Thursday, December 22, 2005


Mark Krikorian in the Corner:
MEMRI sent out a report the other day that got my attention. It translated the ravings of a sheikh saying that the Palestinians "are a Nation of Jihad and Martyrdom." This is more telling than he probably realizes. Many observers dismiss Palestinian nationalism as fictitious, promoting a non-existent people invented only after 1967. As true as that was, the Palestinians are now a real nation in the hearts and minds of its people, the only way that counts -- but a nation which exists solely to extirpate the Jews. In other words, the Palestinians really are a "nation of jihad" because, unlike the Chinese nation or American or Persian or Mexican or Russian, Palestine has no past, no distinctiveness, no commonality other than being the negation of Israel, the anti-Israel -- anti-matter, if you will, on the periodic table of nations. (I'll accept nominations for which nation is which element -- I vote for France as helium, an inert gas.) I don't mean that every Arabic-speaking person from the old British mandate of Palestine is a killer, but that Palestinian nationhood as an idea is inextricably tied to the liquidation of Israel. And this is why they need to be walled off.

I really don't know where to start sifting this trash, but let's just begin with Krikorian's assertion that the Palestinians didn't exist as a people before the creation of Israel. This theory, such as it is, of Palestinian nationhood has been soundly discredited and deservedly marginalized among historians, currently enjoying about the same academic respectability as denial of the Armenian genocide, which is to say that only the most hardline revisionists continue to traffic in such claims. I sense that Krikorian knows this, hiding as he does behind the "Many observers dismiss Palestinian nationalism as fictitious..." bushwa in order to float his assertion. (Krikorian is acting here as a transmitter, trying to give respectability to extremist views by airing them in a more mainstream forum, thereby pushing the boundaries of what's acceptable.)

There are some revisionists who place the advent of Palestinian nationalism around the turn of the century, presenting it solely as a consequence of Zionist immigration. Others put it at al Nakhba of 1948. Krikorian does them all one better by dating it as late as 1967, which is interesting given that the PLO (that's the Palestinian Liberation Organization for those of you just joining us) was founded in 1964. But what's few years here and there when you're intent on denying the existence of a people?

In reality, Palestinians started to come into an awareness of themselves, that is as a people having a shared past and future, at roughly the same time, and for many of the same reasons, as sub-groups in the rest of the Arab world: Economic transformation, beginning under the Ottomans in the 19th century and continuing under the colonial powers, resulting in large-scale migration to the cities and increased exposure to European concepts of state and nationhood. Zionist immigration to Palestine was clearly an important contributing factor in the growth of Palestinian consciousness, unique perhaps to Palestine among other Arab regions, but by no means an extraordinary or unique phenomenon in itself. And while the creation of Israel and the resulting expulsion and dispossession of many of its Arab inhabitants was a galvanizing event, it certainly does not support Krikorian's assertion that Palestinian identity is defined by a desire for "the liquidation of Israel."

It's understandable why hardline Israel partisans such as Krikorian would need to believe such nonsense. After all, if the Palestinians aren't "a people" in the real sense, that is if they have no right to national self-determination which any Israeli government is bound to respect, then they can be kept in a condition of stateless limbo for as long as it serves Israel's purpose to do so, and eventually just be "walled off."

Further reading:
The Palestinian People, by Joel Migdal and Baruch Kimmerling
Israel, Palestine and Peace, by Amos Oz
Palestinian Identity, by Rashid Khalidi
Blood Brothers, by Elias Chacour

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