Abbas’ poor grasp of Palestinian history has a peculiar relevance

If Mahmoud Abbas is so proud of being leader of a people named after ancient Greek sea-farers who invaded the land of Canaan and occupied its southwestern coast, he should accept the limits of his forebears’ territorial victories and acknowledge the Gaza Strip as the de facto Palestinian state. This means relinquishing any claims on the rest of “Canaan.”

By Richard Mather

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, has taken falsehood to a new level by claiming that the “Palestinians” have lived in the land of Israel for a staggering six thousand years. According to Abbas, the so-called Palestinian people predate the Hebrew patriarch Avraham.

“Our narrative says that we have been in this land since before Avraham,” Abbas proclaimed in a video from March 21, 2016, translated from Arabic by the Palestinian Media Watch.

Presumably, Abbas is basing his claim on a line from Bereshit (Genesis) 21:34, “And Avraham resided in the land of the Philistines a long time.”

Abbas continued: “I am not saying it. The Bible says it. The Bible says, in these words, that the Palestinians existed before Abraham.”

Here’s a history lesson for the intellectually-impoverished PA president:

The words Philistine and Palestinian do indeed share the same etymology. Both words derive from “Peleshet” or “Pelestim,” from the Semitic root “p-l-s”, which means “to divide” or “to invade.” Despite the name, the people who call themselves Palestinians are entirely unrelated to the Philistines. The current Palestinians are very recent Arab migrant-settlers who came to Eretz Israel in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The name “Falastin” that Arabs today use for “Palestine” is not an Arabic name, but adapted from the Latin Palaestina.

The original Philistines were a non-Semitic sea-faring people who came from the Aegean Islands and Crete circa 12th century BCE. They attempted to invade Egypt and were forced northward into Canaan by Ramses III. Having killed the coastal Canaanites in the area known as Gaza, the Philistines began to move into the interior of Canaan, which belonged to the Israelites. They were defeated by King David.

The Philistines who remained in Gaza were ruled by Sargon II of Assyria. After that time, they vanished from history, having been assimilated into the Assyrian and Persian empires. There is no mention of them after the Babylonian Captivity.

Here’s the good bit: If the modern-day Palestinians really aspire to be Philistines, then the only land in the whole of Canaan/Palestine/Israel they have any claim to is the Gaza Strip. The original Philistines occupied the southwestern strip of land on the coast and not much else. They failed to expand into Judea, Samaria or Galilee. The only other place they attempted to conquer was Egypt (and they failed).

In other words, if the Palestinians say they are Philistines, they can only claim Gaza as their rightful inheritance. In so doing, they must relinquish any territorial claim to Hebron, Shechem, Jerusalem, Tiberias, the Jordan Valley, and so on.

So: Judea and Israel for the Israelites/Jews; and Gaza for the Philistines/Palestinians. That’s the two-state solution solved.

True, the original Philistine State was slightly larger than the current Gaza Strip (it included Ashdod and Ashkelon) but it’s a strange quirk of history that the Palestinians have chosen to name themselves after an invading force who came from another part of the world. It is also curious that the land occupied by the Philistinian settlers from Crete and the Islamic migrant-settlers who now manage Gaza have ended up in almost the same place. There may not be a genetic or cultural connection between the ancient sea-faring peoples and the modern-day Arab Palestinians, but they occupy the same land, share the same name and share the same enmity towards the Hebrew-speaking people.

So if Mahmoud Abbas wants to recast the Palestinian Arabs as the modern-day Philistines, he must concede that his own presence in Judea and Samaria has no political legitimacy.  Moreover, it means that Gaza, which is run by his Hamas rivals, is the true – and only – seat of Palestinian sovereignty.

 

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