Stop Using the “P” Word


While many people know a lot about my Saba Joe Russak’s history in Seattle, considering he was born here, they don’t know a lot about my Savtah Adina Russak. In fact, her personal history has never been more relevant.

My Savtah was born in Palestine. I refer, of course, to the British Mandate of Palestine, the pre-1948 Holy Land. She was born Adina Deutsch in April 1924 in the city of Yafo. She was a Palestinian.

When both my Saba and Savtah passed away, I helped sort through their library. We catalogued books, sent sefarim off to relatives, and packaged up old photographs. For myself, I kept a homework assignment she’d done in January 1939 in her school in California. Her teacher had assigned the students to write their autobiographies. I was overjoyed and seeing her handwriting and personality at such a young age. In it, she refers to her town of Yafo being also populated by Arabs.

Adina Deutsch Russak's Autobiography

Adina Deutsch Russak’s Autobiography

She writes about an incident when she was five. “During the year 1929 a riot broke out between the Arabs and the Jews. There was shooting and attacks going on in the streets. England posted her soldiers in Palestine to try to keep peace, but it was quite impossible. No one could leave their house and all the windows were barred. In Jaffe it was worse than anywhere else because it was also an Arabian village.

It was during that time that her father, who had been in the United States obtaining citizenship, sent for them. “Finally, the day of parting came, but it was not a very happy one. None of our relatives could come to see us off because of the riot, and we were not allowed to take any valuable belongings with us. Since there were not any automobiles allowed on the streets, we had to go by way of the British Force’s ammunition truck. You can imagine my fright, sitting there in the truck, squeezed tightly between two army officers with guns and gunpowder all about me. My mother and brother were also very frightened and sad.”

As King Shlomo wrote in the book of Kohelet, “There’s nothing new under the sun.”

The 1929 Riots, also known as the 1929 Massacre, was about the Al Aqsa Mosque, the same thing that is whipping Arabs into a fervor this week. In 1929, the Moslem Supreme Council released the statement, “Having realized by bitter experience the unlimited greedy aspirations of the Jews in this respect, Moslems believe the Jews’ aim is to take possession of the Mosque of Al Aqsa gradually on the pretense that it is the Temple.” The statement also advised Jews to “stop this hostile propaganda which will naturally engender a parallel action in the whole Moslem world, the responsibility for which will rest with the Jews.” Sound familiar?

Arab rioters in Jaffa 1929

Arab rioters in Jaffa 1929

Even in 1929, Arab leaders incited their people to violence and justified murder as a defense of a holy site. An identical holy war, which back then was not about achieving their own state, and today is still not about achieving their own state.

Nothing is new, such as the fatal stabbing of a Sephardic Jew named Abraham Mizrachi who was retrieving his stray football from an Arab field, or Haaretz blaming the Jews for Arab uprisings. The smaller incidents turned into a full-blown massacre, with mobs of Arab rioters murdering Jews for a week. 133 Jews were killed by Arabs, and 116 Arabs were killed by the British police in anti-rioting measures. Last week, Israel seized a shipment labeled “Christmas decorations” which contained weapons wrapped in twinkle lights, among them 5200 commando knives, 4300 high voltage shocker flashlights, 5000 electric shockers, 1000 swords, hundreds of blasting caps, and 18,000 20mm diameter firework rockets. It seems the small incidents were meant to lead up to something much, much bigger. Again.

Israel is not engaged in a holy war. Israel is not engaged in a conflict. Israel is defending itself.

Now I’m not going to comment with what we all already know. Because nothing is new under the sun, it is not going to be effective to say that Jerusalem is never once mentioned in the Quran, that murdering random civilians is not a legitimate form of resistance, or that Gaza hasn’t been occupied by Israel or Egypt in years. Israel is not engaged in a holy war. Israel is not engaged in a conflict. Israel is defending itself. Say any of these things, and you’ll have said nothing new, and you’ll have convinced nobody who doesn’t already agree with you.

What is relatively new, however, is the term “Palestinian,” and the belief by the world that since Palestine once existed as a British Mandate, it must therefore be true that these Arabs are Palestinians and the Jews stole their land from them after the Holocaust. If you believe that, then you can argue with anything we have to say by using the words “occupation” and “resistance.” But if my Savtah’s teenage autobiography tells us anything, it is that Jews were there alongside Arabs for as long as anyone can remember, that the Arabs were called “Arabs” at the time, and that the riots were always about an anti-Jewish Jihad. In fact, she felt quite comfortable saying she was from Palestine because the invented propaganda and politics of today surrounding the word “Palestinian” had not yet been invented.

Photo of Adina Deutsch from her 1939 autobiography

Photo of Adina Deutsch from her 1939 autobiography

The Muqata, a facebook page that offers constant updates on Israel, has suddenly stopped using the term “Palestinian.” Particularly because major news outlets described the Har Nof murderers as Palestinians when they were, in fact, Israeli-Arabs, citizens of the country. “Jameel,” The Muqata‘s anonymous page administrator, hadn’t even noticed he’d made the change. “I never liked using the term,” he said, “and I didn’t intentionally do the changeover. Maybe it was subconscious.”

Using the term “Palestinian” takes us down a rabbit-hole from which we cannot emerge. If we want the conversation to be about the truth, about the Jihad encouraged and incited by Arab leaders, then we need to stop saying the P-word and start using the term Arabs. They can be Gazans, they can be Israeli-Arabs, but they cannot be P——-. Let us stop using the term they created for their self-justification and worldwide campaign of Israeli demonization. I look forward to seeing news articles and social media posts that follow The Muqata’s example.

Jessica HoffmanJessica Hoffman is a writer, mom, CrossFitter, and teacher at Derech Emunah. Jessica has written for Kveller, LadyMama, Jewneric, JOFA Journal, NW Beauty, and more. She and her husband Ari have 3 children, operate Seattle NCSY, and are active members of the Seward Park community.

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