Are Jews Exceptional?

Ed. This article by a Palestinian Christian born in Jerusalem, where his family has lived for a thousand years, and currently residing in Gaza, is amazing and offers an insight into his family’s unique journey. His family liked Jews and maintained friendships with them. The poor internet connections in this war-torn zone did not stop him from sharing his very personal story. Given the terrible and extremely harsh circumstances facing the people of Gaza, our deepest sympathies go out to him and all its inhabitants.

What defines a Jew?*BP9PpxvfFeELuSzdx7WMiA.jpeg
Old print (copyright the author)

Before he died in 2006, my father told me something which haunts and disturbs me to this day.

My father was born in 1907 in the Old Town of Jerusalem. He was to become the first Middle Easterner called to the English Bar, a Professor of International Law, who taught at Stanford, and later Dean of Arts and Sciences at the American University of Beirut. In 1934, as a student at Oxford University, he was recruited into the British MI6, the same year as the three most notorious British traitors, Guy Burgess, Donald MacLean, and Kim Philby; double agents who sent hundreds of Allied operatives to their deaths.

Born a subject of the Ottoman Empire, my father was the most secretive man I ever knew. Though I spent years conversing with him, I still have no idea whose side he was on, where his loyalties ultimately lay, nor who he really was.

My father’s stomach was Middle Eastern. His favourite food was Mahloubeh, served in a Pyrex dish, which was upturned only at the last minute, so its gelatinous shape remained. He ate Labneh for breakfast, with herbs and hubes; his snacks were pistschios, Baba Ganoush, Burma and Baclava from al-Ajami.

My father was a Zelig figure, who seemed to know everybody, yet remained in the shadows. Ghandi, Nehru, Arnold Toynbee, George Antonius, Abu Ammar, Walid Khaldi, George Habbash, Edward Said; other main Jerusalem families – the al-Husseinis, the al-Nasashibis, the Dajanis and Nusseibehs – were all among his eclectic circle of acquaintance.

My father was fluent in Hebrew, long before it became expedient to be so. The family library stocked many ancient tomes in Hebrew, along with that Western canon that line most Professor’s shelves. My father encouraged me to read Spinoza, Walter Benjamin, Franz Kafka, who remain among my most revered authors.*UWH_rmgs_7m93R1EeycOOA.jpeg
The author’s father (copyright the author)

Currently, the - trawler fishing – criteria for residency in the Jewish State comprises that one grandparent must be a Jew. This open-door immigration policy has enabled an influx of several million Bulgarians, Romanians, Ukrainians, Russians and US ultra-right activists, mainly from New York State and Jersey – whose claims to Jewish ethnicity can be tenuous. Notwithstanding, these individuals commit much thuggery in the name of Israel. Which begs the question, can Israel still be defined as an ethno state?*0llXYecOfMfmiiTT5z8iMA.jpeg
Picture of a mall counter in Mamilla, West Jerusalem (copyright the author)

This question is perhaps simpler to answer than it appears. Before the current war, I was working on a paper on Israeli-Palestinian ethnology. The DNA trail is remarkably unambiguous, yet rarely cited. Eastern Jews — Sabra, Mizrahi, Sephardi and others — share common DNA with the Lebanese, Jordanians and Palestinians — the DNA of the Canaanite people, inhabitants of the Levant prior to tribal diversification and sedentarization. So, if you have doubts about your Jewish ethnicity, a DNA test will almost certainly reveal kinship pools returning directly to the Canaanites, some perhaps to pagan Iraqi forbears.

As for the Ashkenazi Jews, the same Canaanite DNA can be identified, but much diluted, primarily by markers from the Caucasus and North Balkans. This is not to endorse Arthur Koestler’s theory that the Ashkenazi were not really echt Jews at all, but rather Caucasian converts; although if the Ashkenazi DNA is only 5% Middle Eastern, while being 60-80% Caucasian, then the Jewishness resides not in being an ethno-religion, but in a shared religious belief system, open to converts, like any other, excepting the Yazeeri and Manicheans.

There is no Jewish DNA, per se. So when the blowhards in the Israeli cabinet slur the Palestinians as “a race of animals”, “a snake people”, “children of Amalek”, they forget that racism is predicated upon pseudo science, and under the skin, they are no different from those they presecute.

When Arabist supremacists use derogatory terms for a Yahood, as a member of some lower race, they commit the same facile error.

I have had relationships with Jewish girls, and I can assure you, apart from some superficial learnt cultural differences, there are no substantive differences — nothing to hypostatise one people over the other.

We should not forget that for centuries, Arabs and Eastern Jews lived in relative harmony. The apogee of this fruitful co-existence was the conviviencia al-Andalus.

The villains here are the juju of extreme religion and attendant race theory, which the governing elites eagerly exploited, so as to divide and rule.

As to what my father divulged before he died? He told me that I should understand that there was a chance he was not my blood father, but that he had always loved me as if I were his own. My mother had become pregnant, it was not certain the child was his, but to save her honor and that of her family, he had married her in short order.

My mother was a teacher with UNWRA, who looked a little like Christine Keeler when young. All the hounds in town were chasing her tail.

‘So who was the other suitor?’ I asked.

‘Yahood, yanni.’ My father whispered the name of a certain well-known Jewish conductor. Then my father winked. It was a test perhaps — one I could neither pass nor fail.

I write this from my apartment in Rimal, North Gaza. Aid supplies finally arrived here last night, despite shelling. My fever dropped. A relative came later in a UN van with plastic-sealed foods she was distributing.

‘Ya Roje,’ she said, ‘what will you have first, Mahloubeh, kebbeh, shish Taouk, labneh Lubnaniyeh, caik sumsum, kanafeh?’

How had she obtained all these rich ingredients? Not by regular means, certainly.

‘Mahloubeh,’ I replied, ‘and turn the pot upside down, please, so it stays whole on the plate.’