Thursday, October 11, 2018

Again, Is "Palestine" Really Part of Syria?

As Zachary J. Foster details in his 2011 Georgetown University MA thesis, "Arab Historiography in Mandatory Palestine, 1920--1948", many Arab historians

considered Palestine a constitutive part of Syria. Bahri, for instance, writes that Haifa is among the “mother cities of Syria broadly and Palestine specifically.” In his brief biography of Abid Baha’ Abbas, the founder of the Bahai faith, Bahri also lists all of the countries or regions with Bahai populations: Iran, Japan, China, India, Egypt, Syria (Suriyya), Europe and America. Insofar as there were many Bahai in “Palestine,” it only makes sense that Palestine was assumed as part of Syria in Bahri’s laundry list, or else it would have been an embarrassing oversight to neglect Palestine. Barghouthi and Totah add that Palestine “remained part of Syria, and a natural border did not separate it (Palestine) from it(Syria), and was not distant from it racially or historically, and therefore historians have not singled it [Palestine] out with a distinct name but rather they have related to it [i.e. naming, in terms of] the peoples and tribes living in it.”

If you are worried that his sources are not solid, a footnote there reads:

On the proposals for a Syria (including Palestine) -- Egypt union before the war, see Ayyad, Arab Nationalism,59; Lunts, “Shorishayha ve-Mekorotayha,” 34; Gooch and Temperley, British Documents, 824-5; During the war:Tamari, Am al-Jarad, 75-6; Blyth, “The Future of Palestine,” 85; And after the war: Mir’at al-Sharq, 23 December 1926. The proposals for a Palestine-Syria unification all come after the war and extend well into the late 1920s: see the resolution of the First Palestinian National Congress; responses in Palestine to the King-Crane Commission; petitions of the Muslim-Christian Associations; Resolution of the First Syrian National Congress in 1919, petitions produced by Nablusite notables, all of which opted for unity with Syria in the 1918-1920 period. On these proposals, See Porath, The Emergence, 81-2; Muslih,The Origins 131-154; Qasmiyya, “Suriyya wa al-Qadiyya al-Filastiniyya”; For more pro-Syrian unity rhetoric in the post 1920 period, see resolutions of the fifth Palestinian National Congress in 1922, cited in Kimmerling, “Process of Formation,” 80, n.62; Mir’at al-Sharq, 24 May 1925, 4 November 1926; Mansur, Tarikh Nasira, 120; Zionist report on the Third Palestinian National Conference, CZA,L4/768; Zionist report on Palestinian Activities in America. New York, 28 March 1922, CZA A185/56; ZionistReport on the Arab Movement, 1928, CZA, L9/349; For unity with the Hijaz, see Filastin, 10 September 1921; 14 March 1924; 19 June 1925

Quite simply, Foster considers the writing of a unique "Palestine history" to be

the projection of contemporary prerogatives on to the past.

Foster continues his review of the geography and history books written and published at the time and adds

in 1938 George Antonius uses the word Syria to describe the entire Bilad al-Sham region throughout his book. “Of the countries surrounding Egypt, Syria was the most important from a military point of view.” That is to say, it was still perfectly natural for him to write Syria to refer to places like Bir Sab’ and Ghazza. al-Nimr adds in 1938 that Nablus is located in the heart of Southern Syria (qalb Suriyya al-Janubiyya).

He continues

the tendency to consider Palestine a part of Syria that was suggested in Bahri, al-Barghouthi and Totah, Antonious and Canaan is consistent with the geographical studies of the period written by Arabs residing in both Palestine and Syria. In the first place, let us recall that discussions of Palestine are included in the classic histories of Syria written by Yusuf Dibbs and Jurji Yanni in late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The first Jughrafiyat Filastin was published in 1921 and seems to have been destined for the Mandatory education system. The authors, Totah and Khuri, write that there is no natural border between Syria and Palestine...For Sabri Sharif Abd al-Hadi’s Jughrafiyat Suriyya wa Filastin al-Tabi‘iyya, publishedin 1923—six years after the British arrived in Jerusalem—there is no neat border between Syria and Palestine. In some cases, the plains and mountains of Palestine and Syria bleed into one another.

By the way, on this book, Foster observes

It is worth noting that Rashid Khalidi misinterprets this book, claiming that its importance lies in“the fact that all over Palestine, students were already learning that Palestine was a separate entity, a unit whose geography requires separate treatment [from Syria].” Khalidi, Palestinian Identity, 174. As we indicated above,however, this book suggests much the opposite: that there was great confusion over what was Palestine and what was Syria, and that Palestine was a region within Syria. We must be careful to go to the primary sources before accepting Khalidi’s interpretation of the evidence..

Foster pursues the subject further and as it is important, here is another longish excerpt from his academic study:

Palestine was inextricably tied to a larger territorial unit, Syria. In some cases it was a constitutive part of it and in other cases Palestine did not include Haifa, Acre, Tiberias, Tzfat, Nazareth, the Bisan valley and other areas. When we consider that,in the late Ottoman period, “Palestine” had no administrative status and “Palestinians” called themselves “Syrians,” this is not so surprising. The attempt by the British and French to transform much older conceptions of space and self, usually by resort to force of arms, did not happen overnight. I would suggest that the attempt to trace the “earliest manifestations” of the national or proto-national identity, as Khalidi, Gerber and Fishman have done, has inadvertently reified the naturalness and inevitableness of the development of nation-state borders, geographies and loyalties in the region, things that were simply not indigenous to the region and were brought to the region by the colonial use of force.Another implication of this section is that the various pro-Syrian unity positions taken by theArabs of Palestine from 1918-1920 were probably not as “fleeting” and “ephemeral” as everyone seems to believe. The decision of the First Palestinian National Congress to call Palestine“Southern Syria” in hopes of uniting with Faysal’s government in Syria, may itself have been an innovation, but in name rather than substance. The idea that Palestine was a part of Syria continues to be perfectly acceptable to Palestine’s Arabs in the 1920s and even as late as the 1930s and 1940s. We have examined city-loyalties, Arab and Islamic loyalties and the role of the regional epicenters.

As Foster concludes this chapter in his study

Today scholars want to know when a Palestinian identity first emerged, but they seem much less interested in determining what people themselves in the 1920s and 1930s actually cared about.

And then makes sure we are clear about the facts and how Arab historians today interpret them
while Khalidi is right to point to the existence of an incipient Palestine loyalty in the 1914-1923 period, he grossly over exaggerates both its importance for the people who felt it and its prevalence in the general population. The historical works would seem to support what Salim Tamari has described as a kind of “cultural nihilism” – the idea that Palestine was not particularly important or distinct apart from its Bilad al-Sham context, at least in the 1920s and also in the early 1930s...not a single book was written on the history of Palestine out of sheer passion and love for Palestine until the 1930s. As we stated previously, this is in complete contrast to the city histories – all of which seem to have been written out of the authors devotion and love for the home town. Continuing along to the 1930s, regional, Arab and Palestine histories remain roughly equal in number until 1936, at which point the conflict among the British, Zionists and Palestinians reached a breaking point with the outbreak of the General Strike in Palestine in the Spring of 1936, the first phase in a 3-year long revolt, today known as the “Great Arab Revolt.” Only then did interest in Palestine soar and come to dominate historical writing, alongside with Arab histories.

My take from this is that my outlook remains unchanged from when I first began blogging on this aspect: for Arabs, Palestine was a region, not a country. It was not a separate geopolitical entity except as part of Syria. Local patriotism was a result of the clash with Zionism which had a 3000-year history of a concrete conceptualization of what the Jewish homeland's borders were and which the Arabs did not possess.

This is part of what I term "Palestinianism" which is the fabrication, caused by competitiveness with the challenge Zionism confronts the local Arabs, of a history, an identity and a geography.

And from The Invention of PalestineZachary J. Foster, A DISSERTATION


P.S.  Some previous posts:




and an important one here.



Foster thought I "politicized" his research.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. Good work. So Obama's Arab friend, Rashid Khalidi, deliberately misinterpreted a book from the 1920s. Who would have imagined that a professor at a US university would do that? Who would have imagined that a scion of an aristocratic Arab family would lie as he did?

The results of your research fit in with my conclusions in my article at the link published in Midstream magazine in 1995. My piece goes back to Biblical, Hellenistic, & Roman times, as well as the early period after the Arab conquest of Israel circa 632-640.

Elliott A Green