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February 26, 2014 8:05 am

Forgotten Even By Us: Judaism’s Historic Ties to Israel

avatar by Lee S. Bender and Jerome R. Verlin

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A Haganah member and others during Israel's War of Independence. Photo: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

With Palestinian Arabs claiming Canaanite descent, the Jewish people must make their case for their historical ties to the land of Israel. The biblical era, from Israelite origins in the land through the Second Temple’s destruction, is well-known in the West. The tenacious continued Jewish presence thereafter isn’t.”Ž

Former President Carter voiced a widely-believed misperception when he wrote  regarding the year 135 CE: “Romans suppress(ed) a Jewish revolt, killing or forcing almost all Jews of Judaea into exile.” But the forgotten fact is that the Jews never left.

The great significance of this, stated by eminent British historian James Parkes, is that Jews have always had strong ties to the land due to the “heroic endurance of those who had maintained a Jewish presence in The Land all through the centuries, and in spite of every discouragement,” which gave the Zionists'”real title deeds.” Every ruler in between was a foreign invader, and mostly non-Arab at that. The homeland Jewish Yishuv saw them all arrive and depart.”Ž

Roman-Byzantine Period: In 135, 65 years after the Temple’s destruction, Rome defeated the Bar-Kochba Revolt in a four-year war. But Rome did not “exile” Judaea’s surviving Jews. Wilken wrote in The Land Called Holy: “Jewish life in Palestine went on undisturbed during the Christian era – such is the testimony of archeology.” New synagogue construction, and remodeling of older ones, “continued without interruption.” During their ensuing “Talmudic Age,” homeland Jews wrote monumental religious works, the Mishnah and Palestinian Talmud. Rome recognized the Patriarch as head of the homeland’s Jews until the fifth century. In 614, twenty-some thousand Jews fought in their own self-mustered battalions alongside the invading Persians.

Muslim Dynasty Period: Homeland Jews aided the 638 Arab-led Muslim invaders and received rewards in Hebron and Jerusalem. The four-and-a-half century rule of the foreign-based Ommayad, Abbasid, and Fatimid dynasties began as Arab but progressively fell under control of the Turks. Archeologist Bahat’s Forgotten Generations includes a 9th century map showing 100 homeland Jewish communities of which we have evidence today, eleven centuries later.

Crusader Period: A contemporary Crusader account of their conquest in 1099 of Jerusalem reads: “And here, in front of us, were the foreigners, Jew, Turk and Arab, fighting for their lives …. none put down his sword; the Turk, the Arab, and the Jew were among the fallen. The Jew is the last to fall.” Several accounts tell of Tancred and the Venetians’ month-long land-sea siege of Haifa,”which the Jews [virtually alone] defended with great courage.” Travelers, including Benjamin of Tudela, recorded that surviving Jews remained in the land. Anglo-Saxon pilgrim Saewulf noted many places’ Jewish connection, including”the region called Judea” between the Jordan and Sea. Despite obstacles confronting all travelers, and those erected expressly for Jews, many Diaspora Jews, the great poet Yehuda Halevi and great scholar Maimonides among them, endeavored to return to the land during Crusader rule.

Mamluk Period: Few today have heard of the Mamluks (a/k/a Mamlukes), but following the Mongol invasion that came after Saladin-led Turks defeated the Crusaders, these Turks-Circassians ruled the region, first from Turkey and then from Egypt, from 1260 to 1517. Leaders Nahmanides and Ovadiah came in this period. Christian pilgrims’ recorded “in Jerusalem dwell many Jews,” but Acre was the principal Jewish community. Katz inBattleground says;: “Even the meager records that survived report nearly thirty Jewish urban and rural communities at the opening of the 16th century.””Ž

Ottoman Turk Period: Ottoman Turks ruled the region for the next 400 years, 1517 to 1917, driving Palestine’s population down below a quarter million. But with forced interruptions in some places, the Jewish Yishuv tenaciously lived in its four holy cities – Jerusalem, Safed, Tiberias, and Hebron – and Galilee farming villages and elsewhere in the land, again becoming Jerusalem’s majority in pre-Zionist 19th century times. These were worldly people of industry, trade, and farming, as well as of religious conviction, who burst out of Jerusalem’s Old City’s walls, founding new communities, Palestine’s first modern agricultural school at Mikveh Israel, and Petah Tikvah, “ mother of agricultural settlements,” before the Zionists came. It was to an already reviving Yishuv that they came.

The Palestinians:” If anybody, it’s Palestine’s Jews, not its Arabs, who have Canaanite roots. Archeologists have traced Israelite presence in the land to the 12th century BCE, but are divided into “Conquest” and “Indigenous Origin” camps.  The latter believe that Israelites descended not from Joshua-led invaders but from sedentarizing Canaanite pastoral nomads (Finkelstein) or lowland Canaanite farmers who migrated up into the Judean-Samarian hills (Dever et al).

20th century Palestinian Arabs make up the majority population of an Arab state, Jordan, carved in 1921 from the post-Ottoman Palestine Mandate. The Palestinian Arabs’ representatives told the Peel Commission in 1937: “There is no such country as Palestine! ‘Palestine’ is a term the Zionists invented.” They do not have a distinctive history, language, culture, or religion from their brethren in neighboring Jordan, Syria, or Lebanon.  In 1947, British Foreign Minister Bevin told Parliament that for the Jews “the essential point of principle” was attainment of Jewish statehood, and that for the Arabs it was “to resist to the last the establishment of Jewish sovereignty in any part of Palestine.” This explains Palestinian Arabs’ repeated rejections of their own western Palestine state alongside a Jewish one.”Ž

Modern Israel: Far from being “created” and “founded” in 1948, as the mainstream Western media puts it, modern Israel’s attainment of independence, as the land’s next native state after Jewish Judaea, is the natural fruition again into statehood of perhaps history’s longest continuous attachment to a homeland central to its peoplehood and theology by a people practicing the same religion and speaking the same language as their ancestors three millennia ago.

We need to reawaken ourselves and the West to our continuous post-biblical homeland history. This is the effective response to the canards that “Zionists” are colonialist European “settlers,” not just in Samaria and Judea, but throughout the homeland of Israel, which the Jews never left.

Lee S. Bender and Jerome R. Verlin are co-President and co-Vice President, respectively, of the Zionist Organization of America- Greater Philadelphia District. They are the authors of Pressing Israel: Media Bias Exposed From A-Z (Pavilion Press, 2012). Verlin is the author of Israel 3000 Years: The Jewish People’s 3000 Year Presence inPalestine (Pavilion Press, 2011)

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  • Alistair Pike

    Has Eli forgotten that people intermarry. So Palestinians can claim to be both semites and descendants of Canaanites. Mentioning the Canaanite undermines the argument of the article that the Israelis are the First Nation group and thus have rights to the land.If the Canaanites were there first then the Jewish nation are second and cannot clain the rights of being first. That why the UN in 1948 proposed a Jewish state and a Palestinian State. Both groups have clains to the land

  • With help from genome science, history, archaeology and law, more attention needs to paid to the political, moral and legal meaning of the unbroken record of Jewish life in the land of Israel. See “Aboriginal Rights of the Jewish People” at:

    The gradual development of the Hebrew language and the emergence of the religion of Judaism were among several factors that prompted a particular population to self-identify as the specifically “Jewish” People, some time around the 6th century BCE. From then until today, there has never been a single year when then self-identified “Jews” were entirely absent from their aboriginal homeland.

    Failure to focus on the story of those self-identified “Jews” who stubbornly lived there in each century, arises partly from current Jewish shame that Jews were then such a small minority of the local population. This shame is a pity because aboriginal rights are frequently the rights of the minority.

    Among the distinct, self-identified Peoples “now” living in a country or region, the one with the best claim to be “aboriginal” is the People which was there first in time. Without reference to numbers, this “now” existing aboriginal People is to be distinguished from other “current” local Peoples, which subsequently either were formed in the land (indigenous) or came there via conquest, migration and settlement.

    For example, the Indian tribes in Canada are commonly called “the First Nations.” They are still “the” aboriginal Peoples there, even though some of these tribes now number only a few hundred individuals. Their status as “first in time” is not lost because they are now just a fraction of Canada’s population.

    Aboriginal rights are frequently minority rights. In that minority context, aboriginal rights can contrast with majority rights, and sometimes limit the right of the current majority to decide all matters simply by voting. For example, during the interwar period (1919-1939), those members of the Yishuv most favorable to the rights of the local Muslim Arabs (e.g., Judah Magnes) would never concede that the Muslim Arab majority then had a political, moral or legal right to vote to prohibit the entry of Jews to the ancestral homeland of the Jewish People.

    This should remind us that “majority rules” is not a universal moral, political or legal principle that invariably applies to all subject matter, under all circumstances, and at all times. Significantly, the majority principle is merely a decision rule that “now” selects among “current” alternatives. The dead cannot rise from the grave to vote nor can we now issue writs for holding an election to be held in the past. Thus, “majority rules” is a principle that applies right now in the present, but not retroactively to history.

    This means that the majority principle does not retrospectively reach back to earlier historical periods to now confer rights on a current non-aboriginal minority, just because it had once been the majority. For example, the fact that Muslim Arabs were a century ago the majority there does not now confer any current political, moral or legal right as against the Jewish People whose presence there was always aboriginal and non-colonial.

    Whether a thousand years ago or today, Jews returning to live with other Jews in the aboriginal homeland of the Jewish People are not to be compared to the 17th-century Pilgrim Fathers who went to build English “settlements” in America, where they had neither native kin nor ancestors. Nor is the Jewish People in its own ancestral homeland to be compared to the Dutch “Boers” in South Africa or the French “colons” in Algeria.

    Like Canada’s First Nations, the Jewish People — for more than two millennia — has always had the strongest claim to be “the” aboriginal People in its ancestral homeland; though for most of those centuries, Jews there were but a small percentage of the inhabitants. Nor is this persistent Jewish claim to be “the” aboriginal People there in any way weakened because the majority of Jews have at various times lived elsewhere.

  • Salomon Mizrahi

    Jews from the Middle East (mizrahim Jews)have more vivid memories of their ties to Israel, due to the geographic proximity

  • Beatrix

    Thank you for the valuable article with so much historical detail. In Sci-Fi, aliens come from dying planets to take over Earth planning to remove all Earthlings, but in Earth history, Germany didn’t remove the French in order to take over France, the colonial English didn’t remove the Africans, we moved the Indians around, but we didn’t remove them, and so why should the Romans and other conquerors remove the Jews?

  • NCS

    Brilliant historical account of a people chosen by G-d to live in The Land He appointed as theirs.

  • Eli

    How can the Palestinians be descendants of the Canaanites if they claim to be Semites?!
    Canaan was the son of Ham, Noah’s second son. Shem, the ancestor of the Semites, was his first son. Something doesn’t add up.
    Unfortunately, this myth about the origin of the Palestinians, has been widely promoted in academic circles and college courses.