Arab regimes are falsifying Palestinian history to enable normalisation

Eyeing normalisation, Saudi Arabia joins the assault on Palestinian history
6 min read
17 Oct, 2020
Comment: A Saudi-Emirati effort is underway to discredit Palestinian narratives of the conflict in favour of Israeli ones in order to pave the way for normalisation, writes Ali Adam.
Palestinians are used to attempts to erase their history, largely by Israeli officials [Getty]
Palestinians have been looking on in horror at the MbS-MbZ duo, after the pair sparked a seemingly unrequited Israeli-Arab normalisation frenzy that emboldens the Israeli occupation, and spells catastrophe for Palestinian rights. 

Recently, Saudi and Emirati officials, prominent journalists and TV channels have gone on the offensive against the Palestinian people and leaders, and worst of all, against the Palestinian narrative, as they engage in efforts to falsify our history.  

A prime example of this aired throughout last week on the Saudi state channel Al-Arabiya. Prominent Saudi prince, Bandar bin Sultan made a three-part appearance viciously attacking Palestinians and falsifying the entire history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a meticulously choreographed talk that can only be seen as a prelude to Saudi Arabia's normalisation with Israel.

In the highly-publicised appearance, Bandar bin Sultan spoke extensively about the history of the conflict where he unabashedly recycled the Israeli version of history, Israeli talking points, as well as original falsehoods of his own; all of which aimed to pin the blame on Palestinian leaders, instead of on consecutive Israeli governments who have put a consistent and calculated end to any possibility for peace.

Bandar bin Sultan spoke extensively about the history of the conflict where he unabashedly recycled the Israeli version of history

Bandar's central theme about Palestinians pivots on the infamous and grossly inaccurate Israeli propaganda line, that "the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." 

This claim has been debunked time and again by Palestinians as well as international observers.

For example, Bandar claimed that the Palestinians rejected the Clinton Parameters proposal, which were guidelines for a permanent peace agreement proposed by President Bill Clinton in December 2000. However, as is well documented, including by former White House officials, Palestinian leaders much like the Israelis, accepted the parameters but with few reservations.

Prior to Bandar's appearance, the only people to recycle this false claim about Palestinians were Israeli officials and hardline pro-Israelis. 

Bandar also falsely claimed that the Palestinians rejected King Fahad's 1982 peace initiative, even though Yasser Arafat accepted the initiative, while Israel rejected and condemned it, calling it "a plan to destroy the Jewish state on stages." Israel subsequently invaded Lebanon to uproot the PLO from there. 

Bandar told multiple other similar lies about the history of the conflict. Historically, people who engage in such a belied version of history when it comes to Palestine are those who seek to justify the occupation and the ongoing oppression of Palestinians. They are often engaged in initiatives that are bound to further undermine the Palestinian struggle - normalisation in this case. 

In typical fashion for anybody who wants to alter history, Bandar conveniently left out entire chapters, especially recent history as it's harder somewhat to fabricate. For example, he failed to mention the Arab Peace initiative which the Palestinians accepted in 2002, while the Israelis never even considered it. 

Bandar also justified his lengthy attack on the Palestinians and Palestinian history by misleading the Saudi public, and claiming that Palestinian leaders had bad-mouthed Saudi Arabia. This never happened. On the contrary, the PA president Mahmoud Abbas has at every Palestinian leadership meeting reiterated his gratitude for Arab countries' support for Palestinians, and particularly emphasises Saudi support. 

But in the same way that Bandar falsified the past, he also sought to falsify the present to give rise to anti-Palestinian and pro-normalisation sentiment in the Saudi street. 

Bandar didn't shy away from the reason behind his choreographed attacks on the Palestinian people and their history: his and his superiors' desire to normalise ties with Israel. 

In pursuit of that cause, MbS' Saudi Arabia has no problem demonising the oppressed Palestinian people and slandering their just cause. The young prince also has no problem betraying the legacy of former Saudi kings who have always supported the Palestinian people. 

But the Saudi and Emirati campaign has not been limited to Bandar's appearance on Al-Arabiya.

Though Palestinians can barely believe it to be real, Saudi and Emirati TV channels have dedicated a significant portion of their airtime to attacking, slandering and demonising the Palestinians, falsifying their history, and whitewashing Israel.

Read also: Bella Hadid is right, Palestinians won't stand for erasure on Instagram, or anywhere else

Jamil al-Thayabi, editor-in-chief of Okaz, Saudi Arabia's most prominent newspaper, as an example, went on Saudi's MBC channel on Saturday to repeat similar attacks on the Palestinians that were full of fabrications, also claiming that the Palestinians rejected the Arab peace Initiative.

At times, their ongoing war on the Palestinians has shifted from attacking Palestine to cancelling it altogether. Recently UAE-owned Sky News Arabia, while interviewing Lebanese academic Frederic Maatouk, doctored a poster in the background that read "Visit Palestine", to "Visit Lebanon".

The poster in question was created by Palestinian artist Amer Shomali, to highlight Israel's illegal separation barrier.

For 72 years now, the Palestinian people have witnessed attempts to erase their name from the map. But that which was once the sole pursuit of right-wing Israelis, is now also the stuff of disloyal Arab regimes.

Saudi and Emirati channels have also sought to remove any reference to Palestinians and their narrative from the world of pop culture.

If these two regimes - precisely because they are Arab - choose to continue in this direction, they're on course to become the occupation's most valuable asset

Prominent Saudi Channel MBC last week removed from its online streaming service the critically acclaimed show Al-Taghreeba Al-Falastinya (the Palestinian Exodus). The programme is the most popular historical drama about the Palestinian plight ever made.

The show follows a Palestinian family and their struggle for survival spanning four decades, starting with their lives under British rule in Palestine, through to the 1948 Nakba in which most Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homeland, up until the 1967 Naksa, or Six Day War, when Israel occupied all of hisoric Palestine.

Saudi Arabia appears to be laying the groundwork to follow in the UAE's steps. Rather than confining relations with Israel to diplomatic and elite circles - like Egypt and Jordan, for the sake of its narrow interests it is choosing to embrace Israel and its false narrative entirely, at the catastrophic expense of the Palestinians and their rights. 

The MbS-MbZ axis seeks to burn in the consciousness of their populations as well the wider Arab world's hatred for the Palestinians and indifference towards their suffering. And if these two regimes - precisely because they are Arab - choose to continue in this direction, they will be on course to become the occupation's most valuable asset.

Ali Adam is a journalist and researcher whose work focuses on issues linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Follow him on Twitter @_Ali_Adam_

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.