Christiane Amanpour stated on her Sunday round table discussion on December 11, 2011 in response to Newt Gingrich standing behind his position that the Palestinians are an invented people, that the people of Palestine have been called Palestinians since the 19th century.

Whoa! Really?

I would love for Ms. Amanpour to show us where, anywhere in 19th century literature where the word “Palestinians” is used. “Palestine,” a term invented by ancient Rome and therefore a western designation was not used during that time.

Jews and Muslims lived for four centuries under Ottoman rule (1516-1917) in that part of the world. The Ottomans drew up their own designations comprising what are today Israel, the West Bank and Gaza into two separate territories, or districts, called Sanjaks, one emanating from Jerusalem, the other from Beirut.

After four centuries of Ottoman rule designating the area differently,  the term “Palestinians” was revived by the English in the 1920s to distinguish between Palestinian Arabs and Palestinian Jews. Because of its Western origins all during the mandate period, the Arabs rejected the term outright, regarding it as a derogative. Preferring to connect themselves with the surrounding Arab populations, they never called themselves Palestinians.

There is no mention of “Palestinians” in Palestinian literature until the 1960s when the PLO began calling their brand of nationalism “Palestinian.”  Even then calling themselves Palestinians was only for western consumption as some Palestinian leaders continued to reject the term.

In an interview with the Dutch newspaper Trouw, on March 31, 1977 Zahir Muhsein, a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee said,

“The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct ‘Palestinian people’ to oppose Zionism. “For tactical reasons, Jordan, which is a sovereign state with defined borders, cannot raise claims to Haifa and Jaffa. While as a Palestinian, I can undoubtedly demand Haifa, Jaffa, Beer-Sheva and Jerusalem.”

Muhsein’s view is not an isolated one. Arafat himself proclaimed similar views all through that time period. It wasn’t until the late 1980s, when the PLO dropped the rhetoric about only existing to destroy the State of Israel, after world leaders pounded the idea into them what it means to create a nation state. All that talk of killing Jews and destroying Israel remained in the literature they just never talked that way in English again.

Newt Gingrich is correct, they are an invented people, no different than calling ourselves Americans in the 1760s to separate us from the British Crown, but, with the huge difference that  our nationalist goals were not to destroy England, but only to secure our own liberty.

To give Christiane Amanpour a pass on this drastic historical error would be entirely possible if she had made the comment in private. But, to cavalierly say something so patently false in which millions of viewers would see it and absorb it as truth is unforgivable.

I don’t really expect commentators like Christiane Amanpour to understand or know that history on any substantive level, but I do expect influential media programs like hers to be responsible in how they project political statements made by others. In other words check your facts before your speak.

Christiane, you owe Newt Gingrich, me, and the rest of America an apology and a retraction.

photo at top courtesy of makers.com

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Jewish community examiner

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