Keren Gelfand
Keren Gelfand

Indigenous People of Israel

October 11, 2021 has been declared “Indigenous People’s Day by the Biden administration. In its proclamation, Biden wrote, “On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, our Nation celebrates the invaluable contributions and resilience of Indigenous peoples, recognizes their inherent sovereignty, and commits to honoring the Federal Government’s trust and treaty obligations to Tribal Nations…Today, we recognize Indigenous peoples’ resilience and strength as well as the immeasurable positive impact that they have made on every aspect of American society.”

There is no argument that the Native Americans are indigenous to North America, even though there have been numerous foreign conquerors to the Americas prior to colonials gaining sovereignty over the United States of America in 1792.

There is no argument that the Aboriginals are indigenous to Australia.

It is clear. They lived on the land and called it home prior to the colonization of foreign forces.

Yet, when it comes to the land of Israel, people choose when they want to look at the calendar to declare which people are indigenous to the land.

However, if we put the same parameters into place when considering which people are indigenous to Israel like we do for other countries – before conquerors came to the land and disrupted the status quo – the answer is quite clear.

It’s time that we stop looking at the land of Israel through the dates of 1948 or 1967.

It’s time that we look at the land of Israel, and which people are indigenous to the land through the same lenses as we do the people of other lands.

A brief history. Israel was settled by the patriarchs of Judaism – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – in the 17th century BCE. Due to a famine that gripped the area, they trekked to Egypt. There, the Jews were enslaved until they returned to Israel in the 13th century BCE. In 1020 BCE, the Jewish monarchy was established by King Saul and in 1000 BCE King David established Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. In 960 BCE, the First Temple was built in Jerusalem and in 722-720 BCE the Assyrians conquered Israel and 10 of the 12 Tribes of Israel were forced to scatter across the region. In 586 BCE the Babylonians conquered the area and the Temple was destroyed. Many Jews were forced into exile. But the Jews returned from 538-142 BCE and rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem. In 332 BCE Alexander the Great conquered Israel, but from 166-160 BCE the Jewish people fought back against religious restrictions in order to have Jewish autonomy in the area. However, in 63 BCE the Romans took control over Israel. In 66 CE the Jews revolted against Roman rule. It was during this time that Jerusalem and the Second Temple were destroyed. Arab rule of Israel did not come until 636-1099 CE, and it was in 691 CE that the Al Aqsa Mosque was built over the site of the First and Second Temples. The Crusaders than conquered the land in 1099 and controlled the land until the Mamluk conquered it in 1291.In 1517 the Ottoman’s had rule of the land for 400 years, until 1917, when the British conquered Israel. The rest, as they say, is modern history.

For those that don’t want to be bothered with knowing the complete history of the land of Israel, we can very simply use the Old or the New Testament as a historical document and proof of the Jews’ indigenous right to the land of Israel. You choose not to do so because it’s not uniformly accepted by all peoples? No problem.

We can also use the calendar as proof of the Jewish indigenous right to the land of Israel since the Jewish calendar was created in Israel 3,760 years prior to the Christian calendar (also created in Israel since it looks at time BC, before Christ, and AD, Latin for ‘in the year of the lord’, and Jesus was born in Nazareth and died in Jerusalem, Israel) and 4,339 years prior to the Muslim calendar. Don’t want to consider the age of the religions are proof of Jewish indigenous rights? OK. Again, not an issue.

How about it we just look at any picture taken of Jerusalem (a city that is often a point of contention over its sovereignty). You can choose the date of the picture. Today. 1948. 1967. Anytime you wish. You will see the Al Aqsa Mosque built over the site of the First and Second Temples of the Jewish people. Read that sentence again. Over the Temple. Every time you look at a picture of Jerusalem you will see proof of the Jewish indigenous right to the land of Israel. Just like New York and Chicago and every major North American city was built over tribal land of the Native Americans, the Roman, Muslim, and Ottoman conquerors of Israel built over the Jewish sites, often covering up and erasing the Jewish history and its indigenous right over the land.

Through exiles and revolts. Through war and occupation, the Jews have always maintained a community in Israel. While the Jewish people were scattered across the globe, their hearts always remained in Israel. Each day, as Jews around the world gather in prayer, they face Jerusalem. So, what makes people question the Jewish right as the indigenous people of Israel? Because the Jewish people never lost hope in resettling in Israel. They refused to continue to live in ghettos and reservations. They never bowed to the conquerors. Even today, Israel continues to fight those wishing to conquer its land. The Jewish people stand tall in their defense of their homeland. In rallies across the world, people chat, “From sea to sea, Palestine will be free.” The preamble of the Hamas charter (the people who govern Gaza and lobby missiles into Israeli cities and towns) clearly states, “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.”

Unlike the Native American tribes in North America or the Aboriginals in Australia who have completely given up on ever reestablishing their presence in their homeland, the Jews have always fought, and will also defend their indigenous right to live freely in their land. For this, the Jews are vilified, just like the Native Americans were constantly considered the bad guys in Hollywood films and in popular culture, as children would run around and play (good) cowboys and (bad) Indians.

If the world looks at Israel through the same lenses as they look at the rest of the world, they would recognize the Jewish indigenous right to the land of Israel and, like Biden proclaimed regarding the Native Americans, the world would make the same declaration about the Jews and celebrate the invaluable contributions and resilience of the Jewish indigenous peoples, recognizing the Jewish inherent sovereignty over the land of Israel…and to recognize indigenous peoples’ resilience and strength as well as the immeasurable positive impact that they have made on every aspect of Israeli society.

About the Author
Keren Gelfand served as Director for Media Affairs at the Israeli Consulate in both Chicago and New York. Following her service there, she created her own consulting company to help brand Israeli and Jewish non profits in the States.
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