Kurds are one of the most prominent ethnic groups in Palestinian society, going back to the era of Saladin al-Ayyubi, when they flocked to Palestine to liberate it from the crusaders.
They also headed to Palestine during the rule of Najm al-Din Ayyub, the Ottoman Caliphate, and the Mamluks era. They are mostly concentrated in Gaza, which was the trade link between Damascus, Cairo and Europe.
Kurds flocked to Gaza from northern Syria, Iraq, and Turkey. Today, Kurdish families in Gaza speak both Kurdish and Arabic and have become part of the Palestinian social fabric, fully embracing its customs, traditions, and social specificity.
The most important Kurdish edifice in Gaza is the Hathat Palace, built in the 12th century AH by Ibrahim Hathat, a Kurdish merchant who married the Ottoman Sultan’s sister.
“The Kurds came to Palestine and saw it as a historical Islamic destination in which they wanted to live and integrate with the Arabs,” Issa Hathat, 81, told Al-Monitor. “Our family is of Kurdish origin. Hathat Palace was owned by the Damascene textile trader in Gaza, our ancestor Ibrahim Hathat.”
He noted that Gaza prospered during the Mamluk period when Arab and African delegations visited it, whether as merchants, students of science or refugees.
Historian Nasser al-Yafawi told Al-Monitor, “The origin of many festivals is traced back to the Kurds. There is the Prophet Rubin festival, the Prophet Moussa festival, Jacob’s Wednesday festival, and the Prophet Abu Huraira festival. Saladin al-Ayyubi … allocated to each city a special festival as an occasion to gather its residents and the residents of the surrounding villages.”
He added, “Popular Palestinian festivals lasted from 1187 AD until the end of the summer of 1947. … In the summer of the following year, the cities and villages where festivals would be held were destroyed, and there were no more festivals and celebrations in Palestine.”
Yafawi indicated that in addition to Hathat Palace, Kurds in Palestine built Ibn Othman Mosque and the Sayyida Ruqayya Mosque. “Ruqayya was a beautiful and righteous woman in the Mamluk era. An Ottoman prince fell for her charm and married her. When she and her husband passed away, the residents of the area, who are Kurds, built this mosque.”
Ibn Othman Mosque, one of the largest and oldest mosques in the Gaza Strip, was built by a Kurdish cleric and merchant named Shehab Al-Din Bin Othman in 1430 AD.
Engineer Mahmoud al-Balawi, who works as a tourist guide and project coordinator at the IWAN Center for Architectural Conservation, told Al-Monitor, “Al-Shujaiya is the largest area in Gaza and is home to the most prominent mosques and churches. It also includes dozens of ancient houses that were built during the Ottoman rule about four centuries ago and religious edifices such as Ibn Othman Mosque and the Mosque of Sayyida Ruqayya.”
In the Gaza Strip, ancient sites face severe official and institutional neglect in light of deteriorating economic and humanitarian conditions. International support funds are mostly channeled to relief projects, health, education, and shelter.
Several books address the Kurds in Palestine, most notably “The Kurds of Palestine” by Mohammad Ali Al-Suwairki, “The Palestinian Kurdish Relations: Historical Dimensions and a Bright Future,” by Salah Badr Al-Din and many others.
In the modern era, Kurds in Palestine played a legendary role in the conflict against Israel. This prompted the late President Yasser Arafat to establish the Palestinian-Kurdish Friendship Society in 1999, the first of its kind in the Arab world.
In the summer of 2014, the Shujaiya neighborhood was almost completely destroyed during the Israeli military operation on the Gaza Strip. In two days, 350 Palestinians were killed and more than 1,500 were injured.