When Arab writers and pro-Israeli activists I respect, such as Fred Maroun, cry out that the Palestinians exist and we cannot say they do not, they are falling into the trap of promoting the lie. I deny the existence of a nation called Palestine, something that never existed in human history. I do not, of course, deny the existence of individuals who now refer to themselves as Palestinian. The two are not the same.
Does this mean that I need to agree to call these Arabs, Palestinians? I think not. Maroun would say that I am being pathetic – in fact, he used that very word in a number of responses to comments on his Facebook page and on the blog post itself. And even in the title to the post: It is Pathetic to Deny the Existence of Palestinians.
Just because someone calls himself or herself something does not make it so.
Names and Labels Are Important For Indigenous Peoples
Indigenous groups around the world are fighting for the right to call themselves by the names by which they know themselves, and not some moniker applied by colonial powers that conquered them. The Inuit of Canada, for example, rose up as recently as the 1970s and insisted they be called by their true name and not the scornful label “Eskimo”. You will not find many Canadians who continue to call them Eskimos.
I think people started referring to the Palestinian Arabs as Palestinians merely because it took too much energy to say things like: the Arab refugees from the former British Mandate of Palestine, or the Arabs living in the former British Mandate of Palestine, or Arabs in the Palestinian Authority, accurate as such terms may be. It is far simpler just to say: the Palestinians.
At first the Arabs rejected that term. They (rightly) declared that “Palestinian” referred to the Jews. Before 1948, the rest of the world agreed with them, chanting: “Jews, go back to Palestine”. (Note the “go back” and not “go”, but that would be material for a separate article.)
In fact, as late as 1996, Azmi Bashara, then an Israeli Arab Member of Knesset, stated clearly on an Israeli television interview programme that the Arabs are NOT Palestinians and never were (view on the video below).
Bishara was not the only one. To this day, there are Arabs living in this region who claim that there is no such thing as a Palestinian.
(I state in a separate post why the Arabs-who-now-call-themselves-Palestinians began applying that label to themselves. It is beyond the scope of this post.)
On his Facebook page, Maroun writes in response to a commenter (October 29):
Anyway, we are straying far from the topic which is simply to accept the widely accepted term “Palestinian” and move on from ridiculous and pointless debates about its origin.
Would Maroun, a Canadian citizen, also say that the debate about the origin of the name of the football team, the Edmonton Eskimos, is ridiculous and pointless? Once upon a time, “Eskimo” was a widely accepted term. Even though the Inuit are no longer known by that name, they resent seeing anything called by what was once the colonial term applied to them.
Ashinabe Niigaan Sinclair, head of the University of Manitoba Native Studies Department says:
. . .the term is disrespectful and should no longer be the name of the team. It’s not easy to divorce ourselves from these terms, but history will eventually rid ourselves of these racially inappropriate, misdescribing names.
The team’s name is derogatory and disrespectful. And it is derogatory and disrespectful precisely because of its origin. If that is true for a football team, is it not also true for a group of Arabs who openly declare their desire to erase from the face of the Earth those to whom the term “Palestinian” was first affixed? In my opinion, for an Arab to call himself or herself a “proud Palestinian” is both pathetic and wrong. And pardon me, if this is not PC and if it hurts someone’s feelings.