The Origins of the Palestinians, as Told in Their Own Family Traditions

Giving a speech in Berlin in March, the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas claimed that the Palestinians are descendants of the Canaanites, who lived in the land of Israel in ancient times. This assertion—always offered without any sort of evidence—has long been a favorite of the senior Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat, who claims himself to be descended from the people of Jericho—victims, he elaborates, of the “war crimes” committed by the biblical Joshua. Examining the evidence concerning Palestinian origins, Pinḥas Inbari pays particular attention to the traditions preserved by Palestinian clans and tribes:

When one looks into what the Palestinians say about themselves, . . . there is no [mention] of “Canaanite” ancestry. Most of the families find their origins in Arab tribes, some of them with Kurdish or Egyptian background, and there are even—by word of mouth—widespread stories of Jewish or Samaritan ancestry. Although one might have expected some effort to adduce a Philistine ancestry [after the ancient people from whom the name “Palestine” was derived], there is almost no such phenomenon. . . .

It turns out that the Erekat family, [for instance], originates in the large Huweitat tribe, which belongs to the Ashraf (families that trace their lineage to the family of Muhammad). They [claim to be] related to the descendants of Hussein, grandson of the prophet, who migrated from Medina to the Syrian desert and settled in the Aqaba area.

The Erekat family itself settled in Abu Dis and Jericho [in the West Bank, as well as] Amman and Ajloun (in Jordan). . . . In general, the list of heads of the Erekat family includes many Jordanian cabinet ministers. Why is the family so prominent in Jordan? Because the Huweitat tribe was among the main tribes that backed the Great Arab Revolt of the Hashemites in Mecca, and it moved north along with T.E. Lawrence—that is, at the same time as the Zionists were establishing themselves in Palestine. . . .

The Ottoman empire was a gigantic open space, and internal migration and free movement of individuals and nomadic tribes were a common and characteristic feature. Hence, Arab tribes that settled in the land of Israel were . . . of different lineages. . . . Up to the present, almost every Palestinian family, [like most Arab clans], describes its origins by identifying either with the Qays tribes (who trace their origins to the northern part of the Arabian peninsula) or with the Yaman (who trace their origins to the southern part). . . .

The purpose of the “Canaanite” narrative, however, is not to shed light on the Palestinians’ real ancestry, but to deny the Jews’ narrative. Why the Canaanites? Because they were in the country before the Israelite tribes were and thus have precedence. According to Nabil Shaath, [another senior Palestinian politician], Jewish history is but a “potpourri of legends and fabrications.” The Canaanite narrative cannot promote reconciliation and compromise but only the destruction of the Israeli-Jewish narrative, according to the same principle by which the various communities are now destroying each other in Syria.

Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Canaanites, History & Ideas, Middle East, Palestinians


The Palestinian National Movement Has Reached a Point of Crisis

With Hamas having failed to achieve anything through several weeks of demonstrations and violence, and Mahmoud Abbas reduced to giving rambling anti-Semitic speeches, Palestinian aspirations seem to have hit a brick wall. Elliott Abrams explains:

[Neither] Fatah [nor] Hamas offers Palestinians a practical program for national independence. . . . [The current situation] leaves Palestinians high and dry, with no way forward at all. Whatever the criticism of the “occupation,” Israelis will certainly not abandon the West Bank to chaos or to a possible Hamas takeover. Today the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state is simply too dangerous to Israel and to Jordan to be contemplated. . . . There are only two other options. The first is the “one-state solution,” meaning union with Israel; but that is a nonstarter that Israel will reject no matter who is its prime minister. The other option is some kind of eventual link to Jordan.

In polite diplomatic society, and in Palestinian public discourse, such a link cannot be mentioned. But younger people who visit there, Palestinians have explained to me, can see a society that is half-Palestinian and functions as an independent nation with a working system of law and order. Jordanians travel freely, rarely suffer from terrorism, and [can vote in regular] elections, even if power is ultimately concentrated in the royal palace. The kingdom has close relations with all the Sunni states and the West, and is at peace with Israel.

The fundamental question all this raises is what, in 2018, is the nature and objective of Palestinian nationalism. Is the goal sovereignty at all costs, no matter how long it takes and even if it is increasingly divorced from peace, prosperity, and personal freedom? Is “steadfastness” [in refusing to compromise with Israel] the greatest Palestinian virtue now and forever? These questions cannot be debated in either Gaza or the West Bank. But as Israel celebrates 70 years and the “occupation” is now more than a half-century old, how much longer can they be delayed? . . .

The catastrophic mishandling of Palestinian affairs by generations of leaders from Haj Amin al-Husseini (the pro-Nazi mufti of the British Mandate period) to Yasir Arafat and now to Mahmoud Abbas has been the true Palestinian Nakba.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Jordan, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinians