Image by David Baldinger

Palestinian identity before and after Israel’s creation
By Sherri Muzher

“People are tired of hearing about it,” a friend once told me matter-of-factly about the Middle East conflict.

Tell me about it.

As a first-generation American of Palestinian descent, I can vouch that nobody is more tired of this conflict than the Palestinians. But many of us don’t have the luxury of flipping the channel or ignoring what is happening to our relatives and friends.

Palestinians with serious illnesses in Gaza are denied access to medical care (more than 150 died and children are being stoned on their way to school by Jewish settlers).

We do what we can but it never feels sufficient. And though we’re 100 per cent Semitic, the usual tiring label of “anti-Semite” is thrown at us for speaking out against the injustices.

This month marks the 60th anniversary of Israel’s creation and the dispossession of the Palestinians.

I’ll save the history lessons because the realities have even been acknowledged by Israeli historians, most recently by Professor Ilan Pappe, in 2006, in his book, “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”.

Instead, I’d like to focus on the Palestinian people.

Denying their humanity has taken on many forms in the Israeli PR arsenal – from employing pop culture to painting Palestinians as terrorists at conception to the media’s glorification of Israel’s birth.

In recent years, pro-Israeli commentaries claim our parents apparently don’t love us. Apparently, my parents’ years of love and sacrifice illustrate that they never read the Palestinian manual for parents.

Sarcasm aside, it all makes strategic sense: dehumanise Palestinians or deny their heritage long enough so that any action against them doesn’t seem so outrageous, even expulsions at gunpoint.

Consider that Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir said in 1969 in an often-repeated statement: “There is no such thing as a Palestinian.”

Too bad she didn’t read history because there has been a collective consciousness of their unique identity for millennia. The ancient Canaanites weren’t called Palestinians, but neither were the Mesopotamians called Iraqis or the Celts called Irish or British. Still, the roots are unquestionable and run eternally deep, from archeological finds to folktales.

Another example of whiting out the Palestinian heritage is using the term “Israeli Arab”. I’ve never heard of a generic Arab race – every Arab has a specific heritage, be it Palestinian, Lebanese, Algerian, etc. Think of Latin America, where they all speak the same language (Spanish, minus Portuguese-speaking Brazil) and most share the same religion (Catholic). In the Arab world, they all speak Arabic and most are Muslim. Nonetheless, each country has its own dialect, food and customs. Mexicans and Argentines differ, as do Palestinians and Egyptians.

And within each Arab nation, there is even more diversity – from distinguishable dialects and expressions to being able to identify the region a Palestinian woman comes from by the intricate embroidery on her traditional dress. Palestinians have always had a rich and vibrant culture that is all their own, before and after Israel’s creation.

There is no question that Palestinians have taken a bruising with poorly made leadership decisions and factional fighting in recent years. But what has remained steadfast is their fierce embrace of identity and their resilience. This is true not only of Palestinians in Palestine but also of Palestinians in the diaspora.

Whether it was the election of Tony Saca to the presidency of El Salvador or respected fiscal conservative, Sen. John Sununu being singled out for praise by Time magazine, or Dr Motia Khaled Al Asir being awarded the British Empire Medal by Queen Elizabeth II, those of Palestinian descent continue to make their mark around the world.

The Jewish Torah teaches us that man was created in God’s image. The Palestinians have never been absent from this equation.

The writer is director of the Michigan Media Watch. She contributed this article to The Jordan Times.



  1. Jon said,

    May 13, 2008 at 02:05

    As I understand it, the ancient Canaanites weren’t called Palestinians because that term would have applied to another group, the Philistines. The Philistine kingdom, from my limited understanding, was small, approximately where the Gaza Strip is, was technologically advanced for its time, sometimes exceeding the Israelites in that regard, and were bitter rivals of the Israelites. When the Romans declared the region to be “Syria-Palestina”, they were essentially drawing the northern historic area which had once been considered Syria together with the southern historic region of Philistia to blot out the areas of Judea, Samaria and Israel. Thus, when Israelis claim there has never been a nation called “Palestine”, they’re wrong if you count the kingdom of Philistia, though that doesn’t mean all Palestinians are its descendants of course, and it is as old (approximately) as Israel, I think. The Arabic pronunciation for “Palestine” bears this out, being “Falasteen”, notably similar to the term “Philistine”. Of course, this is all the result of my lazy browsing of history articles on the internet, so feel free to fact-check it before believing a word of it. I believe it’s largely accurate though, and it seems to make sense, so I thought I’d mention it.

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