By Dr. Hymie Rubenstein
THE 278-PAGE Amnesty International report released on Feb. 1, 2022 claims that “Israeli authorities must be held accountable for committing the crime of apartheid against Palestinians.” It’s a study that follows a similar report released by Human Rights Watch in April 2021. Many observers have interpreted both reports as the latest political assaults against Israel’s right to both exist as a sovereign Jewish nation and to defend itself against lethal attacks by its enemies, domestic and foreign.
Reports like this are also said to inspire the promotion of often contradictory assertions from Palestinian activists and supporters about Holocaust denial, envy, and appropriation which, in turn, could be linked to growing attacks against diasporic Jews in America and elsewhere.
One particularly egregious verbal assault came from a prominent Caribbean journalist who opined that:
“No other country would have escaped worldwide criticism and condemnation had they treated fellow human beings as the Israeli state does. They would have been calling for humanitarian military intervention. Sadly, Israel commits worse crimes than were meted out to Jewish people during the Nazi’s reign of terror and the world watches on [sic] in silence.”
This comparison is highly questionable though not atypical. The one and only Holocaust the world has ever known, the carefully organized murder of some six million Jews by Nazi Germany between 1941 and 1945, saw the extermination of some 67% of Europe’s Jewish population. By contrast the Palestinian population of Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, in 1948, the year the State of Israel was born, was 1.37 million and 10.71 million in 2022, an increase of 782%, a population explosion by any definition but which few objective observers could possibly call a Holocaust.
Nevertheless, shrill comparisons like this are widespread and need to be challenged as false, prejudicial, ahistorical, and decontextualized whenever they are made.
The most glaring oversight in these condemnations of the Jewish state’s treatment of Moslems living under their protection and administration is not the way “the world watches … in silence” but the way they always and disproportionately single out Israel for historical sins that are common in many multi-cultural nations around the world, and, ironically, all Moslem ones. If so many countries are characterized by increasingly expansive definitions of Apartheid — an Afrikaans word meaning "separateness" which international conventions such as the Rome Statute have defined as “an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group” — why is Israel always chosen for special condemnation? For many supporters of Israel, the short answer is systemic anti-Semitism.
Those unfamiliar with the roots and history of these attempts said to be aimed at delegitimizing and destabilizing the State of Israel need to juxtapose the claim of “apartheid” against the reality that Israeli Arab citizens are the freest and comparatively most prosperous in the undemocratic and steeply wealth-stratified Middle East.
“Israeli Arab citizens are the freest and comparatively most prosperous in the undemocratic and steeply wealth-stratified Middle East.”
They should also examine the claims of those now calling themselves “Palestinians” for an independent, often Judenrein (“Jew-free”) Islamic state of their own in all or part of the former British mandate of Palestine — the possible motive for calling Israel an apartheid regime — and the comparison of Israel’s treatment of its Moslem people to the Nazi treatment of the Jews of Europe resulting in the Holocaust.
More important still for my argument, and contrary to the claims made by Amnesty International and generally ignored by other commentators, is whether the ethnic group called the “Palestinian people” deserves special recognition and treatment based on legitimate historical and cultural realities.
My position is that both the historical authenticity and desire for peace with the Jews of this alleged ethnic group are undermined by the following facts, none of which deny the suffering of the Arabs in the West Bank and the Gaza strip and the many small and large indignities experienced by their brethren in Israel, both rooted in well-founded Israeli security concerns. Nor do the following “myths and facts” deny the strong and heartfelt desire of these people for an independent state of their own, whether this is deserved or not.
MYTH: The Palestinians are the descendants of the Biblical Philistines.
FACT: The Philistines were a non-Arab people, now extinct, from the Aegean region who settled around 12th century B.C. on what is today the south coast of Israel and the Gaza strip. But the name “Palestine” comes from the Greek word Palaistina, a derivative of the Hebrew word Pleshet (invaders; penetrators). Defeated and absorbed by the Jews and other ethnic groups, the Philistines disappeared as a distinct people by the time of the birth of Jesus Christ. There is no archaeological, historical, or linguistic evidence connecting the ancient Philistines to the modern Palestinians.
MYTH: The Palestinians had a country of their own in the past that was lost or stolen from them.
FACT: Since the destruction of the second kingdom of Judea (the southern half of the so-called “occupied territories”) in the 2nd century, the land the Roman conquerors re-named Syria Palaestina (to obscure Jewish association with the land of Israel) has been governed by one foreign power after another. The name Syria Palaestina disappeared and “Palestine,” the Gentile name for the land of Israel, ceased to exist as a separate entity after it became part of the Arab-Muslim empire in 638. For nearly 13 centuries from 638 to 1917 (when the British took charge following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire headquartered in Turkey), no separate administrative or socio-cultural entity called “Palestine” existed: the Ottoman Turks who ruled the Middle East from 1516 to 1917 regarded the geographical region of Palestine as part of Southern Syria. For most of human history, Palestine has only existed as a Western Christian term to describe the Jewish Holy Land and its Hebrew and Christian inhabitants. From the beginning of recorded history until nearly the present, neither foreigners nor residents recognized a unique people — other than the Jews themselves — called “Palestinians” living in a place called Palestine.
MYTH: The Palestinians are an ancient people, as old as or older than the Jews.
FACT: Before the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan to divide Palestine into two states, one for the Jews and one for the Arabs, the latter residents never regarded themselves as a distinct people with a separate Palestinian identity. Indeed, in 1937, mid-way through the British Mandate, a local Arab leader told the Palestine Royal Commission, “There is no such Country [as Palestine]. Palestine is a term the Zionists invented! Our country for centuries was part of Syria.”
Throughout human history, whenever the word Palestine was used it referred to a place in the Middle East whose most distinctive feature was its continuous Jewish occupation. According to nearly all traditional definitions, Palestine is the land of the Jews: the country of the Hebrews; the Holy Land; the Promised Land; the location of Zion. During the British Mandate (1922-1948), it was the Jewish people who were called Palestinians. It was the Israeli capture of the West Bank from Jordan in the Six-Day War in 1967, not some ancient sense of nationalism, that gave birth to an organized demand for an autonomous Palestinian state. And it was not until 1988 that the Palestine Liberation Organization declared its aim of creating a Palestinian Arab state separate from the neighbouring Arab states.
MYTH: The Palestinians are a distinct people.
FACT: The absence before 1948 of any sense of Palestinian identity, apart from the occupation of lands that were always owned by outsiders such as the Ottoman Turks, is because there is no unique and separate Palestinian language, religion, nationality, or culture. The people who have recently begun calling themselves Palestinians are the Arab Moslem descendants of numerous localized lineages, clans, and tribal groups. A strong sense of pan-Arab identity and belief in Islam, not some fictitious ethnic identity, are what has always united the “Palestinians.”
MYTH: All that the Palestinians want is a state of their own.
FACT: If the goal were Palestinian statehood, there would not have been a war against the new State of Israel rooted in the rejection of the 1947 United Nations partition resolution; there was no call for statehood between 1950 and 1967 when Jordan and Egypt, respectively, controlled the West Bank and Gaza Strip; and the Palestinians rejected statehood for open warfare in 1967 and again in 2000. The Hamas charter states: “When our enemies usurp some Islamic lands, Jihad [a holy war waged in the name of Islam] becomes a duty binding on all Muslims. In order to face the usurpation of Palestine by the Jews, we have no escape from raising the banner of Jihad.”
The explicit aim of the Palestinians and their Arab supporters has always been to appropriate the whole of what they call “occupied Palestine,” the British mandated territories — all present-day Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza strip — and “drive the Jews into the sea.”
MYTH: Palestinian independence would see an end to violence against Israel.
FACT: The Palestinians and their Arab allies have fought three wars of extermination against the Jewish state in 1948, 1967, 1973, and have conducted hundreds of heinous terrorist attacks against innocent men, women, and children both in Israel and abroad. By legitimizing the claims of a comparatively new ethnic group headed by terrorists, Palestinian independence would only strengthen the call for Jewish liquidation by protecting it with political sovereignty.
MYTH: Like all other peoples, the Palestinians deserve a state of their own.
FACT: There are thousands of unique ethnic groups in the world today — peoples with separate languages, cultures, religions, and histories stretching back millennia — few of which have their own country. The Palestinians have a far weaker claim to statehood than most of these age-old ethnicities, including the mostly-Muslim Kurds whose 35-50 million people were falsely promised a state of their own in 1920 but continue to live in exploited minority status in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria with hardly a word of outrage from the outside world. The Palestinians, in turn, already have a state of their own — the Kingdom of Jordan — a dictatorship headed by an imported monarchy where they form most of the population and where it is illegal for Jews to live.
As Moslem Arabs, the Palestinians now control 22 countries with 99% of the landmass and population of the entire region. If most Israelis were Moslem Arabs, not Westernized Jews, there would be no Middle East conflict. If there were no state of Israel, there would be no demand for a Palestinian state or a cry about apartheid.
MYTH: The Palestinian refugees living outside Israel have an inherent right to return to their “homeland.”
FACT: There would be few refugees today if the Arabs had accepted the 1947 United Nations resolution granting the Palestinians a homeland of their own. Seventy-five years later, most of the exiles are dead and few of their children and grandchildren have ever lived in Israel. There would be no dispossessed people today if the Arab nations (other than Jordan) had followed universal international precedent by resettling their compatriots displaced by warfare — if they had acted like Israel which welcomed and integrated the 850,000 Jews who fled or were evicted from Arab countries after 1947, rather than imprisoning their own Arab people in squalid, apartheid-style refugee camps where they are used as a cynical tool to garner international sympathy. Conversely, the Israelis granted automatic citizenship in their new state to the Arabs who chose not to flee. Today, these Israeli citizens are among the freest, best-educated, and most prosperous Arabs in the Middle East. When coupled with the contradictory demand for sovereignty, the “right” of return of the four million descendants of the original half-million residents of the former British Mandate suggests that a combination of Arab nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism requires a Judenrein Palestinian state from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.
MYTH: The Palestinians are willing to accept the existence of the State of Israel.
FACT: As Moslem Arabs, the Palestinians are willing to accept only other Middle Eastern Moslem Arab states. No Palestinian map or schoolbook recognizes Israel as a distinct geographical region, let alone a sovereign state. Conversely, the Palestinians have made no territorial claim to Jordan, a British colonial invention forming 75% of the League of Nations Palestine Mandate whose population is classified as two-thirds “Arab Palestinian.” The aim of the Palestinians is not the achievement of statehood; it is the liquidation of the Jews.
MYTH: The Middle East conflict is a fight over land.
FACT: Israel is a tiny sliver of arid, resource-poor territory largely ignored by the Arabs until its late 19th-century Jewish development. Rather than a fight over land, the present conflict is rooted in anti-Semitism, religious intolerance, envy, and self-imposed victimization. Palestinian schoolchildren are systematically taught to hate Jews; the media are replete with 1930s-style racist Nazi propaganda; passages from the Koran are quoted as proof of Jewish perfidy; the Holocaust is treated as a Zionist hoax aimed at blackmailing the West. Using Israel as a scapegoat for their own failures and insecurities, nearly all the region’s Moslem Arab governments refuse to accept what they call the “cancer” of a Jewish state in their midst.
MYTH: The Jews have a flimsy claim to a homeland in the Middle East.
FACT: Undisputed archaeological, historical, and genetic evidence shows an uninterrupted residence of Jews in the Promised Land since Biblical times: there was never a time when there were no Jews or Jewish communities in the ancient land of Israel. From the beginning of recorded history to the present, Israel has been the only indigenous sovereign state west of the Jordan River. From the beginning of recorded history to the present, there has been only one genuine Palestinian people: the Jews of Israel.
MYTH: A two-state solution — one for the Palestinians encompassing the West Bank and Gaza — and one that encompasses the present sovereign nation of Israel will solve this long-standing conflict.
FACT: Most Palestinians will only accept a one-state solution encompassing a Judenrein Palestinian state from the Jordon River to the Mediterranean Sea, a view that rejects the notion that European Jews have a right to a homeland in the area that is historical Palestine by denying the continuous occupation of the Promised Land by small and large groupings of Jewish people — despite repeated attempts at total ethnic cleansing — since well before the emergence of the United Monarchy of Israel and Judah over 3,000 years ago, as described in the Old Testament and confirmed by the archeological record.
HISTORICAL AND FACTUAL ignorance or denial, Arab propaganda, left-liberal guilt, and outright anti-Semitism serve to legitimize a demand for a sovereign Palestinian state where none has ever existed. The claim of apartheid is only the latest charge in a well-organized, global effort to delegitimize a state whose modern existence was created not by lethal force, as were most nations of the world — including Canada to a certain extent — but by a democratic vote of the United Nations.
Finally, if Israel and the non-state Palestinian territories are an apartheid regime, so are many other countries regarding the status and treatment of their aboriginal and other ethnic minorities (not to mention women in Islamic states) including the downtrodden and conquered Indigenous peoples of Canada whose reserve system was employed as a model for apartheid in South Africa, more proof that Israel is always held to a higher and inexplicably anti-Semitic moral standard than any other nation on the face of the earth.
Hymie Rubenstein is a retired professor of anthropology at the University of Manitoba. This article is special to THE DORCHESTER REVIEW. Readers may be interested in this video on the history of the region.