Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) came under attack this week after she told the Yahoo News podcast “Skullduggery” that she was “humbled by the fact that it was my [Palestinian] ancestors that had to suffer” in order for Israel to be created as a safe haven for Jews in the wake of the Holocaust. Historian Benny Morris accused Tlaib of “misleading her listeners about the early history of the conflict in Palestine,” and CNN anchor John King claimed Tlaib’s remark “revises history.”
While Tlaib certainly simplified a complex history that historians have and will continue to debate, her critics are also fundamentally misreading Palestinian history in three key ways. First, by focusing on episodes of violence, they ignore the long history of Arab-Jewish coexistence in Palestine. Second, by downplaying how harmful British colonial rule was to Palestinian society, they imply that Palestinians were driven to revolt by blind hatred rather than a desire for freedom. Finally, by citing the pro-Nazi propaganda of Mufti Hajj Amin al-Husayni to claim that “Palestinian leaders at the time sided with Hitler,” they conflate the statements and actions of a single individual with those of an entire people.
Throughout the 19th century, Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together in Palestine in relative harmony, largely in cities like Jerusalem, Jaffa, Hebron, Safed and Tiberias. Jewish residents regularly interacted with their Muslim and Christian neighbors, speaking Arabic with one another and living what historian Menachem Klein describes as “lives in common.”