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March 2, 2018 11:12 am

Mahmoud Abbas and the False Palestinian Link to the Jebusites

avatar by Jeremy Rosen


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting of the Palestinian Central Council in Ramallah, Jan. 14, 2018. Reuters / Mohamad Torokman.

Abu Mazen is at it again, claiming that Palestinians are descended from the Canaanite tribe of the Jebusites. These claims echo those made by Yasser Arafat, Faisal Husseini and others before them.

A 1978 Palestinian encyclopedia asserted: “The Palestinians [are] the descendants of the Jebusites, who are of Arab origin.” The book also described Jerusalem as “an Arab city because its first builders were the Canaanite Jebusites, whose descendants are the Palestinians.”

This is interesting by itself, because the very term Arab, used as early as 800 BCE in Assyrian texts, applied only to inhabitants of the deserts of Arabia — not hill country such as the West Bank.

Such declarations should not surprise us. History is political. Many Middle Eastern cultures and states retroactively claim roots to the ancient tribes and empires in order to legitimize their modern nationalism. For instance, the Lebanese claim descent from the Phoenicians, Iraqis from the Babylonians, Kurds from the Medeans, and Turks from the Hittites.

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I am not one of those who claim that the justification for a Jewish state is a Biblical promise. My justification is based on a documented historical, cultural and ideological association between a religious and culturally identifiable people and the land of Israel.

Still, there is a link between Jerusalem and the Jebusites.

The name of Jerusalem predates the city’s appearance in Jewish history. Ancient texts such as the Egyptian texts (2000-1900 B.C.E.) refer to the city as Rushalimum. The word Jerusalem becomes more recognizable in a series of letters from around 1400 BCE, attributed to scribes acting on behalf of King Abdi-Hepa of Urusalim. Someone inhabited the ancient site of Jerusalem, perhaps as early as 3200 BCE and there is reference to Yabusu, an old form of Jebus, on a contract tablet that dates from 2200 BCE.

The first mention of the Jebusites in the Bible occurs as Genesis lists the offspring of Noah. Here, they are counted as direct descendants of a man named Canaan, Noah’s grandson. The one he cursed for humiliating him.  But then so were the Sidonites, Amorites, Hivites, Arkites, Sinites, Arvadites, Zemaraties and Hamatites (Genesis 10.15).

Perhaps Abu Mazen is descended from the Sinites. In which case he is welcome to Sinai.

Then in Exodus, as the Jews look to move to the land of Canaan — which was promised to Abraham — they were expected to “drive out” the Jebusites and other tribes from the Promised Land.

In Deuteronomy, God orders the Jews to destroy completely “the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than yourselves,” and forbids intermarriage with them. But the Israelites never succeeded in getting rid of them then. During the period of the Judges, the Canaanites actually conquered the Israelites until Deborah and Barak fought back.

In the book of Judges, Israel is recorded as disobeying the order to completely annihilate the Jebusites, who have committed “abominations” before God. The book relates how the Jebusites continued to mix with the sons of Benjamin in Jerusalem.

Jews and Jebusites seem to have co-existed in Israel as late as the 11th century BCE. In 966 BCE, King David conquered Jebus and made it his capital, Jerusalem.

There is no mention of the Jebusites’ total annihilation. But neither is there any other mention of them elsewhere. No artifacts or documents.

The Christian narrative continues into the New Testament, using the more general rubric of the Canaanites. In Matthew 15:22, a Canaanite woman approaches Jesus, because her daughter is possessed by a demon.

Craig Blomberg, professor of the New Testament at the Denver Seminary, argues that Matthew picked the word “Canaanite” in order to conjure up images of past Canaanite evils. But the term Canaanite is used in Prophets to describe merchants and aliens in general, without being genetically specific. And since Christians see themselves as having taken over the mantel of the children of Israel, they too lay claim to the Holy Land and have a much more impressive case than the Jebusites.

There is no archaeological evidence to support the claim of a Jebusite-Palestinian continuity. The general consensus exists among historians and archeologists that modern Palestinians are “more closely related to the Arabs of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, and other countries” than to the Jebusites, and that they lack any significant connection to them.

The late Johns Hopkins University Professor William Albright questioned “the surprising tenacity” of “the myth of the unchanging East,” and rejected any assertion of continuity between the Palestinians and past communities like the Jebusites.

Most Palestinians have genetic identities that are more Turkish, Iraqi or Egyptian, than specifically Palestinian or Canaanite.

I am not suggesting that all Jews can trace their genes back to the land of Israel. But the issue is not the specific person, so much as the association of a culture and heritage with the land. Conquest is not the issue. Almost every power has conquered Israel at some stage. The Arabs are rather latecomers compared to the Jews. They only arrived some 1200 years ago.

It would make much more sense for the Palestinians to claim that they are descended from the Hittites. But then they might offend the obnoxious Erdogan in Turkey, where the Hittites originated.

Under the Ottomans, Jews lived in Israel. After the expulsion from Spain, it became a hub of Jewish mystical life — led by giants such as Moses Cordovero, Isaac Luria and Hayim Vital. At one time in the 18th century, Jews made up half the population of Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed and Tiberius. And in the 18th century, waves of Ashkenazi Hassidim found their way to Jerusalem, Tiberius and Safed long before anyone had heard of Zionism.

None of this means that current Palestinians of whatever origin or any non-Jewish migrants should have no rights in Israel. As I have said, history is political. But to tell lies or to mislead is simply deceitful — and ultimately self-destructive, because history does have a way of turning up the truth eventually. And I promise to retract if Abu Mazen can produce any evidence to contradict me.

Some of the facts in this piece have been taken from “Palestinians, Jebusites, and Evangelicals,” David Wenkel, Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2007, pp. 49-56.

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