Who Are the Palestinians?

Who are the Semitic peoples? Have Jews and Arabs always fought? Why are Arabs opposed to Israel? What are the differences between Palestinian Christians and Muslims? Do the Palestinian authorities deny the existence of Israel? Do Palestinian parents deliberately put their children into danger? Why are the Palestinians so poor and the Israelis comparatively rich?

Who are the Semitic peoples?
The word "Semite" refers to a language and cultural group made up of ancient and modern people.  Semitic languages include:  Akkadian, Arabic, Aramaic, Moabite, Hebrew, Phonecian, Assyrian, and Babylonian.  (Biblically they are considered the descendants of Shem, son of Noah.) 

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first usage of anti-Semitic for a person who discriminates against or is prejudiced against Jews, was in the 1880s (about the same time as the rise of Zionism.) 

If we return to the original meaning of Semitic, it is difficult to call Palestinians and other Arabs anti-Semitic, since they are themselves Semites.  Palestinian Arabs oppose the state policies of Israel that deny them legitimate human and civil rights and the right to a state. 
 
Have Jews and Arabs always fought?
Arabs and Jews have not always been in conflict.  Before the formation of the State of Israel there were Arab Jews as there were Arab Christians and Arab Muslims.  Many times in history Jews and Muslims were allied and worked together peacefully.  In 1492, Christian rulers expelled both Jews and Muslims from Spain, although now Spain cherishes its background of all three religions.  Most Jews who fled moved to Arab lands.

Christians, Jews and Muslims have worked together and have lived as neighbors in the Middle East for centuries and some still do.  One hears many stories from Palestinians of the friendships they had with their Jewish neighbors and vice versa.
  
Why are Arabs opposed to Israel?

A review of the history shows that Israel was founded on territory that belonged to indigenous Palestinian Arabs and ever since has undertaken to expel many of them from their homelands.  Israel's continued occupation of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza, and its mistreatment of the Palestinian population has been the cause of much resentment and hostility as well as the focus of Palestinian resistance.  At this point in history, though, most Arabs accept the existence of Israel as a state but are concerned about the ways in which that country has been preventing the formation of a Palestinian State and the development of Palestinian society.  The UN partition plan of 1947 called for a Jewish state and an Arab state on the land known as "historic Palestine" or Mandate Palestine.

Many people other than Arabs are opposed to what Israel has done and is doing.  Human rights groups, churches, Christian and Muslim organizations, and many non-Arab countries have criticized the policies of Israel, especially with respect to the occupations.

What are the differences between Palestinian Christians and Muslims?   
Both Christians and Muslims consider themselves Palestinians with one ethnic and geographic heritage; they share the experience of living under occupation; and relative to the occupation, they are united in their attitudes toward Israel.  The difference occurs in terms of personal life and religious belief and practices.  In the Middle East, religion is much more a part of people's identity than it generally is in the West.  Religious distinctions between Christian and Muslim Palestinians manifest themselves through celebrations, family rituals, and who can be marriage partners or even close friends.

It is said that the people in the Middle East have long religious memories and that they view the past as part of today.  Historically both Christians and Muslims have wielded power over each other, and there is still an assumption that Christians side with Western culture.

Do the Palestinian authorities deny the existence of Israel?
No.  The Oslo Accords made it clear that the PLO, as the representative of the Palestinian people, recognizes the existence of the State of Israel.  In the letters exchanged on September 9, 1993 between Mr. Arafat and Mr. Rabin, Mr. Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, stated "The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security." In return Mr. Rabin recognized the PLO as the "representative of the Palestinian people." In a subsequent meeting, which was televised, the Palestinian National Council voted to uphold the agreements made in the Oslo Accords.
  
Do Palestinian parents deliberately put their children into danger?

Palestinian parents are human beings just like anyone else.  They love their children and try to keep them from harm.  A tactic of war called "demonizing the enemy", this charge about children is designed to make Palestinians seem less than human and, as such, is racist.

Many Palestinian children have also been killed or wounded by Israeli soldiers while going about their normal activities, such as attending school and playing.  Parents tell of their fear that their children will not return when they go to school, to church or mosque, or to play.  The Palestinian Authority has provided some financial compensation to very poor families who have lost a child, although the amount cannot be compared to the value of the life of a child.  It is dehumanizing to imply that any financial support would be an incentive to parents to endanger their children.

It is also true that youth have always been in the forefront of popular uprisings such as in South Africa and in the American South during the civil rights movement.  Too often, in those cases as well, the authorities have responded with lethal force.

Why are the Palestinians so poor and the Israelis comparatively rich?
The occupation has prevented the Palestinians from developing economically and so they have become dependent on Israel for employment.  When those means of employment become unavailable because of Israeli military closures of Palestinian areas in West Bank and Gaza Strip, unemployment rates jump rapidly and there are few local businesses and jobs to fall back on.  Much of the Palestinian agricultural land has been confiscated and fruit and olive trees have been destroyed.

In addition, the United States government (and private citizens) have given and still give large sums of money to develop the Israeli economy.  Official aid from the U.S. government totals more than $3,000,000,000 (three billion) per year (all military aid).

 

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