Sharing The Land Of Canaan: Human Rights and the Israeli-Palestinian Struggle

Sharing The Land Of Canaan: Human Rights and the Israeli-Palestinian Struggle

by Mazin B. Qumsiyeh


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There is no more compelling and dramatic unfolding story, with more profound international ramifications, than the conflict in the Middle East.

Sharing the Land of Canaan is a critical examination of the core issues of the conflict that dares to put forward a radical but logical solution: that a shared state is the best way to achieve justice and peace for Israelis and Palestinians. Mazin B. Qumsiyeh, offers an overview of the issues at stake, and outlines his vision for a lasting peace based on upholding the principles of human rights for all. Tackling taboo subjects, myths and obstacles, he argues convincingly that apartheid in the form of a two-state solution is no longer a feasible way to achieve enduring peace.

At this critical time, when the 'road map' to peace looks more uncertain than ever, this book provides a refreshing counterpoint to the failed strategies of the past. It is a direct and accessible account of the history - and mythology - of the fabled 'Land of Canaan', which lays out hopeful ideas for the future of this truly multiethnic and multicultural region.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780745322483
Publisher: Pluto Press
Publication date: 06/20/2004
Pages: 264
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.46(h) x (d)

About the Author

Mazin B. Qumsiyeh is a professor at Bethlehem and Birzeit Universities and works with a number of civil society organisations. He is the author of Popular Resistance in Palestine (Pluto, 2010) and Sharing the Land of Canaan (Pluto, 2004).

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There is no more compelling and dramatic story with more profound international ramifications than that of the conflict raging in the land of Canaan. The movement to gather Jews from across the world to the Holy Land was accompanied by the dispossession of native Palestinian Christians and Muslims. This was followed by decades of conflicts. How did Zionism translate into a nation-state for all Jews? How was such a state established in an already inhabited land? How did religious and geopolitical factors help create one of the most emotional and heated conflicts which remains unresolved to this day? These and other questions have received wide but skewed coverage in the media and in thousands of books published over the past century. This is a story that seems to generate more news internationally and more heated debate than any other.

As in other struggles, the superpowers have attempted to dictate the fate of the indigenous population without consulting them. As in other struggles, individuals have been willing to kill and be killed in the name of nationalism or religion. As in other struggles, this is a story of Cold War rivalries using populations as part of the game of domination. But unlike other struggles, it is a story with unusual twists, involving world religions, and a story that has a global impact. The events of September 11, 2001 and the US invasions first of Afghanistan and more recently of Iraq are but examples of the shock waves of this struggle going beyond its local borders. Yet despite the agony, there are signs of a moral solution involving integration and coexistence.

No other part of the world has had as much of an impact – both positive and negative – on global affairs as the land of Canaan. Here a rich history of innovation, culture, religion, and dominant civilizations evolved. It is here that dramatic and fascinating cave drawings and the stone tools of hunter-gatherers were first discovered. Here hunter-gatherers settled into agriculture, built city-states, and later developed prosperous empires that embraced centers of poetry, agriculture, trade, and science. In an area later known as the Fertile Crescent, in what is now Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel/Palestine, humans first cultivated wheat and barley and domesticated animals. It is where they first learned to use an alphabet and drafted civil laws. In short, this is where civilization first took root. The series of ancient civilizations was not a clean-cut temporal succession but a mosaic of overlapping cultures, dynasties, languages, and religions. This rich mix included some of the most successful traders (e.g. the Phoenicians), farmers of arid lands (e.g. the Nabatean Arabs), great architects (e.g. the Assyrians, Jebusites), and those who developed influential laws and religions (the Mesopotamians, Hebrews, Arabs). This truly multiethnic and multicultural area oscillated between periods of war and prosperity. In the past 100 years, it has been an era of displacement, violence, and oppression.

While a rich and complex history is reduced to soundbites on television screens, six million Palestinian Christians and Muslims live as refugees or displaced people. A political and economic conflict has on occasion been reduced to simple statements about religion, violence, and ethnic slurs. Some have argued that this is one of the most complicated and difficult conflicts to resolve. They cite the conflict's supposed long history, sometimes claiming it goes back thousands of years. They cite religious involvement and other supposedly complicating factors. They sometimes arrive at the conclusion that the conflict cannot be solved but only 'managed', or at best resolved by an apartheid solution similar to the one already tried and failed in South Africa. This book will review data that suggest a logical way forward.

Britain and France fought many battles including the 100 Years' War. They now share the Channel Tunnel with free movement of people and ideas. The resurgence of conflict between those two great powers is unthinkable today. The Berlin Wall tumbled and apartheid in South Africa was dismantled. Yet the 100 years of conflict in the Middle East remains as a galvanizing force in the twenty-first century. This conflict is simple to understand, yet made complicated by claims and counterclaims, propaganda, power politics, and unimaginable violence and suffering. Israel, established to provide a safe haven for Jews, is ironically the place where Jews are at risk and subject to acts of violence. This is a book intended to provide a vision for peace based on human rights supported by international law. The vision is one of a pluralistic society for all its citizens, with justice and equality as its cornerstones. Such a vision has its detractors. It may seem unrealistic to many, including those uninitiated and those who have acquired their knowledge through mainstream western media. Therefore, I believe it is important to begin with a résumé of the history of the region in order to address some of the myths used to argue against integration and coexistence.

My purpose in this book is to take the reader through the major issues that surround the conflict in order to propose a rational solution to it. There are many books on the conflict that deal in detail with each of the issues I raise: refugees, Jerusalem, terrorism, human rights, etc. I examine the conflict as a whole, giving suggested readings on the different topics for those seeking greater detail. This lays the groundwork, despite the difficulties on all sides, for a solution, which I present in the last chapter. After so much bloodshed, people of different religions and persuasions are only now arriving at this revolutionary yet simple and logical conclusion. Myths prevent what many now know is the fitting solution to this man-made catastrophe, sometimes referred to as the 'Middle East situation'. In this book, we will also examine historical research that helps dispel the myths which have stood in the way of the most obvious and logical conclusion: a durable peace is both possible and inevitable, based on sharing and equality rather than separation and walls.

The citations I provide as sources published in hard copy or on web-sites are those I consider important. I have not tried to reference everything, except in cases where I have directly quoted someone else's work, or when I have thought it useful to do so. However, at the end of each chapter I do provide a brief list of recommended reading for those who want a more in-depth discussion of the issues raised. My aims include exploring forgotten documents and historical facts that relate to how a solution might be found in human rights. Unusual findings in my research include how and why the British Empire pushed for a Jewish settlement in Palestine as early as the 1840s. We will see how and why this Empire's actions included the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the decades of colonization that followed. We will see how and why Theodor Herzl and other European Jews believed that a Jewish state was the best solution to the 'Jewish problem'. We will see why there was major Jewish opposition to Zionism and will examine various failed solutions, culminating in the Oslo Accords and the so-called road map to peace. We will see why Israel's apartheid wall, snaking through the West Bank, will bring neither security nor peace. We will see why Israeli and Palestinian societies are evolving towards a post-Zionist era both within and outside the cease-fire line of 1949. We will see why this 'Green Line' (or lines), or other lines marked with walls and fences, will never become the border between two sovereign states. We will also see why nihilistic ideas emanating from both sides will succeed only in subjugating the 'other' or tearing the small land of Canaan into pieces.


People and the Land

The land of Canaan was never 'a land without a people for a people without a land', as some early Zionists claimed. In order to understand the conflict and thus begin to articulate a solution, we must begin by understanding these people and their origins. Such an understanding helps us to appreciate their interconnectedness, which is intentionally or unintentionally hidden, in order to keep us segregated and thinking tribally. The evolution of these civilizations and their relationships to each other and to outside forces reveal that many perceptions currently expressed for political purposes have no basis in fact. Understanding the history of the people and the land of Canaan is key to shaping a future of peace for all its current and displaced inhabitants. For example, a simple examination of history shows that Canaanitic groups developed the first alphabet and evolved related languages from the original western Semitic languages of Old Aramaic and Syriac, which eventually became the new and flourishing languages of Arabic and Hebrew. This organic connection is easily forgotten and frequently dismissed by those who have a stake in maintaining that the Arabic and Hebrew cultures and civilizations inevitably clash.


Archeological evidence from the Fertile Crescent shows that in around 6000–5000 BCE (Before the Common Era) nomadic hunter-gatherers first started to cultivate crops and domesticate animals. This transition happened fairly rapidly and, once established, had a dramatic impact. The presence of a predictable food source allowed small tribes to settle and their populations thereafter increased dramatically. A larger population and human contact in turn led to the need for rules that govern human behavior and leadership; hence city-states evolved. Once humans were dependent on settled land for their sustenance there was the obvious impetus to raid and acquire more land and resources to expand the city-state. Regional conflicts over resources ensued, alliances between different city-states and tribes formed, and finally larger kingdoms and empires coalesced. The Canaanitic civilization emerged as the most dominant for the western part of the Fertile Crescent, while the Sumerian civilization dominated the east.

Canaanites of the eastern Mediterranean region spoke Semitic languages, just as many people in this region still do. One must distinguish here between languages/language groups and ethnicity. English is spoken by people of varied ethnicity, many of whose ancestors may have spoken other languages in the past, even languages not in the same group as English (e.g. people in the Philippines, Australia, or New Zealand). English belongs to the Anglo-Saxon group of languages in the same way as Arabic and Hebrew belong to Semitic group of languages. Strictly speaking, 'Semitic' is not an ethnicity but a language group and thus the term 'Semites' refers to people who speak a Semitic language and not to an ethnic or religious group (see Chapter 6 for discussion of 'anti-Semitism').

The Semitic languages included Phoenician, Aramaic, Arabic (Aramaic modified by Nabatean), Moabite Phoenician, Hebrew (modified Aramaic), Akkadian, Assyrian, and Babylonian. By far the most dominant of the early Semitic languages was Aramaic, which became the most commonly used language in the whole area during the first millennium BCE. The word Aramaic refers to Aram, by tradition the son of Shem (Sam), from which the Aramaic word She-maa-yaa (Semitic) is derived. The land in which the Shem/ Semitic people lived, including present-day Syria, Lebanon, Israel/ Palestine, and Jordan, is known traditionally as Bilad Al-Sham, or the land of Shem. An inhabitant of this area is referred to in Arabic as 'Shami', or hailing from Bilad Al-Sham.

The original proto-Aramaic language had two major dialectical descendants: western also referred to as Palestinian Aramaic, spoken by people during Jesus' time; and eastern, or Syrian Aramaic, still spoken today by members of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Iraq and Syria. The characters of Aramaic were the precursor of both the Arabic and Hebrew alphabets (see Figure 1). The spoken language continued to expand and had evolved into the classic dominant western Semitic forms by 2000 BCE. Even as new tongues arrived, the area kept its Semitic languages, dominated first by Aramaic, and later by Arabic joined now by a modernized Hebrew.

Abstract or symbolic writing developed from pictorial writing among the Sumerian cultures of Mesopotamia. Stylized cuneiform was used, based on simplified pictorials of objects or living things (a practice later continued in most other Asian scripts and their evolution). However, more recent studies suggest that the Egyptians may have developed a symbolic script independently. The alphabets we use today (for both European and Semitic languages) were developed by the Phoenician Canaanites shortly after those early successes in Mesopotamia and Egypt. A hybridization of a simplistic design of about two dozen characters arrived at by using the cuneiform structure from Mesopotamia combined with the Sinaitic/Egyptian approach yielded the first alphabet as exemplified by the Ugarit tablets. This Phoenician alphabet formed the basis for all future Semitic and western alphabets (see Figure 1).

The mixture of languages spoken in Canaan 3,000–5,000 years ago and the evolution of the alphabet there clearly indicate that this land lay at the crossroads of ancient civilizations. It is well known that accelerated cultural developments occur with the hybridization of powerful civilizations, languages, inventions, and belief systems. This is the secret to the success not only of the hybrid alphabet of the Phoenicians but also of the philosophies and religions that developed in the area. Each culture and each people had their unique strengths and weaknesses. Great leaps in civilizations occurred with the admixture of languages and cultures. The magnificent peoples of this area left us not only their descendants, but also great achievements and an imprint that shapes all of us today.

The Jebusites are a good example of this Canaanitic cultural blending. In around 3000 BCE they were living in Jebus, which later became known as Ur-Salem (from which Yerushalaym/Jerusalem are derived). Ur-Salem is a Canaanite word meaning the city of Salem, an ancient god-king of the Jebusite clan. The name Salem, or Shalem in some Aramaic dialects, and Ur-Salem thus became Jerusalem/Urhshalem/Yerushalaym. Similarly, while Arabs and Jews say that Bethlehem means house of bread or meat respectively, it is more accurately named after the house of Laham, the Canaanite god of the southern hills.

The temple of Solomon, like the Al-Aqsa mosque, was probably built on a sacred Jebusite site. Historically, religious leaders have built their temples on sacred ground to facilitate the conversion of the local inhabitants to the new religion. Similarly, the Kaaba in Mecca was constructed on the site where pagans once worshipped. Descendants of the Jebusites continued to live in Jerusalem, some accepting the new religions, some intermarrying with immigrants, and some migrating and later returning under new regimes. But the Jebusite imprint on Ur-Salem would be permanent. Without the Jebusites, Jerusalem might not have existed and certainly Jerusalem would be a very different city today without its Jebusite roots.


The Nabateans were another people that flourished in ancient times in the southern parts of Canaan and left an indelible mark on future generations. Few today know about this group and its history seems to have been suppressed. A good summary of their history can be found in Nelson Glueck's Deities and Dolphins: The Story of the Nabataeans. The Nabateans prospered on farming and trade. They traded in everything from spices and cloths to animals and minerals. Their kingdom flourished between 400 BCE and 10–150 CE. During the third century BCE, the Nabateans built their first four cities – Abda, Isbeita, El Halus, and Nestan – in Al-Naqab (Negev) along the trade route that crossed the desert to what today is Gaza. The tribes of Saba were the first to settle in what later became Beer Saba' (in Arabic) or Beersheva (in Hebrew) (beer means 'well' in both languages). Their capital, Petra, now in southern Jordan, is a marvel of human engineering. At the peak of its power (about 300 BCE), Petra would have accommodated 60,000 people and the area under their control stretched from what is now northern Saudi Arabia to southern Syria (Batsr or Basra was one of their major cities). The port city of Elath (Eilat) in southern Palestine (now Israel) is Arabic Nabatean and its name derives from Al-Latt, a pagan Arabic goddess mentioned in the Qu'ran.

The Nabateans are also mentioned in connection with New Testament events: King Herod spurned the daughter of the Arab-Nabatean king Aretas (al-Harith; Artas is now a locality near Bethlehem), Queen Zenobia (Zannuba, Zaynab in classic Arabic), Odenatus ('Udhayna(t)'), and Vaballatus or Wahbullatt (again from Al-Latt). It is also thought that John the Baptist was Nabatean. Some have gone as far as to suggest that the Romans executed him fearing a Hebrew–Arab anti-Roman alliance.


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Copyright © 2004 Mazin B. Qumsiyeh.
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Table of Contents

Foreword by Dr. Salman Abu Sitta
1. Introduction
2. People of the Land
3. Biology and Ideology
4. Palestinian Refugees and Their Right to Return
5. Jerusalem (Ur-Salem. Yerushalaym, Al-Qods) as a Pluralistic City
6. Zionism
7. Is Israel a Democracy?
8. Terrorism and Violence
9. Human Rights
10. The Conflict and Sustainable Development
11. Political Context
12. International Context and International Law
13. Peace can be Based on Human Rights and International Law

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