Independent Arabia

Independent (in Arabic) legitimises denial of Jewish connection to Israel

There’s a new player within the Western Arabic-language media universe: Independent Arabia – a joint venture of the UK based Independent and the Saudi media group SRMG, with ties to the Saudi state.

Unfortunately, so far it’s shown little commitment to western journalistic standards, and often prefers following Arab newspapers’ preference for parroting anti-Israel propaganda.

For example, a recent article by ‘Izz ad-Deen Abu ‘Eisheh, Independent Arabia’s correspondent in the Gaza strip (“Reviving ancient manuscripts in Gaza to refute the Israeli narrative”, Aug. 12) included an interview with a Hamas government official about the restoration of several manuscripts, dating back to the 16th century. 

Mr. Abd al-Lateef Abu Hashem, an expert overseeing the project on behalf of Hamas’ Ministry of Waqfs and Religious Affairs in the Strip, made a few preposterous claims about Israel and its relation to local history, claims that went unchallenged in the article.  Abu Hashem was uncritically quoted stating (all translations, emphasis and in-bracket remarks are by CAMERA Arabic unless otherwise specified):

  • He claims that the “Israeli narrative” suggests that, in the past, “Palestine” was uninhabited:

“the manuscripts are the memory of the Ummah [this could mean either the Islamic Ummah, i.e. all Muslims, or the Arab Ummah, i.e. all Arabs], they […] prove that this land was teeming with its residents and scholars. This is contrary to the Israeli narrative, which says that Palestine was void of residents” 

It is unclear what Abu Hashem means when he refers to the “Israeli narrative”. However, if there is, among Jewish Israelis today, a generally-accepted view of the history of their homeland, it clearly does not include the assumption that it was completely empty of residents, either Jews or non-Jews, at any given time since antiquity.

Moreover, the earliest Zionists took the existence of Arabs, specifically, as a given when discussing the prospects of re-introducing Jewish sovereignty (in one form or another) to the land; none of them denied its Arab and Islamic past. This is clearly shown in the writings of Theodore Herzl (including the novel “Altneuland”, which has an Arab main character), Ahad Ha’Am and others, from the last decade of the 19th century onwards.

  • He also claims that the existence of centuries-old manuscripts in Arabic refute Israeli claims of “entitlement [sic]” to the land, since:

“all of the ancient documents, which describe the cities of Palestine prior to the Jews’ arrival to it, are in Arabic, which means that the land is Arab.”

This claim demonstrates that it is not the Arabs whose historical existence in the land is denied by the “Israeli narrative”; it’s the Jews who are treated by Arabs (such as Abu Hashem himself) as newcomers. Obviously, the existence of ancient Arabic manuscripts does not undermine the right of self determination of Jews in their homeland, as, back then, local Jews were reading Arabic texts, and writing texts in Arabic as well, often using Hebrew letters (Judeo-Arabic).  Furthermore, Hebrew and other non-Arabic Jewish manuscripts and inscriptions were also written in the Land of Israel, while others mentioned its significant Jewish population. 

Sometimes, these documents are much older than the manuscripts mentioned in the article, like in the case of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Theodotus Inscription or the Siloam Inscription – all of which predate the most ancient documents in Abu Hashem’s Gaza archive by at least a thousand years.  It’s also noteworthy that some of the texts contain a detailed account of the geography of the land (the kind that, according to Abu Hashem, can be found only in Arabic).  For example, the manuscript that describes the journey of Samuel ben Samson to the Land of Israel, or the Mosaic of Rehob, that deals with its perceived boundaries from the perspective of the Jewish religious codex (Halakha).

Here’s the final claim that goes unchallenged:

  • the Israelis […] continuously attempt to obliterate and hide manuscripts“, because they are aware of that these are the “source of power” for maintaining “the correct Arab narrative”.

Abu Hashem does not provide any concrete evidence to back up this claim, nor does the Independent Arabia reporter himself.

However, you might wonder how committed to the idea of erasing its Islamic past Israel could be when it has a national library that holds more than 2,400 Islamic manuscripts, in Farsi, Arabic and Turkish; which hosts some of the most impressive monuments (and inscriptions) of the early Islamic period, so far with no serious threats to them; and which has two (highly recommended!) museums of Islamic Art, operated either by Jews or jointly by Jews and Arabs and located within Jewish communities, in Jerusalem and Beer Sheva.

Given the entirely ahistorical denial of the land’s Jewish past the article promotes, perhaps it’s Abu Hashem and his Independent Arabia interviewer who should learn from the Israeli authorities how to pay respect to ancient history and its various “narratives”.

(Research and writing by CAMERA Arabic.  Edited by UK Media Watch.)

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13 replies »

  1. Well, in addition, the names of many of the Arab villages and town, especially the larger ones, are Arabized versions of the original Hebrew name that the town was known as in Biblical times. For example, Jenin is the former Gannim, and so forth.

  2. The problem with the Israeli narrative concerning Palestine has nothing to do with ancient documents. It Is twofold:

    1 Even assuming Jews were the majority population in “biblical times” that says nothing about their entitlement to the land today. Most of the world has had shifting populations and changing political control over the last two millennia but we don’t assume that the US should belong exclusively to native Americans or Australia to the aborigines.

    2 In civilised democracies the land belongs to those with establishing rights to live there, regardless of their religion or ethnic origin, and political rights are allocated equally in accordance. Only in Israel and one or two other doubtful democracies such as Modi India is the situation otherwise.

    • Not sure what side of the fence you’re on, but, taking actual history rather than the usual common canards into consideration, you’ve just presented a double argument as to why a primarily Jewish Israel, legally established three-quarters of a century ago, has a right to continue its existence.

      • Jews established their majority presence behind the green line by violence, just as did Europeans in the US and Australia. Their residence there must be accepted now (on the same principle as that of colonists in the US), but that does not mean they should have a privileged status over Israeli Arabs (which they clearly do) or that Jews from around the world should have free immigration rights while Palestinians have no right of return. To repeat myself: countries belong to those who have a right to live there – on the basis of equal status.
        Continuing colonisation beyond the green line is another question and is beyond any possible moral justification.

        • In addition to a constant Jewish presence since biblical times, Jews have immigrated to Israel by nonviolent means, mostly by actually purchasing of land from the recognized owners in the Ottoman Empire. Throughout history, legal Jews in the region were ATTACKED by “violent means” by Arab interests.

          Not only was there never any Arab polity in Palestinian (a name given by Romans to a Jewish dominated area in biblical times), Arabs in the area insisted they were but territorial extensions of other countries.

          In fact, by the time of Israel’s (second) founding as a sovereign nation in 1948, more than 60 percent of the Arabs in larger Israel cities were transient themselves from surrounding Arab countries. Any so-called “right of return“ (which would end Israel as a Jewish nation and squash its recognized sanctuary aspirations) would more accurately be directed to Egypt, Lebanon and Syria — as the family names of all too many Arab Palestinians reflect.

          As those familiar with actual history know, it was surrounding countries that breached Israel’s recognized 1967 borders and attacked it — and lost. Sorry, but a country country can’t just attack another country, lose and then get to demand terms of a treaty — at least not in real history.

          But thanks for reminding us that most proponents of Israel delegitimization are bereft of historical background, context and facts in general.

          • Yes, there was a tiny continuing Jewish presence in Palestine, and Jewish immigrants did indeed buy land (mostly from absentee landlords and at the expense of the Arab tenants dependent on it for a living, I think you’ll find).
            Jews and Arabs lived mostly in peace until it became apparent that Jews were seeking to take over the land.
            Your figures are nonsense. The right of return for Arab refugees is in fact guaranteed under international law.

            • First cite the section of Code of International Law which says that.

              Isn’t funny that Israel is the only country in about two thousand years that has sovereignty over the land of Israel and that isn’t an “empire?” Violence vs. non-violence, huh? People who live in countries that are not the home country of the empire generally don’t submit to the emperor due to his/her loving kindness. The mendacious British Empire and what it did in and to Africa is certainly evidence of that.

            • Your entire take is nonsense. There is no actual international consensus or law that Palestinians have a right of return. In fact they have been the only refugees in the entire world that have presumed to expand by generational growth. If anything, UN resolution 242 Establishes the West Bank has disputed territory pending a treaty (the only true marker of actual international law), for which Arab factions have continually refused to bargain in good faith.

              Thanks again for proving my point about your lack of facts.

      • And yet large parts of the middle east are ‘Jew free ‘ for the first time in many years and heading ‘Christian free , despite their ‘establishing rights to live there’ without the tiniest of dams being given by those that claimed to be concerned about such things .
        Meanwhile the number of Arabs living in Israel has done nothing but gone up for 50 years .

    • By that same case sencar, nothing entitles “Palestinians” to the land today either as they may have been the majority at one time, but are no longer the majority. There has been that shift about which you speak.

      Since the land belongs to those establishing rights to live there, that would be the Jews as evidenced by the existence of the State of Israel. And there is no such thing as a “doubtful” democracy in which all groups have full participation in the democracy.