Derek Sivers
Palestine a Four Thousand Year History - by Nur Masalha

Palestine a Four Thousand Year History - by Nur Masalha

ISBN: 0755649427
Date read: 2023-09-12
How strongly I recommend it: 2/10
(See my list of 360+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

I read this book right after reading a history of Israel, and I wish I would have found two equally-well-written books. Unfortunately this one was often an exhausting list of facts instead of a helpful narrative. The most interesting part, for me, was his claim that the founding stories of Israel were invented myth, which to me doesn’t delegitimize Israel as much as show the power of story.

my notes

History is always written from and with a particular perspective.
The past looks different from different perspectives.

Palestine is the conventional name used between 450 BC and 1948 AD to describe a geographic region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

This book is not aimed at creating a grand narrative or a metanarrative for Palestine, as a way of mirroring or mimicking the foundational myths of Zionism.

The narratives of the Hebrew Bible are myth-narratives designed to underpin false consciousness.

Countries existed long before nationalism or the creation of metanarratives for the nation-state.

Palestinian citizens of Israel often speak of al-blad or bladna (‘Our Country’) as a patriotic way of mentally or representationally avoiding the term Israel.
The terms bilad or biladuna are medieval Arabic terms which have been in common use for many centuries and are deeply rooted in people’s daily lives.

Martin Heidegger’s notions of Being and Time (2010)
Greek scholars conceived of time in two distinct ways:Synchronically and diachronically.
Khronos, quantitatively and chronologically: days, months.
Kairos, the way human beings experience and remember particular moments or events from and with a particular perspective.

The Arabic term sha’b, people or nation, is enshrined in the Quran and the term is described positively and pluralistically:
‘O mankind! We created you … and made you into nations [pl. shu‘ub] and tribes [qabail], that ye may know each other’.
Nationalisms and nationalities are a modern phenomenon.

All nationalisms are invented traditions.

Palestine as a country (with its shifting boundaries) has existed across more than three millennia.

The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palestinian History, Keith Whitelam (1996) shows how the term ‘ancient Israel’ was invented as ahistorical religious dogma.

In Palestine multifaith and polytheism went hand in hand and for millennia the country was a multifaith/polytheistic polity; the multitude of religions and cultures in Palestine is one of its most striking and characteristic features.

Monotheism evolved gradually (not in a revolutionary fashion) through a centring strategy of representation from polytheism (many pagan gods) to monolatrism,
and from ‘mono-polytheism’ (pagan ‘God of gods’) to strict monotheism, focusing on one God and one authority, under Islam in the early Middle Ages.
The terms holy ‘Bible’ and ‘biblical’ as signifiers meant different things to different people across the centuries.

While Christianity distinguishes between two traditions, Old Testament and New Testament, the Quran identifies three distinct traditions, or holy books, associated with the Bible:
the Tawrah (or Torah) attributed to Moses
the Injil, the Arabic name for what Muslims believe to have been the original Gospel of Jesus
Zabur (or the Book of Psalms), attributed to David.

The ‘biblical’ narratives are literary imagination, adaption, theology and officially sanctioned memory – not history.

Hellenistic allegorised representations had constructed a hierarchical pantheon of ‘King of gods’ – a supreme absolute deity (Zeus) at the head of ‘twelve Olympian deities’. This pagan Greek ‘mono-polytheism’ was represented by Zeus as ‘God of gods’ (‘Representation of representations’).

The doctrine of Trinity (‘three persons in one nature’) undermined true monotheism.
Hellenistic Neo-Platonism conceived the derivation of the whole of reality from a single principle, ‘the One’; hence the Christological doctrines of Jesus being ‘Two in One’ and the Trinity doctrine of ‘Three in One’.

Race and ethnicity are problematic terms: they were both invented and constructed in modern times on the basis of myths, whether physical or national myths.
There is no race without racism, while the myth of common ancestry is fundamental to the conception of ethnicity.

For many centuries before and after Maimonides, being Jewish meant belonging to a community of faith, the Jewish faith.
Things began to change ideologically and radically in the 19th century under the impact of European racial theories and social Darwinism, when being Jewish was reinvented into a racial identity.

The Arabic-speaking Jewish minority of Palestine, known locally and fondly as ‘the Jews sons of the Arabs’ (‘al-yahud awald al-‘arab’), were an integral part of the Palestinian people and their Arabic language, culture and heritage – all of which are related to the heritage of Maimonides.

The allegorised Greek deity of ‘twelve Olympian deities’ headed by Zeus were adapted and synthetised with Near Eastern legends and allegorised in the form of the stories of Genesis including the ‘twelve sons of Jacob’ and ‘twelve tribes of Israel’.

The Genesis story of Moses leading the ‘Israelite tribes’ from Egypt to ‘Cana’an’ is a late literary construct that does not necessarily relate to any historical period or actual, evidence-based history.
After more than 150 years and thousands of biblical excavations carried out in and around the Old City of Jerusalem, there is still no material history or archaeological or empirical evidence for the ‘Kingdom of David’ from 1000 BC.
These are invented traditions.
The Israelites were never in Egypt, did not wander in the desert, did not conquer the land in a military campaign, and did not pass it on to the 12 tribes of Israel.
The Old Testament stories of Saul, David and Solomon are imagined traditions (fiction, literary invention and theology) not proven historical facts.

The Quran teaches that God has sent twenty-five prophets and messengers.
All, in essence, are equal and all taught the message that the Quran communicated to Prophet Muhammad:
Ibrahim (Abraham), Musa (Moses), Dawud (David), Suleiman (Solomon), Jesus (‘Isa)

Fundamentalists read these stories literally.
Academics treat these stories metaphorically and allegorically.
Historians treat them as literature and social memory which evolved across many centuries, rather than as actual accurate history.

Old Testament mega-narratives derived from the Near Eastern epics and legends such as Gilgamesh.

A country may or may not be a sovereign state.
Palestine as a country (like Scotland, Wales, Catalonia, Andalus/Andalusia, Kurdistan, the Basque region, Chechnya or Kashmir) should not be automatically conflated or equated with modern Palestinian nationalism or any modern national representations of the ‘nation-state of Palestine’.

Unlike the six regional and neighbouring countries – Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Arabia, Turkey and Iran – throughout its history Palestine never produced empires or mighty imperial cities.

Authorities use the toponymic process as a way of constructing a new collective memory and ‘inventing traditions’.
Authorities deploy renaming strategies to erase earlier political, social and cultural realities and to construct new notions of national identity.
Struggles over land, toponyms, naming and renaming between indigenous peoples and settler-colonists are common.
Examples include:
Zimbabwe (Rhodesia)
Islas Malvinas (the Falkland Islands)
Istanbul (Constantinople)
Northern Ireland (Ulster; the Six Counties)
Azania (South Africa)
Aotearoa (New Zealand)
Palestine (Israel)
al-Quds (Jerusalem).

Superimposition of Old Testament and Talmudic toponyms was designed to erase the local Palestinian and Arab Islamic heritage.

Nablus shares its name with the Italian city of Naples.

Arabic term qutr means ‘country’. (Does “Qatar” mean country?)

Today the Arab world consists of twenty-one states, excluding Palestine.

Colonialists often saw large parts of the earth as terra nullius, ‘nobody’s land’.

Shaftesbury was directly responsible for the propagandistic slogan ‘A country without a nation for a nation without a country’, later to be become a key Zionist Jewish myth: ‘A land without a people for a people without a land’.

In making the Zionist movement attractive to Western audiences, its leaders denied the existence of the Arabic-speaking people of Palestine.

Al-Khalil is the indigenous Palestinian Arabic toponym for the (biblical) city of Hebron, linked to the Patriarch ‘Ibrahim al-Khalil’ (Abraham).

Thousands-of-years-old Jaffa was ethnically cleansed and culturally destroyed in 1948. This historic, culturally mixed Palestinian city was replaced after 1948 and subsumed by the European ‘pure’ Jewish city of neighbouring Tel Aviv.
Nahlal arose in the place of Mahlul; Kibbutz Gvat in the place of Jibta; Kibbutz Sarid in the place of Hunefis; and Kefar Yehoshua in the place of Tal al-Shuman.
There is not a single place built in this country that didn’t have a former Arab population.

Official Israeli road signs are often in Hebrew, Arabic and English. But both the Arabic and the English are transliterations of the new Hebrew place names – rather than reflecting the original Palestinian Arabic name.

Modern Hebrew was invented as a hybrid language, with European vocabulary and strong European connections.

Two myths of modern Hebrew:
•The myth of Hebrew restoration.
•The myth that modern Hebrew is a Semitic language.
Ben-Yehuda himself saw himself not only as the inventor of modern Hebrew but also as an inventor of the Jewish people.

The change from a Yiddish family name such as Perelman, to a Hebrew family name such as Ben-Yehuda, provided many Zionist settlers in Palestine with a prototype for emulation in a process of self-invention and self-indigenisation.

Zion was originally the name of a fortress in Jerusalem.

Zionism also set out to ‘re-imagine’ and ‘re-constitute’ the country’s landscape. The process actually began with Christian explorers, and archaeologists and Bible scholars. It was a deeply personal attempt to re-imagine themselves in the land of their ancestors.