Besides the Jews, there are people in the Holy Land, but not a people. The Palestinians as a body of people with an Arab background are an “invention” of the 20th century, stressed Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, sparking a media storm at home and abroad.
Speaking in Hebrew at a private event in Paris on Sunday, Smotrich explained:
“Is there a Palestinian history or culture? No. There were Arabs in the Middle East who arrived in the Land of Israel at the same time as the Jewish immigration and the beginning of Zionism. After 2,000 years of exile, the people of Israel were returning home, and there were Arabs around [us] who do not like it. So what do they do? They invent a fictitious people in the Land of Israel and claim fictitious rights in the Land of Israel just to fight the Zionist movement.
“This is the historical truth. This is the biblical truth. The Arabs in the Land of Israel need to hear this truth. This truth should be heard here in the Élysée Palace.
“This truth should also be heard by the Jewish people in the State of Israel who are a little confused. This truth needs to be heard in the White House in Washington. The whole world needs to hear this truth because it is the truth — and the truth will win.”
The Middle East is full of ‘new nations’
Senior media analyst Ehud Yaari responded on Tuesday with an op-ed calling out Smotrich and insisting that the local Arab population can call themselves by whatever national identity they choose, just as other Arab populations around the Middle East did in the wake of World War II.
“Just as the Iraqi people are the creation of the [British] mandate – no one saw themselves as ‘Iraqi’ during the hundreds of years of the Ottoman Empire – and so are the ‘Jordanian people’ and more, so also in our case [with the Palestinians]: the formation of young states in the 20th century with new borders gave birth to new ‘nations,'” he wrote.
Smotrich is right, because he’s talking from the Jewish point of view. The Jews are a people. And the Palestinians have tried to mimic this by claiming that their national identity is a peoplehood. This has led to the absurdity of Palestinian leaders asserting they are direct descendants of the Canaanites (while simultaneously calling themselves Arabs, descendants of Abraham and Ishmael, who were contemporaries of the Canaanites. Like I said, absurd).
But Yaari is also right. He gave the example of Iraqis and Jordanians, legitimate national identities that didn’t exist a century ago. Likewise the Arabs who now live in the Holy Land (Yaari acknowledged that the bulk of them are the descendants of immigrants who came here just a century ago) can define themselves according to whatever national label they choose.
If they want to be called “Palestinian,” then fine, they are “Palestinian.” But like Jordanians, it’s a label without any background (actually, the term “Palestine” has some historical background, but it’s entirely related to the Jews). “Jordanian” means nothing beyond the past century, and when speaking of the local Arab population, neither does the term “Palestinian.”
Disdain for “messianic” Jews
Overall the tone of Yaari’s article was decidedly hostile toward Smotrich. He was no doubt miffed by the finance minister’s appeal to “biblical truth.” Like most secular Israelis, Yaari has little but disdain for Bible-believing Jews who let Scripture guide their political outlook. Such Israelis see themselves as “pragmatic” and view as foolishness “divine wisdom” as contained in the Word of God. Of course, as Paul teaches us in I Corinthians, God in turn views man’s wisdom as utter foolishness.
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