A group of Ashkenazic Jews in Jerusalem, circa 1885 Getty Images
By David Keys, 19 April 2016
Israeli-born geneticist believes the Turkish villages of Iskenaz, Eskenaz and Ashanaz were part of the original homeland for Ashkenazic Jews
New research suggests that the majority of the world’s modern Jewish population is descended mainly from people from ancient Turkey, rather than predominantly from elsewhere in the Middle East.
The new research suggests that most of the Jewish population of northern and eastern Europe – normally known as Ashkenazic Jews – are the descendants of Greeks, Iranians and others who colonized what is now northern Turkey more than 2000 years ago and were then converted to Judaism, probably in the first few centuries AD by Jews from Persia. At that stage, the Persian Empire was home to the world’s largest Jewish communities.
According to research carried out by the geneticist, Dr Eran Elhaik of the University of Sheffield, over 90 per cent of Ashkenazic ancestors come from that converted partially Greek-originating ancient community in north-east Turkey.
His research is based on genetic, historical and place-name evidence. For his geographic genetic research, Dr Elhaik used a Geographic Population Structure computer modelling system to convert Ashkenazic Jewish DNA data into geographical information.
Dr Elhaik, an Israeli-born geneticist who gained his doctorate in molecular evolution from the University of Houston, believes that three still-surviving Turkish villages – Iskenaz, Eskenaz and Ashanaz – on the western part of an ancient Silk Road route were part of the original Ashkenazic homeland. He believes that the word Ashkenaz originally comes from Ashguza – the ancient Assyrian and Babylonian name for the Iron Age Eurasian steppeland people, the Scythians.
Referring to the names of the three Turkish villages, Dr Elhaik points out that “north-east Turkey is the only place in the world where these place-names exist”.
Ulta-orthodox Ashkenazic Jews during a protest in Jerusalem last year (Getty Images)
From the 690s AD onwards, anti-Jewish persecution by the Christian Byzantine Empire seems to have played a part in forcing large numbers of Jews to flee across the Black Sea to a more friendly state – the Turkic-ruled Khazar Empire with its large Slav and other populations.
Some analyses of Yiddish suggests that it was originally a Slavic language, and Dr Elhaik and others believe that it was developed, probably in the 8th and 9th centuries AD, by Jewish merchants trading along some of the more northerly Silk Roads linking China and Europe.
By the 730s, the Khazar Empire had begun to convert to Judaism – and more people converted to the faith.
But when the Khazar Empire declined in or around the 11th century, some of the Jewish population almost certainly migrated west into Central Europe. There, as Yiddish-speaking Jewish merchants came into contact with central European, often German-speaking, peoples, they began to replace the Slav words in Yiddish with large numbers of German and German-derived words, while retaining some of its Slav-originating grammar. Many Hebrew words also appear to have been added by that stage.
The genetic modelling used in the research was based on DNA data from 367 Jews of northern and eastern European origin and more than 600 non-Jewish people mainly from Europe and western Asia.
Further research is planned to try to measure the precise size of the Semitic genetic input into Jewish and non-Jewish genomes.
By Gideon Levy, 14 April 2018
A video of Israeli soldiers cheering the killing of yet another unarmed protester has highlighted the chilling sentiments of a broad segment of the public
For the last few weeks, Palestinians in Gaza have been marching every Friday towards the Israeli fence, and every Friday, they have been met with live fire from Israeli soldiers. More than 30 Palestinians have been killed and hundreds more wounded since the “Great March of Return” began on 30 March.
The demonstrators were unarmed and did not threaten the lives of the soldiers beyond the fence. What’s been happening is a massacre; there’s no other word to describe it.
Israel has responded to these events with its typical lack of interest. Only the thick black smoke from burning tyres, which may have drifted towards Israeli communities along the fence, threatened the serenity of their Passover holiday.
No collective sense of horror
The extent of the violence against unarmed civilians, coupled with the fact that Israel has non-lethal options for dealing with demonstrations, has failed to evoke a significant public discussion in Israel.
Even some of the most disturbing footage – such as the clip of a protester rising from his prayers only to be met with a bullet, or the woman holding a flag and nearing the fence and falling to the ground from a sniper’s shot – have failed to evoke a collective sense of horror.
When a Palestinian journalist was shot by a sniper despite wearing a vest clearly marked “Press,” Israelis were quick to brand him as a “Hamas activist” or a “terrorist with a drone”.
Israel remains untroubled by an army that shoots demonstrators and journalists, and is even proud of it, rationalising that these are not innocent protesters but rather terrorists threatening its sovereignty and security. Politicians from across Israel’s political spectrum, except the radical left, have competed among themselves to see who could salute the army the most.
And then the media got hold of a short video, just a minute and 24 seconds long. Once again, it showed a blurry image of an unarmed Palestinian approaching the fence, only to be shot by a soldier before falling to the ground. We’ve already seen other similar videos, and Israel did not get upset. But in this one, there was a soundtrack that made a difference: In the background, soldiers can be heard cursing and expressing overt, vulgar enthusiasm as the unarmed victim falls to the ground.
Israel cannot now proceed with the routine of denial and repression. It became impossible to go on defending soldiers when they were heard expressing themselves in that manner. The contemptible work of Israeli snipers, who aim and fire at protesters, suddenly acquired a repellent soundtrack. Suddenly, it was a scandal.
But even this minor tempest quickly subsided. The army initially tried to shrug off all responsibility for the clip, and then hastened to announce that it was actually from last December – as if this would make the horror of it obsolete.
The media, as usual, swiftly colluded with this denial and repression. Within a day, the clip was forgotten. Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who is among the most extreme, cynical and despicable of Israeli politicians, proclaimed that the sniper should get a citation, but the soldier who filmed him should be demoted. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home party, rushed to support the soldiers in the clip, as did many other politicians from across the political spectrum.
Palestinians evacuate an injured protester near the Israeli border fence in central Gaza on 13 April 2018 (AFP)
In truth, Israel should have been horrified a long time ago – long before the first “March of Return” commenced, when it was already clear that soldiers were prepared to shoot protesters with live fire. The Israeli army boasted that “100 snipers” and tanks were waiting for the marchers. A healthy society would have reacted at the outset, forcing them to hold their fire.
Israelis should have been horrified at the first massacre on Land Day, when more than a dozen Palestinians were killed and hundreds more wounded; then at the massive army attacks the following Friday; then at the video clip of the cheering soldiers. But Israeli society has lost its moral compass and is numb to these things.
The case of Ahed Tamimi
A society that does not get agitated at the arrest of Ahed Tamimi – a teenage girl stood bare-handed, facing soldiers who had invaded her backyard, and tried to kick them out as they deserved, after other soldiers shot her cousin in the head a short while earlier – will not be upset by anything.
Ahed’s image has become an icon all over the world, and two million people have signed a petition calling for her release. Only in Israel is her fate of no concern to anyone. Ahed remains in prison, and Israel has lost interest. There’s no solidarity from Israeli parents of children Ahed’s age, and no jurists have come forward to decry the brutality Israel demonstrates in its arrests of minors.
Women’s organisations did not step up to oppose the embarrassing arrest of Ahed and her mother, who was also sent to jail for having filmed her daughter slapping a soldier in the face. There was no mass outrage from artists, intellectuals or ordinary citizens living under a regime that jails minors only because they are Palestinians opposed to the occupation. None of that happened when Ahed was arrested, and it most certainly did not happen after those scenes along the Gaza fence.
Two million people live in Gaza, the world’s largest open-air prison, victims of a dreadful experiment on human beings. The UN has already said that by 2020, this cage will not be fit for human habitation. It is now 2018, but Israel averts its gaze from Gaza – does not see, does not want to see and is not interested.
Dehumanisation of Palestinians in Gaza
Israelis have become accustomed to thinking that Gaza is a nest of terrorists, and that its residents have no rights whatsoever – that Gazans are actually not human beings. And if Gazans are not human beings, no war crime, disaster or victimisation will evoke even one iota of horror, one glint of moral uncertainty, one gram of human solidarity – and certainly no protest or opposition.
No remnants of a collective conscience remain in Israel insofar as Palestinians are concerned. A long, ongoing, systematic process, led by politicians and generals with the collusion of the Israeli media, is now reaching its peak. Never in memory has there been such extreme cold-heartedness evident in Israel, which already has a very impressive record of cold-heartedness towards Palestinians, from the time of the 1948 Nakba right up to the present day.
In Gaza, the blood of civilians is being shed in vain, and Israel, whose soldiers are shedding that blood, is unmoved. Certain segments of Israeli society even find this cause for happiness, pride, gratification.
The voices of the soldiers in that repellent video are the voices of a large proportion of Israelis – though not all of them, of course. The soldiers were expressing authentic, if covert, sentiments harboured by a broad segment of the Israeli public, much broader than it would appear. Watch the video and see the Israel of 2018; some of it, anyway.
© REUTERS / SANA
Syrian “rebels” Norway has trained to contribute to the fight against Daesh are now supposed to have turned their weapons against the Syrian government. The rebels’ leader makes no secret of the fact that overthrowing Bashar Assad is the main goal.
The Norwegian-trained Syrian militia called the Revolutionary Command Army (MaT) meant to help quell Daesh* are now waging a war against the Syrian leadership and pro-government forces, the Norwegian daily Klassekampen reported.
According to Klassekampen, the rebel group is now openly fighting for a regime change in Syria, while also being an important part of the US’s efforts to prevent Iranian influence in the region.
In May 2016, it was announced that Norwegian soldiers were to be dispatched to Syria’s neighbor country Jordan to provide “training, counseling and operational support” to Syrian paramilitary groups fighting Daesh as part of the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve. In June 2016, the Norwegian parliament also green-lit similar missions in Syria itself.
While Norway’s Syria contribution was formally concluded in March this year, as the mandate formally expired, the exact extent and nature of Norway’s involvement was largely kept secret. MaT commander Muhannad al-Talla confirmed to Klassekampen that his group was trained by Norwegians in al-Tanf in southeastern Syria, where the US also has a base.
While both Prime Minister Erna Solberg and then-Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide emphasized the mandate was to fight Daesh, ensuring that they “won’t endanger the peace process,” al-Talla claimed that his Western allies never concealed that his soldiers were to fight both terrorists and the Syrian government.
“From the very beginning, I’ve been completely aware that I’m fighting “the Islamic State” and the al-Assad forces. [Daesh] is not gone but is clearly weakened. Now the priority is the fight Assad,” al-Talla admitted to Klassekampen.
The al-Tanf Base is a strategic outpost along the main route between Damascus and Baghdad. There, the US has created a so-called 55-square-kilometer safety zone secured by US soldiers with the help of al-Talla’s units.
Within the zone, Assad-loyal troops have been bombed at least two times by US combat aircraft. At the same time, several rebel groups, including MaT took part in an offensive against government forces after Daesh’s withdrawal from eastern Syria. Insurgent Free Syrian Army (FSA) spokesman and counselor Ibrahim al-Idlibi confirmed to Klassekampen that Norway-trained “militia” took part in the struggle against Assad associated forces, such as the operation “The Country is Ours” carried out in May and June 2017.
While the Syrian government has managed to reclaim most of the country’s territory from Daesh and various rebel groups, MaT leader Muhannad al-Talla is by his own admission not ready to lay down arms.
“It is true that the current balance of power favors Assad. But we will never let him have peace. Even if he wins the war, we will continue to make his life sad for him,” al-Talla pledged.
According to Klassekampen, MaT and other West-supported paramilitary groups are part of a larger superpower game, where the US seeks to ensure control in the border area between Syria and Iran to stop further Iranian influence in the region.
According to FSA spokesman al-Idlibi, the goal of MaT and similar rebel groups is to “fight Iranian and Shia groups” in the area. Al-Idlibi pledged that the fight will continue “until the mission is complete.”
“At the moment, the goal is to control the main road between Damascus and Baghdad. Thus, we prevent land expansion for Iranian forces between Syria and Iraq through the desert,” al-Idlibi pointed out.
Both Muhannad al-Talla and the Norwegian Ministry of Defense denied that Norwegians ever participated in the fight against the Syrian government and its allies. Norway formally ceased its mission in Syria, with the Defense Ministry deciding to focus on Iraq.
* Daesh (also known as IS/ISIS/ISIL) is a terrorist organization banned in Russia