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PAGE 4A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 24, 2014 By David Benkof The intensifying Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations have caused opponents of a Palestinian state to revive former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir's 1969 canard that "there is no such thing as a Palestinian people." However, "Palestine Denial" is less a debating point than a conversation-stopper: if there are no Palestinians, then there is no Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and thus no need even to discuss West Bank policies. One prob- lem: Palestinians do, in fact, exist. Last month, Israeli diplomat Danny Ayalon posted a YouTube video entitled "The Real Truth About Palestine," in which he claimed that Palestine is a place, not a nation: "Like Antarctica, the Amazons or Sahara, naming a place doesn't create a nation of Antarcticans or Saharans." And in a recent Front Page Magazine essay, Hoover Institution scholar Bruce Thornton referred to "the so-called Palestinians" and stated that the very idea of a Palestinian nation is but "a device for pro- moting the incremental war against Israel." In 2012, three Republican presidential candidates endorsed Palestine Denial: Newt Gingrich called Palestinians "an invented people"; Rick Santorum said "there are no Palestinians... all the people who live in the West Bank are Israelis"; and Herman Cain referred to "the so-called Palestinian people." Palestine Denial, like Holocaust Denial, is easily refuted. Most historians, since the publication of Benedict Anderson's book "Imagined Communities" three decades ago, have accepted that every people is invented, some very recently. Italian consciousness dates to 1764, and until 1871 Italy wasn't a country. Earlier residents considered themselves Neapolitans or Venetians or Florentines, and their primary loyalties were to their religion or ruler. But "Italian" is not a timeless identity, nation, or people. Before a UCLA professor coined "Asian- American" in 1968, Americans whose back- grounds were Chinese or Filipino or Japanese weren't really part of a unified ethnic group. Yet the government now applies census and voting-rights laws to Asian-Americans as if they existed - which, today, they do. Czechoslovakia, carved from former Austro- Hungarian territory containing mostly Czechs but also Germans and Slovaks, lasted from 1918 to 1992. But the state was only partially successful in creating a unified Czechoslova- kian identity out of those ethnicities. The joke among Jewish historians is that there were Czechs and Slovaks, but the only Czechoslo- vaks were the Jews of Prague. Being JewiSh is itself an invented identity. Though Judaism is thousands of years old, it's not ageless. Ancient concepts of tribes and kingdoms differ greatly from today's nation idea. In fact, Hebrew has a different word for Biblical peoplehood ("Am") and modern na- tionhood ("L'om"). Jewish nationalism traces only to the late 1800s, when secular European Jews faced rising nationalist anti-Semitism in their countries of residence, as expressed in France's Dreyfus Affair and the Russian pogroms. The central Zionist myth of unin- terrupted but dispersed Jewish nationhood with consistent identity tracing to Biblical times and finally gathering in modern Israel is historically inaccurate. Palestinian identity and peoplehood started in the early 20th century, but intensified after the events of 1948 and 1967. The Palestinian nation then developed a strong sense of shared history and future, grievance and aspiration. It has a flag, ashared language (PalestinianArabic), particular cuisine, and a varied literary canon. Palestine Denial is hackneyed and utterly predictable. Its followers boast of the follow- ing 1977 citation by Zuheir Muhsain of the Palestine Liberation Organization's pan- Arabist faction: "The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the State of Israel." The obsession over a hoary 35-year-old quote from a Palestinian with a minority viewpoint suggests no other textual evidence exists. Deniers also champion Mark Twain's 1867 "Innocents Abroad," always using the same passage, which describes Palestine in part as a "desolate country" where Twain "never saw a human being on the whole route." But this 68-word mantra, presented as a single coher- ent opinion, selectively combines sentences and phrases from pages 488, 520, and 555 of the travelogue. Never mentioned are Twain's half-dozen anecdotes about encounters with Arabs in Palestine. "Innocents Abroad" actu- ally offers more support to the Palestinian narrative than the Zionist one. Finally, West Bank residents are purport- edly just a motley collection of Arab economic migrants, not a unified nation. Of course, the United States was also populated by economic migrants, and everyone recognizes the Ameri- can people. Denial rhetoric invalidates Palestinian rights by contradicting common sense and nearly all nationalism scholarship. It also leads to very strange questions: Are Italians a nation? Do Pakistanis (a 75-year-old identity) deserve a state? Should we tell a person who says she's Asian-American, "No, you're not?" Opponents of a Palestinian state can raise many legitimate points. But the "Myth of Pal- estine" is not one of them. The idea needs to be retired, so real discussions about the Israeli and Palestinian futures can start. David Benkof has a master's degree in modern Jewish history from Stanford. He teaches Hebrew in Jerusalem, and constructs the weekly Jerusalem Post Crossword Puzzle, which appears in this publication. He can be reached at DavidBenkof@gmail.com. Letter from Israel Unattainable hopes By Ira Sharkansky producing things for American concerns at low wages.. There ain't much that is new under the sun. Israelis can do aparallel accounting, viewing Israelis, Diaspora Jews and others who are incidents of violence against the work done in concerned with us should have ceased hoping Israel by Palestinian laborers. years ago'for the kind of peace that prevails Israeli factories in the West Bank, provide between the US and Canada, or among the' work for Palestinians;~like the-American countries of Western Europe. factories south of the border. Europeans and Something like the U.S. borderwith Mexico Americans who boycott the products of those might be attainable. That is, a fenced or pa- factories threaten the livelihood of Palestin- trolled border; lines on the outside of people ian workers. wanting to pass inspection in order to enter; The story about efforts to solve the issues conditions on the other side significantly of Palestine and Israel should be well known. less than desirable; and the economy on the The answer also. It is not to rely on poorly good side profiting from joint ventures and informedandheadyideologues,whetherJews, low cost labor. Americans, or others, tireless in saying how Even that might not be possible, given the to solve problems that have been shown to dominance of Islam throughout the Middle be insoluble. East. We've done well by coping, and if we keep our Forbidden to talk about Islam? heads and our decent politics, we can continue. Put your head in another sand bucket. We cannot solve our problems with military Or better, look at what's happening among power, or with an ideal political agreement. our neighbors, and listen to the clips that We can continue with accommodations show Palestinian school teachers, youth camp where possible, an imbalance of military power leaders, and politicians condemning Israel in our favor, used when necessary, carefully and Jews. honed to fit circumstances, with decisions Americans do reasonably well alongside taken after discussion and argument, largely Mexico, and Israel generally does as well among ourselves. alongside its neighbors. Palestinians as well as Israelis can do better Leaving aside the dreams about what we without outsiders pushing to do what neither should have, the reality--at least before John leadership can accept. With all the problems Kerry began the latest crusade--is that Israel that reach the headlines and cause suffering, and Palestine achieved something like what Individual Palestinians and Israelis work to- separates the US and Mexico. gether. Officials of both communities cooper- It may be as close to peace as we are likely ate on technical matters and security. Civilians to get. enjoy personal rapport and even friendships. Americans can weigh the damage to Many of both communities realize that their friends, family, and others due to the drugs political leaders cannot declare what would that come from Mexico, against all those be ideal about borders, refugees, the content unpleasant jobs at low wages done by illegal immigrants, and the factories over the border Sharkansky on page 15A THE VIEWS EXPRESSED ON THIS PAGE ARE NOT NECESSARILY THE VIEWS OF HERITAGE MANAGEMENT. CENTRAL FLORIDA'SINDEPENDENTJEWISHVOICE ISSN 0199-0721 Winner of 43 Press Awards EWISH NEWS HERITAGE Florida Jewish News (ISN 0199-0721) is published weekly for $37.95 per year to Florida ad- dresses ($46.95 for the rest of the U.S.) by HERITAGE Central Florida Jewish News, Inc., 207 O'Brien Road, Suite 101, Fern Park, FL 32730. Periodicals postage paid at Fern Park and additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes and other correspondence to: HERITAGE, P.O. Box 300742, Fern Park, FL 32730. MAILING ADDRESS PHONE NUMBER P.O. Box 300742 (407) 834-8787 Fern Park, FL 32730 FAX (407) 831-0507 email: news@rlandheritage'cm Editor/Publisher Jeffrey Gaeser Editor Emeritus Associate Editor Assistant Editor Gene Starn Kim Fischer Chris DeSouza Society Editor Bookkeeping Gloria Yousha Paulette Alfonso Account Executives Barbara do Carmo Marci Gaeser Contributing Columnists Jim Shipley Ira Sharkansky David Bornstein Ed Ziegler Production Department David Lehman Joyce Gore Elaine Schooping Gil Dombrosky IS wise By David Rosen JNS.org In the 1920s, the Jerusalem Waqf, the local Muslim religious authority, published and distributed a pamphlet for visitors to the Haram al-Sharif, the Temple Mount. It explained that the location is named AI-Aqsa, in accordance with the Quran reference to the place the prophetMohammed visited on his night journey to Heaven. It indicated that the prophet visited this site precisely because it was holy since time immemorial, and was where King Solomon built the Jewish Temple for divine service. The Temple connection is also reflected in another of the most important Muslim names for the site, Belt AI-Maqdis, the Arabic version of Bet haMikdash, the Hebrew name for the Temple. Today, however, it is virtually impossible to obtain any official Muslim Palestinian acknowledgement of this biblical origin of the Temple Mount. In fact, one of the most prominent Palestinian Sharia judges told role privately that only when peace comes and a Palestinian state is established with east Jerusalem--including AI-Aqsa--as its capital, would it be possible to acknowledge that history. In other words, recognition of the Jewish historical and religious connection to the Temple Mount is currently seen as a political concession. Indeed, most Palestinian Muslims, and perhaps most Muslims in the world today, see affirmation of Jewish attachment to this site as political provocation. The issue has become an effective tool and rallying cry for those seeking to make political capital--such as Sheikh Ra'ed Salah (of the northern section of the Islamic movement in Israel), who has, in the past, inflamed the passions of thousands of young Palestinians with incendiary accusa- tions against Israel. Ironically, it is actually Israel that guaran- tees the Islamic presence on the Temple Mount, for both religious and security reasons. For centuries there has been a de facto Orthodox Jewish restriction on ascending the Temple Mount. This was formally confirmed by Chief Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook and has been the official position of Israel's Chief Rabbinate since the establishment of the state, supported by most Orthodox authorities and virtually all haredi authorities. This seemingly paradoxical self-restric- tion on Jews entering their most sacred site is due precisely to its holiness. When the Temple stood, biblically mandated rites of purification were required in order to enter its precincts. The official Orthodox rabbinic position continues to maintain that since the core site remains eternally sacred, the mount is entirely prohibited to Jewish entry in the absence of the traditional purification rites. Thus, when Moshe Dayan and Levi Eshkol reassured the Muslim authorities, after Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War, that the Temple Mount would remain under the religious control of the Waqf, there was minimal Jewish religious opposition. Nevertheless, under Israeli secular democratic authority, Jewish visitors (overwhelmingly secular) as well as visitors of other faiths have been able to visit the site. In recent years some Jewish religious groups and their rabbinic leaders have contested the religious prohibition against going on the Temple Mount, claiming that there is sub- stantial historical and archaeological proof that the Temple did not stand on the southern part of the area, and that Jews should be able to enter and pray there. But the Israeli secular courts and law enforcement agencies have prevented any organized prayer on the site, out of consider- ation for Muslim sensibilities and concern for possible violent Muslim reaction. Indeed, not only because it is the third holiest site of Islam, but also precisely because of its politicization, it wouldn't take much to strike a spark that ignites the tinderbox. In August 1968, an Australian Christian, Denis Michael Rohan, who claimed to be "the Lord's emissary" seeking to facilitate "the second coming" of Jesus, set fire to the pulpit of the Al-Aqsa mosque. Outrage across the Muslim world held Israel culpable. At that time, communications were nowhere near as sophisticated, immediate, and widespread as they are today, when feelings can be so swiftly and extensively inflamed. Since then, there have been riots against Israeli archaeological digs or the visits of Israeli politicians to the site, with deadly consequences. These extreme reactions prove the wisdom of Israeli policy restricting Jewish access on the Temple Mount. Unfortunately, Israel gets little credit for this. Recently, some Knesset members have suggested relaxing the restrictions, and allow- ing Jews to exercise their religious freedom and pray at the site. This has caused legitimate concern, as well as wildly exaggerated rhetoric that lends itself to political exploitation. Most notably, there is overwhelming op- position both in the Knesset and the Israeli government to any such change. And since the Israeli religious establishment and the haredi community determinedly oppose such change, there is every reason to be confident in the continuation of Israel's policy that guarantees exclusive Muslim religious authority on the Temple Mount. Rabbi David Rosen is the American Jewish Committee's (AJC's) international director of Interreligious Affairs (www.ajc.org).