Long-time journalist Jonathan Power recently expounded on whether a Palestinian or Israeli state is justifiable. From the title of his piece -- “History does not justify either Israel or Palestine” -- one would assume not. (1) This begs the question of what state -- granting that states established by colonial power are legitimate -- is justifiable in this region? Power did not answer this question.
Power began, “To be blunt, there is no Israel and no Palestine. At least not in a continuous historical sense, as there is a France or an Egypt, a China or a Thailand. Without the British there would be neither a modern Israel nor Palestine.”
This is not only pure speculation, but also a post-imperialist project aimed at re-interpreting history from a very narrow ideological prism. Likeliest, without Britain, the mandate power over Palestine, Israel would never have come to be, and Palestine would have remained inside Greater Syria as a province. Furthermore, had the British kept their promise to restore sovereignty to the Arabs after World War I, instead of imperialistically imposing a European Jewish immigration upon them, who is to say that a Palestinian state would not have emerged by now?
Power wrote, “The Jews claim that they are merely returning to their roots, unwinding the clock to Old Testament times. But if every group of ethnic kin with an ancient pedigree did this where would we be? The Indians could reclaim North and South America, the Moguls [sic] Russia and the Hottentots South Africa.”
First, Power doesn’t examine whether there is an effective return to the roots. Second, Power is seemingly challenging the notion of the right-of-return from Diaspora. This is seemingly impartial until one considers the ramifications for the Palestinian refugees. But Power’s argument is factually inaccurate. The “Indians” still do claim large swaths of North and South America. The Mogul (aka Moghuls) empire was the Indian subcontinent and not Russia. But perhaps, Power meant the Mongols. They do live in their home territory: Mongolia and in an autonomous province in China. Why would they claim Russia? The Hottentots are considered to stem from northern Africa but still reside in South Africa anyway. The other groups that Power cites here did not “return to their roots,” but still live in their native lands.
Dr Ismail Zayid, an indefatigable advocate for global justice, particularly Palestinian rights, commented factually, by email, on the “twisted logic” of Power’s article:
The Palestinian people of today are the direct descendents of the Canaanites, the Philistines, the Jebusites and other Arab tribes that lived in this land, of historic Palestine, since history began. Professor Maxime Rodinson, Professor of History at the Sorbonne University in Paris, and he is Jewish, stated in 1968: "The Arab population of Palestine was native in all the senses of the word, and their roots in Palestine can be traced back at least forty centuries."
The British historian, H.G. Wells, responding to the Balfour Declaration, stated: "If it is proper to 'reconstitute' a Jewish state, which has not existed for two thousand years, why not go back another thousand years and reconstitute the Canaanite state? The Canaanites, unlike the Jews, are still there."
In essence, the Palestinian people of today are the indigenous people of this land and, hence, their right to self-determination and statehood in their native land is in complete accordance with international law and the UN Charter.
The Israelis are not the original inhabitants of Palestine. They came as invaders. The land of Palestine, because of its geographic location, was exposed, throughout history, to a variety of invaders including the Hebrew tribes, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Crusaders, the Turks and the British and finally the Israelis of today. The Hebrew tribes [The Israelites], as invaders have no more legitimate claim to this land than the Greeks, Romans, Turks etc. If conquering invaders, in occupation for a period of time, have any legitimate claim to a territory or country, then the Romans should claim England as their land, and the Arabs should claim Spain as their land, and so on.
Power mentioned the Diaspora and the converts to Judaism. Although he alluded to, Power does not clearly make the distinction between religious Jews and ethnic Oriental Jews. The distinction is important: only Jews with a genetic lineage to the Middle East can claim a historical bond to the homeland. Do the converts have a legitimate right to live in Palestine? Does this right supersedes the right of the indigenous people? Does a Diaspora gone for millennia have a right that supersedes the right of the indigenous people? Who can prove that the so-called Jewish Diaspora did really happen in the size that Zionists propose, and who made that census and counted descendents and their geographical allocations? Power did not explore these questions.
The colonialist and Zionist sympathies of Power are palpable. He told of a Jewish “settlement” of “Palestine” that led to “a bloody Arab revolt that [the British] had to mercilessly repress.” Power did not delve deeply into how the “settlement” of Palestine was being carried out. A “bloody” Zionist encroachment and annexation is never mentioned. One might wonder as to why the British deemed it legitimate to repress any revolt, and why “mercilessly.”
Power continued, “But if there are reasonable questions to ask about the legitimacy of the Jewish colonisation of Palestine one can also question the roots of Palestinian nationalism.”
Power did not examine “the legitimacy of Jewish colonization of Palestine,” but he resorts to sophistry to equate this with an examination of “the roots of Palestinian nationalism.”
What is the equivalency of Jewish colonialism and Palestinian nationalism? And by what logical parameters does Power feel entitled to establish such a spurious proposition? The answer is none. One is the imposition of itself on a land with another people, and the other is a people’s extreme emotion for a geographical milieu, called home.
To elaborate, if Jewish settlers of Palestine can claim Israeli nationality, why cannot Palestinians claim, Palestinian nationality too, although a recognized Palestinian state does not exist so far? One more thing that has to do with straightforward logic: Why do we call the Palestinians, Palestinians, and not other generic names? The mere nomination of group of people according to a geographical provenance is an accepted fact. For example, a Chinese man necessarily comes from China despite his ethnic lineage; a French woman comes from France although she could have Italian blood coursing through her veins. Likewise, a Palestinian necessarily comes from a land called Palestine despite the composition of his or her ethnic heritage. Therefore, Palestine as geographical entity has always existed throughout time.
Power examined the entity called Palestine: “It was the British who created a formal entity called Palestine with delineated boundaries and made Jerusalem its capital. The absurd logic proffered here is that for a state to justify itself then it must have existed formally as a state by the same name before in history.
The argument that the Palestinians have not had an independent state in modern history is irrelevant. How many countries in the world today have not had independence until recent decades? Does that deny India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Indonesia, Ghana etc. etc. a legitimate claim to statehood, according to Mr. Power's argument?
As to the definition of Palestine and its boundaries, the claim that the British Mandate created Palestine is baseless. Palestine acquired its name, instead of the Land of Canaan, from the Philistines, who lived on the Coastline about 1200 B.C. The term Palestine, a Greek word [Palaistine], which means 'Philistine land' was used for the whole country by Herodotus, 5th century B.C. (Everyman's Encyclopedia, 1961). The Romans used the name and it remained. But Palestine as an entity was always there and it is not the British Mandate that created it. Theodor Herzl , at The First Zionist Congress in Basle, in 1897, called for "a legally secured Jewish home in Palestine." Lord Shaftesbury, addressing his colleagues in the British Parliament, in 1876, stated, as part of the Colonial British program: "Syria and Palestine will before long become very important...These countries want capital and population. The Jews can give it both."
As to boundaries, the British and French mandates, over Palestine, Syria and Lebanon, did make few miles' adjustments in the north, but those were minor adjustments by colonial powers and do not change the essential entity of historic Palestine. If such minor border adjustments are enough to deny a country or its people their existence, then where would most countries of the world would be? Today's boundaries of the United Kingdom did not come about until early 20th century. How about the boundaries of most countries in the world including India, Ghana, Italy, the US, Canada, etc.? And how many countries [have] changed their capitals?
The British, in a supreme act of imperialistic arrogance, promised the land of a second people to a third people. This created an untenable situation. If Balfour felt for the Jewish plight in Europe, why did he not give a small part of England or Scotland? Wrote Power: “The British were perpetually strung on the horn of a dilemma. The Arabs were convinced that they had been promised a state of their own if they helped the British overthrow the Turks and dismember the Ottoman Empire.”
Authentic correspondence between Sir Henry McMahon, the British High Commissioner from Egypt, and Hussein Bin Ali of Mecca, do prove that Britain promised the Arabs to establish an independent Arab state in return for help to fight the Ottoman Turks. It seems as though Power has insinuated that Britain had never made such a promise despite its written existence. Neither did Power mention the Sykes-Picot secret pact to partition the Arab lands between Britain and France.
Power’s historical interpretation is that “given the reality of Jewish settlement and Palestinian nationalism, that what the British had ruled as ‘Palestine’ had to be divided in two.” In other words, irredentism is inconsequential, as facts created on the ground become an irreversible reality. This logic posits a wicked quandary for a world seeking stability and peace. There would seemingly be no end to the number of new states that can come about -- realistically, albeit unjustifiably -- through forcible establishment of a population in another territory; hence, the outcome would be a world in a constant and violent statist flux.
Power returned to the British promise, but this time he seemed more certain: “Yasser Arafat for most of his political life held fast to the idea that the Palestinians did not want partition. They wanted it all, as the British had promised them.” Why should the British not be expected to live up to their promise? A keen observer can arrive at a reasonable representation of the kind of world can one expect when national governments’ promises are not always kept.
Power cast unsubstantiated aspersions on the deceased Palestinian leader: “Arafat later appeared to mellow, yet what he told audiences when he spoke in Arabic sometimes suggested that the compromise of partition that he envisaged was but a first step to driving the Jews one day into the sea.”
Power did not respond substantially to my queries. But I wonder as to his proficiency in Arabic? If he is not proficient, then how did Power know whether this "suggestion" of Arafat's is true? Why is there no quotation to back this assertion up?
Power contended that the Palestinian and Israeli parties “must return to the principles of a reasonably fair division as negotiated at Camp David with President Bill Clinton, and refined at the subsequent negotiations at Sharm el-Sheik and Taba.” [italics added]
Apparently, Power still clings to the outrageous notion of a "generous offer" to the Palestinians – an offer requiring the Palestinians to accept a Bantustan-like state. (2) Is there any fairness in this? It is an offer that has been refuted from many quarters including Israeli journalists, scholars, activists, and Diaspora Jews: among others, Amira Hass, Gideon Levy, Tanya Reinhart, Uri Avnery, Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, etc.
Wrote power, “The truth is that neither side has a cast iron claim to their own state on the land the British called ‘Palestine’, and the sooner their leaders tell their people that the sooner there might be honest discussions about a peace.”
Power claimed the perspicacity to know “the truth” about “Palestine” -- a term he used several times in reference to the historical land mass without quotations. He also insinuated the two sides are equally to blame for the violence. Power did not mention the historical origins leading to terrorism and ethnic cleansing by the Zionists; neither did he mention the slew of UN Security Council and General Assembly Resolutions, Geneva Conventions of which the scofflaw state Israel stands in contravention. He failed to mention the ongoing lethal brutality of the Zionists and the ghettoization of occupied Palestine.
One can only surmise that this article is Zionist apologetics clothed in the veneer of a progressive, peace-promoting website.
Kim Petersen is a writer living in Nova Scotia, Canada. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.