Newt Gingrich stunned the political and diplomatic establishments, the professional peaceniks and the entire Arab world by last week terming the Palestinians “an invented” people, presumably with a history fabricated solely to counter and then eradicate the Jewish national idea. Was Newt right ?
Of course Newt was right. Interestingly, few, if any of his most rabid critics in the Arab world and in the anti-Israel media even challenged his thesis. They focused on the prudence and propriety of the statement, on the ever-shifting balance between the Old Newt and the New Newt, and the prospects of “peace” in the Middle East given this startling and audacious admission.
But of course Newt was right, if impolitic. It wasn’t that long ago when Israel’s Prime Minister, the late Golda Meir, made such an assertion herself. In a statement to The Sunday Times (June 15, 1969), she said: “There is no such thing as a Palestinian people… It is not as if we came and threw them out and took their country. They didn’t exist.” All Newt did was state a bald-faced truth that has been obscured for too long.
That is not to say that there have not been Arabs living in what they called Palestine for generations. There have been Arabs living in the land of Israel for quite a while, just like there have been Jews living in Israel – in an unbroken chain of residence – since antiquity. But the Arabs of Israel never had a national identity, and never sought statehood or independence until the Jews returned en masse in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (Previous Jewish residents were forced to live without any national rights and subservient to the Muslim, Christian, Turkish – the latter for 400 years until 1917 – and finally British rulers.) It is Palestinian “nationalism” and “peoplehood” that were contrived by Jew-haters and anti-Zionists.
Thus, it is well known that the early 20th century Arabs of the land of Israel called themselves “Southern Syrians” and derided the early Jewish settlers as “Palestinians.” (How’s that for marketing?) Those same Arabs rejected the UN state proffered to them in 1947, and then “neglected” to seek statehood from 1948-1967 when Judea, Samaria and Gaza were controlled by fellow Arabs. In other words, the “Palestinian people” that Newt neutered, and “Palestinian nationalism” itself, were both inconsequential formulations that only exist to undermine and disqualify the Jewish State of Israel. To underscore the point, had there been no “Israel” created in 1948, the territory of “Palestine” would have been distributed to a variety of Arab entities to the north and east, themselves creations of the international community. But an “Arab Palestine,” as an independent state, would have been on no one’s radar, as it was not until, as Newt pointed out, the 1970s.
Jews have lived in Israel since time immemorial (the title of Joan Peter’s famous work), and even after the destruction of the Second Temple and the great exile, Jews remained. Jews remained in the 2nd -4th centuries to write the Jerusalem Talmud, draft the permanent calendar and even entertain, for a time in the 4th century, the building of another Temple with permission from Julian the Apostate; in the 5th-6th centuries to cling to the land amid the Byzantine and Christian persecutions; in the 6th-11th centuries to survive the Muslim invasion – returning to Yerushalayim with permission from the Emperor Omar and observing the founding of the only town founded by Arabs in the land of Israel during their entire sojourn – Ramle; suffering the torments of the Crusaders in the 12th century; enduring the Muslim re-conquest in the 12-15th centuries in which the land saw a constant stream of Jewish visitors and/or residents, including Rambam, Ramban, R. Yechiel of Paris, and many others; the 16th century that witnessed the flourishing of Jewish life – the composition – in Israel! – of the Shulchan Aruch and the rise of the giants of Kabbala; the 17-18th centuries during which both Sefardic and Ashkenazic Jews bolstered existing communities throughout the land of Israel and founded new ones, and the 19th century, when the Zionist movement in a variety of forms took root.
Is there a similar “Palestinian” history ? Of course not. Throughout the ages, Jews both persevered in the land, and prayed for the restoration of Jewish sovereignty. It is absurd to even suggest there is a competing Palestinian narrative that bears any substance or validity. As I have noted before in this space, choose any century in the past 2000 years, and try to name a “Palestinian” of any sort. That is why the Arab apologists have been forced to assert that “Jesus was a Palestinian” (Arafat, apparently unaware that Jesus was a Jew) or, in the last week, that the “Palestinians” are descendants of the ancient Yevusi. (Really? I thought they descended from the Girgashi.) That is why the official Palestinian line of the last decade, emanating first from Arafat, is that there is “no Jewish Temple, no Jewish nationalism and no Jewish connection to the land.” The hat burns on the thief’s head. They have no indigenous connection to the land of Israel, and only arrived in large numbers after Jewish settlement began and to take advantage of the opportunities presented by Jewish settlement. Certainly, Chanuka itself reinforces the deep bond that the Jewish people have for, and in, the land of Israel.
Usually, the Arabs have sought at this point to shift this uncomfortable conversation by saying that “there will never be peace if we argue over history.” But that is a tactic designed to move the debate from the realm of facts and reason to the charade of myth and fantasy, and to obscure the basic function of “Palestinian nationalism” – an Islamic/Arab marketing device to undercut and destabilize Israel’s existence by embracing Western nomenclature of human rights, self-determination, victim refugees, etc.
Others effectively concede that there really is no historical “Palestinian people” (John Bolton also said as much the other day), but the political reality today is that they “exist” in the media, in the diplomatic chambers, in the UN, and in the land of Israel – so they exist today even if they never existed before, and therefore must be dealt with as if they are a real people.
This would be a compelling argument, but only if the starting point is that “peace” is somehow possible to attain with an invented nation that denies one’s own existence. That bubble has been burst for many thinking people (excluding, among others, NY Times “experts” on foreign policy) and now resembles more a pagan fantasy than serious statecraft. But nothing valuable or meaningful can be built on a foundation of lies, and the State of Israel, nonetheless, remains guilty of propagating the Palestinian national fantasies while pandering to their blatant lies.
Take, for example, the recent and ongoing ruckus over the renovations of the Mughrabi Gate walkway to the Temple Mount that is in the process of crumbling, not to mention a terrible eyesore. This construction has been challenged by the Muslims as an attempt by the Jews to “undermine the foundations of the Al-Aksa Mosque.” (Of course, when the bridge collapses, those same Muslims will allege that the Jews destroyed it in order to kill Muslims and to “undermine the foundations of the Al-Aksa Mosque.”) For some mysterious reason (fecklessness is the working theory), the Netanyahu government has abdicated its responsibilities to the Jordanian authorities, a shameful renunciation of sovereignty and a tacit acceptance of the lie that the Jews are attempting to “undermine the foundations of the Al-Aksa Mosque.”
The Israelis should rebuild that collapsing bridge for many reasons – it needs it, it is dangerous, it is now hideous-looking with all the scaffolding surrounding it, and it is acting as the sovereign entity in its capital city within shouting distance of the holiest place in Judaism – but primarily to expose the lie that the re-construction is designed to – you guessed it – “undermine the foundations of the Al-Aksa Mosque.”
Lies have legs. Mark Twain famously said that “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” With a complicit media and the Internet, lies these days can travel around the world several times before truth is even aware of the lie’s existence. For too long, Israel and its supporters have been guilty of accepting the Palestinian lies – history, narrative, policies, accusations (remember Suha Arafat, Hillary Clinton and the poison gas charge? The Egyptian media and the Israel-spreading-AIDS charge? Et al) and reportage without serious and sustained challenge. That time, thanks to Newt, should be long past.
Newt Gingrich may or may not become president, but he has served a valuable function in this regard – defying convention, stupefying his adversaries, and shocking the American-Jewish establishment – by telling an unvarnished truth. Call it “political Newt-ity,” for he has laid bare the hollowness of the enemies’ claims against Israel and exposed their lies, and our inexplicable acquiescence in them.