Ariel Center for
Policy Research



NATIV   ■   Volume Twelve   ■   Number 3 (68)  ■  May 1999   ■  Ariel Center for Policy Research




The Palestinians -
A Useful Past for a People that Never Existed in History

Eliyahu Green

A sizable literature has sprouted in recent decades to propound the notion of a "Palestinian people" and its real or imagined anguish, agonies, and grievances. Eliyahu Green examines a specimen of the genre, a book by B. Kimmerling and J. Migdal. Green finds the book marred by conceptual confusion, as well as significant omissions and evasions, plus serious falsehoods, which provide a tableau of a useful past for this "people", a somewhat romanticized view of a distinct "Palestinian people", related to the Arabs yet somehow separate. Conceptually, the authors do not clearly or reasonably explain that this is indeed a distinct people or nation, nor precisely how the notion of a distinct "Palestinian people" developed, nor do they explain what they mean by people or nation in principle.

The authors do show that in the nineteenth century and up to the First World War, the Arab-Muslim upper class in the country was integrated into the Ottoman political system. Yet Kimmerling and Migdal insinuate that this integration was limited to Eretz-Israel itself, avoiding the rise to high Ottoman imperial posts of certain local Arabs, chiefly of the Husseini and Khalidi clans. It seems that it simply would not do to show that some "Palestinians" were imperialists. That might spoil the useful tableau of the past. For the same reason, they severely minimize the Holocaust participation of Arabs in general and the Palestinian Arab leadership in particular. On this issue the Hebrew edition of the book is a slight improvement over the English one. Further, the authors disregard considerable evidence showing a consistent - though often surreptitious - British anti-Zionist, pro-Arab policy, although Britain had accepted an international obligation to foster development of the Jewish National Home. They also misrepresent British policy towards Amin Husseini and conceal George Antonius' British loyalties. Yet the Hebrew edition omits the silly claim in the English one that the British left Eretz-Israel out of fear of a renewed Arab revolt.

The book in its superficiality does not ask why the Palestinian Arab refugee problem was preserved and perpetuated by the international community while much larger refugee problems from the same period were solved long ago.

All this helps to provide the "Palestinian people" with a useful past.

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