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First Cousins:Arabs and Jews

Do Arabs really hate the Jews? My life as an Arab Muslim and my surprising DNA results.

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How many times have you found yourself saying, “I hate (name) so much!”? Or it could be about something other than a person , for example, saying, “I hate this time of year!”. I have, many, many times and you know what? Saying these things does not make anything go away or make the person disappear.

I had someone ask me today, Do Arabs really hate the Jews?. I stood there for a few seconds and then decided that instead of answering that person, I would write about it. I remember being a very young child when I would hear the older members of our family discussing the war between Egypt and Israel. As a little girl, I used to have dreams of flying over a battle field from all the discussions that I overheard. I knew that the war was over land, but that was all I knew.

I was never told that the Israelis were monsters or that I should hate them. However, I did hear some of my family’s Coptic and even some of their Jewish Arab friends say really horrible things about the Israelis and what was going on in the Middle East. I think they felt strongly about who the land belonged to and they felt that Egypt was in the right.

My maternal grandmother was born in Egypt. She came from a very wealthy family that had many children during the time when Egypt had a king. My grandmother whose heritage is Turkish (among other things), would often tell me stories about how she would go next door on Saturdays and turn on lights, etc. for her Jewish neighbors. She said that she didn’t mind doing that for them and that there was never a problem because of religion. According to my grandmother, the real trouble started when Egypt was no longer ruled by a king and the Jews were told to leave Egypt even though it was their home.

There was a restaurant that my family used to go to in Brooklyn, NY that was owned by Egyptian Jews. My family loved going there and of course, they would spend hours there talking to the owners. I remember once when we were having dinner, I overheard the restaurant owners say that they would love to go home, to live once again in Egypt.

The college I went to had a very large Jewish student population, so naturally, most of my friends were Jewish. I was always very interested in Holocaust history and I was fortunate to have amazing professors, some of which were actual Holocaust survivors like Prof. Yaffa Eliach. Prof. Eliach once asked me why am I, an Arab Muslim, so interested in the Holocaust? I told her that I felt very drawn to its history, but I don’t really have a reason that I can name.

I met my ex husband shortly after I graduated. He is from an American Jewish family, but he was not Jewish. He actually converted to Islam a few years before I met him and since I’m a Muslim, it worked out perfectly. We had an Islamic wedding at the mosque and both families were in attendance.

A few years ago, I got a DNA kit as a gift. I knew that my family was only Egyptian on my father’s side, but it turned out that everything I knew about my heritage was wrong. I will write another post with my full DNA results later on, but I found out that I am Eastern European Jewish as well as Arab.

Was my interest in Holocaust history a case of genetic memory? I don’t really know. What I found out from one of my maternal great aunts is that the older people in the family knew that our family was of Jewish heritage, but we are Muslim now. My great aunt told me this in whispers. I think that fear still remains with the older people in the family because of the persecution of the past.
There is an Arab saying that goes “Muslims and Jews are first cousins”. We both worship the same God and we are all human beings. The person that asked me earlier if Arabs hate the Jews has to think about the long history that Arabs and Jews have together. This is not to say that there aren’t Arabs out there that hate Jews, of course, there are, but not every Arab.

My father used to say to me that our family was not always Muslim and who knows what we were before. My father passed away when I was very young and he was not alive when I got my DNA results. He was an intelligent man and I think he understood that it is very rare for any human being to be comprised of only one race. I miss him everyday.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2021 Johanna Elattar