The 7th-Century Massacre of Arabian Jews, and Its Legacy

July 23 2021

Two months ago, a crowd of protestors gathered in front of the Amsterdam Holocaust memorial, chanting an Arabic refrain, now familiar from such gatherings, that translates as “Khaybar, Khaybar, O Jews. The army of Mohammad is coming.” The reference is to a location in what is now Saudi Arabia, and to an oft-forgotten piece of Middle Eastern Jewish history. Lawrence Schiffman recounts this story, which begins in 622 CE, when the founder of Islam moved from Mecca to the city of Medina, which at the time was home to three large Jewish tribes.

This was Mohammad’s first regular contact with a full-scale Jewish community. Jews had a long history in the Arabian Peninsula, probably going back to [the 1st century CE]. There is considerable archaeological evidence for Jewish communities in southern Arabia, much of it in the form of cemetery inscriptions, going back as far as the 4th century CE. By the 7th century, some Jewish tribes had migrated north and establish themselves in agriculture—especially the cultivation of date palms—at Medina. In fact Jews were the majority of the population of this town.

Local Arab tribes had long been locked in a struggle for domination of the town, and they hoped that Mohammad would bring peace. While these tribes swore allegiance to Mohammad and accepted the new religion of Islam, they imposed a simple condition: that their Jewish neighbors who clung strongly to their faith would be protected. Little did the Arabs of Medina know that Mohammad would soon drive out two of the Jewish tribes and slaughter the men of the third, selling the women and children into slavery.

The turning point came after one of those tribes, the Banu Nadir, chose to sit out a battle rather than fight alongside the prophet—because they didn’t want to fight on Shabbat. When he was defeated, he took out his rage on these Jews:

[Mohammad] turned against the Nadir, besieged them, and ordered them to leave Medina. They surrendered [and] departed to the northeast, to the Jewish oasis of Khaybar, proudly marching through the streets of Medina in a caravan reported to have consisted of 600 camels, with music and fancy clothing. Two years later, the men of this Jewish tribe would be killed when Mohammad attacked Khaybar.

Read more at Ami Magazine

More about: Arabia, Jewish history, Jewish-Muslim Relations, Mohamed

How Israel Can Break the Cycle of Wars in Gaza

Last month saw yet another round of fighting between the Jewish state and Gaza-based terrorist groups. This time, it was Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) that began the conflict; in other cases, it was Hamas, which rules the territory. Such outbreaks have been numerous in the years since 2009, and although the details have varied somewhat, Israel has not yet found a way to stop them, or to save the residents of the southwestern part of the country from the constant threat of rocket fire. Yossi Kuperwasser argues that a combination of military, economic, and diplomatic pressure might present an alternative solution:

In Gaza, Jerusalem plays a key role in developing the rules that determine what the parties can and cannot do. Such rules are designed to give the Israelis the ability to deter attacks, defend territory, maintain intelligence dominance, and win decisively. These rules assure Hamas that its rule over Gaza will not be challenged and that, in between the rounds of escalation, it will be allowed to continue its military buildup, as the Israelis seldom strike first, and the government’s responses to Hamas’s limited attacks are always measured and proportionate.

The flaws in such an approach are clear: it grants Hamas the ability to develop its offensive capabilities, increase its political power, and condemn Israelis—especially those living within range of the Gaza Strip—to persistent threats from Hamas terrorists.

A far more effective [goal] would be to rid Israel of Hamas’s threat by disarming it, prohibiting its rearmament, and demonstrating conclusively that threatening Israel is indisputably against its interests. Achieving this goal will not be easy, but with proper preparation, it may be feasible at the appropriate time.

Revisiting the rule according to which Jerusalem remains tacitly committed to not ending Hamas rule in Gaza is key for changing the dynamics of this conflict. So long as Hamas knows that the Israelis will not attempt to uproot it from Gaza, it can continue arming itself and conducting periodic attacks knowing the price it will pay may be heavy—especially if Jerusalem changes the other rules mentioned—but not existential.

Read more at Middle East Quarterly

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israeli Security, Palestinian Islamic Jihad