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December 11, 2011 9:28 am

Why Newt Gingrich Is Right on Palestine

avatar by Benyamin Korn

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Newt Gingrich. Photo: Gage Skidmore

What do Golda Meir, lifelong socialist and prime minister of Israel,  and Newt Gingrich, lifelong conservative and current presidential candidate,  have in common? The courage to tell the truth about  “Palestine.”

Gingrich stirred up a hornet’s nest last week when he  remarked that “The Palestinians are an invented people.” Golda made the same  point when she told the London Sunday Times on June 15, 1969 that “There is no such thing as a Palestinian people.”

What could have possessed the  Prime Minister of Israel and the former Speaker of the U.S. House of  Representatives to say such a thing?

Simple: an  appreciation of history. Gingrich has a Ph.D. in the subject. Golda lived it.

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Golda left her home in Milwaukee in 1921 and  moved to a country that had been known since biblical times as the Land of  Israel. The Roman occupation forces, in 135 CE, had begun calling it  “Palaestina” in the hope of snuffing out its Jewish connection. But that  was never more than the equivalent of a nickname. Nobody ever created a state  called “Palestine.” Even the Muslims, who conquered the region 500 years  later, never considered it “Palestine.” They called it southern  Syria.

The idea that there was a native “Palestinian” people in the  land when Golda and other Jewish pioneers arrived in the early 1900s was  laughable. The country wasn’t empty, but to say that the local Arab  population was sparse is putting it mildly. Mark Twain and other visitors in  the late 1800s described traveling for miles and miles through the center of  the country without seeing a single person.  In 1850, the area’s largest city, Jerusalem, had a population of 25,000, the majority of whom were Jews. The Arabs who lived in  Palestine did not speak “Palestinian”; they spoke Arabic. Their  religion, culture, and history were not “Palestinian”; they were identical to  that of the surrounding Arab countries–because that’s where many of them came  from.

Perhaps Newt has been reading Golda’s autobiography. “The Arab  population of Palestine had doubled since the start of Jewish settlements  there,” she wrote of the 1920s, when Jewish development was creating a  thriving local economy. “[A]ttracted by the new opportunities, hordes of Arabs  were emigrating to Palestine from Syria and other neighboring countries all  through those years.” (p.149)

An Israeli magazine recently profiled a  Jerusalem Arab chef, Sufian Mustafa, who is bent on demonstrating that there  is a uniquely “Palestinian” cuisine. But after much blustering about his  “exclusively Palestinian” creations (“real Palestinians would never cook with  such a bland ingredient as cream,” he insisted) Mustafa grudgingly  acknowledged that “the Palestinian kitchen is definitely a continuation of the  Greater Syrian kitchen, and bears a lot of resemblance to Lebanese, Syrian,  and Jordanian cuisine.” I wonder why!

In the parlance of the  1920s-1930s-1940s, the term “Palestine” referred to the Jews, not the Arabs. The Jerusalem Post newspaper was named the Palestine Post.  The United  Jewish Appeal was called the United Palestine Appeal. Arab spokesmen  vehemently denied that Palestine deserved to be a separate country. Philip Hitti, historian and spokesman for the Arab cause, testified to the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry (a U.S.-British commission trying to  resolve the Arab-Jewish conflict) in 1946: “Sir, there is no such thing as  Palestine in history, absolutely not.”

After Israel’s  establishment (1948), the Arabs and their supporters began casting about for  new lines of argument. In the mid-1960s one finds the first appearance  of claims by Arab advocates that there was a separate, distinct “Palestinian” people with deep roots in the land. (The UN first used the term in 1970.) How  can this claim be established? Simple: by inventing–yes, inventing–a  history that predates the arrival of the Jews. According to Palestinian  Authority spokesmen and school textbooks, the Palestinian Arabs are  descendants of the Canaanites, Jebusites, Hittites and other pre-Israel  tribes.

True to form, Palestinian spokesman Nabil Adu Rodeineh was all  over the news yesterday, denouncing Newt Gingrich on the grounds that “the  Palestinians have been in the country for thousands of  years.”

Archaeologists and historians know very well that the tribes of  ancient Canaan died out many centuries before Muhammad and the Muslims  (precursors of today’s Palestinian Arabs) arrived in the area. There is  no connection between the Canaanites and the Arabs. But when was the  last time an archaeologist or historian was given time on a national  television broadcast to explain that Palestinian nationalism is an invention?  The answer is never–until Newt Gingrich, the first presidential  candidate since Woodrow Wilson with a Ph.D. in history, came  along.

Benyamin Korn is former executive editor of the Miami  Jewish Tribune and the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent.

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  • Douglas May

    As someone who lived in Egypt for eighteen years and made many visits to Israel-Palestine (including most of the 1991 Gulf War)there is one way to solve this dispute that comes from my background in labor relations: FINAL OFFER ARBITRATION.

    Let the Israelis come up with a final offer and let the Palestinians come up with their final offer. A UN arbitration commission (with the US, the UK, France, Russia and China agreeing NOT to veto the decision) would then choose which offer IN TOTAL was the most reasonable and just. Both sides would agree in advance to abide by the decision. I have seen this work in labor disputes so long as the abitration commission was agreed to by both parties. This would force both parties to come up with almost identical and just proposals (by honestly negotiating with each other) for fear that the arbitration commission would choose the opposing offer.

    The “roadmap to peace” is a “roadmap to pieces” with any US/Israeli concept of a Palestinian State resembling a scattering of “Indian Reservations” selling cheap petrol and cigarettes plus running gambling casinos. Sooner or later this issue MUST be settled or nuclear war will be the end result. Only an extreme Jewish or Christian zionist or an Arab extremist would think otherwise.

    US Jewish Professor Marc Ellis stated in 1991 that it would be too late in five years. That was 15 years ago and it IS too late. Only final offer arbitration supplies a solution.

    Whether you support Israel or Palestine, for the sake of both peoples and for the sake of world peace, a solution must be found NOW. There has been a “conspiracy against peace” in which self-interested countries,industries and politicians have preferred “structured instability” to a lasting and just settlement to this issue. Can any truly peace-loving person honestly believe that either side will ever have its way?

    A visiting Israeli professor at Notre Dame University once pointed out in 1992 that Israeli leaders will mention “peace”, “security” and “terrorism” in almost every sentence, but will never mention the word “justice”. I have been listening for almost 20 years to hear an Israeli leader use this word and I’m still listening. Whatever happened to UN Resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973)? How many Israeli, Arab and so many other lives have to be lost while politicians and businessmen (not true leaders) play chess with the world’s future? Only the fearful, the greedy and the extremists on all sides would wish to continue this game.

    Israelis, if you truly want peace with security; Palestinians, if you truly want a homeland; world populations, if you truly want to survive and thrive; the time is NOW. If anyone can come up with something better than “Final Offer Arbitration” please do. I’m convinced that the world’s powers, while not wanting all-out war”, don’t want true peace. Where would the markets be for weapons if there was true peace? How would certain parties control the price of oil and have spheres of influence if there was true peace?

    Shalom, Salaam, Pace, Pax or however you want spell it, God will hold us all accountable if we succeed in destroying ourselves over God’s land. Wake up! The clock is ticking!

  • salvage

    What does any of that have to do with the fact that people were living there, their homes were taken from them and now have to live behind a wall suffering apartheid-lite?

    You can call them whatever you like it doesn’t excuse the injustice they’ve suffered.

    I know, I know some of them have done awful things so that means it’s perfectly fine to do awful things to all of them.

    • A REAL American

      Salvage–you need to learn history.

      The only people living in this area who were removed from their homes were the Jewish residents who were expelled by the British from some areas (including the ancient Jewish city of Hevron) following the Arab massacres of Jews in the 1920’s and by the Arab Legion when Jordan was ethnically cleansing Jews from Jerusalem following the 1948 war. If you ignore these facts, then you either ignorant or dishonest or both.

      Arabs were not removed from their homes, at least not by the Jews. The Arab Legion ordered Arabs to leave their homes, this is a well documented fact (evidence is available in radio transcripts and quotations from testimony by the Arab victims themselves). The Arabs who owned land they abandoned when they obeyed the Arab Legions command to vacate were invited to return to Israel in the 1950’s. This amnesty has long since expired. Anyone with proof of ownership of land since that time has been invited to prove ownership in court and granted compensation for the land.

      Your problem is that you do not seem capable of separating Palestinian mythological claims from historical facts. Facts can be proven in a court of law with documents and land deeds. Mythology by definition cannot be proven, thus leaving successive generations of Arabs claiming injustices have been perpetrated against their family.

      The REAL injustice is that which was done to the Arab JEWS who were kicked out of the countries of their birth by the racist Arab states who retaliated against their local Jews for their gross incompetence and stupidity. The Jews were never compensated for any of the land or property and the value of this goes well into the hundreds of BILLIONS of dollars–far exceeding any remaining land ownership disputes by Arabs who left Israel (voluntarily or not).

      If you were truly interested in JUSTICE this would be one of your top priorities. But from all you wrote, you seem to conveniently ignore these facts.

      And to say that SOME palestinians have done awful things is like saying SOME Nazis did awful things. Murdering Jews has been part of the Palestinian motis operandi since the 1920’s. Not all Palestinians are guilty of it, but this action is condoned by nearly 80% of the population. There is no comparison between a state protecting the life and property of its citizens and terrorist organizations murdering women and children and elderly people. These are Palestinian crimes against humanity and your silence is deafening!!

    • christine

      Proof Palestine existed prior to 1945, is the fact that every country accepted Palestinian mail from their post office. I have tried to write this several times. But am never allowed on this site. These people are afraid of actual facts that can prove they are wrong. They give opinions not facts. Hope someone gets to read this before they remove it.

  • Ariel

    The writer of the piece is entirely correct. No one is disputing an Arab presence in Israel/Palestine. What is clear, is that these Arabs did not have a “palestinian” identity until the Jews started re-settling the land. The “palestinians” are invented as during the entire late 19th century and early 20th century the Jews were much more identified as palestinians as opposed to the Arabs. The first Jewish national orchestra in Israel was called the Palestine Orchestra– not a single Arab member. The Jerusalem Post, a Zionist paper, was called the Palestine Post, Palphot, the largest greeting card and postcard company in Israel, founded by Zionist Jews is called Palestine Photo… why? Because the Jews were the palestinians… only later did the Arabs make claim to this ersatz nationalist… Point made. Also, as to accusations of racism– this is nonsense and offensive. To challenge someone’s putative nationality is not racist, it may be correct or incorrect, but it is certainly not racist. If Gingrich stated that the Arabs are biologically stupid people, that would be racist. Of course, Gingrich did not say any such thing and surely does not believe it.

    • Marco

      The only reason Gingrich said any of those things is to get the Jewish vote. Jews have mostly voted Democrat in past elections and Gingrich is desperate for support from anywhere. Do the Jewish people REALLY think he’ll do any better for them than Democrats? Whoever thinks so is a complete fool.

      • A REAL American

        Marco,

        Whoever thinks that a professor with a PhD in history would lie about history just to pander for a few votes is a complete fool.

        Gingrich understands the simple fact that the ever growing Palestinian mythological narrative has become too large to manage. Not even Yasser Arafat (who wasn’t even a Palestinian by UN definition) could overcome this mythology. Only a healthy does of historical factuality can bring any hope of an equitable settlement to the region.

        While most politicians–especially Obama and Clinton are placating the Palestinians mythological claims, the Palestinians are busy expanding their claims with ludicrous allegations that Jews never lived in Israel (“palestine”) and that King Solomon’s Temple never existed. Gingrich seems to be the one politician who understands this mythology is propelling the conflict into is NINTH DECADE.

    • tuckchristine

      Palesstine was and is a country. Proof of this is that EVERY country in the world recognized Palestine prior to 1945. Most large countries created a postal service system and issued stamps during the 1800’s. Smaller countries began issuing stamps through their own national/countries postal system. Palestine began issuing stamps out of their countries post office beginning in 1918. EVERY country then and EVERY country now accepts Palestian stamped mail.

  • mr. dude

    Even if you do agree with him–and I do not–it smacks of semantics and technicalities. Both Jews and Palestinian Arabs have lived in the Levant for millenia. Even if there are similarities with Syrian culture, Palestinian Arabs speak in their own dialect, have their own cuisine, art, music, etc. Even if you agree that the earliest incidents of a united strictly Palestinian Arab event dates back to the 18th to 19th century we are talking about a people that have a deep and binding religious connection to the Levant and holy sites in Jerusalem. This isn’t a problem that will be solved with a simple “you don’t exist.” Newt’s comments only serve to exacerbate the situation for the despicable purpose of winning the primary. Do you honestly think if he wins the presidency he would decline a path to arbitrate a two state solution if presented with the opportunity? If given the chance he would champion the cause and proclaim himself the reincarnation of Reagan–he’s that modest. These comments are hollow and nothing but strategic and destructive. Don’t get me wrong, the Palestinians are light years from innocent in this whole affair. Crimes of terror, and kidnapping are horrifying and inexcusable but the intransigence goes both ways. Settlement expansion to rocket attacks to missile strikes to roadside bombs… How, when will it end? Pardon the condescension but what would Solomon do?

  • mike panzone

    that big gold domed building in the middle of jerusalem is a mosque that has been there for over a thousand years.  there are far more historic arab villages in israel/west bank today than jewish ones.  there are christians in palestine who are descendants from the original believers who were converted by the apostles.  there are centuries old olive trees and orchards in this area that were planted by arabs generations ago and which are still being tended by their descendants…whether or not there has ever been a palestine is beside the point. what matters is that there are a few million christian and muslim arabic speaking people in israel who have been there a very long time. it is an injustice and against american democratic principals to expect them to turn the rule of this land over to jews just because they controlled it 2000 years ago.

    • john thames

      Before I get started, let me say I’m coming at this as someone who is pro-Palestinian…
      But you’ve got most of your facts wrong – and I don’t think you help the Palestinian cause when you’ve made mistakes that are easily fact checked on the web.
      The gold dome isn’t a mosque at all – it’s the Dome of the Rock, the Al-Aqsa Mosque is further south on the temple mount complex and is black. It was built in 631, so not exactly thousands of years old, either. In fact, it’s quite new by Jerusalem standards.
      No, there aren’t “far more” historic Arab villages in Israel/West Bank – actually, there are approximately zero historic Arab villages inside Israel, as there was no incentive to live there until the 50s – the land was awful.
      As for “centuries old olive trees and orchards,” that’s also quite wrong. There are certainly Arab farms and orchards, but they came about as the result of Israeli drip irrigation, so maybe a couple decades old, but not centuries. Neither Jewish nor Arab orchards date from that time.
      No – there aren’t a few million Arabs or Christians in Israel that have been there a very long time. The only people who lived here were a few thousand Jewish stragglers prior to the foundation of the state of Israel. That shouldn’t invalidate a Palestinian claim for a state, but let’s at least get our facts straight so our argument doesn’t sound so ridiculous.

  • the realist

    if israel was there since biblical times then…why is it that its 1st 8 prime ministers, its 1st 15 army generals,its founders including ben gurion, theoder herzl including the parents of the now bibi….are all born somewhere else….

    if u r talking about abraham, moses, and jacobs and his like…then i think the muslims n christians are also their inheritors as being the sons of ishmael and followers of jesus…and wat about the jews who converted to the islamic n christian religion…the jews betrayed jerusalem when they fled from the romans during the exodus and from the europeans during the crusades. and killed jesus..the jews never fought 4 jerusalem in 4000 years…only the muslims and christians bled 4 it…

    nwz…regardless of the fact that israel’s survival remains completely on the wests ability to keep puppet governments among its neighbours coupled with its ability to reproduce and kill palstinian children at the same time and the most important of all…how long the Abrahmic God could withheld his next wrath…which as a matter of fact is quite quick and remarkable in case of the children of Israel…I suggest u quickly stop all this nonsense gibberish and think wisely and adopt an idea which befits every one …time is running out 4 u..d world has had enuf of ur nonsense…

    • Ian

      News flash for you. Go back to the book and read again because the Jews didn’t kill Jesus. They lead him to the cross because they were ordered to by the ruling Romans. You probably also think the Jews eat the first born and have horns too. It is a pity that people speak when they really have no idea what they are talking about. Zipppppppp it.

    • A REAL American

      @the realist

      Exactly how many Palestinian leaders have been born in “palestine” and how many can you name going back to the beginning of “palestinian” history? Can you name the Palestinian currency and its official exchange rate with any other major currency at any particular date in time? Who was the “palestinian” post master general in 1910? How many justices sat on the Palestinian supreme court in the 1880’s? What was the major export of Palestine in 1850 and who were its trade partners?

      Jews never abandoned Israel or Jerusalem. I don’t know where you developed these lies, but there is no factual basis on this statement. So your entire premise is wrong.

      Jews made up the majority population of Jerusalem in the 1800’s. This fact is based on Ottoman and British census data. Jews were the majority population in Western Palestine (the part of Palestine that is now called Israel)going into the 1920’s–until the British cut off Jewish emigration without imposing any reciprocal limitations on Arab migration to Western Palestine. Arabs from all over the Arab world came to Western Palestine for jobs, freedoms and better health care which was spurred by Jewish reclamation of the barren land.

      One thing I would strongly advise you to stop doing is trying to quote the Torah (the old testament). There isn’t anything you said that is factually correct. The Land of Israel was given to the Jews forever and all time and it is a covenant that will never be revoked. Even when G-d was personally upset with the Jews, G-d did revoke his covenant. Allowing others to squat in the land of Israel is not the same as G-d giving it to them. And the land of Israel has been returned to its rightful (religiously, historically, politically and legally) owners and will not be changing hands again.

    • Wise Man

      Sorry to disappoint your shallow, prejudiced little mind, but for some reason you ignore Yitzhak Navon, Israel’s Fifth President:
      “Born in Jerusalem, Navon is a descendant of a Sephardi family of rabbis. On his father’s side, he is descended from Spanish Jews who settled in Turkey after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. The family (Baruch Mizrahi family or Al Mashraki) moved to Jerusalem in 1670. On his mother’s side, he is descended from the renowned kabbalist Haim Ben Attar.”

      And this is the “Palestine” which Yitzhak Navon’s ancestors found in the 17th Century, according to the authoritative scholar Hadriani Reland, who wrote a book “Palestina” after traveling to the land:

      “Relandi found that the majority of the land was utterly desolate. Where inhabitants existed, they were mainly Jews and Christians and they mainly lived in Jerusalem, Acco, Tzfat, Jaffa, Tiberius and Gaza.

      “There were few Muslims, mostly nomad Bedouins. Nablus, known as Shchem, was exceptional, where approximately 120 people, members of the Muslim Natche family and approximately 70 Shomronites, lived. In the Galilee capital, Nazareth, lived approximately 700 Christians and in Jerusalem approximately 5000 people, mostly Jews and some Christians. ”

      But that’s OK. Don’t let real facts confuse you. Or maybe not! You know what? I demand an apology!

  • Marco

    Wow. This article is not biased at all. The author writes for Jewish media and agrees with racist comments on Palestine. Gimme a break.

    • Chicago Man

      Marco palestinians are not a race, they are not a people, they are not a nationality.

      Arabs are a race or a people or a religion. Jews are a race or religion or a people. But the Palestinians are just arabs, like any other other arabs and pointing out the fact that they are not a race is not racist–its TRUTHIST.

      The fact of the matter is that national identities and borders are colonial imports to the middle east, not indigenous ideas. They have no historical basis in this part of the world. There is no difference between an Arab from Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Jordan and an Arab from “palestine”.

  • thomas mc

    The Jewish Talmud states that it was God himself who kicked the Jews out of Israel, and took the land from them to give to the Gentiles. It says they will not have any right to return to it until the Messiah comes, and they make him their King. One of the “Three Oaths” commands that they not even try to return. Since they reject the idea that Moshiach has come, they have no valid religious claim to the land. This is why many Orthodox Jews have never accepted the legitimacy of the State of Israel. And where your ancestors lived 2,000 years ago doesn’t give ANYONE any right to land ownership, and certainly no right to steal that land from anyone else.

    The Jews should give the land back to its rightful owners, the Palestinians, and go back to where they came from: Poland and New York City. The Palestinian people were living there long before the Balfour Declaration.

    • Paul

      Perhaps that rule should apply to Americans and Australians as well.

      • Marco

        Last time I checked, Americans and Australians aren’t STILL killing indigenous people of those respective lands. Get with the times.

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