Who Are the Palestinians? (Part Two)

by Cliff McManis

Editor’s Note: You can read Part One of this two-part article here.

“Palestine” Through the Centuries (AD 135-1917)
From the time of Hadrian (AD 135) until the first World War (1917), Judea was swallowed up into various empires from the Roman, to the Byzantine, to the Arabs, to the Mamluks, to the Ottoman Turks and finally to the British. During those times it went by various designations, Syria being the most common. Its borders fluctuated from century to century, arbitrarily, often ill-defined and as a consequence the name “Palestine” had virtually no consistent meaning, significance, or even official status until after World War I when the British assumed a mandate over part of the region.

Consequently the name “Palestine” seems over the centuries (with the exception of the period 1920-1948), to have covered either too little or too much to have precise meaning, either it described a part of the larger whole that was Syria, or it covered parts of the political unities formed by adjoining states.[1]

The British conquered Palestine from the Ottoman Turks in 1918, formally securing a Mandate for Palestine in 1920 which lasted until 1948. During this period the Brits used the term “Palestine” to designate a region, not a people, religion, ethnicity or nationality. At that time if you lived in “Palestine” you may have been Jewish, a Muslim Arab, a Jewish Arab, a Christian Arab, British, a Syrian Muslim, a Turk, etc. There was no Palestinian language, no Palestinian religion, no Palestinian ethnicity, race or nationality, no Palestinian culture. Palestine was an imprecise, manufactured name, pragmatically utilized and misapplied for convenient political purposes. The Arabs living in the land prior to WWI considered themselves citizens of the Ottoman Empire, or Syrians and Arabs—not Palestinians.[2]

Modern Palestine—1964 to Present Day
The modern popular meaning of “Palestine,” “Palestinian” and “The State of Palestine” can be attributed primarily to two radical Arab Muslims: Mohammed Amin al-Husseini (1897-1974) and Yasser Arafat (1929-2004). Today the popular understanding of the word “Palestinian” refers to Muslim Arabs who are first and foremost victims, indigenous to the land formerly known as Canaan. Further, they supposedly have been illegitimately forced out of their homeland by occupying, alien invaders, the Jews, who, through violence, have forced the Arabs out of most of the region, leaving them deprived and confined to a mere fraction of the land in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. This historical fiction is the by-product of a deliberate mis-information campaign begun in the 1920’s that culminated in 1974 and is the accepted, entrenched metanarrative of today’s pop culture.[3]

Husseini
Amin al-Husseini was an Arab Muslim born in Jerusalem to a wealthy and politically influential family during the days of the Ottoman Empire. From birth he was reared on Arab nationalism as well as a healthy dose of anti-Semitic propaganda, such as the fabricated 1903 Russian pamphlet, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, that asserted the Jews had a plan to take over the world.[4] In his youth he was a loyal Ottoman and thus joined the Ottoman army during WWI. When the Ottomans lost the war, he changed his allegiance to the Syrian cause, pressing for Arab autonomy and independence. He proved to be an aggressive outspoken nationalist, even making his presence known at the historic Syrian Arab Congress in 1920, where a coalition of leaders from Syria, Lebanon and Palestine declared independence for greater Syria. He was only in his early twenties.

That same year he was arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison for spear-heading anti-Jewish riots in Jerusalem, escaping justice by taking refuge in western Palestine.[5] Husseini single-handedly set the precedent for Arab-Muslim riots directed at Jews that continues to the present day in the region known as Palestine. British authorities granted him a surprise reprieve in 1921 and appointed him the position of Grand Mufti of Jerusalem at age 26, and one year later he was appointed the chairman of the Supreme Muslim Council, thus making him the most powerful Islamic leader, religiously and politically, in all of British Palestine. For the next fifty years he proved to be dictatorial and violent, directing his hostility primarily toward the Jews of Palestine, but secondarily toward the British and even fellow Arabs who threatened his hegemonic hold on power.[6] His animosity fueled major anti-Jewish riots in 1929 and 1936. By 1937 his antics deteriorated to sheer extremist terrorism and as a result was forced out of Palestine by the British. At this time he dedicated his passions to broadening his scope of Jewish hatred by seeking to partner with Mussolini and Hitler because of their anti-Jewish agendas. Husseini managed to secure a meeting with both dictators in late 1941, in the throes of WWII.[7] Husseini shared a common view with Mussolini, who said about the Jews: “They are our enemies…and there will be no place for them in Europe.” He also echoed the message of the Nazis as is evident in this statement he made on a Berlin radio station in March of 1944: “Kill the Jews wherever you find them! This pleases God, history and religion.”[8]

Husseini is known for introducing radical Islam to the modern world as well the practice of paying Arab terrorists for killing Jews and other infidels.[9]

After the Nazis lost the war Husseini fled Germany and escaped to various Arab strongholds until his death in 1974. Disillusioned by defeats in his collaborations with the Ottomans, then greater Syria, then the axis powers of WWII, and the Arab countries’ loss to Israel in 1948, Husseini narrowed his focus of Arab independence to Palestine. Here he was successful, as he wielded an influence over the Palestinian Arab movement well into the 1960’s. It was during the decades after 1948 when Arabs in former Syria began to identify themselves as “Palestinians” seeking a permanent national identity under the moniker of a yet-to-be established state called “Palestine.” And according to Husseini, that could only happen with the complete subjugation of the Jews—a two state solution would never be an option.

Arafat
Yasser Arafat picked up where Husseini left off in the pursuit of Arab independence in the land of Palestine to the total exclusion of the Jews who lived there. Arafat is known as the greatest modern Arab Palestinian—but he was born in Cairo, Egypt, not Palestine. And in terms of ethnicity, he was an Arab, not a Palestinian. It was in Egypt where he became mesmerized by Husseini, a distant relative, who was in exile there. Arafat enrolled in Cairo university around 1950, which at that time was a hotbed for the Muslim Brotherhood, the Free officers and ardent Nazi sympathizers.[10] As a young man he became an assistant of the mufti’s top deputy, allowing him extensive exposure and contact with Husseini, enabling him to be elevated to higher stature within the movement at an accelerated rate. Arafat quickly became the heir apparent. Early on he perfected acts of terror directed at the Jews. He also developed a knack for being coy and evasive about his true intentions in the support of anti-Semitism.

Arafat is best known for being associated with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), since its inception in 1963 under the sponsorship of the Arab League. Fronted as the platform for the eventual independent state of Palestine, the PLO actually was nothing more than a terrorist organization, with the goal of gaining independence “through armed struggle,” with the goal of destroying Israel by “pushing them into the Great Sea.”[11] Arafat was the chairman of the PLO from 1969-2004. By the 1970’s the PLO was sponsoring at least eight different terrorist groups being monitored by Israel and the United States. Today the PLO/PA oversees more than ten terrorist groups including Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad, to name a few.

Arafat dedicated over fifty years of his life to committing acts of terrorism and later sponsoring acts of terrorism, all against the Jews with the goal of “liberating Palestine” from Israel, the “little Satan.” One of his most notorious acts was committed on the world stage when on September 5, during the 1972 Olympics in Germany, a group affiliated with the PLO called the Black September Organization infiltrated Olympic Village in Munich, and slaughtered eleven members of the Israeli athletic team.  

With his predecessor and hero, Husseini, Arafat was not shy about his utter disdain for the Jews as evidenced by a few of his public statements, almost always made in Arabic:

“Whoever does not accept the fact that Jerusalem will be the capital of a Palestinian State, and only that State, can go drink from the Dead Sea and go to hell.”[12]

“Peace for us means the destruction of Israel….We shall not rest until the day when we…destroy Israel.”[13]

“We plan to eliminate the State of Israel and establish a Palestinian state. We will make life unbearable for Jews by psychological warfare and population explosion.”[14]

In 2003, a popular secular American periodical summarized objectively Arafat’s legacy to the world:

Arafat…formed the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade because his experience has taught him that far from marginalizing him, terrorism pays. Let the record show: By November of 1974, Arafat’s [PLO] had carried out the massacre of Israel’s Olympic athletes, plane hijackings, letter bombs, the assassination of an American ambassador and Jordan’s prime minister, the slaughter of 21 Israeli schoolchildren at Maalot, and the killing of 52 Israelis—mainly women and children—in Kiryat Shmona. Yet November 1974 was the month in which he was invited to address the United Nations General Assembly, virtually unanimously.[15]

Despite the fact that Arafat’s routine terrorist acts were public knowledge and went on for over fifty years, amazingly he was awarded the Noble Peace Prize in 1994! Ironically, Arafat never had any intentions of making peace with Israel. Until his death his stated position was that Israel had no rights in the land for he believed Israel had no rights to even exist. Arafat was the one responsible for propagating the popular nefarious notion (lie) among Arabs and Palestinian sympathizers that Israel never had a Temple in Jerusalem.

One of Arafat’s greatest accomplishments, from an Arab Palestinian perspective, is that over the course of thirty-five years, he successfully created and pushed a false, historically-revised narrative that the whole world has embraced,[16] save a few countries, and that is that all of Palestine belongs to the Muslim Arabs, for it is their land by right, and Israel is an evil, occupying people that has no right to exist—a two state solution is not an option; and all acts of terrorism against the Jews of Palestine, including civilians is deserved.

Arafat did not live long enough to see one of his dreams come true, which was to have other countries recognize his fifty-year-old terrorist organization as a bona fide state. That happened in July 2019 when 138 out of 193 nations among the United Nations, recognized the PLO as the State of Palestine. As of August 2020, the United States does not recognize them as an official state or nation. But give it time…that will change.[17]

Summary
Who are the Palestinians? We have now seen why this is such a difficult question. The prerequisites to unravel the dilemma require accurate understanding of the Bible, history and the nature of the modern conflict in the Middle East. One-dimensional, shallow answers don’t suffice.

The word “Palestine” comes from the biblical word “Philistine.” Technically, a Palestinian is a Philistine. The Philistines were not Arabs native to the land of Canaan. They were intruders to the land from the West and perennial enemies of God’s people, Israel, and enemies of YHWH Himself. God predicted through His prophets that the Philistines would go extinct, and they did around the time of the Exile. As a result, there were no true ethnic Philistines in New Testament times nor are there any today.

Throughout history, Gentile nations have co-opted and even hijacked the word “Palestine,” misappropriating it and applying it to the Promised Land that God gave to Abraham’s descendants—the Jews. The Romans did it first in the 2nd century and the British followed suit in the 1920’s after WWI. In the early 1900’s, and for most of the past 2,000 years, Palestine referred to an area of land—it was a geographical designation—not an ethnicity, nationality or a people group. Prior to 1974, the people living in that land were known as Palestinian Jews and Palestinian Arabs. The Arabs in former Syria fine-tuned the obfuscation by personalizing, politicizing, and assimilating the name to their own ethnic and national identity, contrary to the clear teaching of the Bible, the public record of history, and all objective reality. As a result, confusion about who the Palestinians truly are will abound indefinitely and will further the irresolvable conflict between the Arabs and the Jews in the Middle East.


[1] J. H. Paterson, “Palestine,” Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia, 564. Bornemann simplifies the complex when he notes, “The name ‘Palestine’ is commonly used to designate the ancient land of the Bible, the Holy Land—“from Dan to Beer-Sheba.” It is also the common name for the territory of the British mandate taken over by the United Nations in 1948 and held now by the Palestinian Authority and the State of Israel…Originally, however, its boundaries were not so definitely defined, and Palestine was not its name”; Robert Bornemann, “Palestine,” The Encyclopedia of Christianity: Volume 4, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), 14.

[2]“As in other parts of the globe they ruled, the European powers carved up the former Ottoman territories with little regard for local loyalties or preferences. The mandates imposed [upon former Syria by France and Great Britain in 1920] created borders—and eventually identities—that had never before existed. Palestine was one of those new creations. While ‘Palestine’ was a name with profound historic resonance for Europeans, it had no such significance to most of the people who happened to live there. To the extent that the Arabic speakers of Palestine identified with a geographic entity smaller than the Ottoman Empire, it was with Syria. Thus their first response to British efforts to separate them into a new entity called Palestine was to resist them”; Brog, Israel’s History, 47.

[3] “The efforts of Husseini and Arafat’s rebel labors formally came to fruition in 1974 when the Arab League met in Morocco and passed a resolution recognizing a Palestinian right to ‘self-determination,’ which was followed that same year by UN Resolution 3236, recognizing the existence of the Palestinian people”; Craig Parshall, Israel and the Church, 207.

[4] The nefarious impact that The Protocols had on galvanizing anti-Semitism among Islamic Arabs in Palestine in the 1920’s and 1930’s up to the present day cannot be overstated. Although it has been exposed as a pure, fictitious hoax, it has been imbibed into the mainstream Muslim-Arab world as gospel truth and remains one of the basic functional playbooks for modern-day Palestinian Muslim-Arabs of how to regard the “dirty” Jew: “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion codified the fear of a Jewish world conspiracy and elevated it to an almost mythic level. The work made its first appearance in 1895, an invention of the Russian czar’s secret service, which modeled it on an earlier tract purporting to expose the machinations of the French emperor Napoleon III. The czar’s forgers ‘took this pamphlet, substituted world Jewry for the French emperor, and added a number of picturesque details borrowed from an obscure German novel,’ writes Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis,” Kenneth R. Timmerman, Preachers of Hate: Islam and the War on America (New York, NY: Crown Forum, 2003), 47-48.

[5] “Husseini, Hajj,” Encyclopedia Judaica: Volume 8, He-Ir (1971, 1973), 1133.

[6] See Brog, Israel’s History, 119, for details of his practice of murdering fellow Arabs in his circle who either had competing views or threatened his stranglehold on power among the Arabs of Palestine and beyond.

[7] Timmerman, Preachers, 107. 

[8] Matthias Kuntzell, “National Socialism and Anti-Semitism in the Arab World,” Jewish Political Studies Review, (2005), 17, 1-2.

[9] Brog, Israel’s History, 123. 

[10] Timmerman, Preachers, 113.

[11]Ibid., 204.

[12] Arutz 7 News, 6-26-00.

[13] El Mundo, 2-11-80.

[14] Dagen, 2-6-96.

[15] US News & World Report, 9-29-2003.

[16] For example, Arafat was known to dogmatically assert that “a Jewish Temple never existed in the land of Palestine” along with other absurdities.

[17] In recent decades the UN has been overtly anti-Israel evidenced by their many hostile resolutions; frequently, Israel’s only ally with the UN is the United States. “In November 2016, for instance, UN committees adopted ten different resolutions against Israel in a single day”; Craig Parshall, “The Legal Issues at the Nexus of the Conflict,” Israel, the Church and the Middle East, 204.

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