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Setting the Record Straight on Jews and Indigeneity

A portion of the Arch of Titus, depicting the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

July 31, 2018

OPINION | By Ran Ukashi
Director of the League for Human Rights
B’nai Brith Canada

Much has been written about, and some have criticized, the Iroquois National Lacrosse Team’s recent visit to Israel for the World Lacrosse Championships. As such, it is more important than ever to set the record straight on Indigenous relations in the Holy Land and the historical rights of the Jewish people.

The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) recognizes that while there is no “official” definition of what constitutes an “Indigenous People,” there are nonetheless some generally accepted principles that are inclusive enough to accommodate the diversity of Indigenous Peoples around the world.

These principles include:

  1. The self-identification of individuals who are accepted by their community as a member.
  2. Historical continuity in a territory prior to colonial or settler contact.
  3. Strong linkages to the land.
  4. Distinct political, economic, social, cultural, linguistic, and religious beliefs.
  5. A commitment to maintaining the group’s Indigenous identity.

According to these criteria, it is abundantly clear the Jewish People are indeed Indigenous to the historic Land of Israel.

This clarity is missed by many in the media and academic circles who seek to disinvest the Jewish People from their Indigenous patrimony. Increasingly, the dubious claim that Palestinian Arabs are the sole Indigenous inheritors and the only group with historical rights to the land in question is being buoyed by shoddy scholarship coupled with its repetition in media outlets, publications, social media, and elsewhere.

For instance, with the recent 2018 World Lacrosse Championship in Israel, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) penned a letter urging the Iroquois Nationals to avoid competing in Israel on the false and historically simplistic basis that Israeli forces “premeditatively” drove out the majority of the “Indigenous people” of Palestine from the land, engaged in a “regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid,” and attempted to “erase or appropriate” Palestinian culture, heritage, and identity, among other shrill absurdities.

While a complete refutation of the grievous slander contained within that letter is beyond our scope, one thing we must readily address is the attempt to de-indigenize the Jewish People from the Land of Israel.

It bears repeating, clearly and without equivocation, that the Jewish People are indeed Indigenous to the land, and that no quarter can be given in this regard. Even as far back as 1922 with the issuing of the British Palestine Mandate, the Jewish historical connection to the land was recognized as Indigenous in nature, insofar as the text of the document supported the “reconstituting” of the Jewish People in the land, and as a distinct nation from other nations.

Aside from the myriad of historical, archaeological and genetic evidence demonstrating Jewish indigeneity to the land, Zionism – the Indigenous emancipation movement of the Jewish People – sought to rebuild Jewish life in what had been both Ottoman and British Mandate Palestine because of the Indigenous connection to the land. There was little strategic value, no natural resources, nor any other attractive factors other than the historical connection the Jewish People have had with the land since time immemorial.

The culture, religion, language, and mythos of the Jewish People stem entirely from the Land of Israel. They are the only people in existence who both originally lived in and governed the territory and have maintained an unbroken presence in the land since biblical times. To claim otherwise is to engage in deliberate prejudice that obfuscates the truth for the sake of political expedience and cultural appropriation at the expense of Jews around the world, and specifically in Israel itself.

Claims of settler colonialism analogous to other instances in Latin America, Africa, and Asia fail to meet the threshold of logic insofar as Zionism never forced affiliation on the part of the Palestinian Arab population, nor did the Zionist movement preclude the acknowledgement of the national rights of Palestinian Arabs.

It is therefore important to set the record straight: without prejudicing Palestinian Arab rights, and regardless of political differences between Israel and the Palestinians, one may be entitled to their own opinions but not to their own facts.

Jewish indigeneity in the Land of Israel is not a matter of debate, but a matter of historical fact. To try to draw parallels between the historical rights of Jews to their homeland – Jewish indigeneity – and European colonization is a malicious exercise in historical distortion that disenfranchises the Jewish People from their heritage and plays into the historic myth of the Jews as “rootless cosmopolitans.”

Here and now we must put a stop to such erroneous assertions. The Jewish People, like any other, have a right to self-determination on their ancestral lands.

Ran Ukashi is the Director of the League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada.