'This is a conflict between brothers; it's all a big misunderstanding'

Although Tsvi Misinai's claims sound fantastic (as in unbelievable) to the ears of Jews raised within the confines of "normative Judaism," there are many Palestinians who accept and have even acted upon his ideas, to the point of either converting or, in the case of two gentlemen Misinai introduced me to, taking on Jewish practices, either "quietly" or openly. One, we'll call him Hassan (he asked me not to print his real name to prevent possible "unpleasant consequences" if the wrong people were to hear the story), is a member of the Mahamra clan of the south Hebron Hills, a group that has a clear tradition of Jewish ancestry. Mahamra, in fact, means "wine maker" in Palestinian Arabic - certainly not a profession good Muslims would be engaged in, due to the ban on alcohol in the Koran. The other is a member of the Sawarka Beduin clan who proudly calls himself Ovadia Yerushalami. "Everyone around here knows that we're Jewish," says Hassan, despite the fact that the Mahamra converted to Islam long ago. Among the Jewish customs his clan retains, he says, is sitting shiva, ripping clothes when hearing of a death, lighting candles on Friday nights and levirate marriage. On a personal basis, Hassan says he does not work on Shabbat, refrains from eating nonkosher meat and puts on tefillin. But he hasn't officially converted - and doesn't intend to. "I went before a Beit Din to discuss my Jewish background, and they asked me why I don't convert. I said I would if the people coming from Russia and other parts of the world did as well, because they probably have less Jewish identity - and less Jewish background - than I do. They got very emotional and asked for my forgiveness, saying they had not intended to insult me or my beliefs." He understands the desire of the rabbis to "go slow," and how difficult it is for most Jews to accept that a Palestinian could really be Jewish, considering the bad blood between the two nations. "But we Palestinians cannot take all the blame," he says of the political conflict. "Look at it from our point of view. For generations, we remained behind to take care of our precious homeland - our Jewish homeland - and then the Jews who had left the land came home to reclaim it. What about us?" The "conflict" is a terrible, tragic accident of history, he says. "You didn't realize you were fighting your own brothers." Despite the misunderstanding, Hassan is ready to move on. "As a Palestinian Jew, I tell the newly arrived Jews and the rabbis that we - all of us - have had enough hate and anti-Semitism. Tsvi's way is the only way out of the conflict that I can see. If we do not get together and fix things this land will kill both of us." Surprisingly, Misinai says that the reaction from Palestinian leaders has not been totally negative either. "I have spoken to several who dismissed it, including [former Balad MK] Azmi Bishara - he said this was another plot of the Jews to remove the Palestinians from their land. But others, like {former Palestinian Authority minister] Ziyad Abu Ziyad, were more open; he asked me to prepare Arabic language versions of my writings." One thing most Palestinians don't do is deny his contentions - even Yasser Arafat himself said once after the beginning of the second intifada that "we, the Palestinians and the Jews, are all the sons of the prophet Samuel." Whether he said this for propaganda purposes we'll never know, says Misinai, "but he was closer to the mark than he probably realized."