By Henry Srebrnik
Speaking to an audience at the Republican Jewish Coalition in Washington recently, Newt Gingrich, now the front-runner in the race to become the Republican nominee for president of the United States, declared the Palestinians are an “invented” people.
He later elaborated on his remarks. “Remember there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire,” Gingrich told a television interviewer. “We’ve had an invented Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs, and were historically part of the Arab community.”
For this he has been criticized by the Arab League, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and even Republican opponents Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. He has been especially denounced by people on the left, who see in his remarks a “hard line” pro-Israel position.
Actually, anti-Zionists do the same thing, insisting that Jews are simply members of a religion and are not an ethnic group, and hence have no right to part of Palestine. Indeed, an Israeli academic, Shlomo Sand, recently published a controversial book entitled “The Invention of the Jewish People.”
The whole thing is somewhat ironic, given that the critics don’t seem to know that left-wing theoreticians like the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawn claim that all nations are “constructed” by clever elites and are thus “inventions.”
Back when Golda Meir was prime minister of Israel, she famously said that there are no such people as the Palestinians. She meant that until the 1960s they had no separate consciousness as “Palestinians” (a simple geographic term, and a fuzzy one, at that).
They were called “Arabs” when they revolted against British rule in the Palestine Mandate in 1936-39 and when the 1947 partition plan, which called for “Arab” and “Jewish” states, was passed by the UN.
It was the “Arab Higher Committee,” led by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, which opposed the creation of Israel by the Jews (who of course weren't yet “Israelis,” either).
Prior to 1948, Jews used the term Palestinian more than the Arabs did. The Jerusalem Post newspaper used to be called the Palestine Post. And during the Second World War, more than 5,000 Jewish volunteers from Palestine were organized into three battalions of the Palestine Regiment.
But never mind all that. People who say they’re a nation are one, it’s that simple. They define themselves, and don’t get defined by others. So of course the Palestinians are now a nation. Like every other nation, they have, so to speak, invented themselves – just the way Americans, Canadians, and others did before them.
Whether invented or not, there are now two nations within the old Palestine Mandate – Israelis and Palestinians. Each should have a state.
Henry Srebrnik is a professor of political studies at UPEI.