Saturday, June 23, 2007

Why Do I Use the Term Palestinian Arab?

I've been asked, both by friends and antagonists, why I continue to use the term Palestinian Arab rather that today's more common term of Palestinian?

Years ago, it was far from clear that there was a distinct Palestinian people and it appeared to me to be prudent to use a term that seemed far more accurate.

Later, it seemed that a new people was in the process of forming, primarily as a result of hatred of Israel, but I decided to keep using the same term as a reminder.

It reminds those who are knowledgeable it's only recently that those who today insist on calling themselves Palestinians started doing so and reminds them of why.

It provides me an opportunity, when asked by those who are not knowledgeable, to explain.

It reminds others, and me, of the power of language and of the way Israel and its supporters have let the Israel-haters win the war of semantics.

Prior to the reestablishment of Israel, the term Palestinian was generally understood to refer to Jews living in Palestine. Indeed, Arabs living in Palestine generally insisted they were not Palestinians. Only much later did Arab propagandists realize the benefit of redefining their identity.

As recently as 1977, Farouk Kaddoumi (Newsweek, March 14, 1977) explained there should be a linking between Jordan and the Arabs living in western Palestine "because Jordanians and Palestinians are considered by the PLO as one people." This echoed the statement "Jordan is Palestine and Palestine is Jordan. There is one people and one land, a common history and a common fate," made by Prince Hassan at Jordan's National Assembly February 2, 1970.

Today, with the overthrow of Fatah in Gaza by Hamas, the existence of a Palestinian people again seems to be in doubt. If there is a distinct nation of Arabs living in the disputed territories, distinct from their Arab brethren elsewhere, then there appears to be two distinct peoples, those living in Gaza and those living in the portions of the disputed territories formerly occupied by Jordan. It would seem that at least one of them will again have to adopt a new identity.

Getting back to semantics, there are at least two other instances in this blog entry where I've been very careful about the use of language.

I referred to the reestablishment of Israel, to remind people that Israel is not really a new invention. Anti-Israel propagandists try to convince the gullible the Israelis are the newcomers and the Palestinian Arabs are indigenous when the reverse is true.

I referred to disputed territories rather than occupied territories for similar reasons.

In both cases, the terminology I've used in more accurate and also avoids conceding the semantic playing field to the anti-Israel propagandists.

I will close with one more example of letting Israel's enemies determine the playing field.

We are now used to hearing about the Israel-Palestinian conflict; I prefer to use the more accurate term Arab-Israeli conflict.

Using the term Arab-Israeli conflict is more accurate, since the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs is just a part of, indeed a consequence of, the broader conflict.

There are two other benefits.

I think there is a subconscious tendency to think of the first party mentioned as the aggressor. Since it is the Arabs who both began and have perpetuated the conflict, they should be mentioned first.

Also, pretending the conflict is between the Palestinian Arabs and Israelis makes it easier to create the misimpression that the Palestinian Arabs are the smaller, weaker party and thus deserving of more sympathy.

Even if the conflict only involved the Palestinian Arabs, the facts and logic prove otherwise, but it's hard enough to get the truth out without conceding the language playing field.

For now, I'll keep using the term Palestinian Arab and patiently explain why when asked; it will be interesting to see what terminology the different Palestinian Arabs will use to self-identify as their split becomes more obvious and irreconcilable.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations on a excellent article. Just one thought - I think the conflict is best described as an Arab-Jewish conflict rather than Arab-Israeli conflict. Please refer to the following article I read today.

primerprez said...

That point is well taken, since the Arab aggression has extended to Jews around the world. But things are even more complicated that that, since it is not only Arabs trying to destroy Israel. The mullahs in charge of Iran, a Persian country have joined in, although when they're overthrown it's not unlikely Iran will once again become a friend of Israel. And there are some Zionist supporters among Arabs.