The false narrative of Jewish colonization
It’s always a headscratcher to me when Christians or Muslims, sipping on lattes as they march the streets of London or Los Angeles in protest of Israel, claim that Jews colonized Israel.
Whether you’re a believer or not, Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy books alike teach that the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, is part of the story and history of the region.
Christians and Muslims both believe Moses was a prophet who led the Hebrew slaves in Egypt to the land of Israel. To Judea. (“Jew” comes from the word “Judea,” by the way.)
But don’t just take their own religious books for it.
Overwhelmingly, other written and archeological evidence corroborates the Jewish connection to Israel.
Multiple Judean kings ruled the land of Israel-Judea, King David and King Solomon being the most well-known. We have numerous artifacts and writings from Solomon’s reign.
You know that thing called the Western Wall in Jerusalem? Well, King Herod built it as part of the Second Jewish Temple in the year 516 B.C.E. following the destruction of the First Jewish Temple. All located under the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, built nearly 1,000 years later by Arab conquerors.
The Western Wall is an undeniable 2,000-year-old remnant of the Second Jewish Temple.
Jews around the world pray facing Jerusalem. They make pilgrimages to the Western Wall. Their synagogues face toward Jerusalem. And almost all their holidays center around the Israel-Judea agricultural calendar, whether in America or Brazil or France or Bahrain or Japan. All of this before the modern State of Israel was created in 1948.
Jerusalem, also known as Zion, is mentioned over 600 times in the Jewish Bible and Prophets and Writings. Texts, mind you, that long predate the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In a world that overuses words like “colonization” and “genocide” and “Nazis,” we ought to understand their meanings.
Colonizers are outside powers who conquer and control a land.
Indigenous peoples, on the other hand, originate from a specific land prior to the arrival of colonial powers.
When it comes to the land of Israel, the Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Turkish and British all were the outside powers that conquered Israel and made it one of their colonies. The Jews never had an outside country or empire.
Despite millions of Jews being displaced from Israel by Babylonian, Roman and Arab conquerors the last two millennia, thousands of Jews still had a continuous presence in the land of Israel for 3,000 years. Uninterrupted.
The rest were displaced to lots of nations.
Up to six million Jews, for example, resided in the Roman Empire, and many others extended into the Arsacid Empire in the east. This displacement by colonizers resulted in Jews living throughout the Middle East (called Mizrahi Jews), Northern and Eastern Europe (called Ashkenazi Jews), Spanish and Portuguese Europe (called Sephardic Jews), with the largest early diaspora living in Alexandria, Egypt and Antioch, Turkey.
Indeed, the Romans took Jewish slaves to Europe to build some of their now widely visited ruins, like the Coliseum. Gives that selfie you took there new meaning, doesn’t it?
There’s also incontrovertible physical evidence of Jews outside of the Roman and Arsacid empires in places like Yemen, Ethiopia, India and even China. Travel writings from as far back as the 12th century observed some of these communities of Jews.
Of course, much introgression occurred during this exile from Israel; Jews not only picked up customs, foods and norms from their local cultures, but they also had families with local populations in places where there was more tolerance.
These communities are well documented, and their descendants still live in them today.
Unlike colonizers, who bring a new language to a country, such as English to Ghana or Portuguese to Angola, the Jews, who had continued using Hebrew in their religious and philosophical texts for all of their 2,000 years of exile, just brought Hebrew to Israel. Hebrew, it turns out, is virtually indistinguishable from the original Canaanite language spoken in the land thousands of years ago.
Jews in the diaspora, a word created to refer to those displaced Jews outside of Israel, have always yearned for their return to Israel. This was the call long before the Holocaust or the desire to escape Europe’s cruelty.
The chief rabbi of the displaced Jews of Spain and North Africa wrote years before the Holocaust that “we all desire that the gathering of the exiles should take place from all areas where they have been scattered.” 2023 Jews didn’t invent this idea.
In case you’re one of those who say, “Nah, Jews are just Europeans posing as the Judeans,” Some 60% of Jews in Israel are not from Europe.
Science has some bad news for you as well.
Genetic testing backs up the Jewish ancestral and indigenous connection to Israel on two important levels.
One, significant studies show that every Jewish group, no matter the place in the world, has unique gene clusters that differ from the local populations. It’s no wonder why in most places, you’ll hear the phrase, “You look Jewish.” That was true in Poland, Germany, Iran and Morocco.
Anyone who’s ever signed up for 23andMe or Ancestry knows there’s unique Jewish DNA.
Two, other studies show significant gene-cluster similarity between European Jews and many Jews of color in the Middle East and North Africa.
DNA studies show that over the years, Jewish populations of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East formed a tight cluster of genes that distinguished them from their non-Jewish neighbors. Many Ashkenazi (European) Jews shared more in common genetically with Syrian Jews than non-Jewish Europeans. My own DNA came back 80% Russian-Jewish, 9% Iraqi-Syrian and 2% Algerian-Moroccan, among other pieces.
Ethiopian, Yemenite and Indian Jews likewise have unique subclusters of genes that differ from the rest of those countries’ non-Jewish populations.
Genetic comparisons between Jews from across the globe and a group called the Samaritans, who have lived uninterrupted in the land of Israel for millennia, show they share very close genes, demonstrating common ancestors.
Additional DNA testing on the priestly tribe of Israel, known as Kohanim in the Bible (where the last name Cohen/Kohane comes from), demonstrated that Jews across the globe with this designation, whether from Morocco, Yemen, Tunisia, Egypt, India, Russia, South America, Poland, France or America, all share a unique genetic sequence.
Like Black people and sickle cell anemia, Jews also have several diseases that are exclusive to them.
Jews from Libya to Uzbekistan to Brazil to Australia share common cultural and spiritual practices as well.
To sum up, Jews are undeniably a distinct people, originating in the land of Israel that was conquered by outsiders so many times.
But let’s not confuse any of this with the Palestinian connection to the same New Jersey-size plot of land or demands that Israel change how it treats Palestinians in the West Bank.
Palestinian parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and great grandparents lived in what is today Israel, as well as on the West Bank of the Jordan River.
As a result of many factors, Palestinians lost their homes when Jews returned.
Some lost homes because Jews took them. Some lost homes because Arabs who owned the land sold it to Jews, who then evicted the Arabs living there when the official land ownership changed. Others lost their homes when multiple Arab nations promised Palestinians if they left their homes, they could return after Arab armies destroyed the newly formed Israel, which we all know didn’t happen.
Either way, it’d be absurd to suggest that Palestinian Arabs didn’t lose their homes and land when more Jews returned to their ancestral homeland. We all need to acknowledge this tragedy and why so many Arabs call Israel’s Independence Day a catastrophe – which is what it was for the ones who didn’t end up among the 2 million Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Still, indigenous people can’t colonize the land of their origin story. Denying the Jewish connection and calling them colonizers is just a lie.
Denying Jewish ancestry and the origin of Jews does nothing to bring about a Palestinian state, does nothing for justice for Palestinians and does nothing to create co-existence.
Instead, it just convinces Israel and the Jews that Palestinians still aren’t ready to accept the Jews and peace with their cousins.
Embrace truth and peace, and peace and justice will follow.