Isn’t it true that Palestinians never had either a state, nor any distinct culture or language of their own?
For the moment, let’s assume that the Palestinian people should not have a country of their own because they have never had a state, then why should the peoples of Salvador, Guatemala, Congo, Algeria, … etc. have the right of self determination?
It should be noted that none of these countries had a state prior to gaining independence, nor a distinct language or culture that set them apart from their neighboring states. In other words, even if it’s true that the Palestinian people had neither a state, nor a distinct culture or language:
- Is that a good reason to confiscate their homes, farms, and businesses?
- Is that a good reason to block their return to their homes?
- Is that a good reason to nullify their citizenship in the country in which they were born?
According to historical facts, Zionism, as an ideology, evolved in response to the rise of Europe’s nationalism and anti-Semitism in the late 19th century, especially in Tsarist Russia (Pale States), France during the Dreyfus affair, and Germany after WW I.
Similarly, Palestinian nationalism evolved in response to the presence of Zionism in Palestine,
..and most importantly because of the British intention to turn Palestine into a “Jewish National Home,” see the Balfour Declaration for further details. These central facts were well articulated by David Ben-Gurion (Israel’s 1st Prime Minister) and Moshe Sharett (Israel’s 1st Foreign Minister) on many occasions. For example:
- A few months before the peace conference convened at Versailles in early 1919, Ben-Gurion expressed his opinion of future Jewish and Arab relations:
“Everybody sees the problem in the relations between the Jews and the [Palestinian] Arabs. But not everybody sees that there’s no solution to it. There is no solution! . . . The conflict between the interests of the Jews and the interests of the [Palestinian] Arabs in Palestine cannot be resolved by sophisms. I don’t know any Arabs who would agree to Palestine being ours—even if we learn Arabic . . .and I have no need to learn Arabic. On the other hand, I don’t see why ‘Mustafa’ should learn Hebrew. . . . There’s a national question here. We want the country to be ours. The Arabs want the country to be theirs.” (One Palestine Complete, p. 116)
- On May 27, 1931, Ben-Gurion recognized that the “Arab question” is a
“tragic question of fate” that arose only as a consequence of Zionism, and so was a “question of Zionist fulfillment in the light of Arab reality.” In other words, this was a Zionist rather than an Arab question, posed to Zionists who were perplexed about how they could fulfill their aspirations in a land already inhabited by a Palestinian Arab majority. (Shabtai Teveth, p. xii, Preface) [Shabtai Teveth (Weizmann Institute, Tel-Aviv University) is one of the few official Ben-Gurion’s biographers]
- As the number of Jews in Palestine (Yishuv) doubled between 1931-1935, the Palestinian people became threatened with being dispossessed and for Jews becoming their masters. The Palestinian political movement was becoming more vocal and organized, which surprised Ben-Gurion. In his opinion, the demonstrations represented a “turning point” important enough to warrant Zionist concern. As he told Mapai comrades:
“. . . they [referring to Palestinians] showed new power and remarkable discipline. Many of them were killed . . . this time not murderers and rioters, but political demonstrators. Despite the tremendous unrest, the order not to harm Jews was obeyed. This shows exceptional political discipline. There is no doubt that these events will leave a profound imprint on the [Palestinian] Arab movement. This time we have seen a political movement which must evoke the respect of the world. (Shabtai Teveth, p. 126)
- But Ben-Gurion set limits. The Palestinian people were incapable by themselves of developing Palestine, and they had no right to stand in the way of the Jews. He argued in 1918, that Jews’ rights sprang not only from the past, but also from the future. In 1924 he declared:
“We do not recognize the right of the [Palestinian] Arabs to rule the country, since Palestine is still undeveloped and awaits its builders.” In 1928 he pronounced that “the [Palestinian] Arabs have no right to close the country to us [Jews]. What right do they have to the Negev desert, which is uninhabited?”; and in 1930, “The [Palestinian] Arabs have no right to the Jordan river, and no right to prevent the construction of a power plant [by a Jewish concern]. They have a right only to that which they have created and to their homes.” (Shabtai Teveth, p. 38)
In other words, the Palestinian people are entitled to no political rights whatsoever, and if they have any rights to begin with, these rights are confined to their places of residence. Ironically, this statement was written when the Palestinian people constituted 85% of Palestine’s population, and owned and operated over 97% of its lands!
- In February 1937, Ben-Gurion was on the brink of a far reaching conclusion, that the Arabs of Palestine were a separate people, distinct from other Arabs and deserving of self-determination. He stated:“The right which the Arabs in Palestine have is one due to the inhabitants of any country . . . because they live here, and not because they are Arabs . . . The Arab inhabitants of Palestine should enjoy all the rights of citizens and all political rights, not only as individuals, but as a national community, just like the Jews.” (Shabtai Teveth, p. 170)
- In 1936 (soon after the outbreak of the First Palestinian Intifada), Ben-Gurion wrote in his diary:“The Arabs fear of our power is intensifying, [Arabs] see exactly the opposite of what we see. It doesn’t matter whether or not their view is correct…. They see [Jewish] immigration on a giant scale …. they see the Jews fortify themselves economically .. They see the best lands passing into our hands. They see England identify with Zionism. ….. [Arabs are] fighting dispossession … The fear is not of losing the land, but of losing homeland of the Arab people, which others want to turn it into the homeland of the Jewish people. There is a fundamental conflict. We and they want the same thing: We both want Palestine ….. By our very presence and progress here, [we] have matured the [Arab] movement.”
(Righteous Victims, p.136)
- In 1938, Ben-Gurion also stated against the backdrop of the First Palestinian Intifada:“When we say that the Arabs are the aggressors and we defend ourselves —- that is ONLY half the truth. As regards our security and life we defend ourselves. . . . But the fighting is only one aspect of the conflict, which is in its essence a political one. And politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves.”
(Righteous Victims, p. 652)
- In 1936, Moshe Sharett spoke in a similar vein:
“Fear is the main factor in [Palestinian] Arab politics. . . . There is no Arab who is not harmed by Jews’ entry into Palestine.” (Righteous Victims, p.136)
So if the causes of Zionism had not risen, meaning European anti-Semitism, then Palestinian nationalism might not have evolved into what it is today. It’s worth noting that the Palestinian people, prior to WW I, always identified themselves as being part of “The Great Syria” (Suriyya al-Kubra), however, that drastically changed when Britain intended to turn Palestine into a “Jewish National Home”, see the Balfour Declaration for more details.
This declaration, which was made to the Zionist Movement in 1917, signaled the future dispossession and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people because it did not address their political rights. On the other hand, the declaration recognized the political rights of the “Jewish people” around the world, despite the fact that the Jews in Palestine were under 8% of the total population as of 1914 (Righteous Victims, p. 83). In that respect, Lord Balfour, who was the British Foreign Secretary and a self-professed Christian Zionist, stated in 1919:
“Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-old traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder importance than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 [Palestinian] Arabs who now inhabit the ancient land.” (Righteous Victims, p. 75)
In response to this declaration, the Palestinian people started to collectively oppose the British Mandate, Jewish immigration, and land sales to the Zionist movement.
Rather than dealing directly with the issues, sadly many Israelis and Zionists have chosen to ignore the existence of the Palestinians as a people. It should be emphasized that the hawk of all Israeli hawks, Ariel Sharon, has accepted the existence of a Palestinian state, in principle, in a portion of historic Palestine. Whether Israelis and Zionists like it or not, Palestine now exists as a postal code, international calling code, internet domain name, …etc. in the heart of “Eretz Yisrael“. The 8.5 million Palestinians are not going away, and the sooner Israelis and Zionists understand this simple message, the faster they shall start dealing with core issues of the conflict in a pragmatic way.
Finally, applying such logic is very dangerous since it would eliminate half United Nations’ members overnight. It is simply not just to suppress the political, economic, and civil rights of the Palestinian people by claiming that they never previously had a state, distinct language, and distinct culture. Ironically, the Zionist movement has been encouraging Jews from all corners of the world to emigrate to “Eretz Yisrael”, so that there is no real common denominator between all of these immigrants such as a common language, culture, country of origin, or even a unified interpretation of “who is a Jew”.