Aug. 7, 2017
Giving a speech in Berlin in March, the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas claimed that the Palestinians are descendants of the Canaanites, who lived in the land of Israel in ancient times. This assertion—always offered without any sort of evidence—has long been a favorite of the senior Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat, who claims himself to be descended from the people of Jericho—victims, he elaborates, of the “war crimes” committed by the biblical Joshua. Examining the evidence concerning Palestinian origins, Pinḥas Inbari pays particular attention to the traditions preserved by Palestinian clans and tribes:
When one looks into what the Palestinians say about themselves, . . . there is no [mention] of “Canaanite” ancestry. Most of the families find their origins in Arab tribes, some of them with Kurdish or Egyptian background, and there are even—by word of mouth—widespread stories of Jewish or Samaritan ancestry. Although one might have expected some effort to adduce a Philistine ancestry [after the ancient people from whom the name “Palestine” was derived], there is almost no such phenomenon. . . .
It turns out that the Erekat family, [for instance], originates in the large Huweitat tribe, which belongs to the Ashraf (families that trace their lineage to the family of Muhammad). They [claim to be] related to the descendants of Hussein, grandson of the prophet, who migrated from Medina to the Syrian desert and settled in the Aqaba area.
The Erekat family itself settled in Abu Dis and Jericho [in the West Bank, as well as] Amman and Ajloun (in Jordan). . . . In general, the list of heads of the Erekat family includes many Jordanian cabinet ministers. Why is the family so prominent in Jordan? Because the Huweitat tribe was among the main tribes that backed the Great Arab Revolt of the Hashemites in Mecca, and it moved north along with T.E. Lawrence—that is, at the same time as the Zionists were establishing themselves in Palestine. . . .
The Ottoman empire was a gigantic open space, and internal migration and free movement of individuals and nomadic tribes were a common and characteristic feature. Hence, Arab tribes that settled in the land of Israel were . . . of different lineages. . . . Up to the present, almost every Palestinian family, [like most Arab clans], describes its origins by identifying either with the Qays tribes (who trace their origins to the northern part of the Arabian peninsula) or with the Yaman (who trace their origins to the southern part). . . .
The purpose of the “Canaanite” narrative, however, is not to shed light on the Palestinians’ real ancestry, but to deny the Jews’ narrative. Why the Canaanites? Because they were in the country before the Israelite tribes were and thus have precedence. According to Nabil Shaath, [another senior Palestinian politician], Jewish history is but a “potpourri of legends and fabrications.” The Canaanite narrative cannot promote reconciliation and compromise but only the destruction of the Israeli-Jewish narrative, according to the same principle by which the various communities are now destroying each other in Syria.