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    The 5 million members of the Palestinian Jewish Diaspora

    The following article by Rabbi Raymond Apple originally appeared in The Jerusalem Post on 28 April, 2020.

    Until 1948 the name “Palestine” was associated with Jews. That meant that the Palestinian people were mostly Jewish.

    The name “Palestine” or “Palestina” had ancient origins. It was brought into use by the Greeks and Romans after the Philistines who lived in the coastal southern area of the country.

    Jews had settled there after their exodus from Egypt in Moses’s time – indeed even before the Egyptian episode it was the Hebrew homeland. Palestine went through ups and downs but its Jewish associations were constant and Jews maintained a presence there from Biblical times.

    When Theodor Herzl was prepared to accept Uganda as a Jewish “asylum for the night,” vast numbers of the Jewish people were only interested in Palestine. The Balfour Declaration of 1917, followed by the League of Nations Mandate, acknowledged that the Jews regarded Palestine as their holy land.

    Bible-lovers everywhere associated Jews with Palestine and Palestine with Jews. The Jews themselves – wherever they lived, sang, prayed and dreamed – worked toward making Palestine as their home.

    Jews from Palestine – including my own father Harry – formed a Palestinian Jewish Diaspora in other parts of the world.

    Harry (Chaim Yitzchak), born in Jerusalem, was one of the sons of a Russian Jewish couple called Yablotchnik who had come to Palestine to join a grandmother who is said to have been the women’s zoggerte at the old Hurva Synagogue in the Old City. Chaim Yitzchak was a Yiddish-speaking cheder boy in Jerusalem who went to Alexandria with his family in World War I because the Turks and the Russians were at odds.

    Shortly after the family returned to Palestine, Chaim Yitzchak emigrated to Australia in order to escape from an unwelcome shidduch (possibly also because he found his family too Orthodox). He had various businesses in Australia, never achieving much success or prosperity, but occasionally sending his father a five-pound note. He had a Palestinian passport and when his relatives wrote to him there were Palestinian stamps on the envelope.

    Born and brought up in Australia, my brothers and I were intrigued with our father’s origins, and Palestine was part of our being: Zionism was part of our ethos.

    There were Jewish Palestinian enclaves in many places in the Diaspora, including Australia. There were Palestinian clubs ranging from Perth in Western Australia to the eastern seaboard. Melbourne, for example, had a Hebrew-speaking Eretz Israel club.

    My father settled well into Australian life and spoke unaccented English, which he picked up in the British army workshops in Alexandria. He also knew some Arabic, though not all of his Arabic sayings were printable. Australians knew that Harry was from Palestine. So if ethnicity goes by descent, I too am a Palestinian as well as an Israeli, an Australian and (of course) a Jew.

    Instead of “California here I come”, we Habonim boys sang “Palestina here I come, right back where I started from.” Some of my Habonim madrichim are still alive in Israel, though it took many decades after 1948 before I joined them in making aliyah.

    There were more than 600,000 Palestinian Jews in Palestine in 1948, so the Jewish Palestinian people worldwide must now be about five million. Naturally we prefer to be called Israelis; like all Israelis we believe in building, not bullying.

    Somebody should remind the nations of the world not to pretend that the Jewish Palestinians do not exist.

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