Was the Now Violent Mahamra Clan of Yatta Once Jewish?

The Mahamra brothers of Yatta murdered four people in Tel Aviv in June. But were they once Jews?

7.7.16, 11:35
(Photo: An archway in Yatta, Southern Mount Hebron, which has been likened to a star of David. Credit: Tsvi Misinai / Wiki Commons.)
There was a Hebron connection to the murder of four Israeli civilians at the Sarona Center in Tel Aviv on June 8, 2016. Noam Arnon, spokesperson for the Jewish Community of Hebron discussed the issue of Arabs with Jewish roots and mourned one of the victims on the Yishai Fleisher Show.
Dr. Michael Feige was a sociologist and anthropologist at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. "He interviewed me many times," said Arnon, "and mentioned me in his books. He did not hold our opinion, but he was a fair man and nice guy and I'm very sorry that he was killed."
Arnon also detailed the phenomenon of Hebron proper and the surround Southern Hebron Hills as a hotbed of terrorist activity. Specifically the city of Yatta, the hometown of the two terrorist who carried out the shooting at the Tel Aviv coffee shop.
"When I heard the names of the terrorists, [cousins Khaled and Mohammed Mahamra] I knew they were part of the Mahamra clan, a very large family in the Southern Hebron Hills, especially in Yatta," Arnon stated.
Yatta has been identified by researchers as the Biblical city of Jutta (pronounced Yutta), described in the Book of Joshua 15:55 and 21:16 as a city designated for Kohanim.
The historian Yitzhak Ben Zvi, who later became Israel's second president, researched the town in 1928 and posited that the Mehamra clan has Jewish roots.
It's a concept that Arnon says may hold validity. "Ben Zvi actually visited those clans and described how they light Hanukah candles and preserve some Jewish commandments and Jewish habits. So they belong to an ancient Jewish clan that lives here supposedly from the time of the Second Temple period. When the Muslims appeared here in the country, some of them were forced to convert to Islam. But they remained as Jews. They still remembered their origins as Jews," he stated.
Arnon described a well-known story of how the clan was rejected by fellow Muslims. "In the War of Independence in 1948 one member of the Mahamra clan happened to be in Gaza. The mob in Gaza identified him as a Jew and hanged him because he was Jewish. He was an Arab and Muslim for many generations. They have some background in Jewish history but are Muslim, yet this poor guy was hanged by a mob as a Jew."
"In 1967 when Israel took over, a delegation of this clan went out to meet an Israeli officer," Arnon continued, "and begged him to connect the village to the water supply and electricity saying, 'you know we are brothers. We are Jews. Please take care of us.' But what happened was that Israel unfortunately brought the PLO terrorist organization to control the area instead."
"Arabs that I know asked me, 'please don't bring these terrible gangs upon our heads. They are terrorists. We don't want them here,'" Arnon explained. "They are waiting for us to take care of the whole area and to create Israeli sovereignty because they know Israel is the only democratic modern state that can take care of their rights. They see the PLO / PA as a foreign entity."
Noam Arnon, who has lived in Hebron since the 1980s, has spent extensive time visiting with neighboring Arabs, specifically with Sheikh Farid Jabari.

Some believe the name "Mehamra" means "winemakers," significant because Muslims are forbidden from drinking wine, while Jews use wine for reciting the kiddush prayer on Shabbat and holidays. The Hebron Hills region is famous for its vineyards.
The famous Biblical researcher Edward Robinson stated that modern Yatta is the Biblical Jutta. The following is an excerpt from his book "Biblical researches in Palestine, Mount Sinai and Arabia Petraea : a journal of travels in the year 1838" published in 1841.
"After two hours the Mukariyeh arrived from Hebron bringing with them their barley, and also oranges and other fruit for us... We had before been undecided what route to take from Beni Na'im, but the sight of Kurmul, and a report of names like Zif, Ma'in, and Yutta, in that region, induced us to bend out steps that way...  We left Beni Na'im at half past 3 o'clock, descending gradually; and in twenty minutes came in sight of Yutta on the distant hills, baring S. 55 degrees W. This is doubtless the Juttah of the Old Testament; we afterwards saw it much nearer..."

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In 1931, a Jewish burial complex dating to the 2nd century AD was found in the town. The journal "Israel - Land and Nature, Volumes 16-17, published by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, 1990, page 83. - 86, it discusses the 1987 discovery of a stone slab with a seven-branched menorah engraved on it. The nearby site of Hirbet el-Aziz was identified as Kfar Aziz, a Jewish town mentioned in the Talmud. 

Eusebius of Caesarea, a Roman historian who lived in the Land of Israel in the 2nd century, wrote that Yatta was "a very large village of Jews eighteen miles south of Beit Guvrin." He was the author of many history books including Onomasticon, a directory of place names from the Bible. 
In archaeological surveys conducted after the Six Day War in 1967, an ancient wall was discovered which surveyors believed was part of a large public building, which served as a synagogue or a church. Another survey conducted by Zvi Ilan and David Amit found an old lintel inscribed with a menorah. They believe the discovery corresponds with references to a synagogue in the Onomasticon.
Others argue that Arab builders re-used building material from ruins and that symbols in their towns do not indicate they had Jewish roots. 
Rachamim Slonim Dwek who currently lives in the greater Hebron Hill region and comes from a family with deep Hebron roots disagrees that the current Arab-Muslim residents have Jewish roots. He asserts that recycled building materials from earlier Jewish ruins was a practice done since time immemorial. He argues the idea that some Arab clans may have originally been Jewish is rooted in the belief that a shared ancestry could bring peace to the region. Yet he asserts that such clans hold anti-Israel beliefs regardless of distant ancestry.
* Yitzhak Ben-Zvi , Shaar Yishuv, published by Yad Ben Zvi, pages 410-422
* Zvi Ilan, Ancient Synagogues of Israel, Ministry of Defence Publishing, 1991

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