Sunday, January 20, 2013

Did you mean Palestine?

While the prospects for peace in the Middle East are bleak, it is not forbidden to hope nor especially trying to "take the place of the others" - the protagonists of the conflict - and strive to understand their point of view. Today, this approach is widely adopted in most western countries, but the only "other" who is entitled to this compassionate understanding is the "Palestinian people", presented as the victim of the Israeli intransigence and oppression, or even the indiscriminate and murderous brutality of the "Zionists."
The "Palestinian" national identity is of recent origin. It was only after the Six-Day War of 1967 that the Arabs of Palestine began to claim a national specificity, whose emergence was cleverly brought about by the Arab countries. It was for them a good excuse, a fixation abscess, to divert the frustrations of their enslaved peoples on "the Zionist enemy". But let us admit - why not? - that there are grounds for a Palestinian national aspiration and it deserves to be supported by all, including Israeli citizens. Still this aspiration has to become a reality on a sound and healthy basis. However, a lasting myth exists on the matter - accommodatingly echoed by many of our media - asserting that Jews have no historical ties with Palestine, sot that, ultimately, they have no right to be there… After all, Arafat did not hesitate to claim that no Jewish Temple ever existed in Jerusalem. And today, it is fashionable to say that Jesus was a Palestinian...
No lasting peace can be built without a serious consideration of History and, if necessary, an acknowledgement of the harm inflicted by each other. On this plan, several Israeli historians have gone very far – sometimes too far. The so-called "new historians" have denounced, sometimes in a totally inequitable way, the excesses committed by the Jews during the historical process that led to the founding of the State of Israel. We always wait for a similar effort on the Arab side.
Yet, there are irrefutable historical documents. This is the case of an amazing book published in the early 18th century by a Dutch philologist and geographer: Palaestina ex monumentis veteribus illustrata, a work written in 1695, the result of a thorough exploration of Palestine by Hadrian Reland. This scholar - he masters the Latin, Greek and Hebrew - is the son of a Protestant minister. His purpose is to identify and record all the places of the Middle East whose name appears in the Bible and the Mishnah (a collection of ancient rabbinic comments upon which the Talmud is based). [It is not sure that Reland went himself on the spot; he presumably used information collected by travellers or published in various books. Anyway, it seems that his work is quite reliable].
With remarkable scientific reliability, Reland mentions the Hebrew name of more than 2000 locations (towns, villages, localities), referring to the verses of the Bible or the Mishnah where the name appears. He completes the information with the old Latin or Greek name, where they exist. But Reland does not stick to this toponymical survey, he also works as a geographer, is interested in the populations of the region and tries to make their census. The data so collected are impressive and go widely against the current assertions of Palestinian nationalists.
I repeat, in this respect, some of the data presented in an article published in 2009 by Raphael Aouate about Reland’s book.
* First observation of Reland: at the end of the 17th century, the region is sparsely populated, even almost deserted. The majority of the population is concentrated in the cities of Jerusalem, Acre (Akko), Tsfat (Safed), Yafo, Tveria (Tiberias) and Aza (Gaza).
* Second general observation: the population of the region consists mainly of Jews, some Christians and few Muslims, mostly Bedouins.
* The vast majority of towns and villages bear a Hebrew name, some a Greek or Latin name. Practically none of the cities that today have an Arabic name - Haifa, Yafo, Nablus (Shehem), Gaza or Jenin - possessed it at the time. No trace of the name Al Quds for Jerusalem, or Al Halil for Hebron... Ramallah is called Beteïle (Bethel), etc.
* Most cities were inhabited by Jews, except Nablus (Shehem) which had 120 people from a Muslim family, the Natashe, and 70 Samaritans. Nazareth is fully Christian. Jerusalem has more than 5000 inhabitants, almost all Jews, some Christians. Gaza has barely more than 550 people, half Jews, Christians for the rest. Tiberias and Safed are entirely Jewish.
To these data of the late 17th century, I think it useful to add another, which goes in the same direction and that is just as compelling. In the Grand Dictionnaire Larousse du XIXe siècle published in 1875, we read, about "Jerusalem": "City of Asiatic Turkey, capital of Judea, chief town of a sanjak of the pashalik of Saïda. The population can hardly be estimated at more than 18,000 or 20,000 inhabitants: 8,000 Jews, 5,000 Muslims, 3,000 Greeks, 1500 Latins, 1000 Armenians, 100-200 Syrians and Copts." And we know that, in 1899, Jerusalem has 70 000 inhabitants, including 45,000 Jews.
In fact, as several historians noted it, it is especially in the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century, by the immigration from nearby Arab territories, that the Arabic population of Palestine considerably increased. And these historians consider that the immigration in question was widely aroused by the economic development that followed the settlement of Jewish immigrants in Palestine.
To say all this, it is not to deny the suffering of the Palestinian populations, but it is to remind that if this region – which the Roman Empire called Palestine – can, justly, offer them a territory, it is, to say the least, also the case for the Jewish people. Résolution181 of the United Nations of November, 1947 said nothing else. When will the Arab world accept to share this land? (Knowing that they already obtained - it is Jordan - 80 % of the territory of the Mandatory Palestine)

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