The Indigenous People – updated.

The tidbit below was written by Jonathan Tobin and published in Commentary:

By attempting to portray the Palestinians as the “indigenous people” of the territory on which the State of Israel and the administered territories exist and the Jews as the colonial settlers, they are perpetrating the big lie of Palestinian history. Jews are not foreigners in Israel as Europeans were in Africa.

They happen to be the indigenous people of their ancient homeland and efforts to deny this isn’t scholarship. Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people and those who would deny them the same rights accorded other peoples are practicing bias, not scholarship. As with Palestinian attempts to deny the Jewish connection with the country or with Jerusalem and ancient Jewish holy sites such as the Temple Mount or the Western Wall, attempts to cast the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one between foreign occupiers and natives is revisionist myth recast as left-wing politicized scholarship.

This is the kind of basic, fundamental statement that we need more of in pro-Jewish / pro-Israel advocacy.

What I have consistently argued is that if we ground our arguments within the Jewish history of the Middle East, we have a much better chance of bolstering those arguments to the rest of the world.  It is probably fair to say that many, if not most, westerners think of the local Arab population in Israel as the indigenous population.

They are not.

History tells us very clearly that the only extant people who can possibly be considered the “indigenous” population of that land are the Jews.  We have at least 3,500 years of demonstrable history in our native homeland and were there for almost 2,000 years before the conquering Arabs showed up in the 7th century.

When we make our arguments before the larger world, whether on blogs or in the comments within blogs, or in high-brow magazines or low-brow magazines, or in personal conversations or lectures or discussion panels, we need to make people understand that the Jews are the indigenous population of our own land because we are, in fact, the indigenous population of our own land.

Once we make that clear the whole dynamic of the conversation has to change in our favor.  Or, if it does not, this can only mean that liberals without sympathy for Jewish claims to Jewish land stand in direct opposition to their own alleged values of social justice and human rights.

To the extent that the Jewish people are losing the overall argument concerning Jewish claims to Jewish land it is, at least in part, due to the fact that much of the west views us as militaristic interlopers.  Decades of Soviet and Arab propaganda around this issue has done its work very well.  At this point it is considered “common sense” that the regional Arabs are the natives and the Jews are the imperial-colonialist-fascist-racists.

This is false, but until we educate people otherwise, we have no case.

We cannot stand before a hostile world and say something to the effect of, “Yes, well, we are Occupying and abusing the native Palestinian population, but we mean well and hope to sometime stop doing so.”

This will simply not cut it, but it represents the general position of the pro-Israel Jewish left.

No one is going to respect a political position grounded in admission of guilt toward a poverty-stricken, indigenous people and they should not.  The western-left likes to think of itself as standing with the underdog and so long as we think of the “Palestinians” as the underdog than we might as well pack it in and go home, because we have no case.

There are three points that need to stand forward in our advocacy and each of these points, thankfully, has the benefit of truth and history behind them.

1)  The Jews are the indigenous people of the region.

2)  The conflict is part of a long-standing, Koran-based, aggression of the Arab and Muslim majority against the Jewish indigenous minority.  It is, therefore, not an Israel-Palestine conflict, but an Arab / Muslim conflict against the Jews.

3)  The Jewish people in the Middle East are a people under siege by a much larger, aggressive majority.

Each of these points are unquestionably true, but until we ground our arguments within those points, we should expect no sympathy and will get none.


Originally posted at Israel Thrives.

Check Also

From Israel: “Give No Quarter!!”

The world is in horrendous shape.  And yet, yet the focus is on us, here …


  1. Leon Poddebsky

    We need to consider the following:
    not that long ago, in our parents’ lifetimes, the cry, ” Jews, go back to your own country, ‘Palestine’, was widespread around the globe. ( An aside: in 1973 I received a letter from an anonymous source responding to my letter to the editor of SMH, in which the anonymous writer urged me to go back to my homeland, Israel.)

    Nowadays the cry,” Get out of ‘Palestine’, Jews; you stole it from the ‘Palestinians'” is widespread.

    What has caused the change?
    There is no doubt that the people who utter/ed both mantras are antisemites.
    Is it only a change of tactics by the antisemitic lobbies in their eternal obsessive campaign?
    If we pin down the reason for the change, we may be able to adopt a strategy for combatting them.

    • We simply need to be resolved in affirming our rights to that tiny bit of property that is Jewish land, which includes Judaea and Samaria.

      If the Jewish people in the MIddle East wish to be so gracious as to give over some portion of that land for a 23th Arab dictatorship, that is entirely up to them. If such a thing would bring a real peace then I would favor it.

      Sadly, there is little to suggest that this is the case.

      • Leon Poddebsky

        Michael, I absolutely agree with your prescription.
        If only successive Israeli governments and Jewish organisations in the dispersion of the exile had been doing this for decades the world might not have been brainwashed by the greatest confidence trick / fraud that has ever been perpetrated against such a large body of public opinion.

  2. Finally someone that can state the simple truth about this issue.
    I can say without hate in my heart that Islam is the problem, once you except Islam as a Political Ideology, and read the Koran as the ‘basic constitution’ for the totalitarian Ideology that the Arab world uses to control its majority of people.
    The free people of the world have no desire to harm or kill people that call themselves Muslims, it takes to much energy to remain so negative, however the brainwashing from the Koranic Ideology has created generation on generation of people that have a twisted view on history and their superior opinion of their existence. Islam is like Communism and NAZISM is the problem, however unlike the worlds reaction to debating and stopping these forms of social cancer, the world has put Islam in a safe category and allowed it to hide under the name of a religion. While parts of the Islamic construct is designed to read as a religion, it’s real platform is to politically control its population and develop its hatred to all non-muslim societies. Just look around the world today, most major/minor world conflicts have Islam at it’s core. When Islam can push Buddhist to take up arms against them, it shows the simple truth about the Koranic world view.

  3. Michael, I totally agree with you. We need to change the way we advocate for Israel and emphasise that the Jews are the indigenous people, while the Arabs are the colonisers.
    One of the problems is that propagandists have managed to persuade people that Judaism is a white racist religion, whereas Arabs are victims of racism.

    Nothing could be further from the truth: you can be Jewish whatever colour you are, as just a short trip to Israel will attest. Arabs countries are extremely racist, with a pecking order depending on the colour of a person’s skin – with Arabs at the top, of course.

    In order to win the propaganda war, we need to change the narrative.

  4. Not only are the Jews indigenous to Palestine, but they are indigenous to the ‘Arab world’.

  5. I would suggest that to go down this road of who’s indigenous/who’s the coloniser is a “hiding to hell”.

    Let us say that you put the question “By what means are nations and nation states formed?” And let us say you then cast around for an entity that has the wit and authority to confer on a people that they have met the criteria for nationhood. Let us say….the UN…..the International Court of Justice…..or perhaps that other great institute….the court of public opinion. Let us say one mounts the argument “Because we are the indigenous people of the land.” Now that hasn’t worked too well for either the Aboriginals in this country or the indigenous peoples of most lands. And in the case of our Palestinian cousins in mounting that case they are using the very laws and arguments that were created after the second world war because of what Hitler attempted to do to the Jews. And they are using those laws and conventions, to now challenge the right of Jews to be a nation and national state in an area they, the Jews have chosen to call Israel.

    To my mind the only argument that holds true in this Judeo-Christian construct we call western democracy as to why Jews should choose to call Israel home is the one that goes “Because G-d gave this land to the Jews to be a nation.” Now that idea may not be fashionable or fit nicely into a socialist world view but it is the one Israel is actually operating with – to hold this land and be a Jewish Nation. To my mind it is the only concept that then supports the concept that “Jews will be the majority in this land” and “Jews will strive to have a Jewish culture as the dominant culture in this land”. Again ideas that no right thinking socialist could ever agree to. Now in no way am I being prescriptive as to what form that Judaism may take. In fifty or a hundred years we might not recognise the Judaism practiced in Israel. That is a choice for the Jews that live in the land and at that time. We would all hope that it is a Judaism that reflects the values we might, and the world might, respect. But that is not a given. As the national history of Israel would testify, Israel has gone down some strange and interesting paths in its three thousand year history, .

    But to mount a case of “indigeneity” particularly when that is a contested claim in this instance is a loosing game…..

    I would refer us to the current UN (1983) definition of Indigeneity………

    “Indigenous populations are composed of the existing descendants of the peoples who inhabited the present territory of a country wholly or partially at the time when persons of a different culture or ethnic origin arrived there from other parts of the world, overcame them, by conquest, settlement or other means, reduced them to a non-dominant or colonial condition; who today live more in conformity with their particular social, economic and cultural customs and traditions than with the institutions of the country of which they now form part, under a state structure which incorporates mainly national, social and cultural characteristics of other segments of the population…….”

    I would doubt that many Israelis would identify with this definition….but this definition is tailor made for most Palestinian Israelis or Palestinians living anywhere who identify themselves as Palestinians. This definition underpins all Palestinian claims on the land of Israel and possession of the State of Israel.

    This then is really what one would be up against……not just re-defining Indigeneity to be something that Israel could live with, indeed be aspirational to its national objectives, but one that could not be contested by any other people.

    My sense is that advocacy for Israel should be based on its three thousand year yearning to be a Jewish Nation living in the land that God has chosen for it. It is only Jews who could make such a claim. It is a claim recognised within a western democratic paradigm.

    • Larry, I hold the Jewish faith and religious Jews in respect.

      The claims of indigeneity and theology are not mutually exclusive. Jewish indigeneity to the Land of Israel is historically accurate and, if anything, buttresses religious claims.

      From a historical perspective, there are no people on the planet who have greater rightful claims than do the Jewish people in the Land of Israel.

      What bothers me is that we are the only nation on the planet with a state that must continually defend its right to even have a state… this despite the fact that we are among the very few oldest peoples on the planet.

      Peace to you, please, my friend.

      • Larry Langman

        Michael all that you have said and others have made comment on, is absolutely true. My contention is that to follow the indigeneity line is problematic. Firstly because it is in Israel’s case a contested claim and more specifically the way the concept of Indigeneity is currently constructed. Per the definition quoted above the claim of Indigeneity can “only” be made by an oppressed people living in a land now occupied by another, majority, people.

        Now that is not the situation of Jews living in Israel, but it could and is used by the self proclaimed Palestinians. So by giving credance to the concept of indigeneity and strength to the idea of Indigeneity as a ground for national sovereignty we leave to others (UN, ICJ, or more importantly the COPO, the court of public opinion) to adjudicate on that claim and possibly find not in Israel’s favour.

        As I content in my comment a stronger and better and to my view, uncontestable claim to nationhood, is the claim that God gave Israel to the Jews. At the time of its giving it was not unoccupied land. We have accepted that notion for three thousand years. We have also accepted the idea that for that same three thousand years Jews remembered and yearned for that bit of dirt. That bit and no other. Sometimes we were able to hold it sometimes not. Currently we hold it. And Jews will make of their state the best that they can. There is plenty of comment around this site that Jews are doing a good job, other comment that they could do better or do different. We are sought of doing that here. Given that my contention is an idea that can be worked up to a concept and that concept worked up to a case for national existence; then what we could be discussing is which proposition carries more weight:- “God gave it to us” or “We are descended from the original inhabitants.” Given that in another thread on this site we already have the proposition that Jesus was a Palestinian Martyr, my thought is that the “We are descended….” argument, is going to always be a tough one to carry.

        When asked as I often am “Why do Jews make such a big deal about Israel?” My answer is “Because that is their manifest destiny.” We have known and accepted the idea Jews and Israel/Israel and Jews for two thousand years. No other people can make that claim to this dirt. No one.

        Now it matters not whether your family became Jewish two thousand years ago or last week….as soon as you are Jewish you inherit the land. It is your birthright. If we go down the Indigeneity route – that observation no longer holds. And the link of Israel and Jews/Jews and Israel weakened.

        • Larry, I think it’s important to emphasize that Jews are indigenous to the Middle East; otherwise, what are we doing there? Judaism started in the Middle East, the Jewish Temples existed long before Islam and Christianity. All who follow Judaism, whether born into it, or voluntarily deciding to join, are heirs to this heritage.

          I think the modern misconception is to position Jews as white, and therefore invaders, while so-called Palestinians are described as non-white, and therefore victims of occupation. Many progressive Jews buy into this whiteness theory and clothe themselves in a mantle of white guilt by siding with those who want to destroy us.

          The truth is that Arabs are indigenous to Arabia, which is where their holy places are. the Temple Mount is not their holy place, but a Jewish holy place, but historical revisionism has succeeded in fooling many. When Islam took root, it colonised large areas of the Middle east and Africa, as it is a colonising ideology. Judaism on the other hand is a religion and does not colonise, but just wants to return to its ancestral homeland.

  6. Larry Langman

    It is my view that Israel should exist as the national home of the Jewish people and that that claim is based on three thousand years of a continual residence in and devotion to that land. All lines of advancing that argument should be followed. Ethnic, cultural and historic and religious. My contention in my contribution is to note that to follow the particular line of indigeniety, to the exclusion of other areas of claim is problematic. I particularly pointed to the cultural and historic and religious lines as being potentially more productive that that of indigeniety. If indigeniety is persued in must be in a package of ethnic, cultural, historic and religios conviction

    I do agree with your observation about the sense in some quarters that somehow Jews have no right to claim this land. But was it ever thus.

    Now it may well be that upon the Muslim Invasion of Syria-Palestine in 637CE, some Jews converted to Islam. Now if Abbas wants to claim that his ancestors were Jews fine. At which point I would content they ceased to have a portion of the birthright that was Israel upon the family’s conversion to Islam. His face turns to Mecca not Jerusalem. That thought equally applies to all Muslims living in the land of Israel.

    At the end of the day it really does come down to that…….where do you turn your face to pray?