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A Primer on the Middle East - The Arab / Israeli Conflict
What are They Really Fighting Over?

By Scott Rohter, October 2011

In a letter to the editor in my local newspaper someone wrote that there used to be an Arab country in the Middle East called Palestine. That letter prompted me to write the following article...

Actually there never was an Arab country in the Middle East called Palestine. There wasn't one in the Middle East and there wasn't one anywhere else in the world for that matter. This is a true statement. It is factually correct and one hundred percent accurate. The two important words in the sentence are Arab and country.

Five thousand years ago there was a non-Semitic people (that means they weren't Arabs or Jews) living in the area of the Gaza Strip. These people were called Philistines. They were the ancient people from whom the present day Palestinians have taken their name but there is no direct ethnic or genealogical connection between the Philistines of old and the Palestinians of today. The Palestinians have taken someone else's name and now they are trying to take someone else's land.

The language of the Philistines was similar to Hebrew and Aramaic but the people who spoke that language were not descendants of Shem (one of Noah’s three sons). In plain and simple terms the Philistines were not Semites and the Palestinians are Semites. Both Arabs and Jews are Semites. That means they are both the descendants of Shem, but the ancient Philistines were descended from a different one of Noah's sons who was named Ham.

The Philistines were related to the Phoenicians who lived a little farther north along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea in what is present day Lebanon. The Phoenicians built the ancient walled cities of Tyre and Sidon in present day Lebanon. The Phoenicians and the Philistines both had a similar language, culture, and origin. They were both descended from Ham. The Philistines lived along the south-east coast of the Mediterranean and the Phoenicians lived along the north-east coast of the Mediterranean.

Both the Philistines and the Phoenicians were related to another ancient people that were descended from Ham. These were the Canaanites that you read about in the Bible. The Canaanites lived farther inland, east of the Philistines between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River in what was to became The Kingdom of Judaea under King David. It is now called the West Bank. This land was part of the land that God gave to the Israelites and that Joshua conquered after the Jews of the Exodus died in the wilderness and their children possessed the land. The Phoenicians, Philistines, and Canaanites were all descendants of Ham. They were not Arabs. All of these tribes are extinct today. Furthermore the Arabs have always been desert dwelling tribes that lived south and east of the Jordan River in the general area of the Sinai Peninsula in what is present day Saudi Arabia. Arabs are not Philistines and neither are the present day Palestinians.

The Phoenicians were a sea-faring nation of merchants who inhabited the coastal strip of land along the Mediterranean in present day Lebanon. Later they went on to found colonies along the north coast of Africa. One of the colonies they founded was Carthage which went on to become one of Rome's earliest rivals. Eventually the Romans defeated and destroyed them.

Do you remember the story of how Hannibal's elephants invaded Rome. Hannibal's army was ultimately defeated by Roman legions. Hannibal and his soldiers were Carthaginians... the descendants of Phoenician merchant colonists from Tyre and Sidon. They were related to the Philistines and the Canaanites that lived in Gaza and the West Bank.  The Carthaginians waged war with Rome until they were defeated and utterly destroyed.  The only thing that remains of the Carthaginian civilization are the ruins. There are no people alive today who can trace their ancestry back to the Carthaginians, or to the Phoenicians, or to the Philistines. The wars between Carthage and Rome which destroyed Carthage are called the Punic Wars.

The Carthaginians, the Phoenicians, and the Philistines are not the only ancient people who have totally disappeared from history.  The Sumerians, the Akkadians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Canaanites, the Hitites, the Minoans, and even the ancient Egyptians have all disappeared from history. Most of the people who inhabit Egypt today are not the descendants of the ancient Egyptians. They are the descendants of desert dwelling Arab tribes that were transplanted there after the Muslim conquests of the 7th Century. The Arab Egyptians of today are not related in any way to the ancient Egyptians of the past. Prior to their defeat by the armies of Mohammed the ancient Egyptians had developed a civilization without equal which lasted for over five thousand years. The ancient Egyptians were not Arabs as most of them are today. They were a Hamitic people descended from Ham just like the Philistines and the Phoenicians and the Canaanites were. The Arabs who live there today are not related ethnically, culturally, linguistically, or even historically to the ancient Egyptians. The ancient Egyptians have for all practical purposes disappeared from history too, just like the Philistines of old. Their culture, language, and civilization has disappeared with them. We can only read about them in history books.

Now if you pay close attention you might learn something that you didn't already know about the conflicted history of the Middle East. The Jews are Hebrews. The word Hebrew is an English word derived from the ancient word Ebrim, or Evrim. The Hebrews moved into the area occupied by the Philistines and the Canaanites, and over the next few centuries they subdued these heathen tribes and created their own civilization and culture which thrived there for over a thousand years until they were conquered first by the ancient Babylonians and later by the armies of Rome. After being conguered by the Babylonians they were forcibly removed from the land, but they eventually returned and rebuilt their little Jewish kingdom and their ancient civilization under the rule of King Darius of Persia.

After their return to the land the Jews enjoyed another one-thousand years of virtual sovereignty until another foreign invader came from the West this time in the form of the Roman Empire. Then the Jewish people were defeated again and this time there was a very bloody rebellion which left about half of the population of the land dead and the rest of the inhabitants either enslaved or scattered all over the world for almost two thousand years. Only in the mid twentieth century was this ancient injustice corrected with the creation of the modern-day State of Israel.

As a further punishment for their rebellion, the Romans punished the Jews by renaming their land on all the maps of the Empire. The land which had previously been known for thousands of years as Judea and Samaria was re-named Philistia or Palestina to further punish the Jews for their defiance. They did this to try to sever the connection between the land and its Jewish inhabitants and history forever. They named it after the Jew's ancient rivals, the historical Philistines who had been defeated thousands of years before. There were not very many Philistines left in 70A.D. just as there were not many people who called themselves Phoenicians or Canaanites.  Nevertheless the name change stuck, and ever since then that general area of the world has been known as Palestine after the ancient Philistines who had long since disappeared. Palestine is the English translation of the Greek word Palestina or Philistia.

Many years later the Persians, and then the Arabs, the Turks, and the British all subsequently took turns at occupying this little part of the world.  But there never was an independent Arab country called Palestine or anything else for that matter on that little strip of land where the ancient Jewish Kingdoms once defiantly stood up to the armies of Rome. This is where the little modern-day nation of Israel defiantly stands up to the combined armies of over twenty Muslim countries in the world today. There never was an Arab country called Palestine in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world for that matter.  The Romans sowed salt over the land as it was their custom to do with their enemies who defied them. This made the land unproductive and barren for hundreds of years and it was forsaken.  For hundreds of years the land was neglected. It was just a geographical area on the map that was designated Palestine following the Roman tradition. It remained largely a desolate and forsaken place under Roman, Persian, Arab, Turkish, and finally British occupation until the mid-twentieth century when the modern day State of Israel was created after World War II.  During all of this time Jews and Arabs struggled to survive there in limited numbers, but there never was another sovereign country established there until the return of the Jews in large numbers during and after World War II, and the creation of the modern-day State of Israel in 1948.

The Jews ancient Biblical homeland which was forcibly taken away from them by the legions of Rome was restored to them in small part in 1948. However the land of Israel today is much smaller today than it was in Biblical days. Part of the Jew's land is still occupied by Jordan and Syria and the so called Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza.  The new name that was chosen for their new country which was reborn on a small part of their ancient Biblical homeland was Israel.  This name was not an accident. It was deliberately chosen to include all of the returning children of the Biblical Patriarch Jacob whose name was changed to Israel. Jacob is the father of the Jewish people. He is the grandson of Abraham who is also the father of all of the Arab people which are my cousins many times removed.

One unfortunate consequence of the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. was that in the 7th century when Mohammad lived, there were not many Jews or Christians left living in the land nor Biblical scholars around to help mentor the young Arab leader.  As a result there were frequent misunderstandings and a lot of distrust developed between the three competing cultures and religions which has persisted until today. It has led to an almost permanent state of hostility between Islam, and the other two Abrahamic faiths: Judaism and Christianity. If we could just learn how to live together for now until God opens our eyes and enables us all to see more clearly. 

The story of the struggle between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East is not just a clash between different cultures and religions. It is also a competition over land and precious water resources. There is not enough of either of these two commodities in this parched region of the earth. It is a struggle over learning how to share these two vital resources. Muslims control a vast swath of the world's territory. It is composed of 21 different countries which is larger than the entire United States of America. It is larger than China and almost as large as Russia.  It stretches from Mongolia on the east, to Spain on the west, and from Bulgaria on the north, to Nigeria on the south. It includes Indonesia and other islands in the Indian Ocean as well. There is already a country that is home to the Arabs of what used to be called Palestine. That country is Jordan. It contains a large part of their tribal homeland. Arabs are desert dwelling people that have always lived in the desert and not on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean or along the Jordan River.

Seventy percent of Jordanians are so called Palestinian Arabs. It is more logical to change the name of Jordan to Palestine then it is to divide and destroy the tiny little nation of Israel.  Also the logical boundary line between Israel and Palestine should be the Jordan River. It is a natural geographical boundary, not some random line drawn over hill and dale right through the heart of Israel which is the West Bank just in order to comply with some unreasonable United Nations demands.  No Arabs have to be displaced from the vicinity. They don’t even have to be re-located more than fifty miles until we can all learn how to live together in peace.

Why can’t the Arabs of the Middle East find some room in their hearts to welcome back their cousins the Jews to their rightful place in their rightful land? Why can’t they make room in their hearts as well as in one of their twenty-one different countries to accommodate a few million more Arabs? It seems rather selfish to me and stingy of them considering the fact that Arabs occupy such a vast swath of the earth’s surface and control such a large amount of the world's precious natural resources that they can’t even find room for a small, non-Arab, non-Muslim, and non-threatening presence in their midst. Why can they allow Israel to exist in peace as a sovereign nation?

Arabs should try to act a little more like the patriarch Esau who welcomed his cousin Jacob back after a long and extended absence rather than the same bunch of Jew-haters they have been for tha last sixty-five years. After all... they actually did move in and occupy Jewish land after the Jews had been displaced by the Romans. They took over something that actually didn’t belong to them after the Roman conquest of Judaea and Samaria in 70 A.D. No matter how long they continue to claim that Palestine belongs to them, the real history portrays a different story.

Just to make my point even more clear try to get your brain around this. My grandmother's maiden name was Rubinsky. That means she was a Polish Jew who traced her ancestry back to the tribe of Rueben. Today the land that once belonged to Rueben is now occupied by Palestinians in present day Jordan. Israel isn't asking for Jordan back and neither am I. On the other hand the Israelis should be able to have a country with a defensible border that exists on one side of the Jordan River. It must not be divided into two parts. The Jews need a country with secure borders just like any other distinct nation in the world. It should not be fragmented or cut in half by unreasonable United Nations demands just in order to please my very greedy and wealthy, oil-rich Arab cousins.

Corroborating Source Material

"The truth, the political truth, and nothing but the political truth.
A journalist has no better friend than the truth."
- Scott Rohter

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