Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat claimed at the Munich Security Conference on Jan. 31 that the Palestinians cannot accept Israel as the Jewish state because they lived in the region long before the Jews.
In the context of the current debate over the Jordan Valley, Erekat claimed that his ancestors were the real descendants of the Canaanites and lived in the area for “5,500 years before Joshua Bin-Nun.”1
In effect, Erekat was promoting the well-known Palestinian narrative that they are the native population, while the Jews are latecomers who only arrived in the last hundred years. Since the Muslim Arab conquest of Palestine occurred only in 634CE, the credibility of this Palestinian claim is questionable, to say the least.
At the same time, there is documented proof of a Jewish presence in the land dating back millennia. In Jericho itself, the Shalom al Yisrael (Peace unto Israel) synagogue with its magnificent mosaic was discovered in the 1930s and dates back to the Byzantine period. Not far away is the Wadi Kelt synagogue which dates back to 75 BCE, from the time of the Hasmonean monarchy, making it the oldest synagogue to have been discovered.2
According to Moshe Gil’s A History of Palestine 634-1099 published by Cambridge University Press, “The Jewish population in Palestine residing in the country at the time of the Muslim conquest consisted of the direct descendants of the generations of Jews who had lived there since the days of Joshua bin Nun, in other words, for some 2,000 years.”3 In the fifth century, “the Jews and the Samaritans virtually governed the land.”4
Salo Wittmayer Baron, in A Social and Religious History of the Jews published by Columbia University Press, recounts how the Caliph ‘Umar I embarked on a career of world conquest in 634 in the first decade after Mohammed’s death. “‘Umar expelled the Jews of Khaibar, the largest and most intact non-Muslim group still remaining in northern Arabia.” According to Al-Bukhari, the most famous and authoritative compiler of Muslim traditions known as hadith, ‘Umar deported Khaibar Jews to Jericho.5
There is another tradition that most of the Jews of Khaybar settled in Jericho and in the surrounding area. “The Jews of Khaybar apparently spread out from Jericho along the Jordan Valley, reaching the Sanur Valley in northern Samaria.”6
Thus, the Jewish presence in the land can be documented as dating back for millennia, while the politically-motivated claims made up by Palestinian leaders in an attempt to refute the long-standing history of the Jews in the region lack any such proof.
1. Daniel Siryoti and Shlomo Cesana, “Chief Palestinian Negotiator: We Were Here before the Jews,” Israel Hayom, Feb. 2, 2014, http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_article.php?id=15185. Erekat’s own family probably came from southern Jordan near the Saudi border, see http://alahaywat.blogspot.ca/2013/12/blog-post_2522.html
3. Moshe Gil, A History of Palestine 634-1099 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 2.
4. Ibid., p. 3.
5. Salo Wittmayer Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews (New York: Columbia University Press, 1957), pp. 86-87.
6. “Khaybar,” Encyclopedia Judaica, 2nd ed., vol. 12, http://archive.org/stream/KhaosOdenslandArchiveDocstheMisanthropicMisogynist/EncyclopaediaJudaicaV.12kat-lie_djvu.txt