According to Palestinian revisionism, the Palestinians lived from time immemorial in historic Palestine, which is portrayed as a veritable paradise of flourishing orchards and fertile vineyards, teeming with happy peasants. Then, according to the mythic narrative, the Zionists came and, with the support of the British, stole the Palestinians’ land, exiled the people, and initiated a reign of terror and ethnic cleansing that has not abated until this very day.
Since the Six Day War of 1967, the Arab world’s most powerful leaders — in Egypt, Libya, Arabia, Syria, and Iraq prior to Saddam Hussein’s demise — have waged a war of words against Israel. Having failed to defeat Israel by means of naked military aggression, these leaders and their advisors decided, sometime between the end of the war and the Khartoum Conference of August-September 1967, to bring about the destruction of Israel by means of a relentless terror war.
To justify to the world their ruthless murder of Israeli civilians and their undying hatred of the West, these leaders needed to invent a narrative depicting Israel as a racist, war-mongering, oppressive, apartheid state that was illegally occupying Arab land and carrying out the genocide of an indigenous people that had a stronger claim to the land of Israel than did Israel itself.
Thus the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), under the tutelage of the Soviet KGB, invented “The Palestinian People” who allegedly had been forced to wage a war of national liberation against imperialism.
To justify this notion, Yasser Arafat, shortly after taking over as leader of the PLO, sent his adjutant, Abu Jihad (later the leader of the PLO’s military operations), to North Vietnam to study the strategy and tactics of guerrilla warfare in the hopes that the PLO could emulate Ho Chi Minh’s success with left-wing sympathizers in the United States and Europe. Ho’s chief strategist, General Giap, offered advice that changed the PLO’s identity and future:
“Stop talking about annihilating Israel and instead turn your terror war into a struggle for human rights. Then you will have the American people eating out of your hand.”
Giap’s counsel was simple but profound: the PLO needed to work in a way that concealed its real goals, permitted strategic deception, and gave the appearance of moderation. And the key to all this was creating an image that would help Arafat manipulate the American and Western news media.
Arafat developed the images of the “illegal occupation” and “Palestinian national self-determination,” both of which lent his terrorism the mantle of a legitimate peoples’ resistance. After the Six Day War, Muhammad Yazid, who had been minister of information in two Algerian wartime governments (1958-1962), imparted to Arafat some wisdom that echoed the lessons he had learned in North Vietnam:
“Wipe out the argument that Israel is a small state whose existence is threatened by the Arab states, or the reduction of the Palestinian problem to a question of refugees; instead, present the Palestinian struggle as a struggle for liberation like the others. Wipe out the impression . . . that in the struggle between the Palestinians and the Zionists, the Zionist is the underdog. Now it is the Arab who is oppressed and victimized in his existence because he is not only facing the Zionists but also world imperialism.”
The term “Palestine” (Falastin in Arabic) was an ancient name for the general geographic region that is more or less today’s Israel. The name derives from the Philistines, who originated from the eastern Mediterranean, and invaded the region in the 11th and 12th centuries B.C. The Philistines were apparently either from Greece, Crete, the Aegean Islands, and/or Ionia. They seem to be related to the Bronze Age Greeks, and they spoke a language akin to Mycenaean Greek. Their descendents, still living on the shores of the Mediterranean, greeted Roman invaders a thousand years later. The Romans corrupted the name to “Palestina,” and the area under the sovereignty of their city-states became known as “Philistia.” Six-hundred years later, the Arab invaders called the region “Falastin.”
Throughout subsequent history, the name remained only a vague geographical entity. There was never a nation of “Palestine,” never a people known as the “Palestinians,” nor any notion of “historic Palestine.” The region never enjoyed any sovereign autonomy, remaining instead under successive foreign sovereign domains from the Umayyads and Abbasids to the Fatimids, Ottomans, and British.
During the centuries of Ottoman rule, no Arabs under Turkish rule made any attempt to formulate an ideology of national identity, least of all the impoverished Arab peasantry in the region today known as Israel.
The term “Palestinian,” ironically, was used during the British Mandate period (1922-1948) to identify the Jews of British Mandatory Palestine. The Arabs of the area were known as “Arabs,” and their own designation of the region was balad esh-Sham (the province of Damascus). While some Arab nationalist writers, and coffee-shop intellectuals in Cairo or Beirut, developed the concept of Arab nationalism in large part as a response to Zionism, the terms “Palestine” and “Palestinian” were used in their traditional sense as geographic designations, not as national identities.
In early 1947, in fact, when the UN was exploring the possibility of the partition of British Mandatory Palestine into two states, one for the Jews and one for the Arabs, various Arab political and academic spokespersons spoke out vociferously against such a division because, they argued, the region was really a part of southern Syria, no such people or nation as “Palestinians” had ever existed, and it would be an injustice to Syria to create a state ex nihilo at the expense of Syrian sovereign territory.
During the 19 years from Israel’s victory in 1948 to Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War, all that remained of the UN’s partitioned territory to the “Arabs” of British Mandatory Palestine were the West Bank, under illegal Jordanian sovereignty, and the Gaza Strip, under Egyptian rule. Never during these 19 years did any Arab leader anywhere in the world argue for the right of national self-determination for the Arabs of these territories. A “Palestinian” nation and “Palestinian” people had not yet been invented.
Article 24 of the PLO’s original founding document, the PLO Covenant, states: “This Organization (the PLO) does not exercise any regional sovereignty over the West Bank in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, in the Gaza Strip or the Himmah area.” For Arafat before the Six-Day War, Palestine was Israel. It was not the West Bank or the Gaza Strip — because the West Bank and the Gaza Strip belonged to other Arab states, and the inhabitants of these areas were not numbered among the Palestinians whose “homeland” Arafat sought to “liberate.” The only “homeland” for the PLO in 1964 was the State of Israel. However, in response to the Six Day War, the PLO revised its Covenant on July 17, 1968, to remove the operative language of Article 24, thereby newly asserting a “Palestinian” claim of sovereignty to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
This ploy was revealed, perhaps inadvertently, to the West in a public interview with Zahir Muhse’in, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, in a March 31, 1977, interview with the Amsterdam-based newspaperTrouw:
“The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct “Palestinian people” to oppose Zionism. For tactical reasons, Jordan, which is a sovereign state with defined borders, cannot raise claims to Haifa and Jaffa, while as a Palestinian, I can undoubtedly demand Haifa, Jaffa, Beer-Sheva and Jerusalem. However, the moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will not wait even a minute to unite Palestine and Jordan.”
Arafat himself said the same thing, on many occasions. In his authorized biography (Terrorist or Peace Maker, by Alan Hart), he is quoted saying: “[T]he Palestinian people have no national identity. I, Yasser Arafat, man of destiny, will give them that identity through conflict with Israel.”
But such admissions did not stem the enthusiasm with which these fictions were greeted by Western leaders. Within a few years, the USSR’s invention of the fictitious narrative of Palestinian national aspirations and rights of self-determination created the facade of morality and legitimacy that the terrorists needed in order to curry favor with the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Adapted from “Palestinians: Aggressors, Not Victims,” by David Meir-Levi (November 27, 2007).