Yes, Mr. Erekat, Jesus was a Jew
The kindest thing one can say about Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian "negotiator," is that he suffers, or pretends to suffer, from delusions or fantasies. How else can one explain his statement on January 31, 2014 at a conference in Munich when he specified the reason for the Palestinian refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state? To do so, he said, would be "asking me to change my narrative."
That fabricated Palestinian narrative of victimhood has concocted hyperbolic and inaccurate commentaries about Middle East history and Israeli policies. Erekat has employed it, as many other critics and boycotters of Israel have done, for political ends.
Erekat's claim was that "I am the proud son of the Canaanites who were there 5,500 years before Joshua Ben Nun burned down the town of Jericho." The thrust of his assertion is that Palestinians are descended from these Canaanites, and thus are the real native population of the area. Jews, he maintains, entered the area at a later period. In some mysterious manner, the Canaanites are said to have become the ancestors of Palestinians. Furthermore, contrary to all understanding, the Palestinian narrative promotes the idea that Jesus was a Palestinian, rather than a Jew. The World Council of Churches, the Presbyterian Church, and the Near East Council might take notice.
Erekat's statement needs correcting. First, his quoting of the biblical reference is not quite accurate. It was the priests blowing rams' horns, (or trumpets, in the recital of Louis Armstrong) and the shouting of the Israelites, that caused the walls of the city of Jericho to come tumbling down. Only later, after the real damage was done, was the rest of the city burned.
Erekat's personal autobiography is misleading. He cannot be regarded as a son of the Canaanites and has no historic claim to Palestine. While it is true that since 1996 he has represented Jericho in the Palestinian Legislative Council, he does not come from Jericho, but rather from Abu Dis, a village outside Jerusalem. That village is now in Area B of the West Bank and is under the civil jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority.
That is not the whole story. Though Erekat does not address his family history, it is probable that his family is part of the Huwaitat tribe, one that originated in the northwest region of Saudi Arabia, and came to the Palestine area and the area of Jordan only in the 20th century.
More important is Erekat's comprehensive historical inaccuracy. Though he and many other Palestinians deny or minimize the historic Jewish roots in Palestine, the evidence of a Jewish presence for thousands of years in the area is overwhelming , predating the Arab conquest of the area in 634 A.D. Indeed, near Jericho itself is a synagogue that goes back to the first century B.C. Historians may differ on exact dates, but the reality is that Arabs first moved into the disputed areas more than 1,600 years after David became King of Israel.
Equally telling in the historical chronicle is the actuality that the descendants of most of the Arabs in the areas settled there much more recently. For example, in Ramallah, now the administrative capital of the Palestinian Authority, the ancestors of most families came in the 15th century from the area that is now Jordan. Studies show that most of the Arab families who lived in the villages near the Mediterranean coast, the areas now part of Israel, originated elsewhere in what are now Sudan, Libya, Egypt, and Jordan.
A recent book, To Whom does this Land Belong: A Reexamination of the Koran, by Professor Nissim Dana of Bar-Ilan University, challenges the Palestinian narrative of history in an unusual way. Dana argues there are ten passages in the Koran that state that Allah bequeathed Palestine to the Jewish people who will inherit the land. He also states there are no passages bequeathing the land to any other people -- not to Muslims, Arabs, or Palestinians. Dana says that in the Koran, the Jewish people are commanded by Allah to conquer and take the land from the peoples who had defiled Allah by worshipping idols.
It is unlikely that many commentators will adopt Dana's analysis of the Koran as the basis of the Jewish people's historic link with the area of Palestine. Nevertheless, his analysis may help debunk the false historical narrative put forward by Erekat and others. It serves no useful purpose for politically motivated false claims to the land to be made by so-called Palestinian negotiators if there are to be genuine peace negotiations between Israel and Palestinians. Even the Palestinian historian Rashid Khalidi, in his book Palestinian Identity, warned there is a tendency "to read back into the history of Palestine over the past few centuries, and even millennia, a nationalist consciousness and identity that are in fact relatively modern."
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that Erekat has made inaccurate and reckless statements. The most disturbing of his assertions concerned the Israeli Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002. The operation occurred in response to the attacks on Israeli civilians by terrorist groups operating out of the city of Jenin. Erekat declared, and has refused to deny his allegation, that the Israeli activity was a massacre and a war crime in which more than 500 innocent Palestinians were killed. In fact, the death toll of Palestinians was 54, almost all of whom were members of combatant and terrorist groups, while Israel lost 23 soldiers.
Differences on the disputed territories remain. Those differences will not be resolved by denying any Israeli rights to those territories, nor by insisting that Israel is illegally or illegitimately occupying them. Compromise is essential in settling the issues regarding territories and special sites. After all, U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 of November 22, 1967 called for "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories conquered," not from all of the land it holds.
Michael Curtis is author of Jews, Antisemitism, and the Middle East.