They Say, We Say: The Palestinians are not a real people

They Say We Say We know that pro-Israel does not mean blindly supporting policies that are irrational, reckless, and counter-productive. Pro-Israel means supporting policies that are consistent with Israel's interests and promote its survival as a Jewish, democratic state.

You've heard the arguments of the religious and political right-wing, and so have we. They've had their say. Now, we'll have ours.

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Do the Palestinians exist?

They Say:

The Palestinians are not a real people. They are just Arabs from other places who settled in the Land of Israel over the years, without any cohesive national identity. There never was a Palestinian state and efforts to create one now are unjustified.

We Say:

Golda Meir’s suggestion, back in the late 1960s, that there is no Palestinian people was wrong and counterproductive. Repeating it today is wrong many times over, and does a terrible disservice to efforts to secure Israel's future through peace.

The starting point is this: it makes no difference whether Israelis, or Jews, or anyone else recognize the Palestinians as a people. The Palestinians view themselves as a distinct people, with deep ties to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Israel and supporters of Israel can neither deny nor wish the Palestinians and their claims out of existence. That is the reality that must be accepted and addressed if there is ever going to be peace, security, and stability.

At the same time, Israelis and Jews should recognize the gross insincerity and disrespect involved in denying the Palestinians' identity, because we have experienced the same ugly denial. For years, extremists within and outside the Arab world have attacked the legitimacy of Israel as a state by attacking the Jewish claim to the land and attacking the legitimacy of Israelis as a national group. They have argued that Israelis are nothing but foreigners who came from the West, who should go back where they came from.

People of integrity - Jewish and non-Jewish - categorically reject and condemn such attacks on Israel. We point to Jewish historical and religious ties to the land, to the continual presence of Jews on the land throughout history, and to the well-established Jewish longing for Israel way before 1948. We insist on Israelis' right to self-determination and security. And we recognize the pain such attacks cause to Israelis and the threat these attacks represent to the very possibility of Israel-Arab peace.

Likewise, for decades there has been an effort among extremists in Israel and abroad to try to delegitimize the Palestinians as a people and delegitimize their right, as a people, to self-determination. These arguments are historically incorrect and insensitive. Worse, they are irrelevant to the current situation on the ground, and politically damaging to Israeli interests.

There is ample historical documentation showing that a separate local identity among Arabs living in Palestine started forming in the 16th and 17th century, and that a national Palestinian consciousness began crystallizing early in the 20th century, as anti-colonial movements took root around the world. This national consciousness transformed into a national movement and later into a national liberation movement, in large part as a result of the friction between the Palestinians and Zionism, the Jewish national self-determination movement.