A historian counters mendacity with powerful satire.
There have been many books written on Palestinian identity and history but none are as scholarly and authoritative as Assaf A. Voll’s “A History of the Palestinian People, From Ancient Times to the Modern Era.” Voll’s exhaustive account of Palestinian history is summed up in 120 fact-filled pages brimming with substantive information that most will find useful.
University students working under harsh time constraints will find the book particularly suitable because it can be read cover-to-cover in a matter of seconds. That’s because all the pages are blank save for a quote in the beginning of the book attributed to the Seinfeld character George Costanza – “Just remember, it’s not a lie if you believe it.”
One comical reviewer at Amazon amusingly noted that the Voll’s book was plagiarized. “The work is identical to the book, Everything Men Know About Women: 25th Anniversary Edition,” said the reviewer. The reviewer is correct but the author’s transgression is minor compared to fantastical mendacity propagated by those pretending to be historians and academics at some of the world’s top universities.
The notion of “Palestinian history” is farcical and Voll’s understated but illuminating point unabashedly exposes this abject lie. The name “Palestine” is an invented name concocted by the Roman Emperor Hadrian.
In 132 CE, the Jews of Judea (alternatively known as Eretz Israel) launched an open revolt against Roman occupation of their land. Led by its charismatic leader, Simon Bar Kochva, the anti-Roman insurgency nearly succeeded, as evidenced by archaeological discoveries and historical accounts but was ultimately suppressed some three years later after intense and bitter fighting.
Hadrian was keenly aware and understood that the Jews could never be defeated by force of arms alone. He believed that in order to defeat the Jews, he needed to break their spirit as well. He therefore embarked on a bitter campaign of severing the Jewish nexus to the Land of Israel. Among his many cruel edicts was the renaming of the city of Jerusalem to “Aelia Capitolina” and the Land of Israel to “Palestine.” While the former name was never accepted, the latter abominable renaming unfortunately stuck and over time supplanted the land’s historical and original naming.
To be clear, there has never in the history of mankind been a Palestinian state, a Palestinian capital, a distinct Palestinian language, currency or culture. In December 2011, Newt Gingrich noted this indisputable fact and made the following observation;
“Remember there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. And I think that we've had an invented Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs, and were historically part of the Arab community…”
Gingrich was widely criticized for his politically incorrect but historically accurate statement but none of his critics were able to upend the veracity of his comment. Ironically, Arab leaders have occasionally voiced opinions similar to those expressed by Gingrich. Those opinions were of course made in Arabic to Arabic audiences but they were nonetheless made.
In a revealing 1977 interview with the Dutch newspaper Trouw, PLO executive committee member Zahir Muhsein stated,
“The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct 'Palestinian people' to oppose Zionism.
For tactical reasons, Jordan, which is a sovereign state with defined borders, cannot raise claims to Haifa and Jaffa. While as a Palestinian, I can undoubtedly demand Haifa, Jaffa, Beer-Sheva and Jerusalem. However, the moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will not wait even a minute to unite Palestine and Jordan.”
In 2012, a Gaza-based Hamas government official named Fathi Hammad noted the following while pleading for Egyptian oil;
“Every Palestinian…throughout Palestine can prove his Arab roots, whether from Saudi Arabia or Yemen or anywhere…personally, half my family is Egyptian, we are all like that.” Hammad continued, “Brothers, half the Palestinians are Egyptian and the other half are Saudis…Who are the Palestinians?” he asked rhetorically. “We have families called al-Masri whose roots are Egyptian, Egyptian! We are Egyptian! We are Arab! We are Muslim!” Hammad’s rant was curiously and conspicuously devoid of any reference to an independent Palestinian identity and that is because there simply isn’t any.
As Zahir Muhsein candidly notes, the notion of Palestinian nationalism began as a tactic following the Arab defeat of 1948. Prior to that time, most Arabs living in mandatory Palestine thought of themselves as either subjects of the Ottoman Empire or citizens of Greater Syria. The rest were transient workers from the vast Arab and Muslim expanse lured to the area by better fortunes fostered as a result of increased Jewish economic activity and business expansion.
Arabs residing in Gaza and the so-called West Bank from 1948 to 1967 had no problem living under Egyptian and Jordanian occupation. But the very notion of Jews occupying a centimeter of “Arab soil” was considered an abomination and an affront to Arab and Muslim honor.
Assaf Voll’s satirical account of Palestinian history is a book about nothing. It is nevertheless a forceful repudiation of those in academia, the media and elsewhere wishing to perpetuate historical inaccuracies to advance mendacious narratives. If there is to be a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, we must start by recognizing and acknowledging certain unwavering and perhaps unpleasant truths, and chief among them is the myth of Palestinian history.