Newt Gingrich is usually a very good historian; but at that point he was playing to the audience, in this case a Jewish audience. Understandable! but the comment turned out to haunt him.
You see, even though Israel has a right to the land, there were people in the land, many of whom did identify as Palestinians.
Palestinians are invented?!
So were we Americans in 1776?
Argentina, Mexico, Chile, etc. were invented in 1810, when most of Latin America rose up to declare Independence.
Brazil invented itself in 1822.
Iceland invented itself in 1944, when it declared independence from Denmark.
An invented people does not signify illegitimacy.
What is clear is that Palestinian identity precedes the British Mandate.
What is not clear is if this identity was more established in the Christian Palestinians than in Muslims who tend to be more centered on the idea of a transnational Caliphate. It is clear that the Christians, who were a considerable part of the population in Palestine at that time, had such an identity1; and if it was common among Christians, it would have been found in some of their more educated Muslim neighbors, too.
Otherwise, we would not see some Palestinian Christians moving to Chile, in the late part of the 19th century into the 20th; and setting up an ethnic soccer team called Palestino in 1920, which would rise to become a major league soccer team in Chile.
Source: Palestino History (Spanish)
El Club Deportivo Palestino nace en la ciudad de Osorno, localidad al sur de Chile, capital de la provincia que lleva su nombre. El club nace en unas olimpiadas de colonias, siendo fundado por inmigrantes palestinos el 20 de agosto de 1920.
The Palestinian Sports club was born in the city of Osorno, located in the south of Chile, capital of the province that bears its name. The club was born in an olympic colony, being founded by Palestinian immigrants, 20th of August, 1920.
Why would those immigrants suddenly start calling their team Palestino, UNLESS THEY ALREADY HAD A PALESTINIAN IDENTITY?
Of course, this alone does not necessarily void Jewish claim to the land!
Israel still has a right to the land; but it still has to deal with this issue. It can’t deal with a problem if it denies the existence of the problem.
It does mean that the land was not as empty2 as the Zionists claimed it was; and it does mean there was a competing national identity.
In the end, how would Gingrich explain this: Palestino Soccer Club in Chile, founded in 1920.
The Club was formed in 1920 by Palestinian immigrants.
They did not call themselves South Syrians as some claim.
1If you think about it, according to the official story, the Romans gave the name to the area after crushing a Jewish revolt. When Rome Christianized, the name would have stuck, and the Christians would have embraced it. Even after the Roman Empire split into Latin and Greek areas, and the corresponding areas split religously into Roman Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy, the name would have persisted among the Christians.
Is an imposed name invalid? Ask yourself. Is America an invalid name because it was given by an Italian explorer, Amerigo Vespucci? Is Argentina an invalid name because it derives from the latin word for silver?
Names are imposed all the time.
2Many Zionist supporters will refer to Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad, published in 1869, which describes areas of the Holy Land as barren and devoid of habitation; but anyone who has driven in Arizona or Nevada knows full well that one can encounter empty wilderness even in populated countries. Twain was only describing one area.
What the people rarely tell you is this quote by Twain, in the same book:
“The narrow canon in which Nablous, or Shechem, is situated, is under high cultivation, and the soil is exceedingly black and fertile. It is well watered, and its affluent vegetation gains effect by contrast with the barren hills that tower on either side”…”We came finally to the noble grove of orange-trees in which the Oriental city of Jaffa lies buried” (Source: Wikipedia Demographics of Palestine)
Source: Wikipedia Demographics of Palestine
Mason Martin, an American author who spent sixteen years as an analyst for the CIA, was critical of attempts to use Twain’s humorous writing as a literal description of Palestine at that time. She writes that “Twain’s descriptions are high in Israeli government press handouts that present a case for Israel’s redemption of a land that had previously been empty and barren. His gross characterizations of the land and the people in the time before mass Jewish immigration are also often used by US propagandists for Israel.” For example she noted that Twain described the Samaritans of Nablus at length without mentioning the much larger Arab population at all. The Arab population of Nablus at the time was about 20,000.
I am NOT anti-Zionist – in fact, I am a mild Christian Zionist – but there was a considerable population in the area at the time. Estimates are over 500,000 around 1900.
Even early Jewish Zionists were dismayed by the number of the indigenous population.
The issue of Israel aside, the existence of these people is an historical fact that Zionism cannot ignore, just because it is inconvenient to their narrative. To deal with the problem, Israel is going to have to face the issue head on.