This Land Is Whose Land?
In yet another compulsive denial of Jewish history in the land of Israel, the Palestinian Authority recently announced its intention to claim ownership rights to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Discovered in the Qumran Caves in the Judean Desert during the decade following Israeli independence, the scrolls date from the Second Temple era (530 BCE-70 CE). Attributed to the Essenes, an ancient Jewish ascetic sect, many of them were written in Hebrew.
Archeology has a way of refuting Palestinian fantasies. Only last month, the Israel Antiquities Authority acquired a papyrus dating from the 7th century BCE, during the First Temple era, containing the oldest known mention of Jerusalem in Hebrew. It records the delivery of two wineskins from a “female servant of the king” to “Yerushalem,” predating even the Dead Sea Scrolls.
But such evidence of a millennia-old Jewish presence in the land of Israel hardly is persuasive to Palestinians. Saeb Erekat, who negotiated the Oslo Accords, has claimed his ancestry as “10,000 years old.” As “the proud son of the Canaanites,” he preposterously boasted: “I’ve been there for 5,500 years before Joshua bin Nun came and burned my hometown Jericho.” Palestinian obliteration of Jewish history in the land of Israel has been avidly embraced by UNESCO, ostensibly dedicated to “the building of peace” but palpably determined to promote the Palestinian cause. It recently passed a resolution referring to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the holiest Jewish site, as the Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), thereby embracing Muslim obliteration of the location of the First and Second Jewish Temples.
Courtesy of former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, the Muslim Waqf controls the Mount, above and below ground. As the Six-Day War ended in June 1967, Dayan — only hours after proclaiming, “We have returned to the holiest of our places, never to be parted from them again” – forbade Jews to pray on their holy site, a restriction that remains in place.
Some years ago, guided by an Arab antiquities dealer, I visited Solomon’s Stables beneath the Mount. Its massively beautiful arches aside, there was little to see in the vast empty space, which has since been converted into the Al-Marwani Mosque. That project required the removal of many tons of earth, the better to destroy any evidence of an ancient Jewish presence. Israeli archeologists responded by organizing the Temple Mount Sifting Project, which encourages visitors to comb through 350 truckloads of removed soil to see what they might find. They have discovered arrowheads used by Nebuchadnezzar’s army, which destroyed the First Temple, and by the Tenth Roman Legion in its siege of the Second Temple in 70 CE. Last year a 10-year-old Russian boy uncovered a 3,000-year-old seal from the time of King David. Jewish history was indisputably confirmed.
Palestinians, by contrast, conspicuously lacked a national history of their own until early in the 20th century. Even then, beginning with the Paris Peace Conference after World War I, Palestinian Arabs repeatedly identified their land as “part of Arab Syria.” Arab leader Anui Bey Abdul-Hadi told the British Peel Commission (1937): “There is no such country as Palestine”; it was a term invented by Zionists. Arab-American professor Philip Hitti testified in 1946: “There is no such thing as ‘Palestine’ in history, absolutely not.” Before becoming the first Chairman of the PLO in 1964, Ahmad al- Shukeiri affirmed: “Palestine is nothing but southern Syria.”
The Biblical text – which identifies Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites (in Hebron), Hivites (in Shechem), Jebusites (in Jerusalem) and Perizzites – is silent about “Palestinians.” In another two weeks we read about Abraham’s purchase of land in Hebron from Ephron the Hittite as a burial site for Sarah (Genesis 23). Notwithstanding God’s promise of the entire land of Canaan, Abraham understood the necessity of clear legal title to assure lawful possession. As for those who challenged the divine bequest to “My people Israel,” God would “pluck them up from off their land” (Jeremiah 12:14).
Early in the 19th century British writer Charles Caleb Colton memorably observed, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” He might have had Palestinians in mind, but they did not yet exist.
Jerold S. Auerbach is a frequent contributor to The Algemeiner.