Monday, November 07, 2022

Last week one of the most famous black Palestinians, Fatima Bernawi - who was imprisoned for trying to explode a bomb in a Jerusalem movie theater - died. She was buried in a large ceremony in Gaza.

Most articles about "Afro-Palestinians" say a version of this legend of how they arrived:
Devout Muslims, Africans from countries such as Chad, Sudan, Nigeria and Senegal, trekked across continents to perform the original Muslim pilgrimage of the Haj - first to Mecca, then to al-Aqsa.

Such pilgrimages date back to as early as 636 AD, after Omar Ibn Khatab took Jerusalem from the Byzantine Empire. Some arrived, fell in love with the city and decided never to leave

A variant says that they mostly arrived in the 19th century:

 During the Ottoman era, Africans worked as custodians and guards of al-Aqsa Mosque – their role was to prohibit non-Muslims accessing the premises of Al-Haram Al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary and third holiest site in Islam. Many of them were Muslim immigrants from Chad, Sudan, Nigeria and Senegal who settled in Jerusalem in the nineteenth century after performing the pilgrimage to Mecca.

I'm not so sure. I think that the majority came to Palestine as slaves, not as pilgrims.

Domestic Life in Palestine, by Mary Eliza Rogers and published in 1865, says that the guards of Al Aqsa at the time were "black slaves."

Likewise, 2011's "In Your Eyes a Sandstorm: Ways of Being Palestinian" says, "Many Afro-Palestinians arrived as slaves during the Ottoman era, and discrimination continues today."

This 2019 paper on the phenomenon of slavery in Ottoman Palestine sheds much light:

Up to 1.3 million slaves from Africa alone are estimated to have been transported to the Ottoman Empire, including Ottoman Egypt and North Africa, during the 19th century.Although trade in slaves was officially forbidden, ownership of slaves was not, and possession and use of slaves continued into the early 20th century. Ottoman officials generally tried to steer a compromise course in order to satisfy the demands of abolitionists and at the same time not to alienate conservative forces within the Empire. Ottoman Egypt made up the lion’s share of slave trade and slave holding, while in the region of Palestine, its direct neighbor, both phenomena were of much smaller proportion. 
Since the number of Africans in Jerusalem was in the hundreds, it appears that a large percentage were probably brought over as slaves. The paper notes that well-to-do Arabs regarded slaves as status symbols, and they maintained them into the 20th century as the practice waned. 

It is no wonder that Black Palestinians want to romanticize their ancestors as pilgrims who wanted to stay in Jerusalem, instead of slaves brought over in the huge Muslim slave trade. But is appears that far more of them are descendants of slaves than is reported nowadays. 

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Elder of Ziyon - حـكـيـم صـهـيـون

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