Google Ngram Viewer word frequency database illustrates the recent invention of the “Palestinian people”

At the extraordinary website JihadWatch.org, author Hugh Fitzgerald has often pointed out that the so-called “Palestinian people”, the demonym for the mostly-Muslim Arabs that populate Gaza and Judea and Samaria, are a recent invention. Before the Six Day War of June 5-10, 1967, those same populations were commonly referred to by politicians both local and throughout the Middle East as the Arabs of Palestine, indicating that they were conceived of as ethnic Arabs who lived in Palestine.

Fitzgerald states that after the Six Day War, the Arab jihad forces arrayed against Israel realized that they would not be able to defeat Israel militarily, and switched their tactics, choosing to re-cast the war in a new propagandistic light. Part of the new strategy included the tactic of renaming the local Arabs of Gaza and the “West Bank” from the “Arabs of Palestine” to the “Palestinian people”. The idea, which has been hugely successful, is to paint the pan-Arab jihad against Israel as a war between two small national groups, and thereby defame the Israelis, making the pan-Arab gang-up against Israel seem more palatable to uninformed outsiders.

Recently, I came across a startlingly clear illustration of this recently invented demonymic disguise using the Google Ngram Viewer.

The Google Ngram Viewer is a database that tracks the frequency by which any given word, sequence of words, or string of characters appears in Google’s text corpora of American English, British English, French, German, Spanish, Russian, Hebrew, or Chinese, published between 1500 and 2008.

The project was inspired by the prototype “Bookworm” program, created by Jean-Baptiste Michel and Erez Aiden from Harvard’s Cultural Observatory and Yuan Shen from MIT and Steven Pinker¹. Based on this prototype, Google software engineers Jon Orwant and Will Brockman took this idea and applied it to Google’s vast Google Books Library Project, which consists of the digitally scanned in the texts of millions of books in university libraries worldwide.

The result is a word -and-phrase frequency database, through which users can search any word, phrase, or sequence of characters and see how often these appeared in published books over the past 500+ years. It is a useful tool for tracking the appearance of words and phrases over time. The default search that appears when you first land on the site shows comparative charts of “Sherlock Holmes”, “Albert Einstein” and “Frankenstein”.

A search of the database for “Palestinian people” gives a startling result:

[CLICK HERE TO ENLARGE]screenshot_2016-12-16_00-53-24

The Ngram chart shows clearly that the demonym “Palestinian people” has a very recent provenance. The term was in rarest usage for all the decades preceding the 1960s, and only takes off after about 1970 or so, reaching peak usage in around 1980, leveling off to the present usage, where it appears in roughtly 1 in every 33,000 books published in the new millenium.

Prior to the 60’s, the term had almost no usage whatsoever, appearing only occasional gazettes, such as a report of statements made by Sir Herbert Samuel in Jerusalem in  The Missionary Review.

[1] Wikipedia. Entry for Google Ngram Viewer. Accessed online 12/16/2016 at:   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Ngram_Viewer

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