Friday, December 08, 2006

About "Palestinians"

Bradley Burston in Ha'aretz has been railing against those who say that there are no such people as "Palestinians" in his comment section. He does not attempt to address their arguments, but rather asserts:
I believe that it is a form of racism to tell an entire people, millions upon millions all over the world, that their culture is not a true culture, that their identity is not an identity, that they do not, in fact, exist.

I believe that the reason for denying their existence is to deny the legitimacy of their pain, their aspirations, their longing, the facts of their history, none of which make for a comfortable fit with the history that Zionism originally wrote for itself.

The very idea of the Palestinian Arab represents competition for limited resources of land, the moral high ground, and the self-esteem of long-oppressed peoples.

You can't just wish away the Palestinians.

A actually agree with the last sentence. There is, today, a clearly defined group of people who call themselves "Palestinian" and redefining them or renaming them does not solve their day to day problems.

But to call those who say that there were no historic, separate Palestinian Arab people "racists" is simply a form of censorship and intimidation by political correctness. (In fact, Burston briefly censored many of the commenters.)

It does not serve any purpose to deny history in the name of anti-racism. Facts should be easy enough to discover and verify for themselves and Burston is at least as guilty of trying to wish away history as he accuses his critics of wishing away today's reality.

It is indeed way too simplistic to say that since there has been no historic Palestinian people or culture that the problem is solved. But one cannot solve any problem without defining the problem properly, and like most people who think they know the solution, Burston shows no interest in defining it.

History is an integral part of the Israeli/Arab conflict. To deny that is to deny reality itself. Today's arguments depend to a large degree on historical facts, whether the history is from last year or from 200 or 2000 years ago.

When this blog refers to "Palestinian Arabs" it is not to deny peoplehood, but to be as accurate as possible. There are a not small number of Palestinian Jews who have lived in the area at least as long as most Palestinian Arabs, which from my research indicates a large influx from Syria and other Arab areas in the 1920s. Calling only the Arabs that lived in the area "Palestinian" does not serve the purpose of truth and as such does not go towards solving the problem.

On the other hand, I will not call them simply "Arabs" even though that would have been more accurate in the 1940s. For better or for worse, this group of people have become a separate group since 1948 and have been treated as such, mostly by the other Arabs themselves.

I am not going to go over all the arguments as to the fiction of a historic Palestinian people. I have written many articles on this blog about that topic. But I do not write these articles to be bigoted against a people. I have on numerous occasions written that the PalArabs have been screwed continuously by their so-called "leaders," and only relatively recently have I started blaming Palestinian Arabs themselves for their problems (mostly in the wake of their electing Hamas and the constant polls showing a clear support of terror among them.)

It is not racism to point out that the UN's self-perpetuating definition of "refugee" to include descendants of only a single set of refugees is a tragedy for the Palestinian Arabs themselves. It is not racism to point out that the neighboring Arab countries, by not assimilating them as every single other refugee group in history has been absorbed, have contributed more to the suffering of this people than Israel has. It is not racism to ask that a people that want to have their own country begin to act like responsible members of the world community. All of these are "history" and they are relevant today.

Saying that there is a "Palestinian" people implies accepting the Arab narrative of history in which Israel is a usurping colonialist imperialist apartheid state. Accepting at face value the claims of these people without looking at real facts is not only irresponsible but it can itself end up being a bigoted viewpoint against the Jews of the Middle East.

How can the status of Jerusalem be decided without looking at history? Saying that today's Palestinian Arabs hopes and dreams for Jerusalem has the same weight as the Jews' historic yearning for its holy city is a perversion of both history and of today's reality. One does not have to go back that many years to see how well the PalArabs treated Jerusalem when they did have control. To judge the merits of their arguments without taking a clear-eyed view of history is not helpful towards defining, and therefore solving, the problem.

Scientology was borm roughly the same time that the "Palestinian" people were born. Scientologists are clearly a real group of people with real beliefs. Does this mean that Scientology now has an equal claim of being a religion, should get tax-exempt status, should be taught in history classes in the same manner as Christianity or Buddhism? Of course not. One must look at the context, one must look at history, one must look at the facts. To uncritically accept a people's narrative without history does a disservice to everyone as well as to the truth. And it goes nowhere towards solving the problem.

There is another set of victims that come from uncritically accepting the Palestinian Arab narrative. These are the other peoples who indeed do have long historic or religious histories and aspirations of nationhood. The Kurds and Armenians and others suffer, partly, because the world is giving priority to the problems of a people who do not have nearly the same claims of peoplehood. There are finite resources on this planet and it only makes sense that people with a true history of suffering and discrimination should be taken care of before those who believe, no matter how passionately, in a fiction.

I do not claim that saying that there is no historic Palestinian Arab people magically solves their or our problems. But denying reality has a cost as well. And buying into the ahistorical narrative does a disservice to everyone.