{Originally posted to the author’s website, Daled Amos}

Abbas has taken to reiterating his claim on behalf of all Palestinian Arabs that “we are the descendants of the Canaanites that lived in the land 5,000 years ago and continued to live there to this day.”

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He goes on to claim there have been contributions Palestinian Arabs have made to civilization – as Canaanites:

“We are the descendants of the Canaanites who lived in the land of Palestine 5,000 years ago, and continuously remained there to this day. Our great people remains rooted in its land. The Palestinian people built their own cities and homeland, and made contributions to humanity and civilization.”

Abbas could just as well claim that Palestinian Arabs are descended from Jews as well. Maybe he just has not gotten around to it. Or maybe it’s just that Joseph Massad has beaten him to it.

In “History on the Line, ‘No Common Ground’: Joseph Massad and Benny Morris Discuss the Middle East,” Columbia University professor Joseph Massad says, “many can claim easily that the Palestinians of today are the descendants of the ancient Hebrews, and this is the bigger irony.” (p.215)

One wonders why, at a time that Hanan Ashrawi co-opted Jesus as a Palestinian, that more Palestinian Arabs have not thought of this.

photo
Hanan Ashrawi. Photo by Carsten Sohn. Source: Wikipedia

It’s not clear how much thought Ashrawi put into the claim that Jesus was a Palestinian — and the implications following the fact that he was a Jewish Palestinian. In response to a question asked of her about Judea and Samaria, Ashrawi took umbrage. Responding that the usage of such names was evidence of “extreme bias, and rather offensive,” She claimed:

“I am a Palestinian Christian, and I know what Christianity is. I am a descendant of the first Christians in the world, and Jesus Christ was born in my country, in my land. Bethlehem is a Palestinian town. So I will not accept this one-upmanship on Christianity. Nobody has the monopoly.”

Israel Medad corrects Ashrawi’s error, pointing out:

this is how Bethlehem is geographically noted in the New Testament:

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea… And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea…And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah… Matthew 2:1, 5-6 [emphasis added]

So much for Ashrawi’s alleged knowledge about Christianity.

But what about this claim that Palestinians are descended from Jews?

 

Hillel Fendel writes about this claim of Palestinian Arabs descended from Jews in an article for Arutz Sheva. He writes that David Ben-Gurion and Yitzchak Ben-Tzvi wrote a book “100 years ago,” apparently a reference to “The Land of Israel: Past and Present,” which they wrote in Yiddish in 1918:

If we investigate the origins of the Felahim, there is no doubt that much Jewish blood runs in their veins.

Fendel writes that they imply there were Jews who loved the Land so much they were willing to give up their Judaism rather than leave the land. That may be a reference to an edict in 1012 by Caliph el-Hakim, who reportedly ordered non-Muslims to either convert or leave the Land of Israel. Fendel writes of an estimate that 90% of the Jews chose to convert. The decree was revoked 32 years later.

But aspects of this decree are disputed. In “A History of Palestine, 634-1099,” Moshe Gil casts doubt on a mass conversion of Jews:

[13th Century Shafi’i Islamic scholar] Ibn Khallikan and others pointed out that the Jews of Khaybar the Khayabira, were exempt from these decrees. Ibn al-Athir conveys very briefly, without mentioning the year, that al-Hakim ordered (after the destruction of the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem, which he claims took place in AH 398, that is AD 1007/8) that all the churches in the realm be destroyed and this was done, and that the Jews and the Christians were then to accept Islam, or emigrate to Byzantine lands. They were also obliged to wear special distinguishing signs. Many converted. What [Arab or Kurdish historian and biographer] Ibn al-Athir has to say about the conversions evidently applies mainly to the Christians, for when speaking of the converts return to their former beliefs when he decrees were no longer valid, he only mentions the Christians. But there were also many Jews who converted to Islam, as Elhanan b. Shemaria [Jewish leader in Egypt at the time] explicitly wrote. However, the evidence of Yahya ibn Said is different. He states that the Jews ‘generally managed to evade the decree to convert to Islam and only a few of them did convert.‘” [emphasis added]

Fendel also writes about Tsvi Misinai, a former hi-tech pioneer who has researched what he claims are the Jewish roots of the Palestinian Arabs. Here is a video from Misinai’s website, The Engagement:

In the video, Misinai points to the roughly 4,000 members of the Sawarka Bedouin, found in the Sinai and Negev. One of their tribal leaders claims, in Hebrew, that they “are all Jewish.” The leader goes on to say:

They had no choice but to convert; this was centuries ago… I remember my mother and grandmother wouldn’t light fire on Sabbath, and they had a special mikveh…

Then there are the Arabs in a Bedouin village east of Hebron:

  • they remember burning a small piece of dough (reminiscent of the Mitzvah of taking challah)
  • they tear their clothes and sit shiva for seven days, instead of three as is Muslim practice.
  • they have ritual circumcisions after the seventh day of birth.

The video has pictures of homes in some of the Arab villages that have doorpost indentations for a Mezuzah, with a scroll placed in some of them.

In a 90 minute video of a lecture, Misinai goes over his proofs for the genetic connection between Jews and Palestinians. He gives a slide presentation showing the use of Jewish stars in Muslim homes:

clipped from video

clipped from video

By the same token though, it has to be admitted that the use of 6-pointed stars is not limited to Palestinian Arabs. Misinai himself mentions the use of “Solomon’s seal” by Muslims, so it is not surprising to find those stars used in other Muslim countries.

The website Pak Tea House: Pakistan – Past, Present and Future features photos by Malik Omaid of mosaic tiles forming the star of David in the Wazir Khan Mosque Lahore in Pakistan. Omaid writes, “back then it was halal [permitted]. No one said its a Jewish conspiracy behind this mosque.”

Then there is the Circumcision Room in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. According to the website of the Topkapi Palace Museum:

The Circumcision Room (Sünnet Odas?) is thought to have been built during the reign of Kanunî Sultan Süleyman – Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. It is located on the palace grounds’ most spectacular segment facing the Galata district. This pavilion initially planned as the Sultan’s summer kiosk (Yazl?k Oda) is referred to as Circumcision Room, due to the fact that it was the venue used for the circumcision – a religious tradition in Islam for cleanliness and purity – ceremony of the princes-sons of Sultan Ahmet III (1703 -1730).

This does not refute Misinai, but it does show that more research is needed when it comes to common elements and customs. It is certainly likely that there are Palestinian Arabs that are descended from Jews, but it is not clear how many there are.

But as pointed out in Misinai’s video, if there really are Palestinian Arabs who are descended from Jews, it should be possible to detect that by their genetic markers. The video features Dr. Oppenheim who was part of a group that did research resulting in a report apparently proving that connection. Here is an abstract from one report in 2000 from Hebrew University:

Y chromosome variation in the I&P Arabs was compared to that of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, and to that of North Welsh individuals. At the haplogroup level, defined by the binary polymorphisms only, the Y chromosome distribution in Arabs and Jews was similar but not identical. At the haplotype level, determined by both binary and microsatellite markers, a more detailed pattern was observed. Single-step microsatellite networks of Arab and Jewish haplotypes revealed a common pool for a large portion of Y chromosomes, suggesting a relatively recent common ancestry. The two modal haplotypes in the I&P Arabs were closely related to the most frequent haplotype of Jews (the Cohen modal haplotype). However, the I&P Arab clade that includes the two Arab modal haplotypes (and makes up 32% of Arab chromosomes) is found at only very low frequency among Jews, reflecting divergence and/or admixture from other populations.[emphasis added]

The report, as Oppenheim says in the video, show common ancestry — but again, this is not conclusive.

Diana Muir Appelbaum and Paul S. Appelbaum write in The Gene Wars: What can science teach us about the validity of nationalist claims? — that results differ depending on whom you are including in the sample:

Of course, when compared with people from Wales, Jews and Arabs indeed look quite similar. However, when they compared Israeli Jews with the same Arab sample, but this time included comparisons with Kurds, Armenians, Turks, Syrians, Jordanians, Lebanese, and Bedouin, the picture looked quite different. Although all of the Middle Eastern populations bore some similarities to each other (a fairly robust finding confirmed in other works), “Jews were found to be more closely related to groups in the north of the Fertile Crescent (Kurds, Turks, and Armenians) than to their Arab neighbors.” For some, this will evoke the biblical account of Abraham’s origins in Ur of the Chaldees, and raise the possibility that the story contains echoes of an ancient population movement. Alternatively, Jews, Kurds, Armenians, and Anatolian Turks may all carry the genetic markers of ancient indigenous populations of the Fertile Crescent, while Palestinian Arabs and Bedouin may largely descend from the Arab conquerors, with their distinctive genetic signifiers. [emphasis added]

But as the Appelbaum’s see it, beyond genetics the problem is there are multiple possible ancestors for today’s Palestinian Arabs:

The Muslim Arabs who conquered the land in the 7th century

o  The conquered inhabitants of the land, who converted

o  The Arabs who later immigrated to the land when it was economically desirable

Even then, it is impossible to know what proportion of the Palestinian Arab population is descended from each group.

And that leads to the overarching problem that the Palestinian Arabs face, as formulated by the Appelbaum’s:

Because Palestinian Arabs are part of an ethnic group historically proud of having arrived as conquerors, the question of how to claim historical primacy has been the source of some perplexity among Palestinian nationalists.

After all, how nationalistic can a Palestinian Arab be if he is descended from the Arab invaders who conquered the land while identifying with the people and religion of Arabia?

It just seems neater and simpler for the Palestinian Arab to just claim that in reality, they have been there all along.

There are some Palestinian Arabs who see and admit, just how absurd that approach is.

In Jerusalem Besieged: From Ancient Canaan to Modern Israel, Eric Cline writes

In 1997, Rashid Khalidi, then professor of Middle East history and director of the Center for International Studies at the University of Chicago who has also served as an adviser to various Palestinian delegations, put it bluntly:

There is…a relatively recent tradition which argues that Palestinian nationalism has deep historical roots. As with other movements extreme advocates of this view…anachronistically read back into the history of Palestine over the past few centuries, and even millennia, a nationalist consciousness and identity that are in fact relatively modern…Among the manifestations of this outlook are a …predilection for seeing in people such as the Canaanites, Jebusites, Amorites and Philistines the lineal ancestors of the modern Palestinians. (emphasis added) [See Khalidi, “Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness,” pages 33-4]

Such concerns apparently don’t bother many others.

Bottom line, no one is challenging Abbas and he is free to lay claim to his Canaanite ancestors to his heart’s content. And he is not alone in doing so. In a world where UNESCO can claim Hebron is a Palestinian heritage site, the silence of the UN and EU in face of Abbas’s claims – any of his claims – is no surprise. What may be a surprise is the opportunity afforded by Misinai’s claim of the Jewish ancestry of Palestinian Arabs.

How soon will it be before we can expect Palestinian Arabs to claim automatic Israeli citizenship based on Misinai’s work?

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