Continuous Jewish Presence in the "Holy Land"
The Jewish presence in "the Holy Land" --
at times tenuous -- persisted throughout its bloody history. In fact, the
Jewish claim -- whether Arab-born or European-born Jew -- to the land now
called Palestine does not depend on a two-thousand-year-old promise. Buried
beneath the propaganda -- which has it that Jews "returned" to the Holy
Land after two thousand years of separation, where they found crowds of
"indigenous Palestinian Arabs" -- is the bald fact that the Jews are indigenous
people on that land who never left, but who have continuously stayed on
their "Holy Land." Not only were there the little-known Oriental Jewish
communities in adjacent Arab lands, but there had been an unceasing strain
of "Oriental" or "Palestinian" Jews in "Palestine" for millennia.1
The Reverend James Parkes, an authority
on Jewish/non-Jewish relations inthe Middle East, assessed the Zionists'
"real title deeds" in 1949.2
It was, perhaps, inevitable that
Zionists should look back to the heroic period of the Maccabees and Bar-Cochba,
but their real title deeds were written by the less dramatic but equally
heroic endurance of those who had maintained the Jewish presence in The
Land all through the centuries, and in spite of every discouragement. This
page of Jewish history found no place in the constant flood of Zionist
propaganda.... The omission allowed the anti-Zionists, whether Jewish,
Arab, or European, to paint an entirely false picture of the wickedness
of Jewry trying to re-establish a two thousand-year-old claim to the country,
indifferent to everything that had happened in the intervening period.
It allowed a picture of The Land as a territory which had once been "Jewish,"
but which for many centuries had been "Arab." In point of fact any picture
of a total change of population is false....
It was only "politically" that the
Jews lost their land, as Parkes reminded us. They never abandoned it physically,
nor did they renounce their claim to their nation -- the only continuous
claim that exists. The Jews never submitted to assimilation into the various
victorious populations even after successive conquerors had devastated
the Jewish organizational structure. But, more important, despite becoming
"much enfeebled in numbers and deprived both of political and social leaders
and of skilled craftsmen,"3 the Jews, in addition
to their spiritual roots, managed to remain in varying numbers physically
at all times on the land.
Thus, despite "physical violence against
Jews and pagans" by the post-Roman Christians, more than forty Jewish communities
survived and could be traced in the sixth century -- "twelve towns on the
coast, in the Negev, and east of the Jordan [land ihat was part of the
Palestine Mandate, called Transjordan in 1922, and declared the "Hashemite
Kingdom of Jordan" only thirty-odd years ago] and thirty-one villages in
Galilee and in the Jordan Valley."4
In A.D. 438 the Jews from Galilee optimistically
declared, "the end of the exile of our people" when the Empress Eudocia
allowed the Jews to pray again at their holy temple site.5
Recent archaeological discoveries determine that in A.D. 614 the Jews fought
along with the Persian invaders of Palestine, "overwhelmed the Byzantine
garrison in Jerusalem," and controlled that city for five years.6
By the time the Arabs conquered the land two decades later, the Jews "had
suffered three centuries of Christian intolerance, and monkish violence
had been spasmodic during at least half of that period."7
And the Jews hopefully welcomed the Arab conquerors.
The Muslim Arabs who entered seventh-century
Jerusalem found a strong Jewish identity. At that time, "we have evidence
that Jews lived in all parts of the country and on both sides of the Jordan,
and that they dwelt in both the towns and the villages, practicing both
agriculture and various handicrafts"* A number of Jews lived in Lydda
and Ramle-which have been identified by modem propaganda and even by more
serious documents as historically "purely Arab" towns. "Large and important
communities" of Jews lived "in such places as Ascalon, Caesarea and above
all Gaza, which the Jews ... had made a kind of capital [when] ... they
were excluded from Jerusalem.'"8
Jericho was home to many Jews9
-- the seventh-century Jewish refugees from Khaibar in Arabia among them.
Khaibar had been a thriving Jewish community to the north of Mecca and
Medina. After the Jews had "defended their forts and mansions with signal
heroism," the Prophet Muhammad had "visited upon his beaten enemy inhuman
atrocities," and "by the mass massacre of... men, women and children,"
the Prophet of Islam exterminated "completely" two Arabian Jewish tribes.10
The consequences of the war were
catastrophic. For centuries the Jews of Khaibar had led a life of freedom,
peace, labor and trade; now they had to bow under the yoke of slavery and
degradation. They had prided themselves on the purity of their family life;
now their women and daughters were distributed among and carried away by
An Arab "notable" from Medina, who visited
the site of hostilities afterward, was quoted by a ninth-century Arab historian:
Before the Moslem occupation,
whenever there was a famine in the land, people would go to Khaibar....
The Jews always had fruit, and their springs yielded a plentiful supply
of water. After the conquest of Khaibar, the Jews were said to design evil
schemes against the Moslems. But hunger pressed us to go to their fields....
We found the landscape completely changed. We met none of the rich Khaibar
landowners, but only destitute farmers everywhere ... When we moved on
to Kuteiba we felt much relieved....12
The Jewish survivors from the area surrounding
Khaibar were expelled from "the Arabian Peninsula" when the extent of the
Muslim conquest was sufficient to add enough Arab farmers and replace the
detested Jews. [See Chapter 8] Based on the Prophet Muhammad's theory,
Caliph Omar implemented the decree "Let not two religions co-exist within
the Arabian Peninsula."13
The Arab theologians' 1968 conference,
1,300 years later, continued to justify the Khaibar extermination of its
Jews. One participant explained: ... Omar ... got experience that the Jews
were the callers and instigators of the sedition at any time and everywhere.
He purified Arabia from them. Most of them dwelt at Khaibar and its neighborhood.
That was because he was informed that the Prophet said while he was dying:
"Never do two religions exist in Arabia." [Sheikh Abd Allah Al Meshad]14
Another Arab participant at that conference
All people want to get rid of
the Jews by hook or by crook.... People are not prejudiced against them
but the Jewish evil and the various wicked aspects ... are quite clear....
The seventh-century Jewish refugees from Khaibar's
environs joined the indigenous Jewish population in "Transjordan, especially
in Dera'a." In fact, Arabian Jewish exiles settled "as far as the hills
of Hebron," but had they not "intermarried" with the established Jewish
communities and connected somehow to the "Diaspora centers, they [the Jewish
settlements] could hardly have survived as Jewish communities for hundreds
of years." A settled Jewish community was present then in the northern
Transjordanian city of Hamadan, "or Amatus" -"a city famed for its palms"-in
the area that one day would be part of the League of Nations' [See Chapter
12] Mandated "Jewish National Home" in Palestine.16
When Bani Qoraiza were punished, an end
was put to the Jews of Madina. Those Jews had been the strongest, the richest
and the most pernicious and harmful ones. They had been deeply rooted in
the society and they had had a high rank and an important status....
Some orientalists ignore the various reasons
why the Jews of Khaibar and others were punished.... These orientalists
alleged that the invasion of Khaibar was launched because the Prophet wished
to reward the Muslims of Hodaibeya and comfort them.... but we have mentioned
the most evident reasons of the punishment befalling the Jews. The question
of the booty is casual and always subsidiary for waging the wars of the
Prophet. It is mentioned in the Verses of the Quran about Jihad
[holy war] as a secondary reason for striving against the Unbelievers.
[Muhammad Azzah Darwaza]15
The Christian Crusaders of the eleventh
century were merciless but unsuccessful in their efforts to remove any
vestige of Jewish tradition. In 1165, Benjamin of Tudela, the renowned
Spanish traveler, found that the "Academy of Jerusalem" had been established
at Damascus. Although the Crusaders had almost "wiped out" the Jewish communities
of Jerusalem, Acre, Caesarea and Haifa, some Jews remained, and whole "village
communities of Galilee survived."
Acre became the seat of a Jewish academy
in the thirteenth century. And while "many may have merged themselves into
the local population, Christian or Muslim," the Jews "stayed, to share
and suffer from the disorder" of the aftermath of the Crusaders' "feudalism,"17
resisting conversion. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, "there
was a constant trickle of Jewish immigrants into the country ... some from
other Islamic territories and especially North Africa."18
Jews from Gaza, Ramle, and Safed were considered
the "ideal guides" in the Holy Land in the fourteenth century, as Jacques
of Verona, a visiting Christian monk, attested. After the Christian had
"noted the long established Jewish community at the foot of Mount Zion,
in Jerusalem," he wrote,
A pilgrim who wished to visit
ancient forts and towns in the Holy Land would have been unable to locate
these, without a good guide who knew the Land well, or without one of the
Jews who lived there. The Jews were able to recount the history of these
places since this knowledge had been handed down from their forefathers
and wise men.
In 1438 a rabbi from Italy became the spiritual
leader of the Jewish community in Jerusalem,20
and fifty years afterward, another Italian scholar, Obadiah de Bertinoro,
founded the Jerusalem rabbinical school that dealt authoritatively "in
rabbinic matters among the Jewish communities of the Islamic world."21
So when I journeyed overseas I often requested
and managed to obtain an excellent guide among the Jews who lived there.19
The Jews, meanwhile, were plentiful enough
so that in 1486 "a distinguished pilgrim" to the Holy Land, the Dean of
Mainz Cathedral, Bernhard von Breidenbach, advised that both Hebron's and
Jerusalem's Jews "will treat you in full fidelity -- more so than anyone
else in those countries of the unbelievers."22
The "Ishmaelite," or Islamic-bom, Jewish
immigration to the Holy Land was prominent, and became intensified after
the Spanish Inquisition. The Holy Land's throbbing, spirited Jewish life
continued, even in Hebron, where "the prosperous Jewish community ... had
been plundered, many Jews killed and the survivors forced to flee" in 1518,
three years after Ottoman rule began. By 1540, Hebron's Jewry had recovered
and reconstructed its Jewish Quarter, while the first Jewish printing press
outside Europe was instituted in Safed in 1563.23
Under Turkish rule the Jews in Jerusalem
and in Gaza maintained "cultural and spiritual unity," and Sultan Suleiman
I allowed many Jews "to return to the Holy Land." In 1561, "Suleiman gave
Tiberias, one of the four Jewish holy cities, to a former 'secret' Jew
from Portugal, Don Joseph Nasi, who rebuilt the city and the villages around
it." Nasi's efforts attracted Jewish settlement from many areas of the
Mediterranean.24 And those "Ishmaelite" Jewish
communities that did not or could not make the pilgrimage were nonetheless
spiritually attached to their brothers in the Holy Land.
1. See Palestine
Royal Commission Report (London, 1937), pp. 2-5, 7, 9, particularly p.
11, para. 23.
Parkes, Whose Land?, A History of the Peoples of Palestine (Harmondsworth,
Middlesex, Great Britain: Penguin Books, 1970), p. 266.
pp. 31, 26.
Katz, Battleground: Fact and Fantasy in Palestine (New York, 1973), p.
Yaari, 1grot Eretz Yisrael (Tel Aviv, 1943), p. 46; see F. Nau, "Sur la
synagogue de Rabbat Moab (422), et un mouvement sioniste favorisk par l'imperatrice
Eudocie (438), d'apres la vie de Barsauma le Syrien," Journal Asiatique,
LIX (1927), pp. 189-192.
6. A. MaIamat,
H. Tadmor, M. Stern, S. Safrai, Toledot Am Yisrael Bi'mei Kedem (Tel Aviv,
1969), p. 348, cited by Katz, Battleground, p. 88.
Whose LandZ p. 72.
also see S.D. Goitein, A Mediterranean Society, 3 vols. (Berkeley, Los
Angeles, London, 1971), vol. 2, p. 61 the main synagogue [in Ramle] was
ninth-century Arab historian, recorded a Jewish-settled area in Jericho
in the seventh century and "there are other references to Jewish communal
life in Jericho as late as the ninth century." Cited by Itzhak Ben-Zvi,
The Exiled and the Redeemed (Philadelphia, 1961), p. 146.
The Exiled, pp. 144-145. The Nadhir and Kainuka Arabian-Jewish tribes'
"battles for their survival ... is found in Dr. Israel Ben-Zeev's remarkable
book, Jews in Arabia, " Ben-Zvi states.
Ben Zeev, Jews in Arabia, cited by Ben-Zvi, The Exiled, p. 145.
The Exiled, p. 145. Ben-Zvi cites Arabian historian Al-Waqidy, as reported
in Ben-Zeev, Jews in Arabia.
p. 146. Ben-Zvi states that some Jews who could "produce letters of protection
and treaties signed by or on behalf of the Prophet" were permitted to remain.
"...there is reason to believe that these surviving Jewish communities
were maintained intact until the twelfth century."
from SheikhAbd Allah Al Meshad, "Jews' Attitudes Towards Islam and Muslims
in the First Islamic Era," in D.F. Green, ed., Arab Theologians on Jews
and Israel (Geneva, 197 1), p. 22. Darwaza, "The Attitude of the Jews Towards
from Muhammad Azzah nto Him]-at the Islam, Muslims and the Prophet of Islam-P.B.U.H.
[Peace Be Unto Him] - at the time of His Honourable Prophethood," in ibid.,
The Exiled, pp. 146-147 the existence of which we have records."
Whose Land?, pp. 97-99.
Gilbert, Exile and Return, The Strugglefor a Jewish Homeland (Philadelphia
and New York, 1978), p. 17. "In 1322 Jewish geographer from Florence, Ashtory
Ha-Parhi, had settled in the Jezreel Valley where he wrote a book on the
topography of Palestine....
pp. 17-19. Elijah of Ferrara.
Whose Land?, p. I 11.
Exile, p. 17.
For a more detailed account, see Joachim Prinz, The Secret Jews (New York,
1973), p. 147ff
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