Hussain Altamimi, according to Fox News, is a legislative assistant for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Hypocritical Florida Vacay). It is unclear whether one has to express hatred for Israel to get such a job, or if it is simply the case that only haters of Israel will apply, but in any case young Altamimi took to Instagram on Christmas Eve to rant that “Israel is a racist European ethnostate built on stolen land from its indigenous population!” That’s some strong red meat for the blue rubes, but not surprisingly, it isn’t remotely true.
Aside from ignoring the descendants of the 900,000 Jews who were expelled from Arab lands upon the creation of the State of Israel, and who aren’t remotely European, Altamimi was ignoring the unbroken connection of the land of Israel and the Jews. The land that is now the State of Israel corresponds roughly to the lands known in ancient times as Judea, Samaria, Idumea, and Galilee, and was inhabited by Jews from time immemorial. In A.D. 134, the Romans expelled the Jews from the area in retaliation for a revolt against their rule led by the self-appointed messiah Simon Bar Kokhba; as an insult to the Jews and to efface any traces of their connection to the land, they renamed Jerusalem Aelia Capitolina and the region Palestine, a name they plucked from the Bible, as it was the name of the Israelites’ ancient enemies, the Philistines.
Subsequently, Palestine was the name of a region but never of a people or of a political entity. The area that was Palestine was part of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire until it was conquered by the Arabs. Later it came under the control of the Turks, who ruled it until the Ottoman Empire collapsed at the end of World War I.
As The Palestinian Delusion explains, throughout all this time, even as invaders overwhelmed the land, a Jewish presence remained, particularly in Galilee. In the year 438, the Byzantine Empress Eudocia removed the prohibition on Jews’ praying at the site of their ancient Temple in Jerusalem, a prohibition that had been in place for three hundred years. Jewish leaders in Galilee sent out a message to “the great and mighty people of the Jews” relaying the happy news and declaring: “Know then that the end of the exile of our people has come.”
It hadn’t, but some Jews still persevered and continued to live in the region. In the tenth century, Jewish leaders in Palestine issued another call to the Jews to return to their homeland. But the various invaders and occupiers of the land of Israel never made aliyah (“going up,” or returning to the land of Israel) an easy or attractive option. On July 15, 1099, after some of their number had terrorized and murdered Jews all across Europe as they made their way to the Holy Land, the Crusaders finally entered Jerusalem, after a five-week siege. Once inside the city, they encountered a significant number of Jews, and were no kinder to them than they had been to their brethren in Europe. According to the twelfth-century Syrian Muslim chronicler al-Azimi, “they burned the Church of the Jews.”
A contemporary of al-Azimi and a fellow chronicler, Ibn al-Qalanisi, added: “The Franks stormed the town and gained possession of it. A number of the townsfolk fled to the sanctuary and a great host were killed. The Jews assembled in the synagogue, and the Franks burned it over their heads. The sanctuary was surrendered to them on guarantee of safety on 22 Sha’ban [14 July] of this year, and they destroyed the shrines and the tomb of Abraham.”
The Jews in the Holy Land always faced hardship. At the end of the fifteenth century, the Czech traveler Martin Kabátnik encountered Jews during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and reported that they still thought of the area as their land: “The heathens [that is, the Muslim rulers] oppress them at their pleasure. They know that the Jews think and say that this is the Holy Land that was promised to them. Those of them who live here are regarded as holy by the other Jews, for in spite of all the tribulations and the agonies that they suffer at the hands of the heathen, they refuse to leave the place.” Shortly thereafter, nearly thirty Jewish communities were counted in Palestine.
These communities faced continual oppression. In 1576, the Ottoman Sultan Murad III ordered the deportation of one thousand Jews from the city of Safed to Cyprus, not as punishment for anything they had done but arbitrarily, because he wanted to bolster the Cypriot economy. It is not known whether the order was carried out, but the order once again indicates the unbroken Jewish presence in the land.
The Turks taxed the Jews on the basis of the Qur’anic command that the “People of the Book” (primarily Jews and Christians) must be made to “pay the jizya [tax] with willing submission and feel themselves subdued” (9:29). In 1674, a Jesuit priest, Father Michael Naud, wrote that the Jews of Jerusalem were resigned to “paying heavily to the Turk for their right to stay here…. They prefer being prisoners in Jerusalem to enjoying the freedom they could acquire elsewhere…. The love of the Jews for the Holy Land, which they lost through their betrayal [of Christ], is unbelievable.” Jews were coming from elsewhere to live there: “Many of them come from Europe to find a little comfort, though the yoke is heavy.”
By the end of the eighteenth century, only two hundred fifty thousand to three hundred thousand people, including ten thousand to fifteen thousand Jews, lived in what had become a backwater with a harsh and forbidding terrain and climate. Yet still Jews came. In 1810, the disciples of the great Talmudic scholar known as the Vilna Gaon arrived in the land of Israel from the Russian Empire, and rejoiced even though they were well aware of the hardness of the land to which they had come.
In 1847, the U.S. Navy commander William F. Lynch made an expedition to the Jordan River, the Dead Sea, and the surrounding areas, and encountered Jews all over the region. In Tiberias, wrote Lynch, “we had letters to the chief rabbi of the Jews, who came to meet us, and escorted us through a labyrinth of streets to the house of Heim Weisman, a brother Israelite.” Lynch saw Ottoman oppression up close and held a dim view of the sultanate, of which he wrote presciently: “It needs but the destruction of that power which, for so many centuries, has rested like an incubus upon the eastern world, to ensure the restoration of the Jews to Palestine.”
That power was eventually destroyed. Yet still there are forces that are determined to drive the Jews once again from their homeland, as Hussain Altamimi demonstrates. The fact that such a mendacious and vindictive operative would find himself in the employ of a member of the House of Representatives is yet another example of the degeneration of the political sphere in our age.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of 23 books including many bestsellers, such as The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), The Truth About Muhammad and The History of Jihad. His latest book is The Critical Qur’an. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.