Newt Gingrich and the ‘invented’ Palestinians
It’s a nasty game, politics.
Sick of sophistry and repulsed by lies, the people generally loathe and despise their politicians. But the moment you get one who provides even a modicum of truth, those same people spit and splutter as though the Pope had just beatified Mohammed.
The US presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich (and it’s not, let’s face it, an unreasonable hope in the Republican sea of mediocrity) has given an interview to The Jewish Channel in which he disclosed that the Palestinians are an ‘invented’ people.
That’s great for those who spend their cable-viewing hours engrossed in Srugim 17, Kippur, or James’ Journey to Jerusalem. But it hasn’t gone down too well with the rest of the world. (Yes, His Grace is fully aware that The Guardian doesn’t constitute ‘rest of the world’, but where Israel is concerned, it’s certainly around 99.98 per cent).
Mr Gingrich said: "Remember there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. And I think that we've had an invented Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs, and were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places. And for a variety of political reasons we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940s, and I think it's tragic."
The thing is, of course, he’s right.
The indigenous peoples of the land known as Palestine are Semitic – both Arab and Jew. Religiously, they are Jewish, Christian and Muslim. It is a myth to talk of Palestinian ethnicity or indulge in historical revisionism to advocate a Jew-free Palestine.
Palestine’s Arabs are about as Palestinian as the Jews in the Judæan Mountains are Hebronite. There is no more a Palestinian race than there is a Gibraltarian one. And the state of ‘Palestine’ is a fabricated political entity designed to agitate for ever-increasing Arab sovereignty over Israel, the logical corollary of which is an ever-decreasing Jewish identity; an ever-diminishing Jewish presence; and the eventual eradication of Israel’s sovereignty.
As Mr Gingrich says, Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, express ‘an enormous desire to destroy Israel’.
They do. It’s a fact.
But politics isn’t so much concerned with facts as perceptions. You’d think that any credible negotiated peace would acknowledge the facts, however inconvenient they may be. The problem is that the more these facts are raised, the more they may be scrutinised and shown for the sham they are. Yet it is Prime Minister Salam Fayyad (of ‘Palestine’) who has demanded that Mr Gingrich ‘review history’. He said: "From the beginning, our people have been determined to stay on their land. This, certainly, is denying historical truths."
From the beginning? So Allah bequeathed to them the land on the eighth day of creation, did he? The Palestinians have never had their own state: they have been ruled (often quite contentedly) by successive empires, most notably that of the Ottoman Turks. This, certainly, is historical truth. The tribes of Simeon and Judah actually predated the establishment of ‘Palestine’: the Jew was in Judæa long before the ‘invention’ of the Palestinian. After Roman rule, whenever Jews attempted to reclaim their homeland, their communities were destroyed and they were exiled. The pogrom continued under the Byzantines, Crusaders, Ottoman Turks, British, and the modern Egyptians. In all the heated talk of ‘occupation’ and ‘illegal Jewish settlements’, you rarely hear about the indigenous Jewish populations of Gaza and the West Bank: all sympathies are with Hamas, which is pathologically programmed (if not constitutionally pledged and theologically dedicated) to finishing what was begun millennia ago: the extermination of the Jews and the eradication of the State of Israel.
The history of this region is fiendishly complex and solutions to seemingly intractable problems will not be found in crass geopolitical policy objectives which only take account of the most recent shifts in territorial lines. Israel is an historic nation: Palestine is a recent invention. Only a sophist politician like Obama, ignorant of the history, steeped in moral relativism and with an eye on re-election, could reduce the existential threat faced by Israel to a trivial game of Risk.
But (and it’s an important ‘but’), while the notion of an exclusively Arab Palestinian identity is indeed ‘invented’, His Grace will say that it doesn’t help Newt’s presidential ambitions to label all Palestinians as ‘terrorists’. Some are: that is factually correct. We are indeed in a situation ‘where everyday rockets are fired into Israel while the United States – the current administration – tries to pressure the Israelis into a peace process’.
And Mr Gingrich is right to declare: “Somebody ought to have the courage to tell the truth.”
The truth is that Israel is bombarded almost daily by missiles fired from Gaza. But not all Gazans are terrorists: some may murder, maim, and plot atrocities; some may teach terrorism in their schools. It might even be a majority. But let us not ignore the peaceful Arab in a land called Palestine who wishes to live in peace with his Jewish neighbour in the land called Israel.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
The problem with telling the truth is that it can appear awfully insensitive. An ‘invented’ people rapidly become a people with no rights. A people with no rights are not a real people. And when you deny personhood, you deny humanity. And when you deny humanity, you end up in Auschwitz.
But Newt says: “I spoke as a historian who has looked at the world stage for a very long time … I feel quite confident that an amazing number of Israelis found it nice to have an American tell the truth about the war they are in the middle of.”
His Grace speaks as a theologian and philosopher who dabbles in politics and has also looked at the world stage for a very long time. And he does wish Newt wouldn’t end his sentence with a preposition. No real president would do that.