By Khaled Diab
Hebron settlers criticise Arabs who deny Israeli identity, yet reject the existence of a Palestinian people and say historic Palestine was mostly empty.
Tuesday 10 January 2012
Khaled Diab: I notice you have a map of Palestine behind you. I wondered, is that an ironic gesture? Because I haven't heard you mention Palestinians once. You only refer to “Arabs”.
David Wilder: You're very perceptive. You're very, very up on it. That's very good, because I always tell people. I always know the people, you know the journalists who come in, when they're awake, when they look at my wall and see that and they ask me that question. And you've added to the question because you've said I don't mention Palestinians, because most people don't even see it. So, you're alert. That's very good.
You know who printed it? Who printed the map?
Well, Israelis don't usually put that sign on maps. It was printed in Bethlehem by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, Palestinian Authority. What's it a map of? It's a map of the state of Israel. But it's Palestine. Tel Aviv is Tal al-Arabi, and Ramla is al-Ramla, and Lod is al-Ludd. In other words, this is Palestine according to the Palestinian Authority. But it just happens to be a map of the state of Israel. That's why I have it there.
Well, how about we look at it from the reverse, Israeli maps of Israel also deny the existence of any Palestinian entity.
Well, first of all, I think that the official line is that what they… Look there are different official lines, ok. But the one that's used for world consumption is Palestine is Judea and Samaria, Gaza, right? It's not Tal el-Arabi.
So, first of all, the official line is supposed to be that Palestine is Judea and Samaria. This is something else. I mean this is what they say to other people, ok, but it's usually not publicised as such. Number two, I think that there are probably a lot of Israeli maps today, not the ones that I would print, but… that show Judea and Samaria as a very separate entity.
In terms of Palestinian entities as such, so far there isn't a state of Palestine.
Yes, but do you think there's a Palestinian people.
That's a whole other issue. I have no problems talking to you about that too.
So you want to talk about the Palestinian people.
Yes, especially since you have another poster behind you which says, “Don't the Arab states have enough land of their own?”
You probably saw what Newt Gingrich said the other day.
Yes, I did.
It probably didn't go over really, really well, but he could've been quoting me. I mean, look…
Because for me, as an Arab, I see a distinct Palestinian identity, culture, history, and so on. So, I want to see how you view it.
I'll put it very simply. When was the last time there was a king of Palestine or a Palestinian parliament or a Palestinian who won the Nobel prize or a Palestinian anything? Look, historically, just historically, ok… I can't say forget the politics because it's all politics.
But if we just take historical facts, ok. You may have even studied more history. I used to study history, but you may know more history than me. But where does the word “Palestine” come from?
Well, it comes from the Romans and the Philistines.
So, like I said, you're up on your history. Ok, because most of the people when I ask them that question, they don't know anything about the Romans. But the word “[Syria]Palestina” of course came from the Romans 2,000 years ago. It was a 2,000-year-old term that was used when they threw the Jews out, after the destruction of the Second Temple.
But they didn't throw all the Jews out. A lot of the Palestinians around now were probably Jews once.
Hang on a second. Hang on a second. So let me evolve what I'm trying to say. Again, I don't expect you to agree with me. I'll explain to you where I'm coming from. Palestine came from [Syria]Palestina [see history of the term “Palestine”]. The Romans destroyed the Second Temple, and they wanted to create an entity which didn't have any Jewish identity to it. They took Jerusalem and they changed the name of Yerushalayim to Aelia Capitolina. They threw the Jews out of Jerusalem, all of them out of Yerushalayim, and they changed the name to Aelia Capitolina.
Why did they do that? It's very simple. I mean, simplistically, you want to create a new identity, you change the name. I mean, it doesn't have the same association any more. It has a different association to it. Rather than have Israel, Yisrael, which has a Jewish identity to it, they changed the name to Palestina. They took the Palestina from the Philistines who died out a thousand years before.
Or they were integrated into the other peoples of the region.
Whatever, but there were no Philistines anymore. The Philistines died out during the days of King David. You didn't have them during the days of the Roman conquest. So, all of a sudden, you have Palestina, the same way you, Aelia Capitalina. And it stayed. Over the next 2,000 years, I don't even remember, but I can pull it out for you… there were about 14 or 16 different peoples that ruled in this little piece of land, which you can call Palestina or Palestine or Israel or whatever you want.
But ruled as part of an empire.
But there was never a… during that period…
But the local people largely stayed the same, more or less. There was some immigration, obviously…
You had different local peoples, depending on who was here at any given time. In the time of the Greeks, it was Greek. In the time of the Romans, you had Romans. You had local people but you didn't have a whole lot of them. We're talking about 2,000 years ago. We're talking about 1,500 years ago. The populations around here were much smaller and very different.
The last empire to rule here was the Ottoman Empire.
Well, there were the British, don't forget them.
That's post… I'm talking about before them. Before then, you had the Ottoman Empire that ruled here.
In terms of different kinds of populations, you know what, I've seen different historical documents that say different things. One of the best, one of the more popular items, is, which I'm sure you're probably familiar with, was… which I have actually here on the iPad, which I pulled off… is Mark Twain's book. You know Mark Twain.
Yeah, of course, I know Mark Twain.
So, he wrote about his visit to the Holy Land [Innocents Abroad – Zionist perspective, Palestinian perspective]. There was nothing here, it was desolate. There were people. There were Bedouin. There were people here and there.
But there were plenty of urban populations too.
But he writes about it being desolate. You're talking about the late 1800s. And he says… he came here expecting one thing.
But then the early Zionists came here and said, “The bride is beautiful but she is married to another man”.
Hear me out. Hear me out. First of all, when the early Zionists came here, there was nothing here either [See “A land without a people for a people without a land“].
But they said, the bride is beautiful but she's already married.
Look, I don't see too much of it today but… I saw commercials, things they used to put on television, in Gaza, about what the Jews had done. They showed pictures up north of beautiful houses, lawns, and everything, and then the Jews came, and then it's all black, the screen is black and everything is destroyed.
Up north, for example, if we're going to take the area of the Galilee. When Jews started to come over in the late 1800s, early 1900s, it was all swamps. There was nothing there. People died in droves trying to dry out the swamps. There was nothing there. It wasn't green and beautiful and lush. There was nothing, literally, nothing. There was no industry, there was no fruit, there were no vegetables, the land didn't grow anything, the trees didn't grown anything. It was very, very sparse.
But going back to the Palestinian people. There were people here. There was no, never any such Palestinian entity whatsoever. When the British received the mandate from the League of Nations after World War I, that mandate called for them to develop a national home for the Jewish people, which included southern Lebanon, parts of Syria, all of what's today called Jordan, of course, Judea and Samaria, coming all the way down. Of course, they changed their minds and they went in a different direction. But that's what the original mandate called for.
The Palestinian people, as such, never existed. It's probably the biggest, most successful PR bluff that the world has ever swallowed. What is today called the West Bank. What is the West Bank? The West Bank is the western side of the Jordan River. The Jordanian people never existed. There was never a Jordan. It was a creation of the British. The British created it. Ok, they had to have a place for a king, and they didn't have any place to put him, so they created a monarchy, they called it Jordan and they put him there, so that he'd be happy and he'd have something that he could do with himself, until they killed him, until he died.
But there was never a state of Jordan. The people that lived on the eastern side of the Jordan River and the people that lived on the western side of the Jordan River were identical. They were the same thing. They were Arabs.
On the eastern side, there were mostly Bedouins. On the western side, they were mostly urban populations. They were very different.
No, they were not. Today, not things that I've written, things that have been written by many other people. 75%, and again, the numbers aren't necessarily from today. The numbers that I remember, in any case, that 75% of the population of what's today called the Kingdom of Jordan is identical to the Arab population we have today in Judea and Samaria.
The fact that Arafat was able to create a… I mean, let's put it this way, ok. If there really is this thing called Palestine, and there really is this Palestinian people, then where was the demand for it, let's just say from 1948 to 1967, when Israel wasn't here. Israel wasn't in Hebron, Israel wasn't in Bethlehem, we weren't anywhere in Judea and Samaria. We weren't in Gaza. So where was the demand then, by the same people, for Palestine.
There was a demand but it was put down by the king of Jordan.
No, there never was a demand because it didn't exist.
Ok, let's take a different tack. Ok, now, you clearly don't believe that a Palestinian people exists.
As such, yes.
So, what you're saying is, you're denying… you're in denial of their identity. And yet you're also irked by the fact that there are certain Palestinians who deny an Israeli… that there is an Israeli identity. Should it surprise you that if you deny them their identity… Should you expect them to accept your identity?
Look, there are very different goals. We have very different goals. My goal is to live. And I don't have any problems with other people. Ok, you can be my next-door neighbour. I don't care, as long as you don't try to kill me. It doesn't make any difference whether it's you or Muhammad or Ahmed or Youssef or Dawoud or whoever. I don't care, ok. But there has to be an acceptance of some kind of legitimacy. And that doesn't exist amongst the other side. They refuse to accept the fact that I have a legitimate right to be here whatsoever.
Whether or not they accept… I mean, look, again, we can talk on two different planes. We can talk on the theoretical/ideological plane. We can talk on an actual plane, ok. The fact is the Jews and Arabs lived in Hebron for hundreds of years together. The relationships weren't always great, and the people that ruled, there was no IDF and there was no state, ok. And the relationships weren't always great. And there were Jews who were killed and they were heavily taxed. And they were treated as dhimmis.
When the relationship started to improve in the early 1900s, in Hebron, that improvement led to…
Look, today, look, I'll give you a few examples. When I lived in Kiryat Arba, there were Arab workers. They used to, in the afternoon, lie down on the grass in different parks and go to sleep. And lo and behold, if they went to sleep, they would wake up. If I did that somewhere else, I don't know if I would wake up. I might wake up without my head. Today, in Hebron, you have a situation, and I'll show you in a little while, the city is divided. They can come over here. They do go through a security check, to make sure they're not bringing over a gun or a knife to try to kill me. But they can come on this side. I can't go on that side. It's true I can't go on that side because, number one, Israeli law outlaws it. But if I did go over there, they'd kill me.
You believe that?
Oh, yeah, no doubt about it. It depends who caught me, who got to me first. There are those that wouldn't. It doesn't happen frequently, but there have been kids who have wandered over, one way or another, and somebody found them and brought them back.
Arabs are not inherently evil because they are Arabs. But today there is a political conflict going on and, if they wrong person finds you, then they chop off your head. That's number two.
Today, in Israel, you have Arabs in the Knesset. You have people like Ahmad Tibi, who is not a real strong supporter of Israel. But he sits in the Israeli parliamentary body. He's a legislator. He can try to put laws through. He has legislative immunity, parliamentary immunity, which I don't. But he works with the PA and he works with people that are against the existence of the state of Israel. But he sits in the Israeli Knesset.
Abu Mazen has said more than once that, in the state of Palestine, there won't be any Jews. Because there are some people that say, just like there are Arabs that live in Israel, there are people who have citizenship, they have good jobs, they have Israeli ID cards, and they can vote in Israeli elections, they can go to school, they get the same healthcare as everybody else gets…
But Arafat accepted that Jews in the West Bank could choose to stay or leave.
I don't know what Arafat said. Arafat is dead. Unless, you know, they want to bring him back. Abu Mazen has said that… well, you know people say it, people here in Hebron say, well, I'll just stay here under it.
And he says time and time again, the Palestinian state will be Judenfrei. There will be no Jews here. Jews cannot live in Palestine. We have to establish our identity. A Jew in an Arab state is a dhimmi, and they treat him that way.
Arab states have secularised.
Well, it's going back the other way. And an Arab in a Jewish state today has a lot of rights that, first of all, he doesn't have in any Arab state, ok. Arab women are allowed to drive in Israel. They don't get lashed.
If you have Arabs sitting on the Knesset. Look, you even had a guy who had to flee Israel because they were about to arrest him for treason, but they kept paying his pension, ok. It's absurd that my taxes that I pay, part of my taxes go to pay people that are enemies of the state of Israel, ok.
I'm sure you remember Faisal al-Husseini.
Of course, yes.
He was considered by the world as the Palestinian statesman. He was a spokesman and he was a statesman and he was a diplomat and he was very highly respected, right. That's what I recall, before the peace process got into full swing.
He died post-Oslo. The last interview that he gave before he died. I think he gave the interview in Egypt, then he went to Kuwait and he died there. If I recall correctly, he had a heart attack. The last interview that he gave, he said that Oslo was a Trojan horse designed for us to get our foot in the door. And he said clearly in that interview, and I have copies of it, he said, of course all of Palestine belongs to us. Palestine? Israel belongs to us. Of course, it's all ours. But this is our way in.
Ok, this was the statesman, this was Arafat's righthand man. He was, you know, one of the people that Oslo was based on. You know, peace. But it's a Trojan horse. So, when I try today to look, and you say… Well, if I deny their existence, why shouldn't I expect them to deny my existence? It doesn't begin. It doesn't begin because it's not just only a Palestinian identity, it's a whole ideology.
Part II – From secular America to religious Hebron
Part III – “We are not extremists”
Part IV – “I don't like Tel Aviv, does that mean we should tear Tel Aviv down”
Part VI – Living with Palestinian “dhimmis”