Do Arabs Have a Claim on Palestine?Roundup: Talking About History
[ is the author of . He offers his traditionalist conservative perspective at .]
There is a myth hanging over all discussion of the Palestinian problem: the myth that this land was "Arab" land taken from its native inhabitants by invading Jews. Whatever may be the correct solution to the problems of the Middle East, let's get a few things straight:
§ As a strictly legal matter, the Jews didn't take Palestine from the Arabs; they took it from the British, who exercised sovereign authority in Palestine under a League of Nations mandate for thirty years prior to Israel's declaration of independence in 1948. And the British don't want it back.
§ If you consider the British illegitimate usurpers, fine. In that case, this territory is not Arab land but Turkish land, a province of the Ottoman Empire for hundreds of years until the British wrested it from them during the Great War in 1917. And the Turks don't want it back.
§ If you look back earlier in history than the Ottoman Turks, who took over Palestine over in 1517, you find it under the sovereignty of the yet another empire not indigenous to Palestine: the Mamluks, who were Turkish and Circassian slave-soldiers headquartered in Egypt. And the Mamluks don't even exist any more, so they can't want it back.
So, going back 800 years, there's no particularly clear chain of title that makes Israel's title to the land inferior to that of any of the previous owners. Who were, continuing backward:
§ The Mamluks, already mentioned, who in 1250 took Palestine over from:
§ The Ayyubi dynasty, the descendants of Saladin, the Kurdish Muslim leader who in 1187 took Jerusalem and most of Palestine from:
§ The European Christian Crusaders, who in 1099 conquered Palestine from:
§ The Seljuk Turks, who ruled Palestine in the name of:
§ The Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad, which in 750 took over the sovereignty of the entire Near East from:
§ The Umayyad Caliphate of Damascus, which in 661 inherited control of the Islamic lands from
§ The Arabs of Arabia, who in the first flush of Islamic expansion conquered Palestine in 638 from:
§ The Byzantines, who (nice people—perhaps it should go to them?) didn't conquer the Levant, but, upon the division of the Roman Empire in 395, inherited Palestine from:
§ The Romans, who in 63 B.C. took it over from:
§ The last Jewish kingdom, which during the Maccabean rebellion from 168 to 140 B.C. won control of the land from:
§ The Hellenistic Greeks, who under Alexander the Great in 333 B.C. conquered the Near East from:
§ The Persian empire, which under Cyrus the Great in 639 B.C. freed Jerusalem and Judah from:
§ The Babylonian empire, which under Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. took Jerusalem and Judah from:
§ The Jews, meaning the people of the Kingdom of Judah, who, in their earlier incarnation as the Israelites, seized the land in the 12th and 13th centuries B.C. from:
§ The Canaanites, who had inhabited the land for thousands of years before they were dispossessed by the Israelites.
As the foregoing suggests, any Arab claim to sovereignty based on inherited historical control will not stand up. Arabs are not native to Palestine, but are native to Arabia, which is called Arab-ia for the breathtakingly simple reason that it is the historic home of the Arabs. The terroritories comprising all other "Arab" states outside the Arabian peninsula—including Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria, as well as the entity now formally under the Palestinian Authority—were originally non-Arab nations that were conquered by the Muslim Arabs when they spread out from the Arabian peninsula in the first great wave of jihad in the 7th century, defeating, mass-murdering, enslaving, dispossessing, converting, or reducing to the lowly status of dhimmitude millions of Christians and Jews and destroying their ancient and flourishing civilizations. Prior to being Christian, of course, these lands had even more ancient histories. Pharaonic Egypt, for example, was not an Arab country through its 3,000 year history....
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