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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

Why Cutting U.S. Funding for Palestinian “Refugees” Is the Right Move

Jan. 22 2018

Last week the Trump administration announced that it is withholding some of America’s annual contribution to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the organization tasked with providing humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees and their descendants. To explain why this decision was correct, Elliott Abrams compares UNRWA with the agency run by the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR), which provides humanitarian aid to refugees who are not Palestinian:

One of [UNHCR’s] core missions is “ending statelessness.” [By contrast, UNRWA’s] mission appears to be “never ending statelessness.” A phrase such as “ending statelessness” would be anathema and is found nowhere on its website. Since 1950, UNHCR has tried to place refugees in permanent new situations, while since 1950 UNRWA has with its staff of 30,000 “helped” over 5 million Palestinian “refugees” to remain “refugees.” . . . UNRWA has three times as large a staff as UNHCR—but helps far fewer people than the 17 million refugees UNHCR tries to assist. . . .

The argument for cutting funding to UNRWA is not primarily financial. The United States is an enormously generous donor to UNHCR, providing just under 40 percent of its budget. I hope we maintain that level of funding. . . . The argument for cutting funding to UNRWA instead rests on two pillars. The first is that UNRWA’s activities repeatedly give rise to concern that it has too many connections to Hamas and to rejectionist ideology. . . .

But even if those flaws were corrected, this would not solve the second and more fundamental problem with UNRWA—which is that it will perpetuate the Palestinian “refugee” problem forever rather than helping to solve it. . . . [T]hat the sole group of refugees whom the UN keeps enlarging is Palestinian, and that the only way to remedy this under UN definitions would be to eliminate the state of Israel or have 5 million Palestinian “refugees” move there should simply be unacceptable. . . .

Perpetuating and enlarging the Palestinian “refugee” crisis has harmed Israel and it has certainly harmed Palestinians. Keeping their grievances alive may have served anti-Israel political ends, but it has brought peace no closer and it has helped prevent generations of Palestinians from leading normal lives. That archipelago of displaced-persons and refugee camps that once dotted Europe [in the aftermath of World War II] is long gone now, and the descendants of those who tragically lived in those camps now lead productive and fruitful lives in many countries. One can only wish such a fate for Palestinian refugee camps and for Palestinians. More money for UNRWA won’t solve anything.

Read more at Pressure Points

More about: Israel & Zionism, Palestinians, Refugees, U.S. Foreign policy, UNRWA