StandWithUs’ revisionist history train campaign

Hasbara outfit StandWithUs, as reported late last month, has placed its own billboards at Metro-North train stations in New York and Connecticut in an attempt to counter a much-discussed awareness campaign depicting the loss of Palestinian land over the past sixty-six years, paid for by Henry Cliffords’ Committee for Peace in Israel/Palestine.

StandWithUs’ counter-campaign, aimed at denying the validity of Palestinian ties its own homeland by presenting the Old Testament as a divine land deed (in addition to lauding Israel’s technological achievements and resurrecting the “no partner for peace” talking point), includes this ad:

No one disputes that Jewish presence in Palestine has been continuous since antiquity, albeit in varying degrees of population percentage whereby Jews often represented a very small minority of the total population of Palestine.  In 1517, when the Ottoman Empire seized control of Palestine, Jewish inhabitants of the region made up only 1.7% of the native population.  By 1882, Jewish Palestinians comprised 8% of the population.

When the State of Israel was unilaterally established in May 1948, after decades of massive Jewish immigration from Europe and Russia and months of the deliberate ethnic cleansing of indigenous Palestinian Arabs from their ancestral villages, the Jewish population of Palestine was still only about 30% of the total.

Regardless of population density and demographic distribution, of course, all inhabitants of the land should be granted the same human and civil rights and identical protection under the law.  The establishment of the State of Israel, a declaration by a minority of Zionist ideologues, destroyed any semblance of equality among the population of historic Palestine, with the minority Jewish population obtaining first-class citizen status in the nascent state and Jews worldwide gaining the ability to immigrate to a place they had never been.  Meanwhile, indigenous Palestinian Arabs were aggressively stripped of self-determination and sovereignty and prevented from returning to the homes and places of birth from which they had been violently expelled, in direct contravention of international law.

No historic connection to a land that has been home to countless tribes, cultures and communities over the course of millennia can ever excuse the deliberate, systematic and institutional discrimination against an indigenous people merely because they happen to be adherents to the “wrong” faith.

But this particular billboard is even more dishonest as one reads further.  It claims, “Ancient Israel was renamed ‘Palestine’ by the conquering Romans in 135 CE.”  This is a common refrain, trotted out time and again by those who try to deny the existence of an indigenous Palestinian people.  The point is to present a version of history whereby the term “Palestine” was fabricated out of thin air by an imperial occupying power and applied to an entire region of land that was formerly populated and controlled solely by ancient Hebrews.

This claim demonstrates a distinct lack of historical knowledge and deliberate denial of known and verifiable facts.  As I noted a year ago, when The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), a media pressure group and Zionist advocacy organization, bullied The Los Angeles Times into issuing a correction based on false information, specific references to “Palestine” date back nearly six hundred years before the 2nd Century CE.

In the 5th Century BCE, Herodotus, the first historian in Western civilization, referenced “Palestine” numerous times in his chronicle of the ancient Greek world, The Histories, including his documentation that “the coastal parts of Syria…and all that lies between it and Egypt is called Palestine.” (VII.89, trans. Henry Carter, Heritage Press, 1958)

Furthermore, the name Palaestina was not of Greek origin, but has even more ancient roots.  According to the late University of Chicago professor Gösta Ahlström in his seminal book The History of Ancient Palestine, “Clearly Herodotus did not invent the name but used an already common term,” derived from the Akkadian, Hebrew, Aramaean, and Egyptian words for Philistines.  “Herodotus’ use of the term shows that its content had expanded in the Persian period and that it referred to the people of the coastal areas from Gaza to Carmel,” explains Ahlström.

A century after Herodotus, Aristotle affirms the commonality of the term when, in his Meteorology, he describes the Dead Sea as “a lake in Palestine, such that if you bind a man or beast and throw it in it floats and does not sink.” (II.3)  In the mid-2nd Century BCE, ancient geographer Polemon wrote of a “part of Syria called Palestine,” while Greek travel writer Pausanias wrote in his Description of Greece of “the dates of Palestine.” (9.19.8)

The name Palestine was also referenced in Roman literature well before 135 CE, when StandWithUs says the land was suddenly “renamed.”

For instance, in the first decade of the 1st Century CE, the Roman poet Ovid mentioned Palestine in both his famed mythological poem Metamorphoses and his erotic elegy The Art of Love. He also wrote of “the waters of Palestine” in his calendrical poem Fasti. Around the same time, Latin poet Tibullus wrote of “the crowded cities of Palestine” in his poem Delia.

Even the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, writing around the third decade of the 1st Century CE, referred to “Syria in Palestine” as being inhabitant in part by “the very populous nation of the Jews.” (XII.75)

Perhaps the most well-known Jewish historian of the 1st Century is Josephus (c.37-100 CE), born and raised in Jerusalem, who was a military commander in Galilee during the First Jewish Revolt against the occupying Roman authority, a negotiator during the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE, and later wrote extensively of Levantine Jewish history. His The Jewish War, Antiquities of the Jews, and Against Apion all contain copious references to Palestine and Palestinians.

Towards the end of Antiquities, Josephus writes that he has documented historical events “from the original creation of man, until the twelfth year of the reign of Nero, as to what hath befallen the Jews, as well in Egypt as in Syria and in Palestine” and beyond. (XX.11.2)

While the StandWithUs Metro-North billboards seek to establish the notion that “Ancient Israel” was exclusively Jewish and the direct precursor to the modern State of Israel, historical fact does not bear this out.  According to the Oxford Classical Dictionary, Palestine during antiquity was a “demographically mixed region” that was “understood to be the homeland of the Jews throughout the period, though in fact housing a minority of them.” It continues, “More precisely, the Jews belonged to the small area around Jerusalem known in Greek as Ioudaia, whence the name Ioudaioi.”

Also, historian Gösta Ahlström notes that, while Palestine long referred to the region south of Carmel, including “the Jezreel Valley, the Beth-Shan Valley and Pella down to Raphia in the south and the western part of Transjordan south of Pella to the Dead Sea in the east,” the term “Canaan” was also used in antiquity to refer to “the lowlands and the coastal area of Palestine,” a region in which “the largest ethnic group was non-Semitic.”  Moreover, “Canaan was a name for the more densely populated areas of the land, where the cultural and urban centers were located.  The central hill country did not really count, because it was very sparsely settled.”  This “central hill country,” Ahlström tells us, “was probably called Israel.”

The term Palestine was long used by Roman authorities to refer to the region, as evidenced by the establishment of the Limes Palaestinae, or frontier border of Palestine, in 70 CE following the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, son of Roman emperor Vespasian.

The claim that the Roman emperor Hadrian officially changed the name of the region to “Syria Palaestina” or simply “Palestine” in a spiteful effort to punish Jewish inhabitants of Judea after the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 135 CE and forced the native Jewish community into exile is also dubious, if not wholly erroneous, especially when, by that time, the terms “Syrian Palestine” and “Palestine” had already been in common use for over six hundred years and Romans were not in the habit of exiling entire native populations from lands they occupied and administered.

Ahlström adds, “In the Roman period, the understanding of the name Palestine had widened and included also the interior; thus it was natural that Palestine became the official name for their provinces after 135 CE.”

In its attempt to counteract the simple truth of Henry Cliffords’ maps campaign at Metro-North stations, StandWithUs has revealed not only its shabby knowledge of the history of the region, but also demonstrates its clear disinterest in advocating for the implementation of equal rights and international law in historic Palestine.

About Nima Shirazi

Nima Shirazi is co-editor of the Iran, Iraq and Turkey pages for the online magazine Muftah. His political analysis can be found on his blog, WideAsleepinAmerica.com, where this post first appeared. Follow him on Twitter @WideAsleepNima.
Posted in Israel Lobby, Israel/Palestine, US Politics

{ 26 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Blake says:

    Palestinians are the aborigines of that land. You will find even Israeli historians call them the natives. This revisionism is going to come back and haunt them big time.

  2. Fantastic piece, Nima. Essential historical facts that essentially crush the entire moral basis for the modern state of Israel.

  3. ColinWright says:

    Isn’t — or wasn’t — ‘Israel’ primarily a religious concept until 1948? Something like ‘Jerusalem’?

    Both terms admittedly had corporeal counterparts — but were also often used without reference to these counterparts. Certainly I’m vaguely aware of innumerable references to ‘Jerusalem’ I’ve seen that have nothing to do with the city located in the Judean Hills. Moreover, at least in the case of ‘Israel’ the term for the land mass considered apart from its religious connotations has effectively always been ‘Palestine.’

    To at least some extent, to describe the current Zionist state as ‘Israel’ is a rather blasphemous construction. Whether you subscribe to them or not, ‘Israel’ is a term loaded with various religious implications that the Zionist state in no way fulfills or even attempts to fulfill. It could be accurately labeled ‘the Zionist State in Palestine.’ To call it ‘Israel’ is to lie. It isn’t.

    • ToivoS says:

      I prefer ‘the Zionist Experiment in Palestine’. This captures the possible ephemeral nature of, well, the experiment.

      • ColinWright says:

        “I prefer ‘the Zionist Experiment in Palestine’. This captures the possible ephemeral nature of, well, the experiment.”

        Thinking along those lines, how about ‘the Zionist episode in Palestine’? Hopefully something obscure and brief people will be writing doctoral theses on one day.

        Lessee…

        “Although ephemeral and now of course almost forgotten, at the time the Zionist episode generated a great deal of controversy and even support in some quarters. In fact, it wasn’t until the middle of the second decade of the twenty first century that it became clear that ‘Israel’ visibly lacked the support necessary for its continued existence. In 2014, the…”

        • Rusty Pipes says:

          … in 2014, the government of israel launched nuclear attacks on all existential threats, including iran, syria and hubs of delegitimization in london and san francisco. The climate has become even toastier since then, which suits me fine. unfortunately, I have fewer and fewer mammal friends with whom to enjoy the temperate weather. i have been quite lonely since mehitabel wasted away. archy.

      • Blake says:

        Or the “Zionist Frankenstein monster experiment in Palestine”.

  4. So what that there have been people in the region since ancient times who subscribed to Judaism? There were also a lot of other people who subscribed to different cultural and social groups. Many of these are modern Palestinians. Christians and Moslems. So your argument is what? All of these groups are entitled to live with equal civil rights in the region, but they are not entitled to help themselves to others’ properties and land, and try to expel them. No-one ever said that Jews exclusively controlled the area, and even if they did a long time ago, so what once again? doesn’t mean diddly squat. It is a non-argument, and just sheer propaganda. Rewriting history to justify modern apartheid is absurd and meaningless. Otherwise I suppose I should be expecting a knock on the door from the Druids at any time and given my marching orders.

  5. Gryfin says:

    A wonderful encapsulation of the problems associated with the “God is a Realtor and the Torah is a Property Deed” crowd.

  6. Real Jew says:

    I just found content for the next billboard……this article. Someone should post it right next to the billboard above.

    “StandWithUs has revealed not only its shabby knowledge of the history of the region….”

    Let’s be serious Nima, Standwithus is fully versed in historic Palestine’s history. They just choose not to advertise it knowing it would destroy an essential aspect of their propaganda. So instead they make a bold face lie in the face of the American people. Something wholly integrated in the deceitful pro Israel world.

  7. Darcha says:

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! My hard disk is groaning under the weight of all the information and links I copied over from this wonderfully informative piece of work!

  8. FreddyV says:

    Really interesting Nima.

    The habit of Zionists to imagine their direct lineage to ancient Jews is somewhat staggering and the historical revision is fantastic, but typically, they’ve closed down reasonable debate of reality.

    The Arch of Titus in the poster depicts Romans carrying away spoils, but Zionists tell us they’re Jews being led into captivity.

    There isn’t any record of the exile. Romans were meticulous record keepers and they didn’t mention it. Strange. Of course when you start to even begin to think about the logistics of removing an entire population by horse and cart and scattering them all over the Roman Empire, you start to see how ludicrous it is. Plus, it wasn’t the Roman’s style. They conquered and then taxed the population. If the local political classes revolted, they’d crush them, but that’s as far as it got and probably what happened in Jerusalem.

    Simply, within Palestine, some Jews stayed Jews, some became Christians and when the Muslims came along they brought in a tax system which preferred Muslims some people converted to Islam.

    To suggest a Jew of Eastern European stock can claim his lineage back to Abraham is about as stupid as a Christian saying he can trace his lineage back to his ancestors being baptised by John The Baptist.

    Simply, the Jews of Ancient Israel were a small number who lived in relative harmony with other faiths and races in a place commonly known as Palestine. You don’t need to be a historian to work this out, you’ve just got to do a little reading, reasoning and not fall prey to the Hasbara.

    • Rusty Pipes says:

      The Romans destroyed Jerusalem and banished Jews from its immediate vicinity. Some of the refugees established communities not too far away, in Galilee.

      • Ellen says:

        Right after the second revolt not allowed within the walls for security reasons. (sound familiar?) But remained in the region. No record of organozed dispersement.

        That is an old European Christian myth — how did Jews come to be among us??? Some groups in Eastern and Northern Europe adopted Judaism before the Christians could get to them. An idea simple too difficult for the Christian church of the time to contemplate.

  9. MHughes976 says:

    The famous Stela of Merneptah, dated to 1205-ish BCE, is the first definite mention of ‘Israel’, though some think the name should be restored to other Egyptian inscriptions of the 1200s. But it is absolutely clear on any reading of this text that ‘Israel’, whatever it was, was only one element in the population of the area, which was not at that time ‘The Land of Israel’. The earliest mention of the Palestinians/Philistines, the Peleset, one of those called Sea Peoples by the Egyptians, is found around 1175 – they too joined the mix but had greater success, as Nima points out, in getting their name accepted internationally at least in respect of the coastal strip. This might have been because of their affinity with Greece. I like to think that ‘Philistine’ comes from ‘phyle’ and ‘hestia’, making them ‘the people of the hearth’.
    Jonathan Tubb of the British Museum has a book about the Canaanites in which he interprets ‘Canaan’ either as Hurrian=’blue cloth’ or West Semitic = ‘to be subdued’. The latter would make ‘Canaan’ = ‘occupied territory’ (of the Egyptian Empire?) which would be amusing in a bitter sort of way.

  10. Blake says:

    The Palestine Romney doesn’t know
    By Zahi Khouri, Published: August 10

    I am a proud American. I am a hardworking businessman and job creator. I am a faithful Christian.

    And I am Palestinian.

    Much as my multiple identities might drive Mitt Romney to head scratching, it is he who needs a lesson in, to borrow his recent words, “culture and a few other things.”

    Were he to spend a day with me in the Holy Land, I could take him to the Jerusalem neighborhood where my family home has stood for five centuries. I could show him the orange trees in Jaffa that my family helped introduce to the world in the 1930s.

    That’s right: Jaffa oranges are a Palestinian, not Israeli, trademark. Yet like so many “cultural” markers claimed by the self-professed Jewish state, even the fruit trees my people have tended for centuries have been expropriated.

    Romney might be duped into thinking that oranges, falafel and hummus — staples of Palestinian cuisine for generations — are Israeli products. But how dare he claim that a state built at the expense of another people’s history and accomplishments is guided by “the hand of providence”?

    Israel did not make the desert bloom. Instead, thanks to a deal struck with the British viceroys of Mandate Palestine, it made away with a land, a set of institutions and, indeed, a culture that was not its own.

    It did so at the expense of my people. Like more than three-quarters of Palestine’s population, my family was forced to leave this land after Israel’s creation in 1948. Even though we had to abandon our successful businesses and centuries-old homes, however, we did not become the “uncultured” victims that Romney’s caricature suggests.

    Most of us went to other Arab countries, where Palestinians became known for our business acumen and management know-how, and helped to build nascent private and public sectors. Ask our fellow Arabs in Lebanon, Jordan or elsewhere in the Persian Gulf region and they will tell you: Palestinian culture, with its premium on education and hard work, has been a force for hope, development and prosperity.

    Despite their circumstances, Palestinians living under Israel’s brutal occupation share the same culture and proudly claim the same remarkable achievements. I, for one, returned to Palestine in 1993 to launch the first Coca-Cola bottling plant in the West Bank. It was granted a Best Country Bottling Operation award in May by Coca-Cola, a testament to my colleagues’ ingenuity and determination. But these traits alone cannot overcome the stifling effects of Israel’s occupation.

    If Romney got one thing right, it’s that Israelis far outdo Palestinians in net wealth. In fact, his estimates of the disparity were too conservative: Israel’s per capita gross domestic product is roughly $32,000 to the Palestinians’ $1,500.

    Remarkably, that $1,500 figure is roughly half of what Palestinians claimed in 1993, when the Oslo accords were signed. In other words, the U.S.-sponsored peace process has made us poorer.

    How is that possible?

    Palestinians have no say in our economic development. Every resource — water, land, soil, minerals, airspace, humans — is controlled and commandeered by Israel, which then deigns to sell us back a small portion.

    In the West Bank, for example, Israeli settlers consume on average 4.3 times the amount of water as Palestinians. In the Jordan Valley alone, some 9,000 settlers in Israeli agricultural settlements use one-quarter the amount of water consumed by the entire Palestinian population of the West Bank, about 2.5 million people.

    Palestinians have no control over our borders. This means we cannot import or export without being subject to discriminatory measures by our occupier. It also means that, without Israeli permission, we cannot hire experts to enhance our employees’ skills or send employees for overseas training.

    Worse, we are restricted within the territories ostensibly under our “control.” At any given time, there are more than 500 Israeli checkpoints, roadblocks and other barriers to movement within the occupied West Bank — an area smaller than Delaware — hindering Palestinians and their goods from moving between their own towns and cities and the outside world.

    Palestinian development of all kinds is severely hindered by the Israeli occupation. Yet Palestinians have not given up. Palestine has one of the highest literacy rates in the Arab world. Our youth continue to graduate from our universities, opening businesses and gaining skills. Our private sector innovates and grows.

    All of this is happening on the 22 percent of historic Palestine that is the West Bank and Gaza. If Romney had any historical perspective, he would dispose of his racist judgments about Palestinian culture and instead imagine our potential without Israel’s imposed hindrances.
    link to washingtonpost.com

  11. Roya says:

    Palestine during antiquity was a “demographically mixed region” that was “understood to be the homeland of the Jews throughout the period, though in fact housing a minority of them.”

    But Palestine is also the homeland of Christianity, which makes it even harder for me to comprehend why there is not great outrage in the Christian world over the occupation and colonization of Palestine. If the Presbyterian Church doesn’t value Palestinian rights enough to take a firm stand against the occupation, then, well, I can’t respect that but I understand that the Presbyterians are not the first to bear the wrath of the Lobby. But I can’t recall anyone at the assembly standing up to express outrage over the fact that Christians are becoming extinct in the birthplace of Christianity.

    • MHughes976 says:

      My religious gang, the Church of England, has just voted to support a Quaker-run programme called EAPPI which sends ‘ecumenical accompaniers’ to Palestine with an eye to monitoring and protesting against abuses inflicted on the Palestinians. This very modest step has led to waves of protest because the Accompaniers, it is alleged, have developed a one-sided view. Though one-sided views through those pleasant visits to Israel must be a risk too.
      Well, a very modest step. My response to Roya would be that Protestant consciousness has a long history of feeling that it is somehow only fair to treat the Jewish link with Palestine as deeper than ours and that acknowledging it is the least we can do if we are to compensate for generations of Christian unfairness and worse towards Jewish people. This sentiment is not uncontested, of course, though Lloyd George’s commitment to it was rather significant historically. The Crusades were inspired by Popes and so we are ambivalent about them. But we have inherited something of the Catholic alienation from heretical or schismatic Oriental Christians. I’ve less sense of Catholic sentiment but it’s clear that a position was evolved with great care and difficulty around the Vatican’s diplomatic recognition of Israel and there’s little wish to reopen the question.

      • Philip Weiss says:

        EAPPI has done noble and courageous work at Yanoun, small village outside Nablus that is in danger of losing its water supply to aggressive settlers.
        why isn’t Yanoun in our newspapers? or on our televisions? there is no balance

      • Roya says:

        MHughes976 your response makes me wonder, if there had been a Christian majority in Palestine rather than a Muslim majority, would the British still have endorsed the Jewish colonization of Palestine to the degree that they did? Would they have felt more sympathetic to the Oriental Christians or to the European Jews? Would they have been more protective of the Holy Land? Thoughts?

        And Phil, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that there will never be balance in the mainstream media so I don’t have any expectations for them. Btw I enjoyed listening to your segment at the Scott Horton show yesterday.

      • Rusty Pipes says:

        You might be confusing EAPPI with CPT, both of which do important work on the West Bank. Although not exactly Quaker-run, Christian Peacemaker Teams is an organization initiated by the historic Peace Churches (among which the Quakers are prominent) and the good work of CPT was certainly one of the inspirations for the creation of EAPPI. EAPPI (Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine Israel) is a program of the World Council of Churches — a broadly ecumenical organization of which the Anglican Church is a member. That conservative Anglicans tried to create a controversy about their Church supporting a program in a larger ecumenical organization of which they are a part, says something about their desperation. Considering that the WCC offices are located in Geneva, it’s not surprising that many of EAPPI’s volunteers come from Europe, including England.

  12. wiserman says:

    No one denies ancient Hebrews lived in the Levant. So what! So did others, for far longer and in far greater numbers. Jews conquered Jerusalem under David in 1000 BC according to Jewish tradition. Using the logic of Zionist propagandists, wouldn’t those who were conquered have more right to Jerusalem than those who came later and threw them out?
    For a visual timeline of empirial control of the Holy Land see:
    link to mapsofwar.com

  13. talknic says:

    More irrelevant ziopoop

    As of 00:01 May 15th 1948 Israel has been an independent State recognized by the boundaries of the resolution enshrined in the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel.

    Nothing that preceded 00:01 May 15th 1948 is relevant to the legal status of Israel’s sovereign extent and Israel’s illegal activities outside the internationally recognized sovereign extent of the State of Israel.

  14. eljay says:

    >> Regardless of population density and demographic distribution, of course, all inhabitants of the land should be granted the same human and civil rights and identical protection under the law …

    This – and not the immoral, double-reflexive nonsense Zio-supremacists try to pass off as the real deal – is self-determination.