In 1919, ‘Palestine Part of Arab Syria’

December 20, 2011  

The Palestinian Authority is furious at Newt Gingrich for calling “Palestinians” an “invented people,” but a short history shows that Arabs in the British Mandate and modern Israel never considered themselves a people.

“Both historically and in contemporary times, the Arabs  living in the area now known as Palestine were regarded both by outsiders and by their own spokespeople as members of the greater Arab population, without a separate or distinct identity,” according to Prof. Michael Curtis of the Begin-Sadat  Center for Strategic Studies.

He concluded, “Whatever one’s views of Gingrich’s sagacity or judgment on other issues, or one’s opinions  on the more general issue of the desirability and character of a Palestinian state existing alongside the State of Israel, the accuracy of his statement cannot be denied…. The concept of Palestinian identity and nationalism is a recent invention.”

He noted that in 1919, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire that ruled in what is now Israel, the first Congress of Muslim-Christian Associations declared, “We consider Palestine as part of Arab Syria as it has never been separated from it at any time. We are connected with it by national, religious, linguistic, moral, economic, and geographical bonds.”

Similarly, “Palestinian” spokesman told the United Nations Security Council in 1956 that Palestine was nothing more than southern Syria.

Prof. Curtis added that in 1977, The head of the Military Operations Department of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Zuheir Muhsein, declared, “Only for political reasons do we carefully underline our Palestinian identity. …the existence of a separate Palestinian  identity is there for tactical reasons.” The PLO charter states that Palestine is part of the Arab nation.

“The Ottoman Empire, which ruled from 1516-1918,  was the last recognized sovereign power in the area,” explains Prof. Curtis. “The area of Palestine was a district of the Empire, officially a vilayet (province), not a political entity. No independent Palestinian state has ever been established, nor was there a single administrative or cultural unit of  Palestinians.  

“On the other hand, a sovereign Jewish state existed prior to the rise of the Roman Empire. While the Romans destroyed the Second Temple, changed the name of the land to Syria Palestina, and banished the Jews from Jerusalem, this did not eradicate all Jewish presence in the area.”

Palestinian Authority officials have claimed that Israel also is “invented,” but Prof. Curtis wrote, “Jewish nationalism may include not only centuries-old traditions but also certain invented elements. What is important, however, is that  the  Jews constitute a  people – a set of individuals linked together not only by a common religion, but also as members of an ethnic community with memories of a shared past, common ceremonies and culture, and mutual legal codes, social behavior, myths and symbols. Between Jews there is a peoplehood, a subjective belief in their common descent from ancestors in Judea and Samaria.”

The term ”Palestine” as a definition of what now is Israel came into being after the  British chased out the Ottoman rulers. The League of Nations creates a “Mandate for Palestine,” which was handed over to Britain.

Both Jews and Arabs were regarded as “Palestinians,” and Prof. Curtis adds, “Ironically, the name was used not by Arabs but only by Jews in the area, as in The Palestinian Post and the Palestine Symphony (now Israel Philharmonic) Orchestra.

“Only after the State of Israel was established in May 1948 did the term “Palestinian” become exclusively used in referring to Arabs in the area. The single most important factor leading to the idea and development of a Palestinian national identity was the creation of Israel and the Arab defeat by Israel in 1948-49.

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