For a century Palestinians have been denying and denigrating the Jewish people’s attachment to the Land of Israel even as they’ve been doubling-down on their own fictitious claims to ‘Palestine’ in antiquity and to family lineages in the Holy Land that predate that of the ancient Hebrews.

A former adjunct lecturer of Jewish history at Haifa University, now the creative director at a Tel Aviv advertising agency, decided to poke fun at this absurd situation in which Palestinians reject the historical accuracy of a Hebrew/Jewish presence in the land while simultaneously concocting an essentially fraudulent narrative of their own history.

The literary product is History of the Palestinian People: From Ancient Times to the Modern Era.

It’s a controversial book that’s been dismissed by critics as “snark” and a “puerile joke”. But scores of admiring readers and hundreds of rave reviews catapulted the volume onto Amazon’s bestseller list, where it quickly reached #2 in the Israel and Palestine History category.

It may even have become #1 if Amazon hadn’t removed it after only a couple of days of brisk sales.

[Credit: Arutz Sheva]

A ‘Comprehensive Book’ on Palestinian History Full of Blank Pages

At issue is a new book by Israeli publicist Assaf A. Voll. Featuring for sale on Amazon’s online shopping site two weeks ago, it skyrocketed to the bestseller list becoming a “huge Internet sensation.”

[Assaf Voll | credit: Twitter]

The book was available for purchase for a reasonable $8.88. It was described as the “fruit of many years of research” and proclaimed itself to be

the most comprehensive and extensive review of some 3,000 years of Palestinian history, with emphasis on the Palestinian people’s unique contribution to the world and to humanity.”

Voll’s book is a fairly long paperback—132 pages in the English language edition and 120 in Hebrew—but it actually makes for a pretty easy and quick read. In fact, in an interview, Voll assures readers that his book is “riveting, a real page-turner” and notes that most readers should be able to “finish it in one sitting.”

That’s because it doesn’t actually have any content.

Every single page is blank.

The only text that appears in the book is the dedication. It’s a quote from the “Seinfeld” TV show character George Constanza: “Just remember, it’s not a lie if you believe it”.

[Credit: Facebook]

Responding to a ‘Flood of Complaints’, Amazon Yanks Voll’s Book

Amazon reportedly removed the book only two days after it was placed on the site. At the time it was yanked, the volume was in high demand.

A History of the Palestinian People ranked #2 in the bestseller category for Israel and Palestine (beating out Michael’s Oren’s seminal book on the Six Day War; several recently published left-leaning books; and even Dan Senor and Saul Singer’s terrific Start-Up Nation: the Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, which came in at #10).

In the Middle East History category it also rose to the number two spot; and in the All Books category it reached a respectable ranking of #341.

So the book had been doing very well.

But Amazon (“Create Space”) now says that the title has been “retired and is no longer for sale.” Typing the title into Amazon’s search engine also brings up this page:

According to Voll, last week Amazon wrote him that the book was dropped from the site because

During a quality assurance review of your CSP catalogue, we found that your book(s) are resulting in a disappointing customer experience. Indicators of a poor customer experience may include customer refunds and feedback. As a result, the following book(s) have been removed from sale on Amazon.”

The book “evoked a lot of fury” but much of that anger probably wasn’t from a deluge of surprised customers. That’s because anti-Israel organizers reportedly notified followers about the book and encouraged them to write-in to Amazon to complain. According to a Jerusalem Post article covering the story, one example was activists utilizing the website Welcome to Palestine, the self-described “largest online encyclopedia of Palestine.” The website claimed recently that “countless complaints were sent to Amazon.”

Voll suspects that Amazon removed his book because of this “pressure that was applied” by these anti-Israel activists who launched the online campaign against his work.

Still, it’s possible that some of the hundreds of purchasers were ‘duped by the promising title’. In a letter Voll recently sent to Amazon he conceded that the online store should be “sensitive” to those customers who may have bought the book unwittingly.

But Voll also insists that he “never intended to deceive prospective buyers” who could’ve simply clicked the preview button to know that the book was completely blank.

In his letter to Amazon he’s adamant that

Criticism based on the statement this book makes, should be ignored. To stop selling my book because of a complaint campaign organized by those holding anti-Zionist views would be to make Amazon’s entire array of what is offered to the public susceptible to whoever applies the most pressure.”

The Truth About “Palestinian” History

Voll claims that he spent “many years researching thousands of sources” and meticulously reviewed “libraries and archives worldwide” to produce his “impressive book”.

It’s clearly tongue-in-cheek (Voll can barely contain his laughter as he describes the book on his Facebook page):

[Credit: Facebook]

But he says that he doesn’t intend the book to be an “insult.” Rather, it’s meant to clearly state the facts: there isn’t any “ancient history of the Palestinian people”—the Palestinians have “built an entire history, a nation, out of nothing.”

Serious scholars, even those who don’t appreciate the “gleeful mockery” that Voll’s book has generated or its “combative dismissal” of Palestinian peoplehood, do concede this point. For example, in a review of Voll’s book in Haaretz, Associate Professor of Jewish Studies at the College of Charleston Joshua Shanes notes:

Of course, Palestinian national identity does not go back 3000 years.”

Yet that’s exactly what so many Palestinian leaders, K-12 educators and university professors, and religious clerics keep saying—to the Palestinian public, and to credulous foreign audiences willing to believe them.

Continually surfacing are bizarre assertions that have no basis in the historical record, including claims that modern-day Palestinians are the indigenous Canaanites vanquished by a foreign Hebrew/Jewish conqueror; that Moses was the “leader of the Muslim children of Israel”; and that Jesus was a Palestinian. Here are several examples:

Mordechai Kedar, lecturer in Arabic literature at Bar-Ilan University, noted several years ago that “Every Palestinian textbook starts with the words, ‘Jerusalem is a Jebusite-Canaanite city founded 5,000 years ago’.”

Another outrageous example is senior PLO official and former chief negotiator Saeb Erekat’s public statement addressed at the 2014 Munich Security Conference to then Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni:

When you say ‘accept Israel as a Jewish state,’ you are asking me to change my narrative. I am the son of Jericho. I am 10,000 years old…I am the proud son of the Netufians and the Canaanites. I’ve been there for 5,500 years before Joshua Bin Nun came and burned my hometown Jericho. I’m not going to change my narrative.”

The reality is that there’s an “undisputed linguistic and cultural connection” between ancient and modern Jews in the land of Israel, as evidenced by a myriad of archeological discoveries (the Romans invented the name ‘Palestine’ for the Land of Israel in the 2nd century precisely in order to demoralize and punish the Jews and minimize their identification with the place).

[Amarna Letters | Stone Cuneiform Tablets Found in Egypt | Dating to 1300 BCE | Make Reference to a People Called Habiru, Believed to be the Hebrews]

By contrast, Arabs can claim no similar ties (not ethnic, cultural, linguistic, or anything) prior to the region’s Islamic conquest in the seventh century—over 2,000 years after the biblical Joshua.

In fact, reputable historians acknowledge that many present-day Palestinians are the descendants of Arabs who emigrated to historic Palestine from places like Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia much later—at the end of 19th and into the early 20th centuries, lured to the area at the time by increased economic activity and business expansion.

The evidence: Palestinian surnames which highlight the “foreign origin of their bearers.” The Al-Masri family from Nablus originated in Egypt (Al-Masri means Egyptian in Arabic). The Houranis came from the Houran region in southwestern Syria; Saeb Erekat’s clan in Jericho hailed from Saudi Arabia, and so on.

Basically, Palestinian nationalism and the notion of a distinct ‘Palestinian people’ emerged and crystalized in opposition to Zionism and the Jews’ aspirations to reconstitute their ancient homeland in the late 19th to early 20th centuries. But before that, there never was a unique Palestinian culture—much less a ‘Palestinian people’ or a ‘Palestinian state’. Indeed, up through at least the 1930s most Arabs living in the area viewed themselves as Ottoman subjects or southern Syrians.

To summarize, as we’ve highlighted in a number of posts (for a partial list see here), in recent years Palestinian leaders have embarked on a sustained international campaign to sever Israel’s ties to Jerusalem, Hebron and other ancient Jewish heritage sites. They regularly describe Judaism merely as a set of religious practices, denying the historical legitimacy of Jewish peoplehood and the Jewish nation-state. But in the effort to legitimize their own presence in the land, the Palestinians have simultaneously been disseminating what amounts to a historical fiction (what Voll terms an “impossible lie” and a “fake history”) about the origins of Palestinian national history and identity.

Conclusion

Like other ‘empty books’, Assaf A. Voll’s volume about the Palestinian people’s history is obviously meant to be a tongue-in-cheek political satire.

It’s a “gimmick” that went viral, but Voll didn’t really mean for it to be just a “sardonic joke”.

In an interview with Breaking Israel News, he claims that he wrote it so that readers would engage on the abuse of Middle East history and why it’s so nonconstructive for peacemaking and—as Voll puts it—“harmful to the Palestinians”.

So if it’s taken seriously, Voll’s “thought-provoking” and “striking” stunt could actually generate a much-needed conversation about the biases inherent to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Specifically, it could force a clear-eyed assessment about how the prospects for peace and reconciliation are stymied by the relentless Palestinian effort to espouse a mythical thousands-year-old history of their own ‘nation’ in ‘Palestine’ while at the same time denigrating Jewish history, peoplehood, and the Jewish people’s right to self-determination.

Put that way, Voll’s satirical account of Palestinian history isn’t really a book about nothing. It shouldn’t be ignored—much less banned.

Bottom line: Amazon states that it believes in “providing open access to written speech, no matter how hateful or ugly”, claiming this “is one of the most important things we do.” It sells loads of ‘Free Palestine’ merchandise, the antisemitic classics Mein Kampf and Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion and other popular politically-oriented ‘blank books’. Yet last week—bowing to anti-Israel pressure—it pulled an Israeli-author’s top-selling satire. To add insult to injury, Amazon has reportedly refused to pay him the proceeds of his sales to date. Voll is still selling the Hebrew edition of his book on his website. As of yesterday, A History of the Palestinian People could also be purchased at Barnes & Noble, where it was selling well and already ranked 16th in popular reads. But now it’s been banned there too.

Miriam F. Elman is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the Robert D. McClure Professor of Teaching Excellence at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She is the editor of five books and the author of over 60 journal articles, book chapters, and government reports on topics related to international and national security, religion and politics, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She also frequently speaks and writes on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel movement. Follow her on Twitter @MiriamElman