Australia/Israel Review


Scribblings: The “Indigenous” Palestinians?

Jul 3, 2024 | Tzvi Fleischer

One can back Palestinian self-determination without ahistorical and false claims they are an “indigenous” people (Image: Shutterstock)
One can back Palestinian self-determination without ahistorical and false claims they are an “indigenous” people (Image: Shutterstock)

One of the memes being pushed by the pro-Palestinian protest movement is that the Palestinians are an “indigenous” people whose land was stolen from them, just like indigenous Australians. 

Of course, these protestors never demand Australia implement the remedy many of them demand from Israel; namely, that Australia should be replaced by an exclusively Aboriginal country in which the descendants of the later arrivals, the vast majority of Australians, would all have to either leave or beg their indigenous rulers for the right to stay. 

But, of course, the claim Palestinians are indigenous in the same way Aboriginal Australians are indigenous is beyond ridiculous – provided you are interested in history and facts rather than slogans. 

We know that Aboriginal Australians lived on this continent for more than 50,000 years in almost complete isolation from other human groups. There was some interaction with the peoples of New Guinea and the Indonesian islands before Europeans arrived, but it seems to have been limited. The ties between Aboriginal Australians and the land of Australia could not be more ancient or more fundamental to their history as a people. 

Compare that with the land that is now Israel and the Palestinian territories – historically one of the major crossroads of human movement and migration. Indeed, the Levant is where modern man is believed to have first crossed from Africa to the rest of the world. 

Later, it became one of the most contested, conquered and re-conquered areas on the globe. A very partial list of the different empires that historically controlled all or part of that land at some time includes: the Egyptians; the Akkadians; the Assyrians; the Babylonians; the Persians; the Chaldeans; the Macedonians; the Romans; the Byzantines; different Arab/Muslim empires including the Umayyads, Abbasids, Ayyubids and Mamelukes; the Crusaders; the Ottomans; and of course the British. Each of these empires moved different peoples into the land – and many expelled or deported large parts of the previous population out of it. 

To claim that Palestinians are a people who have been deeply rooted in that much-contested land, despite its completely unstable population, since time immemorial, just like Aboriginal Australians are deeply rooted in the Australian continent, is ahistorical gibberish.

The Jews are also not indigenous to the Land of Israel in the same prehistoric way that Aboriginal Australians are to Australia. Their presence in the land was damaged, diminished or disturbed by many of the empires mentioned above – the Assyrians, Babylonians, Macedonians, Romans, Crusaders, several Arab empires, etc – though a Jewish presence always remained. But Jews were the dominant people in the land for well over a thousand years, much longer than any other group can claim without fabricating stories – like the baseless claim that Palestinians are somehow descendants of ancient Canaanites. 

We actually know that many or most Palestinian families have a fairly recent provenance in “Palestine”. 

First of all, while firm numbers are not available, studies by demographers make it clear that the sharp increase in the Arab population of British Mandate Palestine in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s cannot be explained solely by natural increase. A reasonable estimate seems to be that over 20% of the Arabs who lived in the mandate in 1947 had arrived there over the previous 30 years from neighbouring Arab countries. 

But more importantly, the names and histories of many prominent Palestinian families and clans make it perfectly clear that they came to the area from somewhere else. Many Palestinian surnames are literally Arabic place names of locations outside “Palestine”. Here are some examples: Almasri (the third most common Palestinian surname) – Egypt; Masarwah – Egypt; Hourani – Hauran, Syria; Chalabi – Aleppo, Syria; Sourani – Tyre, Lebanon; Tarabulsi/Trabulsi – Tripoli, Lebanon; Dibini – South Lebanon; Bushnaq – Bosnia; Iraqi – Iraq; Zarqawi – Zarqa, Jordan; Karaki – Kerak, Jordan; Abayat – Turkey. 

One of the most famous Palestinian clans is the Husseini – a name with origins in Saudi Arabia. Another example is the late Palestinian official Saeb Erekat’s family – known to have originated in the Hejaz area of Saudi Arabia and arrived in Palestine from southern Jordan and settled in the village of Abu Dis in the early 20th century.

None of the above is to argue that Palestinians do not have a right to self-determination in the land in which they developed their identity as a distinct people – something which really only occurred in the twentieth century. But calling them “indigenous”, like Aboriginal Australians, with their 50,000-plus-year history in this land? That’s ignorance on steroids and an insult to Aboriginal Australians. 

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