December 18, 2011

Palestinians and Indians "invented"?

Along with Rick Perry bashing gays, we recently heard Newt Gingrich bashing Palestinians.  He claimed they were an "invented" people--with no right to statehood, presumably.

Several postings rebuked Gingrich for his ignorance of Middle Eastern history.  Here's the best one I've read so far:

Newt Gingrich: ignoramus, cheat, cynic or all three?

By Uri Avnery
From its very beginning, the Zionist movement has denied the existence of the Palestinian people. It's an article of faith.

The reason is obvious: if there exists a Palestinian people, then the country the Zionists were about to take over was not empty. Zionism would entail an injustice of historic proportions. Being very idealistic persons, the original Zionists found a way out of this moral dilemma: they simply denied its existence. The winning slogan was "A land without a people for a people without a land."

So, who were these curious human beings they met when they came to the country? Oh, ah, well, they were just people who happened to be there, but not "a" people. Passers-by, so to speak. Later, the story goes, after we had made the desert bloom and turned an arid and neglected land into a paradise, Arabs from all over the region flocked to the country, and now they have the temerity--indeed the chutzpah--to claim that they constitute a Palestinian nation!

For many years after the founding of the state of Israel, this was the official line. Golda Meir famously exclaimed: "There is no such thing as a Palestinian people!" (To which I replied in the Knesset: "Mrs Prime Minister, perhaps you are right. Perhaps there really is no Palestinian people. But if millions of people mistakenly believe that they are a people, and behave like a people, then they are a people.")

A huge propaganda machine--both in Israel and abroad--was employed to "prove" that there was no Palestinian people. A lady called Joan Peters wrote a book (From Time Immemorial) proving that the riffraff calling themselves "Palestinians" had nothing to do with Palestine. They are nothing but interlopers and impostors. The book was immensely successful--until some experts took it apart and proved that the whole edifice of conclusive proofs was utter rubbish.
And:Nationalism is a relatively recent historical phenomenon. When a community decides to become a nation, it has to reinvent itself. That means inventing a national past, reshuffling historical facts (and non-facts) in order to create a coherent picture of a nation existing since antiquity. Hermann the Cherusker, member of a Germanic tribe who betrayed his Roman employers, became a "national" hero. Religious refugees who landed in America and destroyed the native population became a "nation." Members of an ethnic-religious diaspora formed themselves into a "Jewish nation." Many others did more or less the same.

Indeed, Newt would profit from reading a book by a Tel Aviv University professor, Shlomo Sand, a kosher Jew, whose Hebrew title speaks for itself: When and How the Jewish People was Invented?

Who are these Palestinians? About a hundred years ago, two young students in Istanbul, David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, the future prime minister and president (respectively) of Israel, wrote a treatise about the Palestinians. The population of this country, they said, has never changed. Only small elites were sometimes deported. The towns and villages never moved, as their names prove. Canaanites became Israelites, then Jews and Samaritans, then Christian Byzantines. With the Arab conquest, they slowly adopted the religion of Islam and the Arab culture. These are today's Palestinians. I tend to agree with them.

Parroting the straight Zionist propaganda line--by now discarded by most Zionists--Gingrich argues that there can be no Palestinian people because there never was a Palestinian state. The people in this country were just "Arabs" under Ottoman rule.

So what? I used to hear from French colonial masters that there is no Algerian people, because there never was an Algerian state, there was never even a united country called Algeria. Any takers for this theory now?

The name "Palestine" was mentioned by a Greek historian some 2,500 years ago. A "Duke of Palestine" is mentioned in the Talmud. When the Arabs conquered the country, they called it "Filastin", as they still do. The Arab national movement came into being all over the Arab world, including Palestine--at the same time as the Zionist movement--and strove for independence from the Ottoman Sultan.

For centuries, Palestine was considered a part of Greater Syria (the region known in Arabic as "al-Sham"). There was no formal distinction between Syrians, Lebanese, Palestinians and Jordanians. But when, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the European powers divided the Arab world between them, a state called Palestine became a fact under the British Mandate, and the Arab Palestinian people established themselves as a separate nation with a national flag of their own. Many peoples in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America did the same, even without asking Gingrich for confirmation.

It would certainly be ironic if the members of the "invented" Palestinian nation were expected to ask for recognition from the members of the "invented" Jewish/Israeli nation, at the demand of a member of the "invented" American nation, a person who, by the way, is of mixed German, English, Scottish and Irish stock.
Comment:  Pundits have noted that many nations in Africa, Asia, and eastern Europe didn't consider themselves states until they became states in the 20th century.  No one has given a reason we should consider the Palestinians different from other people.

I've noted the similarities between the Palestinians and Indians before.  This is another area they have in common.  Right-wingers routinely claim that recently recognized tribes were "invented" to foist gaming on us.    Indeed, if they're fighting Indian rights as a whole, they claim all Indian "nations" were invented.  Not that Indians didn't exist, but that they weren't sovereign entities with well-defined governments or territories.  They were just primitive nomads wandering aimlessly like animals.

Steve Newcomb explains the root of this thinking:

In the chapter “Francisco de Vitoria and International Law” Anghie points out that Vitoria dealt with such topics as divine and natural law, sovereignty and culture, particularism and universalism. With these elements Vitoria conceptualized an international jurisprudence, and in the context of that thinking Vitoria treated idealized Spanish practices as “universally binding,” and hence binding on the Indians.Anghie says that “Indians are excluded [by Vitoria] from the realm of sovereignty, and Indian resistance to Spanish incursions becomes aggression which justifies the waging of a limitless war by a sovereign Spain against non-sovereign Indians.“ The “crucial issue,” according to Anghie, is the basis of the decision that the Indians were not sovereign: “Vitoria bases his conclusions that the Indians are not sovereign on the simple assertion that they are pagans.” In other words, Vitoria’s judgment was that the Indians were not sovereign because they were not Christians.Never mind that the Founding Fathers recognized Indian tribes as foreign nations and their rulers as kings.  And signed treaties with them exactly as if they were sovereign entities.  These right-wingers are so intellectually dishonest they don't even mention the word "treaty."

Clearly they don't consider tribal sovereignty a historic fact.  To them, it's a plot to take America away from the white Christians who founded it and give it back to the heathens and savages who wasted it.  And that's what pseudo-Zionists like Gingrich think about Palestinian statehood.  It's a plot to take Israel away from the white Jews who founded it and give it back to the Muslim heathens and savages who wasted it.  

In short, liberals who support indigenous rights for Indians and Palestinians are basically fighting a cultural war against the Biblical God.  The same Bible-based bigotry motivates the hatred of Indians and Palestinians.

America the invention

Comparing the Palestinians to Africans, Asians, eastern Europeans, or American Indians is one thing.  But why stop there?  The most telling comparison is between Palestinians and Americans.  Consider:

  • They were part of another empire for a century or two.

  • They spent decades establishing their own institutions and identities.

  • They finally got fed up and declared their independence as a sovereign state.

  • Which act of invention am I describing:  the founding of an American or Palestinian state?  What's the difference between the two?

    If anything, America is the much bigger "invention."  The British had no claim to North America before they invented one out of thin air.   Unlike the Indians and Palestinians, they hadn't occupied the land for thousands of years.  

    When the British did establish a foothold, they thought of themselves as colonists and subjects of the British Empire.  The idea of an American identity didn't occur to them until the last few years of colonization.  Indeed, the American nationality didn't exist until the Founders invented it on July 4, 1776.

    So the Palestinian aspirations for statehood are just like the American aspirations for statehood.  And Gingrich is a stupid idiot for not understanding this.

    1 comment:

    Anonymous said...

    A lot of it is Christians. To be honest, 99% of fundamentalist Christians would be the same Jew-haters they were at least a hundred years ago, if Israel wasn't killing Arabs.