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PAX, LUX ET VERITAS SINCE 1965
Post Meaning of Palestine Prior to 1964
Created by John Eipper on 05/29/21 1:53 PM

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Meaning of Palestine Prior to 1964 (Luciano Dondero, Italy, 05/29/21 1:53 pm)

I could never even begin to imagine "debating" Edward Jajko, whose knowledge and on-the-ground experiences cannot be matched, certainly not by me.

However, Ed's point about the Fatah/PFLP/DPFLP is factually correct only with respect to these organizations, once they changed their names from their previous status, where they all had "Arab" and not "Palestinian" as identification.

Unfortunately I cannot locate in my chaotic jumble of books the one by a former Palestinian official, who became a very successful businessman, and who went through the trouble of reconstructing the history of the various groups, prior to the birth of the PLO in 1964. Searching goes on, though, but you can easily notice that every historical reference (eg. Wikipedia, and any book--I have just consulted a couple now) has nothing prior to 1964.

It would be very strange if Arafat, Habbash and Hawatmeh had all suddenly appeared on the political scene in 1964.  Clearly they were active before--just not as "Palestinians." In fact, almost nobody ever did, from the Arab side that is.

Among the Jews, the "Palestinians" were those who had moved to the British Mandate, or were planning to do so. The Italian writer Bassani, whose novels and short stories based in Ferrara are well known (a movie was made based on his The Garden of the Finzi-Continis) used this reference extensively. Which is why Golda Meir denied the Palestinians' existence: there were Arab people in existence, but they did not nor did they want to call themselves "Palestinians."

As for Filistin/Palestine, well, the Romans introduced the word once they decided to make the Jews (and Judea/Israel) disappear. It probably comes from an Hebrew word for "invaders, people from the outside," possibly mixed up with the "peoples of the sea." Now, it is a bit strange that a people would use for themselves the name given by others, which qualifies them as "outsiders." In other words, while the Arabs who define themselves as Palestinians today can certainly do so--nations are born in specific circumstances and times, and it's not up to those that do not belong to a nation to dictate how it should be called. They cannot, however, properly claim that their nation existed before it actually came into being.

Nobody in his/her right mind, before 1964 and especially before 1967, would describe the conflict in the region as a "Palestinian/Israeli conflict," because it was not (it was an "Arab/Israeli conflict"), and whatever thing got a "Palestinian" label was usually at the behest of some other power--e.g. the short-lived "Palestinian government" for Gaza, which resided in Cairo, and was dissolved once Nasser decided to go the route of the UAE.

JE comments:  As a British colony, "Mandatory Palestine" (1920-1948) was simply a geographical entity.  Couldn't the pre-1964 conflicts of the region best be described as a (Palestinian) civil war, based on religion and ethnicity?

Luciano Dondero followed up off-Forum to identify the book he alludes to above:   Said K Aburish's Arafat:  From Defender to Dictator (1998).  The title alone suggests that it is not a flattering portrait of the PLO patriarch.


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  • Palestinians, Philistines, and Ethnicity (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 05/31/21 7:25 AM)
    This is an interesting and thought-provoking post by Luciano Dondero (May 29th).

    I would hasten to add that although "Palestine" was probably named after the Philistines--and the name goes back millennia (Herodotus used the term, and even the Egyptians; see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_name_%22Palestine%22 )--the modern-day people who call themselves "Palestinians" having nothing whatsoever to do with the Philistines, who were likely an Indo-European people, one of the "Peoples of the Sea."


    During long periods of ancient times, the whole Levant south of Phoenicia was referred to as "Palestine," and the Romans at one point merged Judea and Syria into "Syria Palaestina." The Ottomans also referred to the area as Palestine. I'm not sure why we talk about the "British Mandate" today--the legal term was "Mandatory Palestine," created by a decision of the League of Nations as part of reorganization of the defeated and collapsed Ottoman Empire.


    What concerns the Palestinian people --they are the closest genetic relatives to Ashkenazi Jews, even closer related than Sephardic Jews. They are mostly descended, like the Ashkenazi Jews, from people who have inhabited the region for thousands of years, including Canaanites, Samaritans and Hebrews. Like many peoples, they have called themselves many things over the millennia, and I'm not sure how that is relevant to anything. They probably called themselves simply "Arabs" for long periods of time, but so what? That was a different kind of identity (and also not exactly ethnic), which arose after the Arab conquest and the process of Arabization.


    Because "Palestine" is a demonym, and not an ethnonym, and has been for millennia, the ancestors of the modern Palestinians probably could consider themselves simultaneously Arabs and Palestinians; probably the Hebrews themselves called themselves Palestinians at various times in history. "American" is another demonym, and with no ethnic connotations at all.


    So in my view, this is a bunch of nothing. It is always futile to try to determine that justice of drawing borders this way or that, according to supposed claims of people based on ancient history. There is no nation in the world, that I am aware of, which has been inhabited continuously by one people since homo sapiens evolved. Borders move continuously; peoples come and go, get conquered in successive waves--that's the nature of human history. Just look at Britain--the Normans conquered the Anglo-Saxons who conquered the Danes who conquered the Anglo-Saxons previously who conquered the Celts after the Romans weakened who conquered Celts once before who conquered Hyperboreans and God knows who else. Whose land is Britain? The "victims" of one conquest were the aggressors in the previous one, and on and on and on. The main thing is to do some kind of justice now, which fairly balances the interests of different people involved.


    JE comments:  "A bunch of nothing"--a memorable turn of phrase!  The futility of drawing borders based on ancient history has been proven on many occasions, but the attempts continue.  Probably the most successful such effort was Zionism itself and the creation of modern Israel.  Reconstructed ancient "identities," together with language and religion, are the principal building-blocks of nationalism.

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  • Palestine and Pan-Arabism; A Correction (Edward Jajko, USA 06/02/21 3:24 AM)
    Oh, the perils of pedantic pontificating. Not that Luciano Dondero was the pontifex pedant; I was.

    In my previous "so-there!" response to Luciano, I got myself so concentrated on explaining the Palestinian-ness (Philistinism?) of the organizations set up by Arafat, Habash, and Hawatmeh, that I lost sight of their earlier organizations which were, indeed, "Arab."


    For example, Jurj Habash established the Arab Nationalist Movement, حركة القوميين العزب - Harakat al-Qawmiyin al-‘Arab, literally The Movement of the Nationalists the Arabs. But in my defense, I will add that the ANM was a) engaged in the Palestinian Arab cause, and b) was a part of and one of the last gasps of the Pan-Arabism that arose in the 19th century and seems to have sputtered out in recent decades. Pan-Arabism was the cause par excellence of innumerable Arab intellectuals, politicians, philosophers, writers, etc., for years. To name a cause or group "Arab" was logical; whom else were they appealing to?


    I find no evidence that Arafat established an "Arab" organization. It was Fatah from the beginning.


    JE comments:  Ed, your scholarly integrity is an example to us all!  Appreciate the clarification.  While we're on the topic of Arab unity, your studies in Cairo (late 1960s) coincided with the "Rump UAR" period of Egyptian history, when Egypt was the only republic remaining in the union.  Did Egyptians at the time still believe in "Nasser's Dream" of a single Arab state?


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