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Post Criticizing Israel Is Possible, Even Necessary
Created by John Eipper on 05/27/21 3:55 AM

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Criticizing Israel Is Possible, Even Necessary (Luciano Dondero, Italy, 05/27/21 3:55 am)

I appreciate John E's openness, and I will try to answer his question of May 24th: "Is there any way, no matter how circumspect, to criticize Israeli policies/actions without being guilty of age-old anti-Semitism?"

As I am just a student of Israeli history and politics, this may not be very relevant. Anyway, here are some of my own reflections and doubts, sliding into tentative criticisms of Israel.

A clarification regarding anti-Semitism is in order. What can be described as "age-old anti-Semitism" is showing up  more and more these days, but usually it takes the form of what is probably best described as a "new anti-Semitism." This beast, typically disguising itself under the label of "anti-Zionism," does not target all the Jews, it just aims to destroy the state where half of the Jews of the world live. Half a Holocaust, anybody?

At any rate, I do believe that it is possible to criticise Israel, and each and every one of its governments, Prime ministers and specific institutions, as well as any of its policies of the past 75-plus years.

Here we go:

(1) Was it right for Israel to try and "fix" Lebanon in 1982? I think it was right to go in, smash the terrorist infrastructure in place and keep a buffer area in the South under Israeli control. But I'm afraid Sharon, then Minister of Defense in the Begin cabinet, overstretched Israel when he attempted to influence the internal politics of Lebanon. The assassination of then-President Bachir Gemayel proved that an Israeli-Lebanese alliance could not rest on the goodwill of a single politician. And I believe it was wrong to try it.

(2) My main critique has to do with the pursuit of the "Two-State Solution" in the 1990s, which produced Oslo 1993-1995 and the establishment of a Palestinian National Authority in Ramallah. I think that this was overall very wrong--sure it gave Rabin and Peres (and Arafat!) a Nobel Prize for peace, but we have not had much peace afterwards.

The framing of the issue was caving in to the way in which the Soviet Union had shuffled the cards, by taking the Arab states (and other Muslim states) formally out of the equation, and turning this conflict--which had gone through four full-scale war iterations--as if it were an Israeli-Palestinian issue. Which is the way in which almost everybody claims to look at things nowadays, and I'm sure many people (WAISers not excluded) really do believe this. However, this is false--i.e., not corresponding to the reality.

First of all, no Palestinian state or nation ever existed or was mentioned until the 1960s. Have we all forgotten the "Arab Revolution" rhetoric that even led Nasser's Egypt to establish a joint statal entity with Syria, the short-lived United Arab Republic (1958-61)?

When I was an idealistic revolutionary communist (i.e. a Trotskyist), I spent years and years debating precisely this issue--whether all the Arabs were just one nation, and should have a single revolutionary party and uprising, or whether there were local bourgeoisie and local working classes with different perspectives.

Golda Meir was vilified for having said in an interview, "It was not as if there was a Palestinian people in Palestine and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist." This was before it became normal to talk of "the Palestinian people" and of an Arab Palestine, the time when the political organisations run by Arafat, Habbash and Hawatmeh had different names--which did include the word "Arab" and not the word "Palestinian" and when Edward Said was still describing himself as an Arab, and not as a Palestinian.

Now, I get it. Leaving aside that this was concocted in Moscow by the KGB, one can argue that at some point a particular people gets the sense that they belong together and represent a nation. And they might want to find precursors to their newly established national consciousness.

I mean, the Italians did that. Of course, we all know that Dante and other intellectuals since the 13th century had been arguing for "Italy" and for a unifying national language. But it took well over 500 years before the various local state entities--some of which were pretty important in their own right: the Republic of Venice, the State of the Church, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, Tuscany, Genoa, etc. etc.--became a single nation. And then it took Mussolini's chutzpah to concoct the notion that this was in a continuity with the Roman Empire.

But the Palestinians today go to ridiculous extremes, like saying that the Jews killed "Jesus, the Palestinian"!

If you ask anybody to show you any piece of evidence that anything called Palestine existed, the answer is: "You are a dirty Zionist!" Because there is nothing: no money, no archeological remnants, no names of kings, leaders, no history of any kind having to do with the "Palestinians."

Yes, the name was used, as "Syria-Palaestine" by the Romans, and then on and off. In fact, that region of the world has been called "The Holy Land" more often than Palestine. But have you ever heard of a people called "The Holylanders"?

I think that the Israeli governments that accepted the framework of an "Israeli-Palestinian" made a terrible mistake. They were expanding on the perspectives that had led to the peace treaty with Egypt. But too many interests were/are involved with opposing Israel's existence in the Middle East, and they are those who are pulling the strings for Hamas and Hezbollah, to name just two terrorist groups. These are not really organisations standing on their own: they exist only thanks to the hundreds of millions of dollars provided by Iran, Turkey, Qatar and others.

I am less definite about other issues.

(3) There are various murky things throughout the years, like Israel's close collaboration with the South African regime in the late 1970s-early 1980s to develop a nuclear capability. This is well documented in a book by a South African-born Jewish author, although much of this is inevitably under a cloud of secrecy. I have no objections to Israel's getting the means to produce its own nuclear bombs (which are clearly defensive in scope), but the connections with the Apartheid regime did damage Israel's standing with various African countries.

(4) Similarly, in the last few years of Reza Pahlevi's regime in Iran, Israel was basically the only friend he had left, even more so once Washington under Carter had idiotically dumped the Shah, and toyed with the Ayatollahs. Again, the connection between Israel and Iran had been a long and fruitful one, but, as some of the Israeli officials involved have themselves documented, by the end there was something rather unsavory in it.

(5) Ben Gurion in 1967, already out of power, argued that Israel should keep Jerusalem and the Golan, and give back to Egypt/Jordan all the other lands taken in the Six Day War.

I have no idea how this could have been implemented, considering that in Khartoum in 1967 the Arab League voted the policy of the "Three Nos": "no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it....", but later on Israel did end up leaving Gaza and the Sinai. Was the elderly statesman right? Maybe.

(5) Was it right in 1948 to not pursue a policy of "ethnic cleansing" of the Arabs? Benny Morris has been arguing against this in his books, after he vacated his earlier pro-Palestinian views. The situation is this: about one million Jews were displaced from Arab countries throughout North Africa and the Middle East; the Arabs who fled, in some instances locally pushed out by advancing Israeli troops, were a bit less, but many hundred of thousands anyway. However, Ben Gurion insisted to keep in Israel as many Arabs as possible, and so it happened (some 156,000 remained, as per Wikipedia). This policy meant that for a few years, Arab villages in Israel were under military control, then all Arabs got Israeli citizenship. The integration of Arab Israeli citizens is a real thing (but some of them agree with Hamas), and it is certainly a bonus for Israel. Not to mention that it was a much more humane approach than that of the Arab states that expelled the Jews.

(6) Even the IDF can be subjected to some serious criticisms--and here I can only share the views of General Ariel Sharon. Before the 1973 war, there was complacency and a serious underestimation of the Egyptian army, bolstered by heavy Soviet involvement. The IDF relied too much on the Bar Lev line, a series of forts along the Eastern side of the Suez Canal, and did not maintain them properly protected.

And in particular, the IDF High command was wrong in its treatment of Sharon himself. For many years he had been in charge of the Southern command, until he left active duty in the armed forces to enter politics. When he was recalled at the start of the 1973 war, he was made a subordinate brigade commander in the South. Then, during the war, he kept pushing for an offensive across the Suez Canal, arguing together with Moshe Dayan (then Defense Minister) for such a course of action. When he got the green light, we know how it went: the IDF moved on the other side of the Canal, and was directly threatening the Egyptian capital! Some commentators, including high IDF commanders, have argued that Sharon went beyond his orders, that it could have all gone wrong, and so on and so forth. Well, what if at Waterloo Blucher had not joined forces with Wellington when he did? Wouldn't Napoleon have won? Battles and wars can't really be fought after the fact, and criticising the winners is a tricky business.

Now, I can see that most of the points above go in the direction of criticising Israel, in Marxist parlance, "from the right"--i.e. for not been hard enough against the Arabs/Palestinians.

Possibly. But I can easily describe criticisms "from the left," which are not anti-Semitic in my view, even though I don't agree with them. This is already very long, I apologise for this, and I'll just mention a few points as questions.

(A) Should the Arab population of Israel-controlled Judea and Samaria be given citizenship in Israel?

(B) Should Israel freeze further settlements in the areas of Judea and Samaria (aka "the West Bank") described as "zone C" in the Oslo Accords?

(C) Should Israel relax controls in the "border areas" between Israel proper and "zone A and B" of Judea and Samaria which are under control of the Palestinian National Authority?

(D) Should Israel push for a deal with the Arab world, whereby the people who left/were expelled in 1948-49 (and their descendants) could go back to either Israel or the Arab states and get their properties back (or an adequate compensation)?

(E) Should Israel cease being the only Jewish state in the world?

(F) Should Jews all over the world stop having the right to become Israeli citizens?

Some of the above points can be interpreted as paving the way to destroying the fabric of Israel, but they are part and parcel of an open political debate and are for the Israelis to decide.

Finally, and very, very hypothetically, if somebody came up with a plan to safely move the entirety of the land of Israel somewhere else (on Mars?) maybe that ultimate "Final Solution" by itself could also not really be described as anti-Semitic.

JE comments:  You make several thought-provoking points, Luciano.  Your argument (or at least, suggestion) that Israel should have expelled all the Palestinian Arabs during its founding is extremely controversial, but there were many parallels during this same period--Poles from the regions annexed to Ukraine, Hungarians from Romania, Germans from Poland and Czechoslovakia, Italians from Istria, and others.  World War II, unlike WWI, resulted in the moving of populations more than the shifting of borders.  The draconian goal was to preclude any revanchism of the type that emerged after Versailles.  The cruel reality:  the aftermath of WWII was full of "cleansing" of all types, and few in the world now remember.

Your criticisms of Israel "from the right" are probably not going to be interpreted as such (criticisms) by most readers.  Not enough historical "mano dura"?  The implication of such thinking is that more mano dura is needed at present, to make up for lost time...

I'm off now to a dental appointment, but I'd also like to revisit the notion of Palestinian nationalism.

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  • Re-Examining Anti-Semitism (Tor Guimaraes, USA 05/28/21 4:19 AM)

    First I want to express my disagreement with the spirit of Luciano Dondero's "clarification regarding anti-Semitism" (May 27th). 

    Luciano wrote, "This beast, typically disguising itself under the label of 'anti-Zionism,' does not target all the Jews, it just aims to destroy the state where half of the Jews of the world live. Half a Holocaust, anybody?"

    If there is any Holocaust going on in Palestine today, the Palestinian people are the victims. Second, I would love to hear Luciano's comments about powerful Jewish voices (not just armchair experts) about Israeli history, politics, etc., who have for many years warned about the Zionist crimes against Palestinians. Just a few examples:



    Also clear evidence from the other side: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXMG1tyJ-Uk

    On a separate topic, I have a great deal of respect for Leo Goldberger's well-balanced opinions about anti-Semitism.  One can hardly find someone else with Leo's overall experience.

    Leo brought up the fact of "some 70% of our Republicans questioning Biden's victory ... supporting Trump's racist and anti-Semitic leanings." Trump is an interesting case because he has done more for the Netanyahu and the Israeli government than anyone else. His acceptance of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and the Abraham Accord gave them the go-ahead to increase the thinly veiled (and ignored by the media) Palestinian genocide and strongly advance the settler colonialism which has been going on from the beginning. Thus, Leo or anyone else should explain how Trump is anti-Semitic to a world confused by the stark difference between being Jewish and Zionism, and the criminal Zionism being committed against the Palestinian people.

    On a different topic, John Eipper commented on Marjorie Taylor Greene: "Are her tirades and conspiracy theories the stuff of tragedy, or of comedy?" I would say both; it is a tragedy we have an elected Congresswoman of such negative value to the nation, but her behavior is often indeed laughable since crying does no good.

    Also, John wanted to add militarism, racism as a national project, and perhaps Socialism to my list of Nazism's traits. However, I consider these three factors not unique to Nazi behavior, but I agree that Israeli neo-Nazi behavior must be based on militarism because anytime you destroy people's homes, and hurt their children, you better have a much stronger military. Regarding racism, it is also true because you can't commit genocide without first dehumanizing your victims. The Socialism "aspect of Nazism tends to be overlooked by most" probably because it is one of the few temporary benefits Hitler provided to the German people, and many nations benefit from Socialism.

    Regarding my characteristic of Israeli neo-Nazi behavior number 2: "Regularly showing disrespect for science and other people's rights to advance your own opinions," John made a good point that he "never saw the (original) Nazis as disdainful of science. Rather, they harnessed science for its most perverse ends." Yes, but they were not interested in science per se but what scientific knowledge could do to advance their Nazi ideology. They believed in superstition, crippled their scientific knowledge by not using "Jew science," and believed Jews and Slavs were Untermenschen. It is true that racism was more excusable scientifically speaking because Darwinism and Genetics were then not well established, but Israelis and any racists today should know better and have no excuses.

    JE comments:  Tor, there's a slippery slope in your description of Israel's actions against the Palestinians:  from racism to Holocaust to genocide.  Especially the "g"-word strikes me as excessive.  I wrote a few days back and I'll say it again:  the most accurate model to describe Israel-Palestine today is Apartheid South Africa.

    Fortunately, the Israel-Hamas ceasefire is still holding.  I'd like to steer this conversation towards a question you touch on above:  is Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital the cause of the latest flare-up?  If so, then why did it take over three years for the rockets to start raining in?

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    • Is Israel-Palestine Comparable to Apartheid South Africa? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 06/02/21 3:48 AM)
      On one hand, I agree to some extent with John Eipper, who wrote that "the most accurate model to describe Israel-Palestine today is Apartheid South Africa."

      Israel has not established camps equivalent to Dachau or Treblinka, just "slow death" concentration camps represented by open-air prisons where Palestinian homes can be invaded any time of day or night by the IDF just so they can "show who is boss," according to IDF instructions. To cut through the regular media distortions, Google "breaking the silence," where IDF soldiers able to keep their conscience tell about the atrocities being committed, or just watch the videos I provided (and there are many others).

      On the other hand, to contradict the notion that "the most accurate model to describe Israel-Palestine today is Apartheid South Africa," the South African army was just trying to enforce the injustices associated with Apartheid. They had already completely taken all the land and resources they wanted from the indigenous population, and the conflict had practically no religious dimension compared to the Palestinian conflict.

      In Palestine the Israelis steal Palestinian property at will, treat them like Untermenschen, put them into concentration camps, deprive them of due process, commit atrocities on innocent people, invade their places of worship, etc. It sure looks much worse than South African Apartheid, perhaps not an all-out genocide because the world is watching, even though the Israelis bombed the Gaza media building.

      On a different topic, John E asked, "is Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital the cause of the latest flare-up? If so, then why did it take over three years for the rockets to start raining in?"

      No, it was not the trigger. As I stated earlier, Trump's acceptance of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and the Abraham Accord gave Netanyahu the go-ahead to increase dramatically the settler colonialism behavior which has been going on from the beginning. That was the holy water from the US government, while the Accord formalized and made nice with a few corrupted Arab states, in preparation for the storm Netanyahu needed to survive his corruption conviction.

      What triggered this latest unarmed Palestinian people to revolt once again against one of the most powerful militaries in the world was Israelis stepping up the stealing of Palestinian homes without recourse, or just demolishing them. The last straw was when the IDF invaded one of the most sacred mosques in Islam and brutalized families in prayer. This triggered the rockets from Hamas, and massive counter retaliation by the Israeli Air Force.

      JE comments:  We find another parallel with Apartheid South Africa in the ten detached ethnic "homelands."  Their lack of continguity ensured that they could be easily controlled, rather like the West Bank and Gaza in Israel-Palestine.

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  • Origins of Palestinian Nationalism...and a Late-Night Jerusalem Walk (Edward Jajko, USA 05/29/21 3:28 AM)
    How very much I should like to debate Luciano Dondero on the many points he raised in his post of May 27th, including how his admitted years as an "idealistic revolutionary communist, i.e., a Trotskyist," have colored his views of the Middle East (but have apparently not given him fraternal sympathy with the Marxist-Leninist Palestinian movements to which he refers). But my debating days are over.

    I will confine my comment to this, that Luciano errs in using as a proof of non-existence of a Palestinian state, entity, or identity, that the "organisations run by Arafat, Habbash and Hawatmeh had different names--which did include the word 'Arab' and not 'Palestinian'." This is simply incorrect. It is quite the opposite. 

    There is no reference to "Arab" in the names of the organizations, while each is explicitly "Palestinian" or "of Palestine," the difference deriving from a noun or adjectival form of the noun. Yasser Arafat founded Fatah فتح. This word in itself means "opening," or better yet, "conquest." But the name of the organization is actually a reverse acronym. It is, and I capitalize the letters to indicate the source, Harakat al-Tahrir al-Filastini, i.e., The Movement of the Palestinian Liberation. This is with the adjective derived from the noun "Filastin."

    Dr. George Habash founded the PFLP, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. In Arabic, it is al-Jabhah al-Sha'biyah li-Tahrir Filastin, the Front the Popular for the Liberation of Palestine. The noun is used. The word "popular" in English translates "sha'biyah" but does not convey exactly the same sense because the word "popular" has taken on its own meanings in current English.   

    Nayef Hawatmeh founded the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the DFLP. In Arabic, it is al-Jabhah al-Dimuqratiyah li-Tahrir Filastin, The Front the Democratic for the Liberation of Palestine. Again, the noun.

    In none of the names of any of these organizations is the word "Arab" used, but in all cases a form of the word "Filastin," Palestine, is used. 

    Golda Meir's self-serving statement is well-known. And easily refuted. Looking back through Arab histories--and Arab historians have been meticulous and copious authors over many centuries--there have been references to certain peoples as nations. Egyptians, certainly, and Egypt as a place although no longer a nation at the time of the Arab conquests; Syria and Syrians, although again not as an organized nation.  At the time of the Arab conquests there were the Byzantine and Persian empires, their vassal states neighboring the nascent Muslim Arab state, but not much else. Throughout much of the history of the Arabs, one could not have spoken of, say, a Libyan people or nation (can one now?), nor of a Moroccan. The name of that country, Maghreb, simply means "West." The name "Morocco" comes from the city Marrakush (which yields the Spanish name of the country, Marruecos). Meir's statement could be discussed at great length, and with reference to the vast field of Arab histories and geographic works, as well as the corresponding Jewish works, such as histories and geographies and the materials from the Cairo Genizah.

    But in any event, Luciano is wrong in his statement about the umbrella organization Fatah and two of its at least nominal component groups, the PFLP and DFLP.

    I wonder if anyone else in WAIS has been in East Jerusalem, the Sheikh Jarrah area, and the Palestinian territories, and has had to go through Israeli Palestinian checkpoints. My first visit to the Old City of Jerusalem was in 1966 or thereabouts, of which more below. The Old City was then in Jordanian hands, and I took advantage of my time in Cairo as a Fulbrighter to travel to Athens, Istanbul, Damascus, and Jerusalem (flying into Amman and taking a taxi to the Old City). Then in 2000, the Hoover Institution sent me for some 15 days of intensive work in the archives of the Arab Studies Society, in Orient House in East Jerusalem. I spent each entire working day in the archives, measuring, assessing, writing up reports. The work and the stay were exhausting, since I was awakened at about three or four in each morning by the amplified call to the dawn prayer from the Sheikh Jarrah mosque. I was staying in a Palestinian hotel at the top of a hill. At the top of the facing hill was the mosque. The valley in between, which I had to traverse every day--"toujours monter," I said to another as we climbed the steps up to the local Catholic church for Sunday Mass--allowed the piercing sound of the Adhan, the call to prayer, to go right across the space of the valley and into my hotel room. My stay there was evenly divided between those days when I somehow managed to get back to sleep after that early call to prayer and those days when I was awake from three or so, watching TV or reading, waiting until I could go down to the superb breakfast buffet, then off to the library for its eight AM opening.

    My Palestinian hosts were kind and generous, one taking me to his home for an evening meal with his family, this requiring riding in a remarkably crowded and smelly hired bus (the Israeli transit system did not serve the Palestinian area). On another occasion, the head of the society took me and two others in his care to Nablus, in the Palestinian Territories. We had to stop at a hideously crowded checkpoint, with people and various vehicles lined up for inspection. When a soldier came to the car we were in, he looked inside, and when he spotted me, he waved us through. I was clearly not Palestinian or Arab.

    The recent war between Israel and Hamas (another Arabic play on words, although not a reverse acronym) was sparked in part by Israeli attempts to evict Palestinian Arabs from their homes in East Jerusalem, in the Sheikh Jarrah area. That area is about two miles north of the Old City. Next to it is the area called American Colony, which is now pretty much reduced to the American Colony Hotel (which was fully booked when I was sent to Jerusalem). There actually was an American colony, of evangelical Protestants, who settled in Jerusalem. The current hotel was built as a hostel for the group. Israel has been building a ring of settlements around the Old City, and the business in Shaikh Jarrah was part of that (the mosque is named for the personal physician of Saladin).

    My first visit to the Old City, in 1966, provided me with one of my Jerusalem stories and a memory that used to jar me awake at nights. When I was a student in Cairo, I was an insomniac, my hours of sleep being totally different from those of the world around me. Arab society gets up early, makes a lot of noise and commotion, has a siesta in the heat of the day, returns for an evening of noise and commotion, then retires early, sometimes with noise and commotion. My hours were different. In Jerusalem, I stayed in a pension called the Petra Hotel, on the square across from David's Tower.  One night, I could not sleep. Any noise would have disturbed the others in the establishment, so I decided to take a late night or early morning walk. I got dressed, then went down the long flight of steps and out the door. In the square, I had to decide: left, to walk through the Old City in the dark; right, through the massive gate in the city wall; or straight ahead, down the street the bisected the Armenian Quarter. I decided to go straight ahead. As I got near the end of the road, I passed a guardhouse full of Jordanian soldiers who seemed to be busy at various jobs. They looked at me as I passed by but that's all. I went on to the end of the road. It made a hard left (I later learned that the road to the left was the Cardo, going through the Jewish Quarter). In front of me, the ground went downwards, rocky with some grass, and studded with remnants of pillars and statues, going down into darkness. I stood there for some time, looking to the left and down the hill in front of me, trying to decide what to do, and then got the brilliant inspiration to walk down that hill.

    After I started down, I heard some sort of noise or yelling somewhere behind me, stopped, looked around, couldn't identify where the noise was coming from, and so started down again. Again, there was noise. I stopped, couldn't identify the noise, and started to continue down the hill. This time, there was a bunch of noise and obvious shouting, and my Guardian Angel smacked me in the head and said, Go back, stupid! So I walked back up the hill and then went back on the road toward the hotel. This time, when I passed the guardhouse, the Jordanian soldiers came out and swarmed around me, full of questions. Meester, meester, why you go down there? Meester, what you doing here? And the like, all in English. And then the whole tenor changed when I asked a question, two simple words in colloquial Arabic: ":Fi mushkilah?" Is there a problem? Scales fell from eyes. I spoke Arabic! How was this so? Etc.

    After explaining that I was a student of Arabic, studying in Cairo, and a visitor to the Old City and Jordan, and had in fact visited with one of my first teachers of Arabic at her home in Amman. We spoke at some length, and I was finally able to convince them that I had in fact been unable to sleep and had decided to walk. Then I asked what the problem had been, what the noise and shouting had been about. The soldiers, all very nice young men, told me that I was walking down into No Man's Land. Then they explained the shouting. They pointed to the soldier at the top of the wall and said that he had been shouting at me because I was walking down the hill. Then they said that if I had walked down any farther, he would have shot me.

    This story is bad enough, but I am sure that those soldiers were defending the Old City in the June 1967 war. I wonder how many of them, as they died, did so with the thought that that Ibn kalb Amriki--that son of a bitch American--was really a spy.

    JE comments:  Ed, that was one spacer (Polish for stroll) for the history books.  Praise be to your Guardian Angel for keeping you safe.

    And a warm shukran (Arabic for thank you) for this philological analysis of Palestinian nationalism and national identity.  For me it's been a week of "Duhs!" for the obvious etymologies I never noticed before.  First, is was buckaroo/vaquero.  Now from the Arabic lesson above I see that Palestine/Palestinian is related to Filastin (Philistine).  How then are the Palestinian people any less "Biblical" than their Jewish compatriots? 

    The Arabic language has no "p" sound, hence Filastin.  Why did the non-Arabic languages shift the sound to "p" for Palestine?  Or should it go the other way--did Arabic shift the original (Biblical) "p" to an "f"?  Finally, how did the Western languages settle on the "f/ph" for Philistine but not for Palestine?

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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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