How Palestinians Stole the Jewish Cause
The Palestinian narrative is rooted in a bizarre double-sided coin: denial of Jewish history and appropriation of it.
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The Arch of Titus monument in Rome is one of the oldest symbols of cultural appropriation.
It depicts the Romans taking a menorah (a Jewish candlestick) from Judea as spoils of war after defeating the Jews, conquering Jerusalem, and destroying its Second Temple in 70 CE.
With this victory, and as a way to strip the Jews of their indigenousness with the land of Israel, their synagogues were destroyed, the name of their capital Jerusalem was changed to Aelia Capitolina, and the land of Judea was renamed to Palestine, in honor of the Philistines. They were enemies of the Jews. Phlishtim is therefore an ancient Hebrew word derived from philosh, meaning “an invader.”
The emigration of Jews and the immigration of Christians — as well as the conversion of Pagans, Jews, and Samaritans — contributed to a Christian majority forming in Late Roman and Byzantine Palestine.
In the seventh century, the Arab Rashiduns conquered the Levant, and they were later succeeded by other Arabic-speaking Muslim dynasties. Over the following several centuries, the population of Palestine drastically decreased, from an estimated one million during the Roman and Byzantine periods, to about 300,000 by the 16th-century early Ottoman period.
Over time, much of the existing population adopted Arab culture and language and converted to Islam. Thus, the region was not originally Arab; its Arabization was a consequence of the gradual inclusion of Palestine within the rapidly expanding Islamic Caliphates established by Arabian tribes and their local allies.
Still, current Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas insists that the Palestinians are the biblical Canaanites. His predecessor Yasser Arafat said the Palestinians are the Jebusites. Never mind that neither group has existed for some 3,000 years.
In 1898, the term “Palestinian” was first introduced by Khalil Beidas in a translation of a Russian work on the Holy Land into Arabic.1 Historian Rashid Khalidi noted that Palestinian identity has never been an exclusive one, with “Arabism, religion, and local loyalties” playing an important role.2
Khalidi cautioned against the efforts of some extreme advocates of Palestinian nationalism to “anachronistically” read back into history a nationalist consciousness that is in fact “relatively modern.”
Meanwhile, for the past 3,500 years more or less, Jewish heritage, faith, nationhood, and history — in their entirety — have been wound up with the Jewish People’s connection with the Land of Israel.
“Jews simply cannot explain, or even understand themselves, in the absence of the Land of Israel,” wrote Caroline Glick, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the Center for Security Policy. “Dig a few inches below the surface in any place in the Land of Israel and you will find archeological evidence of the Jewish people’s millennial ties to the land. Go into any synagogue or Jewish school in the world and you will find evidence of this basic reality.”3
Hence why the Zionism movement became dominant in Jewish thinking beginning in the 1800s, as antisemitism grew to be unbearable in Europe and the Middle East. In 1886, the Ukrainian Jewish poet, Naphtali Herz Imber, wrote “The Hope” — “Our hope is not yet lost. It is two thousand years old. To be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.” — which became the State of Israel’s national anthem.
Ultimately, the historical depth of Jewish heritage and the decolonization project known as Zionism invalidate the Palestinian cause, which means that, in order for the Palestinians’ narrative to be attractive and compelling, it has become a bizarre double-sided coin: on one side, the complete denial of Jewish nationhood, culture, history, and heritage; and on the other side, the Palestinians’ appropriation — the inappropriate or unacknowledged adoption of elements of one culture by members of another one — of Jewish nationhood, culture, history, and heritage.
“The Palestinian cause only makes sense if Jewish history, nationhood, heritage, and faith are denied and Jews are demonized for refusing to accept their erasure,” wrote Glick.
For example, some Palestinians claim that Jesus Christ was a Palestinian, even though it is historical record that he was born to a Jewish family, from the bloodline of King David, in Judea, the homeland of the Jewish People.
There is also the slogan “Free Palestine” which was first used by a Zionist group, the American League for a Free Palestine, in 1944 to call for the liberation of the Mandate of Palestine from British rule.
“Help Free Palestine” gained traction with the Zionist Organization of America and became the international call for the Jewish yearning to return home to our indigenous homeland. Although the territory had the name “Palestine,” the territory never functioned as a sovereign country before the State of Israel was founded in 1948.
In the 1990s, as the Oslo Accords peace process soured and Palestinians attacked Israel as part of the Second Intifada, they began repurposing a poster with the words “Visit Palestine” — and it gained new life as a symbol of Palestinian nationalism. Mind you, the poster was created in 1936 by Austrian Jewish artist Franz Krausz, who fled Europe during Hitler’s rise, and designed a variety of posters for Zionist groups encouraging Jewish immigration to the Holy Land.
The watermelon became a symbol of resistance and Palestinian identity as well, yet it was originally used by Jews in the 1930s as a national symbol to support the Jewish homeland. The Israeli Ministry of Agriculture encouraged consumers to buy locally grown produce, such as “Hebrew watermelons,” to compete with those from other countries.
There is also the pro-Palestinian misappropriation of many terms, such as Holocaust, a nasty distortion and form of gaslighting to baselessly attack and delegitimize historical, systematic Jewish persecution. For example, a cartoon image equating the Gaza Strip with the Warsaw ghetto is an explicit effort to demonize Israeli policies — and close off reasonable debate — by equating the policies with Nazi genocidal ones.
Holocaust imagery linked to Israeli policy also exploits older accusations of a Jewish conspiracy to control the world, by suggesting that attention to the Holocaust is part of a sinister strategy to garner exceptional treatment for the Jewish state.
In addition, Palestinian propagandists misappropriate the term “genocide,” first coined by the Polish Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, who survived the Holocaust and campaigned vigorously to raise international outrage against atrocities in Evil Axis-occupied Europe.
“By ‘genocide’ we mean the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group,” wrote Lemkin. “This new word, coined by the author to denote an old practice in its modern development, is made from the ancient Greek word genos (race, tribe) and the Latin cide (killing), thus corresponding in its formation to such words as tyrannicide, homicide, infanticide, etc. Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation.”4
The Political Instability Task Force estimated that 43 genocides occurred between 1956 and 2016, resulting in about 50 million deaths, or 1.16 million deaths per genocide.5 As of writing, the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry estimates 28,000 deaths during this Israel-Hamas war, more than 10,000 of which the IDF says are Palestinian terrorists. To be sure, there is absolutely no genocide taking place in Gaza.
Pro-Palestinians also misappropriate the term “ethnic cleansing.” In reality, the last decades have included devastating campaigns of actual ethnic cleansing, such as by the Turkish government against the Kurds; that of Serbia against Muslims and Croats in Bosnia; the one by the Burmese army against the Rohingya; and the mass internment, surveillance, and torture of the Uyghurs in China.
Expropriating the suffering of others in an inaccurate and sensationalist way not only trivializes the horrors experienced by groups persecuted because of their ethnicity; it also diverts critical discussions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a dispute between two distinct peoples, not one over equal rights within a single country, or the racial dominance of one group over another.
The Palestinians have had many opportunities to establish their own state, next to Israel, but they have turned down each one because they and their Arab and Muslim partners would rather try to remove a Jewish state from the Middle East than build a country of their own.
Plus, to use erroneous slogans as advocacy for the Palestinian cause does nothing more than delegitimize their movement and erode opportunities for intellectually honest discourse on the fundamental problems that Palestinians experience, and who is responsible for creating and alleviating them.
The defamation of Israel and cultural appropriation of Jewish concepts in the name of “Palestine” is not only psychologically manipulative and offensive; it also emboldens extremists on all sides and, above all, grossly harms any hope of developing real peace that can only take place through mutual recognition and reconciliation.
“The Origins of the term ‘Palestinian’ in late Ottoman Palestine, 1898–1914.” Academic Letters 2021 pp.1-22.
“Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness.” Columbia University Press.
“Cultural appropriation and the Jews.” JNS.
“ Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation, Analysis of Government Proposals for Redress.” Lawbook Exchange, Ltd.
“Economic Aspects of Genocides, Other Mass Atrocities, and Their Prevention.” Oxford University Press.