Newt Gingrich has said not once, but twice that I'm an "invented" person. In his world, Palestinians are a recent creation and not a people that pre-date modern Israel. Gingrich did not distinguish himself when in a recent Republican debate he said that Palestinians are "technically an invention of the late 1970s." But I've been calling myself a Palestinian since childhood, well before the late 1970s, though the State of Israel tries to separate me from my Palestinian heritage by referring to me as an "Israeli Arab." The term is, in fact, an oxymoron at a time when Israel's Palestinian Arab minority -- citizens of the state of Israel -- is regarded by the state as an enemy until proven otherwise.
For my entire life, which dates back to the 1950s, Palestinians have been steadfastly clinging to the land that was not confiscated from us in 1948 by Israel. I have attempted to impart our history to my daughters, even as Israeli curricula and media conveyed inaccurate information to them about our dispossession. No doubt, Palestinian-American parents have had to teach their children in recent days about our remarkable history and explain to them that some politicians would rather bring more heat than light to the most important issues of our time. I feel for those parents having to explain to a small child that Palestinians are a legitimate people, with a real and vibrant history here in the Holy Land, and not some invented construct as Gingrich charged. Imagine how you would feel if your people -- Italian, Mexican, Chinese -- were suddenly described on national television as "invented."
We Palestinians are no Johnny-come-lately. Our ties to this land go back centuries, as most historians will tell you. The fanciful history of Professor Gingrich, however, seems more to do with securing the Republican nomination than with speaking the truth. He blasts away with one concocted story after another. Fortunately, the Associated Press refuted Gingrich's outrageous claim that we teach our children math by asking, "If there are 13 Jews and nine Jews are killed, how many Jews are left?" It's sickening and depraved and emphatically not in Palestinian math books.
The coarse rhetoric and Palestinian denialism Gingrich employs has helped propel him back into political relevance. Since his remarks, the Gingrich super PAC has received $10 million from Sheldon Adelson and his wife to reinvigorate a campaign in dire straits. The first $5 million infusion helped catapult him back into play in the South Carolina primary and the second kept him viable in Florida. A third $5 million tranche may not be forthcoming as the New York Times recently reported that Adelson may switch to Mitt Romney, who has bizarrely claimed that President Obama "threw Israel under the bus." One wonders what assurances are being conveyed from Romney to Adelson and whether a particularly harsh anti-Palestinian outburst would be enough to tip Adelson in Romney's direction. Santorum, with his unexpectedly good showing this week, may also be able to get into the conversation due to his Palestinian-denying belief that, "All the people that live in the West Bank are Israelis. They are not Palestinians. There is no Palestinian. This is Israeli land."
But who is Sheldon Adelson? He's a union-busting casino owner who seems to put Israel ahead of the United States. Israel is Adelson's issue, as Gingrich acknowledged to Ted Koppel's question of what Adelson would get out of a Gingrich victory. Gingrich, therefore, appears to be locking himself into the hardline stance of Adelson who opposes a viable Palestinian state.
But Gingrich was not always this way. His latest rhetoric is, in fact, an invented opinion.
Just seven years ago Gingrich took a very different stance in an article he wrote for Middle East Quarterly. There, he wrote,
The U.S. government should become the protector of the Palestinian people's right to have a decent amount of land. The desire of some Israelis to use security as an excuse to grab more Palestinian land should be blocked by Washington even if that requires employing financial or other leverage to compel the Israeli government to behave reasonably on the issue of settlements. It is vital to our credibility in the entire Middle East that we insist on an end to Israeli expansionism. It is vital to our humanitarian duty to the Palestinian people that we protect the weaker party from the stronger power.
Financial pressure against Israel? An end to Israeli expansion? He sounds like a moderate Palestinian nationalist with this sort of common sense approach.
But Gingrich clearly set aside common sense in his lust for the White House. He's thrown in with a man who quite clearly seems to put love of a Greater Israel ahead of love for the United States. As some Americans debate the term "Israel firster" and whether or not it is anti-Semitic, NBC's Michael Isikoff revealed that Adelson declared in July 2010,
I am not Israeli. The uniform that I wore in the military, unfortunately, was not an Israeli uniform. It was an American uniform, although my wife was in the IDF and one of my daughters was in the IDF... our two little boys, one of whom will be Bar Mitzvahed tomorrow, hopefully he'll come back -- his hobby is shooting -- and he'll come back and be a sniper for the IDF.
This is the man, and his articulated allegiance, who may yet prove to be the kingmaker of the Republican party. And Adelson is certainly free to love Israel -- or at least its military -- more than the United States. It's for Americans to judge what they think of that. Perhaps he loves America every bit as much as Israel. If so, he has a strange way of articulating it.
From my perspective, a still existent Palestinian perspective, I see not a whit of difference between the anti-Palestinian debate rhetoric from Gingrich and Mitt Romney. Both threaten to be disastrous for Palestinians and Palestinian freedom aspirations, not to mention for America's image and interests in the region. And it's telling that no Republican candidate -- or President Obama -- had the intestinal fortitude to stand up to Gingrich and tell him his words were cruel and wrong and will be a death blow to any American-led peace process under a Gingrich administration.
Of course, the lack of progress toward a Palestinian state is precisely what Adelson wants. And he may just get it if he successfully buys the recently down and out Gingrich the Republican nomination. Remarkably, if he fails with Gingrich, he appears financially able to finance Romney out of love for an expansionist Israel -- and a rejection of the short-lived steps Obama took to check that settlement growth.
Ahmad Tibi is a Palestinian citizen of Israel and a member of the Knesset.