On “Invented People”

This one got under my skin.

An American politician [and presidential candidate -- it doesn't matter which one, but it happens to be Newt Gingrich] picked up and mindlessly repeated one of the more insufferable commonly-expressed attitudes in Israel: Palestinians are an “invented people”.

This argument goes like this: the Palestinians don’t exist, they’re just a collection of opportunists who moved to Palestine for jobs or economic opportunity or whatever, they never had their own state before [so, why should they have one now]? etc, etc, etc…

I have heard this from people who I otherwise consider to be friends. I have heard this on the media. I have heard this from educated Israelis. I have heard this from educated Israelis who had responsible positions in major international organizations including the United Nations… it is repeated almost non-stop, without shame, without a bat of the eye, without a flush of the skin, without a quiver of the chin.

This is despite the decision of the United Nations from 1974 [yes, following the visit of PLO Yasser Arafat, in fatigues, waving an olive branch with a pistol in a holster at his waist] endorsing the Palestinian right of self-determination — a right that belongs to a people, the Palestinian people…

And, as M.J. Rosenberg wrote, in an article entitled “The Real ‘Invented’ People” published on Al-Jazeera’s English-language website, Jews were recognized as a people for the first time less than seven decades earlier, in the Balfour Declaration — that later was incorporated in the League of Nations’ Palestine Mandate .

Rosenberg attributes this, in his opening paragraphs, to the Zionist movement. But, it became a fact — the Jewish people were recognized as a people for the first time in history — however little understood, after this proposition was formally accepted by the post-First-World-War League of Nations.

True, many Palestinians don’t like this — they do not like the colonialist idea, taken up by the essentially anti-colonial League of Nations, that their ancestral homeland was given for sharing to another people [declared as a people before the Palestinians were awarded the same courtesy], so long as their own national rights were safeguarded [which they were clearly not].

True, many Palestinians think they can define Jewishness as membership in a religious community, and continue to refuse to recognize the Jewish people as a people, not too much unlike themselves.

M.J. Rosenberg wrote, in his article posted here, that:

    “Seventy-plus years later, it is impossible to argue that the Israeli nation is not as authentic and worthy of recognition as any in the world (more authentic than some, in fact). The Hebrew language is spoken by millions of Jews and Palestinians. The Israeli culture is unique: Bearing little resemblance to any other in the world … And the Palestinians are every bit as much a nation. If the ultimate definition of authentic nationhood is continuous residence in a land for thousands of years, the Palestinian claim to nationhood is ironclad. They never left Palestine (except for those who either emigrated or became refugees after the establishment of Israel).

    Those who deny that Palestinians have a nation base their case on two arguments, both of which are logically incoherent. The first is that Palestinians never exercised self-determination in Palestine; they were always governed by others from ancient times to the present day.

    The answer to this is: So what?

    Most nations in the world lacked self-determination for long periods of their history. The Polish nation existed between 1790 and 1918 even though the state was erased from the map – divided between Russia and Austro-Hungary. It achieved independence in 1918 only to again lose it to the Nazis, and then the Soviets from 1939 until 1989. Would anyone today argue that the Polish nation was invented? The idea of it is ridiculous, especially when offered by Israelis or Americans (or Canadians, New Zealanders, Australians… ) whose national existence would have been unimaginable a few centuries ago.

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