Neither Fatah nor Hamas have been too relevant in the mass protests staged around the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem. Neither has United States pressure; half-hearted European “concern about the situation;” or cliche Arab declarations made one iota of difference. United Nations officials warned of the grim scenarios of escalation, but their statements were mere words.
The spontaneous mass movement in Jerusalem, which eventually defeated Israeli plans to change the status of Al-Aqsa was purely a people’s movement. Despite the hefty price of several dead and hundreds wounded, it challenged both the Israeli government and the quisling Palestinian leadership.
Israel shut down the Al-Aqsa compound on July 14, following a shootout between three armed Palestinians and Israeli occupation officers. The compound was reopened a few days later, but Palestinian worshippers refused to enter, because massive security gates, cameras and metal detectors were installed.
The people of Jerusalem immediately understood the implication of the Israeli action. In the name of added security measures, the Israeli government was exploiting the situation to change the status of Al-Aqsa, as part of its efforts to further isolate Palestinians.
The Israeli army occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem in 1967, annexing it in 1981 in defiance of international law and despite strong U.N. objection.
For 50 years, Jerusalem has endured daily battles. The Israelis fought to expand their influence in the city, increase the number of illegal Jewish settlements and cut off Jerusalem from the rest of the Palestinian Territories; while Palestinians, Muslim and Christians alike, fought back.
Al-Aqsa compound — also known as Haram Al-Sharif or the Noble Sanctuary — is the most symbolic element in the fight. It is a microcosm of the fate of the occupied city, in fact, the fate of the entire Palestinian land.
The compound has been administered by Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, through an Israeli-Jordanian understanding. Many Israeli politicians in the right-wing Likud Party and the Netanyahu-led government coalition have tried to change this.
Palestinians understand that the fate of their mosque and the future of their city are tightly linked. For them, if Al-Aqsa is lost, then Jerusalem is truly conquered.
This fight, between Palestinian worshippers and the Israeli army happens every single day, usually escalating on Friday. It is on this holy day for Muslims that tens of thousands of faithful flock to Al-Aqsa to pray, often times to be met by new military gates and army regulations. Young Palestinians, in particular, have been blocked from reaching Al-Aqsa, also in the name of security.
But the struggle for Jerusalem can rarely be expressed in numbers, death toll or televised reports. It is the ordinary Palestinians’ constant fight for space, for identity and for the preservation of the sanctity of their holy land.
In the last two years, the struggle escalated further as Israel began expanding its illegal settlements in East Jerusalem and right-wing parties issued a series of laws targeting Palestinians in the city. One such law is the “call for prayer” law, aimed at preventing mosques from making the call for prayers at dawn, as has been the practice for a millennium.
Palestinian youth, many born after the failed Oslo Accords, are fed up as the Israeli military controls every aspect of their lives and their corrupt leadership grows more irrelevant and self-serving.
This frustration has been expressed in numerous ways: in nonviolent resistance, new political ideas, art, music, on social media, but also through individual acts of resistance.
Since the most recent Al-Quds Intifada started in October 2015, “some 285 Palestinians have died in alleged attacks, protests and (Israeli) army raids,” reported Farah Najjar and Zena Tahhan. About 47 Israelis have been killed in that same period.
But the Intifada was somehow contained and managed. Certainly, human rights groups protested many of the army killings of Palestinians as unnecessary or unprovoked, but little has changed on the ground. The Palestinian Authority has continued to operate almost entirely independent from the violent reality faced by its people on a daily basis.
The shootout of July 14 could have registered as yet another violent episode of many that have been reported in Jerusalem in recent months. Following such events, the Israeli official discourse ignores the military occupation entirely and focuses instead on Israel’s security problem caused by “Palestinian terror.” Politicians then swoop in with new laws, proposals and radical ideas to exploit a tragic situation and remold the status quo.
Considering the numerous odds faced by Palestinians, every rational political analysis would have rightly concluded that Palestinians were losing this battle as well. With the United States fully backing Israeli measures and the international community growing distant and disinterested, the people of Jerusalem could not stand a chance.
But such understanding of conflict, however logical, often proves terribly wrong, since it casually overlooks the people.
In this latest confrontation, Palestinians of Jerusalem won, presenting an impressive model of mobilization and popular solidarity for all Palestinians. The Israeli army removed the barricades and the metal detectors, pushing Israel to the brink of a political crisis involving angry politicians, the army, internal intelligence and the security agency Shin Bet.
The people’s victory was a massive embarrassment for Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. He tried to “piggyback off the protests” but failed, according to the Atlantic.
Other factions, too, moved quickly to mobilize on the people’s victory, but their efforts have appeared staged and insincere.
“Today is a joyful day, full of celebration and sorrow at the same time — sorrow for the people who lost their lives and were injured,” a protester told journalists, as thousands stormed the gates of Jerusalem armed with their prayer rugs, flags and voices hoarse from chanting for nearly two weeks.
“This is very much a grassroots movement, this isn’t led by Hamas or Fatah, the traditional political leaders of the Palestinians,” journalist Imran Khan reportedfrom outside the compound.
This grassroots movement was made up of thousands of women, men and children. They included Zeina Amro, who cooked daily for those who held steadfast outside the compound, was shot by a rubber bullet in the head, yet returned to urge the men to stand their ground the following day.
It also includes young Yousef Sakafi, whose chores included splashing water over people as they sat endless hours under the unforgiving sun, refusing to move.
Many Palestinian Christians came to pray with their Muslim brethren too.
Conveying the scene from Jerusalem, television news footage and newspaper photos showed massive crowds of people, standing, sitting, praying or running in disarray among bullets, sound bombs and tear gas canisters.
But the crowds are made up of individuals, like Zeina, Yousef and many more, all driven by their insistence in facing injustice with their bare chests in an inspiring display of human tenacity.
Of course, more violence will follow, as the Israeli occupation is enriched and relentless, but ordinary Palestinians will not quit the fight. They have held resolute for nearly 70 years.
Rational political analysis cannot possibly fathom how a nation undergoing numerous odds can still mobilize against an army, and win.
But the power of the people often exceeds what is seemingly rational. Almost leaderless, Palestinians remain a strong nation, united by an identity that is predicated on the pillars of human rights, resistance and steadfastness.
Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His books include “Searching Jenin,” “The Second Palestinian Intifada,” and his latest “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story.”
Israel’s request that Washington should recognize its illegal settlements is itself illegal, says a New York-based author and lecturer.
“The settlements, all of them, are illegal under international law,” Norman Gary Finkelstein told Press TV on Wednesday, while commenting on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s repeated calls for the international recognition of major Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank in exchange for steps to ease tensions with the Palestinians.
Bibi wants the US to “legalize a situation, which is clearly illegal,” the analyst noted, slamming the Israeli premier’s offer to “allow for certain kinds of economic development in the occupied Palestinian territory” instead.
“He has no right to do that either… he has only one right; he has the right to pack up his bag and leave.”
The United States strongly rejected Israel’s request, calling construction of settlements an obstacle to a two-state solution.
The new dispute over Israeli settlements emerged between Washington and Tel Aviv on Tuesday, as US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Israel and the West Bank for the first time in more than a year.
The presence and continued expansion of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine has created a major obstacle for the efforts to establish peace in the Middle East.
More than half a million Israelis live in over 120 illegal settlements built since Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East al-Quds.
The UN and most countries regard the Israeli settlements as illegal because the territories were captured by Israel in the 1967 war and are hence subject to the Geneva Conventions, which forbids construction on occupied lands.
. . . Text by Rita Rubin, Forward Magazine
An Israeli geneticist challenges the “Zionist” hypothesis that all Jews belong to one race and are intimately related, thus giving them a common ancestor in the Holy Land and a Biblical claim to Palestine.
Scientists usually don’t call each other “liars” and “frauds.”
But that’s how Johns Hopkins University post-doctoral researcher Eran Elhaik describes a group of widely respected geneticists, including Harry Ostrer, professor of pathology and genetics at Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine and author of the 2012 book “Legacy: A Genetic History of the Jewish People.”
For years now, the findings of Ostrer and several other scientists have stood virtually unchallenged on the genetics of Jews and the story they tell of the common Middle East origins shared by many Jewish populations worldwide. Jews — and Ashkenazim in particular — are indeed one people, Ostrer’s research finds.
It’s a theory that more or less affirms the understanding that many Jews themselves hold of who they are in the world: a people who, though scattered, share an ethnic-racial bond rooted in their common ancestral descent from the indigenous Jews of ancient Judea or Palestine, as the Romans called it after they conquered the Jewish homeland.
But now, Elhaik, an Israeli molecular geneticist, has published research that he says debunks this claim. And that has set off a predictable clash.
“He’s just wrong,” said Marcus Feldman of Stanford University, a leading researcher in Jewish genetics, referring to Elhaik.
The sometimes strong emotions generated by this scientific dispute stem from a politically loaded question that scientists and others have pondered for decades: Where in the world did Ashkenazi Jews come from?
The debate touches upon such sensitive issues as whether the Jewish people is a race or a religion, and whether Jews or Palestinians are descended from the original inhabitants of what is now the State of Israel.
Ostrer’s theory is sometimes marshaled to lend the authority of science to the Zionist narrative, which views the migration of modern-day Jews to what is now Israel, and their rule over that land, as a simple act of repossession by the descendants of the land’s original residents. Ostrer declined to be interviewed for this story. But in his writings, Ostrer points out the dangers of such reductionism; some of the same genetic markers common among Jews, he finds, can be found in Palestinians, as well.
By using sophisticated molecular tools, Feldman, Ostrer and most other scientists in the field have found that Jews are genetically homogeneous. No matter where they live, these scientists say, Jews are genetically more similar to each other than to their non-Jewish neighbors, and they have a shared Middle Eastern ancestry.
The geneticists’ research backs up what is known as the Rhineland Hypothesis. According to the hypothesis, Ashkenazi Jews descended from Jews who fled Palestine after the Muslim conquest in the seventh century and settled in Southern Europe. In the late Middle Ages they moved into eastern Europe from Germany, or the Rhineland.
“Nonsense,” said Elhaik, a 33-year-old Israeli Jew from Beersheba who earned a doctorate in molecular evolution from the University of Houston. The son of an Italian man and Iranian woman who met in Israel, Elhaik, a dark-haired, compact man, sat down recently for an interview in his bare, narrow cubicle of an office at Hopkins, where he’s worked for four years.
In “The Missing Link of Jewish European Ancestry: Contrasting the Rhineland and the Khazarian Hypotheses,” published in December in the online journal Genome Biology and Evolution, Elhaik says he has proved that Ashkenazi Jews’ roots lie in the Caucasus — a region at the border of Europe and Asia that lies between the Black and Caspian seas — not in the Middle East. They are descendants, he argues, of the Khazars, a Turkic people who lived in one of the largest medieval states in Eurasia and then migrated to Eastern Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries. Ashkenazi genes, Elhaik added, are far more heterogeneous than Ostrer and other proponents of the Rhineland Hypothesis believe. Elhaik did find a Middle Eastern genetic marker in DNA from Jews, but, he says, it could be from Iran, not ancient Judea.
Elhaik writes that the Khazars converted to Judaism in the eighth century, although many historians believe that only royalty and some members of the aristocracy converted. But widespread conversion by the Khazars is the only way to explain the ballooning of the European Jewish population to 8 million at the beginning of the 20th century from its tiny base in the Middle Ages, Elhaik says.
Elhaik bases his conclusion on an analysis of genetic data published by a team of researchers led by Doron Behar, a population geneticist and senior physician at Israel’s Rambam Medical Center, in Haifa. Using the same data, Behar’s team published in 2010 a paper concluding that most contemporary Jews around the world and some non-Jewish populations from the Levant, or Eastern Mediterranean, are closely related.
Elhaik used some of the same statistical tests as Behar and others, but he chose different comparisons. Elhaik compared “genetic signatures” found in Jewish populations with those of modern-day Armenians and Georgians, which he uses as a stand-in for the long-extinct Khazarians because they live in the same area as the medieval state.
“It’s an unrealistic premise,” said University of Arizona geneticist Michael Hammer, one of Behar’s co-authors, of Elhaik’s paper. Hammer notes that Armenians have Middle Eastern roots, which, he says, is why they appeared to be genetically related to Ashkenazi Jews in Elhaik’s study.
Hammer, who also co-wrote the first paper that showed modern-day Kohanim are descended from a single male ancestor, calls Elhaik and other Khazarian Hypothesis proponents “outlier folks… who have a minority view that’s not supported scientifically. I think the arguments they make are pretty weak and stretching what we know.”
Feldman, director of Stanford’s Morrison Institute for Population and Resource Studies, echoes Hammer. “If you take all of the careful genetic population analysis that has been done over the last 15 years… there’s no doubt about the common Middle Eastern origin,” he said. He added that Elhaik’s paper “is sort of a one-off.”
Elhaik’s statistical analysis would not pass muster with most contemporary scholars, Feldman said: “He appears to be applying the statistics in a way that gives him different results from what everybody else has obtained from essentially similar data.”
Elhaik, who doesn’t believe that Moses, Aaron or the 12 Tribes of Israel ever existed, shrugs off such criticism.
“That’s a circular argument,” he said of the notion that Jews’ and Armenians’ genetic similarities stem from common ancestors in the Middle East and not from Khazaria, the area where the Armenians live. If you believe that, he says, then other non-Jewish populations, such as Georgian, that are genetically similar to Armenians should be considered genetically related to Jews, too, “and so on and so forth.”
Dan Graur, Elhaik’s doctoral supervisor at U.H. and a member of the editorial board of the journal that published his paper, calls his former student “very ambitious, very independent. That’s what I like.” Graur, a Romanian-born Jew who served on the faculty of Tel Aviv University for 22 years before moving 10 years ago to the Houston school, said Elhaik “writes more provocatively than may be needed, but it’s his style.” Graur calls Elhaik’s conclusion that Ashkenazi Jews originated to the east of Germany “a very honest estimate.”
In a news article that accompanied Elhaik’s journal paper, Shlomo Sand, history professor at Tel Aviv University and author of the controversial 2009 book “The Invention of the Jewish People,” said the study vindicated his long-held ideas.
”It’s so obvious for me,” Sand told the journal. “Some people, historians and even scientists, turn a blind eye to the truth. Once, to say Jews were a race was anti-Semitic, now to say they’re not a race is anti-Semitic. It’s crazy how history plays with us.”
The paper has received little coverage in mainstream American media, but it has attracted the attention of anti-Zionists and “anti-Semitic white supremacists,” Elhaik said.
Interestingly, while anti-Zionist bloggers have applauded Elhaik’s work, saying it proves that contemporary Jews have no legitimate claim to Israel, some white supremacists have attacked it.
David Duke, for example, is disturbed by the assertion that Jews are not a race. “The disruptive and conflict-ridden behavior which has marked out Jewish Supremacist activities through the millennia strongly suggests that Jews have remained more or less genetically uniform and have… developed a group evolutionary survival strategy based on a common biological unity — something which strongly militates against the Khazar theory,” wrote the former Ku Klux Klansman and former Louisiana state assemblyman on his blog in February.
“I’m not communicating with them,” Elhaik said of the white supremacists.
He says it also bothers him, a veteran of seven years in the Israeli army, that anti-Zionists have capitalized on his research “and they’re not going to be proven wrong anytime soon.”
But proponents of the Rhineland Hypothesis also have a political agenda, he said, claiming they “were motivated to justify the Zionist narrative.”
To illustrate his point, Elhaik swivels his chair around to face his computer and calls up a 2010 email exchange with Ostrer.
“It was a great pleasure reading your group’s recent paper, ‘Abraham’s Children in the Genome Era,’ that illuminate[s] the history of our people,” Elhaik wrote to Ostrer. “Is it possible to see the data used for the study?”
Ostrer replied that the data are not publicly available. “It is possible to collaborate with the team by writing a brief proposal that outlines what you plan to do,” he wrote. “Criteria for reviewing include novelty and strength of the proposal, non-overlap with current or planned activities, and non-defamatory nature toward the Jewish people.”
That last requirement, Elhaik argues, reveals the bias of Ostrer and his collaborators.
Allowing scientists access to data only if their research will not defame Jews is “peculiar,” said Catherine DeAngelis, who edited the Journal of the American Medical Association for a decade. “What he does is set himself up for criticism: Wait a minute. What’s this guy trying to hide?”
Despite what his critics claim, Elhaik says, he was not out to prove that contemporary Jews have no connection to the Jewish people of the Bible. His primary research focus is the genetics of mental illness, which, he explains, led him to question the assumption that Ashkenazi Jews are a useful population to study because they’re so homogeneous.
Elhaik says he first read about the Khazarian Hypothesis a decade ago in a 1976 book by the late Hungarian-British author Arthur Koestler, “The Thirteenth Tribe,” written before scientists had the tools to compare genomes.
Koestler, who was Jewish by birth, said his aim in writing the book was to eliminate the racist underpinnings of anti-Semitism in Europe. “Should this theory be confirmed, the term ‘anti-Semitism’ would become void of meaning,” the book jacket reads. Although Koestler’s book was generally well reviewed, some skeptics questioned the author’s grasp of the history of Khazaria.
Graur is not surprised that Elhaik has stood up against the “clique” of scientists who believe that Jews are genetically homogeneous. “He enjoys being combative,” Graur said. “That’s what science is.”