"Show me a history book of the Palestinians," retorted Miriam Levinger to this novice student journalist over two decades ago in Kiryat Arba, in Judea, otherwise known as the southern half of the West Bank.
In 1968, Mrs. Levinger, wife of Rabbi Moshe Levinger, the leader of the Gush
Miriam Levinger was absolutely correct in her simple analysis of the situation. But she was not alone.
Emunim movement, had, with the tacit support of the Israeli government, spearheaded the return of Jews to the Hebron area. And thus came Kiryat Arba, a thriving modern Jewish township overlooking Hebron, that sacred Biblical city where Arabs had massacred the centuries-old Jewish community in 1929. The Levingers had moved there to try to set things right by reestablishing a Jewish presence in Hebron.
By the time I met her in 1983, Miriam Levinger, once of Brooklyn, had already been in Judea for over fifteen years. She was there to stay. Not only that, but, she assured me, her children - she eventually had eleven - would inevitably branch out to help create more settlements in Judea and Samaria (the northern half of the West Bank).
Back to the Palestinian history book, or lack there of.
Mrs. Levinger elaborated on the premise that a Palestinian history book did not exist because the very concept of a Palestinian people did not exist until the Arab nations and their proxy, the PLO, chose to invent the Palestinian national movement in 1964. It was all a propaganda ploy to attack Israel and challenge Jewish claims to the land.
Tough, no-nonsense rhetoric from an Orthodox mother who was compelled to walk through Hebron with a Uzi submachine gun for protection. Miriam Levinger was absolutely correct in her simple analysis of the situation. But she was not alone.
"Palestine is a term the Zionists invented.... Our country for centuries was part of Syria," remarked Arab leader Auni Bey Abdul-Hadi to the British Peel Commission in 1937. Mr. Abdul-Hadi knew what he was talking about.
In the decades before the founding of modern Israel in 1948, during the long reign of the British-sponsored Palestine Mandate, Jews and Palestine were synonymous; the very term "Palestine" was attached to the Jews and the Jewish yishuv, or community. Jews created the Palestine Post, the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, the Palestine Electric Company. They even represented Palestine in the 1936 Olympics. "Palestine" and "Jews" became interchangeable.
The Arabs, although also residents, were generally referred to as "Arabs", not "Palestinians". Even among themselves. Most had moved to Palestine only after the Jews had re-cultivated the land - over 100,000 migrated to the region from 1922-46. They were a part of the greater Arab nation, former subjects of the old Ottoman Empire and destined to become official citizens of various nation states created by Britain and France.
The British Mandate administered the present territory of Jordan, Israel and the West Bank from 1920-48, and for the first few years dictated that Jews could settle in all areas of the mandate. After 1923, when the British established Jordan for the exiled Hashemite dynasty from the Arabian peninsula, they forbade Jews from crossing the Jordan River to settle there. However, recognizing the historical Jewish claim to the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, they actively encouraged Jews to settle that region, especially in Judea and Samaria, where Jews had maintained a presence for centuries. In 1947 the British further subdivided Palestine, thus depriving the Jews of these historical Jewish provinces.
The historical term "Palestine" went out of use when the Jewish State of Israel was reborn in 1948. Palestine had
Thus began the myth of the poor, oppressed Palestinians.
become Israel. Palestinians were now Israelis. Only decades later, in the 1960s, when Gamal Abdel-Nasser of Egypt decided to raise the Palestinian Liberation Organization, was the term resurrected. And even then, it wasn't until well after Israel had conquered the west bank of the Jordan River that those previous loyal subjects of the Jordanian king suddenly become "Palestinians". From 1948 to 1967, no one called for a Palestinian state in this Jordanian territory (until, of course, after Israel moved in).
Thus began the myth of the poor, oppressed Palestinians. A whole group of people was created overnight. A people with neither a collective ethnic identity nor a historical identity. A people whose primary allegiance was to their religious group, Muslim or Christian, Shiite or Sunni, rather then the artificial label of "Palestinian" foisted upon them by subsequent generations.
As Miriam Levinger said over two decades ago, "Show me a history book of the Palestinian people."