Jews Belong in Palestine (How Israelis See Things)

News Abroad

Dr. Bard is the Executive Director of the nonprofit AMERICAN-ISRAELI COOPERATIVE ENTERPRISE (AICE) and a foreign policy analyst who lectures frequently on U.S.-Middle East policy. He is also the director of the Jewish Virtual Library.

A common misperception is that the Jews were forced into the diaspora by the Romans after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70 A.D. and then, 1,800 years later, suddenly returned to Palestine demanding their country back. In reality, the Jewish people have maintained ties to their historic homeland for more than 3,700 years, including a national language and a distinct civilization.

The Jewish people base their claim to the land of Israel on at least four premises: 1) God promised the land to the patriarch Abraham; 2) the Jewish people settled and developed the land; 3) the international community granted political sovereignty in Palestine to the Jewish people and 4) the territory was captured in defensive wars.

Even after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem and the beginning of the exile, Jewish life in Palestine continued and often flourished. Large communities were reestablished in Jerusalem and Tiberias by the ninth century. In the 11th century, Jewish communities grew in Rafah, Gaza, Ashkelon, Jaffa and Caesarea.

The Crusaders massacred many Jews during the 12th century, but the community rebounded in the next two centuries as large numbers of rabbis and Jewish pilgrims immigrated to Jerusalem and the Galilee. Prominent rabbis established communities in Safed, Jerusalem and elsewhere during the next 300 years. By the early 19th century-years before the birth of the modern Zionist movement-more than 10,000 Jews lived throughout what is today Israel. The 78 years of nation-building, beginning in 1870, culminated in the reestablishment of the Jewish State.

Israel's international"birth certificate" was validated by the promise of the Bible; uninterrupted Jewish settlement from the time of Joshua onward; the Balfour Declaration of 1917; the League of Nations Mandate, which incorporated the Balfour Declaration; the United Nations partition resolution of 1947; Israel's admission to the UN in 1949; the recognition of Israel by most other states; and, most of all, the society created by Israel's people in decades of thriving, dynamic national existence.


The term"Palestine" is believed to be derived from the Philistines, an Aegean people who, in the 12th Century B.C., settled along the Mediterranean coastal plain of what is now Israel and the Gaza Strip. In the second century A.D., after crushing the last Jewish revolt, the Romans first applied the name Palaestina to Judea (the southern portion of what is now called the West Bank) in an attempt to minimize Jewish identification with the land of Israel. The Arabic word"Filastin" is derived from this Latin name.

The Twelve Tribes of Israel formed the first constitutional monarchy in Palestine about 1000 B.C. The second king, David, first made Jerusalem the nation's capital. Although Palestine eventually was split into two separate kingdoms, Jewish independence under the monarchy lasted for more than 400 years. This is much longer than Americans have enjoyed independence in what has become known as the United States.

When Jews began to immigrate to Palestine in large numbers in 1882, fewer than 250,000 Arabs lived there, and the majority of them had arrived in recent decades."The great majority of the Arab population in recent decades were comparative newcomers-either late immigrants or descendants of persons who had immigrated into Palestine in the previous 70 years."

Palestine was never an exclusively Arab country, although Arabic gradually became the language of most the population after the Muslim invasions of the seventh century. No independent Arab or Palestinian state ever existed in Palestine. When the distinguished Arab-American historian, Princeton University Prof. Philip Hitti, testified against partition before the Anglo-American Committee in 1946, he said:"There is no such thing as 'Palestine' in history, absolutely not." In fact, Palestine is never explicitly mentioned in the Koran, rather it is called"the holy land" (al-Arad al-Muqaddash).

Prior to partition, Palestinian Arabs did not view themselves as having a separate identity. When the First Congress of Muslim-Christian Associations met in Jerusalem in February 1919 to choose Palestinian representatives for the Paris Peace Conference, the following resolution was adopted:

We consider Palestine as part of Arab Syria, as it has never been separated from it at any time. We are connected with it by national, religious, linguistic, natural, economic and geographical bonds.

In 1937, a local Arab leader, Auni Bey Abdul-Hadi, told the Peel Commission, which ultimately suggested the partition of Palestine:"There is no such country [as Palestine]! 'Palestine' is a term the Zionists invented! There is no Palestine in the Bible. Our country was for centuries part of Syria."9

The representative of the Arab Higher Committee to the United Nations submitted a statement to the General Assembly in May 1947 that said"Palestine was part of the Province of Syria" and that,"politically, the Arabs of Palestine were not independent in the sense of forming a separate political entity." A few years later, Ahmed Shuqeiri, later the chairman of the PLO, told the Security Council:"It is common knowledge that Palestine is nothing but southern Syria."10

Palestinian Arab nationalism is largely a post-World War I phenomenon that did not become a significant political movement until after the 1967 Six-Day War and Israel's capture of the West Bank.

This essay is excerpted from Dr. Bard's Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Carolyn Tyler - 11/4/2003

Where can I get factual -- not myths -- information regarding Palestine and the Jews? Do I need a book on ancient history? I attend a Bible class and we are studying the Old Testament, and I need factual information about Palestine. I'm not sure what the myths are, but we definitely need FACTS.

John S. - 12/4/2002

The Jewish Friends of Palestine project offers the largest, and most diverse, collection of links to Jewish organizations and other Jewish voices around the world calling for an to the Occupation and freedom for Palestine. Although jews openly advocating an end to the Occupation do constitute a minority, it is not a small minority nor a fringe element - there are a lot of us out there.

John Robertson - 5/23/2002

Mr. Lloyd's harping on the wonderful rights and standard of living enjoyed by Israeli Arabs, and that they are the envy of the Arab World, might be tempered by the evidence that Israeli Arabs must deal with frequent discrimination - even bigotry - against them in Israel. Several responsible media reports in recent years have noted the difficulties faced by Israeli Arabs if they attempt to purchase and move into housing in Jewish neighborhoods. I might also note the work, "My Enemy, Myself", published several years ago by an Israeli Jewish journalist named Yoram Binur who went "undercover" to pose as an Arab in Israeli society. His book documents consistent discrimination and ill-treatment from his fellow citizens, and anti-Arab attitudes verging on racism. I also hesitate to believe that Palestinian Arab members of the Knesset such as Asmi Bishara would be so outspoken about the situation of Arabs in Israel if their situation were as cozy as Mr. Lloyd seems to believe.

Alec Lloyd - 5/14/2002

What is interesting is that the "plight" of Palestinian Arabs in Israel should be envy of the Arab world. They can vote, enjoy basic civil liberties and have the highest standard of living in the region.

They did not buy into Arab propaganda and are free to reap the benefits of living in a modern, secular democracy.

Furthermoe, history is rife with examples where existing peoples were pushed aside by newcomers. Shall we abandon the Americas? How about shifting Poland's boundaries?

Israel is the most modern and free state in the region, yet only it is the only one who's legitimacy is questioned. What about Iraq? Jordan? "Saudi" Arabia? If we are to topple states and redraw boundaries, these are far higher on the list than Israel.

William S. Monroe - 5/13/2002

My last response to this thread:

First, I never wrote that anyone "should get their land back."
In fact, I wrote in my first response that we cannot turn back the clock. But your assumption only confirms my last conclusion.
Second, I think it curious that, as the article to which we are responding -- remember that -- says that, originally, it was the Jews who argued for the existence of Palestine, while the Arabs denied it. That is, of course, because the British wanted to keep Palestine for themselves (and to increase Jewish immigration there), while the Arabs argued that it should be part of the newly independent Syria. It was known throughout most of the Middle Ages as "Syria Palestina" or Palestinian Syria. Once Israel was created, of course, the situation was reversed. Now the Jews claim there never was a Palestine, while the Arabs say there was.
Nevertheless, even if "Palestine" was created by the Romans, I'd say 2000 years is long enough to consider it a territory of some historical validity. Enough that the First Zionist Congress in 1897 began its declaration: "The aim of Zionism is to create for the Jewish people a home in Palestine secured by public law." Where was this home to be?

Chris Messner - 5/13/2002

"They were the people who lived there before."

Before what? The Jews lived there too, before and after the partition. The crusaders lived there before too, do they not count just because they lost and were driven out? What about the Italians, should they want a right of return for the lost Roman provinces? The moors lived in Spain, shouldn't they get their land back (like Osama wants)?

"Even the Jews who lived there before were Palestinians. "

Actually, they were Judean, or Samaritan, or Roman, or....

You see, this is an area never independantly identified after the Jewish kingdoms were destroyed. It was a part of the various Muslim empires, or crusader states, the Ottoman Empire, and then a British Protectorate. "Palestine" is an invented term, coined by the Romans to obfuscate the Jewish states that had rebelled and were conquered. Even the Arab people, before 1964, considered themselves mainly Syrian, not Palestinian.

BTW, the people "simply pushed aside" you refer to, were not as numerous as believed. The region paritioned in 1947 was not greatly populated, and the area of Israel was less densely populated than that of what should have been an Arab state (much of the original Israel in 1947 consisted of desert). What pushed the Palestinian people aside was the Arab countries around them, and their drive to destroy Israel.

Alec Lloyd - 5/13/2002

Though I assume you are trying to refute me, I still have no idea what kind of point you are making.

William S. Monroe - 5/13/2002

Your comment:
"First we must establish that such a group even has an ethnic identity. Do Palestinians have a unique language, history, set of customs or religion? No. They are simply Arabs who lived on a particular plot of ground at a particular time."

But THAT is just the point. It makes no difference whether they have a unique identity, ethnic, religious, linguistic, or whatever. This is not a conflict over identity, religion, or language. It is a conflict over land. If the United Nations had decided to create a Jewish state in Delaware, the Delawarians would have had a voice in the matter, despite the fact that they have no distinct language or religion. The are the people who already live there! The people who lived in Palestine (which is what it was then called) had no voice in the matter. They could simply be pushed aside.

Whatever one may think of the importance of creating a safe homeland for the Jewish people, especially after the horrible persecutions they have suffered, we still cannot ignore the plight of the other people who were sacrificed for that purpose. And we should not pretend they don't exist, just because they have no distinct linguistic or religious identity. They were the people who lived there before. That is what makes them Palestinians. Even the Jews who lived there before were Palestinians. The only reason to deny them a Palestinian identity is to deny a claim to a land, because that is what the identity is about. And that is what the conflict is about.

Sage Advice - 5/12/2002

By this "logic", it was surely beneficial that the illogical supporters of "land for peace" were blocked and the "endless" attacking of Israel finally stopped by the timely and fortunate demise of Yitzhak Rabin. That really made his miserable Araberrorist "pawns" change their wicked ways.

Alec Lloyd - 5/10/2002

First we must establish that such a group even has an ethnic identity. Do Palestinians have a unique language, history, set of customs or religion? No. They are simply Arabs who lived on a particular plot of ground at a particular time. They are basically Jordanians, Arabians or Egyptians on the wrong side of Whitehall's pencil marks. This does not a people make.

One may just as well speak of "ethnic Kenyans" or "ethnic Angolans," which of course do not exist. Those states have tried to forge a national identity, but clearly tribal and familial loyalties come first, given the arbitrary boundaries they have to contend with. The Levant is no different.

Indeed, had Israel retained the Sinai, would we be speaking of "the Sinaian people?" Perhaps they could make a flag and form the "Sinai Authority," speaking for the historically downtrodden people of that tragically war-torn region. Today, we might be negotiating the independence of Sinai, of course ignoring that such a thing has no historical precedent. That is what we are effectively doing in Palestine.

The PLO was founded when Jordan occupied the West Bank, Egypt held Gaza and Syria was on the Golan heights. The "Palestine" they wish to "liberate" was the ground on which Israel stood. Let us not deceive ourselves. This has been Arafat's goal all along.

The entire origin of the "Palestinian people" can be found in the desire of Arab states to have a ready manpower pool for their endless attacks on Israel.

This came back to haunt Jordan in 1970 when Arafat tried to take the country over. The Arabs' sword, it turned out, was double-edged. Having created a "national Palestinian consciousness" from scratch, the Arabs were now forced to deal with an unstable polity-but one happily in someone else's country. It was essential for the stability of their own totalitarian regimes for the Palestinians (and their own oppressed people) to be pointed squarely away from Damascus, Cairo, Amman and Riyadh and instead aimed at Jerusalem.

And that is why the problem festers. Israel cannot cede the territory it conquered in a defensive war back to the previous owners because they will simply use it for a proxy war against them. The Palestinian people-constructed out of whole cloth in 1948-are merely pawns in a larger effort to destroy Israel.

As is often the case, it is the pawns who suffer most. That is the real tragedy.

But let us not let our compassion cloud our logic or the historical facts. The "Palestinian people" were created by a stroke of the pen. They have a legitimate claim to human rights, as every people does, but their claim to a nation-state is utterly fraudulent.

William S. Monroe - 5/10/2002

They were prejudiced by those who created a partitioned state. Whether Palestinian Arabs could safely remain in a Jewish state or not (and there are many complexities to that history, neither side of which I totally believe), it would still be within a Jewish state, not a secular one. The British government of the Mandate resisted the idea of partition for a long time, but eventually gave in, mainly due to the intractability of both sides. Current resistance to a "right of return" for the Palestinian Arabs who left is based upon a fear of massive demographic change that would threaten the quality of the "Jewish" state. The same fear (in reverse) that caused these people to flee in the first place. One can revile the "thugocracies" of the Arab states, but there have been thugs on both sides (and still are). The important thing for all to remember is that more than fifty years of violence has not created a solution. And a major obstacle has been the pretense on the part of both sides that the other has no rightful claim. Part of this is the perennial claim (reiterated by another respondent to this article) that there never was any such place as Palestine, and therefore there are no Palestinians. What stronger way to "prejudice" a peoples rights than to claim they don't exist!

Chris Messner - 5/10/2002

I too would wish a nation for the Palestinians, equal to and side by side with Israel. But I disagree that it is an end all.

The Israelis can not be expected to support the formation of a country whose intent is the destruction of Israel. Until the Palestinians take responsibility for their leadership, and make it clear that economic and state concerns have taken the place of religious fanaticism and militaristic concerns, a state of Palestine can not exist. This is not just and Israeli concern; if terrorism is rewarded then no place in the world is safe. France just saw that, for all its bluster against Israel, its citizens are not safe, even in a 'secular' Pakistan. We have already seen the effect an appearance of weakness had, in the destruction of September 11. The Israelis can not be expected to walk hand in hand with their own murderers. No matter how much we all wish peace until the Palestinians wake up to their leadership a state is not possible.


Chris Messner - 5/10/2002

"However, these rights were eventually prejudiced."

But by who sir? Not by the Israelis, who were willing and did allow the Arabs within the borders of Israel to remain, and be citizens. Israeli Arab citizens enjoy the most freedoms of Arabs in the middle east (even being elected to the Knesset).

If Arab rights were trampled, it was mainly by Arab thugocracies. The Palestinians could have had a state in 1948, but Egypt, Jordan and Syria didn't see it that way. They could have had a state 2 years ago, but that would have required Arafat to actually spend his money (from the EU and US) on infrastructure rather than guns, bombs, and his own retirement funds. The last thing Arafat wants is resposibility for an independant state, after all he might be held accountable for it.


Comment - 5/9/2002

your question: Do Jews belong in Palestine? is as anti-semetic as it comes.
First of all, there is no such place as Palestine. and jews have been there,
3000 years before there was a religion called islam. before you interpret
history, learn first about what you are talking about.

William S. Monroe - 5/9/2002

I wonder where Mr. Bard's book puts the part about God giving the land of Israel to the Jews -- under myth or under fact?
At any rate, while it is certainly true that some Jews always remained in Palestine after the diaspora, it is also true that many more did not. Otherwise, why the need for the great immigration that took place after the creation of the modern Zionist idea? This land has long been a mixture of many peoples and religions. Mr. Bard's use of the Balfour Declaration to justify his argument neglects an important part:
"His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment _in Palestine_ of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, _it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine,_ ..."
However, these rights were eventually prejudiced. We cannot turn back the clock, but we can come together and try to work out a solution. First, we need to recognize what really happened, and separate it from the myths.

Billc - 5/9/2002

Concise and correct. There is absolutely little need to historically place the groups involved in the current conflict. It is, however, critical to present day concepts of nationhood to allow both sides their own independent countries. I say, "Get it done".

drm - 5/8/2002

The first two rationale cannot be used. There is, and can be no god in international law; and the Jews were not the only ones who cultivated the ground. The author neglects to meantion the Caananites, who preceeded the Jews in so doing. The third is valid, the fourth only to the extent that wars indeed were involved. Whether offensive or defensive need not be argued to any useful purpose.

What is important now, and the only basis for a settlement is that there needs to be a nation for both the Jews and for the Palestinians.