Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who this past week claimed Palestinian lineage to the Canaanites, is not the first Palestinian to reinvent history • A study of history shows that the roots of present-day Palestinians lie far from here.
The noted scholar of nationalist movements, Anthony Smith, once made a differentiation between two kinds of methods in constructing nationalist identity. The first method is determining a national grouping on the basis of a shared culture and history. The second method is used by nations who do not have such a common history and thus need to invent it all from scratch.
In his book "From Jerusalem to Mecca and Back," Professor Yitzhak Reiter notes that history is not always exact. In the most extreme instances, it is a fabrication. The case of Saeb Erekat, the head of the Palestinian negotiating team, appears to be one of these instances.
Erekat, who this past week lectured to Justice Minister Tzipi Livni that he and his Canaanite forefathers lived in Jericho 3,000 years ago before the arrival of Joshua and his Sons of Israel, is not the first Palestinian who has reinvented himself by drawing a direct line connecting the Canaanites from biblical days to the Palestinians of today. Many Palestinians preceded him. Some of them viewed themselves as the descendants of the Jebusites. Others cast themselves as the descendants of the ancient Philistines.
The core of Arab propaganda has for years been based on the claim that the Palestinian people have been settling in present-day Israel for thousands of years, well before the Jews arrived as "occupiers." As the argument goes, the Palestinians, by virtue of their being descendants of the Canaanites, or the Philistines, or the Jebusites, are the real indigenous nation that sprung organically from this land. Then, as now, so the argument goes, they are being occupied by the Jews.
Not only do the Palestinians deny, erase, and distort Jewish history -- sometimes going to absurd lengths -- but they also invent thousands of years of a new history of their own. All of a sudden, the biblical Canaanites are Arabs, Jesus is a Palestinians who preached the virtues of Islam and not Christianity, and Moses? Well, Moses was a Muslim, after all.
A short, brief perusal of historical documents, expert testimonials, and new and old publications as well as quotes found on the Internet from Israeli Arab and Palestinian sources is all one needs to know that the roots of present-day Palestinian families lie far from here and that the Palestinian narrative, the cause of which Erekat has taken up, is an imaginary one.
Take, for example, the case of Salma Fayumi, a resident of Kafr Qasim who demonstrated her cooking prowess on the hit show "Master Chef." Fayumi certainly did not intend to stick her head into the tumultuous debate of where Palestinians originated, but she may have unwittingly done so by proudly showing off her Kushari dish that she prepared, "Egyptian cuisine made of rice and lentil."
"My family came from Egypt, from Faiyum, and I am Salma Fayumi from Faiyum," the cook from Kafr Qasim said.
Fathi Hamad, the interior minister in the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, who cried out for Egyptian assistance during the IDF's operations in the area in March 2012, is another one who certainly had no intention of spoiling Erekat's theories of Canaanite-based land claims. Yet, there can be no misinterpreting his recent statements.
"When we ask for your help, it is so that we can continue the jihad," he said. "Praise God, we all have Arab roots and every Palestinian in Gaza and all over Palestine can prove their Arab roots, whether they be in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, or anywhere else. We have blood ties."
"Speaking personally, half of my family is Egyptian," he said. "Where is your mercy? There are over 30 families in the Gaza Strip with the surname Al-Masri, 'Egyptian.' Brothers, half of the Palestinians are Egyptian, and the other half are Saudi. Who are the Palestinians? We have many families called Al-Masri whose roots are Egyptian! They come from Alexandria, Cairo, and Aswan. We are Egyptians. We are Arabs. We are Muslims."
The one who most urgently sought to drive a nail into the coffin of the debate over the Palestinians' Canaanite origins is the former MK Azmi Bishara, the Israeli Arab Christian founder of the Balad party. He fled Israel after he was suspected of spying and assisting Hezbollah. In the preface to Benedict Anderson's famous work Imagined Communities, Bishara writes: "Modern Arab nationalism makes it seem like the fact that it was created in the 19th century, like other national movements, subtracts from its worth or its justness."
"It feels obligated to nationalize the history of Arab-speaking peoples and to make it into a national history that goes back to before the time of Islam all the way to contemporary times..." he wrote.
"Acting out of a need to compete with Zionism, the Palestinian national movement has anchored its origins with those of the Canaanites," Bishara wrote. "In doing so, it achieve its own, unique start-off point in the past that precedes that of the Hebrew tribes, which Zionism claims as its natural descendants."
More blunt statements were made by Walid Shoebat, a former Muslim and Fatah activist who converted to Christianity and became an ardent and vocal supporter and advocate for Israel and Christianity. Shoebat, who immigrated to the United States from Jordan, claims that everyone he met in Palestine "knew to trace the roots of their familes to the country from which their great-grandfathers came."
"We knew full well that our origin was not Canaanite, despite what they tried to teach us," he said. "My grandfather would often remind us that our village, Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem, was empty when his father arrived there with six other families. Today, there are over 30,000 residents in the village."
Look it up in the Quran
Professor Rafi Israeli, a Middle Eastern scholar and an expert on Islam from the Hebrew University, has written over 20 books on Arabs and Islam. The link that the Palestinians have tried to create with the ancient Canaanites is "absurd" in his mind.
"The early origins of the Arabs who came to this country are in the Arabian peninsula," he said. "The first ones came from there. Now they are standing on their heads. Instead of saying that they are Arabs who immigrated to Canaan and turned it into a Muslim country, they have rendered themselves indigenous Canaanites."
"Even their Arab surnames give clear clues that they immigrated here," the professor said. "In Umm al-Fahm, there are four large clans who originated in Egypt. In the Old City of Jerusalem, one can find the Moroccan Quarter, which was home to Muslims who came from North Africa, the Maghreb, and settled in the Land of Israel."
"Furthermore, the Ottoman Empire transferred populations from place to place in order to tighten its control over those areas," he said. "Take, for example, the Circassians, Muslims from the Caucuses who were brought here and have settled here since."
"The Palestinians don't really have roots here," the professor said. "They know this very well, so they are trying to invent origins for themselves. Whenever you offer historic or archaeological criticism of this nonsense, learned scholars the world over immediately insist that you 'respect the narrative.' It doesn't matter one bit to them whether there is historical truth there. If we do not debunk this, it will be accepted as fact. If you repeat a lie thousands of times, it eventually becomes accepted as true, so we mustn't keep quiet."
The title of Professor Nissim Dana's ninth book, which was released this week and is devoted to the our competing religious narratives with the Palestinians, can be translated into English as "To Whom Does This Land Belong -- A Reexamination of the Quran." For years, Dana served as the head of the non-Jewish department of the Religious Affairs Ministry. Today, he is the head of the Multidisciplinary Department for Social and Humanities Studies at Ariel University.
For those who are unfamiliar with the holiest book of Islam, Dana's conclusions might come as a surprise.
"In the Quran, which according to Islam is the word of God whose holiness cannot be minimized or exceeded, there are 10 passages which state that Allah bequeathed the land to the Jewish people," Dana said. "In all of these instances, it is written that there is not only the right but the obligation placed on the Sons of Israel to inherit the land. On the other hand, there is no mention in the Quran of bequeathing the land to Muslims, Arabs, Palestinians, or any other nation not called the Jewish people."
"Moreover, the current claim going around, which states that the nations from which the land was conquered by the Jewish people -- the Canaanites, the Jebusites, the Anakites -- were 'Arab' doesn't square with the fact that according to Islam itself, the Israelites were commanded by Allah to conquer the land from those nations after they had defiled him by worshiping idols."
In his book, Dana cites the original Arabic text and includes his own translation and the interpretation of the text. He also gives a synopsis of dozens of scholarly works devoted to understanding the Quran. According to the professor, most of these works support the conclusion which bolsters the Jewish people's claim of a historic link to the Land of Israel.
"Even Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, who is recognized by Jews as the Rashi of the Muslims and one of history's most distinguished exegetes of the Quran, takes this approach and even delineates the borders of the Land of Israel 'which stretched from the Euphrates River to the east bank of the Nile'."
"As for Jerusalem, from Chapter 2, Verse 142 onward in the Quran, the city was mentioned in the context of which direction one needs to turn in order to pray," Dana said. "But that was to entice the Jews to convert to Islam, since the proper direction for Muslims to pray toward is the Kaba in Mecca. With regards to the famous story about the Prophet Muhammad's ascendance to heaven, after his overnight journey from Mecca to Jerusalem on the back of a wild animal known as 'al Burak,' the Quran has something to say about this."
"The Quran mentions the testimony of Aisha, the prophet's beloved wife, who said that she and her husband stayed together throughout the night he supposedly went up to heaven," Dana said. "So, according to Aisha, the whole episode was nothing more than a dream that was dreamt at night. It wasn't really an ascendance to the heavens."
"Ibn Taymiyyah, the Islamic scholar, philosopher, and theologian who died in 1328, denounced as a lie the deceitful claim made today that Muhammad left evidence of his visit to the Temple Mount," Dana said. "Solomon's Stables, which the Muslims of our generation have turned into a mosque, are specifically cited by one of Islam's grandest scholars, Ibn Khaldun, as part of the Temple."
Dana's re-examination of the Quran leads him back to the same conclusion. "There is no basis for the Palestinian claim which identifies themselves as descendants of the Canaanites," he said. "The Muslims who live here in contemporary times and whose forebears became Muslims in 622 originated in the Arabian peninsula. The claim that they are the descendants of the Canaanites is akin to an 'own goal' in soccer, since the Quran says that the Canaanites were ordered expelled from the holy land by Allah after they had defiled the land."
The Palestinian narrative as defined by Erekat -- the one which lays claim to a continuous Palestinian presence here since the Canaanite period -- doesn't stand the test of historical evidence and testimonies. Dr. Shaul Bartal, a Middle Eastern scholar who teaches at Bar-Ilan University, says that in many Palestinian history books, heavy emphasis is placed on "the Arab conquest of Palestine" in 638, "a conquest that for 1,300 years made Palestine into Islamic territory."
Bartal said that the waves of immigration from the Arabian Peninsula and the subsequent arrivals of Arabs from Transjordan and Syria are what led to the continued settlement of Arabs in this country. "Even in Ramallah, the administrative capital of the Palestinian Authority, the origins of Arab families are traced back to those who came here from Jordan in the late 15th century," he said.
A research study which Bartal co-authored with Dr. Rivka Shpak Lissak shows that the four main clans that make up the population of Umm el-Fahm -- Makhagna, Jabrin, Mahamid, and Aghbariya -- trace their roots back to families who immigrated to Palestine in the 17th century onward from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Syria. It was only afterward during the 19th century when many families from Egypt and Transjordan joined them.
A number of historical sources indicate that in previous centuries, wide swaths of the Land of Israel were abandoned and left desolate. Bartal and others poured over these studies. Charles William Eliot, the president of Harvard University, visited the country in 1867. During his trip, he described the Galilee as a place of emptiness and misery.
In his famous book "Innocents Abroad," Mark Twain recalls not seeing a living soul throughout his journey. In 1874, the Reverend Samuel Manning wrote: "But where were the inhabitants?" In 1857, James Finn, who served as British consul in Jerusalem, noted that to large extent the country was empty of inhabitants. Even a German encyclopedia that was published in 1827 describes the country as "a deserted land in which bands of Arab robbers roam around in every part."
"The Palestinians," Bartal declares, "are not the 'farmers who have lived in Palestine for generations,' but rather immigrants who only arrived recently. It was only toward the latter stages of the 19th century that the country began to blossom thanks to the emergence of a new presence -- Zionism -- and the amazing results. In 1878, the population of the country numbered 141,000 Muslims who lived here permanently, with at least 25 percent of them considered to be newly arrived immigrants who came mostly from Egypt."
"Various studies done over a span of years by Moshe Brawer, Gideon Kressel, and other scholars clearly show that most Arab families who settled in the villages along the coastal plain and the area that would later become the State of Israel originated from Sudan, Libya, Egypt, and Jordan," said Bartal. "Other studies show that the waves of immigrants came here in droves from Arab countries during the period of the British Mandate."
Perhaps the most famous book on the subject, "From Time Immemorial," which was written by Joan Peters, found that "there wasn't a situation whereby an Arab nation that has been around 'from time immemorial' was pushed aside and driven away, but rather a completely contrary state of affairs: a nation -- the Jewish people -- whose presence attracted Arabs to the country, and the Jews' land, which was meant to serve as a home for them, was taken away from them with the arrival of Arab immigrants."
The Arab immigrants were drawn to the land because Jewish settlement there brought on development of economic opportunities as well as improvement in sanitation and medicine. In 1948, the Arabs of Mandatory Palestine numbered 1.3 million people, while the Jewish community numbered just 600,000 people, this despite the huge waves of aliyah.
In 1939, then-U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt said that the immigration of Arabs to Palestine since 1921 was outpacing the immigration of Jews during that same period. Winston Churchill, who would later become prime minister of Britain, commented on the massive waves of Arab immigration into the country during that time. "Despite the fact that they were never persecuted, masses of Arabs poured into the country and multiplied until the Arab population grew more than what all of world Jewry could add to the Jewish population," Churchill observed.
In "From Time Immemorial," Peters cites extensive research which she did in order to show that among those who claimed to be Palestinian Arabs were Balkans, Greeks, Syrians, Latins, Egyptians, Turks, Armenians, Italians, Persians, Kurds, Germans, Afghans, Circassians, Bosnians, Sudanese, Samaritans, Algerians, Motawile, and Tartars.
An education of lies
None of these facts register with the Palestinians. The imaginary link between the Canaanites and the Palestinians as supposed proof of a stronger, more legitimate Palestinian claim to the land has been inculcated in classrooms by way of PA-issued textbooks. Ido Mizrahi, a government official in the Strategic Affairs Ministry who has investigated Palestinian incitement, found that children from second grade until high school in the West Bank and Gaza are taught that the Canaanites were Arabs.
"The Canaanite Arabs were the first to live in Palestine," reads a second-grade textbook in the Palestinian school system. The goal of the lesson is clearly stated. "It is for the student to create a linkage between the land of Palestine and the Canaanite people that lived there."
In an educational textbook used by seventh grade students, children are taught that "the Canaanite Palestinians are those who invented the ancient alphabet."
According to Mizrahi, while the Canaanite identity doesn't take up a major part of the learning material given to children, these short, oft-repeated messages lead to one conclusion: this country has been settled by Arabs long before the Jews arrived.
Perhaps an examination of the colors of the Palestinian national flag will tell the real story. Bartal notes that "the flag is missing its own uniqueness."
"The white symbolizes the Umayyad caliphate (650-750 A.D.), the black represents the Abbasid dynasty, and the green represents Islam as well as the Shiite Fatimid caliphate, while the red is the color of the Hashemites, the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad," Bartal said.
"Many Arab countries have identical or nearly identical flags," he said. "Jordan, Iraq up to 1958, the countries of western Sahara, Kuwait, and Sudan [all had the same or almost the same designs]. The similarity stems from the fact that this flag represents Arab nationalism, and there is nothing there that links the Palestinians with the biblical Canaanites."
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