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My cousin’s cousin

Genetics tell us how connected Jews and Arabs are -- but then, we already knew that, didn't we?

Hello. My name is Haviv. I’m a Jew. I can’t help it. I was born this way.

Lately, my genetics have become a hot topic. Lots of people, from English scientists to Gazan warlords, seem keenly interested in why I was born this way, what my birth means. Or something.

In 2013, one genetic study in England concluded that my ancient forefathers are from the “Near East” (er, Israel), but my ancient foremothers are from Europe. That’s why my skin is fair, my kids’ hair is a dusty tan, but my genome shows that I’m the cousin of Palestinians. Since the Middle Eastern Jewish men of antiquity never conquered northern Germany (as far as we know), maybe those fair-haired mothers of mine just liked men who tan well. They converted to Judaism for them, after all.

In 2014, a genetic study from the US concluded that, actually, 75% of Jews come from the Middle East — so stop saying otherwise, you bastards.

“We’re not interlopers who came here from Eastern Europe, and we’re not Serbs or Kazars,” says the guy who paid for the study. “You can use whatever polemic you want to discredit the Jews or discredit the nation, but saying that we weren’t here is a lie.”

And now, a new genetic study shows Ashkenazi Jews are not only a genetic family (roughly fourth cousins to each other) but are close cousins to Mizrahi Jews — and almost as closely related to the Arabs in this land as to each other.

In other words, as a soldier, I fought in three or four campaigns in a war that my people are carrying on with another people who were once, well, my people.

What’s funny about all this (in the sense that tragedy is funny) is how unsurprising it is. Growing up in a deeply Zionist family, I learned that Jews, in all their cultural and physical diversity, are a family, a tribe. It turns out that’s almost entirely true.

I learned that the Arabs are our cousins, and that this long war between us is doubly tragic for that fact. That, too, turns out to be almost entirely true.

And I learned that those on either side who argue that we are somehow innately different — more deserving or less deserving of a homeland, more authentic or less authentic in our identities — are liars searching for reasons to exclude and hurt people.

That turns out to be true as well.

So where does that leave us?

That’s right: back at square one. Everything I was told growing up turns out to be true. My people were exiled from this place. This is the only homeland we have ever known. The Palestinians are my cousins, so this war between us over who is the more authentic heir to this land is not only tragic, it’s also ironic.

And anyone who says either I or they don’t belong here is part of the problem. None of us really knows how to fulfill the other’s fantasy that we go away.

None of this is particularly helpful, of course. The myths that genetic studies are proving right haven’t helped us make peace before. They won’t help authenticate us now. Most of us Jews came here from foreign lands over the last century; it hardly matters to Palestinians that we never forgot Jerusalem. They converted to Islam and came to think of themselves as Arabs, so for 1,400 years we have been treading radically different religious and cultural paths. These shared genomes can’t help bridge the irreconcilable mental worlds we inhabit.

Still, it’s a strange feeling to grow up and discover that the stories you were told as a child are true.

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel’s senior analyst.

About the Author
Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.
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