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Please write a reflection paper on the attached reading.

The reflection is

NOT a summary

of the reading. It is supposed to be a brief engagement with the material in addition to points or questions you would like to raise for class discussion. The reflection must not exceed 500 words.

14 July 2015
Stealing Palestine: A study of
historical and cultural theft
Roger Sheety1
The cultural appropriation of books, music, art, cuisine and dress have been used by Zionists as
a weapon against Palestinians
S
tealing and appropriating the culture and history of indigenous peoples is a typical
characteristic of all modern colonial-settler states, but usually accomplished once the
indigenous people in question has been eliminated, dispossessed, or otherwise seemingly
defeated therefore making it safe to do so. The colonial-settler state of “Israel,” established on
the ruins of Palestine and through the expulsion of the majority of its indigenous population in
1948 and after, is no different.
The Israeli theft of all things Palestinian, however, does not simply come from misguided
notions of nationalism or childish pride as is often argued by Western apologists, but is rather a
conscious political policy of the state that seeks to erase Palestine from historical memory,
particularly within Western discourse. Indeed, the continuing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians
from their historic homeland goes hand in hand with the theft of Palestinian land, homes, history,
and culture. It is an essential part of the larger, long-term Zionist project of eradicating the
1
Roger Sheety is an independent writer and researcher, and is a regular contributor to PalestineChronicle.com. Follow him on
Twitter at https://twitter.com/ibinfalasteen.
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Palestinian nation altogether, literally writing it out of history while simultaneously assuming its
place.
This erasure has been correctly termed as memoricide by historian Ilan Pappe in The Ethnic
Cleansing of Palestine. Nur Masalha, elaborating further, writes: “The founding myths of Israel
have dictated the conceptual removal of Palestinians before, during and after their physical
removal in 1948… The de-Arabisation of Palestine, the erasure of Palestinian history and the
elimination of the Palestinian’s collective memory by the Israeli state are no less violent than the
ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians in 1948 and the destruction of historic Palestine: this
elimination is central to the construction of a hegemonic collective Israeli-Zionist-Jewish identity
in the State of Israel” (The Palestine Nakba, 89).
Thus, the theft of Palestine and its culture has two essential and interwoven components, the
removal/erasure of Palestinians and a concurrent assumption of nativity or “birthright” in AngloEuropean Zionist terms. Over the last six and a half decades, this brazen erasure and theft has
been achieved mainly through two methods: brutal violence (that is, terrorism) and mass media
propaganda.
Al Nakba: Physical Destruction/Physical Theft
Between 1947 and 1949, at least 800,000 Palestinians, comprising the majority of the indigenous
Arab population of Palestine at that time, were ethnically cleansed from their homes by Zionist
militias made up of European and Russian colonists and aided by British imperialists. Major
urban Palestinian centres from the Galilee in the north to the Naqab (renamed “Negev” by
Zionists) in the south were emptied of their original inhabitants. During this three-year period
alone, some 531 Palestinian towns and villages were also simultaneously ethnically cleansed and
then later razed by the newly established Israeli state. As Moshe Dayan, a native of the Ukraine,
would later boast:
“Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of
these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because geography books no longer exist, not only
do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahlal arose in the place of
Mahlul; Kibbutz Gvat in the place of Jibta; Kibbutz Sarid in the place of Huneifis; and Kefar
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Yehushu’a in the place of Tal al-Shuman. There is not one single place built in this country that
did not have a former Arab population” (Ha’aretz, April 4, 1969).
What is perhaps lesser known is that during this same period tens of thousands of books,
paintings, musical recordings, furniture, and other artifacts were also looted by the Zionist
militias from Palestinian homes, libraries, and government offices. As documented by Benny
Brunner and Arjan El Fassed in their film The Great Book Robbery, at least 70,000 Palestinian
books were stolen from their owners. As shown in the documentary, this theft was no mere
accidental by-product of war; rather, it was a deliberate act with a specific purpose:
“For decades Zionist and Israeli propaganda described the Palestinians as ‘people without
culture.’ Thus, the victorious Israeli state took upon itself to civilise the Palestinians who
remained within its borders at the end of the 1948 war. They were forbidden to study their own
culture or to remember their immediate past; their memory was seen as a dangerous weapon that
had to be suppressed and controlled.”
1948, however, would not be the last time that Israeli forces would steal and destroy Palestinian
books and other cultural productions. In 1982, during its occupation of Lebanon, Israeli invasion
troops would storm the homes, offices, and libraries of Palestinians and walk away with
thousands of books, films, and other records documenting Palestinian history. This is a common
practice of Israeli occupation forces and continues to this day, most notably in the West Bank,
Jerusalem, and Gaza, which were occupied in 1967 along with Syria’s Golan Heights and
Egypt’s Sinai.
The meaning behind this theft is not complicated. Unable to assimilate actual, recorded
Palestinian history (which was and remains mostly in Arabic) into its fabricated history, Israel
chooses simply to destroy it, to physically remove it from sight, while simultaneously inventing
and disseminating a fairy-tale account of Palestine as a virgin “land without people for a people
without a land.” Consequently, the destruction of Palestinian villages, the ethnic cleansing of
Palestinian cities, the aerial bombing of Palestinian refugee camps, and the looting of Palestinian
books all lead to the same intersection: what cannot be absorbed within Zionist mythology must
be eradicated.
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Palestinian Artifacts: Re-writing History
The Zionist belief that modern European and Russian Jews (and all of worldwide Jewry for that
matter) are somehow the direct, lineal descendants of ancient Hebrew-speaking tribes who lived
on another continent some 2000 years ago and can thus lay claim to Palestine, its history, and its
culture would be outright laughable if the political consequences of this fairy-tale ideology were
not so tragic. That this racist belief, propagated by both anti-Semites and Zionists alike, is
accepted as self-evident truth and not even worthy of questioning by most Western mainstream
media outlets is certainly a testament to decades of Zionist propaganda and to a shameful
journalistic laziness and conformity of thought that has now become the norm.
A typical example is this article from the Huffington Post titled “Israel Ancient Jewelry
Uncovered in Archeological Dig.” According to the article, “Israeli archaeologists have
discovered a rare trove of 3,000-year-old jewelry, including a ring and earrings, hidden in a
ceramic jug near the ancient city of Megiddo, where the New Testament predicts the final battle
of Armageddon.” Based on the guesses of Israel Finkelstein, who co-directed the dig, “the
jewelry likely belonged to a Canaanite family.” That may well have been so, but the
unquestioned assumption throughout the piece is that this jewelry is in some way Israeli. (Note,
as well, how a biblical tale associated with the ancient Palestinian city of Megiddo is mentioned
as if this was of any relevance.)
In 1919, the World Zionist Organisation officially presented a map of its future state of “Israel”
at the Paris Peace Conference. This map included not only all of Palestine, but also southern
Lebanon, southwestern Syria, including the Golan Heights, significant parts of western Jordan,
and parts of Egypt’s Sinai. Let us for argument’s sake say that the WZO’s colonial wish was
granted at least in the case of Lebanon. Would that make all the ancient artifacts found in
occupied southern Lebanon, “Israeli”? What of Syria’s Golan which remains occupied
today; are the artefacts found there today somehow “Israeli”? And what about Egypt’s Sinai, a
territory that Israel occupied from 1967 to 1979; were the ancient relics discovered there during
the period of occupation “Israeli”? And did they stop becoming “Israeli” after the Zionist state
properly returned the stolen land back to Egypt?
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Since all of Palestine is as stolen as the once occupied Sinai and the currently occupied Syrian
Golan, what exactly is so “Israeli” about this ancient jewelry discussed in the Huffington Post
article besides the unsubstantiated claims of its author who completely ignores Palestinian
history? The European/Zionist re-writing of ancient Palestinian history is so blatant, so
ubiquitous, it is almost invisible. Not only have Zionists re-written Palestinian history, they have
also written themselves into it even as they remove indigenous Palestinians both physically and
notionally out. Wielding history as a weapon, this type of propaganda utilises the laziest and
most common form of censorship, that of simple omission.
This particular form of cultural theft, however, is not limited to Palestine. Israel, against all
historical evidence, continues to conflate its racist political ideology, its raison d’être, Zionism
– a uniquely European creation – with Judaism, a universal religion with origins in the Arab
world. Thus, Zionists justify the theft of Iraqi-Jewish archives, for instance; or they claim that
1000-year-old Jewish documents originally from Afghanistan belong to the Zionist state. The
assumption is that, since a document has Hebrew or even Aramaic script written on it, it must
somehow belong in “Israel” and not where it was actually found. It never occurs to the author of
the Haaretz piece that a 1000-year-old document discovered in Afghanistan has absolutely
nothing to do with a European colonial-settler state established in 1948 on top of Palestine. Or
have perhaps Israel’s undeclared borders now stretched to Afghanistan?
Palestinian/Arab Dress
Palestinian women are rightly proud of traditional Arab dress, as any people would be of their
creations. These stunningly intricate, handmade embroidered dresses, scarves, and other
accessories have deep roots within the Arab world, especially Greater Syria. The skills with
which to create them have been passed down from generation to generation and the evidence of
their authenticity and artistry is undeniable. So refined is Palestinian dress in particular, that one
can identify their place of origin within Palestine from the colours and designs of the embroidery
alone.
Historian and scientist Hanan Karaman Munayyer, an expert on Palestinian clothing, traces “the
origins of proto-Palestinian attire from the Canaanite period circa 1500 B.C. when Egyptian
paintings depicted Canaanites wearing A-shaped garments. The distinctive silhouette is
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observed in a 1200 B.C. ivory engraving from Megiddo, Palestine, identified as a ‘Syrian tunic’”
(Sovereign Threads by Pat McDonnell Twair, PalestineHeritage.org). In short, they are living
works of art that carry within their stitches millennia of indigenous cultural memory.
Yet even Palestinian dress has not been immune from shameless Israeli theft and
appropriation. Basem Ra’ad, in his superb Hidden Histories: Palestine and the Eastern
Mediterranean, writes:
“An Israeli book on embroidery, Arabesque: Decorative Needlework from the Holy Land, starts
with “biblical times” and ends with photographs showing Israeli adults and children wearing the
embroidered clothing of Palestinian villagers (many from the villages from which Palestinians
were forced to flee in 1948). These Israelis have put on an act for the photographs. The book
not only takes over a Palestinian art form; it impersonates it. The euphemistic allusion to the
“Holy Land” helps to camouflage the real, Palestinian source of this unique form of village art”
(128).
As Ra’ad notes throughout, often within Israeli cultural works no mention at all is made of
Palestinians thus rendering them invisible. A more recent and equally outrageous form of
appropriation was documented in an article from Ma’an News which describes the theft of the
Arab kufiya or hattah. Though common throughout the Arab world, the kufiya became a
Palestinian symbol of resistance during the Great Palestine Revolt of 1936-39 when the majority
of Palestinians rose up against the British occupation and their Zionist colonial allies. That
Zionists today choose to appropriate this symbol in a pathetic effort to make it their own is yet
another example of both an ignorance of Arab history and a complete lack of imagination.
Palestinian/Arab Cuisine
What is more fundamental to any people and its culture than its food? The stealing of
Palestinian cuisine by the Zionist state has been just as shameless as its theft of Palestinian
land. In fact, since cuisine is so overtly geographically-based, the two are in reality one and the
same. Jaffa oranges, olives and olive oil, hummus, tabouleh, arak, falafel, kubbeh and almost
every other kind of Arabic food, drink, and ingredient native to Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt,
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Iraq, and the rest of the Arab world suddenly becomes “Israeli” within the state’s various media
and through its Western advocates without any acknowledgement of its true origins.
Consider, for instance, this article from the Jerusalem Post which states that arak is “indigenous
to Israel.” “The largest-selling spirit in Israel may be vodka,” claims the writer, “but the
indigenous spirit is arak.” Note, too, how several countries from the region are cited -Turkey,
Greece, Lebanon, Jordan – but, somehow, Palestine remains beyond the recall of the writer. This
is a typical strategy of Zionist cultural appropriation and usurpation; list the surrounding
countries and cultures as if you are a part of them, but don’t mention the country you destroyed
and whose culture you stole. One must also wonder how a colonial settler state established in
1948 by Europeans can lay claim to an indigenous Arab cuisine which existed for millennia
before it ever came into being. Perhaps this is another example of the fabled “miracles of
Israel.”
Or take the example of falafel which Israel claims is its “national” dish, an assertion repeated in
countless cook books, blogs, and even academic papers. “What distinguishes the case of falafel
from those of rice and wine is our access to its historical origins,” writes Yael Raviv. “Falafel
was not assimilated into Israeli society by a long, slow, natural process. Rather, its
transformation into an icon of Israeli culture was rushed and deliberate. In its urgent search for
symbols of unity, the nationalist movement hit upon falafel as a signifier of Israeli pride.” This
is a remarkable bit of ahistorical sophistry. How exactly is falafel – which existed long before
“Israel” – a “signifier of Israeli pride” unless one is proud of cultural theft?
In a refreshing moment of honesty, Gil Hovav admits: “Of course it’s Arabic. Hummus is
Arabic. Falafel, our national dish, our national Israeli dish, is completely Arabic and this salad
that we call an Israeli Salad, actually it’s an Arab salad, Palestinian salad. So, we sort of robbed
them of everything.” Although it is always appreciated to hear Zionists admit their various
thefts, take away the apologetic qualifier “sort of” and we will arrive to a much closer truth.
The usual defence or apologetics, however, is that this is a trivial matter; it is only food after
all. Unfortunately, Israeli claims to inventing Palestinian and Arabic cuisine are used for
distinctly political purposes – to marginalise, discredit and, ultimately, to dispossess the
Palestinian people. Did the Russian-born Golda Meir (originally, Golda Mabovich) invent
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hummus? Did the Polish native David Ben-Gurion (originally, David Green) create the recipe
for tabouleh? Perhaps it was the family of current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu
(originially, Ben Mileikowsky), who created falafel? As ridiculous as these questions are, this is
essentially what Zionists are asking us to believe whenever they refer to Arabic food as “Israeli.”
Palestinian Agriculture and Land
A common Zionist historical fabrication, still disseminated today, is that “Israelis made the
[Palestinian] desert bloom.” Palestine, according to this tall tale, was a horrid, barren place until
European Jews arrived with their superior technology and know-how and made it flower. It was
only then, as the tall tale continues, that those poor Arabs arrived (from other countries, of
course) to find work in this new, green, and blooming land. As recently as the 2012 American
election campaign, openly anti-Palestinian bigots such as Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney
would parrot this ahistorical fiction in an attempt to score cheap political points.
Here, however, are some historical facts to counter this racist fairy tale. In 1901, the Jewish
National Fund was founded in Basel, Switzerland with the explicit goal of buying land in
Palestine for exclusive European Jewish colonisation. By 1948, after nearly half a century, they
had succeeded in buying less than 7 percent of Palestinian land, mostly from absentee landlords
living outside of Palestine. In other words, the enterprise was a failure; Palestinians
understandably would not give up rightful ownership of their land for any price.
Why is this important? When Britain invaded and occupied Palestine from 1917 to 1948, they
not only came with their military and typical savagery, but also with their surveyors and scholars
whose main job was to produce information on the country they happened to occupy. This
information would fill volumes of books sent back for consumption by the British public and in
order to justify their government’s imperial projects abroad. One of those volumes is the 1300page A Survey of Palestine published in December 1945.
Summarised brilliantly by the Lawrence of Cyberia Website, the survey reveals that Palestinians
produced the vast majority of Palestine’s agricultural output as late as 1948, including “92
percent of its grain, 86 percent of its grapes, 99 percent of its olives, 77 percent of its vegetables,
95 percent of its melons, 99 percent of its tobacco, and 60 percent of its bananas.” Sami Hadawi
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in his Village Statistics of 1945: A Classification of Land and Area ownership in
Palestine showed similar results. It simply makes no agricultural sense that Zionist colonists,
who were in the minority at the time, were minority land holders, and who had only recently
arrived in Palestine, overnight turned a supposed desert into a flower bed.
The reality is that it was Palestinians who made Palestine bloom through centuries of labour and
hard work, not recently-arrived foreign colonists from Europe, Russia, and (later) the United
States and elsewhere. These are the facts as recorded in 1948 by both indigenous Palestinians
and their British occupiers. Those who believe in magic and fairy tales, on the other hand, can
always return to the comfort of Zionist myths and Hollywood.
Conclusion: The Rope of a Lie is Short
Books, music, art, cuisine, dress—these are what constitute the essence of a people’s culture and
history. Israel’s cultural claims on Palestine are as vacuous as its claims on the land; both have
been taken, and are still being taken, by force and fabrication. The Palestinian intellectual Dr.
Fayez Sayegh once said, “Israel is, because Palestine has been made not to be.” Sayegh was not
only speaking of the land but also of the entirety of the Palestinian nation which, naturally,
includes its cultural productions as well. Zionism, like all other European colonial-settler
movements, uses cultural and historical theft as key weapons in its war of elimination against the
indigenous Palestinians.
Israel’s delusion that Palestinian culture belongs to it is no different from the fantasy that it
somehow sits in Europe and not in the heart of the Arab world. The continuing theft of
Palestinian culture in particular and of Arab culture in general is a damning reflection of its own
artificiality, its poverty of spirit and, indeed, of its very illegitimacy. There is a Palestinian
proverb that says, “The rope of a lie is short (‫ ”)قصير ال ِكذِب حبل‬meaning, a lie will sooner or later
be found out. The goal of the Zionist project in Palestine, to erase it from history and take its
place using all means possible, has been obvious to Palestinians almost from its inception; it is
time for the rest of the world to come to this realisation. For the sake of justice and common
decency, it is also long time to give credit where credit is due.
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