Do Palestinians Really Exist?

By Dean Obeidallah

July 31, 2014

Palestine. My late father, Abdul Musa Obeidallah, was born there in the 1930s. When I say Palestine, that’s not a political statement. It’s just a statement of fact. When he was born, there was no state of Israel. There was no Hamas. No PLO. There were just people of different faiths living together on the same small piece of land called Palestine.

And to be honest, but for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, I doubt you would’ve heard much about Palestinians. My father, like the seven generations of Obeidallahs born before him in his sleepy farming town of Battir, didn’t harbor grand dreams or bold plans. They lived a simple life of growing fruits, vegetables, and lots of olive trees. (Palestinians love olives!) Their biggest battles weren’t with other people, but with the elements.

Most of my Palestinian ancestors lived and died within a few miles of where they were born. That would likely have been my father’s path as well. But as we are all keenly aware, fate had far different plans.

I share this story because I think that lost in the current Gaza conflict is the story of the Palestinians as a people. Instead, they’ve been continually defined as being the “bad” part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They’ve been broadly labeled as terrorists or seen as acceptable losses. Some Israeli leaders have alleged Palestinians don’t exist, or called them “cockroaches,” “crocodiles,” or a “cancer.”

As you might imagine, being Palestinian is unique. When you tell someone you’re of Palestinian heritage, it’s not just an ethnicity, it’s a conversation starter. In fact, just saying the word Palestine inflames some. People will tell me to my face that there has never been a Palestine and there are no such thing as Palestinians. To them, I guess Palestinians are simply holograms.

When I ask these people what the land where Israel is now located was called before 1948, they tend to stammer or offer some convoluted response. The answer is simply Palestine. Not a big deal, really.

Indeed, the United Nations debate in 1947 over the creation of the state of Israel was described in terms of the “question of Palestine.” The U.N. even explained in its official summary that “It is recognized that Palestine is the common country of both indigenous Arabs and Jews, that both these peoples have had an historic association with it,” adding that “Palestinian citizens, as well as Arabs and Jews who, not holding Palestinian citizenship, reside in Palestine.” It’s hard to hold legal citizenship of a place that doesn’t exist.

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