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17 December 2011


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The simplest solution is to ask people to self identify.

According to Wikipedia, "After the Romans adopted the term as the official administrative name for the region in the 2nd century CE, "Palestine" as a stand alone term came into widespread use, printed on coins, in inscriptions and even in rabbinic texts.[34] The Arabic word Filastin has been used to refer to the region since the time of the earliest medieval Arab geographers. It appears to have been used as an Arabic adjectival noun in the region since as early as the 7th century CE."

In the early 20th, the Jewish population was referred to as "Jewish Palestinians." Israelis did not exist before 1948. The language had to be made up, incorporating many Arab words. Before Theodor Herzl promoted Zionism, most Jews had a weak common identity, which is why Herzl had to promote the idea of a common interest.

If any people is an invented people, it is Israelis. Recognizing this, they project their feeling about themselves onto the other, reflecting their need to displace feelings of being inauthentic usurpers onto Palestinians.

judith weingarten

Not quite. Way before Romans or Arabs ever heard the word 'Filiastin', Philistines were in Biblical lands (OT: Genesis 10:14 and various mentions in Deuteronomy), and appeared in Pharaonic Egyptian sources (originally Peleset, from Egyptian Prst). Anyway, they are what archaeologists call the 'Sea Peoples' (mostly from the Aegean) who settled in Canaan in the Early Iron Age a little after 1200 BCE: Neither Jewish nor local Canaanites and certainly not Arabs. Philistine society collapsed around 750-700 BCE when Assyrians came down on their cities, too, like wolves. The name remained, to be revived by the Romans. By then, it was just a tag with no ethnic meaning, which is what the Romans wanted to say...



I think it is correct to write that no particular modern "invented" people has an inherent right to historic Palestine. It is true, however, that the Arabic speaking Muslims and Christians who are generally referred to as Palestinians have been in the land in great numbers relative to Jews until recent times. BTW, IMO it is specious to argue anything from the Bible (Old or New) that has to do with history. pl

John Lamoreaux

John Lamoreaux

I'd second PL's IMO.

I'd also add: 'Arab' as an ethnic identity, shared by the peoples living from Morocco to Iraq, was a recent notion. It's derived from 19th-c. European ideas of race. It was first cultivated by the early (Christian) pan-Arabists of Beirut, as an alternative to sectarian identity. It comes to be broadly accepted among the educated only in the mandatory period, and becomes a self-evident fact only in the post-WWII period.

Before that, Arab meant Bedouin. Even in pre-modern Muslim texts in Arabic, the Arabs are invariably the Bedouin of the desert steppe and the Peninsula itself. The authors are native speakers of Arabic, and claim that theirs is the language of the Bedouin, but they don't claim to be Bedouin or descended from them.

Many Arabic speakers even today reject that they are Arabs. Many of the Lebanese: we're not Arabs, mon Dieu, but Phoenicians. Syria is composed of self-identified and fiercely-proud non-Arab minorities: Ashuris, Kurds, Mardinis, Turkmans, Circassians, Mamluks, and so on. Though most are native speakers of Arabic, they don't regard themselves as genetic members of the "one sacred Arab nation." Again, Egyptian Christians and even Muslims frequently think of themselves as descended from the builders of the pyramids.

Some of those genealogies have an element of fiction, but historically they are far more credible than that all 300,000 Arabs today come from the pure stock of 10,000 or 20,000 seventh-century conquerors. The majority of Egyptians, Syrians, Iraqis, Algerians, etc., are no more Arab (genetically) than the millions of Sayyid Qurashis of Pakistan were begotten of the Prophet's tribe, or that I'm from the Caucasus.

There's an interesting, early discussion of this topic re the Palestinians, in the C.R. for 1922. The House was considering whether to lend its moral support to the Balfour Declaration, and to those countries that had endorsed it (Italy, France, Japan, etc.). The matter was referred to the Foreign Affairs Committee.

The argument often turned on whether Jews and Arabs are authentic nations, in the League's racial sense. The Palestinian witnesses strongly objected to being called Arabs. We're not Bedouin, they said. They also did not wish to be 'assigned' to the future Arab/Bedouin (Hashemite) state. Instead, the argued, we're autochthonous, predating Jews in the land by 2,000 years, and descended from Philistines, who were colonists of the ancient Phoenicians. The history's a bit off, but their point's clear enough.


BTW re "Adherence to Islam is the criterion for any attempt at a definition." He may not wish to repeat that in the presence of the 3/4s of American Arabs who are not Muslim.

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