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Monday, May 16, 2005

The historical Palestinians: A very simple test

I don't think that anyone can seriously doubt that today there are a people who could accurately be described as "Palestinian."

But there is an incredible hue and cry whenever people say, accurately, that there were no such people that could be distinguished from the rest of the Arab world until relatively recently.

There is a very simple test that can prove which claim is more accurate, whether the Palestinian people have existed as such historically or not. The test is to look at newspaper archives from before the establishment of Israel and see how they used the word "Palestinian."

Unfortunately, there are not too many free newspaper archives on the Internet that go back that far. One of the best is the Palestine Post, in which Tel Aviv University has done an incredible job of showing articles from the time before Israel was founded in context (ads, too) and one can learn far more from reading these articles about how day to day life was in British Palestine than from any books.

Here is a sampling of articles that show up when doing a search for "Palestinian":






As is clear, at least in Palestine, the word "Palestinian" usually referred to Jews, not Arabs.

But perhaps you would argue that the Palestine Post (now the Jerusalem Post) is a biased source. Despite the fact that the above articles also quote British sources as using the word "Palestinian" to refer to Jews, but we can also look at other sources.

The Washington Post has its archives online as well, although you have to pay to see the full article. But even the abstracts can show interesting results:

Products of Palestinian Art Will Be Shown at Jewish Center; Novel 10-Bay Exhibit of Sculptured and Other Work by the Late Boris Schatz Will Open Tomorrow at 1529 Sixteenth Street.
The Washington Post (1877-1954). Washington, D.C.: Apr 3, 1938. pg. TT5, 1 pgs

Abstract (Document Summary)
Products of the new Palestine art will be displayed in a novel ten-day exhibit, opening at the Jewish Community Center, 1529 Sixteenth street, tomorrow at 8:30 p.m. A number of pieces of sculpture work m relief, bronze, hand-hammered brass, ivory carvings and others of the late Boris Schnatz, founder of the new school of modern Palestinian art, will be exhibited by his son and daughter, ...





Or check this article out, perhaps for a better picture:
Palestinians in France
The Washington Post (1877-1954). Washington, D.C.: Feb 29, 1940. pg. 5, 1 pgs

Abstract (Document Summary)

Somewhere in France, Feb. 28. -- Their past differences forgotten in the common effort, a force of 700 Palestinian soldiers, about three-quarters of them Jews and the rest Arabs, arrived at a French port today to join the British expeditionary force.


Even though this article includes Arabs as being Palestinian, it is the exception that proves the rule: there is nothing inherently Arab about Palestinians, and more often than not, Palestinians when referred to as such were Jews.

So how were the Arabs who lived in the area referred to? Usually just "Arabs", sometimes "Bedouins", and sometimes even "Arab nationalists:"

British Troops To Palestine.
The Washington Post (1877-1954). Washington, D.C.: Sep 6, 1936. pg. B6, 1 pgs

Abstract (Document Summary)

The seriousness at the Palestinian situation is at last being recognized by the British government. No longer are the authorities at London taking the complacent view that the fires lit in the Holy Land by Arab Nationalists some months ago, when they ordered a general strike in protest against further Jewish immigration, would soon burn themselves out.

Note that nowhere are these Arabs referred to as "Palestinians."

This is just scratching the surface. Reading old newspaper archives is fascinating and fun, and little details emerge that show that things were just as messy then as they are now, along with the occasional ad in the Jewish-oriented Palestine Post that may strike you as strange:



So don't take my word for it. Do the research and you will find out that when people claim that there have never been a historic Palestinian people separate from other Arabs, they know what they are talking about.

UPDATE: The New York Times has a similar summary archive service. Check out this article:
PALESTINIAN COUPLE ENROLLS AT FORDHAM
New York Times (1857-Current file). New York, N.Y.: Nov 1, 1947. pg. 5, 1 pgs

Abstract (Document Summary)

Fordham University enrolled yesterday as students a young Palestinian Jew and his wife who hope to make American culture and its techniques play a more dynamic role in the culture of their homeland.

But the New York Times for the most part seems to have been very specific in referring to Palestinian Jews and Palestinian Arabs, usually not "Palestinians."

The first time I am able to find a reference to Palestinian Arabs as Palestinians by default in the NYT is arguably this article from 1959 , a somewhat better reference is here although it can be argued that Jordanian Palestinians are of course Arab by default. The first I am able to find the word used unequivocally to mean Palestinian Arabs is here:
U.A.R. Plans to Draft A 'Palestinian Army'Special to The New York Times. New York Times (1857-Current file). New York, N.Y.: Nov 3, 1963. pg. 5, 1 pgs

So while the word Palestinian as referring to Arabs who lived in the area does seem to predate the 1964 establishment of the PLO, it is not by much - and it seems pretty clear that the impetus towards the establishment of the PLO came from Egypt and other Arab states, not from the Palestinian Arabs themselves.