Know Your History: Farid Kassab, First Arab To Use Term “Palestinian”, Praised Zionists

series where I bring to you news from the newspaper archives and historical documents to debunk common misconceptions about the Middle East conflict.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.”

ottoman-periodBut 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.

3 thoughts on “Know Your History: Farid Kassab, First Arab To Use Term “Palestinian”, Praised Zionists”

  1. That short article by Zachary Foster is quite interesting and enlightening. He seems to say that the emphasis on “Southern Syria” by pre-Israeli-State Arabs was itself a fabrication to lend authority to the regime of Faysal I ruling from Damascus, in the hopes of wresting “Palestine” away from the British and the Jews. The Arabic cultural tendency to make the truth fluid for the sake of political expediency is not just recent, I see. But the point is, according to him, the whole “Southern Syria” claim does not at all negate the potential significance of “Palestine” to the Arabs.
    Of course, we know that Filastin was a province (of one size or another) of the Muslim-ruled Middle East almost throughout the centuries since the Mohammedian invasion. This makes sense, for they were merely preserving the Roman name for that province, much as “Nablus” is a preservation of Neopolis. The Arabs were pretty happy to keep the names for places as they found them, albeit filtering the pronunciation of the names through the Arabic language. So it would only be natural for residents of Filastin to refer to themselves as “Palestinians”. This is especially so when communicating in English in a British context as of the start of the mandate.
    However, the question Mr. Foster purports to address is not really addressed. At what point did this identity of “Arab resident of Filastin” transform into a claim of a unified, national identity of a people, “the Palestinians”?
    I would be tempted to quickly quip that the solidity of the identity of “the Palestinians” is in direct proportion to the solidity of modern Israel’s existence. It seems that when the Muslim conquistadors felt no outside pressure, nobody much cared about “Palestine”. When the Jews made their intentions to reassert their rights known, suddenly, “Palestine” is important. When the British expressed support for this, “Palestine” became an even higher priority. And when Israel was declared and the Muslim conquistadors repeatedly failed to squash it, we saw the new underdog identity emerge as a fabricated counterargument. That the Arab conception of “Palestine” since the British Mandate seems always to be defined by “what the Jews control” is, of course, quite telling.
    But of course, for our purposes, does it much matter? Whether we draw the line as 1910 or 1967 or 1988, it all pales in comparison to the antiquity of the Jewish people and the establishment of our rights. So, in the game of who-has-the-stronger-claim-to-the-land-and-deserves-to-live-there-and-defend-themselves-there, Israel still wins hands down, no question (save for among anti-Israel folks and their illusions).
    But in the interest of truth and intellectual honestly, I’d like to understand these details better.

  2. There will never be a second Arab-Palestinian State West of the Jordan River

    If the U.S. was conquered by various nations over a thousand years plus and than some outside forces helped Americans defeat the occupiers and regain its sovereignty and set up the American U.S. government again, would you consider the Americans as occupiers.
    I will take it a step further. Many Americans who were displaced by the occupying forces in America were forced out of their homes and returned to the U.S., would you consider them occupiers or people returning to their homes.
    If Mexico which had numerous wars and battles with the U.S. decided to fire thousands of rockets against the U.S., would you tolerate it or you would demand your country respond with extreme force at all costs, no holds barred and stop this rockets and terror attacks against Americans and women and children.
    YJ Draiman

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