The Palestinians: A Forever-Changing Fable
Even as the Palestinians' story has excessively evolved, they have mastered the art of the "throughline" — an essential element of fiction storytelling.
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One of the most important aspects of writing a good fiction story is a “throughline” — the central question or problem that your story is trying to answer, and the overarching structure that holds it together, giving the whole tale a sense of purpose.
A throughline determines which events belong in the story (at the beginning, middle, or end) and which don’t.
The term is said to be coined by Russian theater-maker Konstantin Stanislavski, whose acting method stipulates that when actors understand their character throughline — what journey they are on, and what obstacles they face — the performance makes for a more satisfying audience experience.
Indeed, today’s Palestinian story makes for a satisfying audience experience, at least to many people around the world. Its throughline has four easy-to-understand and easy-to-sympathize-with bullet points:
Zionism is a form of settler colonialism, and thus Israel is a settler-colonial state.
This colonialism is an heir to the long history of Western forcible seizure of land from non-Western peoples.
Palestinian nationalism developed in response to a rival nationalism. Zionism, too, is “constructed.”
Antisemitism, both across the Arab world and in other places, is just a byproduct of Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence, and didn’t really exist before then.
Of course, none of these bullet points are remotely rooted in fact or truth. But, again, we’re talking about good old-fashioned fiction storytelling here.
Ultimately, the Palestinian story ends with a sober reality: Palestinian and Jewish nationalism are mutually incompatible, which means the two-state solution is not an option.
Regardless, the idea of a two-state solution is a relatively new addition to the Palestinian story. It’s a story that is immeasurably unique, not just because it is built on tremendous propaganda and thus infested with lies, but because the Palestinian story never ceases to change.
Just when you think you have a grasp on it, Palestinian leaders add another chapter, another subplot, another rendition to blame the Jewish state for everything that is Palestinian oppression, suffering, misery, death, and destruction.
The timing and causes behind the emergence of a distinctively Palestinian consciousness among the Arabs of Ottoman-era and British-era Palestine are matters of scholarly disagreement. Some argue that it can be traced as far back as the peasants’ revolt in Palestine in 1834, which was precipitated by heavy Egyptian demands for conscripts.
During this revolt, which took place before any real semblance of modern-day Zionism, the Palestinians deployed their frustrations against Jews. In Safed, they took advantage of a defenseless Jewish population, looting and destroying their homes, as well as raping and killing. In Jerusalem, hundreds of Jewish-owned shops were raided and damaged. Jews were also murdered in Nablus and Hebron.
But it is unclear if these peasants referred to themselves as Palestinians. According to some records, the term “Palestinian” was first introduced by Khalil Beidas in a translation of a Russian work on the Holy Land into Arabic in 1898. After that, its usage gradually spread so that, by 1908, with the loosening of censorship controls under late Ottoman rule, a number of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish correspondents writing for newspapers began to use the term with great frequency in referring to the “Palestinian people,” “Palestinians,” the “sons of Palestine,” or to “Palestinian society.”
In 1919, the idea of a unique Palestinian state distinct from its Arab neighbors was initially rejected by Palestinian representatives. At the First Congress of Muslim-Christian Associations that year, delegates considered Palestine as part of Arab Syria, “connected with it by national, religious, linguistic, natural, economic and geographical bonds.”
In 1947, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Partition Plan, which divided the mandate of Palestine into two states: one majority Arab and one majority Jewish. The Palestinian Arabs rejected the plan and attacked Jewish civilian areas and paramilitary targets. Following Israel’s declaration of independence in May 1948, five Arab armies (Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Transjordan) came to the Palestinian Arabs’ aid by attacking the newly founded State of Israel.
Two Arab leaders promised a murderous ending to the fledgling Jewish state, and the secretary general of the Arab League vowed that “this war will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongol massacres and the Crusades.”
As with most wars, hundreds of thousands of refugees emanated, but a variety of historical records show that many Palestinians were encouraged to leave their homes by Arab media and Arab leaders, who pompously promised a Jewish defeat and the subsequent Palestinian return to their homes. That defeat never came, and the Palestinians added the “Nakba” (Arabic for “catastrophe”) to their narrative, a term in and of itself that has also undergone quite the evolution.
Originally it was used to refer to the mistake that many Palestinians made when they listened to the advice of others and left their homes, instead of staying put and being the “fifth column” against Israel in its War of Independence. After all, this could have been the difference between Jewish victory and defeat.
The meaning of the “Nakba” was then changed after Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization from 1969 to 2004, rose to power. Politically, it made sense for him modify the definition. His version, which is still promoted by Palestinian leaders and their supporters to this day, assigns exclusive blame for the 1948 catastrophe to the Jews, while proposing an absurd solution (“the right of return”) that would mean suicide for the Jewish state.
Meanwhile, between 1948 and 1967, the Jordanians and other Arab countries hosting Palestinian refugees essentially silenced any expression of Palestinian identity, as Egypt occupied Gaza and Jordan East Jerusalem and the West Bank until the Six-Day War in 1967.
In the 1950s, a new generation of Palestinian nationalist groups and movements began to clandestinely organize, stepping out onto the public stage in the 1960s. The traditional Palestinian elite who had dominated negotiations with the British and the Jews in the British Mandate, and who were largely held responsible for the loss of “Palestine,” were replaced by these new movements whose recruits generally came from lower-class and middle-class backgrounds, and were often students or recent graduates of universities in Cairo, Beirut, and Damascus.
Palestinians increasingly rallied around the Palestine Liberation Organization, which had been formed in Cairo in 1964. The group grew in popularity during the following years, especially under the nationalistic orientation of Arafat’s leadership.
The term “Palestinian People” as a descriptive of Arabs in Palestine appeared for the first time in the preamble of the 1964 PLO Charter, drafted in Moscow. Yes, you read that correctly: in Moscow. Why there, of all places?
During the 1960s and 1970s, the Soviets were in the business of creating “liberation” for a variety of countries: Bolivia in 1964, Columbia the following year, in the 1970s “The Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia” that bombed U.S. airline offices in Europe, and “The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine” that waged terrorism against Israel.
The Palestine Liberation Organization was by far its most enduring success. Major General Ion Mihai Pacepa, the highest-ranking defector from the Soviet bloc during the Cold War, wrote that for nearly four decades, the PLO was the largest, wealthiest, and most politically connected terrorist organization in the world.
For most of that time, it was held in the firm grip of Arafat’s iron fist, yet Arafat was not the fierce, independent actor he posed as. Instead, Arafat was very much dependent on the Soviet KGB and its surrogate Warsaw Pact intelligence services for arms, training, logistical support, funds, and direction. Similar to how Hamas is very much dependent on Iran and Qatar.
In the PLO Charter preamble, they actually had to use the phrase “Palestinian Arab People” to exclude those Jews who had retained a presence in the Levant since biblical times and had been a majority population in Jerusalem as early as 1845.
At the Soviets’ urging, Romanian communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu persuaded Arafat to abandon his open desire to annihilate the Jews in Israel, in favor of “liberating the Palestinian People” in Israel. It was a brilliant communications strategy, and the first step in reframing the conflict between the Arabs and the Jews, from religious jihad to secular nationalism, in a quest for political self-determination, a posture far less offensive to the West, especially in the wake of overwhelming guilt following the Holocaust.
By focusing on political liberation for a small group of Arabs, it ignored the fact that Israel is a small state whose existence is threatened by the surrounding Arab states, and rebranded the Jews from victims to oppressors. Most of all, it worked. In his book, “History Upside Down,” David Meir Levi put it this way:
“Arafat was particularly struck by Ho Chi Minh’s success in mobilizing left-wing sympathizers in Europe and the United States, where activists on American campuses, enthusiastically following the propaganda line of North Vietnamese operatives, had succeeded in reframing the Vietnam war from a Communist assault on the south to a struggle for national liberation.”
“Ho’s chief strategist, General Giap, made it clear to Arafat and his lieutenants that in order to succeed, they too needed to redefine the terms of their struggle. Giap’s counsel was simple but profound: the PLO needed to work in a way that concealed its real goals, permitted strategic deception, and gave the appearance of moderation: ‘Stop talking about annihilating Israel and instead turn your terror war into a struggle for human rights. Then you will have the American people eating out of your hand.’”
At the same time, Arafat was being mentored by Muhammad Yazid, the minister of information in two Algerian wartime governments, who told him to present the Palestinian struggle as a struggle for liberation and wipe out the impression that in the struggle between the Palestinians and the Zionists, the Zionist is the underdog. Now it is the Arab who is oppressed and victimized in his existence because he is not only facing the Zionists, but also world imperialism.
To dramatize this new narrative and depict the Jews as gross violators of human rights, the Palestinians exorbitantly inflated the number of refugees created by Israeli “imperialism.” Beginning in 1982, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) expanded the definition of a Palestinian refugee to include every generation of descendants. In other words, even the great-grandchild of a refugee is also considered a refugee.
As a result, in its 74-year existence, the number of UNRWA beneficiaries has grown from 700,000 refugees, to almost six million by 2022. This includes 1.6 million people in Gaza, a fourth generation of refugees, which is largely perpetuated by the fabricated UNRWA criteria.
With more “refugees” to serve, UNRWA is easily able to extract an exponentially expansive budget from the UN and, through its schools and other services, profusely propagate explicit anti-Israel and anti-Jewish narratives that further erode any opportunity for true, lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Also in the 1980s, the idea of statehood was injected into the Palestinian story, with the declaration of a State of Palestine taking place in Algiers in 1988. This declaration and other developments led to the Oslo Accords, a pair of agreements signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993 and 1995 — resulting in both the PLO’s recognition of Israel, a Jewish state, and Israel’s recognition of the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and as a partner in bilateral negotiations.
On the surface, this sequence of events seemed positive and promising, but Arafat later admitted that he did not consider the Oslo Accords as anything more than the agreement which had been signed between the Muslim prophet Muhammad and the Quraish, a group of Arab clans that historically inhabited and controlled the city of Mecca.
“And you remember the Caliph Omar had refused this agreement and considered it ‘Sulha Dania’ (a despicable truce),” said Arafat. “But Muhammad had accepted it and we are accepting now this peace accord.”1
In other words, Arafat compared the Oslo Accords with a 10-year truce between Muhammad and the Quraish, which Muhammad broke two years later when he attacked them and conquered Mecca.
“I am entering Palestine through the door of Oslo, despite all my reservations, in order to return the Palestine Liberation Organization and the resistance to it, and I promise you that you will see the Jews fleeing from Palestine like mice fleeing from a sinking ship. This will not happen in my lifetime, but it will happen in your lifetime,” Arafat told a young journalist.
Fittingly, in 1998, Arafat invented “Nakba Day” just as Israel was celebrating its 50th anniversary. From his West Bank headquarters, Arafat read out marching orders for the day over Palestinian Authority radio stations and public loudspeakers:
“The ‘Nakba’ has thrown us out of our homes and dispersed us around the globe. Historians may search, but they will not find any nation subjugated to as much torture as ours. We are not asking for a lot. We are not asking for the moon. We are asking to close the chapter of ‘Nakba’ once and for all, for the refugees to return and to build an independent Palestinian state on our land, our land, our land, just like other peoples.”
At a time when the Oslo Accords remained in force and still offered an opportunity to achieve a true, lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Arafat decided to weaponize the Palestinian narrative into a declaration of permanent war against Israel. The key element of his “Nakba Day” speech was his claim that there were five million Palestinian refugees who had a sacred “right of return” to their homes in Jaffa, Haifa, and dozens of other places in Israel.
Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, as well as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, are just as adamant that the conflict must go on until all Palestinian refugees are granted the “right to return” to their former homes in Israel. Abbas even offered an updated version of the “Nakba” in 2022 when he publicly declared, in Germany, that the Palestinians had suffered the equivalent of “50 Holocausts” at the hands of the Jews. Nothing says gaslighting like using one of the Jewish People’s most horrific episodes against them, but I digress.
The “Nakba” has even entered the institutions of liberal Western democracies through political resolutions, academic lore, and pop culture causes. Countless politicians, diplomats, educators, activists, and influencers, as well as quite a few progressive Israelis, seem bizarrely ignorant of the deadly implications of the “Nakba” narrative to avoid the shame of being accused as insensitive to another people’s suffering.
Aluf Benn, the editor in chief of heavily left-leaning Haaretz, the longest running newspaper currently in print in Israel, also proposed (under the newspaper’s banner) that the “Nakba” be taught in Israeli schools to balance the flawed “patriotic history” in the current curriculum.
“It’s time to stop being afraid and to tell the truth,” wrote Benn. “Israel arose on the ruins of the Palestinian community that lived here before 1948. We must talk about the ‘Nakba,’ not only in Palestinian memorial processions to the villages of their fathers and mothers … but in high school classes and in university lecture halls.”
What’s more, Israel’s supporters are often asked to prove their morality by acknowledging the “Nakba.” Again, gaslighting at its finest.
If “Nakba” merely means catastrophe, the term is perfectly suitable. There’s no question that many Palestinians suffered a serious tragedy in 1948. No one (or at least no one I know) is pretending that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians weren’t made refugees during Israel’s War of Independence (which, oh by the way, the Arabs started).
The question is what to do with all these refugees, and the answer should have been found in exactly how virtually every other refugee catastrophe after World War II (including a total of 13 million refugees in Europe alone) was solved: They should have been resettled in new housing and compensated for their losses long ago. The Jews, who endured far greater and more expansive evil at the hands of the Nazis, and far less support from others leading up to and during the Holocaust, followed this blueprint to its tee.
Instead, Palestinian leaders manipulate the “Nakba” to guarantee that their constituents will remain trapped as “refugees” for decades to come. For Palestinian leaders, though, there are many benefits to perpetuating the “Nakba” and its undertones, such as “the right of return,” which is a truly impossible dream so long as there are Jews living in their indigenous homeland. “Nakba” provides them with a cover for rampant kleptocracy and an easy-to-sell narrative: never-ending victimhood.
In other words, this is the Palestinian story’s throughline. And despite their forever-changing fables, or what today’s cool kids call “alternative facts” — although I prefer “the war on reality” — it holds the Palestinian story together, giving the whole tale a sense of purpose.
“The Oslo deception: New evidence.” JNS.