A book titled Palestine: A Four-Thousand-Year History, which seeks to trace modern Palestinian identity back many centuries before the oldest parts of the Hebrew Bible were composed, might be dismissed out of hand as a work of quackery. But the author, Nur Masalha, has a doctorate from a British university and a post at London’s prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies. In a careful review, Alex Stein takes apart the book’s various distortions, half-truths, cherry-picking of evidence, insinuations, and logical leaps, of which a few examples suffice:
On . . . the enduring use of the name Palestine itself, [one of the book’s core arguments], Masalha provides no evidence to back up this claim. Nor does he identify the people or peoples who [supposedly] used the name Palestine so habitually. . . . [O]f the four specific examples produced to link the term Palestine to the Late Bronze Age (3300 to 1200 BCE), three are taken from the 7th century CE onward. Despite its presentation as a 4,000-year history, Palestine has a distinct bias toward the era that followed the Islamic conquest of the Levant in 636 CE.
Even when he is writing about the Bronze Age, Masalha strives to emphasize the Arab connection:
Arabic-language epigraphic evidence from Palestine east of the Jordan River is extensive, with some Arabic inscriptions dating from the Roman era and as early as 150 CE. In fact, Palestine is extremely rich in Arabic inscriptions, most of which date from the early Islamic and Umayyad periods.
A more relevant observation, especially in a chapter dealing with the Late Bronze Age, [which ended by] 500 BCE, would clearly be the numerous Hebrew inscriptions discovered by archaeologists and dating from that period.
Likewise, despite repeatedly insisting that his goal is to “read the history of Palestine through the eyes of the indigenous” in order to create a “pluralist” version of history as opposed to the version shaped by colonialism, Masalha goes to great lengths to minimize Jewish history in the land of Israel. As Stein puts it, “there is no room for Jews in Masalha’s ‘pluralist’ reading of Palestine’s history, other than as passive members of a ‘faith community’ living under Arab Muslim hegemony.” And as a historian explicitly hostile to imperialism and colonialism, Masalha has a notable blind spot, as evidenced by his discussion of “indigenous” vs. “settler-colonist” place names:
The names Constantinople and Jerusalem clearly preceded Istanbul and al-Quds. But this doesn’t stop Masalha from implying that [the former] names were forced onto the cities by settler-colonists. It seems as though, for Masalha, conquest carried out by Islam doesn’t count. . . . “Palestine had been brought fully within the Islamic Caliphate in 637-638,” Masalha informs us, . . . as “Arabic and the Arabization of Palestine added more cultural layers to Palestine’s already rich and complex identity.” This is simply the whitewashing of imperial conquest.