Palestinians: Who Are they Really?

Author’s Note: It is widely believed that the term “Palestinians” refers to Arabs who trace their ancestry to the British Palestine Mandate, which was established after World War I. There are also many who believe that their lands are now “illegally occupied” by the State of Israel. But that is not the case. Before 1948, when the name was changed to Israel, Palestine was considered to be the Jewish homeland. The Jews living there were referred to as “Palestinishers.” The article below explores this issue.

Tevye Visits Palestine

By Israel Zwick

Most theater-goers are aware that the popular Broadway musical, Fiddler on the Roof, is based on the Yiddish stories about “Tevye the Dairyman.” The stories were written by the famed Yiddish humorist, Sholom Aleichem, who lived between 1859 and 1916. Most of the stories were written around the turn of the 20th Century in Czarist Russia. For those who can’t read the original Yiddish, the stories were translated into English by Julius and Frances Butwin and published by Crown Publishers.

One of the Tevye stories is titled, “Tevye Visits Palestine.” In this story, Tevye visits his wealthy son-in-law, Padhatzur, who offers to send him to America. When Tevye declines, Padhatzur asks, “Well, if not America, then how would you like to go to Palestine? Old Jews are always eager to go to Palestine.” Tevye gives it some thought and ponders, “I would like to stand by the Western Wall, see the Tomb of the Patriarchs, Mother Rachel’s grave, and I would like to look with my own eyes at the River Jordan.”

Of course, the Sholom Aleichem stories are not historical or legal documents. However, this indicates that before there was a British Palestine Mandate, Jews identified with an area known as Palestine. It was synonymous with the Holy Land. There was always a Jewish presence in that area.

Sholom Aleichem himself had to escape from Czarist Russia during the pogroms in the beginning of the 20th Century. Eventually, he settled in New York City in 1915 and died there in 1916. In those days, Jews who wanted to escape the persecution and poverty of Eastern Europe had to take long voyages by ship. When Jews encountered each other on these long journeys, they would greet each other in their common language, Yiddish, “Nu, fun vant kumt a Yid?” So, where does a Jew come from? Sholom Aleichem might have identified himself as a Ukrainisher. Other Jews would have identified themselves as Galizianers, Russishers, or Litvisheres. How would a Jew from the Holy Land identify himself? He wouldn’t be called Israeli, because the State of Israel didn’t exist yet. He wouldn’t say that he’s from the Ottoman Empire because the Empire was huge and Jews lived in a variety of places there. So a Jew from the Holy Land may not have spoken Yiddish, but he was identified by his European brethren as a “Palistinisher.”

So Palestine has a long history of identification with the Jewish people. There was always a sparse population of both Jews and Arabs living there in peaceful coexistence. The friction began when the British government announced that they would favor the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The intent was that Jews and Arabs would be able to live there in peaceful coexistence and mutual cooperation. The Jews agreed to that, but the Arabs did not, and the violence began long before there was a State of Israel. If the Arab population is still not agreeable to sharing the land with Jews, then they should be the ones who should leave, not the Jews. Palestine is a Jewish area. The Jews came there first and were the original “Palistinishers.”

On September 7, 2005, The Washington Times reported that Saudi oil revenues were soaring and contributed to a sixfold increase in stock prices. This year’s oil revenues are expected to reach $157 billion, a 48% increase over the 2004 revenues of $106 billion. “The Saudi stock market has seen its capitalization grow from $82.1 billion at the end of June 2002 to $517.6 billion at the end of June 2005, or an increase in $435 billion in just three years.” Kuwait has also recently reported record high oil profits. Iran is busy amassing weapons of mass destruction with its huge oil profits.

Perhaps it is time for the international community to encourage the oil-rich Arab states to finally help resettle the Arabs living in UNRWA refugee camps into permanent housing elsewhere in the 22 countries of the Arab League. That’s where most of them originally came from, and that’s where they should go. They would be happy to go to other countries if given sufficient economic incentives. Palestine should belong to the Jews, as originally promised.

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