There’s a new player within the Western Arabic-language media universe: Independent Arabia – a joint venture of the UK based Independent and the Saudi media group SRMG, with ties to the Saudi state.
Unfortunately, so far it’s shown little commitment to western journalistic standards, and often prefers following Arab newspapers’ preference for parroting anti-Israel propaganda.
For example, a recent article by ‘Izz ad-Deen Abu ‘Eisheh, Independent Arabia’s correspondent in the Gaza strip (“Reviving ancient manuscripts in Gaza to refute the Israeli narrative”, Aug. 12) included an interview with a Hamas government official about the restoration of several manuscripts, dating back to the 16th century.
Mr. Abd al-Lateef Abu Hashem, an expert overseeing the project on behalf of Hamas’ Ministry of Waqfs and Religious Affairs in the Strip, made a few preposterous claims about Israel and its relation to local history, claims that went unchallenged in the article. Abu Hashem was uncritically quoted stating (all translations, emphasis and in-bracket remarks are by CAMERA Arabic unless otherwise specified):
- He claims that the “Israeli narrative” suggests that, in the past, “Palestine” was uninhabited:
“the manuscripts are the memory of the Ummah [this could mean either the Islamic Ummah, i.e. all Muslims, or the Arab Ummah, i.e. all Arabs], they […] prove that this land was teeming with its residents and scholars. This is contrary to the Israeli narrative, which says that Palestine was void of residents”
It is unclear what Abu Hashem means when he refers to the “Israeli narrative”. However, if there is, among Jewish Israelis today, a generally-accepted view of the history of their homeland, it clearly does not include the assumption that it was completely empty of residents, either Jews or non-Jews, at any given time since antiquity.
Moreover, the earliest Zionists took the existence of Arabs, specifically, as a given when discussing the prospects of re-introducing Jewish sovereignty (in one form or another) to the land; none of them denied its Arab and Islamic past. This is clearly shown in the writings of Theodore Herzl (including the novel “Altneuland”, which has an Arab main character), Ahad Ha’Am and others, from the last decade of the 19th century onwards.
- He also claims that the existence of centuries-old manuscripts in Arabic refute Israeli claims of “entitlement [sic]” to the land, since:
“all of the ancient documents, which describe the cities of Palestine prior to the Jews’ arrival to it, are in Arabic, which means that the land is Arab.”
This claim demonstrates that it is not the Arabs whose historical existence in the land is denied by the “Israeli narrative”; it’s the Jews who are treated by Arabs (such as Abu Hashem himself) as newcomers. Obviously, the existence of ancient Arabic manuscripts does not undermine the right of self determination of Jews in their homeland, as, back then, local Jews were reading Arabic texts, and writing texts in Arabic as well, often using Hebrew letters (Judeo-Arabic). Furthermore, Hebrew and other non-Arabic Jewish manuscripts and inscriptions were also written in the Land of Israel, while others mentioned its significant Jewish population.
Sometimes, these documents are much older than the manuscripts mentioned in the article, like in the case of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Theodotus Inscription or the Siloam Inscription – all of which predate the most ancient documents in Abu Hashem’s Gaza archive by at least a thousand years. It’s also noteworthy that some of the texts contain a detailed account of the geography of the land (the kind that, according to Abu Hashem, can be found only in Arabic). For example, the manuscript that describes the journey of Samuel ben Samson to the Land of Israel, or the Mosaic of Rehob, that deals with its perceived boundaries from the perspective of the Jewish religious codex (Halakha).
Here’s the final claim that goes unchallenged:
- “the Israelis […] continuously attempt to obliterate and hide manuscripts“, because they are aware of that these are the “source of power” for maintaining “the correct Arab narrative”.
Abu Hashem does not provide any concrete evidence to back up this claim, nor does the Independent Arabia reporter himself.
However, you might wonder how committed to the idea of erasing its Islamic past Israel could be when it has a national library that holds more than 2,400 Islamic manuscripts, in Farsi, Arabic and Turkish; which hosts some of the most impressive monuments (and inscriptions) of the early Islamic period, so far with no serious threats to them; and which has two (highly recommended!) museums of Islamic Art, operated either by Jews or jointly by Jews and Arabs and located within Jewish communities, in Jerusalem and Beer Sheva.
Given the entirely ahistorical denial of the land’s Jewish past the article promotes, perhaps it’s Abu Hashem and his Independent Arabia interviewer who should learn from the Israeli authorities how to pay respect to ancient history and its various “narratives”.
(Research and writing by CAMERA Arabic. Edited by UK Media Watch.)