Arabs and slavery
As we are told, "Zionism is racism" and "Israel is an Apartheid State." Indeed, the proponents of multicultural pluralism should take careful note. The Zionists have been stamping out many Arab Palestinian customs that no doubt contribute to the rainbow of human culture. For example, one of the customs eliminated by Zionist domination of 'Palestine' was slavery.
The practice of enslaving Africans was made illegal in most of the Western world in the 19th century. In the Middle East, however, under the Muslim Ottoman Empire, it persisted. In the area later to be called Palestine, there was an apartheid society of slave owners. When the colonialist imperialist British, supported by the evil Zionists, entered the land and carved up the former Ottoman Turkish Empire, they discouraged and tried to stop slavery. But the real end to slavery did not, apparently, come, until after the 'Nakba,' the catastrophe of Jewish restoration in 1948, which ended so many delightful customs of the Palestinian Arabs.
In Saudi Arabia, this quaint and picturesque custom, which gave so much romance to the world, was only abolished in 1961, under pressure from the American imperialists. No doubt, the conscience of every humanitarian must be appalled by this blatant interference in the society of another people.
The demise of this elegant society is still mourned by those who decry the British mandate for Palestine and the Zionist settlement in the Land of Israel. The British had outlawed slavery only recently, but Jewish opposition to slavery begins in the biblical story of Passover (Pesach), which celebrates the emancipation of the Jewish slaves in ancient Egypt.
The Africans were called "Abed" - which literally means slave. White and black slaves were separated, and there were degrees of inferiority among African slaves as well. The descendants of these slaves are still Bedouin in the Negev and "Palestinians" in Gaza. They still, as a rule, cannot intermarry with their "white" former masters.
Here is a description of African slavery and African Palestinians in the land of Israel:
Although Africans have been in Palestine for centuries, most people know little about this migration. For centuries, under the Ottoman Empire and before, slaves were brought from Africa. Some older people today remember stories told by their parents or grandparents of how they came to be in Palestine. Therefore it is possible to discover something of the later history of slavery. Several people mentioned that they had heard that there was a big slave market in Egypt and one 'white' Bedouin told me that his grandfather had been a slave trader who travelled regularly to Egypt. Most people with any idea of where their ancestors came from mention Sudan or Ethiopia. Sometimes they know the name of the town. Indeed, it is probable that many Africans came from these countries as they are near to Palestine. However, one woman I spoke to pointed out that 'we just say Sudan because we do not know and because the name means 'place of black people. It could just as easily have been Congo!' According to history books, slave traders and owners used to make a distinction between Ethiopians (Habash) and other Africans such as the Zanj from the East African Coast. In their racist way of thinking, they considered the Ethiopians to be superior to the other Africans.
In Gaza I spoke to people of Bedouin origin who had been living in the Nagab prior to 1948. In the Nagab I spoke with Bedouin of African descent who had stayed in the area after 1948. In Gaza, I also encountered black people of the Al Rubayn ashira who were settled Bedouin living around the area of Jaffa, before being driven from their villages as refugees in 1948. They said that they were unconnected to the Nagab Bedouin. Their name derived from Nabi Rubooyn who thousands of years ago used a well near their home area.
These people of Bedouin origin currently resident in Gaza and the Nagab recall being told by their elders how children were kidnapped or bought in slave markets and brought, sometimes carried in the camel saddle-bags, to live with important Bedouin families. This occurred in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. The children were often the only Africans living with the family. They looked after animals, grew wheat and barley and performed household tasks. People told me that the Bedouin did not use the girls as concubines, although in the West Bank they did 'marry' female slaves. Only big wealthy families owned and traded in slaves. Black people were scattered throughout Palestine living with white families who 'owned' them. However, some families needed slaves to help in self- defense when they were weak in number. It is possible that within the twentieth century adults were also brought from Africa and sold as slaves. One elderly man reported that in his youth he had come across African men who were strong, bore tribal scars on their faces and spoke little Arabic.
One 'white' Bedouin man told me that slaves used to be branded like animals, but that there were no papers concerning ownership or origins. In the family unit, there were sometimes also other slaves who were white, or low status dependants, such as hamran. But one man told me that a white slave would never have answered to a black slave.
Some African children were educated along with the other, free, children of the family. Once the children grew up their masters arranged for them to be married. They never married white people, even if they were also slaves. As there were not many Africans around, marriage often meant that girls moved away from the master's family. People also reported that, upon becoming adults, slaves could choose to take their chances with freedom or to remain attached to a family who would arrange marriage. This probably only occurred towards the end of the institution of slavery, during the British period, when it had already begun to fade away.
In the Nagab the Bedouin had a three tier social and political system. Sheikhs were drawn from the Samran, the original Bedouin. Attached to them as clients were the Hamran, families who were originally felaheen, but required protection and/or land from Samran families. The Abed, the slaves, were on the bottom tier and did not have the same rights or status as free people.
Slaves did not count in blood feuds between families. Several people told me that if a black man killed a white man, the death of that black man would not count. Payment (sulha) could be made in money or by the giving of a slave of a certain height. If a black man kills a white, the family of the deceased may kill the 'owners' of the black man. Recently, in Rahat in the Nagab, a black boy eloped with a white girl. They were discovered and the girl killed by her family. However, the boy survived and subsequently married a black girl.
Under the old system slaves could not sit in the shig at the same level as their masters. In some places this is still observed, with the role of the black people being to serve tea and coffee to the white people. One man told me that there were some shig that he would not go to because they would ask him who he 'belonged to'. But in other shig this no longer happens and black and whites sit happily together. In one shig in Gaza, the black sheikh presides, while white people take responsibility for serving tea and coffee.
In some areas slavery as a way of life appears to have continued into the 1950s. One black (sumr) man who came to Palestine as a migrant worker from Egypt and was caught up in the war of 1948 recalls life for black people attached to the Al Huzail. He had been working in the orchards near Rishon with black people of the Abu Barakat. When war broke out they fled back to their home area of the Al Huzail where Rahat has now been constructed. When the Egyptian man arrived there he found black people growing wheat for Al Huzail. They were given food and, if they requested it for a special purpose, money. Slaves and masters lived separately in black tents. There was no intermarriage and no concubinage. The Egyptian man slept in the Sheikh's shig and worked as a shepherd, but received no wages. The Sheikh arranged his marriage to a white girl from Gaza. However, after 1952 under the Israelis, when the census was taken, slavery as an institution faded away.
Isn't it a pity that the Zionists banished slavery from Palestine, along with trachoma, malaria and typhus? Ah for the good old days! Alas! They are no more!
"There was a land of Cavaliers and Olive Trees called Palestine. Here in this pretty world, Gallantry took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of Effendis and their Harems Fair, of Master and of Slave. Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered, a Civilization gone with the wind."
Those who mourn the loss of this custom, who insist that "Zionism is racism" and "Israel is an apartheid state," can comfort themselves with the thought that polygamy and honor killings have not yet been eliminated by the Zionists. No doubt, when the 'Nakba' of 1948 is reversed, and the Arabs of Palestine get their rights, the noble customs of old will be restored.