Ron Paul is right, charging Newt Gingrich as ‘trying to make trouble’ by insisting Palestinians are an invented people. Newt (as all the GOP) is trying to appeal to Jewish voters. First of all, research shows US Jewish voters don’t vote on the single issue of Israel. Second, what American Jewish organization would agree with Gingrich. None, except maybe The Emergency Committee on Israel, founded by the same neoconservatives who brought us war in Iraq.
The problem is that Gingrich’s comments were picked up by the Arab Press. His stature as front-running Republican candidate make his remarks seem like they’re endorsed by more than a tiny sliver of Americans (if there are any besides Gingrich!), most of whom know little about the history of the Middle East.
Juan Cole sets the history straight in Informed Comment:
Gingrich said that there had never been a Palestinian state in history. If you want to play the romantic nationalist game of finding ancient forebears for modern nations, it would be easy in the case of the Palestinians, who were mentioned by the ancient Egyptians and Assyrians. But today’s Palestinians are equally descended from the ancient Canaanites and as well as from the ancient Jews.
If Gingrich meant to argue that Palestine was never an administrative unit of Muslim states, this is incorrect– under the Mamluks it was one of the five districts of Syria and had its capital at Jerusalem.
Palestine was a known place in medieval Islam. People referred to it as a place. It was sometimes the name of an administrative unit. There are coins stamped Filastin. People who lived in that area were Filastinis or Palestinians. Over time, 80% of them came to be Muslims, with the rest Christians. Between 1000 AD and 1800 AD there were very few Jews in geographical Palestine (Bonaparte found 3,000 or so as I remember).
That Palestinians were part of the Ottoman Empire is irrelevant to whether they are a nation or not. You could make all the same assertions about Albanians that Gingrich made about Palestinians. There was no Albanian state in antiquity. They were ruled by the Byzantine, Bulgarian, Serbian and Ottoman Empires. There was no Albanian province under the Ottomans…
–f you want a “national” precedent for the Palestinians, in the 18th century when the Ottoman Empire had largely decentralized, Jazzar Pasha ruled Palestine from Akka and successfully fought off Napoleon Bonaparte.
As for Palestinians being “Arabs,” actually no Palestinians would have called themselves Arabs in the nineteenth century, except Bedouins. The word then for the most part meant pastoral nomad. The idea of a pan-Arab nation only arises in the 20th century, and it hasn’t been notably successful. The only thing “Arabs” have in common is that they speak Arabic. But it is arbitrary that we call all forms of Arabic “Arabic,” but we do not speak of Romance as a language. The difference between Moroccan spoken “Arabic” and the “Arabic” spoken in southern Iraq is greater than the difference between Spanish and Portuguese.