The myth of `Palestinian land'

April 12, 2002|By Mona Charen

WASHINGTON -- Several members of the Nobel Committee have expressed regrets about the Peace Prize that was jointly awarded to Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres in 1994.

This is certainly understandable -- one of the recipients has consistently failed to live up to the promises made in Oslo, lied repeatedly about that failure, imported arms and explosives against the explicit wording of the Oslo agreement, sent teen-agers to blow themselves up amid civilians and actively fomented a wider war.

But the person the Nobel Committee regrets honoring is not Mr. Arafat -- it is Mr. Peres!

Europe is shaming itself. Across the continent, crowds fill the streets demonstrating against Israel. Synagogues are burning all over France. Old anti-Semitic imagery and language are resurfacing. The Italian newspaper La Stampa ran a cartoon featuring an Israeli tank pointing its muzzle at the crib of baby Jesus with the tag line, "Don't tell me they want to kill me again."

Some of this is simple Jew hatred. Some is a sinister response to guilt. Since the Holocaust happened on European soil, how cleansing to believe that the Jews are now the guilty parties.

This is monstrous, and in an ideal world, Secretary of State Colin Powell and President Bush would be saying so. Instead, they, too, are undermining the Israelis, demanding that Israel permit terror to succeed -- thus utterly clouding America's clear stand against terror.

But some of this anti-Israel sentiment represents a victory for Arab propaganda and lies about the origin of the conflict -- lies that have been swallowed whole by large segments of the press and public even in the United States.

A one-stop-shopping book puts these myths to rest. Joan Peters set out to write a sympathetic history of the Palestinian "struggle." Her research soon convinced her that nearly everything she thought she knew about the Arab-Jewish conflict in the Middle East was wrong. Her meticulously researched book, From Time Immemorial, was published in 1984 but is still in print.

The Arabs have successfully blurred the true history of what happened when Israel was formed in 1948. Six hundred thousand Jewish refugees from Arab nations fled to Israel -- many in fear for their lives, most after having their property expropriated. They were assimilated by Israel.

About the same number of Arab refugees fled what is now Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. They were not assimilated by the Arab nations, with whom they shared a common religion, ethnicity, history and language, but were instead herded into refugee camps, the better to "return" to their homes after Israel was obliterated by Arab armies. (Since World War II, more than 100 million people have been forced to become refugees. Nearly all were forced to assimilate into nations with different cultures and traditions.)

Further, these Arab refugees had no ancient tie to the land of "Palestine." Most were recent immigrants, a fact implicitly acknowledged by the United Nations when it altered the definition of refugee to apply to those who have lived "at least two years" in a location.

When Mark Twain visited the Holy Land in 1867, he found to his dismay that the land was barren: "One may ride 10 miles hereabouts and not see 10 human beings."

But when large numbers of Jews began to resettle the land in the 1880s and made it more prosperous, large numbers of Arab migrants began to arrive.

The whole idea of a Palestinian nation and a Palestinian people is an invention of Arab propaganda. Mr. Arafat is himself an Egyptian. The only people to have lived continuously on the land "from time immemorial" are Jews. So many others have conquered, ruled, thrived and ultimately perished there that the list would take hundreds of pages.

A mere sample would include: Byzantines, Persians, Arabs, Turks, Circassians, Kurds, Abbassids (Iraqis), Egyptians, Kharezmians (Genghis Khan), Mamluks, Mongols, Latins (Crusaders), Ottomans, French and English.

It is not and never was "Palestinian land."

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

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