Friday, October 04, 2019

  • Friday, October 04, 2019
  • Elder of Ziyon
I just became aware of this 1998 paper by (the late) Susan Beckerleg of the Department of Public Health and Policy,London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She describes the origins of black Arabs in Palestine, and has the most comprehensive description of modern slavery by Palestinians, mostly Bedouin.

Excerpts:

Although Africans have been in Palestine for centuries, most people know little about this migration. For centuries, under the Ottoman Empire and before, slaves were brought from Africa. Some older people today remember stories told by their parents or grandparents of how they came to be in Palestine. Therefore it is possible to discover something of the later history of slavery. Several people mentioned that they had heard that there was a big slave market in Egypt and one 'white' Bedouin told me that his grandfather had been a slave trader who travelled regularly to Egypt. Most people with any idea of where their ancestors came from mention Sudan or Ethiopia. Sometimes they know the name of the town. ...

In Gaza I spoke to people of Bedouin origin who had been living in the Nagab [Negev] prior to 1948.

These people of Bedouin origin currently resident in Gaza and the Nagab recall being told by their elders how children were kidnapped or bought in slave markets and brought, sometimes carried in the camel saddle-bags, to live with important Bedouin families. This occurred in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. The children were often the only Africans living with the family. They looked after animals, grew wheat and barley and performed household tasks. People told me that the Bedouin did not use the girls as concubines, although in the West Bank they did 'marry' female slaves. Only big wealthy families owned and traded in slaves. Black people were scattered throughout Palestine living with white families who 'owned' them. However, some families needed slaves to help in self- defence when they were weak in number. It is possible that within the twentieth century adults were also brought from Africa and sold as slaves. One elderly man reported that in his youth he had come across African men who were strong, bore tribal scars on their faces and spoke little Arabic.

One 'white' Bedouin man told me that slaves used to be branded like animals, but that there were no papers concerning ownership or origins. In the family unit, there were sometimes also other slaves who were white, or low status dependants, such as hamran. But one man told me that a white slave would never have answered to a black slave.

In the Nagab the Bedouin had a three tier social and political system. Sheikhs were drawn from the Samran, the original Bedouin. Attached to them as clients were the Hamran, families who were originally felaheen, but required protection and/or land from Samran families. The Abed, the slaves, were on the bottom tier and did not have the same rights or status as free people.

Slaves did not count in blood feuds between families. Several people told me that if a black man killed a white man, the death of that black man would not count. Payment (sulha) could be made in money or by the giving of a slave of a certain height. If a black man kills a white, the family of the deceased may kill the 'owners' of the black man. Recently, in Rahat in the Nagab, a black boy eloped with a white girl. They were discovered and the girl killed by her family. However, the boy survived and subsequently married a black girl.

Under the old system slaves could not sit in the shig at the same level as their masters. In some places this is still observed, with the role of the black people being to serve tea and coffee to the white people.

Slavery appears to have been an active institution under Ottoman rule. The British Mandate of Palestine was established in 1917. Slaves were not given release papers and there appears that the British made little formal effort to end the system of slavery in Palestine. Rather, as economic and social conditions changed, the institution faded away in some areas, but still operated other areas until the 1950s.

In some areas slavery as a way of life appears to have continued into the 1950s. One black (sumr) man who came to Palestine as a migrant worker from Egypt and was caught up in the war of 1948 recalls life for black people attached to the Al Huzail. He had been working in the orchards near Rishon with black people of the Abu Barakat. When war broke out they fled back to their home area of the Al Huzail where Rahat has now been constructed. When the Egyptian man arrived there he found black people growing wheat for Al Huzail. They were given food and, if they requested it for a special purpose, money. Slaves and masters lived separately in black tents. There was no intermarriage and no concubinage. The Egyptian man slept in the Sheikh's shig and worked as a shepherd, but received no wages. The Sheikh arranged his marriage to a white girl from Gaza. However, after 1952 under the Israelis, when the census was taken, slavery as an institution faded away.

The report also notes that there was an influx of African Muslims to Jerusalem under the British Mandate, and they now consider themselves "Palestinians:"
Most contemporary members of the African community came to Jerusalem as pilgrims and workers under the British Mandate of Palestine (1917-1948). They came mostly from Senegal, Chad, Nigeria and Sudan. They regard themselves as Palestinian and played an active role in the Intifada. Some of the Africans arrived as part of the Egyptian led 'Salvation Army' which aimed to liberate the Palestinian areas held by Jews in 1948. After the defeat of that army and its retreat to Egypt many Africans returned to their original countries, while others preferred to stay in Palestine.
I found a little corroboration that Bedouin in the Negev had slaves as late as the 1925 from this JTA article:


(h/t Robert Affinity)



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