Are Palestinian Arabs actually Jewish?

This story is really going to irritate some people.

An Israeli, Tzvi MiSinai, has accepted upon himself the mission of investigating the Jewish roots of the Palestinians. He believes that many Palestinians have Jewish ancestors: “In our search for the lost Ten Tribes in India and Afghanistan, we seem to have forgotten to look for their descendants in our very own backyard.”

Oddly enough, MiSinai’s thesis makes some sense, tying together three points:

* The Arab legacy of jihad, conquest, and forced conversion. When the Arab armies burst out of the Arabian peninsula in the Middle Ages, conversion to Islam among the conquered peoples was, shall we say, “strongly encouraged.” In the Land of Israel, the Jewish remnant would have been subjected to such conversionary pressures, both at the time of the original Muslim conquest of the Land, and later.

* The DNA evidence that Jews and Palestinians are closely related genetically. (However, one review of the evidence concludes that “this close genetic relationship probably stems from pre-Judaic times, rather than any more recent conversion of Palestinian Jews to Islam.”)

* And of course, the testimonies that MiSinai and others have collected from Palestinians about their Jewish family traditions. A leader of the Sawarka Bedouin tribe said: “They are all Jewish . . . 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 [ritual bath] . . . .” In another Bedouin village they recall tearing their clothes and sitting shiva [mourning] for seven days as Jews do, not three days as Muslims do. Muhammed Asmalem said: “Our elders tell us that our forefathers came to this land during the Spanish Inquisition, via Morocco. They settled in Ramle. Then the Mamluks forced them to convert to Islam, and they moved to the South Hevron area. . . . If the Jewish community would be willing to receive us today, we would join them with great enthusiasm.”

We have to say that the matter is far from proved. But we also have to say that it’s an utterly fascinating possibility.

It is hard to imagine the Palestinians embracing the idea that they are in fact Jews. Especially since the Oslo period, anti-Semitism has become very widespread. Slurs like Jews are the sons of pigs and monkeys, are colonialist invaders, or are trying to harm the Palestinians through poisoned wells, specially-bred rats or aphrodisiacal chewing gum are regularly featured in public discourse. Calls for genocide are distressingly common, as in this hadith quoted in the Hamas Charter: “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”

It would hardly be easier for the Israelis. Could they relate to Palestinian Arabs as fellow Jews after generations of warfare and hostility? After years of rejecting a Palestinian “right of return,” it would be a kick in the head if they come in under Israel’s Law of Return anyway.

But the most likely consequence of MiSinai’s efforts: Nothing. Palestinians won’t abandon their hatred of the Jews (perhaps giving fresh meaning to “self-hating Jews”). The Israeli religious establishment would be very wary of a mass “return” of Palestinian Arabs. The increasingly dominant Islamists in Palestinians society would make life very hard for anyone converting from Islam to Judaism (apostasy is subject to the death penalty in Islam) The obstacles are higher than Mount Hermon.

Still, it’s a lovely dream. If the Palestinians renounced Islam and sincerely adopted Judaism en masse, the “two-state solution” versus “one-state solution” argument would become moot. The Palestinian war against the Jews would end with the Palestinians joining and enriching the eternal quarrels of the Jews among themselves. Maybe Peace Now and J Street could work this angle, and lay off their fixation on Jewish settlements.
(Tags: Israel, Palestine, Arab Jews)


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