25 March 2010

Dissecting the Israeli Claim to East Jerusalem

Much has been made of President Obama being blindsided and humiliated by the announcement of new settlement construction in East Jerusalem, made by Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu's government during the visit to Israel by Vice President Biden, on the eve of the so-called proximity talks with the Palestinians, negotiated so painstakingly by George Mitchell.

Netanyahu insists all of Jerusalem is the indivisible capital of Israel and therefore not subject to negotiation.  His claim to East Jerusalem (and by implication most of the land in the West Bank) derives from a theory of historical precedence that says the original inhabitants of that troubled land have an exclusive right to ownership of that land, and that the Palestinians, being more recent inhabitants, have no equivalent right, even though they may have legally owned that land prior to 1967 and have resided on it for many generations.  

Professor Juan Cole thoroughly debunks this preposterous theory in the blog entry: The Ten Top Reasons East Jerusalem does not Belong to Jewish-Israelis (also attached below).

But Netanyahu's claim could be even more ludicrous than Professor Cole so ably demonstrates.  That is because Cole notes but does not address the truly devastating implications of the hypothesis analyzed by Hebrew University Professor Shlomo Sand in the controversial international best seller, Invention of the Jewish People, Verso Press, 2009.  Sand, a scholarly historian with the character and courage to follow his analysis wherever it may lead, contends in this well documented historical study of the Jewish diaspora population that much of that population is really descended from indigenous peoples who converted to Judaism (e.g., Berbers in North Africa and Spain, Khazars in what is now the Ukraine, pre-Islamic Arabs in Yemen, etc.) rather than being descendants of the relatively small number of Jews who were expelled from Palestine by the Romans after the destruction of the 2nd Temple in AD 70.  

Sand's analysis raises raises a fundamental question of  whether Jews should be  defined by religion (like Christians, Moslems, Buddhists, and Hindus, for example) or by racial/ethnic exclusivity (i.e., by genetics) -- a question that is explosive in Israel.  If Sand's hypothesis is correct, the implications are profound: The Palestinians are probably closer genetically to the Jewish expellees from the second temple than the overwhelming majority of non-arab Israeli citizens, who are either descendants of Eastern Europeans (like Netanyahu's Polish forebears) or recent immigrants (especially from North Africa or Russia), like the ex-Ukranian bar room bouncer, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.   And by being the descendants of converts, these Israelis would be about as closely related genetically to the Jewish expellees from the second temple as the descendants of Ivan the Terrible or Sitting Bull, thus turning Netanyahu's theory of historical precedence on its head.