The Arab Narrative vs. President Trump

President Donald Trump and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

While liberal governments across Europe and liberal citizens across the United States were reacting angrily to President Trump’s travel ban for immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority had a more urgent concern: António Guterres.

Guterres, the newly installed secretary general of the United Nations, dared to acknowledge that Jerusalem “is holy to three religions today,” and even that “the temple that the Romans destroyed in Jerusalem was a Jewish temple.”

The common thread between these two events? Both are a threat to the efforts by many within the Arab world to invert fact and fiction.

By stating that Jerusalem was the site of the Jews’ Holy Temple, and a holy city to Christians as well, Guterres contradicted the rewriting of history well underway at the United Nations. As the Palestinian Authority’s minister for Jerusalem affairs Adnan Al-Husseini told China’s Xinhua news agency, UNESCO resolutions over the past year have stated that Al-Aqsa mosque is “purely an Islamic heritage.” Thus another Abbas adviser called Guterres’s acknowledgement of this true history “a strike to the credibility of the U.N. as a global organization,” while Al-Husseini termed the secretary general’s remarks “a violation to all human, diplomatic and legal rules” and even demanded that Guterres apologize to the “Palestinian people.”

George Orwell would beam with pride.

Speaking of the “Palestinian people,” why are the Arab states not addressing the Syrian refugee crisis in the same way they dealt with the Palestinian refugee crisis? Why are they not building refugee camps in safe areas, both inside Syria and in neighboring states, so these refugees might return to their homeland? Both Jordan and Lebanon have, after all, hosted Palestinian Arabs in similar camps for nearly 70 years.

There is no consistent logic to the different treatment of the two groups of refugees—or, at least, none that accords with the Arab narrative of a “Palestinian homeland.” This is not to say that there is no logical explanation, merely that the explanation entirely contradicts the things which the Arab states want liberal Americans to believe.

A Tale of Two ‘Refugees’

The reason why Syrian refugees are not awaiting a return to their erstwhile homes is quite simple: Syria is not, and has never been, the Arab homeland. Arabs stem from the Arabian Peninsula—an area of 1.2 million square miles, roughly four times the size of Texas, and twice the size of Alaska. Today, the Arabian Peninsula is home to the countries of Yemen, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, and, of course, Saudi Arabia.

Yet those comprise but a minority of the Arab states; the majority came under Arab control during a period of military conquest following the death of Mohammed. While some countries, such as Iran, Turkey and Somalia, adopted Islam separately from Arab control, they proved but the exception to the rule. Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Libya are referred to collectively as the “Maghreb,” the Arabic word for sunset, the western edge of the Arab caliphate. Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan were similarly acquired through violent military conquest—as was Palestine, until it was taken by the Ottoman Turks in 1516, and then the British in 1917. Contrary to the narrative of the “indigenous Palestinian,” Arabs came to Palestine to subjugate it in the name of Islam, and it has not been under Arab rule, save for a brief period in the 1830s, for more than 500 years.

“Palestine” is also merely the Roman name for Judea, the homeland of the Jews. While ethnically cleansing the natives from this desirable piece of real estate joining Europe, Africa, and the Arabian Peninsula, the Romans renamed the territory in order to divorce the land from its historic owners.

In 1945, Palestine was the target of the Arab boycott. The idea of an Arab Palestinian followed the creation of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1964; the PLO’s goal, of course, was the destruction of the state of Israel. Zahir Muhsein, a PLO leader, told a Dutch newspaper in 1977 that the notion of a ”Palestinian people” was devised for the sole purpose of separating Judea from the Jews. Abbas himself, in a speech to the Jordanian Football Association, referred to Palestinian and Jordanian Arabs as “one people living in two states.”

So the idea of a “Palestinian refugee” awaiting a return to Palestine is no more real than the idea of a Syrian refugee awaiting a return to Syria. Both groups exist as political pawns, because the dream of a global Islamic caliphate has never died.

Arab Expansion, Jewish Expulsion

The Arab states expelled more than 90 percent of their Jewish inhabitants over the past century. Today we don’t call these persecuted Jews refugees—for the most part, we call them Israelis. It is not as if the Arab states lack the wherewithal to absorb their Arab brethren similarly, and enable them to build new homes and pursue careers in the large and oil-wealthy countries of their homeland. But that would not serve the goal of Muslim expansion.

The claim that a Palestinian state will afford Arabs living in the West Bank “self-determination” has a similarly tenuous tie to reality. Mahmoud Abbas is now in the 13th year of his four-year term, unwilling to call a new democratic election his party is certain to lose. Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, of course, meant the average citizen merely traded one military government for another. But while Israeli control brought vast improvements to infrastructure, the introduction of institutions of higher learning, and access to the best medical care available in that part of the world, the Hamas rulers divert needed resources to the construction of an extensive network of underground tunnels and the purchase of missiles and other weapons, all in order to murder the citizens of the previous, far more beneficent government.

The only Arab in that section of the world consistently able to vote in free and fair elections is a citizen of Israel. It is thus unsurprising that Israeli citizens of Arab-majority cities near the border of the 1949 armistice line overwhelmingly reject proposals that their homes be transferred to Palestinian territory in a proposed “land swap,” in exchange for Jewish-majority cities (called “settlements” in international parlance) on the other side of the line.

Thus President Donald Trump is correct in his dealings with both Israel and the “countries of concern” first identified by the Department of Homeland Security nearly one year ago under Obama. Far from being an “occupation” of the land of others, Jewish life in Judea corrects an historic wrong and reverses centuries of deliberate ethnic cleansing. And those of us living in the United States deserve to know that new immigrants are coming here, as our own ancestors did, seeking a life of liberty and the pursuit of mutual progress—rather than to hasten the expansion of the Muslim caliphate onto new territory.

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About Rabbi Yaakov Menken

Rabbi Yaakov Menken is the Managing Director of the Coalition for Jewish Values, the largest Rabbinic public policy organization in America.