most Palestinians are not indigenous to “Palestine”.
At the beginning of the 20th century a number of Levantine Arabs reacted to Zionism by creating a nationalist movement of their own, who like the Zionists demanded the right for self-determination. The problem with creating this non-Jewish nationalist movement was that the inhabitants of the region were incredibly diverse. There were Arabs, Bedouins, Druze, Kurds, Europeans, Arameans, Christians, Muslims, etc. and ‘not being Jewish’ was the only thing these people had in common. They had no language, culture or religion to make them distinct from Jordanians or Syrians and the only thing that seemed to unify them was geography.
Since the end of Jewish sovereignty in the region, Israel remained a tiny province in much larger empires. Some of these conquerors referred to the area by the Roman name of Palestine (Philistia, Palestina, Mandatory Palestine, etc.) – but this always denoted a place and not a people. Irrespective of this fact, the Arab nationalists chose to name the nation they coveted “Filastin”, probably because this was the only consistently used name for the region that did not have strong Jewish associations.
Before Britain relinquished control of the Mandate the inhabitants of the Mandatory Palestine had mixed loyalties, some supported a Jewish homeland, some remained impartial, a minority supported an Arab homeland and a larger number supported the notion of pan-Arabism (which unified all Arab peoples – not just one small province). It was pan-Arabism that had the support of the surrounding Arab states, while powerful local clans like the Husaynis and Nashashibis fought for Palestinian self-determination.
In truth Palestinian nationalism was a minority position, one powerful Arab leader, Auni Bey Abdul-Hadi, declared “There is no such country as Palestine! ‘Palestine’ is a term the Zionists invented! There is no Palestine in the Bible. Our country was for centuries part of Syria.”2
When Syrian President Hafez Assad addressed, the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat by saying, “There is no such thing as a Palestinian people, there is no Palestinian entity, there is only Syria. You are an integral part of the Syrian people, Palestine is an integral part of Syria. Therefore it is we, the Syrian authorities, who are the true representatives of the Palestinian people.”3
Arafat was in no place to rebuke him as a few years earlier, he himself had declared…
The question of borders doesn’t interest us… From the Arab standpoint, we mustn’t talk about borders. Palestine is nothing but a drop in an enormous ocean. Our nation is the Arabic nation that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea and beyond it… The PLO. is fighting Israel in the name of Pan-Arabism. What you call “Jordan” is nothing more than Palestine.
– Yasser Arafat 3
And it wasn’t just the Palestinians and Syrians saying this…
The truth is that Jordan is Palestine and Palestine is Jordan
– King Hussein of Jordan 4
In 1948 Jordan invaded and conquered the West Bank usurping the territory. They forbade Jews from living there and granted all non-Jews Jordanian citizenship… the local “Palestinians” embraced their new nationality without objection. There was no rejection of this new identity as Jordanians and Palestinians are identical, it was only because of British interference that they were artificially separated in to two people.
Most Arabs of this period subscribed to an ideology called pan-Arabism that espoused the unification of Arab countries (an entity many Arab rulers dreamed of leading). King Abdullah of Jordan was no different, he usurped the West Bank as he’d long dreamt of ruling a pan-Arab empire called “Greater Syria”. To his dismay the Israelis shattered his dream in 1967 when they repelled a Jordanian attack on Israel – driving them out of the West Bank. Almost overnight his vision of a Greater Syria crumbled.
Why is it that on June 4th 1967 I was a Jordanian and overnight I became a Palestinian?
– Walid Shoebat, a former PLO terrorist
With pan-Arabism on its knees, the Arabs attempted a different strategy to destroy Israel – Palestinian independence. Up until this point Palestinian nationalism had been supported by a small minority, but every attempt to unify the people behind this cause had failed. For example the Grand Mufti attempted to establish the All-Palestine Government in Gaza, but it was defeated due to lack of power and public support. In the sixties this changed, pan-Arabism was in its death throes and Palestinian statehood emerged as its successor . The Palestinian Liberation Organisation, headed by Arafat and supported by the Arab League, effectively gave birth to the Palestinian people, they fabricated a history and unity amongst the people that had never existed.
[T]he Palestinian people have no national identity. I, Yasser Arafat, man of destiny, will give them that identity through conflict with Israel.
– Yasser Arafat 5
They created a flag (which was all but identical to their brothers in Jordan) and fabricated a history supporting their claim for sovereignty over all of the land, including Israel.
The majority of Arabs were not indigenous, nor were they distinct from other Arabs of that region and while today they define themselves as one people (and no-one has the right to deny them of this). We must not be fooled into believing this is an ancient people, or even a people with ancient claims to the land.
Two hundreds years ago there were no Palestinians, while there was a multitude of mixed ethnicities living in the land they did not identify as a collective people. Nor is there any evidence of a Palestinian people every existing. There has never been a Palestinian monarch, a Palestinian language and all Palestinian art and culture is a construct of modernity. In contrast there the Jews are an identifiable people with a shared history, monarchs and language in the land of Israel.
Jewish use of the word Palestine
Though the nationalists chose to identify as “Filastin”, it was the Jews that first took on this name calling their newspapers, charities, and organizations such names as the “Palestine Post” and the “United Palestine Appeal,” while the Arabs eschewed the term as being “Jewish” and “Zionist.” For them, they were Muslims first, and “Southern Syrians” second.
If Palestine were a “Sovereign” or “Independent” country at some point in history (or as some suggest, one that spans most of recorded history), then it would be easy to answer these questions:
- When was it founded and by whom?
- What were its borders?
- Who was the ruler?
- What constituted the basis of its economy?
- Who was the Palestinian leader before the Grand Mufti?
- Was Palestine ever recognized by a country whose existence, at that time or now, leaves no room for interpretation?
- What was the language of the country of Palestine?
- What was the prevalent religion of the country of Palestine?
- And, finally, since there is no such country today, what caused its demise and when did it occur?
These questions cannot be answered as the “Palestinians” are modern people and Palestinian nationalism is actually younger than Zionism. They are not indigenous to the land, the majority are recent migrants attracted by economic opportunities created by the Zionists. Even those that pre-date the Zionists are on the whole migrants to the land attracted at different times, during different conquests and for different reasons.
It is not our aim to deny this people of their recently found unity, we believe all people have the right to self-identity and self-determination. But this must not come at the expense of Jewish right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland.
Learn more about how Israel as created:
- Did Israel get all of the good land?
- Did America create Israel?
- Is it true that Israel stole Palestinian land?
- Was there ever a Palestinian people?
- Was there ever a country called Palestine?
- Was the Zionist movement a plot to colonise the Middle East?
- Were the Jews unwilling to share Palestine?
- Was the UN Partition Plan unfair to the Palestinian majority?
- Are Israel’s borders expanding?
- Is it true that Britain created Israel?
- Why should the Palestinians pay for Europe's wrongs during the Holocaust?
1. Doron M. Behar; Bayazit Yunusbayev; Mait Metspalu; Ene Metspalu; Saharon Rosset; Jüri Parik; Siiri Rootsi; Ildus Kutuev; Guennady Yudkovsky; Elza K. Khusnutdinova; Oleg Balanovsky; Olga Balaganskaya; Ornella Semino; Luisa Pereira; David Gurwitz; Batsheva Bonne-Tamir; Tudor Parfitt; Michael F. Hammer; Karl Skorecki; Richard Villems (July 2010). “The genome-wide structure of the Jewish people” (PDF). Nature 466 (7303): 238–42. doi:10.1038/nature09103. PMID 20531471.
2. Moshe Kohn, “The Arabs’ ‘Lie’ of the Land,” Jerusalem Post, (October 18, 1991).
3. Israel Reclaiming the Narrative, Barry Shaw, p150
4. King Hussein of Jordan, 1981, quoted in “Unholy War”, Randall Price, p142
5. Terrorist or Peace Maker, by Alan Hart