The Only Indigenous People
The Palestinians see themselves as indigenous to what they call the land of Palestine. Their story begins with the rise of Islam, which occurs in the 7th Century CE, and this is when Arabs in the Arabian Peninsula, what is today Saudi Arabia, recently converted to a new religion called Islam. They migrate from the Arabian Peninsula beginning in the 7th century with the rise and spread of Islam, conquering the greater Middle East, North Africa and even parts of Europe. It’s at this point in history where the Arab world is formed in what it is known today – the Middle East. And for the interest of those studying the Arab-Israeli Conflict, includes for Zionists the land of Israel and for Palestinians the land of Palestine. In the last 1400 years, from the rise of Islam in the 7th Century until the establishment of the state of Israel, the Arabs had been the majority in Palestine. While the conquest and migration leads to the formation of the Arab world, it occurred in the name of spreading Islam, leading to the formation of the what is also the Islamic world, where according to Islam the world is divided into essentially two areas — what is in Arabic called the Dar-al-Islam (House of Islam) and the Dar-al-Harb (House of War). The areas of the House of Islam – the original lands of the Islamic Conquest of the 7th century — is holy Islamic land and can only be ruled over by Muslims. This area, House of Islam lands, areas which according to Islam can only be ruled over by Muslims, includes the land of Palestine. Therefore for the last millennia plus, this area has had only one indigenous people according to Palestinians today, and except for a brief intermission with the Crusaders until the British, has always been inhabited by Arabs and ruled over by Muslims.
Modern Palestinian Nationalism
So when does the rise of modern Palestinian nationalism occur? Depending on which Scholars you follow, it takes place anywhere between the middle of the 19th to the middle of the 20th centuries, either as a protest against Ottoman rule in the mid-nineteenth century, against Zionist migration to the area in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, or against British imperialism with the establishment of their mandate. During the time of the British in the 20s, the 30’s and the 40’s, there is conflict between the two peoples who see themselves as indigenous to the land, the Arabs to what they call Palestine and the Jews, who call it the land of Israel. When the British decide to abdicate of their responsibility to turn over authority to the Jews (or the Arabs) after deciding to leave the area, they ask the United Nations to decide who will rule over what will become the former British Mandate of Palestine. The UN sees two peoples that want this land so it should be divided into two states. The Arabs say no because they see the Partition Plan as unjust and illegitimate since an inferior religious group as the Jews cannot rule over Arab-Muslim lands, and cannot rule over Muslims in Holy Islamic territory (the Jewish state according to the Partition Plan would have a 45% Arab, mostly Muslim minority).
Nakba (Catastrophe) – 1947-1949
As a result of rejecting Partition, the Arabs start a war, which begins as a local civil war and expands into an inter-state war when the British leave and the Jews declare an independent state of Israel on May 14th, 1948. The Israelis call this war the War of Independence, where the Arabs call it the Nakba, the catastrophe, as a catastrophe happens to them, the establishment of the state of Israel on historic Palestine. During the Nakba (1947-1949), three-quarters of a million Palestinians are displaced from their homes – and they are kicked out of their homes as a result of this war because their leaders told them to, because they were scared because it’s war so they left, or because the IDF expelled them due to the War. The Nakba is a pivotal moment in Palestinian national identity and history as it is an injustice which they experience everyday with the State of Israel, a Jewish country accepted as a sovereign entity by the international community in 78% of land of what they believe to entirely belong to them. The Jews, an illegitimate foreign religious group forces the indigenous people away from their land, and in creating a state on Palestinian land, has brought upon the Palestinians the greatest injustice which they can only undo with the return of all the Palestinian refugees (and their decedents which are also considered refugees by the UN) to historic Palestine, which is now Israel.
Naksa (Setback) – Occupation of 1967
Following the Nakba is the Naksa, the setback, which is the military occupation by the IDF of the remaining Palestinian territories of the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the West Bank (also the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula but those aren’t relevant for the Palestinian narrative). Since 1967, the Palestinians have experienced an unjust Occupation where they’ve been ruled over by Jews, by the IDF, by Israelis with limited access to basic rights and to really control their own destiny and rule themselves. Even with Oslo Peace Process which began in the early 1990’s, the creation the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian autonomy (full or partial) in the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank (Areas A & B), the Palestinians feel the injustice of Occupation when the Israelis can determine their levels of power, electricity, water, freedom of movement, and establish checkpoints and barriers whenever they want. The Palestinians experience the injustice of the Nakba through the indignities of living under Israeli Occupation, whether through the blockade of Gaza, the illegitimate rule over East Jerusalem, and military Occupation of parts of the West Bank.
Harim-al-Sharif (The Temple Mount)
Lastly, the most important symbol of Palestinian national identity is the Harim-al-Sharif, what the Jews call the Temple Mount, the site of the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque. The Palestinians see themselves as the custodians of holy Islamic land through their guardianship of the third holiest site of Islam, where Muhammad had his dream of the sky journey, from where he ascended to heaven. Being the caretakers of the third holiest site of Islam gives them the nationalistic legitimacy to claim Jerusalem as their capital and for them to be the sole indigenous people of the land with the only rights to sovereignty. Even though the Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism and Jerusalem has only been the national capital of one people – the Jewish people – for the Palestinians, that is irrelevant, and they question its truth, because Judaism (and Christianity) existed to prepare for the truest and legitimate religion Islam. So any perceived threat to the Harim al-Sharif, the Temple Mount, whether its rumors (which have led to terror attacks against Jews), Israel putting up metal detectors to protect worshippers and which they were subsequently pressured to take down, or when the United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, is met with uproar across Palestinian society and the Arab and Muslim worlds because even though Israel has existed a sovereign state with Jerusalem as its declared capital since 1948, the Arabs still see themselves as the only legitimate indigenous people in the land.
How the Conflict Ends for Palestinians – Justice
For the Palestinians today, the Conflict ends when they get justice to the historical injustice that has occurred to them with the Nakba of 1948 and the Naksa of 1967. This means writing the wrongs that occurred to the Palestinian refugees with their displacement from the landscape with the establishment of the State of Israel by facilitating the return of all Palestinian refugees and their descendants to their original homes in all historic Palestine, and additionally, the end of the immoral, illegitimate and unjust Occupation of the remainder of Palestinian lands since 1967. Since the beginning of the Peace Process in the early 1990’s, the Palestinians have been entertaining peace agreements which will see them establishing a state on 22% of what they claim to be their historic homeland – the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Is less than a quarter of their historic homeland justice to the century of injustice they have endured with the catastrophe and displacement from their land of 1948 (Nakba) – which led to the establishment of an illegitimate Jewish state on 78% of Palestine — and the Occupation of the remainder of their land in 1967?
For Palestinians, the end of the Conflict is not necessarily peace and security, but rather justice for this incredible injustice. While a slim majority of Palestinians support a Two State Solution, more than three quarters of Palestinians do not see a peace agreement in the form of a Two State Solution as the end of the Conflict, even if it ends the Occupation of 1967, because it will not bring about a return of Palestinian refugees (over 5 million, mostly descendants) to their historic homeland, which is today the internationally recognized sovereign state of Israel, a UN member since 1949. For most Palestinians, the only way to bring about justice for a people that only knows injustice is to right the original wrong of Nakba.
Can Justice for Palestinians include Justice for Zionists?
The question for those who are observers of the Palestinian narrative, and especially for many Israelis and Zionists, is there a way for Palestinians to attain justice while at the same time maintaining the historical justice the Jews see in the establishment of their own sovereign state in their historic homeland after two millennia of Diaspora and despair? Because the state of Israel is not going anywhere in what the Palestinians believe to be 78% of their historic homeland, which was a result of Arab refusal of Partition, starting a war to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state on their historic homeland, which tragically led to Palestinian displacement. The question is whether the Palestinian narrative will accept the consequences of their rejection of Zionism and the Partition Plan of 1947, which resulted in a war they lost and the establishment of Israel on over three quarters of what they believe to be exclusively theirs. Today, the consensus within the Palestinian narrative, based on what we’ve discussed earlier, Zionism is not a legitimate political entity with a right to claim indigenous rights in the land and the establishment of their own sovereign state. For many observers of the Conflict, especially those that see Zionism as legitimate and the greatest form of historical justice for the Jewish people, see that the Conflict between the Jews and the Arabs in the Holy Land ending when Palestinian Justice also includes the right for Jews to self-determination in their historic homeland.