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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
The truth of the matter is that throughout history there has never been an Arab country in the Middle East called Palestine. NEVER! 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 notion come from, and why do so many people believe it? Let's see.
Five thousand years ago there used to be a non-Semitic people living in the area of the Gaza Strip. They were neither Arabs nor Jews. They called themselves Philistines. There is no ethnic, religious, cultural, or historical connection between these ancient Philistines and the Arabs of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank today who call themselves Palestinians. These Arabs merely stole the name of Philistines with the acquiescense of the whole world and now they are trying to claim a right to their land.
The Philistines were the descendants of Canaan through Noah's second son Ham. Their language while similar to ancient Hebrew and Aramaic has long since been abandoned and forgotten just like the people who once spoke it. The important point is that the people who spoke this ancient language were Hamites not Semites like the people who live in the area today. They are Arabs who trace their ancestry back to Noah's first son Shem just like the Jews do with whom they are always fighting.
The Philistines of the Bible were closely related to another group of people called the Phoenicians who lived a bit farther north along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea in what is present day Lebanon. The Phoenicians were the ancient rivals of Rome who built the cities of Tyre and Sidon which are still inhabited today. They also built Carthage on the North African coast. The Phoenicians and the Philistines were both descendants of Ham (Noah's second son). 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. Like the Phoenicians and the Philistines... the ancient 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 farther inland, in the area called the West Bank today. This is the land that God promised the descendants of Jacob as their inheritance. It is this land that Joshua conquered after he and the ancient Israelites crossed over the Jordan River. All of the Canaanites and the Philistines and the Phoenicians have disappeared from history. They are either dead and buried or they have assimilated into all the different cultures of the Middle East. If there are any descendants of these ancient civilizations no one knows who they are, or where they are. They have all been absorbed into other nations and cultures, some Jewish, some Arab, and some Persian.
Do you remember the story of Hannibal and his elephants, how they 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 had built the cities of 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 land now called the West Bank. Carthaginians waged a campaign of almost continuous war with Rome until they were utterly defeated and 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 ancestry back to the Carthaginians, or to the Phoenicians, or to the Philistines.
The Carthaginians, the Phoenicians, and the Philistines are not the only ancient people to have disappeared from the world stage. The Sumerians, the Akkadians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Canaanites, the Hitites, the Minoans, and even the ancient Egyptians have all come and gone. None of these ancient civilizations exist anymore. 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 tribes who originally inhabited the lands east of the Jordan River. They were transplanted to Egypt after the Muslim conquest of North Africa in the 7th Century. They are a Semitic people descended from Shem just like Jews are. The Arabs who live in Egypt today are not related either ethnically, culturally, linguistically, or genetically to the early 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. Gradually over time they subdued and assimilated most of these heathen tribes and created their own civilization and culture which thrived for over a thousand years until they were conquered by the ancient Babylonians and later by the legions of Rome. After their conquest by Babylon they were forcibly removed from their land, but they eventually returned and rebuilt their tiny homeland under the Persian King Darius.
After their return to Judaea and Samaria the Jews enjoyed another one thousand years of sovereignty until another foreign invader, namely the Romans conquered them and took away their sovereignty. A bloody rebellion left about half of the Jews dead and the rest of the inhabitants of the land either enslaved or scattered all over the world. This lasted for almost two thousand years until in the mid twentieth century this ancient injustice was corrected by the Balfour Declaration and the creation of the modern state of Israel occurred.
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 their 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 the Jews and their land. There were not very many Philistines left in the world in 70A.D. nevertheless the name stuck, and ever since then this little part of the world has been routinely known as Palestina or Palestine after the ancient Philistines. It remained that way under Turkish rule and British rule and the term is still used in common parlance today. The word Palestine is the English transliteration of the Greek word Philistine.
Persians, Arabs, Turks, and finally the British all took turns at occupying this little part of the world, but there has never been an independent Arab country called Palestine located on the ruins of the ancient Jewish Kingdom where ancient Israelis once stood against the powerful legions of Rome. This is where the modern state of Israel stands defiantly against the rest of the world today. It stands in defiance of the combined armies of more than twenty Arab nation's and in defiance of the United Nations. There has never been an Arab country called Palestine on Jewish land and there never will be. After the Roman legions of Augustus 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. It became forsaken. For hundreds of years the land remained neglected. It continued to be designated on the map as 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 reborn after World War II. During all of this time Jews and Arabs struggled to survive in limited numbers on the land, but there was never another sovereign country established their until the return of the Jews in massive numbers 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, however the modern day borders of Israel are are much smaller than they were in Biblical times. Part of their land is still occupied by the countries of Jordan and Syria and there are fake Philistines in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The name that was chosen for the new country which was reborn on a small portion of its ancient homeland was Israel. This is not an accident. The name was deliberately chosen to include all of the returning descendants of the Patriarch Jacob whose name was changed to Israel. Jacob is the father of all the Jewish people.
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