Thursday, July 16, 2009

Both parties had inhabited the land later called Palestine for a very long time

In the previous post on the Middle East, I tried to make 2 points. First, that both the Israelis and Palestinians (and others) had a long history of living in this area and thus both had at least SOME hereditary claim to the territory, and second, that this part of the world, throughout history, was often controlled by outside empires and not really the inhabitants themselves.

Although I admittedly don't have an emotional stake in the land myself, being neither Jew nor Arab, it seems to me, as a reader of history and a seeker of truth, that no one group of people had a claim to the land that was really superior to the claims of others, no matter what the flaming rhetoric says. So, it seemed to me, upon reading the history, that the only fair way to do it would be to do what King Solomon decided to do with the baby: cut the land up into pieces and give a piece to each claimant.

That is exactly what the new United Nations, the successor to the old League of Nations, did following WWII.

Between the two World Wars, the land that had been taken from the Ottoman Empire was placed (by the League of Nations) under the administration of the United Kingdom and France. The part of the Middle East in question in these posts was under the administration of the UK: the so-called "British Mandate."

Back then, everything was not rosy in the Middle East. It never had been and it wasn't hunky dory after WWII, either. Before we get to the part of how the land was broken up and parceled out, and who got what, we need to pause for just a bit and talk about the more specific histories of the Arabs and the Jews and how they got there.

There were other peoples living in that land as well, but dealing only with Israel and the people who now call themselves Palestinians, let's take a look at their histories. Or some of their histories.

Even before we go into those histories, let me clear up one more thing. I have been referring to the Arabs as "the people who call themselves Palestinians today." That needs a little explanation. You see, during the time Palestine was a "real" country (1920-1948), both the Arabs and the Jews lived in that country. They owned land. They had houses and farms. They didn't fight as much, at least not compared to today. They were BOTH called Palestinians, because they BOTH lived in the country of Palestine.

Later, once the Jews were given a certain part of the old Palestine, and told to move into that area from where they were living before, they called that new land Israel and they became Israelis. The people who continued to live in the rest of Palestine, including those who had to move out of the new area called Israel, were still called Palestinians, of course. The Jews were no longer called Palestinians like they were before.


I will make the necessary history speech as short as possible.

The Palestinians (the Arabs) have, as we have said, long roots of living in the area, even though they might not have actually been the masters of that land. They lived there for thousands of years. In Biblical times, they were called Philistines. According to the Bible, they came from Crete and settled the southern coastal plain of Canaan in the 12th century BC. Even then they were fighting with the neighboring Jews, who had come into that area also in the 12th century BC (coming from Egypt, led by Moses.)

But the Jews have a claim older than that, at least to the general Middle East. They were the descendants, according to history books (and the Bible - another book of history when collaborated by other historical records), since they were a nomadic people living in the area before they were enslaved in Egypt. At that time these nomadic people were called Hebrews.

Indeed, myth (a myth is an unverified explanation of the origin of something) tells us that the Hebrews, along with the Arab peoples, were on the land at almost the same time, both springing from a patriarch named Abraham. (The Hebrews were the descendants of one of Abraham's two sons; the Arabs were descended from the other of Abraham's sons.) This myth is passed down through both Hebrew and Arab historical writings, but, to my knowledge, is still a myth and not otherwise substantiated other than by religious writings of "history." But both the Jews and the Arabs agree on their origins from this patriarch named Abraham.

The name of Abraham's son who supposedly started the race of the present Palestinians, and other Arabs, was Ishmael. Ishmael was the son of Abraham and his wife's servant. Abraham was unable to have a child with his wife, and she told him to have a child with her servant, but later became jealous. Later on, she also finally had a son, though. His name was Isaac and he was the one who began the line of the Hebrews, the Israelis of today. Again, this is technically myth (pre-history), but both sides give the same oral and religious history of their origins.

You would think, since they supposedly sprang from half-brothers, they might get along a little better than they do.

The story continues that the servant girl, with her young son Ishmael was driven out into the desert by the jealous wife of Abraham, or Abraham himself sent them away under pressure from his jealous wife. Whichever, the servant girl and her son were about to perish in the desert when God (Allah to the Arabs) appeared and miraculously saved them. Ishmael went on to become the great Arab nations.

One might note that Ishmael was a bit older than Isaac, obviously. For what that is worth. It's worth a lot to the Arabs.

That's how the Arabs came to be on the land of the Middle East, so their claim is very old.

Tomorrow, the Israelis: Isaac and his son. (Hint: Isaac's son Jacob had his name changed to Israel and he had 12 sons - the "children of Israel".)


  1. It's not a big surprise they have the same story. Christians, Jews and Muslims all incorporate the Old Testament (with some tweaks) in their scripture.

  2. It's not just the Bible but other supporting histories as well. And I don't think one person wrote all the accounts and came up with the same exact stories. But their origins are not all that important other than trying to demonstrate they both has at least a fairly equal "claim" to the land that was called Palestine. The fact that neither really has a superior claim was what I was trying to say. My opinion, of course. The current Palestinians obviously don't agree.

  3. Forgive me if this is an ignorant question, but wouldn't that apply also to land in Israel that Palestinians had to move out of?

    "The people who continued to live in the rest of Palestine, including those who had to move out of the new area called Israel, were still called Palestinians, of course."

    If they both have equal claim to both lands, and it seems to be the gist, what's the difference?

  4. Why, exactly, does the history matter? Who had claim to the original land makes little sense now. What matters now is, surely, how to sort out the current situation. It's as bad as the Scots going back to the Battle of Bannockburn to explain why they hate their English neighbours. Someone needs to help them get over the past.

  5. You have a good point, A. There comes a time when you can't have a future until you let go of the past.

  6. Stephanie B, You are getting a bit ahead of the story as I plod along insisting on giving more history before I talk about who got what land and who had to move where. It wasn't Israel who made the Palestinians move out of the new Israel, and many Palestinians stayed and lived in Israel (still do) but that comes later. Right now I insist on talking about the history of the problem in hopes the solution they (the U.N.) tried will make more sense.

    A. - Of COURSE the history of the conflict is important, just as the history of Scotland vs England is important. How can you judge something or try to make suggestions for improvement if you are ignorant of why the two sides are upset in the first place?

    In once sense, the past I am talking about doesn't matter because there were wars since then which changed the vision of the U.N. Like it or not, when some country wins a war, it gets to keep the other guy's land if it wants to. That's how maps get changed very often throughout history.

    One might say that Israel is not occupying Palestinian lands at all. You might say the land all belongs to Israel because they won the wars when the Arabs attacked them. But nobody wants that, not even Israel. I will say it again: the conflict in the Middle East will be over the minute the Palestinians stop trying to turn back the clock. The choice is theirs. But let me do two more posts which explain all that. Just a couple more days. History, whether in the Middle East or in Scotland, DOES matter. I say.

    Yes, you must let go of the past. Stephanie hit it on the head with that statement. You must deal with the present and live in the present. But old hatreds die hard and memories are long. Unfortunately.

  7. Basque separatists. Forgot them

  8. I'm not saying history isn't important, surely you know me better than that. But as the situation stands now, what's past doesn't help in producing an outcome. It does, of course, explain how the situation was reached, and help us understand the old hatreds. I don't think it helps us move forward.

    Something that's struck me, and something I've really not heard any discussion about, is that the boundaries in western Europe have changed frequently without noticeable hatreds, apart from Ireland of course. I'm wondering now if I've just been oblivious.



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