Study Finds Genetic Links between Jews, Arabs

Published May 10th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Tradition says the biblical Prophet Abraham fathered both the Jewish and Arab nations. Now, new DNA-based research reveals a genetic link between Jews and Palestinians indeed share a common ancestry dating back 4,000 years, said the Associated Press Wenesday.  

The study, published Tuesday in "The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" in Washington, D.C., says the Y chromosome found in Jewish men may go back to a common pool of Middle Eastern ancestors.  

After the first major Jewish exile of 586 B.C., when Jews dispersed across Europe and North Africa, Jews largely retained their genetic identity, one that was formed in the Middle East. Even after centuries of exile, Diaspora Jews remained closer to each other and more similar to Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese in terms of shared Y chromosome characteristics than to people in their host countries, the study says.  

"Eventually people will realize that they are not that different," said Batsheva Bonne-Tamir, a geneticist from Tel Aviv University who participated in the study.  

Still, she cautioned that the techniques were new and that until the human genome is mapped, it will be difficult to be certain about the conclusions.  

The genetic link between Jews and Arabs suggested by the study is reflected in the biblical account in Genesis of how Abraham fathered two sons: Ishmael by his wife's maid Hagar, and then, when Sarah was able to conceive, Isaac. 

The study compared the male, or Y, chromosome, which is passed from father to son in 1,371 males from seven groups of Israeli Jews of various origins and 16 non-Jewish groups in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.  

The study was led by Michael Hammer, of the University of Arizona. Hammer identified 19 variations of the Y chromosome, including eight lineages found to varying degrees among Jews and Arabs.  

Based on this measure, the study found that despite the many centuries their ancestors had spent in exile in different parts of the world, the Israeli Jews in the sample had the closest genetic links.  

Next in genetic affinity to Jews were Palestinians and Syrians, followed by Saudi Arabians, Lebanese, and Druze, a Middle Eastern sect that practices a secret form of Islam. 

The team also found that the Y chromosomes of Ethiopian Jews differed greatly both from those of other Jewish groups and of non-Jews in Ethiopia, evidence, researchers said, that from the moment the Ethiopians embraced Judaism, they took pains to refrain from intermarriage, according to Ha’aretz Tuesday.  

According to the research, in one of the lineage branches, the percentage of variation in the Y chromosome between Jews and Palestinians differed by only 1 percent compared to a difference of 5 percent between Jews and Europeans.  

A low rate of intermarriage between Diaspora Jews and gentiles was a key reason for the continuity, Bonne-Tamir said. For example, since Jews first settled in Europe 80 generations ago, the intermarriage rate was estimated to be only about 0.5 percent in each generation.  

As a result, according to the Y chromosome results, Jews of European descent living in Israel have closer genetic affinity to Syrians than to the non-Jews of the countries they came from.  

Hebrew University geneticist Howard Cedar said even though Y chromosomes are considered the best tool for tracing genetic heritage, researchers still don't know what the history is behind the variations. As a result, it is difficult to draw conclusions about genetic affinity.  

"The problem is in the interpretation," Cedar said. "It's very difficult to reconstruct the histories of these events, it's difficult to interpret." – (Several Sources) 


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