Palestine was under arab-muslim control for only a brief period of time even though after the muslim conquest Arabic became the language of most of the population . Noted scholar David George Hogarth made this point back in 1877: “When we look back at the history of the early caliphate, we find the period of genuine Arab empire extraordinarily short... Arabs governerd Arabs, though Arabs on an imperial scale for much less than a century, just the Umayyad Damascus period and no more”. This becomes evident when we examine the 1,174-year rule of conquerors: Umayyids (112 years), Abbassids (163 years), Egyptians (157 years), Christian Crusaders (103 years) and Turks (743 years). Only the Umayyid Abbassid dynasties can be identified as “Arab”.
What’s more, Hogarth acknowledged that sovereign Arab rule lasted “for much less than a century”. In like manner, the muslim chairman of the syrian delegation to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 stated that “the only Arab domination since the conquest in A.d. 635 hardly lasted, as such, 22 years”. Furthermore, throughout the entire period of rule, the terms Palestine and Palestinian were not used for any muslim people, Arab or otherwise, although before the Crusader rule Arabs used the term Filastin for the Roman division of “first Palestine” (which included Judea and Samaria), and distinguished it from Urdnm (“Jordan”). Otherwise, the Arabs generally referred to provincies by the names of their capital cities.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, Arabs rejected the term Palestinian because it was thought to refer to the Jews. This was evident when the 1917 Balfour Declaration referred to the land of Palestine as the place for a “national home for the Jewish people”. The Arabs reacted to the document, stating that there was no no such thing as Palestine except in referece to the southern part of Greater Syria. Under the British Mandate, the name Palestine was pratically restricted to the land on the western side of the Jordan River, because the British had established on the eastern side the emirate of Transjordan.
In 1950 this emirate annexed the western Arab inhabited part of the western Palestine and changed its name to the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan. However, during the Mandandate period, the Arab political representation, headed be the Mufti of Jerusalem, was not called the “Palestinian Committee” as is it today, but merely “The Arab Higher Committee”. And finally, when the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry convened in Jerusalem in 1946, the dinstinguished Arab historian Professor Philip Hitti testified: “There is no such thing as Palestine in [Arab] history, absolutely not”. He likewise opposed the use of the name Palestine on area maps because it was “associated in the mind of the average American, and perhaps the Englishman too, with the Jews”.
The use of the term Palestinian with application to the western Arab population of Palestine cannot be found in any dictionary, encyclopedia, or history book until after the State of Israel started to become a reality. The use of the term Palestinian for the country’s Arabs began in the early 1960’s as Arab leaders sought to create a unified identity. However, it does not appear that there was any serious nationalistic movement until the Six-Day War of 1967. Even then the primary goal of the Arabs was terrorism aimed at the destruction of Israel rather than the recovery of a homeland, since the territories captured by the Israelis in that conflict were not theirs but those of Egypt (Gaza Strip), Syria (Golan Heights), and Jordan (West Bank).
The term Palestinian(s) does not appear in the fundational documents related to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflicts of the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War (Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338). Such an omission tells us that at that time, the Arabs described in these resolutions were not thought of as Palestinians. The usage of the term became more proeminent in the mid 1970’s when it became politically expedient for the PLO to apply the term Palestinian to hte Arab population in exclusion of the Jews. The PLO leadership realized that it would be much better to describe their effort to destroy Israel as a struggle for freedom rather than as a pan-Arabic effort. Since the formation of the Palestinian Authority in 1993, the Israeli-Arabs, in a show of solidarity, have also changed their identity and adopted the name of Palestinians.
Since that time, the term has been used to refer exclusively to the Arabs residents of the West Bank and has become commonly accepted through its use by the international media.
What Is the Origin of the Modern Palestinians?
The Palestine of modern history began in the late nineteenth century, in the dying years of the Ottoman Empire, wich had ruled the region for some 400 years as part of Greater Syria. The Ottomans had not sought to colonize the country; rather, they had focused their attention only in Jerusalem for bureaucratic purposes, abandoning the rest of the land to desolation. The feudal system that had existed for hundreds of years maintained agricultural farms along the fertile Coastal Plain, employing poor tenant farmers or imported workers.
Starting about 1878, harsh conditions forced many groups to immigrate into Palestine, where work was available. According to historical surveys, these migrant workers, from wich the Palestinians of today are descendend, came form many nationalisties: “Balkans, Greeks, Syrians, Latins, Egyptians, Turks, Armenians, Italians, Persians, Kurds, Germans, Afghans, Druzes, Circassians, Bosnians, Sudaneese, Samaritans, Algerians, Motawila, Tartars, Hungarians, Scots, Navarese, Bretons, English, Franks, Ruthenians, Bohemians, Bulgarians, Georgians, Persian Nestorians, Indians, Copts, Maronites, and many others”. Of the 141,000 mostly Turkish muslims settled in the land in 1882, at least 25% (35,280) were newcomers. This local element (mostly from non-Arab countries) working for the foreign-based landowners constituted the “Palestinian” poplation.
Palestinian nationalism, or the desire for a governement and an independent Palestinians state, was non existent. Even though Palestine had been under islamic rule intermittently for 1,174 years, no feelings or bent toward nationalism had ever been recorded on the part of its Arab population. On the contrary, muslim Arabs felt more united with their co-religionists in other countries than with the Jewish and Christians inhabitants of the land they occupied. The religious centers of Islam lay far to the east in Mecca and Medina , and while early muslims had sought to reduce the formidable influence of Christian culture, no attempt had been made to erase the ancient and national Jewish connections with the Land, and especially with Jerusalem. In fact, Jews were recognized as the ancients inhabitants of the land, in keeping with the accountts of biblical history found in the Qur’an.
This continued to be the case largely throughout the entire period of the muslim domination. But, in the last half of the nineteenth century, with the openings of the Middle East to Western travelers and Christian missionaries as well as Europe’s intellectual and cultural influence among younger Arabs, a minority of these people began to seek educational, economic and national independence. However, this independence was sought not form “zionists occupiers”, but from the Ottoman Turkish Muslim overlords!
This nationalistic ideology raised questions about what constitutes a nation and its boundaries. In the debates that ensued, there is no evidence that this Arabs seeking national independence ever thought of themselves as Palestinians. In fact, Daniel Pipes, a writer for the Middle East Forum, says this:
"Some said the residents of the levant are a nation; others said Eastern Arabic speakers; or all arabic speakers, or all Moslems. But no one suggested “Palestinians”, and for a good reason. Palestine, then a secular way of saying ‘Eretz Yisra’el or Terra Sancta, embodied a purely Jewish and Christian concept, one utterly foreign to Moslems, even repugnant to them... Instead, Moslems west of the Jordan directed their allegiance to Damascus, where the great-great uncle
of Jordan’s King Abdullah II was then rulling; they identified themselves as Southern Syrians."
At the march 1919 Paris Peace Conference an agreement that promoted the development of a Jewish homeland was signed between Zionist leader Chaim Weizman and Arab leader Emir Faisal. The language of this document spoke of “the Arab state and Palestine”, clearly reflecting the understanding that Palestine was part pf the Middle East designated for the Jewish homeland and separate from the part claimed by Arabs. However, a different opinion had been expressed a month earlier in february, before the conference convened in Paris. At the First Congress of the Muslim-Christian Association, which had met in Jerusalem to choose its representatives for the peace conference, the following resolution was adopted: “We consider Palestine as part of Arab Syria, as it has never been separated from it at any time. We are connected with it by national , religious, linguistic, natural, economic and geographical bonds”. Nevertheless, both opinions indicate that Arabs did not view Palestine as having an independent Arab status.
This thinking changed the next year when the British began to delineate Palestine and the French overthrew the Hashemite king Amin Husseini, thereby abolishing the notion of a Southern Syria. Isolated by these events, the Muslims of Palestine had to make the best of a bad situation . A proeminent Jerusalemite declared at the time, “after the recent events in Damascus, we have to effect a complete change in our plans here. Southern Syria no longer exists. We must defend Palestine”. To what extent this thinking may have been shared by other Arabs is unclear, but when the Peel Commission in 1936 proposed the partition of Palestine, another local Arab leader, Auni Bey Abdul-Hadi, told the commission: “There is no such country [as Palestine]! Palestine is a term the Zionists invented! There is no Palestine in the Bible. Palestine is an alien to us; it is the Zionists who introduced it. Our country was for centuries part of Syria.”
Despite such denials , a non-Jewish Palestine did not exist at the time, having been created by the British in 1922 when they separated the land east of the Jordan (which now comprises the present-day country of Jordan). Indeed, a majority of Jordan’s population are Palestinian, and most of the palestinian-Arabs in the West Bank hold Jordanian passports. Even though this “Palestine” has been said to have ceased to exist as an entity when the State of Israel and the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan were established, there had remained among Arabs a recognition that Jordan was the Palestinian state. For example, in interviews with the Arab press in 1981 and 1984, the late King Hussein (grandson of Abdullah) stated: “The truth is that Jordan is Palestine and Palestine is Jordan”. Yasser Arafat has stated the same thing: “What you call Jordan is actually Palestine”. Also, the war between Arafat’s PLO (when resident in Jordan) and the Jordanian government was considered a “civil war”.
Today, however, the Palestinians demand for international recognition as a distinct people who can receive foreign diplomats, fly the palestinian flag, elect Yasser Arafat as president, and claim Jerusalem as its capital – all actions of an independent state – have served to create a “fact” from fiction. This Arab nationalism began only in the early twentieth century, and then only in in reaction to the dominant Turkish rule, not Jewish immigration. It wasn’t until the establishment of the State of Israel ( and increasingly so since the 1967 Six-Day War and the Oslo Agreement of 1993) that palestinian-Arabs have claimed the land as their historic homeland and themselves as people distinct form other Arab peoples. Researcher Roger David Carasso is to the point when he explains the purpose of such palestinian revisionism:
"The Arabs learned their disinformation tactic from the Nazis: if you lie long enough, and loud enough, people will actually believe you. As a result, most people now believe there is something called “palestinian” people, a total fabrication, complete with a phony history and a phony culture. There is only one truth here, that are 1.75 million people, a hodgepodge of Arabs and Turks, intentionally or maybe unwittingly, masquerading as a “people”, and made into “people” by the PLO and many in the world community who relished attacking the Jews in yet another novel way"