They are often referred to as “abeed”, a local derogatory Arabic term meaning “slaves” and their neighbourhoods as “habs Al-abeed” or the “slaves’ prison,” largely due to their skin colour.
Despite issues of racism and discrimination, the Afro-Palestinians mainly descended from African immigrants to Palestine and have since become an integral part of Palestinian society.
You will find them mostly in a community called the “African Quarter”, located in the shadow of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City.
The Afro-Palestinian neighbourhood is often difficult to find, accessible only through an Israeli police checkpoint where officers interrogate anyone who is not from the local community, according to a report by Aljazeera.
The African Quarter of the Old City — Times Of Israel
The area was, hitherto, the site of two former Turkish prisons, but it has since been rented out to the over 50 Arab families of African descent who pay a symbolic rent to the Islamic Waqf, the owner of the property.
A report by local media, The Times of Israel states that many of those living in the little-known “African Quarter” community are the descendants of Africans from Senegal, Chad, Sudan and Nigeria who made the pilgrimage to Mecca in recent generations.
They subsequently visited Jerusalem, married Arab women and stayed.
A number of them joined the Arab Liberation Army to fight the nascent State of Israel in 1948 and remained in Jordanian-held East Jerusalem.
“The African community wasn’t just residing here. They were occupying different [places] inside the city, but the majority used to live here. They started to think, ‘How can we be supportive of one another in order to get much more integrated with the Palestinian society?’”
They, therefore, congregated as a single community in the ribats, says Yasser Qous, a son of a Chadian who settled down in Jerusalem after performing the Hajj.
Meanwhile, there are other large communities of Afro-Palestinians in Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank town of Jericho, with many of them being descendants of slaves or soldiers brought in during Ottoman times.
Though many of these Afro-Palestinians have lived in Palestine for centuries, they are often discriminated against because they are black.
They are only respected by their fellow Palestinians because of their role in the country’s struggle for independence.
However, several members of the Afro-Palestinian community have been convicted and imprisoned for terrorist attacks in Jerusalem.
The late Fatima Bernawi, the first female Palestinian political prisoner was imprisoned after attempting to bomb a cinema in downtown Jerusalem in October 1967.
Fatima Bernawi — alarab.com
The daughter of a Nigerian father and Palestinian mother would later serve as a senior Palestinian police officer before her death in 2016.
Moussa Quos, a director of African Community Society, a welfare organization in Jerusalem also spent five years in prison for participating in the first Palestinian uprising, in the early 1990s.
These people and several others like Jiddah are now regarded as heroes in Palestine, where the sense of self-respect among the people is often based on how successful they are in attacking their enemies – Israeli Jews.
Yet, Afro-Palestinians are often among the most disenfranchised economically, according to a report by local media Arab News.
Dream Defenders Palestine delegation meets with an Afro-Palestinian — San Francisco Bay View
Living in widespread poverty coupled with the incessant fears of arrest due to frequent discrimination from both Palestinians and Israelis, Quos was quoted saying: “Many leave school early to support their families and the houses that we live in are very small houses.”
As one-third generation of Afro-Palestinians now grows within the walls of the African Quarter, it is the hope of many that the above challenges will be curtailed for a well-integrated society where everybody sees each other as one despite the colour of their skin.