Hold the phone. Who are you calling a Palestinian?
Modern “Palestinians” have been manipulated by two generations of corrupt and cold-hearted leaders into an identity they did not have just 65 years ago. Try telling that to the BBC or the United Nations
In fact, at the end of the Ottoman empire in 1918, Arabs living in the area now covered by Israel and Jordan preferred to be known as Syrian. It was the incoming Jews who were calling themselves “Palestinian”, following the name of the area under British mandate control.
When Britain, to satisfy promises made to Arab leaders during World War 1, set aside part of her Palestinian mandate for Arab rule, it was this area (Trans-Jordan, now Jordan) which was known as a Palestinian state — something it still is in cultural terms.
When Jordan illegally invaded and seized part of the mandate territory allocated for Jewish settlement in 1948 and called it “The West Bank” there was no talk of creating a second Palestinian state on that land and there was no localised national movement to do so. Arab nationalism, up to then, had focussed on being part of a wider Muslim “Umma” covering the whole region.
Egypt did the same with the narrow strip we now call Gaza in the same war, but again there was no move to call it “Palestine”, nor its people Palestinians. This too was an illegal annexation of land intended for Jewish settlement alongside the local inhabitants.
The idea of a Palestinian nationalist movement only took off in 1967, after Jordan’s hold on the West Bank had been released by Israel in the defensive “Six Day War” that year. Only then was there talk of an independent state called Palestine and of Jerusalem as its capital.
The 1948 war that followed the creation of Israel produced hundreds of thousands of refugees, both Arab and Jewish. While the Jewish refugees from Arab nations were successfully integrated into Israel, most of the Arab refugees were not similarly integrated into the surrounding nations they fled to and became known as the “Palestinian refugees”.
Only Jordan offered citizenship; to this day most of the original refugees and their descendants languish in sometimes horrendous conditions in whichever country they ended up in 1948! These unfortunate “diaspora” Arabs are included as Palestinians, even though they are not even free to integrate into the disputed territories governed by the Palestinian Authority.
The non-refugee Arab inhabitants of the West Bank are the essential modern Palestinians, a group of a different culture to the majority Jewish inhabitants of the land, and who have determined to call themselves “Palestinians”.
In itself, that is fine; they can call themselves any name they like, but they have been manipulated by two generations of corrupt and cold-hearted leaders into an identity they did not have just 65 years ago! The Oslo Accords cemented this identity by creating an interim government, the Palestinian Authority (PA).
With two failed intifadas under their belt, the PLO (through the PA, which is essentially an agent for them) has now tried to fabricate some international credibility through its meaningless recognition as an “observer state” by the UN.
So there you have it. A Palestinian is an inhabitant of the disputed territories of the West Bank and Gaza, or a diaspora refugee, or his or her descendant. Got it? OK, now think again!
A disturbing trend has arisen, in the last two years or so, that attempts to conflate the identities of at least three distinct non-Jewish groups resident in Israel and call them all “Palestinians”. There is no other logic behind this than artificially to create further reasons to harass and delegitimise Israel for “apartheid policies” against “Palestinians”.
Under this conflated identity have been brought distinct cultural groups, all of which exist relatively easily and certainly relatively comfortably as citizens of Israel. As such, therefore, their nationality is Israeli (and most of them are happy to be so).
What is so artificial is that the groups in question do not on the whole call themselves Palestinians, but refer to themselves by their inherited cultural titles; Druze, Bedouin, Israeli Arab (both muslim and Christian).
Israeli Arabs, for example, are called that because they are Arabs who live in Israel and have Israeli nationality. While many have family ties to Palestinians living in the West Bank or Gaza, they have always been known as Israeli Arabs. Until now that is, and only by groups wanting to use any discrimination or societal differences with Jewish Israelis to accuse Israel of active persecution of “Palestinians”.
The Druze are another example. They are a proud people, distinct from all other cultural groups in the region. Druze live in Syria, in the Golan and in parts of the Carmel hills in Israel. Their culture teaches them to be loyal to whichever state they live in and so they sit comfortably as good citizens of Israel. They serve in the Army and take a full part in Israeli life.
But they are not Palestinians. So why do groups seeking to delegitimise Israel call them that? Because the Golan Druze are living in an area that is still considered “occupied” by many, even though Israel formally annexed it after the 1967 war and it is now under normal civilian administration.
If they are living in “occupied territory”, then they must be suffering from “Israeli apartheid” polices – mustn’t they! So, call them Palestinians and add them to the list of people persecuted by Israel. What a load of rubbish.
Finally, what about the Bedouin? They are indigenous to the region, but not necessarily to specific localities. They are historically the travellers of the desert — in Britain we would probably call them gypsies. Like gypsies, the Bedouin often camp or build in places they are not supposed to. In a modern democracy, this flies in the face of the rule of law and Israel has struggled to find fair ways of dealing with the situation.
A plan has been developed and passed in the Knesset to rehouse those Bedouin living in illegally built houses and villages. Where this has already been done, those relocated have usually been happy to move from unhygienic and unserviced hovels into clean houses with good services, schools for their children and so on.
But, guess what? Suddenly they are Palestinians being discriminated against by Israeli policies. They are being “ethnically cleansed” from illegally built villages by a “racist” Jewish state. Funny, but I don’t think the British Government was accused of racism for destroying an illegal gypsy encampment in the southern English county of Essex…
Nick Gray is Director of Christian Middle East Watch (www.cmew.org.uk), a Christian organisation dedicated to bringing objective facts and balance to the discussion on the Middle East and particularly on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. He blogs at http://cmewonline.com and tweets at @CMEW2