Home Featured Stories Did You Know? Background Information News On the Web

posted by Bernice Lipkin.
September 20, 2002


There is a history of Palestine that is extraodinarily popular on a large number of Arab and pro-Arab websites. Called The Origin of The Conflict in the Middle East (OCME), the book is Middle Eastern history as the Arabs would like it to have been. It is 37 pages long and is now in its third edition. It can be obtained in hardcopy from only one source, a post office box in Berkeley. Or it can be downloaded from many websites. It is published by a group calling itself Jews for Justice in the Middle East (JFJME). Its authors are unlisted.

All the sites I've examined that tout OCME are strangely incurious about who wrote it. A few suggest/allege/assert it is a small group of Jewish scholars, but most just accept it as Truth, Truth that one can use, as one site puts it, to oppose the truth proclaimed by the Major Jewish Organizations. It is as if there were no objective facts that could be weighed by accepted means to form conclusions.

OCME is a fascinating revision of the history of Israel and modern Palestine. Some of it is baldly wrong, but, in general, it isn't so much that black is white and white black. It's more like an impressionist painting that controls how the reader is likely to fill in the blanks. As such, it is excellent propaganda.

Structurally, there is an unsigned Introduction, an unsigned Conclusion, and the rest is a compilation of quotes. Actually, there are two Conclusions: one "for Jewish readers", the other, unlabeled, presumably for everyone else.

Citations from Jewish sources are primarily from Israeli's revisionist historians: Benny Morris, Ilan Pappe (see the article on Israeli Leftist Academics), Simha Flapan, Uri Avnery, Tom Segev and Israel Shahak. They have their own agenda for Israel, one that ties in neatly with what the Arabs want -- except perhaps for Morris, whose recent thinking has, in his own words, "radically changed"). As Amitai Etzioni put it (Debunking Israel, The Weekly Standard, January 17, 2000, pages 33-35.)

"Grossly exaggerating the implications of truly distressing facts is the stock in trade of these revisionists, but they are also capable of concocting wholly misleading interpretive frameworks.

"Most profoundly, Israeli revisionism is linked to a drive to end the Zionist project and revoke the notion that Israel is a Jewish state. "

There is not one political scientist or historian cited of the stature of Fuad Ajami or Bernard Lewis. Aside from the revisionists, the most cited have long-standing, well-documented animosity towards Israel. Noam Chomsky is a linguist, who has never wavered in his desire to change the Jewish character of Israel. (See Academic #2 .) And Edward Said is a professor of language and author of a mendacious autobiography with an invented childhood that has him running like Eliza over the ice from the terrible Jews. This is today and the Middle East, so it is sand and Mercedes, not ice and wolves. But the tone is the same.

Several of the arguments are important because they are foundation stones of Arab propaganda.

  1. The Palestinians are really Philistines and ergo predate Jews in the Holy Land.

    When the Roman defeated the Jews, they named the area Peleshet (Philistinia) to needle the Jews. The actual Philistines were not Arabs; they were not Semites. They were not -- even this has been tried on for size -- children of Ishmael. They had no connection -- ethnic, linguistic or historical -- with Arabia or Arabs. The name "Falastin", the Arab adaptation of "Palestine", is not an Arabic name.

    During the Ottoman rule, the region was simply a part of Greater Syria. As did the Romans, the English called the mandated area Palestine, but the Arab leaders rejected the name. To them, it was just part of Syria. From 1916 when the Brits took over until Israel became a state, it was the Jews who were the Palestinians. They published the Palestine Post (now the Jerusalem Post); they organized the Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra. The Palestine Brigade, which served in the British Army in World War 2, was all Jewish.

    The latest group to call themselves Palestinian -- those who took up the name abandoned by the Jews -- are mostly the Syrians, Egyptians, Iraqis and Sudanese that followed the large waves of Jewish aliyah that started in 1882 and made the region economically viable. Making the connection to an ancient name makes it seem they are an ancient people who live in a country called Palestine. It makes great propaganda, but it isn't true. As Professor Bernard Lewis put it (Commentary Magazine, January 1975):

    "From the end of the Jewish state in antiquity to the beginning of British rule, the area now designated by the name Palestine was not a country and had no frontiers, only administrative boundaries."
  2. The Palestinians are really Canaanites and ergo predate Jews in the Holy Land.

    It used to be a big point in Arab PR that Arabs are really pre-Biblical Caananites, who had been in Israel long before the Jews. When enough people wised up that Arabs didn't come into the area until Mohammad's time, a couple of thousand years later, the history was updated. This version by Illene Beatty is cited in OCME.

    "[The Arab invaders of the 7th century A.D.] made Moslem converts of the natives, settled down as residents, and intermarried with them, with the result that all are now so completely Arabized that we cannot tell where the Canaanites leave off and the Arabs begin."

    It's a pretty story: the population became homogeneous, fixed, so to speak, some 1300 years ago. And they lived harmoniously on the land until the Jews invaded. But it's not the real story. When you say Arab, you are talking linguistics, not genetics.

    Over the years, most of the inhabitants were not Arab. Nor did they think of themselves as Arab. As James Parkes write in A History of Palestine (pp 244)

    "..the word `Arab' .. is applicable to the bedouin and to a section of the urban and effendi classes; it is inappropriate as a description of the rural mass of the population, the fellaheen, most of whom were tenant farmers, not land owners.

    ... it was only the bedouin who habitually thought of themselves as Arabs. Western travellers from the sixteenth century onwards make the same distinction..."

    And so did the early movies. Remember the romantic if somewhat smelly Arab sheik, a bedouin, who swept the heroine off her feet and onto his horse?

    To quote from, a web site devoted to the accurate and the factual:

    "The disparate peoples recently assumed and purported to be `settled Arab indigenes, for a thousand years' were in fact a `heterogeneous' community with no `Palestinian' identity, and according to an official British historical analysis in 1920, no Arab identity either: `The people west of the Jordan are not Arabs, but only Arabic-speaking. The bulk of the population are fellahin.... In the Gaza district they are mostly of Egyptian origin; elsewhere they are of the most mixed race.'

    The 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica finds the `population' of Palestine composed of so `widely differing' a group of `inhabitants' -- whose `ethnological affinities created early in the 20th century a list of no less than fifty languages' -- that `it is therefore no easy task to write concisely ... on the ethnology of Palestine.' "

    Of course, if you prefer fantasy, you can go with Edward Said, who is quoted in OMCE:

    All these people [the townsmen, fellaheen and bedouin of what was part of Greater Syria] believed themselves to belong in a land called Palestine, despite their feelings that they were also members of a large Arab nation...
  3. When it is finally conceded that the people now called Palestinians are Arab by courtesy, and definitely not a special people, there comes the fallback position: so they aren't Palestinian. But they were the natives, the peasants that owned the land when the Jews, starting around 1880, came and uprooted them.

    There are some hidden assumptions here.

    Hidden Assumption 1. There weren't many, if any, Jews in the land before the first Aliyah in the 1880's.

    It is certainly true that there was large Jewish immigration as part of the Zionism movement, starting in the second half of the 19th Century. But it is also true that even in the early part of the 19th Century, Jewish resettlement was encouraged by the protection offered by British consuls in Palestine. And there was resettlement, individual and in groups, throughout Medieval times.

    More to the point, the Jews never left.

    To quote Reverend Parkes again, this time from Whose Land?, A History of the Peoples of Palestine

    It was, perhaps, inevitable that Zionists should look back to the heroic period of the Maccabees and Bar-Cochba, but their real title deeds were written by the less dramatic but equally heroic endurance of those who had maintained the Jewish presence in The Land all through the centuries, and in spite of every discouragement. This page of Jewish history found no place in the constant flood of Zionist propaganda.... The omission allowed the anti-Zionists, whether Jewish, Arab, or European, to paint an entirely false picture of the wickedness of Jewry trying to re-establish a two thousand-year-old claim to the country, indifferent to everything that had happened in the intervening period. It allowed a picture of The Land as a territory which had once been `Jewish', but which for many centuries had been `Arab'."

    To give only one example: Hebron, and indeed the entire region -- Samaria and Judea -- was continuously occupied by Jews from ancient times. In 1929, the Jews of Hebron were massacred by the Arabs. In 1948, trans-Jordan (which renamed itself Jordan) conquered Samaria and Judea, renaming the region the West Bank. They killed or expelled all the Jews.

    During the 19 years, 1948-1967, that Jordan and Egypt held the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinian Arabs never asked for an independent state. Nobody in the world even suggested it, much less demanded it.

    Nowadays, much of the world complains of Jewish resettlement in the West Bank, on the grounds that there were no Jews there when Israel took it over in 1967.

    Hidden assumption 2. There was a large and thriving community in Palestine before the Jews came.

    Not according to the travellers in the Middle Ages and later. The usual description is `empty of inhabitants'. You'd expect a large farming population in the Galilee. Instead, in the words of Mark Twain, quoted in

    There is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent [valley of Jezreel] -- not for 30 miles in either direction. . . . One may ride ten miles hereabouts and not see ten human beings.

    The Jewish Virtual Library of the website describes the land at the beginning of the modern period this way:

    By the end of the 18th century, much of the land was owned by absentee landlords and leased to impoverished tenant farmers, and taxation was as crippling as it was capricious.... The great forests of Galilee and the Carmel mountain range were denuded of trees; swamp and desert encroached on agricultural land.
    This is the description by Yehoshua ben-Arieh in The Rediscovery of the Holy Land in the Nineteenth Century

    " At the beginning of the 19th century Palestine was but a derelict province of the decaying Ottoman Empire. ...The country was badly governed, having no political importance of its own; its economy was primitive; the sparse, ethnically mixed population subsisted on a dismally low standard; the few towns were small and miserable; the roads few and neglected. "

    Hidden Assumption 3. The Jewish population increased mostly by immigration but the Arab population increased because they had a high birth rate.

    Indeed, they did have a high birth rate. And a high death rate -- unsanitary conditions, internecine fighting between tribes. It would be the greatest demographic miracle of modern times if the few thousand non-Jews in Palestine in, say, 1850, became today's six million or so Palestinians by natural increase.

    Available population statistics are mainly from the 20th Century, when non-Jews from neighboring countries came flooding into Palestine, particularly to Jewish areas. They came because of the economic opportunities made available by the Jews, and later in the Mandate period, the British.

    The estimate is that 90% of the Arabs came into the area in the 20th century. In 1939, Winston Churchill noted that "So far from being persecuted, the Arabs have crowded into the country and multiplied . . ." Exact population statistics don't exist, but the best estimate is that by 1947 the number of Arabs west of the Jordan River had tripled, compared to 1900 figures.


Now in its third edition, OCME's putative publisher is a group calling itself Jews for Justice in the Middle East (JFJME). The book has no named author, no editor, no address other than a post office box in Berkeley, and no sales by the usual booksellers.

The compilers are obviously of the radical Left. But that's no reason to publish anonymously. Especially in Berkeley. Bravery is to be on the Right. Writing anything outrageous, so long as you are defending the downtrodden that are on the New Left Imprimatur list, just makes you one of the crowd.

The scholars who put this History together are said to be Jewish but are not named. There is not even a description of their expertise. No "Hayim Fonee is the nom de plume of an Associate Professor of Political History at one of California's major universities. The pseudonym is to protect his identity from the wrath of local philistines." Actually, considering that the book is distributed from Berkeley, there should be no reason for anonymity. Berkeley is, after all, still the home of the disaffected Jew, the bastion of political correctness, the weeping house of sympathy for the underdog, providing the dog ain't Jewish.

Could it be a Jewish group? Absolutely. The argument that a Jew wouldn't write such stuff doesn't wash. There are a couple of dozen groups who call themselves Jewish, who work actively against the State of Israel. Some claim to do it to make a more perfect Israel. Some want to obliterate the Jewish character of Israel and make it a secular state. Some are classic Marxists or trained by Marxists. Some, especially the college crowd, automatically identify with the underdog. All anyone has to do is tell them who the underdog is and their mental apparatus is all set to react. And there are some who followed a devious path that started with uneasiness with and/or ignorance of Judaism through encounters with great guys who taught them to espouse all sorts of noble causes. By now, they are committed wholeheartedly to the Palestinian cause.

Nevertheless, it is unlikely that OCME was compiled by Jews.

First, its parent organization, the JFJME is most unJewish, especially in a place like Berkeley. It doesn't have meetings. It doesn't do retreats. It doesn't have street theatre. It doesn't, like other Jewish radical groups, join pro-Palestinian rallies and express their views on Public Broadcasting's Online News Hour. Unlike its landsmen in the Berkeley peace movement, it doesn't give a gobbledygook "course that tends to privilege a social constructivist view of identity, without which there can be no understanding of race and ethnicity as anything but mystifyingly transhistorical ossifications enabling rigid social hierarchies." JFJME is most inactive. Putting together this document is its sole accomplishment.

Second, even though the sentiments and the words, sad to say, could come from any of the Jews (fill in the blank) Justice groups, the tone is wrong. Dead wrong. Don't get me wrong, they probably got some of the ideas from Jewish peace groups. But it's way too bland. They really need to rewrite Conclusion 1.

That's why I don't think OMCE was done by Jews. To put it more accurately, I believe that the claim that this collection is the work of Jewish scholars is fraudulent.

So who dunnit?

Using textual analyses and a bit of common sense, we have some clues to its compilers.

A likely possibility would be a graduate student. Someone in Modern Middle Eastern History with access to a library could grind it out in a few weeks. Especially in a large university like Berkeley with its many library facilities. If he already had the courses and had read the books, how long would it take to pull out some goodies from guaranteed "correct" sources? It could have been a customized job where someone gave him the order, suggested what the document should promote and paid him for it.

But I don't think so. It is more likely the child of devotees of the Arab cause.

The web version is mirrored on several sites, but the source appears to be Cactus48, a site run by Bob and Willie Cork, Christian supporters of Palestinian Arabs. My vote goes to the Corks.

  1. They are dedicated to the Arab cause. According to his autobiography, Bob Cork was coordinator for the Olympic canoe/kayak training camp in Rockford, Illinois in 1972. Their son studied in the Middle East and "became a committed student of history and a proponent of social justice." They visited him in Palestine [sic] and were converted to the cause.
  2. Do they have access to a library in outer Slobovia? To quote from their website:

    "My wife now has a library that would have been the envy of Indiana State when Joe Qutub studied there in 1952, and we have our own web site,, to share what we discovered."

  3. Do the Corks know there are Jewish groups that trash Israel? Yes, they do. They published a list of Jewish groups they consider worth reading on the al-bushra website, including Jewish Voice for Peace, Jews Against Occupation, Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel and Visions for Peace With Justice in Israel/Palestine.

They know there are anti-Jewish Jewish groups, many with Jew ... Justice as their name. Where better to hide an anti-Jewish document?

Why hide it at all? To quote from OCME:

"One further point: being Jewish ourselves, the position we present here is critical of Zionism but is in no way anti-Semitic. We do not believe that the Jews acted worse than any other group might have acted in their situation".

In sum, I believe OCME was compiled by Christians who thought themselves clever to hide their work under a Jewish name, the better to help the Arab cause. The real awfulness is that there are enough Jewish groups devoted to destroying Israel that the name Jews for Justice in the Middle East makes a plausible hiding place.

[Thanks are due to Mitchell Webber, who alerted many of us to JFJME. His critique of OCME appeared on his website many moons before this one.]

Return_________________________End of Story___________________________Return

Home Featured Stories Did You Know? Background Information News On The Web