As I am sure everyone is aware Newt Gingrich recently made a comment regarding the historical legacy of Palestine and the people within that part of the word who describe themselves as Palestinians. Gingrich, in his comments, described the Palestinian people as being 'invented'. The purpose of Gingrich's comment was to boslter the claim by Israeli's to inhabit the land they call home and to rebut the claims by those individuals, who identify themselves as being Palestinians, to parts of that same region.
I was asked to share my views on Gingrich's comments publically on the forum. After a little thought this proved to be rather tricky. Unfortunately, the history of the region is not a topic which I have looked at in any major detail. So, prior to making this post, I did a little reading around the topic. On one hand Gingrich has something of a point. It is a fact that the region has prior to the foundation of Israel spent much of its history, stretching back many many centuries, as part of one empire or another. It has not been a seperate independent state in its own right. Prior to the creation of Israel in 1948, the region had been a part of the British Empire. Britain had acquired the region following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire which had formerly controlled the region in the First World War. The Ottomans had controlled the region since 1516. Prior to this point the region had been controlled by various Islamic empires since 636. Even prior to this period the region swapped hands between various foreign dynasties.
So Gingrich is certainly correct on one level. However, I would suggest that this is a superficial analysis. While the region may have well been a provice of one empire or another until well into the ancient period, if not earlier, that does not indicate that the region was not a unique, self contained identifiable geographical, political and cultural unit.
The Egyptian's recognised the existence of a region they described as 'Peleset' over 3,000 years ago. The Assyrians refered to a Palashtu around 800 bc, and Palestine was refered to by Herodotus. So while the region has not been politically seperate from various empires over the span of time, it has regionally been identified under that name and so to, by extension, have its people.
This raises the question of whether a geo-politically disenfranchised group can be accorded recognition. This actually strikes me as a rather silly question, because the answer is obviously yes, they can. Nobody would deny the Welsh that label. Yet the Welsh people too have never really existed if we go by the notion that the existence of a historically independent state defines the right to invoke a national identity. Prior to th Edwardian conquest of Wales the region was made up of various small politically, and often unaffiliated warring, independent regions. Indeed the idea of a single 'Wales' was actually a product of the English.
We can make similar observations of many other regons. We must also conaider the fact that Gingrich's objections regarding the Palestinian people also can be directed against Israel. When over the last 1,000 years, prior to 1948, can we see an independent Israel? Why, if the Palestinian people are invented, can the same label not be applied to Israelis?