by Amb. Alan Baker

Manipulating History for Political Purposes

Aside from the topical and pragmatic issues on the negotiating table between Israel and the Palestinians — borders, settlements, refugees, Jerusalem, water, and security arrangements — there is a far deeper discussion that is not taking place in the negotiating room but in the international arena. This discussion involves the issue of historical narratives and the basic question of historic rights to geographic and historic Palestine.

Palestinian leaders are manipulating their history in the land for political purposes. They have manufactured a curious claim, expressed recently by Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, that they are descended from Canaanites and are therefore the indigenous people of the area, present before the emergence of the Jewish people around the year 1500 BCE.

Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, has already established an international reputation for stretching the truth. Many Israelis recall during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 when Erekat went on CNN to assert that Israel had killed "more than 500 people" in Jenin in a "real massacre,"[1] adding that 300 Palestinians were being buried in mass graves. It soon became clear that in combat operations at the time, the Palestinian death toll in Jenin was 52: 34 of whom (65 percent) were known military operatives of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or Fatah-Tanzim. Now Erekat's wild assertions have moved into the field of history as part of a Palestinian battle over the narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Palestinian leadership relies on the thirst of the international media to seriously take up any wild and baseless Palestinian claim; on the pressures of the ongoing negotiating process with the high-level involvement of senior U.S. and European politicians who are keen to show achievements; and, above all, on the wide and almost automatic inclination of the international community to criticize Israel and to buy into any artificial claim uttered by the Palestinian leadership.

Saeb Erekat's Curious Claim

While one might assume that as the chief Palestinian negotiator and long-term participant in negotiations with Israel since the Madrid Conference of 1991, Saeb Erekat would, and indeed should, be deeply ensconced in the ongoing negotiating process — a process that needs to be conducted in a confidential, serious, and civil manner — this regrettably does not seem to be the case.

In fact, in direct contrast to what any serious chief negotiator should be doing vis-a-vis the other negotiating party, Erekat prefers to indulge on a daily basis in blatant demagogy, hostile outbursts, wild accusations, and attacks against Israel, its leaders and negotiators, and above all, in simply misleading the international community and media.[2]

A recent fabrication, vented at an international security conference in Munich on February 1, 2014, and which received considerable prominence in international political and media circles, has generated considerable criticism and even ridicule. According to Erekat's curious claim, he is a direct descendant of the Canaanite tribes who lived in Israel some 9,000 years ago: I am the proud son of the Canaanites who were there 5,500 years before Joshua bin Nun burned down the town of Jericho.[3]

No less amazing is the recent statement by a member of the Jordanian Parliament, Sheikh Mousa Abu Sweilam, on February 3, 2014, according to which: The Palestinians are the original owners of Palestine, who lived on its land when they moved from the western Mediterranean basin to its east in 7000 BC.[4]

Ahmed Tibi, a member of Israel's Knesset, is quoted in the Ha'aretz newspaper from January 19, 2014, stating: the Arab citizens of Israel are an indigenous population.[5]

The Erekat claim was immediately controverted by several authoritative sources who cited, among other things, Erekat's own Facebook entry describing the origin of the Erekat clan to be from the Huweitat clan in the northwestern Arabian Peninsula.[6]

The Erekat Family History

Erekat's family, presently residing in Jericho, previously lived in the village of Abu Dis near Jerusalem. In fact, the Erekat family was never part of the Jericho tribal system. It is a Bedouin family which, according to Bedouin genealogy, came to the area from the south of Jordan, an area called Husseyniya and Rashaida, at an undisclosed time.[7]

According to genealogical research of the Bedouin families in Israel, the Erekat family belongs to the extensive Huweitat clan, which originated in the area between the Liya valley, near Taif, in the vicinity of Mecca in the northern Hejaz region, close to the town of Hekl in the Sarawat Mountains, 350 km. from the Jordanian border, and northern Aqaba.[8] Bedouin genealogical literature claims that the Huweitat clan is a Sharifi clan allied with their cousins the Hashemites.[9] The Huweitat clan settled not only in Israel but also in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Sinai Peninsula by Ras Seeder.[10]

A branch of this clan settled in geographic Palestine in several waves of immigration that started some 200 years ago, ending during the period of the Arab Revolt and First World War. Apparently, the family to which Erekat belongs settled in Abu Dis near Jerusalem during the last of these waves, which occurred in the early twentieth century, after the Jewish immigration to the area.

The first wave of this immigration brought the Fahum and Hanun branches of the clan to settle in Nazareth and Tul-Karem. They were followed by another branch of the well-known Shuman family, which settled in Nablus (owners of the Amman-based Arab Bank, one of the biggest banks in the Arab world).

According to Bedouin genealogy, the branches of the Huweitat clan that had already settled in Jordan welcomed the clan's newcomers, who came with the Hashemite Sharifi army during the Arab Revolt at the beginning of the last century and helped found the Kingdom of Jordan. This branch came from southern Jordan, from the center of the Huweitat clans' area, and is considered entirely Jordanian rather than Palestinian.

Scholars on Islam Question Palestinian Claims

The claims by Erekat and his colleagues of their Canaanite provenance, if they were considered serious, could in fact give rise to some difficult questions as to the very character and identity of the Palestinian people as a part of the Arab peoples. Taking Erekat's claim to its logical and sequential conclusion, is he claiming that Palestine should be recognized as the nation-state of the Canaanite people?

In a similar vein, his declaration raises serious questions regarding the very roots of Islam and the origins of the Hashemite dynasty (connected with the Huweitat clan[11]), and as such regarding the ethnic origin of the Imam Ali, cousin of the Prophet Mohammad, to whom the Shi'a denomination of Islam relates. If the Huweitat are Canaanites, as claimed by Erekat, this would logically lead to the absurd conclusion that the descendants of the Imam Hussein Ibn Ali are not Arabs but Canaanites.

The general claim to Palestinian indigenous status has been questioned by a number of scholars of the Middle East and experts on Islam:


No one should take Saeb Erekat's claims about Canaanite ancestry seriously. His attempt to inject a false narrative into Israeli-Palestinian relations undermines negotiations between the parties and is a diversion from the substantive issues that must be discussed.

The historical presence and existence of the Jewish people in the Middle East generally, and the area of Palestine or "the Holy Land," in particular, has continued from time immemorial up to the present day. It is well-documented and proven, not only in the scriptures of all three monotheistic religions, and visible in extensive archeological remains, but is also borne-out by empirical historic writings and records by early Greek, Roman, pagan and other visitors to the area.

The fact that the sources of Christianity evolved and emanated from Judaism is, in and of itself, further proof of the presence of a thriving Jewish community in the area generally, and in the specific areas in which the Jews existed from biblical times, including Judea (from which the term "Jew" stems), Samaria, and the other neighboring tribal areas.

Of all extant peoples, the Jewish people have the strongest claim to be indigenous to the "Holy Land," where Judaism, the Hebrew language, and the Jewish people were born around 3,000 years ago. No one, Saeb Erekat included, can cast any doubt on this fact.

* * *


1. See Erekat on CNN making claims about the Jenin "massacre" in the video "Who Else Is Being Injured by the Vilification of Israel?" (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2013),

2. Recent examples of Erekat's threats, accusations and attacks include: rejection of Israel as a Jewish state —; threats to petition the international criminal court against Israel -; rejection of Israelis living in a Palestinian state —;;;; glorifying and praising terrorist leaders Al-Ayyam, Jan. 6 2014; threats to call for a global economic boycott of Israel —,7340,L-4490386,00.html; threat regarding the 1967 borders; accusation that Israel propping up the Hamas administration in Gaza —

3. See also See also, and see the Palestinian press at



6. See the Erekat family Facebook page at %D8%B9%D8%A7%D8%A6%D9%84%D8%A9-%D8%B9%D8%B1%D9%8A%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%AA/255831057552


8. Ibid., based on several genealogy books of the Arab tribes in the Levant. See also "The Huweitat Clans,"

9. The close relationship between the Huweitat Sharifi clan and the Hashemite Sharifi clan explains the importance of the Huweitat clan as one of the pillars of the Arab revolt.


11. Ibid.

12. Reported by Nadav Shragai, in "The Fabricated Palestinian History," Israel Hayom, February 7, 2014, based inter alia on an interview with Professor Israeli,

13. Ibid.


15. Lissak, op. cit., at chapter 5.

16. Shragai, "The Fabricated Palestinian History."

17. Arie Perlman, "The Origin of Palestinian Arabs," (Hebrew), See also, describing the research of historian Zvi Misinai.

18. February 11, 2013

19. Al-Hekma TV (Egypt)

20. Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 38, No. 2 (Oct. 1947), pp. 119-134, published by the University of Pennsylvania Press

21. See Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, "The Populations of our Land" (1932) (Hebrew) — "Yesodot" Library No. 14. See also Zvi Misinai, quoted in "The Lost Palestinian Jews" Jerusalem Post, August 20, 2009, In a separate interview Misinai refers to the fact that the Erekat family from Abu Dis is well aware of its own Jewish roots — see

Amb. Alan Baker, Director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, participated in the negotiation and drafting of the Oslo Accords with the Palestinian Arabs, as well as agreements and peace treaties with Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. He served as legal adviser and deputy director-general of Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as Israel's ambassador to Canada. This articles appeared in Vol 14, No. 8, March 23, 2014 as a publication of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and is archived at

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