THE PALESTINE LIBERATION ORGANIZATION, whose basic charter makes it "a national duty . . . to eliminate the Zionist presence from Palestine," is only the latest in a long line of irredentists and militants to dream of wiping the Jews out of the Jewish homeland. But it may be the first that also dreams of wiping the Jews out of Jewish history.
Arab efforts to delegitimize Jews are as old as the Koran. In Sura 2:61, the Prophet Mohammed decrees that Jews be forever "consigned to humiliation and wretchedness," an injunction that Muslim rulers have often cited to justify anti-Semitism.
"Our hatred for the Jews," proclaimed King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia, "dates from God's condemnation of them for their . . . rejection of his chosen Prophet." Arab regimes take special pains to indoctrinate that hatred into children. A textbook used in West Bank schools during the Jordanian occupation (The Religious Ordinances Reader) instructed students that "Jews are scattered to the ends of the earth, where they live exiled and despised, since by their nature they are vile, greedy, and enemies of mankind."
But now there is a new twist to the anti-Jewish demonology. Palestinians have taken to claiming that the 3,000-year-old bond between Jews and the land of Israel -- and particularly between Jews and Jerusalem -- is either nonexistent, or is dwarfed by an even older bond linking the land to Arabs.
It is hard to know whether to be amused or alarmed by this new Palestinian propaganda: In an interview on Qatar television last December, Yasser Arafat insisted that Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, was not Jewish at all, but "simply an Iraqi."
The Arab Studies Society, an arm of the Palestinian Authority, publishes an official map of "Palestine" that omits every Jewish religious site in Israel, along with hundreds of Jewish towns and villages. On this map, Eilat doesn't exist, Tel Aviv is a tiny village, and the Old City of Jerusalem becomes the Palestinian "capital." Western Jerusalem, with its half-million Jewish residents, disappears.
A few weeks ago, the Palestinian Authority's television channel aired a program asserting that the tales of the Old Testament took place in what is today Yemen, not in Israel. Another PA-TV show argued that Palestinian Arabs are the true descendants of the biblical Israelites. Among the "experts" propounding this theory was Jarid el-Qadaweh, who explained: "God is my witness, that in my blood there is more of the Children of Israel than in that of Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu."
On its list of Jerusalem's top religious sites, the Palestinian Authority identifies the Western Wall -- among the most sacred sites in Judaism -- as the "Al-Buraq Wall." What makes the wall significant, the PA says, is that Mohammed tied up his magical steed there before ascending to heaven. Jews may venerate the wall as the last standing remnant of the Great Temple of Jerusalem, claims the PA, but "all historic studies and archeological excavations have failed to find any proof for such a claim."
Even Jesus isn't safe from this retroactive "ethnic cleansing." On Christmas 1996, just after the Israeli hand-over of Bethlehem to the PA, Arafat held a rally at the Church of the Nativity. "This is the birthplace of our Lord the Messiah, the Palestinian -- the Palestinian," he declared. "This is the holy city, the city of the Palestinian Lord." On an earlier occasion, Hanan Ashrawi, Arafat's one-time spokeswoman, blithely remarked: "Jesus Christ was born in my country, in my land. Bethlehem is a Palestinian town."
Jesus, needless to say, was no more "Palestinian" than Martin Van Buren. He was a Jew, born to a Jewish mother in a Jewish town, 135 years before the name "Palestine" was even invented, 650 years before the Arabs swept out of the Arabian peninsula to begin their conquest of the Middle East, and approximately 1,967 years before Arabs from Israel started calling themselves Palestinians. But any canard, no matter how preposterous, grows believable with vigorous repetition. Arafat and the PLO aren't trying to win a debate with people who know the facts of history. They are trying to scrape away the Jewish identity of Israel and Jerusalem by duping people who don't.
Sometimes the Palestinian propagandists ply their snake oil on customers who laugh in their faces. In 1990, Daniel Patrick Moynihan mockingly described a Palestinian group that wrote to assure him that "an in-depth analysis" of the "historical past" had revealed that Jerusalem was of no special significance to Jews. Their lunatic claim that Jerusalem was actually built by the Canaanites, who "are the ancestors of Palestinians of today," he waved off as nonsense.
But for every Moynihan who can distinguish anti-Semitic claptrap from historical accuracy, there are dozens of gulls who can't. Let Arafat's cadres shout often enough that Jesus was a Palestinian, that Jerusalem has always been holy to Muslims, that the Western Wall is sacred because of a horse, that Canaanites were the first Arabs -- and people will believe them. They will believe, in part, because they don't know better. But they will also believe because those who do know better will grow weary of constantly setting the record straight. It is always easier to tell a Big Lie than to rebut one. Josef Goebbels knew that. Arafat does too.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.)