Friday, July 28, 2006

How Misguided They Are


I recieved an e-mail today which listed several questions about "Palestine" and how such a thing never existed. Since it was obviously copied and pasted from an misguided source I decided to reply to the e-mail to enlighten my interlocutor. My answers immediatly follow each of his questions which appear below in bold print.


If you are so sure that "Palestine, the country, goes back through most of recorded history", I expect you to be able to answer a few basic questions about that country of Palestine:


Before I address each question I think it would help to clarify that many of the questions and doubts you have can be raised about most modern day nation-states. Most of what seems to be unclear to you will make more sense if you understand the emergence of the modern nation-state system and the rise of the colonized world to becoming the developing world after achieving independence from their colonizers.

This being said....


When was it founded and by whom?


No nation is really founded like buildings are. However the people living in Palestine who have been there for centuries can trace their roots back past the crusades and even past the rise of Islam in the 6th and 7th century. There is no point in recorded history where we can safely say that the land was "uninhabited".


What were its borders?


Historic Palestine was defined geographically by the Mediterranean Sea to the west, the river Jordan to the east. The vast majority of the population lived directly between these borders however to the south of the country, which was largely desert, there was a Bedouin population which traveled across open lands never having to worry about borders. To the north the border with Lebanon begins to be defined by the higher mountains in the north of the Galilee. These natural borders have surrounded the land that has been referred to as Palestine by its inhabitants for centuries. In fact the borders of Palestine are the most naturaly defined boundaries of any post-colonial country in the region.


What was its capital?


As we mentioned earlier Palestine was part of the colonized world. From 1517 to 1917 the land of Palestine was governed by the Ottoman Empire. This does not mean however that the people of Palestine did not have a regional administrative center on their land. This of course was Jerusalem, which was the capital of the Mustasarraflik of Jerusalem (independent governorate in the center of Palestine- similar to the District of Columbia today)


In earlier years the capital of Palestine had changed. While Jerusalem had been an important epicenter for religious activity the city of Al-Ramle served as the administrative capitol during the 12th and 13th centuries. Mustafa Khaiyr Id-Dine Al-Ramli was a well known religious scholar in the 16th century was sought out throughout the land for legal opinions. In his opinions, which were widely read and respected in other major capitols like Damascus and Beirut, he comfortably used the term Palestine to refer to the area described above. This demonstrates that there was not only a term "Palestine" used by its inhabitants for centuries but also that that term was associated with specific land thereby constituting a territorial concept.


Other notable writers from centuries past like Evlyia Chelebi, a renowned traveler and writer in the Ottoman Empire, commonly referred to the area as "Palestine".


What were its major cities?


The major Palestinian cities were Jerusalem, Yaffa, Nablus, Haifa and Hebron. Other notable cities which played major roles throughout history are Al-Ramle, Jericho, and Safad.


What constituted the basis of its economy?


For centuries grains, olives and soap have been main exports from Palestine. In the 19th century citrus and specifically the Yaffa Orange became world famous. Its thicker peel kept it fresher longer and it was able to be shipped on long trips. Soon it became famous in Europe. It is important to note that major dynamism and even spikes were occurring in the Palestinian economy before the advent of the Zionist movement.

What was its form of government?


The land of Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire and the head of the dynastic government of the empire was a Sultan who ruled from Istanbul. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, England took the territory as part of the spoils of war in 1918. The British Mandate lasted until May 14th, 1948. Previous to the Ottomans the land of Palestine was governed by an Arab Sultanate.


Can you name at least one Palestinian leader before Arafat?


Yes, I can name several. In the modern era a direct predecessor to Arafat was Ahmad Shukairy. During the mandate there was Abdel Qader Al Hussieni and in the period of the Arab Revolt to Ottoman Rule there were several active leaders of civil society in Palestine who actively opposed Ottoman Rule and aspired for independence and self-determination. For more information on this era you may find George Antonius' "Arab Awakening" helpful.


Was Palestine ever recognized by a country whose existence, at that time or now, leaves no room for interpretation?


If we are to accept that a nation only exists because others say it does then I supposed this is a relavent question. Upon declaring independence in 1988 as a state in the international community Palestine was recognized by several other states. The legitimacy of those states, like China, Germany, Indonesia, Ukraine and India is up to you. You can read more about this in the Archives of the UN General Assembly Summary Record of the 157th Meeting of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.


What was the language of the country of Palestine?


The inhabitants of Palestine are Arabic speakers. This includes all religious groups, even Jews. Hebrew resurfaced only in the 20th century. Prior to that, in the modern era, it was a strictly religious language and the Jewish inhabitants of Palestine spoke fluent Arabic.


What was the prevalent religion of the country of Palestine?


The prevalent religion of the people of Palestine was Islam. There was a significant Christian minority and a much smaller Jewish minority. Palestine has also been the home of a Holy Site of the B'hai Faith. It is also home to Druze.


What was the name of its currency? Choose any date in history and tell what was the approximate exchange rate of the Palestinian monetary unit against the US dollar, German mark, GB pound, Japanese yen, or Chinese yuan on that date.


Palestinians used many different currencies through out history including Roman, Ummayyad, Ottoman and British. In the 1920s the British Mandate Established the Palestinian Pound which bore the word PALESTINE on it in Arabic, English and Hebrew. For more on an economic History of Palestine I would recommend the work of Roger Owen and particularly "The Middle East in the World Economy 1800-1914"

And, finally, since there is no such country today, what caused its demise and when did it occur?


The land of Palestine has always existed and continues to exist however governments have come and gone. The tone of these questions are obviously politically charged and it seems that they hope to prove the Zionist propaganda slogan "A Land without a people for a people without a Land" Even Israeli historians have written extensively about the fallacy of this slogan.


By this logic the sandwich I had for lunch never existed because now I can not see it. Surprisingly I’m still full.


Even today the entirity of historic Palestine has a vast Arab Majority if you consider that in the land between the river and the sea there is 4 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, 1 million Palestinian's with Israeli Citizenship, and a large section of Israel Jews who came from Arab lands.


Please feel free to contact me about sources you can refer to for more information on this issue.

1 comment:

Alejandra said...

If you don't update soon, I'm going to accept a job with AIPAC...