History and politics can sometimes be analyzed on the usage of language as much as policy. The Names and Narrative series reviews how language oftentimes changes the nature of the narrative in the Israel-Arab conflict.
Nouns and the Range of Adjectives
An important component in considering language is the distinction between nouns and adjectives. A noun is the key element of English sentences. The noun is the focus of language; the item that commits actions. In comparison, an adjective is the modifier of the noun, that helps describe the noun more explicitly.
But not all adjectives are the same. In some cases, adjectives can become nouns themselves.
Consider a simple noun like “table.” Describing a “wooden table” would give more context to the table, differentiating it from other tables like a glass table. As such, “wooden” would be an adjective. However, it is an adjective that is factual and embedded in the noun “wooden table.” The two words cannot be separated – the table is, and always will be, made of wood. I call this an “embedded adjective.”
Compare this to other adjectives for the table. The table may be a “painted wooden table,” or “a rectangular wooden table.” In these examples, “painted” and “rectangular” are also adjectives that describe the wooden table. But these adjectives are not forever tied to the table. The table could be stripped, and become unpainted. It could be cut and become a square. These adjectives are therefore not embedded in the noun, but a semi-permanent description of the noun.
There are also adjectives that are based on a relative position. Consider a “long table” or a “high table.” A table could be viewed as long or high only relative to something else. Describing a table in such fashion brings a person’s vantage point into the description. These are “relative adjectives.”
Lastly there are adjectives that relay a person’s preferences. A “pretty table” conveys the author’s own sense of beauty. The table itself is not inherently pretty- it is simply an opinion of a single person. This “subjective adjective” is the polar opposite of an embedded adjective.
Consider the use of adjectives – embedded, relative and subjective – as they relate to the Israeli-Arab conflict in a single expression: Palestinian Arabs.
From Many Palestinians to Exclusively Palestinian (Arabs)
The Holy Land was renamed “Palestine” roughly 2000 years ago by the Romans who defeated the Jewish kingdom. The name stuck even when the Romans departed hundreds of years later. Arabs from the Arabian Peninsula took over the region when they came as part of the Muslim invasion in the 7th century. The Ottomans (Muslims, but not Arabs) also kept the name Palestine when they controlled the region as part of their empire for 400 years which ended at World War I.
There were many people that lived in the region during this time. They referred to themselves as Palestinian Arabs or Palestinian Jews or Palestinian Christians. There was no consideration that “Palestinian” meant only one particular type of person, and “Palestinian” was a subjective adjective (people used it for themselves) and relative adjective (they lived in Palestine and not somewhere else).
That changed during the 20th century.
As world powers that defeated the Ottoman Empire considered breaking the empire into distinct countries (which were to become countries known today as Iraq, Syria and others), they looked to facilitate the reestablishment of the Jewish homeland in Palestine. They developed international laws in 1920 and 1922 known as the San Remo Agreement and the Mandate of Palestine, respectively, which sought to facilitate additional Jewish emigration to Palestine, an area which today covers Israel, Gaza, the “West Bank” and Jordan.
That did not make the local Arabs happy.
The British quickly divided Palestine into two parts, giving the area east of the Jordan River to the Hashemite family in what became the state of Transjordan. Arabs in remaining part of Palestine rioted against the Jews throughout the 1920s and 1930s. By the end of the 1930s, the Arabs had effectively convinced the British who administered the Mandate of Palestine to stem the tide of Jewish emigration, and make entire sections of Palestine Jew-free (in edicts known as the White Papers).
When the British ended their administration of the Palestine Mandate in 1948, Jews declared an independent state of Israel. Five Arab countries invaded the nascent state, with a war that ended in 1949. By war’s end, the area known as Palestine was split yet again, with the western half becoming Israel and the eastern half becoming the illegally annexed “West Bank” of TransJordan. Gaza was taken over by Egypt. Palestine was no more.
The Jordanians expelled all the Jews from their newly conquered territory. They granted Jordanian citizenship to all Arabs living east of the 1949 Armistice Lines. Their citizenship laws clearly and explicitly EXCLUDED Jews from obtaining Jordanian citizenship.
Some of the Arabs in the West Bank who were granted Jordanian citizenship were not happy with the Jordanian arrangement. They preferred their own autonomy and country and not to be part of Jordan. As such, in 1964, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was created. Its goal was a new Arab country in all land west of the Jordan River – in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel. They sought to destroy Israel and replace it with a new state of Palestine. As they did so, they created new definitions for Palestine and a Palestinian in the PLO Charter:
At first, the charter continued to use the historic formula of noun and adjective of “Palestinian Arab.” Each of the charters preambles began with “We, the Palestinian Arab people.” However, the charter then went on to describe the land as inherently “Arab” with ties to the rest of the Arab world:
“Palestine is an Arab homeland bound by strong national ties to the rest of the Arab Countries and which together form the large Arab homeland.” (Article 1)
That statement stripped the land from non-Arabs that lived and ruled in the territory for thousands of years. It turned the physical ground into “Arab land,” a subjective adjective. The Arabs think of the land as Arab. However, that terminology became incorporated into the left-wing media’s dictionary as an embedded adjective, as if the land were really inherently Arab (further described in “Nicholas Kristof’s ‘Arab Land’.)
The PLO Charter continued to extend the argument that only Palestinian Arabs have rights to “Arab land”:
“The Palestinian Arab people has the legitimate right to its homeland and is an inseparable part of the Arab Nation. It shares the sufferings and aspirations of the Arab Nation and its struggle for freedom, sovereignty, progress and unity.” (Article 3)
After declaring that the land was inherently Arab and the Palestinian Arabs were the logical possessors of the Arab land, the charter took the next step of defining a “Palestinian” in a new manner:
“The Palestinians are those Arab citizens who were living normally in Palestine up to 1947, whether they remained or were expelled. Every child who was born to a Palestinian parent after this date whether in Palestine or outside is a Palestinian.” (Article 6)
From this date, a new term of “Palestinian” was created to refer exclusively to Arabs.
The PLO did make a provision that some Jews could be “considered” Palestinian (as opposed to actually being Palestinian) in a further affront as stated in their modified 1968 PLO Charter:
“The Jews who had normally resided in Palestine until the beginning of the Zionist invasion will be considered Palestinians.” (Article 6)
Did the Palestinian Arabs claim that the “Zionist invasion” (of “Arab Land”!) began in the 1880s with the first aliyah? In 1917 with the Balfour Declaration? In 1948 with the declaration of Israeli independence? The Palestinian Arabs certainly didn’t think it was 3700 years ago when Jews moved into the region and formed several kingdoms. Of course they wouldn’t allow their descendants (the Jewish people) to be considered Palestinian too.
When the Jordanians (as well as Palestinian Arabs who were granted Jordanian citizenship) attacked Israel again in 1967 and lost the “West Bank” which they had illegally annexed, the Palestinian Arabs witnessed yet more of their “Arab land” fall under non-Arab control, and the war of land and language intensified.
Names and Narrative:
Palestinians versus Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Arabs
In the politics of language, the debate of using “Palestinians,” “Palestinian Arabs,” and “Israeli Arabs” has become a debate over narratives.
Adalah, an organization established in 1996 that seeks to dismantle the Jewish State, feels strongly about using the PLO’s definition of “Palestinian” and objects to calling them “Palestinian Arabs” or “Israeli Arabs” if they are citizens of Israel.
Consider Adalah’s opening in ther “Inequality Report” of what it considers the racist state of Israel:
“Palestinian citizens of the state [of Israel] comprise 20% of the total population, numbering almost 1.2 million people. They remained in their homeland following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, becoming an involuntary minority.”
This formula of “Palestinian citizens of Israel,” rejects the notion of “Israeli Arab.” As such, Adalah seeks to deny the standard adjective-noun term, as much as they reject the historic usage of “Palestinian Arab” and “Palestinian Jew.”
This anti-Jewish State organization does this as a matter of principle.
Subjective adjectives can be parsed and separated. A “Palestinian Arab” both means that there are non-Arab Palestinians, and Arabs that are not Palestinians.
Land = People: As noted above, the PLO sought to declare that all Palestinians are Arabs. “Palestinian” and “Arab” are inseparable terms, now morphed into the exclusively Arab “Palestinians.” Stating that the land’s people are only Arab, denies both the history and rights of Jews in the land.
People = Land: Just as important to many anti-Zionists, if the two terms of “Palestinian” and “Arab” are used, they can be separated. That suggests that the people can be separated from the land. Does a Jordanian Arab that moves to Egypt stay a Jordanian Arab for generations, or do those descendants eventually become Egyptian? The Palestinian Arabs produced a bizarre definition that demands that “Palestinians” – regardless of where they have lived for generations – be permanently referred to as Palestinians.
(This absurdity is compounded by the fact that more Arabs than Jews moved to the holy land under the British administration of 1922 to 1948. How do Iraqi Arabs that moved to Haifa in 1930 – and all of their descendants, regardless of their citizenship – become “Palestinians” forever, while a Jew who came from Russia at the same time becomes only a semi-permanent Israeli Jew, only while he lives there.)
Further, as there is no country called Palestine at this time, what does a “Palestinian citizen of Israel” mean? That Israel is simply in a de facto state of existence and the Arabs have citizenship of that entity, but that Israel is occupying the underlying true state of Palestine? Or that only Palestinians are truly part of the fabric of the land itself?
Pro-Zionists should never use the term “Palestinians”
As detailed above, the pro-Israel community should always use the terms “Palestinian Arab” (or stateless Arabs until if/when a new state of Palestine is created), or “Israeli Arabs” and reject using “Palestinians” as it furthers a flawed and anti-Zionist narrative.
Using “Palestine” and “Palestinians”:
- Rejects the 3700-year history of Jews in the holy land
- Declares that the land is inherently “Arab”
- Argues that the Jewish State is simply in a de facto existence, while the underlying Arab nature of the land is permanent
- It facilitates removing the Jewish , Zionist “invaders” from EGL (east of the Green Line)/ West Bank in the near-term, and from Israel in the longer-term.
“Israeli Arab” and “Israeli Jew” are relative and subjective terms, similar to “Palestinian Arab.” Do not get caught in the trap of pretending that a “Palestinian” is an embedded term, in which the holy land is Arab, nor those Arabs are permanently Palestinian.
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