February 23, 2020

Israel conquered “Palestine” in 1967? Time for a rewrite

The LDS Church-owned Deseret News is published in Utah and is one of the two largest newspapers in the state. Every week it features a column written by Daniel Peterson, a professor of Islamic Studies and Arabic at BYU, and LDS author William Hamblin. They address religious issues from a historical perspective, and their column is usually one of the most interesting articles in the paper.

In a recent essay they briefly outlined the history of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem over the past 3,000 years. I was interested to see how a professor of Islamic Studies would approach this sensitive subject, and was especially curious to see whether current political controversies would slant the authors’ presentation of historical facts. Unfortunately, they did.

I’m sure that many informed readers were quite surprised to read about the “Israeli conquest of Palestine [sic] and east Jerusalem in 1967.” I have no doubt that the authors are fully aware of the following points, but they bear repeating in this space:

1) “Palestine” is not a country. Never has been and – God willing – never will be. I could support the current efforts at the UN and elsewhere to have Palestine declared a country if I believed that it would be a force for good in the region and be willing to live in peace with its neighbors. However, nothing in the history of the Palestinian liberation movement (e.g., Black September, terrorism, the Nazi mufti Amin al-Husseini, arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat, Palestinian occupation of southern Lebanon, Hamas rule in Gaza) offers the slightest hope that this would happen.

2) If we define Palestine as the ancient Roman province and/or the area subsequently administered by the Ottomans and the British, then the modern state of Israel already occupied a large part of Palestine before the war in 1967.

3) In 1967 Israel did not conquer “Palestine,” but it did seize the following territories: Judea and Samaria (renamed the “West Bank” by the new country of Jordan in 1948), the Gaza Strip (ruled by Egypt), east Jerusalem (which was not the capital of any country, let alone Palestine), and most of the Golan Heights (which had been a part of the new country of Syria for a whopping 23 years).

4) Since the Jordanians and Egyptians obviously didn’t consider the pre-1967 West Bank and Gaza Strip to be a single entity called “Palestine” while they were ruling those territories, there is no reason for contemporary historians to try to lump them together.

Place names have meaning, especially in the Middle East. It is very important for Mormons and other Christians to strive for accuracy when presenting the history of a place that is sacred to several religions. Advocates of peace and security can be grateful that mention of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and a country called “Palestine” can only properly occur in a sentence speculating on the future, not the past.

Hag sameach to my Jewish readers.