Friday, March 9, 2012

Newt and the Palestinians

By Jill Ricotta

Since the beginning of the year Newt Gingrich has gone from a hopeless candidate, to the triumphant black horse, and back to political irrelevance. But whether or not Gingrich is the Republican nominee, his recent comments on the Israeli-Palestinian issue in a recent interview with the Jewish Channel remain pertinent. For those that missed these remarks, here is a video clip of the now infamous statement:

(video courtesy of YouTube)

*Cue Edward Said rolling in his grave

Before delving into the main issue of this post, it is important to dispel this idea that the Palestinians were a handful of Arabs roaming the deserts before Jewish immigrants descended on the area as far back as the end of 19th century. Although clearly Orientalist, this was, and remains, a predominant image in the mind of most “Western” thinkers.
(Video courtesy of YouTube)

Moving on, to the next section of his comments where he says: “And I think that we’ve had an invented Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs, and were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places. This particular comment represents a long held belief amongst hawkish Israel supporters (Gingrich included) that the Palestinian people can simply get up and move somewhere else. This somewhere else is usually Jordan.
(photo courtesy of

One of the most impressive things about this argument is that it is incredibly, mind-blowing racist and Orientalist, but in a subtle enough way that the average non-Arab observer of the conflict could think it is viable. Wouldn’t that just be so much easier? Place the Palestinians in another Arab state and solve the whole problem right?

Let us first establish that the definition of Arab, outside of ethnic terms, is loose at best. The main definition of an Arab is someone that speaks Arabic and identifies with the Arab community. This is pretty broad. In many ways Americans have a more concrete identity than the Arab community. And yet most Americans would agree that if you took tens of thousands of people living in the Bronx and move them to rural Pennsylvania, there would most likely be pushback and a culture clash despite the somewhat shared American culture. The same thing happened when the Palestinians fled during the Nakba to Jordan and Lebanon. The idea that all Arabs are the same and thus can be moved to another country is ludicrous and is disproved by all historical evidence.

The horrendous situation Palestinians have faced in refugee camps around the Arab world should be evidence enough. In Jordan they are more often that not treated like second-class citizens and have been since the day they arrived. In Lebanon they are often blamed for starting the Lebanese Civil War, which ravaged the country during the 1980s (and these are just a few examples). Furthermore, these displaced Palestinians have by no means accepted their relocation. Many still carry the keys and deeds to their family’s house in Palestine, some write novels, describing every last painstaking detail of the beautiful towns and land they were forced to leave. For example, many writers from Yaffa (or Jaffa) have spent pages describing the sweetness of a Yaffa orange. For many the pain of being so close to their homes, often just tens of miles away, is almost unbearable. Any other refugee would react just the same.
Gingrich’s comments ignore the larger issue that a certain group of the most ardent Israel supporters tend to ignore: Palestinians have lived in Palestine for thousands of years. They feel little connection to Syria, Jordan, or Lebanon. They are not invented or interchangeable. They have a unique culture and dialect specific to Palestine. Being from Yaffa is not the same as being from Amman. You cannot just move them and push them onto another country because they are Arab. You also cannot wait it out, until they just become uninterested in the area. This will simply never happen. And thus Mr. Gingrich is not only doing a disservice to the Palestinians but to the Israelis as well by pretending that this issue is so simple, so easily solved. There is nothing simple about the conflict. There is no easy solution, but simply two groups of people that want to live on the same exact land. There is no hope of this changing anytime soon. So instead of making racist remarks about Arabs, the best thing to do for Israelis and Palestinians alike is to put the work into finding an actual solution.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great article Jill. I think it's a wonderful summation of one of the critical problems the rest of the world has when viewing the Palestinian-Israeli issue. The Palestinians have a connection, a relationship and a history with the land they occupy and previously occupied. No simple piece of paper or speech is going to destroy or remove that bond. And anyone who downplays it, only serves to increase the difficulties in resolving this important issue. I wonder if there was any significant backlash after this comment and whether Newt offered an explanation for these comments/beliefs.