By Damien Marsic, PhD
By Damien Marsic, PhD
It has long been known that Jewish and Middle-Eastern populations were genetically related, thanks to numerous studies of Y chromosomal and mitochondrial DNA. The recent development of DNA microarray technology allowed much finer genetic studies of human populations, by analyzing hundreds of thousands of nucleotides across the human genome. Last year, one such genome-wide study (1) revealed a distinct genetic signature for Ashkenazi Jews and suggested a Near-Eastern origin. Since then, two genome-wide studies, the first to include several Jewish populations, were published just a few days ago by two different teams (2, 3). Both confirmed a common Middle-Eastern ancestry for most worldwide Jewish populations, bringing an end to speculations that modern Jews could be mostly descended from converts with no link to the ancient Hebrews. However, there is another inescapable conclusion from those studies, that the authors did not address: Palestinians are genetically as close or closer to any modern Jewish population than are those Jewish populations to each other. In other words, genetic data is totally consistent with the idea that Palestinians are the direct descendants of ancient Jews who never left their ancestral land and who later converted to Christianity and to Islam (4, 5).
Behar's study, which is the most detailed, revealed that most Jewish populations (except Ethiopian and Indian Jews who are more closely related to their host populations) form a cluster with modern Middle-Eastern populations. There are actually three Jewish sub-clusters, one including Ashkenazi and Sephardi populations, another including Iraqi, Iranian and Caucasian Jews, and a third comprising Yemeni Jews. Remarkably, the Palestinian sub-cluster is located exactly in the middle of the three Jewish sub-clusters, suggesting that modern Palestinians are possibly even more closely related genetically to the ancient Hebrews than many modern Jews. In addition, any of the three Jewish sub-clusters is closer to the Palestinian sub-cluster than to the other two Jewish sub-clusters. This implies that if one considers Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Iraqi, Iranian, Caucasus and Yemeni Jews to all be part of the same Jewish people, then, from a genetic point of view, the Palestinians are an integral part of it.
If the latest genetic evidence vindicates Zionist ideas of Jews returning to their ancestral homeland, it also implies that this right of return should apply to all Palestinians, which have to be considered part of the same Jewish/Palestinian people.
Despite the seemingly hopeless current situation, a simple, sustainable, just and lasting solution to the conflict is therefore within reach. Israel must grant full citizenship to Palestinians, including all refugees. All must be given the right to return to their original homes, or receive proper financial compensation and be free to relocate anywhere in the country. All citizens should have the same rights regardless of their religion, including access to housing, education, health care, jobs and infrastructure. At the same time, Palestinians need to recognize Jews as equally legitimate inhabitants. It would be a win-win situation for all parties in the current conflict: the single state could be considered both a greater Israel and a greater Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital. It could still be a home for worldwide Jews who could still consider it as their spiritual center, as well as for all Palestinians.
The key to achieve a harmonious coexistence is to implement a total separation of church and state, as is the case in all other advanced countries. Any endorsement of one particular religion by a state is a discrimination against its citizens who happen not to adhere to that particular religion.
One common argument against the one-state solution is that Israeli Jews can not accept to become a minority. This becomes a non-issue when one realizes that Jews and Palestinians are actually the same people, as confirmed by genetic research. In order for everyone to feel accepted and protected, political power needs to be shielded from religious extremists. To achieve that, all political parties need to commit to human rights before representing any other values.
This is probably the only chance for Israel to survive, and a fantastic opportunity to correct its mistakes and become a beacon of hope for the rest of mankind.
1. Need, A.C., Kasperaviciute, D., Cirulli, E.T., and Goldstein, D.B. (2009). A genome-wide genetic signature of Jewish ancestry perfectly separates individuals with and without full Jewish ancestry in a large random sample of European Americans. Genome Biology 10, R7.
2. Atzmon, G., Hao, L.,Pe'er, I., Velez, C., Pearlman, A., Palamara, P.F., Morrow, B., Friedman, E., Oddoux, C., Burns, E. and Ostrer, H. (2010). Abraham's Children in the Genome Era: Major Jewish Diaspora Populations Comprise Distinct Genetic Clusters with Shared Middle Eastern Ancestry. The American Journal of Human Genetics 86 (6), pp.850-859.
3. Behar, D.M., Yunusbayev, B., Metspalu, M., Metspalu, E., Rosset, S., Parik, J., Rootsi, S., Chaubey, G., Kutuev, I., Yudkovsky, G., Khusnutdinova, E.K., Balanovsky, O., Semino, O., Pereira, L., Comas, D., Gurwitz, D., Bonne-Tamir, B., Parfitt, T., Hammer, M.F., Skorecki, K. and Villems, R. (2010). The genome-wide structure of the Jewish people. Nature (advanced online publication, Jun 9).
4. Tsvi Misinai (2008). Brother Shall not Lift Sword against Brother. Liad publishing.
5. Shlomo Sand (2009). The invention of the Jewish People. Verso.