Tuesday, January 28, 2014


In a recent discussion here at Israel Thrives I got into a small dispute with our friend Stuart over the indigeneity of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. The discussion arose from references to an article by Canadian Native-American activist Ryan Bellerose who argued that the Jews are the indigenous people of that land. Given the fact that the Jews have a 3,500 year provenance on Jewish land, and that the Palestinian Arabs are the progeny of the Arab conquerors of the 7th century, I wrote a piece agreeing with him. Stuart pointed out that the very scholar that Bellerose cited as the basis for his argument of Jewish indigeneity contradicted the claim itself. Anthropologist José R. Martínez-Cobo claims that an essential aspect of indigeneity is "common ancestry with the original occupants of these lands."

Thus Native-Americans can claim to be indigenous because no other peoples lived on that land prior to them.  They can claim to be the original occupants.  This may not be the case with the Jews, although our ancestry may share a genetic commonality with the "original occupants."  Thus, according to Stuart, neither the Jews, nor the local Arabs, can lay claims to indigenous status. The question ultimately comes down to how sociology and anthropology define the meaning of the term, however, and if I were Stuart I would not be too eager to undermine Jewish claims, because genetic evidence may indicate "common ancestry."

Nonetheless, whether the Jews are indigenous or not, we have around 3,500 years of history within our tiny homeland and no one can claim on ethical grounds that the Jewish people should be stripped of the Jewish State. Where I firmly disagree with Stuart is in his complacence in the face of anti-Semitic anti-Zionism, a political sub-movement that, when you add western progressive anti-Zionists with Muslim anti-Zionists throughout the world, you realize that there are far, far more anti-Semitic anti-Zionists than there are Jews.

Just as Bellerose cannot afford to be complacent concerning the well-being and rights of the Métis, so we cannot afford to be complacent concerning the well-being and the rights of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel.

In a recent article for the Indian Country Today Media Network, in response to an anti-Zionist article in the same venue, Bellerose writes this:
The author clearly doesn't understand that in fact Judeah and Samaria are not 'Palestinian' lands but the ancestral homeland of the Jewish nation. This is easily verified through archaeology and study of the region. The Jewish nation does not lose their ties to their land simply because it was occupied first by Rome and then by the Ottomans. To accept that would be to put our own claims in danger.
Judaea and Samaria are, in fact, the ancestral homeland of the Jewish nation and I very much appreciate Bellerose for acknowledging that.  Furthermore, he writes:
Indigenous status is a complex combination of things, but the most important is the genesis of culture and tradition in conjunction with ancestral lands, which would mean that the Jews of Israel are indigenous, and the Arabs of 'Palestine' are not. They can claim indigenous status, but to the Arabian peninsula, which is not the Levant. Ask an Arab where his most holy place is, unless he is one of the tiny minority of Christian Arabs, he will tell you it's Mecca, and he will tell you this in Arabic both of which track back to... the Arabian peninsula. Ask a Jew where their holiest place is, and they will tell you, and they will do so in the language that developed on that land.
Leaving the question of "indigenous status" aside, what I would argue is that Stuart makes a big mistake when he suggests that neither Jews nor local Arabs can claim to be indigenous. The problem with that suggestion is not so much that he is wrong, but that it flattens the field in favor of the Palestinian Arabs. It implies that the Jewish people have no greater claim to Jewish land than the Arab invaders of our land.

It seems to me that we have to make it clear to people who concern themselves with the Arab-Israel conflict that the entire land of Israel, including Judaea and Samaria, is Jewish land. If we cannot bring ourselves to make that claim - to insist upon it - then how can we possibly expect non-Jews to think of the area as anything other than under a foreign occupation?

Over the last one hundred and fifty years the Jewish people have been very good about standing up for the rights of others. In the United States we stood up against slavery and against poverty and against laissez-faire capitalism because it exploited workers. We fought for the New Deal and we fought for Civil Rights and Women's Rights and Gay Rights and Native Rights and the anti-war movement and the environment.

As far as I am concerned it is, perhaps, time that we fought for ourselves, as well.  We should make our alliances where we can and we should support the indigenous rights of indigenous peoples, but it is long past time that we make Jewish well-being our main priority to the extent that we are politically active.

Progressive-left anti-Semites like to talk about some giant, semi-mythical "Jewish lobby" or "Israel lobby" that controls both the United States government and media. The truth of the matter, of course, is that if the Jews were half as powerful as they constantly tell us that we are then the United States would have recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel long ago. The fact that it has not shows the falsehood of this progressive-left anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.

What I say is that we take these claims and turn them into something that resembles reality. That is, the Jewish people need to stand up for our rights and we need to do so in an entirely unapologetic manner. The Land of Israel is the land of the Jewish people. Period. Furthermore, the Arab minority in Israel enjoys greater civil liberties and human rights than do Arabs anyplace else throughout the Middle East. If the Arabs of Israel, including those in Judaea and Samaria, wish to live in prosperity and peace they may do so, but when they inculcate their children with hatred toward Jews they undermine the potential well-being of their own grandchildren.

Until they give up Koranically-based hatred toward the Jewish "other," and until they accept Israel as the Jewish state, they will bring much misery to their own people.

It is entirely up to them.


  1. This site will not let me post a graphic.?
    What I am trying to say and I won't repost the whole thing, which has vanished twice anyway, is that Jewish inhabitancy is well establish archaeologically on both sides of the Jordan and pre-dates Roman. Likewise with Biblical evidence and a map


    1. Shirlee,

      blogspot blogs do not, as far as I know, host graphics in the comments.

      In any case, if the Jews share a common ancestry with the original Canaanites that would make us indigenous to the region.

      Bellerose claims that genetic studies have shown that Jews do share such a common ancestry, but I have not looked into those studies. If he is correct that means Stuart and myself are mistaken.

      I will look into the matter, you can be sure.

      In any case, this question of "indigenous" is very interesting and one that I have not given much thought to in the past.

      I think that it may be necessary to do so going forward and I am coming to believe that Stuart is wrong.

    2. Yes you can post graphics in Blogs with the code I have. I do it all the time, but it doesn't appear to work here.

      When I get time Mike I will send you the many links I have on Jewish genetics. I sent them all the Shimona a while ago as she is interested.

      Hate to burst your bubble Mike and Stuart, you are both wrong.
      My word we share genetics and Haplotypes. They can even tell if a person is a Levite or a Cohen.

      Majority of Sephardi Jews are Cohanim. I have been tested and my blood line is totally 'pure' and it can be traced right back to the ME. That's why now there is such an urgency because there is so much intermarriage. It was different when we lived in the shtels, we married amongst our own.

  2. Considering they spoke a Canaanite language (Hebrew), used Canaanite script,
    had a religion that clearly evolved out of Canaanite paganism, and had material culture that archeology can't distinguish from Canaanite, original Judeans were basically a Canaanite population.

    1. Jacob,

      welcome to Israel Thrives and thank you for your comment.

      I have to say, this whole question of "indigenous" is relatively new to me.

      I find it difficult and problematic and I am not even certain how much it really matters.

      I guess that I simply do not know enough about the prehistoric origins of the Jewish people to make definitive claims, yet.

      You can be sure, however, that I am sympathetic with your view.

  3. Indigenous does not mean original, but regards those with the longest continuous attachment of a non-dominant minority in a state that pre-exists the majority. The minority must also share and wish to preserve a distinct culture.

    If it applied on an intrastate level, there is no question that, especially compared to Palestinian Arabs, Jews are closer to those that claim indigenous status according to the criteria that defines the indigenous.

    Not to mention that the League of Nations found that Palestine was the ancestral home for Jews, and this is a legal finding that has never been overruled, but sustained.

    Perhaps its better to say that Jews are aboriginal, though indigenous is probably used because criteria have been developed with regard to indigeneity.


    1. You're writing a new definition for the word "indigenous". The word originates in biogeography, and within that definition, no humans are indigenous. Within human anthropology, the definition is still evolving, but almost always include "a common ancestry with the original occupants". If it makes you happy to redefine the word to fit the Jews of the middle east, be my guest. I think it's a dead end.

    2. What you said is vague and ambiguous. You sound far from expert yourself, and you seem to acknowledge that there is no consensus definition, with due respect to biogepgraphy.

      Indigenous, at least as being discussed by me, is a legal concept. In that context, you do not know what you are talking about.

      I said, in fact, from the start that Jews could not claim the status. So your claim that I want to "redefine the word to fit the Jews of the middle east" is a fabrication. Indigenous ONLY applies to non-dominant minority groups inside states. Some here want the status to apply to the right of Jewish self-determination against the international community.

      When it comes to ties to the land, however, Jews can make a much stronger case than Arabs, even if you have a need to insist that neither are indigenous. Do you dispute the assertion that Jews have the better case?

      If Israel were a binational state where Jews were in the minority, I believe they would be fully entitled to claim indigenous status and seek a large measure of autonomy to preserve the distinct culture. Do you dispute the assertion that Jews would deserve that status?

      If Jews could claim the status as I have described, it strengthens the non-legal claim that Jews are indigenous to the land, particularly compared to the Arabs, a claim that is highly disputed in the international venue. Do you think it is a worthwhile claim to make?

    3. No, I don't think it's a worthwhile claim. I don't think the claim that "we were here longer" is the least bit meaningful.

    4. Then what do you find the least bit meaningful, if Jewish pre-existing presence means nothing at all?


    5. Stuart,

      You should not, in my humble opinion, reduce all of Jewish history to "we were here longer."

      Bellerose put it like this:

      Indigenous status is a complex combination of things, but the most important is the genesis of culture and tradition in conjunction with ancestral lands...

      The genesis of culture and tradition.

      As Jews we so often have terrific respect for the cultures and traditions of other peoples and, yet, so often, so little for our own.

      I suppose my main point, however, is that the Arabs conquered and hold 99.9 percent of the Middle East and even the tiny 1/10th of one percent where the Jews maintain sovereignty is too much for their governments and their peoples. You may think that Israel is secure and is, in fact, the aggressor, but history does not confirm that.

      On the contrary, the Jews of the Middle East are a minority that remains under siege by a far, far larger and far, far more hostile majority population that has shown its willingness to committ terrible violence for the purpose of eliminating Jewish autonomy on historically Jewish land.

      In truth, I do not know exactly where you are coming from, but I never have, really. I think that you are a good and decent man, but I suspect that you operate from an older paradigm, based around the Oslo Accords, in which the idea was that if we would just be more nice and offer up the heart of the Jewish homeland to our enemies then they will end the long Arab war against the Jews of the Middle East and there will be peace.

      I simply no longer believe it. I used to believe it and would like to continue believing it, but how can we? The local Arabs turned down every single offer for a state since 1937. So, what would you have Israel do?


      Thank you for this very interesting comment and the link.

      I wonder if your definition of "indigenous" is commonly accepted among scholars and academics knowledgeable about such things, which I am not, or is it grounded in your understanding of how international law addresses the issue? From what you have said the implication is the latter.

      I have to say, I do not find myself terribly attached to the notion that the Jews are the indigenous population, because I do not believe that Jewish claims are dependent upon the definition of that word. I wish Bellerose and his people nothing but the very best and I think that the Jewish people need to be supportive of those who are supportive of us, which we have not always been very good about.

      I need to do further research on this question, but for the moment "aboriginal" will do just fine.

    6. Personally, I think you are on a wild goose chase.

      If the Middle East was one state, Jews would be indigenous to the land of Israel, but they are not indigenous on the international level. It is important to understand the context, that indigenous rights can only be exercised against independent, individual states.

      Bellerose's context was to look at Israel's rights in the region and international community, but the Metis claim rights against the Canadian state.

      Here is more context:

      The United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights state that all peoples have the right of self-determination by virtue of which they “freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development”. (Part one, Article one, 1966) However, because there has been dispute over the exact meaning of the term “peoples”, it is not clear exactly to whom “peoples” refers. Some state governments oppose use of the term “peoples” in regards to Indigenous Peoples because they fear its association with the right of secession and independent statehood.


      Jews already have self-determination. I agree, however, that Jewish claims are not dependent on the definition of indigenous, but the criteria that defines what makes a people indigenous support their claims as opposed to their detractors.

      The truth is that Israel supporters would not have to raise the claim except that the Arabs dispute that Jews are even a people!

      Here is a UN document that you may find helpful:


    7. Y'know, School, I'm not really on a hunt.

      This is more like a stroll down a beach with a metal detector.

      I have no idea what is going to turn up!

      I am merely, in my own casual way, chewing over this notion of indigeneity.

      I have simply never pondered the Jewish-Israel situation from that standpoint and I have no background in indigenous studies. I am almost feel like dialing up some anthropologist from Berkeley or Stanford and saying, "So, hey, from an academic point of view would you consider the Jews to be indigenous to the Land of Israel and is there much disagreement within the field around that question?"

      It's a very interesting question, I think, and I know very little about it.

    8. I am not wanting to diss anthropology, but in this instance it's a matter of law.

      It is grounded in the right of self-determination.

      ILO Convention 169 is a good starting place.

      It can objectively be determined whether a specific indigenous or tribal people meets the requirements of Article 1(1) and recognizes and accepts a person as belonging to their people.

      Article 1(2) recognizes the self-identification of indigenous and tribal peoples as a fundamental criterion. This is the subjective criterion of Convention No. 169, which attaches fundamental importance to whether a given people considers itself to be indigenous or tribal under the Convention and whether a person identifies himself or herself as belonging to this people. Convention No. 169 was the first international instrument to recognize the importance of self-identification.

      The Convention’s coverage is based on a combination of the objective and subjective criteria. Thus, self-identification complements the objective criteria, and vice versa. The Convention takes an inclusive approach and is equally applicable to both indigenous and tribal peoples.

      The Convention thereby focuses on the present situation of indigenous and tribal peoples, although the historical continuity and territorial connection are important elements in the identification of indigenous peoples.

      The criteria elaborated in Article 1(1) b of Convention No. 169 have been applied widely for the purpose of identifying indigenous peoples in international and national political and legal processes, far beyond the group of States that have ratified the Convention. It is used as an international working definition for the purpose of identifying indigenous peoples, including in the application of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and has also been the basis on which various UN specialized agencies have developed their own operational definitions of the term indigenous peoples, including the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme.


    9. After looking at the above comment, I wanted to brush up a bit more, and found this, my last word on the issue

      From: UNDP and Indigenous Peoples: A Policy Of Engagement (2001), pp. 1-2


      Who are indigenous peoples?

      The Covenant of the League of Nations, referred to non-self-governing or colonized peoples as “indigenous” peoples. In the 1950s, ILO began referring to the problems of “indigenous populations in independent countries,” which is to say culturally and geographically distinct communities that were non-self-governing, marginalized, and colonized inside the borders of independent states.

      The terms “indigenous peoples,” “indigenous ethnic minorities,” and “tribal groups” are used to describe social groups that share similar characteristics, namely a social and cultural identity that is distinct from dominant groups in society.

      United Nations human rights bodies, ILO, the World Bank and international law apply four criteria to distinguish indigenous peoples:

      (a) indigenous peoples usually live within (or maintain attachments to) geographically distinct ancestral territories; (b) they tend to maintain distinct social, economic, and political institutions within their territories; (c) they typically aspire to remain distinct culturally, geographically and institutionally rather than assimilate fully into national society; and (d) they self-identify as indigenous or tribal.

      Despite common characteristics, there does not exist any single accepted definition of indigenous peoples that captures their diversity as peoples. Self-identification as indigenous or tribal is usually regarded as a fundamental criterion for determining whether groups are indigenous or tribal, sometimes in combination with other variables such as “language spoken,” and “geographic location or concentration.”

      A social and cultural identity that is distinct from dominant groups of society inside the borders of independent states is the common element in all of these groups.