Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich will face few consequences for his declaration that Palestinians are an "invented people." Undoubtedly, a majority of Americans don't care, just as a majority of Americans - schooled in the Bible - accept a Jewish claim to the lands around the city of Jerusalem.
Gingrich is relying on a stereotype of Arabs, who all look alike and are all Muslim.
Americans who know little of the history of the region are unlikely to investigate it, and U.S. media will provide no answers. It's very likely most American reporters today cannot explain the five-century history of the Ottoman Empire and its role in the designation of the lands between Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea as "Palestine."
Most Americans have only vague recollections of high school history textbooks referring to a Turkish empire that sprouted in the 15th century, eventually controlling southern Europe as well as Southwest Asia. But the Ottoman began fading when colonized states in Europe and the Balkans revolted in the 17th and 18th centuries, and collapsed with the failure of its alliance with Germany in World War I. In his revisionist history, Gingrich relies on American attitudes that grant Israelites the right of nationality in a homeland, but refuse to recognize any right of nationality to other Semitic people whose ancestors shared the same homeland for at least as long as the first Israeli, or rather the grandfather of Israel, Abraham.
It doesn't take much research to determine the lands of Palestine held people who weren't Israeli. The information is in the Bible. Genesis details the genealogy of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Esau and the multitude of progeny born to wives, concubines and maid servants, and advises that the founding family of Israel lived among Canaanites and Perizzites. Those included a Prince Hamor, who is assassinated by Jacob's sons after Hamor's son rapes their sister Dinah and then wants to claim her as his wife. Fearing his family would be outnumbered in a war of retaliation, Jacob flees with his family to an area that acquires the name Bethlehem.
Somewhere around 1500 B.C., a band of Israelis escapes Egypt to reclaim "the promised land," described as running from the river Euphrates to the great sea to the west and all the land of the Hittites. To fulfill the promise, they initially sack a walled city called Jericho "and they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword" (Joshua 6:21, Holy Bible, King James version, National Publishing Co., 1970).
While the Book of Joshua in the Bible details an act of genocide by Israelis, it also documents that the lands were inhabited - very likely by progenitors of the people Gingrich labels as "just Arabs."
Archaeological evidence labels them Canaanites, rather than Palestinians. While the Israeli army led by Joshua decimated the population of Canaanites, that would hardly be a basis for calling their descendants an "invented people" - unless you are interpreting history for political convenience or believe those ancient Israelis successfully eradicated an entire people.
With the River Jordan as a consistent water source, the lands of Canaan now labeled Palestine have been populated continuously by Homo sapiens for at least 6,000 years, based on archaeological findings of Semitic Canaanites living in the area. Given evidence that earlier versions of the genus Homo moved from Africa to Mesopotamia perhaps 10,000 years ago, the populating of Palestine may date to that time as well - humans who evolved into culturally distinct tribes that include Israelis and Palestinians, among other Semitics.
* Edwin Tanji is a former city editor of The Maui News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. "Haku Mo'olelo," "writing stories," is about stories that are being written or have been written. It appears every Friday.