Newt Gingrich’s remarks about the Palestinians and history were 100 percent accurate. In the Six-Day War, Israel captured Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem. But those territories weren’t captured from Yasir Arafat or Mahmoud Abbas. They were captured from Jordan’s King Hussein.
I can’t help but wonder why all these Palestinians suddenly discovered their national identity after Israel won the war. The truth is that “Palestine” is no more real than Shangri-La. The first time the name was used was in 70 AD, when the Romans committed genocide against the Jews, destroyed the Temple and declared the land of Israel would be no more. From then on, the Romans promised, it would be known as Palestine. The name was derived from the Philistines, a people conquered by the Jews centuries earlier. It was a way for the Romans to add insult to injury. They also tried to change the name of Jerusalem to Aelia Capitolina, but that had even less staying power.
Mark Twain visited the Holy Land in 1867, and published his impressions in Innocents Abroad. He described a forlorn place devoid of both vegetation and human population: “A desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds…a silent mournful expanse…. a desolation…. we never saw a human being on the whole route….hardly a tree or shrub anywhere. Even the olive tree and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.”
Palestine has never existed – before or since – as an autonomous entity. The vast majority of Arabs came to the area after the early Zionist pioneers began draining malaria-infested swamps and plowing the land. Palestinians are Arabs, indistinguishable from Jordanians (another recent invention), Syrians, Lebanese, Iraqis, etc.
It is important to note that there was a Jewish population in Palestine continuously. Even after the Jewish state was ended by the Romans, Jewish communities continued to exist. All of the successor governments tried to eliminate the Jews at one time or another, but none succeeded, as numerous accounts testify. When the Zionists started the modern “return” to Eretz Yisrael in the nineteenth century, they were joining Jews who never left.
So what’s the solution to the Middle East conflict? Frankly, I don’t think there is a man-made solution. But if there is one, it needs to begin with truth. Pretending will only lead to more chaos. Placing a 5,000-year-old birthright – backed by overwhelming historical and archaeological evidence – on equal terms with illegitimate claims and wishes gives diplomacy and peacekeeping a bad name. I applaud Newt Gingrich’s moral courage.