Diary

A Primer on the Middle East

In a letter to the editor dated October 18th 2011, Sarah Ruth writes, “It is pure bunk to say that there never was an Arab country called Palestine.” Actually Sarah, there never was an Arab country called Palestine, not in the Middle East, and not anywhere else in the world. That statement happens to be historically true.

The key words here are “Arab country.” Approximately five thousand years ago, there was a non-Semitic, non-Arab people living in the general area of the Gaza Strip, called Philistines. Their language was similar to Hebrew, but they were not descendants of Shem (one of Noah’s three sons) and so they were not Semitic. They certainly were not Arabs! Philistines were a people who lived along the south east coast of the Mediterranean Sea, in what is today Israel, and they were closely related to the Canaanites who lived farther inland, and to the Phoenicians who lived farther north on the coastal plain of what is today called Lebanon. None of these people were Arabs.

The Phoenicians were a sea-faring people who went on to colonize North Africa, and founded the civilization that we call Carthage. Remember how Hannibal and his army of elephants invaded Europe? That was the Carthaginians, whose ancestors were the Phoenicians, and the relatives of the Philistines. These people waged war with Rome until they were defeated, and practically speaking, all trace of these ancient people has been erased from history. Carthage had been the rival of Rome, and the wars between Rome and Carthage are called the Punic Wars.

The Philistines, the Phoenicians, and the Canaanites are not the only peoples to have disappeared from history. The Minoans, the Hitites, the Sumerians, the Akkadians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, and even the ancient Egyptians have all disappeared from history!

The people who occupy Egypt today are mostly Arabs, who have been transplanted there after the Muslim conquests of North Africa. They are not related to the ancient Egyptians who developed a civilization there that lasted for over five thousand years, not ethnically, not culturally, not historically, and not linguistically. The ancient Egyptians were not Semitic people, and they have also disappeared from history, or at least their culture, their language, and their civilization has.

Now if you pay close attention, you might actually learn something that you didn’t know about the conflicted history of the Middle East. The Hebrews, which is an English word, derived from the ancient word Ebrim, or Evrim, moved into the area formally occupied by the Canaanites, and the Philistines, along with some other tribes too numerous to mention, and over the succeeding years they created their own civilization and culture there, which thrived for over a thousand years, until they were conquered by the Babylonians and forcibly removed from their country. But they returned and rebuilt their little kingdom, and their civilization under the reign of the Persian King Darius, and they enjoyed almost another 1000 years of sovereignty, until another foreign occupier came along in the form of the Romans, and conquered them again, and subjugated them after a bloody rebellion in which approximately one half of the ‘Jews’ were killed, and approximately one half were enslaved and driven out of their land.

The Romans renamed the land, which had been known for thousands of years as Judea and Samaria. They called it Philistia, or Palestina instead, to forever sever the connection between that land and its Jewish inhabitants as a further punishment for their rebellion. Ever since, the name of that general area of the world has been known as Palestine, which is an English translation of the Greek word Palestina or Philistia. It comes to us from the Hebrew word Peleseth.

Later the Persians, and then the Arabs, and the Turks, and the British subsequently took turns occupying this part of the world. But there never was an independent Arab country or even a separate country called Palestine in that part of the Middle East, where the ancient Jewish Kingdoms had been, or anywhere else in the world for that matter.

Allegedly the Romans sowed salt over the land and made it largely unproductive. It was merely a geographical area that was designated Palestine on the maps, following the Roman tradition. It existed as a largely desolate and forgotten province under Roman, Persian, Arab, Turkish, and finally British occupation. During all of this time both Jews and Arabs lived there together, but not in any great numbers. And there never was a sovereign country established there again until the return of the Jews in large numbers during and following World War II, and the recreation of their homeland in 1948. The new name that was chosen for the new country that was reborn on a small part of the lands of their ancient Kingdoms was Israel. The name Israel was also chosen to embrace all of the children of the Patriarch Jacob, whose name was Israel. He was the grandson of Abraham, who was also the father of the Arab people!

One terrible consequence of the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. was that in the 7th century when Muhammad lived, there was not a large Jewish or Christian presence in that part of the world. So there were not many Jewish or Christian scholars there to mentor the young Muhammad and teach him the correct understanding of God’s Holy Word. As an unfortunate consequence, there were misunderstandings and hostilities that developed which have resulted in an almost permanent state of hostilities between Islam, and the other two Abrahamic faiths: Christianity and Judaism.

The struggle in the Middle East is not just over culture and religion. It is also over land and water. There is not enough of either. And it is a struggle over learning how to share these two precious resources.

Muslims control a vast area of the world composed of 21 different countries that is larger than the United States of America, or China, and is almost as large as Russia. It stretches from China on the east, to Spain on the west, and from Bulgaria on the north, to Nigeria on the south. There already is a country that is home to the Arabs of Palestine. It is called Jordan. Seventy percent of Jordanians are Palestinian Arabs.

It is more logical to change the name of Jordan to Palestine, than to further divide and destroy the tiny, little nation of Israel. The logical boundary between Jordan and Israel should be the Jordan River, not some random line drawn over hill and dale right through the heart of Israel in order to comply with United Nations demands. No Arab needs to be displaced from the region, and they don’t even need to move more than fifty miles.

Why can’t the Arabs of the Middle East find room in their hearts to allow their cousins the Jews to be welcome back home in their own land, and why can’t they find some room in one of their many lands to accommodate a few million more Arabs? It seems rather selfish to me and rather stingy, considering the fact that they occupy such a vast swath of the earth’s surface that they can’t even allow a small, non-Arab, non-Muslim presence in their midst to exist as a sovereign nation.

They should be a little more like the patriarch Esau, who welcomed his cousin Jacob back after a long absence, rather than a bunch of Jew-haters. After all, they actually did move in and occupy Jewish land, and territory that didn’t belong to them, after the Roman conquest of the Jews in 70 A.D. Didn’t they?

You can read more of Scott’s work at www.lessgovisthebestgov.com.