A series where I bring to you news from the newspaper archives and historical documents to debunk common misconceptions about the Middle East conflict.
I am currently reading a great book – Semites & Anti-Semites by Bernard Lewis.
At one point in the book, when discussing antisemitism in the late Ottoman period, Lewis mentions an antisemitic piece by an antisemitic Maronite Christian called Negib Azoury. Azoury is described as “one of the first to see in Zionism a serious threat to the emergent Arab nation.”
Two important phenomena, of the same nature but opposed, which have still not drawn anyone’s attention, are emerging at this moment in Asiatic Turkey. They are the awakening of the Arab nation, and the latent effort of the Jews to reconstitute on a very large-scale the ancient kingdom of Israel. Both these movements are destined to fight continually until one of them wins. The fate of the entire world will depend on the final result between these two peoples representing two contrary principles”
Note how despite being an antisemite and anti-Zionist, Azoury is acknowledging an ancient kingdom of Israel. He does not write “supposed” or “mythical.”
But even more interesting, in my mind, is Farid Kassab, a Greek Orthodox Arab from Beirut, who responded to Azoury’s piece with a pamphlet that supported the Ottoman Empire and Jewish settlement in Palestine while rejecting Azoury’s idea of an Arab nation. As Lewis writes:
He had some words of praise for the Jewish settlers in Palestine, whom he described as peaceful and inoffensive, and as having brought benefit to the country and to the Empire in general through their revival of industry and agriculture.
A further fascinating footnote: elsewhere, I have discovered that Farid Kassab is thought to be the first Arab to use the term”Palestinian”!
Based on hundreds of manuscripts, Islamic court records, books, magazines, and newspapers from the Ottoman period (1516–1918), it seems that the first Arab to use the term “Palestinian” was Farid Georges Kassab, a Beirut-based Orthodox Christian who espoused hostility toward the Orthodox clerical establishment but sympathy for Zionism. Kassab’s 1909 book Palestine, Hellenism, and Clericalism focused on the status of Greek Orthodox Christianity in Palestine, but noted in passing that “the Orthodox Palestinian Ottomans call themselves Arabs, and are in fact Arabs,” despite describing the Arabic speakers of Palestine as Palestinians throughout the rest of the book.