Fabricating Palestinian History

Aug. 26 2019

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.

Welcome to Mosaic

Register now to get two more stories free

Register Now

Already a subscriber? Sign in now

Read more at Tel Aviv Review of Books

More about: Ancient Israel, Israeli history, Palestinians


The Evidence of BDS Anti-Semitism Speaks for Itself

Oct. 18 2019

Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs recently released a lengthy report titled Behind the Mask, documenting the varieties of naked anti-Semitic rhetoric and imagery employed by the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction the Jewish state (BDS). Drawn largely but not exclusively from Internet sources, its examples range from a tweet by a member of Students for Justice in Palestine (the “world would be soooo much better without jews man”), to an enormous inflated pig bearing a star of David and floating behind the stage as the rock musician Roger Waters performs, to accusations by an influential anti-Israel blogger that Israel is poisoning Palestinian wells. Cary Nelson sums up the report’s conclusions and their implications, all of which give the lie to the disingenuous claim that critics of BDS are trying to brand “legitimate criticism of Israel” as anti-Semitic.

Sign up to read more

You've read all your free articles for this month


Sign up now for unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Fathom

More about: Anti-Semitism, BDS, Roger Waters, Social media