For nearly two decades the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been denying Israel’s right to exist, and a recent “Nakba Day” was no exception. In a Gaza speech on behalf of Mahmoud Abbas, his personal representative made the following statement:
National reconciliation [between Hamas and Fatah] is required in order to face Israel and Netanyahu. We say to him [Netanyahu], when he claims that they [Jews] have a historical right dating back to 3000 years B.C.E.-we say that the nation of Palestine upon the land of Canaan had a 7,000-year history B.C.E. This is the truth, which must be understood, and we have to note it, in order to say: “Netanyahu, you are incidental in history. We are the people of history. We are the owners of history.”
This remarkable assertion has been almost completely ignored by the Western media. Yet it bears a thorough examination: not only as an indication of unwavering Palestinian rejection of Israel’s right to exist but as an insightful glimpse into the psyche of their willfully duped Western champions.
Unpacking Abbas’s Speech
Archaeologists have only the dimmest notion of prevailing ethnic concepts in 7000 B.C.E. There may have been tribes and clans of some sort, and villages may have had names and a sense of collective or local identity, but their nature is completely unknown. Even with the elaborate symbolism of the period, as seen in figurines, and other data such as the styles of stone tools and house plans, nothing whatsoever is known regarding the content of the makers’ identities. Writing would not be invented for almost another 4,000 years and would only reach the Levant a thousand years after that, bringing with it the ability to record a society’s own identity concepts.
There were no Jews or Arabs, Canaanites, Israelites, or Egyptians. There were only Neolithic farmers and herders. In fact, none of the concepts that Abbas used developed until vastly later. The Plst-a Mediterranean group known to the Egyptians as one of the “Sea Peoples” and who gave their name to the biblical Philistines-arrived around 1200 B.C.E. Arabs are known in Mesopotamian texts as residents of the Arabian Peninsula from around 900 B.C.E. The concept of a “nation” emerged with the kingdoms of Israel and Judah and their neighbors sometime after 900 B.C.E. The Romans renamed the Kingdom of Judea “Palestina” after the biblically attested Philistines, the hated enemy of the Israelites, following the defeat of the Bar Kochba revolt in 135 C.E. The ethnic identity called “Palestinian,” denoting the local Muslim and Christian inhabitants of the region south of Lebanon and West of the Jordan River, tenuously developed as an elite concept at the end of the Ottoman era and did not propagate to the grassroots until the 1920s and 1930s.
Is there perhaps genetic continuity between modern Palestinians and Neolithic farmers and herders? Perhaps, but that is not what Abbas claimed. Is there cultural continuity, a nation with a name? Hardly.
Types of Palestinian Rhetoric
Why then should Abbas make such an incredible fabrication? And why lie in such a ludicrous and extravagant fashion? Part of the answer is that for Abbas, as it was for PLO leader Yasser Arafat before him, there is a reflex that simply and absolutely cannot accept the antiquity of Jews. Arafat famously told then-U.S. president Bill Clinton that there was no Jewish temple in Jerusalem, causing the usually unflappable Clinton to nearly explode. Denials regarding the Jewish historical connection to the Land of Israel generally and categorical denials that Jews constitute a nation are all frequently heard from Palestinian leaders, intellectuals, and others.
A useful avenue of investigation is to consider Abbas’s words as a type of rhetoric with a form and underlying philosophy. When viewed in this way, Abbas’s spokesman was not lying as such but doing something else.
As philosopher Harry Frankfurt put it
The fact about himself that the bullshitter hides… is that the truth-values of his statements are of no central interest to him; what we are not to understand is that his intention is neither to report the truth nor to conceal it… A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it… For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: He is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.
As Frankfurt describes it, such nonsensical rhetoric is constructed impulsively and without thought-entirely out of whole cloth. It is unconcerned with truth and so, unlike a lie, has license to be panoramic, unconcerned with context. The user is endeavoring to bluff, and the desire for effect is paramount. Whereas lying is austere and rigorous because it must triangulate against truth, nonsense loses, and loosens, the grasp on reality. In that sense, its effect is corrosive, a matter not discussed by Frankfurt.
Stating nonsense to suit one’s purpose is only one of three obvious Palestinian rhetorical strategies. Lying, knowingly distorting the truth, is another. A paradigmatic example of this is “Pallywood,” the staging of scenes for news cameras. These have ranged from orchestrated street scenes and rioting, which sometimes include fake casualties who leap off of stretchers when out of sight, to destroyed structures and grieving families, to manipulated photographs. Above all there was the so-called Jenin massacre of 2002 and the Muhammad al-Dura case in 2000. In the former, Palestinians accused Israelis of having killed hundreds or thousands of civilians and bulldozing their bodies into mass graves, deliberate lies that were then repeated by human rights organizations. In fact, some fifty-two Palestinian gunmen and twenty-three Israeli soldiers were killed in brutal house to house fighting.