did Zionists create a false binary between Palestinians & Jews?

THE CLAIM

Every Christmas season, social media is flooded with historically revisionist posts falsely claiming that Jesus was Palestinian. When Jews object to the mischaracterization, we are told that yes, of course, Jesus was a Jew — a Palestinian Jew. When we explain that, once again, this is inaccurate, we are told that it was Zionism that created a “false binary” between Palestinians and Jews.

Except that this is, once again, untrue. For over a thousand years, the Arab world made it clear that Jews would not be considered Arab. Jews were dhimmis, or second-class citizens, excluded from virtually all civic privileges. We had zero political and legal autonomy, and between the 1940s and 1970s, 850,000 Jews were expelled from the predominantly Arab world precisely because we were not considered Arab.

Jews were excluded from both Arab nationalism and Palestinian national consciousness from the very beginning. We were massacred with impunity because we were not considered Arab and/or Palestinian.

So who created the binary? It sure wasn’t the Zionists.

 

WHAT IS ZIONISM?

Zionism — as defined by the overwhelming majority of the world’s Jews — is the Jewish movement for self-determination in the ancestral Jewish land, the Land of Israel (Israel-Palestine today). It can also be described as Jewish nationalism.

It’s worth noting that self-determination is a basic tenet of international law. The name “Zionism” comes from a historical event known as the Return to Zion, which took place in 538 BCE.

In 1897, in response to virulent, deadly antisemitism, Jewish representatives traveling from across the world congregated for what is known as the First Zionist Congress. At the end of the Congress, the representatives agreed:

“Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Eretz ­Israel [the Land of Israel] secured under public law.”

Beyond the concept of Jewish self-determination in Israel, you’d be hard pressed to find anything else at all that Zionists agree with. Zionism is a wide movement, ranging from religious Zionism to labor Zionism to green Zionism and many, many others.

 

PALESTINIAN & ARAB NATIONALISM ALWAYS EXCLUDED US

The vast majority of historians date the beginnings of a Palestinian national consciousness to the interwar period between the two world wars. However, a minority of historians believe that a cohesive Palestinian national identity began to form during the 1834 Peasant’s Revolt.

Jews were brutally slaughtered by their Arab neighbors during the 1834 Peasant’s Revolt. These Jews were not new immigrants to Palestine, but rather, they were Jews that had lived in Palestine continuously for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, long before the conquests of the Arab Empire and the arrival of Arabs to Palestine.

In other words, from the first moments that a Palestinian identity began to form, Palestinians excluded Jews.

The evidence is even more damning if we look at the beginnings of Arab and Palestinian nationalism in the interwar period between World War I and World War II.

The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Amin al-Husseini, known as the father of Palestinian nationalism, was quite literally a member of the Nazi SS. The 1936 Arab Revolt in Palestine was a revolt both against the British, but more explicitly, against the Jews, and some 500 Jews were slaughtered. During the 1947-1949 Arab-Israeli War, the leaders of all the Palestinian militias were Nazi-trained. The Arab Higher Committee, the Palestinian Arab leadership during the period of the British Mandate, published leaflets vowing to finish the job that Hitler had started.

 

EARLY ZIONIST PERSPECTIVES

Theodor Herzl, known as the father of modern political Zionism, naively thought that the Arabs of Palestine would welcome the Zionist movement on economic grounds. When the mayor of Jerusalem, Yusuf al-Khalidi, expressed concern that the Zionists would only be able to take Palestine by force, Herzl responded:

“There need be no difficulty with the local population. Nobody is trying to remove non-Jews. The local population can only benefit from the prosperity that the Jews will bring.”

The early political Zionists thought of Palestinian Arabs as Jews who’d converted to Christianity or Islam over the centuries. In 1915, the first Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi wrote a historical survey titled “Eretz Israel [the Land of Israel] in the Past and Present.” In it, they wrote:

“The Arabs of Palestine are none but those ancient Jews who were forced to convert to the religion of Arab Bedouin, who had conquered the land in the seventh century.”

As such, they naively believed that the Arabs of Palestine would gladly return to Judaism and endorse Zionism. However, this theory was abandoned as Arabs engaged in more and more attacks against Jews.

[as an aside, there are no recorded Jewish mass conversions to Islam in Palestine. Palestinians are an Arab ethnonational group descending from a number of peoples who have resided in Palestine over the millennia, with mixed genetic ancestry reflecting both natives (Jews, Samaritans) and colonizers (including Arabs) in the region. Culturally and linguistically, Palestinians are Arab.]

 

JEWISH SELF-IDENTIFICATION

For Jews, the name “Palestine” has always been a colonial name, a name imposed on us by Roman colonizers in 135 CE as punishment for our unsuccessful Bar Kokhba Revolt. Though Europeans called Jews in Europe “Palestinians” as early as the 1700s, no one in Palestine — Arab, Jewish, or otherwise — identified as “Palestinian” until Khalil Beidas in 1898. Jews were Jews, and Arabs identified alternatively as “Arab,” “Southern Syrian,” or simply as subjects of the Ottoman Empire.

During the period of the British Mandate (1920-1948), any Jew residing in Palestine was known as “Palestinian,” regardless of whether they’d arrived in Palestine the day prior or their family had lived in Palestine continuously for thousands of years.

Jews in Palestine, of course, also identified as the People of Israel, as we have for thousands of years. Notably, both the Jews of Palestine and the Jews of the diaspora considered the Jews of Palestine the “torch bearers” of the Nation of Israel. In other words, while most Jews had been forcibly displaced, those that hadn’t carried the torch on for the rest of the Jewish community. They also referred to the land as “Eretz Israel” in Hebrew, or the Land of Israel.

The Sephardic leaders of the ancient Jewish community also objected to the term “Palestinian Jew.” For instance, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Palestine from 1921-1939 Yaakov Meir, born in Jerusalem in 1856, refused to identify as a “Palestinian Jew.” So did the next Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Palestine, Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel, born in Jerusalem in 1880.

 

ANTISEMITIC VIOLENCE

It’s not only that Jews were excluded from Arab and Palestinian nationalist narratives in theory; it’s that Jews bore the brunt of Palestinian Arab violence, particularly in moments of heightened Arab and Palestinian nationalistic fervor.

Trigger warning:

There is no more blatant example of this than that of the 1929 Hebron Massacre. In August of 1929, the Zionist paramilitary known as the Haganah offered protection to the ancient Jewish community of Hebron, a mixed Ashkenazi-Sephardi community. The community, largely religious and apolitical, refused, as they believed that the Arabs would only target Zionists. Unfortunately, the opposite happened. Instead, 67-69 Jews were brutally massacred. The descriptions of the violence are hard to read: a boy’s head was torn off, a 7-year-old was tied to a door and tortured for hours on end, women were raped, many were mutilated, and 7 men were castrated.

These nationalistic, antisemitic massacres, however, date back centuries earlier. In the midst of the 1834 Peasant’s Revolt, the very same revolt that some historians mark as the beginnings of Palestinian national identity, a 33-day-long massacre of Jews took place at the hands of the local Arabs in the city of Safed. Witnesses described the horrifying violence, including the rape and slaughter of Jewish men, torture, the beatings of rabbis, the destruction and desecration of synagogues, and the looting of Jewish assets. Women and children were robbed of their clothes and fled naked to nearby fields until the violence passed. Some 500 were killed and hundreds were seriously injured.

Other examples of Palestinian nationalistic massacres and violence targeting Jews include the 1838 Safed riot, the 1920 Nebi Musa riot (4 Jews killed, 216 severely wounded), the 1929 Safed and Jerusalem riots (around 66 Jews killed), the 1936 Jaffa riots (12 Jews killed), the 1936 Arab Revolt (around 500 Jews killed), and the 1938 Tiberias pogrom (19 killed with Nazi arms and possibly with planning provided by the Nazis).

 

THE HEBRON MASSACRE

 

Most Jewish historians believe that what truly created the divide between “Palestinians” and “Jews” was the 1929 Hebron Massacre, when, as explained in the previous slide, Arabs indiscriminately murdered 67 members of the largely apolitical, ancient Hebron Jewish community. The Jews of Hebron had previously declined Zionist paramilitary protection because they had incorrectly believed that as apolitical “Palestinian” Jews, Arab nationalists wouldn’t target them. The Hebron Massacre was the final nail on the coffin for Arab-Jewish relations, and after this, many members of the ancient Palestinian Jewish community joined the Zionist paramilitaries Haganah or Irgun.

Some of the horrific images from the massacre in Hebron. Above, a Jewish student’s hand was chopped off.

 

TODAY

The Palestinian National Charter of the Palestinian Authority, the internationally-recognized Palestinian government, makes it clear that Palestine is a nation for Arabs and Arabs only. Article One states: “Palestine is the homeland of the Arab Palestinian people.” Article Five states: “The Palestinians are those Arab nationals who, until 1947, normally resided in Palestine…”

While Article Six states that “The Jews who had normally resided in Palestine until the beginning of the Zionist invasion will be considered Palestinians,” the internationally-recognized Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly stated that “not a single Israeli” will be allowed in a future Palestinian state. This is a euphemism for “Jews” because all “Palestinian Jews” are now Israeli citizens.

The original charter of Hamas, the group that runs the Gaza Strip, blames Jews for breaking up the Islamic Caliphate. It also quotes from a Hadith: “The Day of Judgment will not come until Muslims fight the Jews, when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say, 'O Muslim, O servant of God, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.' Only the Gharkad tree would not do that, because it is one of the trees of the Jews.”

The charter was not changed until 2017; even so, the new charter is full of antisemitic tropes. Not a single Jew lives in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian media and school textbooks frequently espouse antisemitism. The children’s show “Pioneers of Tomorrow,” for example, which ran from 2007 to 2009, made various statements explicitly blaming and targeting Jews, such as "We will annihilate the Jews,” and “[I] will finish off the Jews and eat them.”

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