Every year, as Christmas season rolls around, left-wing social media tells us the same story: apparently, Jesus was Palestinian.
This is absolutely historically incorrect.
Even more interesting: the people that claim Jesus as “Palestinian” never seem to claim the Jews that supposedly killed him. For 2000 years, Jews have been massacred for the libels that we (1) killed Jesus, and (2) are collectively responsible for his death. According to the narrative in the Christian Bible, Judas, Jesus’ disciple who was a fellow Jew, betrayed him to the Romans.
In other words: these people take all the credit for Jesus but none of the persecution that comes along with actually being Jewish. That’s cultural appropriation in a nutshell.
JESUS WAS NOT PALESTINIAN, BECAUSE PALESTINE DIDN'T YET EXIST
Historians have long debated the origins of the name “Palestine.” Most believe that the word derives from the Hebrew and Egyptian word “peleshet,” meaning “invader.” “Peleshet” was used to describe the Philistines, who settled on the Mediterranean coastline above Egypt, in parts of what is now Israel and Gaza. The Philistines were a seafaring people of Greek origin; in other words, today’s Palestinians are unrelated to the Philistines.
The first use of the word “Palestine” to describe a geographic region was in the 5th century BCE, at least 700 years after the use of the word “Israel.” Like the Land of Israel, “Palestine” was a loose region, describing the coastal strip that runs from Egypt to Lebanon. However, unlike “Israelite,” which was a term that identified people descended from the ancient Kingdom of Israel, the term “Palestinian” as a national or personal identification didn’t exist until 1898.
Between 132 CE-136 CE, when the Romans ruled over the Land of Israel (then known as the province of “Judea,” which is where the term “Jew” derives from), the Jewish population revolted for the third time against the foreign rulers. This revolt, known as the Bar Kokhba Revolt, ended in complete catastrophe, with 600,000-one million Jews murdered in an act of genocide or sold into slavery. Following the revolt, Emperor Hadrian changed the name of Judea to “Syria-Palestina,” marking the first time that “Palestine” was used as the official, legal name of the region.
Most Biblical scholars agree that Jesus was born in 4 or 6 CE in the Roman province of Judea, named after the ancient Israelite Kingdom of Judah (930-587 BCE). He died around 33 CE, also in the Roman province of Judea. The Romans did not change the name of Judea to Syria-Palestina until 135 CE, over 100 years after his death. In other words, he wouldn’t have identified as Palestinian, because Palestinian identity simply didn’t yet exist.
"PALESTINE" WAS A ROMAN COLONIAL NAME…AND JESUS STRONGLY OPPOSED THE ROMAN OCCUPATION
If you are at all familiar with the narrative of the Christian Bible, you’ll know that Jesus was a spiritual leader who opposed Roman rule, which he saw as tyrannical and in contradiction to God. For example, Mark 10:42 states: You know that among the Gentiles [Romans], those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It must not be so among you.”
Jesus strongly opposed the Sanhedrin, the tribunal which presided over the Jewish Temple and operated under Roman oversight. He spoke out against their taxation of the citizens of Judea; these taxes were then given to the Roman rulers.
Because of the brutality of Roman rule, many Jewish and Samaritan messianic movements emerged during the time period. In other words, Jesus was just one of many. The Romans crucified thousands of these messianic leaders such as Jesus because they presented a threat to Roman rule.
Most historians agree that when the Romans changed the name of Judea to Syria-Palestina following the Bar Kokhba Revolt, they did so to sever all Jewish ties to the land. Why in the world would Jesus, a strong opponent to Roman rule and supporter of the land rights of the Indigenous Jewish population, identify with a name that the Romans forcibly imposed on the Jews (after they committed a genocide, no less)?
JESUS WAS NOT A "PALESTINIAN JEW"
The vast majority of historians date the emergence of a cohesive Palestinian national identity to the interwar period between the two world wars, with the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the rapidly souring relations between Palestinian Arabs and Jews. However, some historians date the emergence of a cohesive Palestinian national identity to the 1834 Syrian Peasant’s Revolt. If you’re keeping count, a Palestinian identity did not exist until at least 1834, some 1800 years after the death of Jesus.
The first Arab to identify as Palestinian was Khalil Beidas in 1898 — nearly two millennia after Jesus was crucified.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that Jews were brutally massacred during the Peasant’s Revolt; that is, from the very beginnings of Palestinian nationalism, Palestinian Arabs did not consider Jews to be a part of the Palestinian nation, despite the fact that these Jews had lived there for hundreds, if not thousands of years, long before the Arab conquest of the region.
Even to this day, Palestinians make it abundantly clear that Palestinians are Arab. Regardless of any given individual’s DNA makeup, Palestinians speak Arabic and predominantly practice Islam, a religion which originated in the Arabian Peninsula. Their flag is a variation of the pan-Arab flag. Most prominent Palestinian families trace their lineage directly to the Arabian Peninsula. The current charter of the Palestinian Authority — the internationally-recognized Palestinian government — states that Palestine is “an indivisible part of the Arab homeland.” But the Arabs did not conquer Palestine until 637 — some 600 years after Jesus died.
CAN YOU BE JEWISH AND PALESTINIAN?
Unless you are of mixed descent or you are a Palestinian who has converted…not really. Palestinians are an Arab ethnonational group; in other words, Palestinian is a nationality, and there are exactly zero Jewish Palestinian citizens.
People who think there are “Palestinian Jews” are operating from the premise that Jews are a religious group just as Muslims and Christians are a religious group. In other words, your national identity can be Palestinian, while your religious identity can be Muslim or Christian. That would make you a Palestinian Muslim or a Palestinian Christian.
But Jewish identity is not predominantly a religious identity. The concept of religion does not exist in the Tanakh. Jewish identity, for 3000 years, has been predominantly a national identity; we consider ourselves a nation, a people. After all, the term “Jew” quite literally translates to “someone from [the Kingdom of] Judah.” The word “Judaism” comes from Greek, not Hebrew, and it’s how the Greek occupiers described Jewish culture, including — but not limited to — Jewish spiritual practices.
This “national” identification is why “Palestinian Jews” whose families had lived continuously in Palestine for thousands of years historically considered Jews from every corner of the Diaspora to be members of the same nation. This national identification is why for 3000 years we have collectively referred to ourselves as Am Israel, or the “Nation of Israel.” This national identification is why “Palestinian Jews” wrote for centuries of their desire for the “Jewish exiles” to return home to the Land of Israel. This national identification is why the Jews of the Diaspora financially assisted the Jews of the Land of Israel for centuries, because the Jews of Israel were so severely taxed by the Arab authorities that they needed foreign Jewish assistance known as “Halukka” to survive.
The concept of the Jewish people as a “religious group” is quite literally a colonial concept imposed on the Jewish people by Napoleon (yes, that Napoleon), who emancipated the Jews on the condition that they could no longer exist as a distinct cultural and ethnic minority but instead were forced to assimilate into French society as French citizens.
BUT IF JESUS HAD BEEN A "PALESTINIAN JEW," THIS IS WHERE HE WOULD BE TODAY
Well, he certainly wouldn’t be a citizen of the Palestinian Territories, because there is not a single “Palestinian” Jew in the Palestinian Authority-controlled areas of the West Bank, and the only Jews residing in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip are there as hostages of Hamas. In fact, in all likelihood, Jesus would be…an Israeli citizen.
(I’m not saying Jesus was Israeli. That would be just as absurd as saying that Jesus was Palestinian, because Israelis didn’t exist in the first century. I’m saying that if he were alive today, given that he was a Jew, he would be an Israeli citizen).
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which is located in Area A of the West Bank. In 1948, the Jordanian Legion, with the assistance of Palestinian militias, expelled the entire Jewish population of East Jerusalem and the West Bank — violently displacing 40,000 Jews, the majority of whom came from families which had lived continuously in those areas for centuries, if not millennia. These expelled Jews were then absorbed by the State of Israel and became Israeli citizens. Because Bethlehem is in Area A of the West Bank, it is under full Palestinian Authority civil and security rule, meaning that not a single Jew is permitted to reside in that area.
Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly stated that no Israelis will be permitted to live in a sovereign Palestinian state. This is a euphemism for “not a single Jew,” because again, all Jews were expelled from the West Bank in 1948 and became Israeli citizens.
On the other hand, Jesus grew up in Nazareth, which is located within the State of Israel. That means that he would be an Israeli citizen.
Given that Israeli citizens are forbidden from entering Area A of the West Bank, Jesus would not even be allowed to visit his birthplace.
CHRISTMAS IS NOT PALESTINIAN, EITHER
While Palestinian Christians do celebrate Christmas — just as Christians do all over the world — Christmas is not inherently or originally a Palestinian holiday.
For one thing, Christmas was first celebrated around 300 years after the death of Jesus. Then there’s the fact that Christmas actually originated in Rome, not in Palestine. The first recorded Christmas celebration took place on December 25, 336 — in Rome, under the reign of Emperor Constantine.
Christmas originated with Saturnalia, an ancient Roman pagan festival. It was observed every year, with the final day of the festival falling on December 25.
In 380 CE, the Roman Empire officially adopted Christianity. To gain the favor of the people, who might’ve otherwise been hostile to Christianity, the Romans decided to keep celebrating Saturnalia, officially turning it into Christmas.
The first recorded Christmas celebrations in Palestine took place in Jerusalem around the sixth century.
WHAT DO I EVEN CARE?
As a Jewish person who does not believe that Jesus is the son of God or the messiah, his nationality is ultimately irrelevant to me. So what do I even care?
I care because claiming Jesus as Palestinian serves a more sinister propaganda motive: inaccurately revising the history of the Land of Israel to negate well-established Jewish ties and right to the land.
Up until 1948, there was little question that Jews came from the Land of Israel, which meant that, by extension, Jesus was Jewish. For example, in 1899, Yusuf al-Khalidi, the Arab mayor of Jerusalem, wrote to Theodor Herzl, the father of the modern political Zionist movement: “Who can challenge the rights of the Jews in Palestine? Good Lord, historically it is really your country.”
In 1925, the Islamic Waqf in charge of Temple Mount (known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif) wrote in its tourist guidebooks that the fact that Solomon’s Temple was located at Temple Mount was “beyond dispute.” In 1948, following Israel’s Declaration of Independence, the Waqf quietly revised its guidebooks to erase all references to the Jewish Temple. Again, this was done with the intent of negating Jewish ties to the land.
And when the evidence that Jesus was Jewish is too great, they then claim Jesus was a Palestinian Jew, despite the fact that Palestinian Jews simply don’t exist, unless (1) they are Palestinians who converted to Judaism, or (2) they are of mixed Jewish-Palestinian descent…but Jesus was neither.
Revising any historically marginalized, persecuted, and oppressed group its history is beyond bigoted, and denying said history to justify violence against said group is even worse. Yet, this is what has happened, again and again. Since the 1920s, for example, Arab and more specifically Palestinian nationalists have claimed that Jews praying at the Western Wall — that is, what remains of the Jewish Temple — intend to destroy Al Aqsa Mosque. This libel has, again and again, to this day, led to deadly violence against the Jewish population.
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