QUMSIYEH: Who are the Palestinians? May 15, 2010

The Palestinians by Ismail Shammout

The Palestinians by Ismail Shammout

by Mazin Qumsiyeh  -  The Ambassadors Online Magazine -  January 2002

This item was sent to the MEGA (Middle East Geneticists Association) mailing list with subject title “Genetics & Politics.” It is a copy of a letter sent to the Society of Histocompatability & Immunology by Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh, a distinguished Palestinian-American scientist.

Dear President Bray, President-elect Zeevi, and Society of Histocompatability and Immunology Officers,

I am asking that you print this in the journal as a response to the unfair treatment of Dr.Arnaiz-Villena et al following publication of their paper and to read and act on my comments.

Arnaiz-Villena et al published a paper in this journal titled “The origin of Palestinians and their genetic relatedness with other Mediterranean populations (Human Immunology. 62(9):889-900, 2001).  It is one of at least 13 papers published in this journal by Dr.Arnaiz-Villena and colleagues (hundreds published elsewhere).  The paper demonstrated with ample evidence the similarity of certain Jewish populations to Palestinians. After some pressures because the data appears inconsistent with Zionist ideology and mythology (including the preposterous claims that Palestinians are recent immigrants to the “land of Israel” and Jews as a distinct race), the paper was pulled from web pages and the society took an unprecedented and in my humble opinion illegal action of penalizing an author (removing him from the editorial board) to satisfy a political constituency within the society.

The data provided by the paper is ironically consistent with data published in the same journal by Israeli scientists (Amar et al “Molecular analysis of HLA class II polymorphisms among different ethnic groups in Israel” Human Immunology, 1999, 60:723-730).  Amar et al showed that “Israeli Arabs” (Palestinians who are Israeli citizens) are closer to Sephardic Jews than either is to Ashkenazi Jews. The data also showed that Ethiopian Jews are genetically very distant from all. Yet, Amar et al incredibly concluded that “We have shown that Jews share common features, a fact that points to a common ancestry.” Amar et al also failed to include Slavic populations in the study which would have revealed similarities between Ashkenazi and these populations in the areas around the Black Sea (see below).

Unfortunately, misuse of genetics is not new.  Francis Galton coined the term eugenics in 1883 (Greek: eu means “good” and genic derives from the word for “born”). Galton defined it as “the science of improvement of the human race germ plasm through better breeding.” At the height of the eugenics movement in the 1920s, the Encyclopedia Britannica (1926) entry on eugenics emphasized that the term connoted a “plan” to influence human reproduction.

Between 1907 and 1960 in the United States at least 60,000 people were sterilized without their consent pursuant to state laws to prevent reproduction by those deemed genetically inferior (especially mentally retarded or those with psychological problems). At the peak of these programs in the 1930s, about 5,000 persons were sterilized annually.  Based on the American development (especially the works of the American champion of Eugenics, Harry Hamilton Laughlin), the Eugenics of the Nazis grew to eclipse and the American system and then to become even much more and contribute to the mass murder of Jews, Gypsies and others. These examples (& Lysenkoism in the Soviet Union) are well studied by societies determined not to repeat these horrendous laws.  Few now believe it is useful or desirable to limit diversity and enhance ideas of racial purity or protecting the gene pool of a particular population.  So how is this relevant to Zionism and Jewish nationalism?

The founders of Zionism were Eastern European Jews (Ashkenazi) who argued that they are fulfilling the ingathering of the Jews to “their ancestral homelands.” Many argued that assimilation and interbreeding with communities where Jews exist were very dangerous.  Many worked feverishly to establish links (however tenuous) between Ashkenazi Jews are and the ancient Israelites (and named their new country Israel) as evidenced by the published works of Bonne-Tamir and others.  Much was spent to explain away the physical differences between Ashkenazi Jews (light skins, fair smooth hair), and Sephardic (oriental) Jews and massage the data to fit the pre-ordained conclusions.  Here is an example.

An article titled “Jewish and Middle Eastern non-Jewish Populations Share a Common Pool of Y-chromosome Biallelic Haplotypes” was published in PNAS, vol. 97, no. 12, June 6, 2000i. The article is from the laboratory of Bonne Tamir in Israel and is co-authored with 11 other authors. PNAS publishes articles based on communication from respected scientists and not by the traditional peer review process (although those communicating the article are encouraged to have them peer reviewed). This particular article was communicated by Arno G. Motulsky.

Of course Ashkenazi Jews would be closer to Arabs than either is to the Europeans studied in the PNAS paper.  But Ashkenazim are also clearly closer to Turkic/Slavic than either is to Sephardim or Arab populations.  The authors avoided studying Slavic groups that researchers have identified as closely related to hypothetical Slavic ancestral populations of modern Ashkenazi communities.  The article seems to have avoided discussing this particularly problematical issue and insisted in the conclusion to reiterate the contention made in the introduction that Jews of today are by and large descendant from the original Israelites. As Daniel Friedman wrote:

“The relative abundances of specific haplotypes within the Ashkenazi population included in Hammer’s study appear to have significant differences from the reconstructed “ancestral Jewish population” and “Separate analysis is also necessary to determine the genetic contribution of the various central Asian Turkic tribes which so strongly influenced European history.”

Italian researches studied many more populations including more diverse Turkish and Eastern European populations (American Journal of Human Genetics, 61:1015-1935).  The study looked at Y chromosome polymorphisms (genetic variations) in 58 populations including European, Asian, Middle Eastern, and African.  That study clearly shows that Ashkenazi Jewish samples clustered distinct from Sephardic Jews and closer to Turkic samples.  Overall, the genetic data in that study were congruent with linguistic distances.  The authors concluded that genetic data do not justify a single origin for the currently disparate Jewish subpopulations (Ashkenazi and Sephardi).  It seems odd though that authors who are accepting of Zionist claims or are Jewish make conclusions not even supported by their own data while authors from other backgrounds based on similar data (showing clear links of Ashkenazim to Turkic populations) make differing conclusions.

The claims of a “single Jewish origin” flies in the face of incredibly rich data from historical and archaeological sources including: language (e.g. Yiddish origin and history and absence of use of Aramaic in ancient Khazar Jewish sources), the conversion of Yemenite Arab populations to Judaism and Christianity. There is ample historical evidence that Levantine people and Eastern European Jewish people do share ancestry as well as evidence for significant population mixing.  Greek and Turkish populations exported their people throughout the Balkans, Eastern Europe and Asia Minor and the Levant (e.g. the Ottoman Empire and the Hellenistic periods). Similarly Slavic populations have exported people into Asia Minor and the Levant.  There was thus tremendous mixing of populations.

Some studies on Eastern European Jewish people have been used to support the idea that the Zionist colonization of Palestine represented a return of a race of Jewish people to their homeland. Valid scientific research must not be shunned by political pressure groups intent on preventing any rational discussion and stifling apparent conflict with the aims of Zionism. Similarly, scientists should not be allowed to publish statements and conclusions not supported by the data simply because they appear “politically correct” at the moment or do not generate an outcry.  A statement such as that by Amir et al that “We have shown that Jews share common features, a fact that points to a common ancestry” should not be allowed to stand. The correct statement from their own data is that some Jews (Sephardim) are more similar to Palestinians than either group is to other Jews (Ashkenazim or Ethiopian Jews).

Of course the transition from any kind of genetic evidence to justify dispossession of the native Palestinians by Ashkenazi immigrants from Europe is in no way justified regardless of population genetics. After all, one would have to be totally immune to basic elements of justice to allow dispossession of people who are native in every sense of the word and whose ancestors farmed the land for hundreds of years (if not thousands) based on any kind of perceived separatedness/uniqueness of gene pools of the new immigrants/settlers. To use “genetic” tools (regardless of their distortion or validity), to justify denying Palestinian people the right of self-determination is of course a travesty of justice. Genetics and eugenics has been used successfully in many other instances to justify the unjustifiable. Distortions of the science of genetics was used for racist and ethnic cleansing many times before. Unfortunately this particular use may not be the last one either.


Mazin Qumsiyeh, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Genetics
Yale University School of Medicine
Email: mazin.qumsiyeh@yale.edu

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