Africans in Palestine self-identify deeply with both their original African ancestry and the Palestinian nationality. A minority of African Palestinians which number around 350-450 reside in an African enclave (Hai al-Afaarika) around the Bab al-Majlis, the northern gate, contiguous to the Haram al-Sharif, in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem, which also contains several micro-communities composed of Indians, Domari Gypsies,[a] Afghans, and Moroccans. Some of the community dwell in other areas of Jerusalem such as Beit Hanina and A-Tur.
There are also Bedouin Palestinians outside Jerusalem who have descent lines linking them to people of African origin.
By the 9th century, it is estimated that some 3 million Africans had been resettled as enslaved people in the Middle East, working as soldiers and labourers in the riverine plantation economies. As is illustrated by the life of Mansa Musa king of the medieval kingdom of Mali, pilgrimage by African converts to Islam became an established practice, though regular pilgrimage only became commonplace in the 15th century, as the Islamic faith spread beyond the narrow confines of sultanate courts to the people at large. There are some Palestinian communities which trace their origins to pilgrims from Sudan and Central Africa who are said to have reached Palestine as early as the 12th century. Their initial aim was to take part in the Hajj and reach Mecca, after which they visited Jerusalem to visit the Al-Aqsa mosque. Many Afro-Palestinians also hail from forefathers who came to Palestine enslaved in service to the Ottomans.
People whose ancestors came from Nigeria, Sudan, Senegal and Chad make up most of the community, and most of these came to Palestine during the British Mandate. Many, according to Abraham Milligram, came as conscripted labourers during General Edmund Allenby's campaign against the Turks in the latter stages of WW1. The Jerusalem community of Afro-Palestinians, 50 families now numbering some 350 (or 450) members, reside in two compounds, Ribat al-Mansuri[b] and Ribat al-Baseri/Ribat Aladdin al-Bassir/Ribat of 'Al'a Ad-Deen Busari, which historically under the Mamluks served as hostels for visiting Muslim pilgrims. This distinctive enclave has been called Jerusalem's Little Harlem. During the Arab Revolt of WW1, the Ottomans converted the compounds into jails - one known as 'the Blood Prison' and the other as 'the hanging prison'- where prisoners were detained and executed. The community has restructured part of this former prison to create a mosque.
These have close links with similar communities in Acre and Jericho, established when Africans came to work in the Ummayad sugar industry. Until the Israeli occupation that began in 1967, they were employed as guards at the Haram Al-Sharif, a function now taken over by Israeli soldiers. They are proud of the role they have played in the Palestinian resistance.
After Ottoman rule the quarters, known as Ribat Alaa ed-Din and Ribat Mansouri, built between 1267 and 1382 (transcribed alternatively Ribat Aladdin al-Bassir, became a part of the religious trust waqf. Proving their loyalty as protectors of al-Aqsa mosque, The Palestinian leader and mufti of Jerusalem Sheikh Amin al-Husseini rented out these compounds to Palestinians of African background, in gratitude for their loyalty, after one of the African guards, Jibril Tahruri, took a bullet aimed at the mufti. The rent remains largely nominal. Afro-Palestinians whose connection to Jerusalem predates 1947 found themselves in one of the most troubled areas in the region. Falling in love with the city of Jerusalem and with deep ties to Islam they married Palestinians and continue to identify as Palestinians. After 1948 in particular black Palestinian men married women coming from the peasant fellahin society, but never Bedouin women.
The African Palestinians who now live in the two compounds near al-Aqsa mosque, have called the area home since 1930. At times they have suffered from prejudice, with some Palestinians, reportedly from outside Jerusalem, referring to them as 'slaves' (abeed) and to their neighbourhood as the 'slaves' prison' (habs al-abeed), and their colour occasionally leads to objections to their marrying other Palestinians of a paler skin. In colloquial Palestinian Arabic, standard usage prefers the word sumr (black colour) over sawd, which has an uncouth connotation.
At least one informant states however that he has never suffered from discriminations over his colour, adding that they enjoy a special status for their contributions to the Palestinian national struggle. Fatima Barnawi, of mixed Nigerian-Palestinian descent, was the first Palestinian woman to be arrested on the basis of claims she engaged in terrorist operations against Israel. Ali Jiddah placed 4 grenades on Strauss Street in 1968, injuring several Israelis, and his cousin Mahmood was likewise condemned for involvement in a similar incident. Their record as fighters in the Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation has done much to improve their status. Similar discrimination can crop up with Israelis who call them "Kushi" ("nigger" or "Sambo"). Israeli police are said to be the main perpetrators of racism against the community.
The community is reputed to be the hardest hit by the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, finding itself now wedged between two Israeli checkpoints, which only permit the quarters' residents to pass through. The measures have stopped worshippers at the Haram al-Sharif from shopping in these two areas. The Afro-Palestinians are staunch supporters of the Palestinian national cause, and most of the community has spent time in Israeli prisons for engaging in protest demonstrations against the occupation.
- Roughly a thousand are believed to reside in the Jerusalem area, of which a few hundred in the Old City. See Johannes Becker, Verortungen in der Jerusalemer Altstadt: Lebensgeschichten und Alltag in einem engen urbanen Raum, transcript Verlag, 2017 ISBN 978-3-839-43938-8p.144
- Images of Ribat al-Mansuri can be seen at Wikimedia Commons.
- Charmaine Seitz, Pilgrimage to a New Self: The African Quarter and its peoples, Jerusalem Quarterly 2002 Issue 16 pp. 43-51.
- Jonarah Baker, 'The African-Palestinians: Muslim Pilgrims Who Never Went Home', The New Arab, 26 Dec. 2014.
- Ilan Ben Zion, The Old City's African secret, The Times of Israel 6 April 204.
- Arthur Neslen, In Your Eyes a Sandstorm: Ways of Being Palestinian, University of California Press ISBN 978-0-520-26427-4 2011 pp.50-51
- K. K. Prah, Reflections on Arab-led Slavery of Africans, Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society 2005 p. 198
- Abraham Ezra Milligram, Jerusalem Curiosities, Jewish Publication Society, 1990 ISBN 978-0-827-60358-5 p.255.
- Isma'il Kushkush, "'Afro-Palestinians' forge a unique identity in Israel", Associated Press 12 January 2017
- Sarah Irving, Palestine, Bradt Guides, 2012 ISBN 978-1-841-62367-2 p.94
- Abraham Ezra Milligram, Jerusalem Curiosities, Jewish Publication Society, 1990 ISBN 978-0-827-60358-5 p.254.
- Sara Hassan, The hidden resistance of African-Palestinians TRT World 15 May 2019
- Abraham Ezra Milligram, Jerusalem Curiosities, Jewish Publication Society, 1990 ISBN 978-0-827-60358-5 p.256.
- K. K. Prah, Reflections on Arab-led Slavery of Africans, Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society 2005 p. 204
- David Love, 'In Jerusalem, Afro-Palestinians Are the Hardest Hit in the Israeli Occupation', Atlanta Black Star 29 March 2016,
- K. K. Prah, Reflections on Arab-led Slavery of Africans, Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society 2005 p. 195