The Legendary Jewish Warrior Princess of the Berbers

Oct. 18 2018

In the late 7th century, the forces of the Umayyad caliphate were on the march westward from Egypt, eager to expand their empire. They soon found themselves fighting a confederation of Berber tribes led by a woman named Dihya al-Kahina, who to this day remains the stuff of legend. Arab accounts portray her as a sorceress, while some Algerian Jewish folklore has her as an anti-Semitic ogre. But the great 14th-century Arab historian ibn Khaldun notes that her tribe were converts to Judaism, and this is likely the origin of the claim that she was a Jew, made popular by the early 20th-century journalist Nahum Slouschz in his travelogue of North African Jewry. Ushi Derman recounts Slouschz’s version of her story:

Dihya offered peace, but the Muslim commander would not accept unless she acknowledged the authority of the caliph and adopted Islam, an ultimatum she rejected scornfully. According to Slouschz, she was a descendant of a priestly family deported from Judea by Pharaoh Necho in the days of King Josiah. She did not intend to enter the family history as a leader who caused yet another deportation of the dynasty, and certainly did not intend to convert to Islam. “I shall die in the religion I was born to,” she answered the commander’s demands, and went on forging her steel sword.

Berber tribes from all over the Maghreb arrived to join Kahina in her campaign, which they gloriously won after exhausting battles. Defeated and ashamed, the Arab general had to escape with what was left of his troops to Tripoli, where he had to face the caliph and tell him of his defeat. Kahina then chased his troops all the way to Carthage, and then became the city’s ruler [as well]. . . .

It took [the Arab armies] five years to recover from the losses caused in the battle with Dihya. [But they then returned with] a much larger force and managed to conquer Carthage and to defeat the Berbers. . . . After her defeat, Kahina took her own life by falling into a deep well. The Muslims pulled out her body, severed her head, and sent it to the caliph. The well is still called the Kahina Well.

Despite Slouschz’s claims, most modern scholars doubt that Kahina was in fact Jewish.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Museum of the Jewish People

More about: African Jewry, Algeria, History & Ideas

Palestinian Leaders Fight Economic Growth

Jan. 15 2019

This month, a new shopping mall opened in northeastern Jerusalem, easily accessible to most of the city’s Arab residents. Rami Levy, the supermarket magnate who owns the mall, already employs some 2,000 Israeli Arabs and Palestinians at his other stores, and the mall will no doubt bring more jobs to Arab Jerusalemites. But the leaders of the Palestinian Authority (PA) are railing against it, and one newspaper calls its opening “an economic catastrophe [nakba].” Bassam Tawil writes:

For [the PA president] Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah officials . . . the image of Palestinians and Jews working in harmony is loathsome. . . . Instead of welcoming the inauguration of the shopping mall for providing job opportunities to dozens of Palestinians and lower prices [to consumers], Fatah officials are taking about an Israeli plan to “undermine” the Palestinian economy. . . . The hundreds of Palestinians who flooded the new mall on its first day, however, seem to disagree with the grim picture painted by [these officials]. . . .

The campaign of incitement against Levy’s shopping mall began several months ago, as it was being built, and has continued until today. Now that the campaign has failed to prevent the opening of the mall, Fatah and its followers have turned to outright threats and violence. The threats are being directed toward Palestinian shoppers and Palestinian merchants who rented space in the new mall. On the day the mall was opened, Palestinians threw a number of firebombs at the compound, [which] could have injured or killed Palestinians. The [bomb-throwers], who are believed to be affiliated with Fatah, would rather see their own people dead than having fun or buying attractively-priced products at an Israeli mall.

By spearheading this campaign of incitement and intimidation, Abbas’s Fatah is again showing its true colors. How is it possible to imagine that Abbas or any of his Fatah lieutenants would ever make peace with Israel when they cannot even tolerate the idea of Palestinians and Jews working together for a simple common good? If a Palestinian who buys Israeli milk is a traitor in the eyes of Fatah, it is not difficult to imagine the fate of any Palestinian who would dare to discuss compromise with Israel.

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Gatestone

More about: East Jerusalem, Israeli Arabs, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority, Palestinian economy