Erekat Is Wrong: The Jewish Presence in the Land Dates Back for Millennia (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat claimed on Jan. 31 that the Palestinians cannot accept Israel as the Jewish state because they lived in the region long before the Jews. 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 dates back to the Byzantine period. Not far away is the Wadi Kelt synagogue which dates back to 75 BCE, the oldest synagogue to have been discovered.
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.” In the fifth century, “the Jews and the Samaritans virtually governed the land.”
Salo Wittmayer Baron, in A Social and Religious History of the Jews published by Columbia University Press, recounts how the Caliph “‘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.
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.”
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.