Posts Tagged ‘David Ben Gurion’

Racially, the Palestinians May Be the Real Jews

December 6, 2020

In his piece critiquing the article by Catherine Heszer, professor of Jewish Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in the Jewish Chronicle, Tony Greenstein argues very strongly that biologically it is the Palestinians, not the Israelis, who are descended from the people of ancient Israel. Heszer had claimed that Israel isn’t a colonialist state and that it is simply the return of the Jewish people to their ancestral homeland. Greenstein disputes this, citing Israeli historian Shlomo Sand, who believes that European Jews are really the descendants of converts to Judaism. He also cites studies, including articles published in extreme right-wing settler magazines, that the Palestinians are descended from the peoples of ancient Israel and Judea. Greenstein writes

Let us leave aside the fact, as Tel Aviv University Professor Shlomo Sand has shown in The Myth of the Jewish Nation that there never was a Jewish exile from Palestine. The idea that rights deriving from where one’s ancestors lived 3,000 years ago trumping those who live there today is a product of Western Colonialism and Orientalism. The same myths of a 1,000 year Reich justified Hitler’s colonisation of  Eastern Europe and the expulsion of its inhabitants.

But in reality not even this is true. Jews from Europe and America had no physical connection whatsoever with Palestine or Israel.  Their only claim is that they profess a religion whose centre is Jerusalem. That does not confer any material rights over those living there.

The Jews who left Judea and Palestine over 2,000 years ago did so because the land would not support them. Palestine saw many peoples, among whom were the Hebrews, wander over the area. The idea that this gives people who are Jewish and living in London the right to displace the indigenous population is a fascist idea.  SOAS should not be in the business of propagating racial myths.

2,000 years ago a million Jews were living in Alexandria alone as well as other Hellenised cities such as Antioch and Seleucia. According to Jewish historian Salo Baron there was an explosion of Jews in the Middle East at the time owing to massive proselytising. He suggests there were 8 million Jews living in the Middle East. Sand suggests half that number. The Jews, like the Phoenicians before them, became a trading people.

The pastoralist Jews who remained in Palestine after the destruction of the second temple either converted to Christianity or remained speaking Aramaic. With the Arab invasion they largely converted to Islam whilst continuing to speak Aramaic, a biblical form of Hebrew.

The irony, as Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion and its second President Yitzhak ben Zvi accepted, is that the Palestinians, not the Jewish settlers, are the descendants of the ancient Hebrews. [see e.g. Dov Ivri’s Most Palestinians Are Descendants Of Jews]. Ben Gurion even sent Moshe Dayan with a rabbi to convert the Bedouin!

In Jewish-Roots Arabs in Israel in the far-Right settler news agency Arutz Sheva, Tzvi MiSinai claimed that ‘Up to 85 percent of Arabs in greater Israel stem from Jewish ancestors, it is estimated’. The article describes how

‘One Arab says his father told him the secret of his family’s Jewishness on his deathbed, while another one, on the backdrop of a photo of the saintly Cabalistic sage Rabbi Abuchatzeira on his wall, says their roots have been known in his family for generations. Wrapping what apparently used to be kosher tefillin on his arm, he says, “My father used to do this, and he taught us to do it whenever someone was sick or in trouble.”

The myth of a Jewish ‘exile’ from Palestine and the idea of their ‘return’ is a Christian racial myth born of colonialism’s desire to establish a friendly settler state adjacent to the Suez Canal. That is why the first western Zionists were Evangelical Christians like Lord Palmerstone and Shaftesbury and also why the vast majority of western Jews were hostile to Zionism when it began.  Because if Jews belonged in Palestine they didn’t belong in England.

See: If SOAS Cares For Its Reputation It Should Send Racist Professor Heszer, Head of the Jewish Studies Centre, on an Unpaid Vacation to learn what Zionism means for the Palestinians – Tony Greenstein

Sand’s is an extreme view. I’ve also come across the argument that European Jews were the descendants of Jewish merchants rather than political exiles. The impression I had of Israelite history was that after the failure of the Bar Kochba revolt in the 2nd century AD, the Jews were forcibly expelled from Jerusalem. This became a Roman colonial city and the Temple desecrated and dedicated to Zeus. The Jewish religious leadership moved to Galilee, which thus became the centre of the Jewish faith. However, there were still Jewish communities in Israel. I believe that there was conflict between Jews and Christians and Jewish revolts against Roman imperial persecution when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.

It also would not surprise me in the slightest if genetics showed that the majority of Palestinians were descended from the ancient Israelites. Archaeologists and geneticists have been studying the genetic makeup of the British people since the 1980s. This has overturned some of the traditional views about the origin of the English. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the English are descended from Germanic invaders, the Angles, Saxon and Jutes, who conquered the country from across the North Sea in the 5th-7th centuries AD. But genetic studies of the modern English doesn’t show a comprehensive replacement of the existing Romano-British population. Furthermore, recent archaeological studies of migration period human remains have shown that the vast majority of the skeletons of people buried with Anglo-Saxon grave goods were from people, who had been brought up in this country. There were very few continental invaders. It now appears that instead of a full-scale invasion and replacement of the indigenous population, the conquest simply consisted of the Romano-Brits and their leaders adopting continental Germanic customs and language in a rejection of Roman identity as Roman rule collapsed.

Genetic studies also show that there was no replacement of the indigenous British population. It now appears that the British, including the English, are largely descended from the Bronze Age population of the British Isles and Ireland. At the level, the English are genetically the same as the Irish. When this was revealed to one Irish personality on TV a few years ago, he remarked that it must be galling for the English to find that they’re the same as the peeps of the Emerald Isle. Well, at one time, when the Irish really were looked down upon and there were crazy racial hierarchies being devised to show how they and the Blacks were at the bottom of human evolution, perhaps. But not now, when so much British popular culture comes from Ireland.

My guess is that the racial history of Palestine is pretty similar. I doubt that there was any replacement of the indigenous Jewish population. Many of them would have converted to Christianity. I’ve seen it estimated that about a third of the Jewish people would have converted to Christianity during the late Roman Empire. These were Greek-speaking Jews, whose conversion was assisted through theirs and the Christians’ use of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament/ Hebrew Bible. The remaining Jews probably did speak Aramaic. It was the popular language of the Jewish people at the time of Christ. It’s the language of the Targums, paraphrases of the Hebrew scriptures to help people, who couldn’t understand Hebrew, and the Talmud, the compilation of the rabbinical oral law and the debates and opinions of the sages. I also think that Aramaic would have been the language of some Christians as well. Syriac, the language of some eastern Orthodox Christians in Lebanon and Syria, developed from the form of Aramaic spoken by those communities in the fourth century AD.

As for the Arab conquest and the adoption of Arab culture, this seems to be the result of a conscious policy by the caliph Mu’awiya in the 8th century AD. The Arabs were a tiny minority amongst the subject peoples of the new Islamic empire, who had retained their languages and customs. Greek continued to be used as the language of the imperial civil service in the western half of the empire. Mu’awiya was afraid that the Muslim Arabs would lose their ethnic identity through being absorbed by the non-Muslim population, so that their only distinction between them and the peoples they ruled would be their Islamic faith. He therefore passed a series of legislation designed to strengthen Arab ethnic identity, such as changing the language of the civil service to Arabic. This set in motion the process of Arabization which saw the majority of the population of that part of the Roman Empire adopt the Arabic language, culture and Islam.

I’m not sure about Sand’s argument that European Jews are descendants of proselytes and aren’t racially Jewish. That’s an extreme view. But Greenstein’s right about the size of the Jewish population of the Roman Empire. It may have been as large as 8 per cent and there were huge synagogues in places like Alexandria and Sardinia.

I therefore consider it highly likely that the vast majority of Palestinians are descended from the Jewish people of ancient Israel and Judea. I’m also not surprised that many Muslim Palestinians have more recent Jewish ancestry. There were large Jewish communities in Palestine before the establishment of the state of Israel, and many Jews preferred to live under Muslim rule as there wasn’t the restrictions there they faced in Christendom.

From the genetic perspective, they’re probably as Jewish as the Israelis, and so from that perspective also have an absolute right to remain on their ancestral lands against the attempts to expel and cleanse them by the Israeli state.