The Palestinians, the Philistines and Anti-Semitism Today
A Series by World Mizrachi Director-General, Rabbi Doron Perez
Part 2 – A Deeper Look at Palestinian Nationalism
In Part 1 of this series we presented the Vilna Gaon’s sharp categorization of three paradigmatic types of anti-Semitism: Moabite, Edomite and Philistine.
The Moabite kind is aimed at spiritually contaminating the Jewish People by attacking our spiritual beliefs and value system – either through acculturization, anti-religious decrees or forcible conversion. From the ancient Moabites through the Hellenistic decrees in the time of Chanukah, the Crusades and the Inquisitions, the aim was always to attack our value system; Judaism and the Torah. This is opposition to תורת ישראל – the Torah of Israel. The second type is Edomite anti-Semitism, which is committed to our physical destruction – from Edom’s descendant, Amalek to Haman and to the Nazi regime. This is an opposition to the very physical existence of the Jewish People as a distinct people, independent of any of the beliefs or religious practices of its members. Their sole purpose is to eradicate our physical existence – the destruction of עם ישראל – the People of Israel. The last of the three, and the most pertinent for us today, is what the Vilna Gaon terms as Philistine anti-Semitism. This is not an opposition to our value system or our physical existence as a people, but rather to our sovereign claim to ארץ ישראל – the land of Israel. To quote the Gaon’s ingenious insight in his own words, as follows:
“ופלישתים הצרו לישראל במאד ולא הניחו להם שום ממשלה ושלטון, כמו שכתוב (שמואל א’ י”ט) ‘וחרש לא ימצא’…”
“The Philistines caused great trouble for the Jewish People and didn’t allow them any sovereign presence and form of governance in the land, as the verse says (Samuel I, 19) ‘No blacksmith was to be found in all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said lest the Hebrews make a sword or a spear.’”
Whereas the Moabites opposed the תורה – our value system, and the Edomites – the existence of עם ישראל – our people, it was the Philistines who vehemently opposed our claim to spiritual and historic ownership of the land – ארץ ישראל – and therefore our right to a sovereign presence and form of governance therein.
Since the culmination of the horrific Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel, it is the Philistine genre of anti-Semitism – anti-Zionism and the systematic delegitimization campaign of Israel’s right to self-determination in its land which is the prevalent mode of anti-Semitism in our era. It had been dormant for thousands of years while the Jewish People were a wandering and stateless people. Now that we have returned as a sovereign presence in our land, so too has the Philistine type of anti-Semitism raised its ugly head and opposes the very existence of Israel and challenges her right to exist in the international community.
The purpose of this article is to examine the uncanny connection between modern Palestinian nationalism and the ancient mission of the Philistines of old. We will clarify how the creation of modern-day Palestinian nationalism and of the Palestinian people is in fact a direct spiritual reincarnation of ancient Philistine nationalism and its particular spiritual raison d’être of vehemently opposing any Jewish sovereign presence in the land.
In this week’s article we will examine the history of both the name Palestine as well as the modern phenomenon of the Palestinian people. We will delve into the birth of modern Palestinian nationalism, examine the question of who indeed is a Palestinian, and most importantly we will highlight the unique nature of Palestinian nationalism as a direct opposition to Zionism. We will juxtapose the Palestinian historic claim to the land with that of the Jewish People and highlight the critical differences between the two. In next week’s article we will take a deeper look at the ancient Philistines themselves and analyze Tanachic/biblical history in showing the remarkable veracity in the Vilna Gaon’s definition of the Philistines as the age-old vehement opponents of Israel’s right to any sovereign presence and self-determination in this land.
From Judea to Palaestina
How did this land, which was known until 2,000 years ago as Judea (and prior to that as Judah and Israel for a thousand years) become known as Palaestina? Palaestina is simply the Latin translation of Philistia, the land of the Philistines. When did this change transpire? A little history is important to understand the context of this change and its relevance today. In the year 70 A.D. as we all know, the city of Jerusalem and the Second Temple were destroyed by the Romans. Even so, the majority of Jews did not go into exile, as many remained in the province of Judea in the greater Jerusalem area and southern Negev region. According to Josephus, there remained 59 Jewish walled cities in this area where Jewish life continued to thrive despite the destruction of the Temple. While Jerusalem lay in ruins, the Jewish People remained in the Judean region for over 60 years. In the year 130 A.D. Hadrian began to build a new Roman city by the name of Aelia Capitolina, dedicated to the pagan god Zeus, which further angered the Jews of Judea. This fuelled the Bar Kochva rebellion, which had great initial successes against the Romans, with the declaration of an independent Jewish state. Greatly angered by the rebellion, Emperor Hadrian sent a powerful army of elite forces who not only crushed the rebellion, but also destroyed entirely the cities of Judea, forcing the surviving Jews to leave the region. This effectively ended any significant Jewish presence in this area with the majority of the survivors moving north to the Galilee.
In order to undermine any future Jewish nationalistic aspirations and to sever it from any Jewish biblical connection, Hadrian changed the name of Judea. He renamed it Syria Palaestina, so as to emphasize it being part of the Syrian Region and also naming it after one of the arch-enemies of the Jews who had lived in this region, the Philistines. Palaestina is the Latin for Philistia, and by naming it as such, he attempted to remove any vestige of Jewish connection from this land. The name Palaestina, or Palestine in English, remained for the centuries of Roman rule thereafter as the Roman Empire’s designation of this land.
Who Is a Palestinian?
Despite the above name change, Palestine did not exist independently as a distinct political entity during the entire period of Muslim rule between the years 634 A.D. and 1917. During these centuries which saw 10 changes of Muslim dynasties, Palestine was submerged within larger political units. It simply did not appear on the political map. During the rule of the Turkish Ottoman Empire from 1517 to 1917, Palestine was once again part of the Syrian Region (later in 1920 to become known as Greater Syria), with the area of Palestine and today’s Jordan being known as Southern Syria.
After the victory of the Allied Forces at the end of World War I, the Middle East was divided and administered by Great Britain and France. This was formalized in the San Remo conference in April of 1920. The Syrian Region, under control of the French, became the mandates of Lebanon and Syria, and the Southern Syrian Region of Palestine and Transjordan fell under British administration. It was at this time that Britain established an entity in the land known as Mandatory Palestine, or as the British Mandate of Palestine. This was in effect from 1920 until 1948. The name Palestine alone appeared on both the flag and official seal of the mandate. The British thus revived the name Palestine from Roman times which had been dormant during Muslim rule.
The name Palestine itself initially aroused hostility amongst Muslims since it had long been associated with Jewish and Christian biblical history, and was reintroduced into the modern Middle Eastern political lexicon as a result of British rule. It is important to note that during this period of the British Mandate from 1920 to 1948, all inhabitants of the mandate – Jews, Muslims and Christians alike – were referred to as Palestinians. Even though the Jews spoke about Eretz Yisrael – the Land of Israel – they adopted this official terminology. The Jerusalem Post newspaper, as it is now known, was called during the time of the Mandate ‘The Palestine Post’. Today’s Israeli philharmonic orchestra was known then as the Palestinian Orchestra before 1948. In short, Palestinians referred to all citizens of the British mandate, and in no way represented a distinct Arab Palestinian identity.
The Birth of Palestinian Nationalism
Most historians see the earliest traces of the birth of modern Palestinian Arab nationalism in the early 1920’s. The background to this rise of a sense of Arab Palestinian nationalism came as a result of the realization of some of the local Arab leadership that the region of Palestine was not going to be an exclusively Arab-led country as was the case in many of the surrounding regions. Both the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which acknowledged “the creation of a National Home for the Jewish People in part of Palestine”, and the results of the San Remo Conference with the establishment of the British Mandate, made it clear that the rights of the local Jewish and Christian population, as well as the Muslims, would be administered by Britain. Essentially the British Mandate, as opposed to so many other areas in the region such as the newly formed countries of Saudi-Arabia, Transjordan, Lebanon and Syria would aim to find a resolution acceptable to all population groups and religions of the land. It would not be exclusively a Muslim-ruled country. One individual who would become the most prominent Arab Palestinian leader of the time and the champion of Palestinian Separatism was the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini who dominated the Arab claim to Palestine and its single-minded extreme move towards separatism. He initiated the riots of 1920-1921 post the San Remo conference, and later further riots and massacres in 1929 and 1936-1937, creating the birth of modern Palestinian nationalism and separatism. He even made an alliance with Nazi Germany and committed himself to partner with Hitler to rid the Middle East Region of the Jews. During the entire mandate period, it was the Grand Mufti who led this extreme separatist drive. He was unable to entertain the possibility of accepting any recognition of Jewish national rights or claims to any part of Palestine.
What is important to note is that in drawing up plans for Palestine during the period of the partition plan of the UN in 1947-1948 there was an expectation that the local Arabs would form an independent nation. However, with a proclamation of the State of Israel in 1948, Jordan, Syria and Egypt invaded Palestine, each one occupying parts of the mandate. Jordan conquered the West Bank, Syria the Golan Heights and Egypt – the Gaza strip. Each one of these chunks of Palestine was absorbed into the existing countries, totally ignoring the Palestinian separatists’ desire to form an independent Palestinian country. The Syrians still held the desire, as did many Palestinians, to reunite as part of a greater Syria, as they were essentially one ethnic grouping. As a result, Palestinian separatism weakened, and by the late 1950s was nearly defunct. There was no consensus within the Arab world, and certainly not within the Arabs of the region of Palestine as to the acceptance of the Palestinians as a distinct people with their own right to self-determination.
Arafat and the Plight of the Palestinian People
In the 1960’s there emerged a descendant of the notable Husseini family of Jerusalem, a cousin of Haj Amin, who would become the pre-eminent builder of the Palestinian people- Yasser Arafat who founded the Palestinian Liberation organization in 1964. Following the advice of Soviet propaganda experts, Arafat would adopt the ingenious paradigm of the so-called ‘plight of the Palestinian people’. His Fatah party united other factions of the Palestinians and would become an expert in international terror, bringing to the world new advances in modern terrorism, such as the hijacking of airplanes. The PLO would be outlawed as a terror organization for almost 25 years before being recognized by the United States in 1988 as a legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. The great dual achievement of Yasser Arafat during the 1993 Oslo Accords was in both receiving international recognition as the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, as well as receiving America and Israel’s commitment to a two-state solution and the setting up of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Even though Arafat brought the ‘plight of the Palestinian people’ international recognition, he was not able to recognize genuinely the right of Israel to exist in any part of this land, and therefore could not reach a final settlement. What proves this point quite clearly was Arafat’s behavior during the Camp David Summit in the year 2000 hosted by the Clinton Administration. Hoping to reach a peace deal as President Carter had achieved decades before between Israel and Egypt, President Clinton convened the Camp David Summit. The aim would be to try and bring about concessions from both sides to bring about an end-of-conflict. What was proposed at the Summit was the division of Jerusalem as a capital for both the State of Israel and the state of Palestine living side by side, as well as Arafat relinquishing the right of return of the Palestinian refugees to all parts of Palestine, including Israel. There seemed to be a historic opportunity to create a lasting peace. Remarkably, Arafat refused the most generous and greatest offer ever made to a Palestinian leader by both Israel and the United States.
Dennis Ross, the US Middle East Envoy and a key negotiator at the Summit summarized his perspective in his book “The Missing Peace”. During election in Australia, Ross suggested that the reason for the failure was Arafat’s unwillingness to sign a final deal with Israel that would close the door on any of the Palestinian’s maximum demands, particularly the right of return. Ross claimed that what Arafat really wanted was a “One-state solution”. Not independent, adjacent Israeli and Palestinian states, but a single Arab state encompassing all of Historic Palestine.
In Clinton’s autobiography entitled “My Life”, he wrote that Arafat once complimented Clinton by telling him “You are a great man.” Clinton responded, “I am not a great man. I am a failure, and you made me one.” Arafat made Clinton into a failure by refusing to recognize Israel’s right to exist in any part of this land, and therefore bring about any potential for a final settlement. Arafat would go to his deathbed unable to acknowledge this.
His successor, Abu Mazen is following in the same path of his mentor, and there is yet to be a bold and authoritative Palestinian leader who is able to categorically state that the Palestinian people relinquish a right to part of this land, acknowledging Israel’s right to exist alongside a Palestinian State, and therefore create the potential for a lasting peace.
A number of critical points emerge to any fair-minded student of history regarding Palestinian nationalism.
Firstly, there is little or no discussion whatsoever about the existence of a Palestinian people in Arab literature prior to the 20th century, and certainly prior to the 19th century. The concept of a Palestinian people with a right to self-determination in the land of Palestine is a modern invention which started becoming a reality through the Palestinian separatist movements of Haj Amin al-Husseini. Before this time there was never a political entity known as Palestine, never an independent state of Palestine with a distinct language, flag and the irregular trappings of statehood. This is an undeniable fact and obvious to any fair-minded person.
Secondly and critically, the birth and concretization of Palestinian nationhood as a modern-day development is in many ways a direct result of Zionism and the return of the Jewish People to the land of Israel as a political entity. As such, Palestinian peoplehood and the right to self-determination is what can be determined as negative nationalism. It was built out of an opposition to Zionism and not in support of a traditional desire for a Palestinian nationalism in the region. Whereas Zionism was a natural continuation of a more-than-3000-year national connection to this land and the fulfillment of ancient biblical prophecies held dear to all Jews in their prayers and festivals on a daily basis, Palestinian nationalism is a modern-day invention with no historical antecedent. On the other hand, at the climax of the Jewish festival of Passover, celebrating freedom from Egypt oppression, Jews all over the world living in exile would declare “Next year in Jerusalem.” So too, on the holiest day of the year, at the highest spiritual point, Jews would sing in unison “Next year in Jerusalem.” At the height of every personal family celebration, at a marriage and literally under the wedding canopy, the bride and groom would declare “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither…” Every day, three times a day, the Jews would pray:
“ותחזינה עיננו בשובך לציון… – Let our eyes behold our return to Zion…”
The founders of Zionism saw themselves as part of a spiritual and historic continuum of a desire for and love of the ancient Land of Israel to which the Jewish People have always remained connected. On the other hand, Palestinian nationalism founded by Haj Amin al-Husseini and revived by Arafat was a modern-day development built on an opposition to the Zionist endeavor, at times resulting in a hatred of Zionists, and in some quarters a blatant hatred of all Jews and their connection to this land.
A third and equally vital point. The Arab and Palestinian leadership have never been able to acknowledge clearly the historic connection of the Jewish People to this land and their right to self-determination in any part of it. I find it incredible that at every juncture that a partition of this land has been offered, the ruling entity and government of Israel has accepted it whereas the Palestinians have, without fail, rejected it. In 1937, when the Peel Commission was established after the riots of 1936, a suggestion was made to partition the land. The World Zionist Organization accepted it, while Husseini and the Arab separatists rejected it. The same pattern would follow in the aftermath of the 1947 UN Partition Plan. The World Zionist Organization accepted it, whereas Arab League and local Palestinian leadership rejected it. Azzam Pasha, the Secretary General of the Arab League, would famously state that this would lead to “… a war of extermination and momentous massacre, which will be spoken of like the Mongolian Massacre and the Crusades”. The Arabs initiated a civil war straight after the partition plan which would claim the lives of over 1,000 Jews between 1947 and April 1948, and force the New Yishuv to defend itself and fire back. The same pattern would follow until this very day. After the Oslo Accords which created an opportunity for peace in 1993, a reign of terror throughout cities was initiated by the Palestinians, causing the death and serious injury of thousands. Post the historic opportunity for peace at the Camp David Accords, as spoken about earlier, Arafat would reject finding a long-term peaceful solution, a patter which unfortunately continues till this day.
I think that there is little doubt that the vast majority of Israelis would accept, rightly or wrongly, to divide Israel in two and offer self-determination to the Palestinians in the Gaza strip and the West Bank, if this would definitely bring about peace. What has deterred the majority of Israelis currently to push for a two-state solution is not in the willingness to divide the land and allow the Arab Palestinians self-determination, but rather that over the last 20 years post the Oslo accords and certainly since the disengagement, this has brought more Arab extremism and more death to Israelis, and hence to the Palestinians through Israel’s obvious right to defend itself. Every one of us knows that the disengagement from Gaza in 2006 brought about a Hamas-led terror state which has made peace seem so much more distant than it was prior to the disengagement. We are all aware how sharply Golda Meir summed up the heart of the issue – “if Israel were to put down its arms there would be no more Israel. If the Arabs were to put down their arms there would be no more war.” The stalemate continues until today. It is a match of great debate within Israel, whether or not more can and should be done from Israel’s side to initiate talks towards a potential peaceful solution. This, though, should never cloud a clear and objective historical analysis of the difference between Zionism and Palestinian Nationalism, as well as Israel’s repeated commitment to divide the land for the sake of peace, as painful and difficult as this is, and the Arabs and Palestinians’ constant inability to recognize a Jewish sovereign presence in any part of this land.
We have suggested at the outset of this article why it is that the Palestinians have struggled to acknowledge any sovereign right of the Jewish People to this land. The Vilna Gaon has suggested that this is beyond the realm of conventional politics and history. It lies in the spiritual realm. It lies in a millennia-old spiritual and historic phenomenon known as the Ancient Philistines. It is them whom the Gaon observes that “לא הניחו להם שום ממשלה ושלטון – who did not allow them [the Jewish People] any form of governance or sovereignty in the land.” Just as the Philistines committed themselves then, so too have the Palestinians of today created a form of nationalism that from its very birth until this very day has one single-minded purpose from a spiritual point of view, and that is to deny the Jewish People any right to self-determination and governance in this land. It is a negative nationalism, not based on an ancient historic love and deep national or spiritual connection to this particular track of land, but rather includes a deep sense of opposition and even hatred to the claim of others to this land. This is not only a nationalism of an oppressed people wanting to fulfill their historical connection to the land, but rather a much deeper spiritual phenomenon rooted in the historic reality of the Philistines of Philistia.
In next week’s article we will engage in an in-depth analysis of the ancient Philistines and we will show how indeed they engaged in a single-minded opposition to the establishment of Kingship in Israel, therefore denying the Tribes of Israel any sovereign presence in this land. It will allow us to take a peek into the rearview of history to get a clearer understanding of the spiritual source of their namesake in the modern era – the Palestinians.
To be continued…