The Jewish Women Who Posed an 'Existential Threat' to Israel by Marrying Arab Men

Hundreds of Jewish women married Arab men in the Mandate period. They were branded enemies of Israel, and to this day their families find it hard to talk about them. No wonder, then, that these stories were buried in the archives and are only now coming to light

Illustration of a man and a woman, with a torn map in the background. Yael Bogen.
Credit: Illustration: Yael Bogen.
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

In 1942, all traces of Bianca Schwartz disappeared. An orphan who arrived in Palestine as part of the Youth Aliyah effort to save Jewish refugees from war-torn Europe, she had lived on Kibbutz Afikim in the north before moving to Jerusalem. A lengthy search eventually revealed that Schwartz had converted to Islam, married an Arab man, changed her name to Leila Natshe Ali and was living in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, which in 1948 had come under Jordanian control. The couple had five children. After her husband died, in 1971, she wanted to return to the fold of Judaism. According to one account, Hanania Dery, the chief rabbi of Jaffa, was walking in the Old City when he happened to notice a woman who was dressed in Arab attire but whose facial features struck him as Jewish. Dery asked her to tell him about herself, and thanks to his efforts she returned to her Jewish roots and was recognized as a new immigrant.