Pottery jugs from Beit She’an. An oil lamp from Mount Carmel. Even a full-scale reconstruction of a typical Iron Age house, replete with living space, stables and storerooms. These material remains are just a small sampling from the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology’s extensive Canaan and Israel Gallery, which vividly illustrates daily life in Ancient Israel.
This gallery, along with all of the Penn Museum’s galleries, is important in its own right. But in light of the recent drama — and dramatics — at the United Nations, I feel that this exhibit is especially important.
Despite President Barack Obama’s pleas to the contrary, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas pushed onward to unilaterally declare statehood, thereby bypassing bilateral negotiations with Israel, reneging on the Oslo Accords and violating U.N. Security Council Resolution 242. Much has been written on the declaration’s political ramifications and legal justification (or lack thereof), but I would like to discuss what was perturbing to me, on both personal and national levels.
When Abbas recently addressed the General Assembly, he blamed only Israel for the conflict’s origins and the absence of peace, noting the attachment of Christians and Muslims — but not Jews — to the Holy Land. He received a standing ovation.
I extend to Abbas — and to all else who aid and abet promulgating this insidious delegitimization of the other — an invitation to visit all of the Penn Museum’s impressive galleries, but specifically the one displaying, literally and figuratively, that Jews have a history in the region that extends back 3,000 years.
Abbas’ is not the first instance of the denial of Jewish history and identity. Arab media and governments deny the Jewish national narrative, the ancient Jewish presence in the land of Israel and the temple on the Temple Mount. This denial flies in the face of archeological and historical records that document the Jews’ ancient history in Palestine, as seen in the exhibit. Mainstream scholars, based on extensive material remains agree that the Jews, an indigenous tribe, settled in present-day Israel approximately 3,000 years ago, established independent kingdoms and, in historian Martin Gilbert’s words, “for more than 1,600 years formed the main settled population.”
Winston Churchill succinctly summarizes the historical evidence, which is worthwhile to peruse in more depth: “It is manifestly right that the scattered Jews should have a national center and a national home and be reunited and where else but in Palestine with which for 3,000 years they have been intimately and profoundly associated?” Based on this “manifestly right” fact, the U.N. resolution establishing Israel, President Harry Truman’s original recognition of Israel and Israel’s Declaration of Independence refer to the “Jewish state,” the nation-state of the Jewish people re-established in its national homeland.
From Ezer Weizman to Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli leaders have greeted their Palestinian neighbors with an open hand for peace and recognized their national aspirations. The Palestinian leadership, on the other hand, has consistently refused to recognize the Jews’ right to a state. Beginning with the Mufti of Jerusalem’s rejection of the Peel Partition Plan and refusal to give the Jews a state the size of “a postage stamp,” the Arab leadership has always rejected peace, rejecting the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan, laying down the infamous “Three Nos” at the 1967 Khartoum Resolution, categorically refusing — without a counteroffer — sweeping offers at Camp David, Taba and Annapolis, and the list goes on.
Underlying this rejection of peace is the distortion of history and denial of the Jewish narrative. Denying another the rights that you claim is much easier if you undermine his claim to those rights. Abbas’ speech was just the next chapter in a long and sad chain of Arab leaders distorting history.
But there is an alternative legacy that might provide hope in this otherwise dim outlook. Not all Arab leaders have been recalcitrant. Some have reciprocated and recognized the Jews’ national right in addition — in conjunction with, not in opposition to — Arab national claims. None but Emir Faisal, leader of the Arab movement, said, “The Arabs, especially the educated among us, look with deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement. We will wish the Jews a hearty welcome home.”
Once upon a time, leaders like Faisal recognized the shared history and shared destiny of Isaac and Ishmael, of Jews and Palestinians, but now that era now seems as far off as the ancient jugs on display in the Penn Museum. The invitation for Abbas to see the latter will hopefully inspire the former, since recognizing the Jewish right to a homeland will encourage him to follow the right legacy of Arab leaders in order to fulfill our children’s hopes for a better future.
Shlomo Klapper is a College freshman. His email address is email@example.com.Comments powered by Disqus
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