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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
Where shall I begin? The truth of the matter is that throughout history there has never been an Arab country in the Middle East called Palestine. There has never been one in the Middle East, and there has never been one anywhere else in the world for that matter either... So where does this mistaken idea come from, and why do so many people believe it? That's a good question. Let's see.
Five thousand years ago there was a non-Semitic people living in the area of the present day Gaza Strip. They were neither Arabs nor Jews. The called themselves Philistines. There is no ethnic, religious, cultural, or historical connection between the ancient Philistines and the Arabs of the Gaza Strip who call themselves Palestinians today. These Arabs merely took the name of the Philistines and now they are trying to take their land.
The Philistines were the descendants of Canaan through Noah's second son Ham. Their language was similar to ancient Hebrew and Aramaic, but it has long since been abandoned and forgotten. It is a dead language just like the people who used to speak it. They are all dead. The people who spoke it were Hamites, not Semites while the people who claim to be Palestinians today are Semites, that is Arabs who trace their ancestry back to Noah's first son Shem just like the Jews with whom they are always fighting.
The Philistines of the Bible were related to the Phoenicians who lived farther north along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean in what is present day Lebanon. The Phoenicians were a powerful people, the rivals of Rome who built the ancient cities of Tyre and Sidon which are still inhabited today. Phoenicians and Philistines were both descended from Ham. They had a similar language, culture, and religion.
Philistines and Phoenicians are also related to another ancient people referred to in the Bible as the Canaanites whose land God told the Jews to go in and possess. Canaanits have also disappeared from history. They inhabited the land of Judea and Samaria which is present day Israel before the Jews of the Exodus arrived. The Canaanites did not live along the coastal plain.. They lived inland, in the area called the West Bank. This is the land that God promised the descendants of Jacob as a perpetual inheritance. It is this land that Joshua conquered after he crossed over the Jordan River. There are no more Canaanites in the world today just like there are no more Philistines and no more Phoenicians. If there are any descendants of these ancient civilizations no one knows who or where they are. They have all been assimilated into other nations and cultures, some Jewish, some Arab, and some Persian.
Do you remember the story of how Hannibal's elephants invaded Rome and how Hannibal's army was defeated by Roman legions. Hannibal and his soldiers were Carthaginians, the descendants of the same Phoenician merchants who built Tyre and Sidon. They were the relatives of the Philistines and the Canaanites who lived in the ancient city states of Gaza and in the West Bank. Carthaginians waged almost continuous war with Rome until they were utterly destroyed. The only thing that remains of the Carthaginians are their ancient ruins along the North African Coast. There are no people alive today who can trace their origins back to the Carthaginians, nor to the Phoenicians, nor to the Philistines.
The Carthaginians, the Phoenicians, and the Philistines are not the only ancient people to have disappeared from the world stage. There were the Sumerians, the Akkadians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Canaanites, the Hitites, the Minoans, and even the ancient Egyptians. None of these ancient civilizations exist anymore today. Their cultures have all disappeared. The people who inhabit Egypt today are not the descendants of the ancient Egyptians who built the pyramids. Today's Egyptians are mostly Arabs, the descendants of the same desert dwelling Arab tribes who originally inhabited the land east of the Jordan River. They were transplanted to Egypt after the Muslim conquests of North Africa in the 7th Century. They are a Semitic people descended from Shem just like the Jews are. The Arabs who live in Egypt today are not related ethnically, culturally, linguistically, or even historically to the ancient Egyptians.
Here is something you may not have known about the conflicted history of the Middle East. Jews are Hebrews. The word Hebrew is an English word derived from the word Ebrim, or Evrim. The Jews are Hebrews who moved into the area once inhabited by the Philistines and the Canaanites. Over time they subdued and assimilated these heathen tribes and created their own civilization and culture which thrived in that land for over a thousand years until they were conquered first by the ancient Babylonians and then later by the armies of Rome. After their conquest by the Babylonians they were forcibly removed from the land, but they eventually returned and rebuilt their little kingdom and their ancient civilization under the rule of King Darius of Persia.
After their return to the land Jews enjoyed another one-thousand years of virtual sovereignty until another foreign invader, namely the Romans came and conquered them. There was a bloody rebellion which left about half of the Jews dead and the rest of the inhabitants either enslaved or scattered all over the world. That lasted for almost two thousand years until in the mid twentieth century when this ancient injustice was corrected with the Balfour Declaration and the creation of the modern-day Nation of Israel.
Until the 20th century Jews remained scattered all over the world with no country of their own. As punishment for their rebellion against Roman rule, the Roman Senate renamed the Jewish homeland on all of the maps of their Empire. The land which had formerly been known for a thousand years as Judea and Samaria was officially re-named Philistia after the ancient Philistines in order to severe all historical connection between that land and the Jews. There were not very many Philistines left in the world in 70A.D. nevertheless the name change stuck, and ever since then this little part of the world has been known as Palestina or Palestine after the ancient Philistines. It remained that way under Turkish rule and British rule and is still used in common parlance today. The word Palestine is the English transliteration of the Greek word for Philistine.
Persians, Arabs, Turks, and finally the British all took turns at occupying this little part of the world, but there never was an independent Arab country called Palestine on that little strip of land where the ancient Jewish Kingdom defiantly stood up to the legions of Rome. This is where the modern-day nation of Israel defiantly stands today. It stands in defiance to the combined armies of more than twenty Arab countries in the world today. There has never been an Arab country called Palestine in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world. After they defeated the Jews and stamped out the rebellion the Romans sowed salt over the land which made the land unproductive and barren for hundreds of years. The land became forsaken. For hundreds of years the land lay neglected. For all practical purposes it only existed on the map with the designation of 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 Nation of Israel was born after World War II. During all of this time Jews and Arabs struggled to survive in limited numbers in the land, but there was never another sovereign country established in that land until the return of the Jews en masse after World War II.
The ancient Biblical homeland of the Jewish people which was forcibly taken away from them by the legions of Rome was finally restored to them in 1948, but the modern day borders of Israel are very different than they were in Biblical times. The nation is much smaller today. Part of the Jew's land is still occupied by the countries of Jordan and Syria and there are so called Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The new name that was chosen for the new country which was reborn on a small part of their ancient homeland was Israel. That name is not an accident. It was deliberately chosen to include all of the returning descendants of the Biblical Patriarch Jacob whose name was changed to Israel. Jacob is really the father of all the Jewish people. He is the grandson of Abraham and the brother of all of the Arab people who are my distant cousins many times removed.
One very 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 in that part of the world, nor Biblical scholars around to help mentor the rising Arab leader. As a result there were frequent misunderstandings and a lot of distrust which developed between the three competing cultures and religions which has even persisted to this day. It has led to almost a permanent state of hostility between Islam, and the other two Abrahamic faiths: Judaism and Christianity.
The story of the struggle between Arabs and Jews is not just a clash between different cultures and religions. It is also a struggle over precious land and water resources. The Arabs already control twenty-one different countries in the Middle East and North Africa. They occupy an area larger than the United States of America, larger than China, and almost as large as Russia. Their world stretches all the way from Morocco and Mauritania on the west to Yemen on the east. It goes all the way from Lebanon in the north to Sudan in the South. If you take into consideration all of the other countries in the world where Islam is the dominant religion then their world goes all the way to Indonesia in the Indian Ocean. One of the twenty-one countries they already control Jordan. It is the home of a majority of the former Arab residents of what used to be called Palestine.
Seventy percent of Jordanians are "Palestinian" Arabs. It is far more logical to change the name of Jordan to Palestine and resettle the rest of the former Arab residents of Palestine over there then would be to divide and destroy the one little nation left in the Middle East that is not dominated by Arabs or Muslims. The logical boundary line between Israel and Jordan/Palestine should be the Jordan River. It is a natural geographical boundary, not some random line super-imposed on a map by a third party which is intent on dividing Israel. Arabs don't have to be displaced. They only need to be re-located less than fifty miles from where they are right now. I propose a twenty-two state solution to the Arab Israeli problem... twenty-one states for Arabs and one little undivided state for the Jews with Jerusalem as its capitol.
Why can’t Arabs in the Middle East find room in their hearts to welcome their distant Jewish cousins back to their rightful place in the world? Why can’t they make room in one of their twenty-one existing countries for a few million more Arabs? It seems rather selfish considering the fact that they already occupy such a vast swath of the earth’s territory and control so much of the world's natural resources that they can’t find a little place for their brothers and sisters in the West Bank and Gaza. Why can't they allow Israel to exist?
Maybe they should try acting a little more like the patriarch Esau who welcomed his brother Jacob back after a long absence rather than the same bunch of Jew haters they have been since World War II. After all they are the ones whose ancestors chose to occupy Jacob's land after the Jews were defeated at the hands of the Romans. They took it upon themselves to occupy something that didn’t belong to them. No matter how long Arabs continue to claim that the West Bank belongs to them, the history reveals a much different story.
"The truth, the political truth, and nothing but the political truth.
A journalist has no better friend than the truth." - Scott Rohter