The Palestinian Arabs Also Have a Long History in the Land


Or so some people claim…

The Palestinian Arabs very much want the world to believe that they have a long history in the land. This would give legitimacy to their present claim, that the land is theirs.

In order to make their case, they frequently invent history, sometimes co-opting for themselves the Jewish connection to the land. They also attempt to diminish or erase the history of the ancient Jewish presence in the land.

The reality, however, is that the people who are today called Palestinians do not have a long history in the land.

They are not related, as they have maintained at one time or another, to the ancient Canaanites or to the ancient Philistines or to the ancient Jebusites.

And there is no truth to the claim that the Temple Mount (Arabic: Haram esh-Sharif) in Jerusalem is exclusively theirs. Prominent Palestinians, including Mahmoud Abbas, have sought to cast doubt on the existence of the Jewish Temples on the Mount, suggesting that there has never been anything there but Moslem edifices.

The historical reality (confirmed by archeological evidence) is that the Temple Mount as it now exists indeed was the site of the Second Temple of the Jews 2,000 years ago, centuries before the religion of Islam had even been founded. The Western Wall (the Kotel) is the remaining section of the retaining wall of the Mount, and has been sacred to Jews for millennia.

The Umayyads, a Muslim dynasty originally out of Mecca, which ruled their caliphate from Damascus, supervised the construction of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in the late 7th century of the Common Era, and the Al Aksa Mosque in the early 8th century. The Umayyads were not Palestinian Arabs.

Who, then, are the Palestinian Arab people and what is their connection to the land?

In the course of almost 2,000 years, there were a host of different occupiers in Palestine. Romans, Seleucids, Greeks, Kurds, Persians, Turks, Moors, Circassians, Egyptians, Algerians, Bosnians, Armenians, Russians and many other peoples had contact with the area, so that its population was actually a melting pot of different types.

It certainly was not historically “Palestinian Arab.” In fact, because of the shifting occupations, there were also shifting populations, with groups fleeing or being massacred and others replacing them. (The only constant over the centuries was the presence of some Jewish population, at times numbering only a few thousand.)

When Arabs moved into the area in recent centuries from places such as Saudi Arabia, they were often transients, migrants such as Bedouin shepherds, who did not necessarily remain. As “Palestine” was not an autonomous entity, for such people it was simply a matter of moving from one Arab area to another.

By the last decades of the 19th century and into the 20th century there was an influx of Arabs from neighboring regions who came in search of work opportunities, made possible by the growing Jewish population that had come to develop the land. Thus, many of the people who came to be known as Palestinian Arabs by the middle of the 20th century actually had lived in the land a relatively short time in historical terms.

Before the founding of the State of Israel, Arabs in Palestine identified just that way, as Arabs: They said they were part of the Arab nation or of Greater Syria. Jews in the region were referred to as “Palestinians.”

After the founding of the State, this changed, and Arabs in the region began to call themselves “Palestinians.” This was intended as a challenge to the legitimacy of Israel and the Jewish connection to the land.

Palestinian Arabs share language and culture with other Arabs. For the most part, they also share history. It is only in the last decades that they have separated out their history in connection with their presence in Palestine.