Does Israel belong to the Jews or have they usurped ancient Arab land?
This question, or it’s seemingly endless variant, crops up with concerning regularity on various social and mainstream media fora, and particularly in the mass of anti-Israel posters, some partly knowledgeable, most hopelessly not.
The 100 year Arab–Israeli conflict remains a fixture in news media the world over.
Even though it takes place in a very small area of land, the tensions between Israel and the Muslim Arabs of “Palestine” continually result in confusion, polarity and controversy where, typically, those who know least, deal most in fallacy, fictions and mythology.
One reason for this is that not researching or acknowledging the recorded historical context, commonly gives rise to digestible memes for the interest-based masses, but which a little research will show that what actually lies beneath the received imagery, is quite different from the surface we are presented with for mass consumption.
Thus, the meme-chant, From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free” is a supreme example of this bias-driven group-think.
From punters on various social media fora, to professors (sic) at the UN who espouse the theme and its variants, the use of the phrase shows just how mainstream this sort of thinking is.
The core issue (there are other just as substantial ones…) with the meme is that it presupposes that “Palestinians” (sic) are being downtrodden by invaders, occupiers and non-indigenes. That is to say, the increasingly mainstream belief appears to be that the “indigenous”(sic) “Palestinians” faced an emergent European nationalist movement over the last 50 years or so that succeeded in “dispossessing” the “Palestinians” and transforming their ancestral homeland into a modern nation state of Jews that locates its origin in a hard-to-believe biblical text.
Organisations like the UNHCR state that Jewish nationalist ideology, Zionism, led to claims on Palestine for the Jewish people. This because Zionism began in Europe, in reaction to pogroms in the east and assimilation in the west and led to the removal of the “indigenous population”.
Mahmoud Abbas, current leader of the PA/Fatah in Ramallah, famously stated “Our narrative says that we were in this land since before Abraham. I am not saying it. The Bible says it. The Bible says, in these words, that the Palestinians existed before Abraham…”
Not to be outdone, Dmitri Diliani of the Fatah Revolutionary Council likewise declared that “the Palestinian people [are] descended from the Canaanite tribe of the Jebusites that inhabited the ancient site of Jerusalem as early as 3200 BCE.”
And, one Abbas spokesman went even further: “The nation of Palestine upon the land of Canaan had a 7,000-year history B.C.E. This is the truth, (already a lazy 2,800 year discrepancy of the ‘truth’ at this stage by this spokesman’s account…) which must be understood, and we have to note it, in order to say: ‘….We are the people of history. We are the owners of history.’
However, before I begin to address concepts similar to those I have quoted above, I will add a clarification of terminology: the Arabs I speak of are NOT Israeli Arabs, citizens of Israel, but Arabs who, since 1964, would like you to call them Palestinians out of respect for their claimed indigeneity and ancient history in the Southern Levant.
Together with that, I refer to Arabs as people who speak Arabic and Jews as people who practice the religious tenets of Judaism and have ethnic roots tracing back to what may have been an original population group from Canaan or, according to other historians, Ur. As a corollary, I would add that Muslims are people who practice Islam and that most of the 1.7 billion Muslims worldwide are not Arabs; only 22 percent of Muslims are Arab where 95 percent of the world’s 260 million Arabs are Muslim.
To this I will also add, that as a reference point, what came to be known as the geographical region of Palestine was actually ancient Canaan.
Ancient Canaan comprised an area slightly larger than the modern designation of Palestine and included Israel, Gaza, and the “West Bank”, Lebanon, southern Syria, the western half of Jordan, and the Sinai Peninsula.
With regard to UNHCR and Fatah proclamations of the “Palestinian”/Canaanite connection (and, hence, indigeneity and “historical antiquity”), there is no archaeological evidence, or evidence of any other kind to substantiate a link between the ancient Canaanites, Amorites or Jebusites and the modern-day “Palestinians”.
The land that is now the State of Israel corresponds roughly to the lands known in ancient times as Judaea, Samaria, Idumea, and Galilee, and was inhabited by Jews (Spencer 2019:4)
Harms and Ferry (2005:9), however, do confirm the record of the word “Israel” in the Merneptah stele (1237-1226 BCE) as a verification of Egyptian conquests of ancient Libyans and others in the region and substantiates the existence of a people called Jews who were already practising their ab-original monotheism later incorporated into early versions of Christianity and, 1700 years later, into Islam.
Contrary to the Abbas quote above re Abraham and the “Palestinians”, Harms and Ferry find it difficult to even concede that a Biblical Abraham even existed and argue that most scholars suggest that he was more likely a mythical or literary figure of tradition to be remembered for his moral lessons and religious piety.
This throws the “Palestinian” claim as an existent (pre/post) ethnic group into some doubt.
What is not in doubt is that the people known as the Israelites moved into Canaan even though their origins are still disputed. The most accepted version of this genesis by current historians is anchored in the application of Marxist theory and termed the ‘Peasant Revolt Model’ which cast the Israelites as a subclass of Canaanite peoples united by their religious belief in the god Yahweh. (Mendenhall, “The Hebrew Conquest of Palestine,” Biblical Archaeologist, no.25 (September 3, 1962): 66–87).
To this is added modern and current Biblical interpretation and more recent assessments of archaeological evidence, all of which now lead scholars to view the first Israelites as indigenous to Canaan – they were Canaanites. Over time, they evolved culturally and religiously to break away from their native Canaanite heritage and gathered in the highlands of Canaan – the traditional land of Israel and the most likely place referred to in the Israel Stele – forming the early Israelite tribal population and later organizing to become the kingdom of Israel.
So far, there is not a single reference in the peer reviewed biblical or secular literature to a “Palestinian” people, NOR of the connection of such a people to the Canaanites or any of the other tribes of the area.
It must be noted that the same literature notes that the Canaanites just didn’t disappear with the rise of the Kingdom of Israel.
The Canaanite kingdoms of Aram, Phoenicia, Moab, Ammon, and Edom existed outside of Israel and were just as powerful and important.
What is probably more important to note is that ALL the kingdoms mentioned were cognate to Canaanite culture of this or that variation and ruled areas of today’s Syria, Judah, Samaria, Lebanon and Jordan.
The exception to this was the kingdom of Philista (and the progenitor of the Roman “Palestine” for Judaea). An Aegean people, they had no relation to Canaanite culture, although they were major players in the region’s history, and like the Aramites, Moabites, Edomites and Ammonites, they all eventually disappeared as distinct cultural, religious or ethnic entities.
In fact, after the waves of oft brutal invasion and occupations by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans and Byzantines, the region that was Ancient Canaan, and the peoples of that region, Philistines, Samarians Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, had lost their national identity.
Only the Jews persisted and remained as a distinct cultural, linguistic, ethnic and religious group.
PART II will continue the exploration of the authenticity of the Arab claim to both Israel and its capital, Jerusalem
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