Happy Little Jebusites

In the wake of Newt Gingrich’s comments about the invented peopleness of the so-called palestinians, they are predictably seething.

Still, Palestinians including Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said Gingrich needs to reexamine the history books.

“The Palestinian people inhabited the land since the dawn of history, and intend to remain in it until the end times,” Fayyad said Saturday at an event in the West Bank city of Ramallah. “People like Gingrich must consult history, as it seems that all what he knows about the region is the history of the Ottoman era.”

Fayyad said “despite oppression, occupation, and assaults, the Palestinian people remain steadfast in their historic land, and will achieve their legitimate rights.”

An executive committee member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Hanan Ashrawi, said Gingrich has “lost touch with reality.”

The statements show “ignorance and bigotry” and are “a cheap way to win (the) pro-Israel vote,” Ashrawi told Voice of Palestine radio, in comments reported by the Palestinian Authority-controlled WAFA news agency.

Fatah Revolutionary Council member Dimitri Diliani said Gingrich’s remarks reflect “the ignorant, provocative, and racist nature of Mr. Gingrich,” according to WAFA.

“The Palestinian people descended from the Canaanite tribe of the Jebusites that inhabited the ancient site of Jerusalem as early as 3200 B.C.E.,” Diliani said. The “Gingrich remarks are ignorant of the basic historical facts of the Middle East.”

I would like to examine this last claim, which has some, like Elder of Zion, ROFLing. But it is not the first time palestinians have made it. From David Wenkel:

The Palestinian-Jebusite linkage first appeared in the Arabic literature. Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian activist and historian, wrote that in the mid- or late 1960s, Palestinian nationalism developed a historiography that “anachronistically read back into the history of Palestine over the past few centuries, and even millennia, a nationalist consciousness and identity that are in fact relatively modern.” In an accompanying footnote, he wrote that this historical “outlook” created a “predilection for seeing in peoples such as the Canaanites, Jebusites, Amorites, and Philistines the lineal ancestors of the modern Palestinians.”

This was apparent in the 1978 Al-Mawsu’at Al-Filastinniya (Palestinian encyclopedia), which declared, “The Palestinians [to be] the descendants of the Jebusites, who are of Arab origin,” and described Jerusalem as “an Arab city because its first builders were the Canaanite Jebusites, whose descendants are the Palestinians.”  The entry continued, “Ever since the destruction of the Temple, the link with Jews and Christians has been severed. Muslims alone have a right to the Temple.”

In 1989, Sami Hadawi, a Palestine Liberation Organization representative, wrote in his history of Palestine that the Palestinians’ historical connection was not to the “Islamic desert conquerors of 1,300 years ago” but rather to “the original native population.” The Palestinians, he argued, “were there when the early Hebrews invaded the land in about 1500 B.C.”

According to David Bar-Illan, government spokesman under Benjamin Netanyahu, unchecked historical revisionism within the academy enabled such myths to make the leap to mainstream Western literature. Webster’s 1992 New World Encyclopedia, for example, has “accepted without question the myth that ‘The Palestinian people are descendants of the people of Canaan.'”

A politicized professorate enabled the myth to sink roots. By 2001, what Khalidi once attributed to anachronistic revisionism, he came to promote when he attached his name to an article published by the American Committee for Jerusalem which declared, without corroborating evidence, that “According to a number of historians and scholars, many of the Arabs of Jerusalem today, indeed the majority of Palestinian Arabs, are descendants of the ancient Jebusites and Canaanites.” Khalidi now argued that Palestinians did not descend from those who arrived with Muhammad’s armies, but rather, “native Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim Arabs, are of a mixed race whose connection with the land reaches back into very early history.”

The Palestinian Authority replicated the myth in its textbooks. The Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace published several reports that surveyed Palestinian school textbooks between 2000 and 2002. A second grade textbook taught that the “Canaanite Arabs were the first ones who settled in Palestine”;  a seventh grade text read, “Since the dawn of history the soil of Palestine has raised its Arab identity high through the giants of Canaan.” The Palestinian curriculum also taught that Nablus was “one of the cities of the early Arab Canaanites,” that “Canaanite Palestinians … invented the alphabet,” and that “the Arab Jebusites built it [Jerusalem] five thousand years ago in that distinguished place, and it has remained since that time a capital of Palestine during the ages.”

But if this does not convince you, hear it from leading palestinian historical sociologist Salim Tamari:

Much of Palestinian nationalist revivalist writings following the war of 1948 were a reaction to Zionist attempts at establishing their own putative claims to Israelite and biblical motifs. In doing so, the Jebusite-Canaanite revivalism of the 1970s and 80s had given up any attempt to relocate (or even relate) modern Palestinian cultural affinities to biblical roots. They seem to have abandoned this patrimony of biblical representation to Jewish nationalist discourse, in a paradoxical manner,
reinforcing the claims of their protagonists.


It is also a reactive nativism that sees itself as an instrument of the nationalist struggle with little concern for historical nuances. In choosing a title for the annual international musical festival in Jerusalem, Yabus explains
its objectives in direct ideological language:

Yabus is the primordial name of Jerusalem. It is derived from the Jebusites – a Canaanite tribe that built the first city that evolved into modern Jerusalem almost 5,000 years ago. We have selected the name in 1995 at the founding of the festival in a contentious political atmosphere which responds to the [Israeli-initiated] campaign of Jerusalem 3,000.

The campaign was clearly a jab at Ehud Olmert’s municipal campaign publicizing Israeli claims to the Hebraic origins of the city, and thus ignoring its antecedent pre-Israelite roots. But Yabus also ignored any claims for historical accuracy about the Jebusites, whose origins are dubious, and whose language and culture is most likely to have been non-Arab and even non Semitic.



David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media

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