By Mark Ellis
Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich stepped into a hornet’s nest when he referred to the Palestinians as an invented people in a recent debate.
“Remember, there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire,” Gingrich said. “We have invented the Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs and are historically part of the Arab people,” he said in the debate among Republican contenders for the presidency.
His comments were roundly denounced from the White House to the Middle East, but others found a measure of truth from a historical and political perspective, even if they were ill-timed and “unhelpful” as Secretary of State Clinton observed.
Senator Joseph Lieberman struck a moderate tone in response. “Over the years I’ve done a lot of reading in Palestinian history, and there are a lot of different theories about the history of Palestinian people hood and nationhood. But to me, the important fact is that the Palestinians are a people today, and any resolution of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has to be between two people, two nations,” Lieberman said.
Liberal commentator Michael Kinsley observes that in 1947, the word “Palestinian” referred to Jews and Arabs living in Palestine. “Arabs living in the territory of Palestine were called Arabs – or very occasionally Palestinian Arabs,” Kinsley notes, in keeping with the philosophy known as pan-Arabism.
Kinsley admits that Gingrich was right – up to a point. “Until the 1970s, Palestinian nationalism was not much of a factor. The PLO was formed in 1964, but the idea of ‘liberating’ Palestine from Israeli control didn’t really take hold until after the 1967 war,” he notes.
But Kinsley also claims that the Israelis are an invented people – that Jewish nationalism only goes back to 1896. In doing so, he conveniently leaves out the historical record contained in the Bible.
Interestingly, modern genetics has established closer links between the Jews and Palestinians than many would suspect. “Many of the Palestinians know it, but it’s not politically correct to acknowledge this publicly among Muslims,” saysSteve Hagerman, founder of Turkish World Outreach.
When the northern kingdom of Israel was deported by the Assyrians in 745-702 B.C., most were sent to the East, Hagerman notes. After the Roman conquest, many Jews were carried away as slaves or fled to the West. “Many of the people in southern and central Italy are of Jewish origin, because so many slaves were carried away by the Romans to big estates in southern Italy.”
Hagerman cites a documentary that appeared on Israeli television in 2009 that established many common links. The documentary, produced by Nissim Mossek, quotes Rabbi Dov Stein, secretary of the New Sanhedrin, “It becomes clear that a significant part of the Arabs in the land of Israel are actually descendants of Jews who were forced to convert to Islam over the centuries,” he says. “There are studies which indicate that 85% of this group is of Jewish origin.”
Genetic studies have confirmed the connection. Ariella Oppenheim PhD, a researcher at Hebrew University and the Hadassah Medical School labs, did several important studies in 2000 and 2001. She was able to demonstrate common origins and a number of surprising relationships. Oppenheim established that both the Palestinians and the Jews descended from the Kurds of Babylon, homeland of the patriarch Abraham.
Perhaps more surprising, she found the Ashkenazi Jews from Europe are genetically closer to the Palestinians than Middle East Jews.
Oppenheim also isolated and traced the chromosome for the “priestly” Cohen line. “We find that Arabs also carry this chromosome,” she noted on the documentary, which means that some Palestinians are also Cohens, genetically.
The Palestinian city of Yatta, located south of Hebron in the West Bank, has a population of 50,000 to 60,000 people. The Israeli documentary states that 90 % of the town has Jewish roots.
The film crew visited one Palestinian home where the Jewish mezuzah was hidden under a shelf, and the tefillin are hidden among the socks in a dresser. The mezuzah was a parchment of Scripture placed on the doorpost by religious Jews. Tefillin, also known as phylacteries, are a set of small boxes containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with Scripture, which are worn by observant Jews during morning prayers.
A Palestinian woman interviewed on the program says, “That is how I pray and everyone keeps the secret.”
“Will your little boy find out he is Jewish? an interviewer asks.
“He will find out eventually,” she says.
As Israelis and Palestinians continue their contentious battle over the issue of statehood, it may be a radical notion to inform each party that the one they consider their enemy is actually their brother – far removed by the tides of history.