I am a Palestinian Jew!

posted in: Bias, Israel, Judaism, Politics, Religion | 6

In the last few months I have begun verbally identifying myself as a Palestinian Jew. It’s been as much an exercise in “trying this label on” as anything else, but it honestly feels right. As I’ve always understood the definition of Palestinian, it’s someone whose family was from Palestine, or had some distant relation who was close to Palestine (Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria) and claim an ancestor who “fled” in 1947. In fact, most of the self identified “Palestinians” I have met in the US over the years, often protesting against Israel, have never lived in or been to either Israel or Palestine – yet wear their “heritage” and identitiy as a badge of honor.

Today, on the second anniversary of the passing of my father, I’m doing some deep thinking about him, his heritage, and thereby – my heritage. My father was born in Palestine, as was his mother and his mother’s mother. From that perspective alone, I’m about as Palestinian as they come. And for that matter, so are my kids as will be their kids. The question will simply be, how and who they choose to identify with.

Both my sons are very identified in their heritage – one recently wrote a Facebook post about his frustration at being discriminated against as an Israeli, and his frustration that as this was being done – no one witnessing this felt compelled to speak up and defend his rights as a “human”‘ – however he identified.

This led me today to Google the term “Palestinian Jew” and interestingly, even Wikipedia has a definition: “Palestinian Jew is the term used to refer to a Jewish inhabitant of Palestine (known in Hebrew as Eretz Israel, the “Land of Israel“) prior to the establishment of the modern state of Israel.” That’s me – or at least the descendant of one. I then explored a few articles that described the really interesting dichotomy that exists with these identities. Can one even be a Palestinian Jew, or for that matter, can one be Palestinian Israeli? Sadly – for me, most of the authors of these articles had an inherently anti-Israel bias – which didn’t work for me.

It’s no surprise to anyone that I am a proud Jew, Israeli, Zionist, humanist and so much more. Does that mean that I am then denied the right to also identify as a Palestinian Jew? It’s a really interesting question. While I was searching for a perspective on identity that had a bias I was more comfortable with, Lara turned me on to the blog of Erika Davis. Erika Davis is a young woman currently living in Israel who is black, gay & Jewish. Her thoughts, in her blog (please check it out!), are fascinating.

Great food for thought – and IMHO, a great way to honor the memory of my father! May you rest in peace Shmuel Litov, z”l – may his memory be for a blessing.

6 Responses

  1. RobertinSeattle

    There have always been a lot of similarities between the migration of the Jews and the Chinese over the long course of history, along with the persecution that often went with it. I recall my Father telling me about the tales of the Jewish tribes that have lived in China for centuries, with some of them considered among the Lost Tribes of Israel.

    The Jews and the Chinese have also often been in many unexpected corners of the world, often as enterprising business owners who have often been persecuted and expelled by locals for their entrepreneurial skills.

    So I’m not particularly surprised to hear about Palestinian Jews at all. I also understand that there are also Jewish natives scattered among many of the Arab states although most have either left or been pushed out of those countries over the years. The few who still remain in those countries have had to stay very quiet in their own home lands. Where else can they move to? Many have been living there for generations and it’s their homeland.

    One of the points I’ve often used as an argument to those anti-Semites is why none of the Arab countries – not one – had ever offered any of their own land for the Palestinians? instead, it’s been an ongoing issue of how the Palestinians are treated by the Israelis. And little in the way of supplies and food assistance but certainly never any shortage of weapons constantly being funneled to the PLO. And yet the anti-Israelis never seem to see or point this out.

    • tzachi

      Agreed Robert – good points. And your comparison of Jews and the Chinese is really spot on. Years ago, when Lara and I traveled in Southeast Asia, specifically in Malaysia and Indonesia, the Chinese were often considered the “Jews” of Asia. This was mainly, however, because they were often the local successful businessmen and Chinese families place a high value on education. The similarities however, end there (IMHO). The Chinese have resources, support and a national background that Jews, sadly, could never have.

      Your point about the Jews living in Arab lands is a good one as well. There are very interesting statistics about the Jews who’ve had to leave their home countries if they were Arab. Here’s a link to an interesting article by Stand With Us. Thanks so much for commenting. It’s very appreciated.

  2. Mark Berman

    A really interesting and unique perspective that I’ve never given a thought to despite having a brother in law who is also descended from Palestinian Jews. Thanks for the wake up. Shmuel was a very special man who is missed.

    • tzachi

      Thanks Mark. It’s been really an interesting process sharing with folks the idea that I’m a Palestinian – as it really throws the whole conversation off and forces both myself, and whoever I am speaking with to really dive down into what it all really means. I think – also as Jews, in light of all that’s going on around us today – the BLM movement, the concept of “social justice warriors”, the divisive elections, “normal” labels and “normal” conversations should no longer be the norm. Thanks for reading and commenting. It means a lot to me. Really.

  3. Randy

    Hi Tzachi,

    This was an interesting read. My sense is that you’re using the term in order to reclaim the name Palestine as something that isn’t exclusively Arab, and to educate people about the history of the region, and specifically your father’s personal history. Personally, I don’t know what kind of affinity Jews may have towards an entity called Palestine, as I’m not aware of anything that would make one feel a sense of belonging towards a name of an Ottoman or Syrian province or a post- WWI mandatory territory, so that would be my question about why you’re trying this name on. But hey, if it fits, or if it serves your interests, or just makes you a more interesting person to talk with, go for it!

    • tzachi

      Thanks Randy – I think you’re spot on that it’s as much about me playing around with reclaiming the idea of “who is a Palestinian” as much as anything else. Probably because of my family’s direct ties, I do feel a personal affinity and have affection towards the idea. So far, it seems like it’s fitting quite well. Thanks for your comments!

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