The history of Palestine is the study of the past in the region of Palestine, generally defined as a geographic region in the Southern Levant between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and various adjoining lands. Situated at a strategic point between Europe, Asia, and Africa, and the birthplace of Judaism and Christianity,” the region has a long and tumultuous history as a crossroads for religion, culture, commerce, and politics. The Palestine region or parts of it have been controlled by numerous different peoples and regional powers, including the Canaanites, Amorites, Ancient Egyptians, Israelites, Moabites, Ammonites, Tjeker, Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, different dynasties of the Early Muslim period (Umayads, Abbasids, Seljuqs, Fatimids), Crusaders, Late Muslim dynasties (Ayyubids, Mamluks, Ottoman Turks), the British, Jordanians (1948–1967, on the “West Bank”) and Egyptians (in Gaza), and modern Israelis and Palestinians. Other terms for approximate geographic area include Canaan, Zion, the Land of Israel, Southern Syria, Outremer and the Holy Land.
The region was among the earliest in the world to see human habitation, agricultural communities and civilization. During the Early and Middle Bronze Age, independent Canaanite city-states were established, and were influenced by the surrounding civilizations of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Phoenicia, Minoan Crete, and Syria. During Late Bronze Age 1550–1400 BCE, the Canaanite cities became vassals to the Egyptian New Kingdom who held power until the 1178 BCE Battle of Djahy (Canaan) during the wider Bronze Age collapse.
Modern archaeologists dispute parts of the Biblical tradition, the latest thinking being that the Israelites emerged from a dramatic social transformation that took place in the people of the central hill country of Canaan around 1200 BCE, with no signs of violent invasion or even of peaceful infiltration of a clearly defined ethnic group from elsewhere. The Philistines, part of Sea Peoples of Southern Europe, arrived and mingled with the local Canaanite population, and according to Biblical tradition, the United Kingdom of Israel was established in 1020 BCE and split within a century to form the northern Kingdom of Israel, and the southern Kingdom of Judah. The region became part of the Neo-Assyrian Empire from c. 740 BCE, which was itself replaced by the Neo-Babylonian Empire in c. 627 BCE. A war of Baylonians with Judean Kingdom culminated in 586 BCE when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II and the local leaders were deported to Babylonia, only to be allowed to return under the rule of the Achaemenid Empire.
In the 330s BCE, Alexander the Great conquered the coastline of the region of Palestine, and it changed hands numerous times during the wars of the Diadochi, ultimately joining the Seleucid Empire between 219 and 200 BCE. In 116 BCE, a Seleucid civil war resulted in the independence of certain regions including the minor Hasmonean principality in the Judean Mountains. From 110 BCE, the Hasmoneans extended their authority over much of the area, creating a Judean–Samaritan–Idumaean–Ituraean–Galilean alliance. The Judean control over the wider region resulted in it also becoming known as Hasmonean Judaea, a term that had previously only referred to the smaller region of the Judean Mountains. During 73–63 BCE, the Roman Republic extended its influence into the region in the Third Mithridatic War, making Judea a vassal kingdom in 63 BCE, and splitting the Hasmonean Kingdom into five districts. After several decades as vassal of the Roman Empire, the Herodian kingdom and tetrarchy was gradually absorbed into Roman Empire as the Roman Judea. Between 66 and 135 CE massive Judean revolts troubled the province, resulting in sack of Jerusalem and extensive depopulation of the country. Jews were prohibited from living in the vicinity of Jerusalem, and in 132 Jerusalem was renamed “Aelia Capitolina”.
As a result, many Jewish landowners converted to the Ebionim to maintain their properties. After the Bar Kokhba revolt Hadrian joined the province of Judaea with Syria to form a new province and renamed it Syria Palaestina. During 259–272, the region briefly fell under the rule of Odaenathus as King of the Palmyrene Empire. Following the victory of Christian emperor Constantine in the Civil Wars of the Tetrarchy (306–324), the Christianization of the Roman Empire began, and in 326, Constantine’s mother Saint Helena visited Jerusalem and began the construction of churches and shrines. Byzantine Palestine became a center of Christianity, attracting numerous monks and religious scholars. Persecution of Ebionites led to their dispersion to Arabia and the Parthian Empire. The Christians gradually gained dominance demographically, especially after the Samaritan Revolts during late Byzantine period, which had caused the near extinction of Samaritans. In early 7th century the region briefly fell under the Sasanian Empire and Jewish rebels, until the return of Byzantines in 625-9.
Region of Palestine was conquered by the Islamic Empire following the 636 CE Battle of Yarmouk during the Muslim conquest of Syria, and the Muslims gave relief from burdensome Roman taxes and religious persecution of Christian heretics. The country was incorporated into Bilad al-Sham Province as military districts of Urdunn and Filastin. In 661 CE, with the assassination of Ali, Muawiyah I became the uncontested Caliph of the Islamic World after being crowned in Jerusalem. In 691, the Dome of the Rock became the world’s first great work of Islamic architecture. The Umayyads were replaced by the Abbasids in 750. From 878 Palestine was ruled from Egypt by semi-autonomous rulers for almost a century, beginning with Ahmad ibn Tulun and ending with the Ikhshidid rulers who were both buried in Jerusalem. The Fatimids conquered the region in 969. In 1073, Palestine was captured by the Great Seljuq Empire, only to be recaptured by the Fatimids in 1098, who then lost the region to the Crusaders in 1099. Crusader control of Jerusalem and most of Palestine as the Kingdom of Jerusalem lasted almost a century until defeat by Saladin’s forces in 1187, after which most of Palestine became controlled by the Ayyubids. A rump Crusader state in the northern coastal cities survived for another century, but despite seven further Crusades, the Crusaders were no longer a significant power in the region. The Mamluk Sultanate was indirectly created in Egypt as a result of the Seventh Crusade. The Mongol Empire reached Palestine for the first time in 1260, beginning with the raids into the Levant under Nestorian Christian general Kitbuqa and reaching an apex at the pivotal Battle of Ain Jalut. In 1486, hostilities broke out between the Mamluks and the Ottoman Turks and the Ottomans captured Mamluk Palestine and Syria in 1516.
The Ottoman rule of the country lasted for four centuries, administratively included in the provinces of Ottoman Syria. In 1832, the region was conquered by Muhammad Ali’s Egypt, but, in 1840, Britain intervened and returned control of the Levant to the Ottomans in return for further capitulations. The turbulent period of Egyptian rule experienced two major revolts (the 1834 Arab Peasants revolt and 1838 Druze revolt) and a significant demographic change in coastal areas, repopulated by Egyptian Arab peasants and former soldiers of Muhammad Ali. Late 19th century was the timing for regional migrations of Druze, Circassians and Bedouin tribes and also the spike of Jewish immigration and the revival of the Hebrew language. Increasing Jewish immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries added considerably to the Jewish communities in Jerusalem, Safed, Tiberias and Jaffa.
During World War I the British government issued the Balfour Declaration of 1917, stating that the British Government favors the establishment of national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. The British captured Jerusalem a month later. The League of Nations formally awarded Britain a mandate over Palestine in 1922. The land west of the Jordan River was under direct British administration until 1948, while the land east of the Jordan was a semi-autonomous region known as Transjordan Emirate, under the rule of the Hashemite family from the Hijaz, and gained independence in 1946. The 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine was a nationalist uprising by Palestinian Arabs against British colonial rule and mass Jewish immigration. After the Nazi Holocaust, pressure grew for the international recognition of a Jewish state in Palestine. In 1947, the British Government announced its intention to terminate the Mandate. The United Nations General Assembly voted to partition British Palestine into independent Arab and Jewish states, with a special international regime for Jerusalem. The Arabs rejected the partition of Palestine and civil war erupted in the immediate aftermath.
The Jews of British Palestine declared the independence of the State of Israel in May 1948. During the 1948 Palestine War, Israel overran far more territory than was proposed by the Partition Plan; Jordan captured and annexed the West Bank, while in the Gaza Strip the All-Palestine Government was announced in September 1948. In what is known as the Nakba, or “Catastrophe”, hundreds of Palestinian villages and over 70,000 Palestinian homes were ruined and destroyed. 700,000 Palestinians fled or were driven out of their homes by the Israelis. The Palestinian refugees were unable to return following the Lausanne Conference, 1949. The question of the Palestinian right to return of the refugees and their descendants remains a source of dispute. During and after the 1948 war, a wave of Jewish refugees from Arab countries arrived in the newly created state of Israel. The All-Palestine Government was shortly moved from Gaza to Cairo and eventually dissolved in 1959 by Egyptian President Nasser. Gaza was taken into Egyptian military administration until 1967.
The Palestinian national movement gradually regrouped in the West Bank and Gaza, and in refugee camps in neighbouring Arab states. The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) emerged as its leading umbrella group in 1965. During the Six Day War in June 1967, Israel seized East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan and Gaza from Egypt, as well as the Golan Heights from Syria. Despite international objections and UN resolutions calling them illegal, Israel began a policy of establishing Israeli settlements in the Israeli-occupied territories. The PLO under Yasser Arafat gradually won international recognition as the representative of the Palestinian people. From 1987 to 1993, the First Palestinian Intifada against Israel took place, ending with the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords. These accords established a Palestinian National Authority as an interim body to run parts of Gaza and the West Bank (but not East Jerusalem) pending an agreed solution to the conflict. During the Second Intifada (2000–2005), Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip and began building the West Bank barrier. In 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections and took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, triggering the Israeli and Egyptian Blockade of the Gaza Strip (2007-the present). In 2008–09 and again in 2014, Israel and Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip engaged in warfare. In November 2012, the State of Palestine was upgraded in the UN to non-member observer state status, a move that allows it to take part in General Assembly debates and improves its chances of joining other UN agencies.
The earliest human remains in Palestine were found in Ubeidiya, some 3 km south of the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias), in the Jordan Rift Valley. The remains are dated to the Pleistocene, c. 1.5 million years ago. These are traces of the earliest migration of Homo erectus out of Africa. The site yielded hand axes of the Acheulean type.
Wadi El Amud between Safed and the Sea of Galilee was the site of the first prehistoric dig in Palestine, in 1925. The discovery of Palestine Man in the Zuttiyeh Cave in Wadi Al-Amud near Safed in 1925 provided some clues to human development in the area. Qafzeh is a paleoanthropological site south of Nazareth where eleven significant fossilised Homo sapiens skeletons have been found at the main rock shelter. These anatomically modern humans, both adult and infant, are now dated to about 90–100,000 years old, and many of the bones are stained with red ochre, which is conjectured to have been used in the burial process, a significant indicator of ritual behavior and thereby symbolic thought and intelligence. 71 pieces of unused red ochre also littered the site. Mount Carmel has yielded several important findings, among them Kebara Cave that was inhabited between 60,000–48,000 BP and where the most complete Neanderthal skeleton found to date. The Tabun cave was occupied intermittently during the Lower and Middle Paleolithic ages (500,000 to around 40,000 years ago). Excavations suggest that it features one of the longest sequences of human occupation in the Levant. In the nearby Es Skhul cave excavations revealed the first evidence of the late Epipalaeolithic Natufian culture, characterized by the presence of abundant microliths, human burials and ground stone tools. This also represents one area where Neanderthals—present in the region from 200,000 to 45,000 years ago—lived alongside modern humans dating to 100,000 years ago. In the caves of Shuqba in Ramallah and Wadi Khareitun in Bethlehem, stone, wood and animal bone tools were found and attributed to the Natufian culture (c. 12,800–10,300 BCE). Other remains from this era have been found at Tel Abu Hureura, Ein Mallaha, Beidha and Jericho.
Between 10,000 and 5000 BCE, agricultural communities were established. Evidence of such settlements were found at Tel es-Sultan in Jericho and consisted of a number of walls, a religious shrine, and a 23-foot (7.0 m) tower with an internal staircase Jericho is believed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, with evidence of settlement dating back to 9000 BCE, providing important information about early human habitation in the Near East. Along the Jericho–Dead Sea–Bir es-Saba–Gaza–Sinai route, a culture originating in Syria, marked by the use of copper and stone tools, brought new migrant groups to the region contributing to an increasingly urban fabric.
By the early Bronze Age (3000–2200 BCE), independent Canaanite city-states situated in plains and coastal regions and surrounded by mud-brick defensive walls were established and most of these cities relied on nearby agricultural hamlets for their food needs. Archaeological finds from the early Canaanite era have been found at Tel Megiddo, Jericho, Tel al-Far’a (Gaza), Bisan, and Ai (Deir Dibwan/Ramallah District), Tel an Nasbe (al-Bireh) and Jib (Jerusalem). The Canaanite city-states held trade and diplomatic relations with Egypt and Syria. Parts of the Canaanite urban civilization were destroyed around 2300 BCE, though there is no consensus as to why. Incursions by nomads from the east of the Jordan River who settled in the hills followed soon thereafter.
In the Middle Bronze Age (2200–1500 BCE), Canaan was influenced by the surrounding civilizations of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Phoenicia, Minoan Crete, and Syria. Diverse commercial ties and an agriculturally based economy led to the development of new pottery forms, the cultivation of grapes, and the extensive use of bronze. Burial customs from this time seemed to be influenced by a belief in the afterlife. The Middle Kingdom Egyptian Execration Texts attest to Canaanite trade with Egypt during this period. The Minoan influence is apparent at Tel Kabri.
During 1550–1400 BCE, the Canaanite cities became vassals to Egypt as the Egyptian New Kingdom reunited Egypt and expanded into the Levant under Ahmose I and Thutmose I. Political, commercial and military events towards the end of this period (1450–1350 BCE) were recorded by ambassadors and Canaanite proxy rulers for Egypt in 379 cuneiform tablets known as the Amarna Letters. These refer to several local proxy rulers for Egypt such as Biridiya of Megiddo, Lib’ayu of Shechem and Abdi-Heba in Jerusalem.
In the first year of his reign pharaoh Seti I (ca.1294–1290 BCE) waged a campaign to resubordinate Canaan to Egyptian rule, thrusting north as far as Beit Shean, and installing local vassals to administer the area in his name. A burial site yielding a scarab bearing his name, found within a Canaanite coffin excavated in the Jezreel Valley, attests to Egypt’s presence in the area. Excavations have established that the late 13th, the 12th and the early 11th centuries BCE witnessed the foundation of perhaps hundreds of insignificant, unprotected village settlements, many in the mountains of Palestine. From around the 11th century BCE, there was a reduction in the number of villages, though this was counterbalanced by the rise of certain settlements to the status of fortified townships.
In 1178 BCE, the Battle of Djahy (Canaan) between Ramesses III and the Sea Peoples marked the beginning of the decline in power of the New Kingdom in the Levant during the wider Bronze Age collapse.
During the beginning of the Iron Age (c. 1175 BCE), the Philistines occupied the southern coast of Canaan, and mingled with the local population, losing their separate identity over several generations. Pottery remains found in As, Gath (city), Ekron and Gaza decorated with stylized birds provided the first archaeological evidence for Philistine settlement in the region. The Philistines are credited with introducing iron weapons and chariots to the local population.
Modern archaeologists dispute parts of the Biblical tradition. In The Bible Unearthed Finkelstein and Silberman describe how, up until 1967, the Israelite heartland in the highlands of western Palestine was virtually an archaeological ‘terra incognita’. Since then the traditional territories of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh have been covered by intensive surveys. These surveys have revealed the sudden emergence of a new culture contrasting with the Philistine and Canaanite societies existing in Palestine during Iron Age I. This new culture is characterised by the lack of pork remains (whereas pork formed 20% of the Philistine diet in places), an abandonment of the Philistines/Canaanite custom of having highly decorated pottery, and the practice of circumcision. According to Prof. Faust Avraham of Bar-Ilan University, the Israelite ethnic identity had been created, not from the Exodus and a subsequent conquest, but from a transformation of the existing Canaanite-Philistine cultures.
Finkelstein and Silberman write: “These surveys revolutionized the study of early Israel. The discovery of the remains of a dense network of highland villages — all apparently established within the span of few generations — indicated that a dramatic social transformation had taken place in the central hill country of Canaan around 1200 BCE. There was no sign of violent invasion or even the infiltration of a clearly defined ethnic group. Instead, it seemed to be a revolution in lifestyle. In the formerly sparsely populated highlands from the Judean hills in the south to the hills of Samaria in the north, far from the Canaanite cities that were in the process of collapse and disintegration, about two-hundred fifty hilltop communities suddenly sprang up. Here were the first Israelites.”
From then on, over a period of hundreds of years until after the return of the exiles from Babylon, the Canaanites were gradually absorbed by the Israelites until after the period of Ezra (~450 BCE) when there is no more biblical record of them. Hebrew, a dialect of Canaanite became the language of the hill country and later the valleys and plains.
The first use of grapheme-based writing originated in the area, probably among Canaanite peoples resident in Egypt. All modern alphabets are descended from this writing. Written evidence of the use of Classical Hebrew exists from about 1000 BCE. It was written using the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet.
According to the Hebrew Bible, the United Kingdom of Israel was established by the Israelite tribes with Saul as its first king in 1020 BCE. In 1000 BCE, Jerusalem was made the capital of King David’s kingdom and it is believed that the First Temple was constructed in this period by King Solomon. By 930 BCE, the united kingdom split to form the northern Kingdom of Israel (Samaria), and the southern Kingdom of Judah. These kingdoms coexisted with several more kingdoms in the greater Palestine area, including Philistine town states on the Southwestern Mediterranean coast, Edom, to the South of Judah, and Moab and Ammon to the east of the river Jordan. The socio-political system during this period was characterized by local patrons fighting other local patrons, lasting until around the mid-9th century BCE when some local chieftains were able to create large political structures that exceeded the boundaries of those present in the Late Bronze Age Levant.
Archaeological evidence from this era is believed to corroborate some Biblical events. In 925 BCE, Pharaoh Sheshonk I of the Third Intermediate Period is recorded to have invaded Canaan following the Battle of Bitter Lakes, and is thought to be the same as Shishak, the first Pharaoh mentioned in the Bible who captured and pillaged Jerusalem. There was an at least partial Egyptian withdrawal from Palestine in this period, though it is likely that Bet Shean was an Egyptian garrison as late as the beginning of the 10th century BCE. The Kurkh Monolith, dated c. 835 BCE, describes King Shalmaneser III of Assyria’s Battle of Qarqar, where he fought alongside the contingents of several kings, among them King Ahab and King Gindibu. The Mesha Stele, from c. 850 BCE, recounts the conquering of Moab, located East of the Dead Sea, by king Omri, and the successful revolt of Moabian king Mesha against Omri’s son, presumably King Ahab (and French scholar André Lemaire reported that line 31 of the Stele bears the phrase “the house of David” (in Biblical Archaeology Review [May/June 1994], pp. 30–37). Inscriptions at Tel Dan and Tell es-Safi record parts of the conquest of the region by Hazael of Aram Damascus in the 830s BCE.
Developments in Palestine during this period have been the focus of debate between those who accept the version in the Hebrew Bible of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelite tribes, and those who reject it. Niels Peter Lemche, of the Copenhagen School of Biblical Studies, submits that the biblical picture of ancient Israel “is contrary to any image of ancient Palestinian society that can be established on the basis of ancient sources from Palestine or referring to Palestine and that there is no way this image in the Bible can be reconciled with the historical past of the region”. For example, according to Jon Schiller and Hermann Austel, among others, while in the past, the Bible story was seen as historical truth, “a growing number of archaeological scholars, particularly those of the minimalist school, are now insisting that Kings David and Solomon are ‘no more real than King Arthur,’ citing the lack of archaeological evidence attesting to the existence of the United Kingdom of Israel, and the unreliability of biblical texts, due to their being composed in a much later period.”
Sites and artifacts, including the Large Stone Structure, Mount Ebal, the Merneptah, and Mesha stelae, among others, are subject to widely varying historical interpretations: the “conservative camp” reconstructs the history of Israel according to the biblical text and views archaeological evidence in that context, while scholars in the minimalist or deconstructionist school hold that there is no archaeological evidence supporting the idea of a United Monarchy and the biblical account is a religious mythology created by Judean scribes in the Persian and Hellenistic periods; a third camp of centrist scholars acknowledges the value of some isolated elements of the Pentateuch and of Deuteronomonistic accounts as potentially valid history of monarchic times that can be in accord with the archaeological evidence, but argue that nevertheless the biblical narrative should be understood as highly ideological and adapted to the needs of the community at the time of its compilation.
Assyrian inscriptions from c. 740 BCE record the military victories of Tiglath Pileser III in the region, during which period the Neo-Assyrian Empire conquered most of the Levant. The Bible records the Israelite cities becoming vassals to the Neo-Assyrian Empire during this period. At around this time, the Siege of Gezer (c. 733 BCE), 20 miles (32 km) west of Jerusalem, is recorded on a stone relief at the Assyrian royal palace in Nimrud. Further military expeditions into the region are recorded in the annals of Sargon and Sennacherib, as well as in the bible. According to the bible, between 722 and 720 BCE the northern Kingdom of Israel was destroyed by the Assyrian Empire and the Israelite tribes—thereafter known as the Lost Tribes—were exiled. The most important finding from the southern Kingdom of Judah is the Siloam Inscription, dated c. 700 BCE, which celebrates the successful encounter of diggers, digging from both sides of the Jerusalem wall to create the Siloam tunnel and water pool, mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, in 2Kings 20:20.
The Neo-Assyrian Empire was replaced by the Neo-Babylonian Empire in c. 627 BCE, following the death of Ashurbanipal and the successful revolt of Nabopolassar.
The region was controlled briefly by Pharaoh Necho II of the Twenty-sixth dynasty of Egypt between the Battle of Megiddo (609 BCE) and the Battle of Carchemish four years later, and further conflict between the Babylonians and the 26th dynasty of Egypt is recorded during 601–586 BCE. According to the bible, this culminated in 586 BCE when Jerusalem and the First Temple were destroyed by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II. Most of the surviving Jewish leaders, and much of the other local population, were deported to Babylonia.
Following King Cyrus the Great’s defeat of the Neo-Babylonian Empire at the Battle of Opis, the region became part of the Eber-Nari satrapy or District number V (corresponding the regions of (Syria, Phoenicia, Palestine and Cyprus) according to Herodotus and Arrian, which included three administrative areas: Phoenicia, Judah and Samaria, and the Arabian tribes. The Phoenician cities of Tyre, Sidon, Byblos, and Aradus were vassal states ruled by hereditary local kings who struck their own silver coins and whose power was limited by the Persian satrap and local popular assemblies. The economies of these cities were mainly based on maritime trade. During military operations, the Phoenicians were obliged to put their fleet at the disposal of the Persian kings. Judah and Samaria enjoyed considerable internal autonomy. Bullae and seal impressions of the end of the 6th and beginning of the 5th centuries mention the province of Judah. Its governors included Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel under Cyrus and Darius I; Nehemiah ; Bagohi, who succeeded Nehemiah and whose ethnicity is difficult to determine; and “Yehizkiyah the governor” and “Yohanan the priest”, known from coins struck in Judah in the 4th century BCE. From the second half of the 5th century the province of Samaria was governed by Sanballat and his descendants.
According to the Bible and implications from the Cyrus Cylinder, Jews were allowed to return to what their holy books had termed the Land of Israel, and having been granted some autonomy by the Persian administration, it was during this period that the Second Temple in Jerusalem was built. Sebastia, near Nablus, was the northernmost province of the Persian administration in Palestine, and its southern borders were drawn at Hebron. Some of the local population served as soldiers and lay people in the Persian administration, while others continued to agriculture. In 400 BCE, the Nabataeans made inroads into southern Palestine and built a separate civilization in the Negev that lasted until 160 BCE. The end of the Persian period was marked by a number of revolts in the region, including a significant uprising against Artaxerxes III in 350 BCE, which resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem.
In the late 330s BCE, Alexander the Great conquered the region, during his six-year Macedonian conquest of the empire of Darius III of Persia. Alexander’s armies took Palestine without complication while traveling to Egypt after the Siege of Tyre, beginning an important period of Hellenistic influence in the land.
During 323–301 BCE, the region changed hands numerous times during the wars of the Diadochi, with rulers including Laomedon of Mytilene, Ptolemy I Soter and Antigonus I Monophthalmus. In 312 BCE Ptolemy I Soter defeated Antigonus’ son Demetrius I at the Battle of Gaza, but withdrew from the region shortly thereafter. It is probable that Seleucus I Nicator, then an admiral under Ptolemy’s command, took part in the battle, as following the battle he was given 800 infantry and 200 cavalry and immediately travelled to Babylon where he founded the Seleucid Empire. The region was finally re-captured by Ptolemy I Soter after Antigonus I Monophthalmus was killed at the Battle of Ipsus. Ptolemy had not taken part in the battle, and the victors Seleucus I Nicator and Lysimachus had carved up the Antigonid Empire between them, with Southern Syria intended to become part of the Seleucid Empire. Although Seleucus did not attempt to conquer the area he was due, Ptolemy’s pre-emptive move led to the Syrian Wars, which began in 274 BCE between the successors of the two leaders. The northern portion of Palestine ultimately fell into the hands of the Seleucid Empire in 219 through the betrayal of Governor Theodotus of Aetolia, who had held the province on behalf of Ptolemy IV Philopator. The Seleucids advanced on Egypt, but were defeated at the Battle of Raphia (Rafah) in 217. However, in 200 BCE Southern Palestine also fell under the control of the Seleucid Empire following the Battle of Panium (part of the Fifth Syrian War) in which Antiochus III the Great defeated the Ptolemies.
The landscape during this period was markedly changed by extensive growth and development that included urban planning and the establishment of well-built fortified cities. Hellenistic pottery was produced that absorbed Philistine traditions. Trade and commerce flourished, particularly in the most Hellenized areas, such as Ashkelon, Jaffa, Jerusalem, Gaza, and ancient Nablus (Tell Balatah).
The Persians had not interfered with the internal affairs of the various subject-peoples of the region, but the Greeks followed a policy of deliberate Hellenisation, encouraging, although not normally enforcing, Greek culture. Hellenisation took root first in the densely settled coastal and lowland areas, and only really began to impinge on more backward areas such as Judea in the early 2nd century. According to Josephus and the Books of the Maccabees, the continued Hellenization of Palestine by the Seleucids resulted in an uprising in the Judean Mountains, known as the Maccabean Revolt. Although the revolt was quelled in 160 BCE at the Battle of Elasa, the Seleucid Empire entered a period of rapid decline in 145–144 BCE, beginning with the overthrowing of King Alexander Balas at the Battle of Antioch (145 BCE) (the capital of the empire) by Demetrius II Nicator in alliance with Ptolemy VI Philometor of Egypt, as well as the capturing of Seleucia (the previous capital of the empire) by Mithradates I of Parthia. By 116 BCE, a civil war between Seleucid half-brothers Antiochus VIII Grypus and Antiochus IX Cyzicenus resulted in a breakup of the kingdom and the independence of certain principalities, including Judea. This allowed Judean leader John Hyrcanus to carry out the first military conquests of the independent Hasmonean kingdom in 110 BCE, raising a mercenary army to capture Madaba and Schechem, significantly increasing the regional influence of Jerusalem. The Hasmoneans gradually extended their authority over much of the region, forcibly converting the populations of neighbouring regions, and creating a Judean-Samaritan-Idumaean-Ituraean-Galilean alliance in the process. The Judean control over the wider region resulted in it also becoming known as Judaea, a term that had previously only referred to the smaller region of the Judean Mountains.
During 73–63 BCE, the Roman Republic extended its influence into the region in the Third Mithridatic War. During the war, Armenian King Tigranes the Great took control of Syria and prepared to invade Judea but retreated following an invasion of Armenia by Lucullus. According to Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi writing in c. 482 CE, Tigranes captured Jerusalem and deported Hyrcanus to Armenia; however, most scholars deem this account to be incorrect.
Pompey and his immediate successors, Aulus Gabinius, etc., reduced certain areas of the land into single city domains and petty lordships. “The Jews were …obliged to give up all the possessions which they had hitherto gained, particularly the whole coast”. These cities had been self-governing poleis before the Jewish Hasmoneans had conquered them in the 2nd century BCE. The Romans restored their self-governing status and as such this event was marked as the Pompeian era by some cities. “Under the early Roman Emperors the local communities lived under a variety of governments. The Greco-Macedonian colonies kept their own magistrates under whom were a senate and a popular assembly. The ancient Greek city-state remained the organization type. The Phoenician city-states likewise retained their traditional oligarchical systems, to which a Greek colouring had been by this time added”.
- Cities and Domains awarded self-governance under Roman rule:
- Dora (Tel Dor)
- Gaba (Tel Shush)
- Raphia (Tel Rafah)
- Anthedon (Blakhiyeh)
- Samaria (refounded by Herod as Sebaste)
- Stratonospyrgos (Straton’s Tower refounded by Herod as Caesarea)
Following the Roman conquest of Judea led by Pompey in 63 BCE, Aulus Gabinius, proconsul of Syria, split the former Hasmonean Kingdom into five districts of legal and religious councils known as sanhedrin based at Jerusalem, Sepphoris (Galilee), Jericho, Amathus (Perea) and Gadara. Roman rule was solidified when Herod, whose dynasty was of Idumean ancestry, was appointed as king. Following a brief intervention by Pacorus I of Parthia, from 37 Judea under Herod I was a client kingdom of the Roman Empire.
Among the most notable archaeological remnants from this era are Herodium (Tel al-Fureidis) to the south of Bethlehem, Masada and Caesarea Maritima. Herod arranged a renovation of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, with a massive expansion of the Temple Mount platform and major expansion of the Jewish Temple around 19 BCE.
Around the time associated with the birth of Jesus, Roman Palestine was in a state of disarray and direct Roman rule was re-established. In 6 CE, the Herodian governorate ended with the deposition of Herod Archelaus as the ethnarch of the Tetrarchy of Judea. The Herodian Dynasty was then replaced by Roman prefects and after 44 CE by procurators, beginning with Coponius. Herodians continued to rule elsewhere in Palestine. Senator Quirinius was appointed Legate of the Roman province of Syria (to which Judea had been “added” according to Josephus) and carried out the tax census of both Syria and Judea known as the Census of Quirinius. Caesarea Palaestina replaced Jerusalem as the administrative capital of the region.
As a result of the First Jewish-Roman War (66–73), Titus sacked Jerusalem (in 70 CE) destroying the Second Temple, leaving only supporting walls, including the Western Wall. According to Josephus, the estimated death toll was 250,000–1,100,000. Pharisee rabbi Yokhanan ben Zakai, a student of Hillel, fled during the siege of Jerusalem to negotiate with the Roman General Titus. Yokhanan obtained permission to reestablish a Sanhedrin in the coastal city of Iamnia (modern Yavne). He founded a school of Torah there that would eventually evolve, through the Mishna in around 200 CE, into Rabbinic Judaism. The region’s leading Christians (Jewish Christians) relocated to Pella. Other Jewish groups such as Sadducees and Essenes are no longer recorded as groups in history.
In 106 CE, the Nabatean territory was incorporated into the Roman province of Arabia Petraea.
In 132 CE, the Emperor Hadrian joined the province of Judea (comprising Samaria, Judea proper, and Idumea) with Galilee to form new province of Syria Palaestina. Hadrian probably chose a name that revived the ancient name of Philistia (Palestine), combining it with that of the neighboring province of Syria, in an attempt to suppress Jewish connection to the land. However, Cassius Dio, the Roman historian from whom we have the bulk of our understanding of the revolt, does not mention the change of name nor the reason behind it in his “Roman History”. Jerusalem was renamed “Aelia Capitolina” and temples were built there to honor Roman gods, particularly Jupiter. In 135 CE, Hadrian’s victory in the Bar Kokhba’s revolt resulted in 580,000 Jews killed (according to Cassius Dio) and destabilization of the region’s Jewish population.
Jerusalem was re-established as the Roman military colony of Aelia Capitolina; a largely unsuccessful attempt was made to prevent Jews and Christians from living there. Many Jews and Christians left Palestine altogether for the Diaspora communities, and large numbers of prisoners of war were sold as slaves throughout the Empire. Christianity in particular was practiced in secret and the Hellenization of Palestine continued under Septimius Severus (193–211 CE). New pagan cities were founded in Judea at Eleutheropolis (Bayt Jibrin), Diopolis (Lydd), and Nicopolis (Emmaus). Some two hundred Jewish communities remained, as gradually certain religious freedoms were restored, such as exemption from the imperial cult and internal self-administration. The Romans made no such concession to the Samaritans, to whom religious liberties were denied, while their sanctuary on Mount Gerizim was defiled by a pagan temple, as part of measures were taken to suppress the resurgence of Samaritan nationalism.
A number of events with far-reaching consequences took place during this period, including further religious schisms between Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism such as a council held by the bishops of Palestine in Caesarea in 195 that decreed that Easter was to be always kept on a Sunday, and not with the Jewish Passover. The Romans destroyed the community of the Mother Church in Jerusalem, which had existed since the time of Jesus. The line of Jewish bishops in Jerusalem, which is claimed to have started with Jesus’s brother James the Righteous as its first bishop, ceased to exist, within the Empire. Hans Kung suggests that the Jewish Christians sought refuge in Arabia and he quotes with approval a view that this created a paradox of truly world-historical significance that while Jewish Christianity was swallowed up in the Christian church, it preserved itself in Islam.
During 259–272, the region fell under the rule of Odaenathus as King of the Palmyrene Empire after the capture of Emperor Valerian by Shapur I at the Battle of Edessa caused the Roman Empire to splinter until Aurelian defeated the Palmyrenes at the Battle of Emesa (Homs).
Following the victory of Christian emperor Constantine in the Civil Wars of the Tetrarchy (306–324), the total Christianization of the Roman Empire began. Within a few months, the First Council of Nicaea (first worldwide Christian council) confirmed the status of Aelia (Jerusalem) as a patriarchate, at which point the city is generally taken to have been renamed Jerusalem. Theodosius I declared Christianity the state religion of the empire in 380, and Palestine became part of the Eastern Roman Empire (“Byzantium”) after the division of the Roman Empire into east and west (a fitful process that was not finalized until 395 CE).
The Byzantines redrew the borders of Palestine. The various Roman provinces (Syria Palaestina, Samaria, Galilee, and Peraea) were reorganized into three diocese of Palaestina, reverting to the name first used by Greek historian Herodotus in the mid-5th century BCE: Palaestina Prima, Secunda, and Tertia or Salutaris (First, Second, and Third Palestine), part of the Diocese of the East. Palaestina Prima consisted of Judea, Samaria, the Paralia, and Peraea with the governor residing in Caesarea. Palaestina Secunda consisted of the Galilee, the lower Jezreel Valley, the regions east of Galilee, and the western part of the former Decapolis with the seat of government at Scythopolis. Palaestina Tertia included the Negev, southern Jordan—once part of Arabia—and most of Sinai with Petra as the usual residence of the governor. Palestina Tertia was also known as Palaestina Salutaris. According to historian H.H. Ben-Sasson, this reorganisation took place under Diocletian (284–305), although other scholars suggest this change occurred later in 390.
This was the period of Palestine’s greatest prosperity in antiquity. Urbanization increased, large new areas were put under cultivation, monasteries proliferated and synagogues were restored. The cities of Palestine, such as Caesarea Maritima, Jerusalem, Scythopolis, Neapolis, and Gaza reached their peak population, and the population West of the Jordan may have reached as many as one million. Bede in his Historia Ecclesiastica, drew on Orosius’ information gathered from the local Jews to describe Palestine as one of the provinces of “Syria, which is called Aram by the Hebrews. The place is between the River Euphrates and the Great Sea, and extends towards Egypt; its largest provinces are Commagene, Phoenicia, and Palestine, as well as the countries of the Saraceni and the Nabathaei. It has twelve gentes.”
In 326, Constantine’s mother Saint Helena visited Jerusalem and ordered the destruction of Hadrian’s temple to Venus, which had been built on Calvary. Accompanied by Macarius of Jerusalem, the excavation reportedly discovered the True Cross, the Holy Tunic and the Holy Nails. The first Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the first Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the first Church of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives were all built during Constantine’s reign.
The earliest monasteries in Christianity outside of Egypt were built in Palestine during this period, notably those of Hilarion near Gaza, Saint Epiphanius at Ad near the city of Eleutheropolis (Bayt Jibrin, the head of the largest bishopric in Palestine at this time), Tyrannius Rufinus and Melania the Elder on the Mount of Olives, Euthymius the Great at Pharan, Sabbas the Sanctified in the Kidron Valley as well as St. George’s Monastery in Wadi al-Qelt, the Monastery of the Temptation and Deir Hajla near Jericho, and Deir Mar Saba and Deir Theodosius east of Bethlehem. The sack of Rome in 410 caused a significant episode of migration to Palestine as a group of aristocratic ladies responded to the holy man Jerome’s invitation to settle in Aelia Capitolina and Bethlehem. In 451, the Council of Chalcedon confirmed Jerusalem’s status as a Patriarchate as one of the Pentarchy, and Juvenal of Jerusalem became the first Patriarch of Jerusalem.
Notable works by Christian scholars were produced in Palestine in the disciplines of rhetoric, historiography, Eusebian ecclesiastical history, classicizing history and hagiography. Saint Cyril of Jerusalem delivered his Mystagogical Catecheses, instructions on the principal topics of Christian faith and practise, and Saint Jerome moved to Jerusalem in order to commence work on the Vulgate, commissioned by Pope Damasus I and instrumental in the fixation of the Biblical canon in the West. Procopius, from Caesarea Palaestina, became the Byzantine Empire’s principal historian of the 6th century, writing the Wars of Justinian, the Buildings of Justinian and the celebrated Secret History.
Under Byzantine rule, the two dioceses of Palaestina proper became a center of Christianity, while retaining significant Jewish and Samaritan communities. Some areas, like Gaza, were well known as pagan holdouts, and remained attached to the worship of Dagon and other deities as their ancestors had been for thousands of years. Ghassanid Arab migration in the 4th and 5th centuries established an Arab Christian domain with a capital on the Golan, forming a buffer of Christian Byzantium against the wild tribes of Arabia. The “Life of Barsauma of Samosata”, a 6th-century Christian polemic about the Monophysite monk of the early 5th century, stated that Jews, Samaritans and pagans formed a large part of the population and persecuted Christians during this period. In 351–352, a Jewish revolt against Byzantine rule in Tiberias and other parts of the Galilee was brutally suppressed. In 361, Neoplatonist Julian the Apostate becomes Roman Emperor and attempted to reverse the growing influence of Christianity by encouraging other religions. As a result, Alypius of Antioch was commissioned to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem and Jews were formally allowed to return to the city. However, two years later the Galilee earthquake of 363 together with the re-establishment of Christianity’s dominance following the death of Julian the Apostate at the Battle of Samarra ended the attempts to rebuild the Temple. In 438 CE, the Empress Eudocia allowed Jews to return to Jerusalem to live.
The Samaritan self-rule had shortly gained a level of independence under the leadership of Baba Rabba in late 4th century. However, they were again subdued by Byzantine forces. Samaritan attempts to gain independence from Byzantines peaked during the 5th and 6th centuries in a series of Samaritan Revolts, some of which had messianic aspirations. The outcome of Samaritan strife with Christian Byzantines, supported by Ghassanid Arabs, turned disastrous. After the Third Samaritan revolt in 529–531, led by Julianus ben Sabar, and the Fourth Revolt in 555. With Samaritan casualties went well beyond 100,000, cities and worship places destroyed, many enslaved and expelled, the Samaritan community dwindled.
On 1 July 536 CE, Justinian I promoted Stephanus (Stephen) the governor at Caesarea to proconsul (anthypatos), giving him authority over the two remaining consulars. Justinian believed that the elevation of the governor was appropriate because he was responsible for “the province in which our Lord Jesus Christ… appeared on earth”. Justinian I undertook a number of building works in Jerusalem, including the once magnificent Nea Ekklesia of the Theotokos (“the Nea”) and the extension of the Cardo thoroughfare.
Byzantine administration of Palestine was temporarily suspended during the Persian occupation of 614–28. In 613 CE, the Persian Sassanian Empire under Khosrau II had invaded the Levant led by General Shahrbaraz, taking Antioch and later Caesaria. Jews under Benjamin of Tiberias assisted the conquering Persians, revolting against the Byzantine Empire under Heraclius and hoping of controlling Jerusalem autonomously. In 614 CE, Persian-Jewish forces conquered Jerusalem, destroying most of the churches, taking Patriarch Zacharias prisoner, taking the True Cross and other relics to Ctesiphon, and massacring much of the Christian population. The Jews of Jerusalem gained autonomy to some degree, but frustrated with its limitations and anticipating its loss offered to assist the Byzantines in return for amnesty for the revolt. In 617 CE, the Jewish governor Nehemiah ben Hushiel was killed by a mob of Christian citizens, three years after his appointment. The Sassanids quelled the uprising and appointed a Christian governor to replace him. At that time the Persians betrayed the agreements with the Jews and expelled the Jewish population from Jerusalem, forbidding them to live within 3 miles (4.8 km) of it. In 625 CE (or 628 CE), the Byzantinian army returned to the area, promising amnesty to Jews who had joined the Persians, and was greeted by Benjamin of Tiberias. In 629 CE, the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius marched into Jerusalem at the head of his army, following the decisive defeat of the Sassanid Empire at the Battle of Nineveh (627). Heraclius personally returned the True Cross to the city.
The Nabateans roamed the Negev by the Roman Period, and by the Byzantine Period dominated the swath of sparsely populated deserts, from the Sinai to the Negev to the northwest coast of Arabia, the outlands that the Byzantines called the diocese of Palaestina Salutoris. Its capital Petra was formally the capital of the Roman province of Arabia Petraea. The Nabateans also inhabited the outland of Jordan and southern Syria, improperly called the diocese of Arabia because its capital Bostra was within the northern extremity of the Roman province of Arabia Petrae. The origin of the Nabateans remains obscure, but they were Aramaic speakers, and the term “Nabatean” was the Arabic name for an Aramean of Syria and Iraq. By the 3rd century during the Late Roman Period, the Nabateans stopped writing in Aramaic and began writing in Greek, and by the Byzantine Period they converted to Christianity.
Trading relations existed between the cities of Palestine and the Arab tribes of the Hejaz, particularly with the southern cities of Petra and Gaza. Muhammed, his father (Abd Allah) and his great-grandfather (Hashim), who died in Gaza) all travelled on trading routes through the region in the 6th century, and in 583 Muhammed is said to have met with Nestorian monk Bahira at Bosra.
From the beginning of Islam in 610, Jerusalem became the Qibla (focal point for Muslim prayers) for fourteen years until it was replaced by Mecca in 624, 18 months after the Hijra (Muhammad’s migration to Medina). According to Sahih al-Bukhari, Muhammad then ordained the Al-Aqsa Mosque as one of the three holy mosques of Islam. A decade later, Byzantium lost control of the region during the Muslim conquest of the Levant, during which the empire’s forces were decisively defeated at the Battle of Yarmouk in 636. Jerusalem capitulated in 638 and Caesarea between 640 and 642. The subsequent Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphates saw a century of rapid expansion of Arab power well beyond the Arabian peninsula in the form of a vast Muslim Arab Empire.
In 638, following the Siege of Jerusalem, the Caliph Omar Ibn al-Khattab and Safforonius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, signed Al-Uhda al-‘Omariyya (The Umariyya Covenant), an agreement that stipulated the rights and obligations of all non-Muslims in Palestine. Christians and Jews were considered People of the Book, enjoyed some protection (dhimmi) but had to pay a special poll tax called jizyah (“tribute”) in return for this protection. According to Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, the covenant guaranteed Christians freedom of religion but prohibited Jews from living in Jerusalem. However, during the early years of Muslim control of the city, a small permanent Jewish population returned to Jerusalem after a 500-year absence.
Umar, the second of the initial four Rashidun Caliphs, was the first conqueror of Jerusalem to enter the city on foot, and when visiting the site that now houses the Haram al-Sharif. A popular account from later centuries is that the Rashidun Caliph Umar was led to the place reluctantly by the Christian patriarch Sophronius. He found it covered with rubbish, but the sacred Rock was found with the help of a converted Jew, Ka’b al-Ahbar. Al-Ahbar advised Umar to build a mosque to the north of the rock, so that worshippers would face both the rock and Mecca, but instead Umar chose to build it to the south of the rock. It became known as the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The first known eyewitness testimony is that of the pilgrim Arculf who visited about 670. According to Arculf’s account as recorded by Adomnán, he saw a rectangular wooden house of prayer built over some ruins, large enough to hold 3,000 people. Cities that accepted the new rulers, as recorded in registrars from the time, were: Jerusalem, Nablus, Jenin, Acre, Tiberias, Bisan, Caesarea, Lajjun, Lydd, Jaffa, Imwas, Beit Jibrin, Gaza, Rafah, Hebron, Yubna, Haifa, Safed and Ashkelon.
In Arabic, the area approximating the Byzantine Diocese of Palaestina I in the south (roughly Judea, Philistia, and southern Jordan) was called Jund Filastin (meaning “the military district of Palestine”, as a tax administrative area), and the Diocese of Palaestina II in the north (roughly Samaria, Galilee, Golan, and northern Jordan) was called Jund al-Urdunn.
In 661, with the assassination of Ali, the last of the Rashidun Caliphs, Muawiyah I became the uncontested Caliph of the Islamic World. Muawiyah I was ordained as Caliph in Jerusalem, ending the First Fitna and marking the beginning of the Umayyad Empire.
Under Umayyad rule, the Byzantine province of Palaestina Prima became the administrative and military sub-province (jund) of Filastin—the Arabic name for Palestine from that point forward. It formed one of five subdivisions of the larger province of ash-Sham (Arabic for Greater Syria). Jund Filastin (Arabic جند فلسطين, literally “the army of Palestine”) was a region extending from the Sinai to the plain of Acre. Major towns included Rafah, Caesarea, Gaza, Jaffa, Nablus and Jericho. Lod served as the headquarters of the province of Filastin and the capital later moved to Ramla. Jund al-Urdunn (literally “the army of Jordan”) was a region to the north and east of Filastin, which included the cities of Acre, Bisan and Tiberias.
In 687–691, during the Second Fitna, the Dome of the Rock was built under Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, becoming the world’s first great work of Islamic architecture. The Temple Mount (known as Haram Ash-Sharif in the Islamic world and the site where the Islamic prophet Muhammad is believed by Muslims to have begun his nocturnal journey to heaven), had remained unbuilt for c. 600 years since Titus’s destruction of Herod’s Temple in 70.
About a decade afterward, Caliph Al-Walid I had the Al-Aqsa Mosque built.
It was under Umayyad rule that Christians and Jews were granted the official title of “Peoples of the Book” to underline the common monotheistic roots they shared with Islam. Christian pilgrims visited and made generous donations to Christian holy places in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and the establishment of the Pilgrims’ Inn in Jerusalem during this period was seen as a fulfillment of Umar’s pledge to Bishop Sophronious to allow freedom of religion and access to Jerusalem for Christian pilgrims. The Christian monasteries throughout the region continued to operate, and between 730–749 John of Damascus, previously chief adviser to Caliph Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik, moved to the monastery Mar Saba outside Jerusalem and became the major opponent of the First Iconoclasm through his theological writings.
Trading relations between Palestine and Europe were strong, and a trade fair took place in Jerusalem every year on September 15 where merchants from Pisa, Genoa, Venice and Marseilles converged to acquire spices, soaps, silks, olive oil, sugar and glassware in exchange for European products.
In 744 riots broke out in the major cities of Palestine and Syria during the reign of Marwan II, and were quelled in 745–6. These rebellions were followed by further revolts in the East of the empire, which culminated in the defeat of the Umayyad army in 750 at the Battle of the Zab. The Abbasids took control of the entire empire including Palestine, forcing Marwan II to flee via Gaza to Egypt, where he was assassinated.
The Baghdad-based Abbasid Caliphs renovated and visited the holy shrines and sanctuaries in Jerusalem, with Al-Mansur arranging in 758 the renovation of the Dome of the Rock that had collapsed in an earthquake and Al-Ma’mun arranging further renovations following a visit to Jerusalem in 813. The Abbasids continued to build up Ramle, which had become the capital of Jund Filastin. Coastal areas were fortified and developed and port cities like Acre, Haifa, Caesarea, Arsuf, Jaffa and Ashkelon received monies from the state treasury. However, the Abbasid caliphs visited the region less frequently than the Umayyads since their capital in Baghdad was a further 500 miles (800 km) east.
The Abbasid period marked the beginning of the Islamic Golden Age, in which a number of scholars from Palestine, such as the Gazan-born jurist and founder of the Shafi’i school of fiqh Muhammad ibn Idris ash-Shafi`i and the Jerusalemite geographer Al-Muqaddasi, played an integral part.
The influence of the Arabian tribes declined during the Abbasid period and the only context where they are reported is in uprising against the central authority. However, a dispute between the Qaysi Mudhar and Yamani tribes broke out in Jund al-Urdunn towards the end of the 8th century leading to Qaysi-Yamani war of 793–96. Harun al-Rashid viewed this tribal dispute as a rebellion and sent a large army under Ja’far ibn Yahya al-Barmaki to quell the revolt. According to historian Moshe Gil, “he put down the rebels with an iron hand and much blood was spilled.” The cities of Gaza, Bayt Jibrin, Ascalon in Jund Filastin and the town Sariphaea in Jund al-Urdunn were completely destroyed in the conflict by Bedouin tribes. Several towns and villages in western Palestine were also sacked. The monasteries of St. Chariton, St. Cyriacus, St. Sabas, St. Theodosius, and St. Euthymius were also attacked. The combined casualties of the tribal federations totalled roughly 1,200.
During Harun al-Rashid’s (786–809) reign the first formal contacts with the Frankish Kingdom of Charlemagne occurred, as part of the attempted Abbasid–Carolingian alliance In 797, Harun al-Rashid is reported to have offered the custody of the Christian holy places in Jerusalem to Charlemagne, in return for Charlemagne sending money for construction and improvements. As a result, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was restored and the Latin hospital was enlarged and placed under the control of the Benedictines. Two years later Charlemagne sent another mission to Patriarch George of Jerusalem.
Towards the end of the 9th century, the Baghdad-based Abbasids began to lose control of their western provinces. From 878 Palestine was ruled from Egypt by semi-autonomous rulers for almost a century, beginning with Ahmad ibn Tulun, ruler of Egypt and founder of the Tulunid dynasty, who conquered Palestine and most of Syria four years after declaring Egypt’s independence from the Abbasid court in Baghdad. The Abbasids regained direct control of Palestine in 904, after their invasion forced the army of Tulunid Emir Harun to retreat to Egypt, where the Tulunids were defeated the following year.
Direct control from Baghdad was maintained until 939 when Muhammad bin Tughj Al-Ikhshid, governor of Abbasid Egypt and Palestine, was granted independent control over his domain and the title Al-Ikhshid (Prince) by Abbasid Caliph Ar-Radi. Like the Tulunids, the relative proximity of the Ikhshidid capital to Palestine resulted in a greater focus on the region, such that both Ikhshidid rulers, Muhammad bin Tughj Al-Ikhshid and Abu al-Misk Kafur, were buried in Jerusalem.
The death of Abu al-Misk Kafur in 968 resulted in a fatal division of the Ikhshidid government as they prepared for the expected invasion by the Fatimids.
From their base in Tunisia, General Gawhar Al-Siqilli of the Ismaili Shi’ite Fatimids, who claimed to be descendants of Muhammad through his daughter Fatimah, conquered the Ikhshidid domains of Palestine and Egypt in 969, following a treaty guaranteeing the local Sunnis freedom of religion. They moved their capital to the new city of Cairo, just north of the Ikhshidid capital of Fustat.
The Fatimids continued their expansion to the borders of the Byzantine Empire, and a failed attack on Antioch in 971 was followed up by a Byzantine defeat outside of Amida. However, the Byzantines fought back and in 975 Emperor John I Tzimiskes’s second campaign took Syria and much of northern Palestine, including Tiberias, Nazareth and Caesarea Palaestina, but was defeated en route to Jerusalem. The emperor became ill and died suddenly in 976 on his return from the campaign, and the Byzantines withdrew shortly thereafter to face the Bulgar threat in the north of their empire.
Jerusalem, Nablus, and Askalan were expanded and renovated under Fatimid rule. However, in 1009, Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim ordered the destruction of all churches and synagogues in the empire, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. However, this was reversed twenty years later by the Al-Hakim’ successor as Caliph, Ali az-Zahir, who authorized the rebuilding of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other Christian churches in a treaty with Byzantine Emperor Romanos III Argyros. Romanos’ successor Constantine IX Monomachos paid for the restoration, and a number of other Christian buildings, including the Muristan hospital, church and monastery were built during this period. Az-Zahir also undertook a major renovation of the Dome of the Rock during his reign. After the 10th century, the division of Palestine into Junds began to break down.
During the early 11th century, Seljuk Turks invaded large portions of West Asia and both the Fatimids and the Byzantines suffered setbacks from the fighting. Warfare between the Fatimids and Seljuks caused great disruption for the local population and for western pilgrims. In 1073 Palestine was captured by Malik-Shah I’s Isfahan-based Great Seljuq Empire under Emir Atsiz ibn Uvaq, who was advancing south into the weakening Fatimid Empire following the decisive defeat over the Byzantine army at the Battle of Manzikert two years previously and a devastating six-year famine in Egypt between 1067 and 1072. The Seljuk rule was unpopular, and in 1077 Jerusalem revolted against their rule while Emir Atsiz ibd Uvaq was fighting the Fatimid Empire in Egypt. On his return to Jerusalem, Atsiz re-took the city and massacred the local population. As a result, Atsiz was executed by the governor of Syria Tutush I, the brother of Seljuk leader Malik-Shah I. Tutush I appointed Artuq bin Ekseb, later founder of the Artuqid dynasty, as governor. Artuq bin Ekseb died in 1091, and was succeeded as governor by his sons Ilghazi and Sokmen, known as the Artuqid dynasty. Malik Shah died in 1092, and the Great Seljuk Empire split into smaller warring states. Control of Palestine was disputed between Duqaq and Radwan after the death of their father Tutush I in 1095. The ongoing rivalry weakens Syria, and Fatimid Regent Al-Afdal Shahanshah recaptured the region in 1098 from the Artuqids, just before the arrival of the crusaders.
In 1054, the Great Schism formally divided the Christian church into east and west, resulting in the holy sites of Palestine falling under the jurisdiction of the Eastern Orthodox Church. However, in 1090, Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos began taking reconciliatory measures towards the Papacy, with the intention of seeking western support against the Seljuqs. In 1095 his ambassadors appeared before Pope Urban II at the Council of Piacenza, to request mercenary forces, and later that year at the Council of Clermont Pope Urban II called for the First Crusade.
The Kingdom of Jerusalem was a Christian kingdom established in the Levant in 1099 as a result of the First Crusade. Its control of Jerusalem and most of Palestine lasted almost a century until defeat by Saladin’s forces in 1187, after which most of Palestine was controlled by the Ayyubids.
Shortly after Crusader rule was established in Palestine, Godfrey of Bouillon promised to turn over the rule of the region to the Papacy once the crusaders had captured Egypt. However, the invasion of Egypt did not occur as Godfrey died shortly thereafter and Baldwin was proclaimed the first King of Jerusalem after politically outmaneuvering Dagobert of Pisa who had previously been appointed as the Latin Patriarch.
At first the Crusader kingdom was little more than a loose collection of towns and cities captured during the first crusade. At its height, the kingdom roughly encompassed the territory of modern-day Israel and the State of Palestine. It extended from modern Lebanon in the north to the Sinai Desert in the south, and into modern Jordan and Syria in the east. There were also attempts to expand the kingdom into Fatimid Egypt. Its kings held a certain amount of authority over the other crusader states to the north: the County of Tripoli, the Principality of Antioch, and the County of Edessa.
Many customs and institutions were imported from the territories of Western Europe from which the crusaders came, and there were close familial and political connections with the West throughout the kingdom’s existence. It was, however, a relatively minor kingdom in comparison and often lacked financial and military support from Europe. Locally based military orders were founded in the kingdom to fill this vacuum. The foundation of the Knights Hospitaller by Gerard Thom at the Muristan Christian hospice in Jerusalem was confirmed by a Papal Bull from Pope Paschal II in 1113, and the founding by Hugues de Payens and Godfrey de Saint-Omer of the Knights Templar took place in 1119 in the Al Aqsa Mosque.
The kingdom grew closer to the neighbouring Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia and the Byzantine Empire, from which it inherited “oriental” qualities, and the kingdom was also influenced by pre-existing Muslim institutions. However, when Arnulf of Chocques was appointed Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem for the second time in 1112, he prohibited non-Catholic worship at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Socially, the “Latin” inhabitants from Western Europe had almost no contact with the Muslims and Eastern Christians whom they ruled.
The Royal Palace of the Kingdom was based in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Dome of the Rock was converted into a church. Under the Crusader rule, fortifications, castles, towers and fortified villages were built, rebuilt and renovated across Palestine largely in rural areas. A notable urban remnant of the Crusader architecture of this era is found in Acre’s old city and on the island of Arwad.
Numerous Muslim families emigrated Palestine during this period, including those of notable Islamic scholars Ibn Qudamah and Diya al-Din al-Maqdisi.
During the period of Crusader control, it has been estimated that Palestine had only 1,000 poor Jewish families. Jews fought alongside the Muslims against the Crusaders in Jerusalem in 1099 and Haifa in 1100. Some Jews from Europe visited the country, like Benjamin of Tudela who wrote about it. Maimonides visited Palestine after escaping from the Almohads in 1165 and visited Acre, Jerusalem and Hebron, finally choosing to settle in Fostat in Egypt.
In July 1187, the Cairo-based Kurdish General Saladin commanded his troops to victory in the Battle of Hattin, shortly followed by the Siege of Jerusalem (1187) in which Saladin captured Jerusalem.
Following the crusader defeat by Saladin’s forces in 1187, most of Palestine was controlled by the Ayyubids. A rump crusader state in the northern coastal cities known as the Kingdom of Acre survived in the region for another hundred years until 1291, throughout the Ayyubid Period and well into the Mamluk Period. However, despite seven further crusades from Europe, the crusader state was no longer a significant power in the region after the fall of Jerusalem in 1187.
The Ayyubids allowed Jewish and Orthodox Christian settlement in the region, and the Dome of the Rock was converted back into an Islamic center of worship. The Mosque of Omar was built under Saladin outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, commemorating Umar the Great’s decision to pray outside the church so as not to set a precedent and thereby endanger the church’s status as a Christian site. About eighty years after Saladin’s conquest, the Catalan Rabbi Nahmanides left Europe following the disputation of Barcelona, and spent the last three years of his life in Palestine, primarily in Acre. He established the Ramban Synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem and thus, having found only two Jewish people living in the city at the time, re-established Jewish communal life in Jerusalem.
The defeat of the Europeans provoked further crusades from Europe, varying in size and success. In 1192, after preventing the Third Crusade under Richard the Lionheart from recapturing Jerusalem, Saladin entered into the Treaty of Ramla in which he agreed that Western Christian pilgrims could worship freely in Jerusalem. The threat remained, however, and Ayyubid Emir Al-Mu’azzam destroyed Jerusalem’s city walls in 1219 to prevent the Crusaders from capturing a fortified city. To end the Sixth Crusade, a 10-year treaty was signed between Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and Ayyubid Sultan Al-Kamil, allowing Christians freedom to live in the unfortified Jerusalem, as well as Nazareth and Bethlehem, although the Ayyubids retained control of the Muslim holy places.
These areas were returned to Ayyubid control after the peace treaty expired in 1239 and An-Nasir Dawud, Ayyubid Emir of Kerak, occupied the cities. For the four following years, control of the cities was contested between An-Nasir Dawud and his cousin As-Salih Ayyub who had allied with the crusaders, aided by the diplomatic efforts of Thibaut IV of Champagne. In order to permanently retake the city from the rival breakaway rulers who had allied with the crusaders, As-Salih Ayyub summoned a mercenary army of Khwarezmians, who were available for hire following the defeat of the Khwarazm Shah dynasty by the Mongols ten years earlier. The Khwarezmians could not be controlled by As-Salih Ayyub, and destroyed Jerusalem. A few months later, the two sides met again at the decisive Battle of La Forbie, marking the end of the Crusader influence in southern and central Palestine. Two years later the Ayyubids regained control of Jerusalem after the Khwarezmians were defeated by Al-Mansur Ibrahim at Lake Homs.
The Mamluk Sultanate was indirectly created in Egypt as a result of the Seventh Crusade, which had been launched in reaction to the 1244 destruction of Jerusalem. The crusade failed after Louis IX of France was defeated and captured by Ayyubid Sultan Turanshah at the Battle of Fariskur in 1250. Turanshah was killed by his Mamluk soldiers a month after the battle and his step-mother Shajar al-Durr became Sultana of Egypt with the Mamluk Aybak as Atabeg. The Ayyubids relocated to Damascus, where they continued to control Palestine for a further 10 years.
In the late 13th century, Palestine and Syria became the primary front against the fast-expanding Mongol Empire, whose army reached Palestine for the first time in 1260, beginning with the Mongol raids into Palestine under Nestorian Christian general Kitbuqa. Mongol leader Hulagu Khan sent a message to Louis IX of France that Jerusalem had been remitted to the Christians under the Franco-Mongol Alliance; however, shortly thereafter he had to return to Mongolia following the death of Mongke, leaving Kitbuqa and a reduced army. Kitbuqa then engaged with the Mamluks under Baibars in the pivotal Battle of Ain Jalut in the Jezreel Valley. The Mamluks’ decisive victory in Palestine is seen as one of world history’s most significant battles, establishing a high-water mark for the Mongol conquests. The Mongols were, however, able to engage into some further brief raids in 1300 under Ghazan and Mulay, reaching as far as Gaza. Jerusalem was held by the Mongols for four months.
In 1270, Sultan Baibars expelled the remaining Crusaders from most of the country, and the last major Crusader stronghold, Acre, fell in 1291, at the Siege of Acre. Thereafter, any remaining Europeans either went home or merged with the local population.
The Mamluks, continuing the policy of the Ayyubids, made the strategic decision to destroy the coastal area and to bring desolation to many of its cities, from Tyre in the north to Gaza in the south. Ports were destroyed and various materials were dumped to make them inoperable. The goal was to prevent attacks from the sea, given the fear of the return of the crusaders. This had a long-term effect on those areas, which remained sparsely populated for centuries. The activity in that time concentrated more inland.
Palestine formed a part of the Damascus Wilayah (district) under the rule of the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt and was divided into three smaller sanjaks (subdivisions) with capitals in Jerusalem, Gaza, and Safed. Due in part to the many conflicts, earthquakes and the Black Death that hit the region during this era, the population is estimated to have dwindled to around 200,000. The Mamluks constructed a “postal road” from Cairo to Damascus, that included lodgings for travelers (khans) and bridges, some of which survive to this day. The period also saw the construction of many schools and the renovation of mosques neglected or destroyed during the Crusader period.
In 1377 the major cities of Palestine and Syria revolted, following the death of Al-Ashraf Sha’ban. The revolt was quelled and a coup d’etat was staged by Barquq in Cairo in 1382, founding the Mamluk Burji dynasty.
Palestine was celebrated by Arab and Muslim writers of the time as the “blessed land of the prophets and Islam’s revered leaders”; Muslim sanctuaries were “rediscovered” and received many pilgrims. In 1496, Mujir al-Din al-‘Ulaymi wrote his history of Palestine known as The Glorious History of Jerusalem and Hebron.
In 1486, hostilities broke out between the Mamluks and the Ottoman Turks in a battle for control over western Asia. The Ottomans proceeded to conquer Palestine following their victory over the Mamluks at the Battle of Marj Dabiq. The Ottoman conquest of Palestine was relatively swift, with small battles fought against the Mamluks in the Jordan Valley and at Khan Yunis en route to the Mamluk capital in Egypt. There were also minor uprisings in Gaza, Ramla and Safad, which were quickly suppressed.
The Ottomans maintained the administrative and political organization that the Mamluks left in Palestine. The region was divided into the five sanjaks (provincial districts, also called liwa′ in Arabic) of Safad, Nablus, Jerusalem, Lajjun and Gaza, all part of the larger eyalet (province) of Damascus. The sanjaks were further subdivided into subdistricts called nawahi (sing. nahiya). For much of the 16th century, the Ottomans ruled Damascus Eyalet in a centralized way, with the Istanbul-based Sublime Porte (imperial government) playing a crucial role in maintaining public order and domestic security, collecting taxes, and regulating the economy, religious affairs and social welfare. Most of Palestine’s population, estimated to be around 200,000 in the early years of Ottoman rule, lived in villages. The largest cities were Gaza, Safad and Jerusalem, each with a population of around 5,000–6,000.
Ottoman property administration consisted of a system of fiefs called timar and trusts called waqf. Timar lands were distributed by the sultan to various officers and officials, particularly from the elite sipahi units. A timar was a source of income for its holder, who was responsible for maintaining order and enforcing the law in the timar. Waqf land was owned by various individuals and its revenues were dedicated to religious functions and institutions, social welfare and individual beneficiaries. Over 60% of cultivated land in the Jerusalem Sanjak was waqf land. To a lesser extent, there was also privately owned land predominantly located within villages and their immediate vicinity.
The name “Palestine” was no longer used as the official name of an administrative unit under the Ottomans because they typically named provinces after their capitals. Nonetheless, the old name remained in popular and semi-official use, with many examples of its usage in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries surviving. The 16th-century Jerusalem-based Islamic jurist Sayf al-Islam Abu’l Sa’ud Effendi defined the term as an alternative name for Arazi-i Muqaddas (Turkish for “the Holy Land”). The 17th-century Ramla-based jurist Khayr al-Din al-Ramli often used the term “Filastin” in his fatawat (religious edicts) without defining the term, although some of his fatawat suggest that it more or less corresponded with the borders of Jund Filastin. Thomas Salmon’s 18th-century book, Modern history or, the present state of all nations, states that “Jerusalem is still reckoned the capital city of Palestine, though much fallen from its ancient grandeur.”
By the end of the 16th century, direct Ottoman rule over Damascus Eyalet was weakened, partly due to the Jelali revolts and other Anatolian insurrections. The timar system, which functioned to serve the Sublime Porte’s fiscal and military needs, was also becoming less relevant during this period. Consequently, a new governing elite emerged in Palestine consisting of the Ridwan, Farrukh and Turabay dynasties whose members provided the district governors of the Gaza, Nablus, Jerusalem and Lajjun sanjaks between the late 16th century and the late 17th century. The stability of their rule varied by sanjak, with Ridwan control of Gaza, Turabay control of Lajjun, and Farrukh control of Nablus largely continuous, and the Ridwan-Farrukh hold over Jerusalem frequently interrupted by governors appointed from Istanbul.
Ties between the families were solidified through inter-marriage, business and political cooperation. From the late 16th century until the early 18th century, the prestigious post of amir al-hajj (commander of the Hajj caravan) would often be assigned to the district governor of Nablus or Gaza. This tradition laid the foundation for a durable military alliance between the three families since the departing amir al-hajj from one of these families would entrust authority over his sanjak to the governor of the neighboring sanjak. Gradually, the ties between the Ridwan, Farrukh and Turabay families led to the establishment of a single extended dynasty that held sway over much of Palestine.
In 1622, the Druze emir (prince) of Mount Lebanon, Fakhr-al-Din II gained control of Safad Sanjak and was appointed governor of Nablus and mutasallim (chief tax collector) of Gaza. Alarmed at the looming threat to their rule, the Ridwan-Farrukh-Turabay alliance prepared for a confrontation with Fakhr ad-Din by pooling their financial resources to acquire arms and bribe Bedouin tribes to fight alongside them. They were also tacitly supported by the Sublime Porte, which was wary of Fakhr ad-Din’s growing autonomy. When Fakhr ad-Din’s better-equipped army launched an offensive to gain control of Palestine’s coastal plain and Jerusalem, the army of Hasan ‘Arab Ridwan, Ahmad Turabay and Muhammad ibn Farrukh routed his forces at the Awja iver near Jaffa. In 1624, following the Battle of Anjar, Fakhr ad-Din was appointed the “Emir of Arabistan” by the Ottomans, which gave him official authority over the region between Aleppo and Jerusalem. He was deposed and hanged a decade later by the Wali of Damascus.
Gaza’s political influence in Palestine rose under the Ridwan dynasty, particularly during the governorship of Husayn Pasha, which began in the 1640s. It was considered the “capital of Palestine” by the French consul of Jerusalem, Chevalier d’Arvieux. Husayn’s closeness with France and his good relations with Palestine’s Christian communities were a source of imperial consternation at his rule. Concurrently, in the mid-17th century, the Ottoman government guided by the Köprülü viziers attempted to restore centralized authority over its outlier provinces. One of the centralization measures introduced by Grand Vizier Köprülü Mehmed Pasha was the establishment of the Sidon Eyalet in 1660, which administratively separated Safad Sanjak from the rest of Palestine, which remained part of Damascus Eyalet. This reorganization was done to both weaken the ambitious governors of Damascus and to maintain stricter control over the rebellious emirs of Mount Lebanon.
With the elimination of Fakhr ad-Din’s threat to Ottoman control in the Levant, the Sublime Porte sought to bring an end to the Ridwan-Farrukh-Turabay dynasty. Beside concern over their increasing consolidation of power in Palestine, the Sublime Porte was frustrated by the substantially decreased revenues from the annual Hajj caravan, which a governor from one of the three families often commanded. In 1657, the Ottoman authorities launched a military expedition in Palestine to reassert imperial control over the region because of its strategic importance in the funding and protection of the Hajj caravan and also because it was a crucial link to Egypt. The Sublime Porte used Husayn Pasha’s alleged incompetence leading the Hajj caravan in 1662–63 to imprison and execute him. Husayn Pasha served as the foundation of the Ridwan-Farrukh-Turabay alliance and his death was followed by the Sublime Porte’s gradual elimination of the rest of the extended dynasty by the late 1670s. Ridwan rule persisted in Gaza until 1690.
The elimination of the Ridwan-Farrukh-Turabay dynasty and their replacement by governors appointed by the Ottoman government “radically changed the state of affairs” in Palestine, according to historian Dror Ze’evi. The appointed governors abandoned the relationships that the local dynasties maintained with the local elites and largely ignored the increasing exploitation of the populace by the Janissaries, subashis and timar holders. Official complaints to the Sublime Porte about the latter groups skyrocketed among Muslims, Christians and Jews alike. Many peasants abandoned their villages to avoid exploitation, townspeople complained about the seizure of their property and the ulama (Muslim scholarly class) complained about the Janissaries’ disregard for justice and the sanctity of Muslim places of worship, including the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif).
In reaction to this state of affairs, in 1703, an uprising, known as the Naqib al-Ashraf Revolt, by the people of Jerusalem took place, led by the chief of the ashraf families, Muhammad ibn Mustafa al-Husayni, and backed by the city’s notables. The home of Jerusalem’s qadi, a symbol of imperial authority, was ransacked and his translator killed by rebels. They proceeded to govern the city themselves until an Ottoman siege and internal strife forced al-Husayni and his rebels to withdraw from Jerusalem in October 1705.
Meanwhile, the mostly Arab sipahi officers of the 1657 centralization expedition, chief among them members of the Nimr clan, settled in Nablus and, contrary to the Sublime Porte’s intention, began forming their own local power bases in the city’s rural hinterland from the timars they were assigned. Towards the end of the 17th century, they were soon followed by the Jarrar and Tuqan clans, who like the Nimrs, came from other parts of Ottoman Syria. The sheikhs (chiefs) of these clans soon emerged as the new nobility of central Palestine. They developed increasingly close ties to the local population through selling or leasing their timars to rural notables, investing in local commerce, property and businesses such as soap factories, and intermarrying and partnering with local ashraf and mercantile families. Politically, the Tuqans and Nimrs dominated the governorship of Nablus and at times controlled other districts and subdistricts (in 1723 Salih Pasha Tuqan was governor of the Nablus, Lajjun and Gaza sanjaks). The Jarrars were the dominant clan of the Nablus hinterland, although other clans, among them the Mamluk-era Jayyusis, continued to hold influence in their respective subdistricts. This state of affairs in Jabal Nablus persisted with minor interruptions until the mid-19th century.
In the mid-17th century, the Zaydani clan became a formidable force in northern Palestine. Initially, its sheikhs were appointed as multazems (tax collectors and local enforcers) of iltizam (tax farms) in parts of the Galilee by the Ma’ani, and, after 1697, the Shihabi emirs of Mount Lebanon. In 1730, Zaydani sheikh Zahir al-Umar was directly appointed by the Wali of Sidon as the multazem of Tiberias, which he soon fortified, along with other Zaydani strongholds such as Deir Hanna, Arraba and Nazareth. Between that time and 1750, Zahir had consolidated his control over the entire Galilee. He transferred his headquarters to the port village of Acre, which he renovated and refortified. Acre became the center of an expanding autonomous sheikhdom financed by a monopoly on cotton and other agricultural commodities from Palestine and southern Lebanon established by Zahir. Zahir’s control of cotton and olive oil prices drew great revenues from European merchants, and these funds enabled him to marshal military resources needed to fend off military assaults by the governors of Damascus. Moreover, the monopolies ended the foreign merchants’ manipulation of prices and financial exploitation of the local peasantry. Together with significantly improved general security and social justice, Zahir’s economic policies made him popular with the local inhabitants. Zahir also encouraged immigration to Palestine and his rule attracted large numbers of Jews and Melkite and Greek Orthodox Christians from throughout Ottoman Syria, revitalizing the region’s economy. Zahir founded modern-day Haifa in 1769.
In the early 1770s, Zahir allied himself with the Russian Empire and Ali Bey of Egypt. Together with Ali Bey’s deputy commanders Ismail Bey and Abu al-Dhahab, and backed by the Russian Navy, Zahir and his Lebanese Shia allies invaded Damascus and Sidon. Ali Bey’s commanders abruptly withdrew from Damascus after briefly capturing it in June 1771, compelling Zahir to withdraw from Sidon shortly thereafter. Uthman Pasha al-Kurji, the Wali of Damascus, renewed his campaign to eliminate Zahir, but his forces were routed at Lake Hula in September 1771. Zahir followed up this decisive victory with another major victory against Emir Yusuf Shihab’s Druze forces at Nabatieh. By 1774, Zahir’s rule extended from Gaza to Beirut and included most of Palestine. The year after, however, a coalition of Ottoman forces besieged and killed him at his Acre headquarters. The Ottoman commander Jazzar Pasha subsequently waged a campaign that destroyed Deir Hanna’s fort and ended Zaydani rule in the Galilee in 1776.
Although Acre and the Galilee were part of Sidon Eyalet while the rest of Palestine administratively belonged to Damascus, it was the rulers of Acre, beginning with Zahir, that dominated Palestine and the southern Syrian districts. Damascus governors typically held office for short periods of time and were often occupied with protecting and leading the Hajj caravan (the office of amir al-hajj had become the responsibility of the Wali of Damascus in 1708), preventing them from asserting their authority over semi-autonomous areas such as the Nablus region. In contrast, Zahir established Acre as a virtually autonomous entity, a process seen in other parts of the Ottoman Empire including Egypt, Mount Lebanon and Mosul. Moreover, Acre became the de facto capital of Sidon Eyalet during and after Zahir’s reign, and like Zahir, his successors ruled Acre until their deaths. There were several military confrontations between Zahir and the Jarrar clan starting in 1735 when the former occupied the latter’s territory of Nazareth and the Jezreel Valley, which served as trade and transportation hubs. Meanwhile, in 1766, the Tuqan clan had ousted the Jayyusis from the Bani Sa’b subdistrict, which was then occupied by Zahir in 1771, stripping Nablus of its sea access. The conflict between Zahir and the Tuqans culminated with the former’s unsuccessful siege of Nablus later that year.
Jazzar Pasha was appointed Wali of Sidon by the Sublime Porte for his role in uprooting the Zaydani sheikhdom. Unlike the Galilee-born Zahir, Jazzar was a product of the Ottoman state and a force for Ottoman centralization, yet he also pursued his own agenda, extending his influence throughout the southern half of Ottoman Syria. Jazzar assumed control over Zahir’s cotton monopoly and further strengthened the fortifications of Acre, where he was based. He financed his rule through income generated from the cotton trade, as well as taxes, tolls and extortion. Tensions between Jazzar and the French cotton merchants of Acre ended with the latter being expelled in the late 1780s, at a time when prices for Palestine’s cotton were declining due to alternative sources elsewhere. Like Zahir, Jazzar was able to maintain domestic security by suppressing the Bedouin tribes. However, the local peasantry did not fare well under his stringent taxation policies, which resulted in many leaving the Galilee for neighboring areas. To protect his rule, he raised a personal army of mamluks (slave soldiers) and mercenaries consisting of troops from different parts of the Islamic world. Jazzar established close ties with the Tuqan clan, who were traditionally aligned with the Ottoman authorities. However, the Tuqans’ chief rival, the Jarrar clan, resisted his attempts at centralization and Jazzar besieged them at their Sanur fortress in 1790 and 1795, both times ending in defeat.
In February 1799, Emperor Napoleon of France entered Palestine after conquering Egypt as part of his campaign against the Ottomans, who were allied with his enemy, the British Empire. He occupied Gaza and moved north along Palestine’s coastal plain, capturing Jaffa, where his forces massacred some 3,000 Ottoman troops who had surrendered and many civilians. His forces then captured Haifa and used it as a staging ground for their siege of Acre. Napoleon called for Jewish support to capture Jerusalem. This was done to gain favor with Haim Farhi, Jazzar’s Jewish vizier. The invasion rallied the sheikhs of Jabal Nablus, with the multazem of Jenin, Sheikh Yusuf al-Jarrar, beckoning them to combat the French. In contrast to the sheikhs of the Hebron Hills and Jerusalem who provided conscripts to the Ottoman Army, the sheikhs of Jabal Nablus fought independently, to the chagrin of the Sublime Porte. Their men were defeated by the French in the Galilee. Napoleon failed to conquer Acre and his defeat by Jazzar’s forces, backed by the British, compelled him to withdraw from Palestine with heavy losses in May. Jazzar’s victory significantly boosted his prestige. The Ottomans pursued the French in Egypt in 1800, using Gaza as their launch point.
Jazzar died in 1804 and was succeeded as Wali of Sidon by his trusted mamluk Sulayman Pasha al-Adil. Sulayman, under Farhi’s guidance, undertook a policy of loosening his predecessors’ monopolies on the cotton, olive oil and grain trades. However, he also established Acre as the only Levantine port city allowed to export these cash crops. He also made significant cuts to Acre’s military and adopted a decentralization policy of non-interference with his deputy governors, such as Muhammad Abu-Nabbut of Jaffa, and diplomacy with various autonomous sheikhs, such as Musa Bey Tuqan of Nablus. This marked a departure from the violent approach of Jazzar. By 1810, Sulayman was appointed to Damascus Eyalet, giving him control over most of Ottoman Syria. Before he was dismissed from the latter in 1812, he managed to have the sanjaks of Latakia, Tripoli and Gaza annexed to Sidon Eyalet. Towards the end of his rule, in 1817, a civil war broke out in Jabal Nablus between the Tuqans and a coalition of the Nimr, Jarrar, Qasim and Abd al-Hadi clans over Musa Bey’s attempt to monopolize power in Nablus by ousting the Nimrs. Sulayman mediated between the clans and secured a temporary peace in 1818.
Abdullah Pasha, groomed by Farhi for leadership, succeeded Sulayman in 1820 nine months after the latter’s death in 1819. Ottoman hesitation to appoint Abdullah was mitigated after persistent lobbying and bribery of Ottoman imperial officials by Farhi. Unlike Jazzar’s mamluks who sought the governorship, Farhi did not view his protégé Abdullah to be a threat to his influence. Nonetheless, Abdullah had Farhi executed less than a year into his rule as the result of a power struggle. Abdullah more or less continued his predecessor’s alliance with Emir Bashir Shihab II of Mount Lebanon and together they confronted the Wali of Damascus. The Ottoman authorities, instigated by Farhi’s relatives, attempted to oust Abdullah in a siege against Acre, but Muhammad Ali, Wali of Egypt, persuaded the Ottomans to keep Abdullah as governor. In 1830, the Sidon Eyalet was assigned the sanjaks of Nablus, Jerusalem and Hebron, thereby bringing all of Palestine under a single province. That year, the Jarrars led a revolt against Abdullah, who thereafter besieged and destroyed Sanur’s fortress, which had successfully resisted sieges by his predecessors. Abdullah’s rule was marked by declining revenues from the cotton trade, efforts to reassert Acre’s monopolies and poverty in Palestine. Nonetheless, Acre under Abdullah remained the principal force in Ottoman Syria due to instability in Damascus and the Ottomans’ preoccupation with the war in Greece.
In 1831, Muhammad Ali of Egypt dispatched his modernized army commanded by his son Ibrahim Pasha in a campaign to annex Ottoman Syria, including Palestine. Ibrahim Pasha’s forces had previously defeated the Ottomans and gained control of Sudan and the western Arabian Peninsula. Their entry into Palestine was not resisted by the local inhabitants, nor by the rural sheikhs of the central highlands. However, Abdullah Pasha resisted the conquest from Acre, which was besieged and ultimately surrendered in May 1832.
Egyptian rule brought on major political and administrative reforms to Palestine and Ottoman Syria in general, and represented a radical change from the semi-autonomous rule that existed in the region prior to Muhammad Ali’s conquest. Among the significant measures established by Ibrahim Pasha to bring all of Syria under a single administration was the introduction of the advisory councils whose purpose was to standardize the diverse political configurations of Syria. The councils, based in the major cities, were composed of religious leaders, wealthy merchants and urban leaders, and functioned as administrative centers. In effect, they solidified urban control and economic domination of the hinterland, according to historian Beshara Doumani. Ibrahim Pasha also instituted the disarmament and conscription of the peasantry, a policy carried out by Muhammad Ali in Egypt to establish centralized rule and a modern army.
Conscription and disarmament were highly unpopular among the peasantry and their leaders, who refused to implement the orders. New taxation policies also threatened the role of urban notables and rural sheikhs as mutasallims, while Egypt’s effective law enforcement measures threatened the livelihood of Bedouin tribes who derived their income from extorting merchants and travelers. The diverse array of social and political groups hostile to Egyptian reforms throughout Palestine developed into a coalition. Consequently, this coalition launched what became known as the Peasants’ Revolt in 1834. The core of the rebels were based in Jabal Nablus and led by subdistrict chief Qasim al-Ahmad, who had previously contributed peasant irregulars to Ibrahim Pasha’s forces during the conquest of Syria. The revolt represented a major threat to the flow of arms and conscripts between Egypt and Syria and to Muhammad Ali’s program of modernizing Egypt. Rebel forces captured most of Palestine, including Jerusalem, by June. However, Muhammad Ali arrived in Palestine, opened negotiations with various rebel leaders and sympathizers, and secured a truce in July. He also managed to secure the defection of the powerful Abu Ghosh clan of Jerusalem’s hinterland from the rebel forces.
During the truce period, numerous religious and political leaders from Jerusalem and other cities were either arrested, exiled or executed. Afterward, Qasim recommenced the rebellion, viewing the truce as a ruse. Egyptian forces launched a campaign to defeat the rebels in Jabal Nablus, destroying 16 villages before capturing Nablus itself on 15 July. Qasim was pursued to Hebron, which was leveled in August, and was later captured and executed with most of the rebel leadership. In the wake of Egypt’s victory, the virtual autonomy of Jabal Nablus was significantly weakened, the conscription orders were carried out with 10,000 peasant conscripts sent to Egypt, and the population was largely disarmed. The latter measure effectively introduced a monopoly of violence in Palestine, as part of Egypt’s centralization policies. Egyptian rule and the defeat of the powerful rural sheikhs of Jabal Nablus led to the political elevation of the Abd al-Hadi clan of Arraba. Its sheikh, Husayn Abd al-Hadi, supported Ibrahim Pasha during the revolt and was promoted as the Wali of Sidon, which included all of Palestine. His relatives and allies were appointed the mutasallims of Jerusalem, Nablus and Jaffa.
Britain sent the navy to shell Beirut and an Anglo-Ottoman expeditionary force landed, causing local uprisings against the Egyptian occupiers. A British naval squadron anchored off Alexandria. The Egyptian army retreated to Egypt. Muhammad Ali signed the Treaty of 1841. Britain returned control of the Levant to the Ottomans, and as a result was able to increase the extraterritorial rights that various European nations had enjoyed throughout previous centuries under the terms of the Capitulations of the Ottoman Empire. One American diplomat wrote that “Extraordinary privileges and immunities had become so embodied in successive treaties between the great Christian Powers and the Sublime Porte that for most intents and purposes many nationalities in the Ottoman empire formed a state within the state.”
In common usage from 1840 onward, “Palestine” was used either to describe the consular jurisdictions of the Western powers or for a region that extended in the north–south direction typically from Rafah (south-east of Gaza) to the Litani River (now in Lebanon). The western boundary was the sea, and the eastern boundary was the poorly defined place where the Syrian desert began. In various European sources, the eastern boundary was placed anywhere from the Jordan River to slightly east of Amman. The Negev Desert was not included. The Consuls were originally magistrates who tried cases involving their own citizens in foreign territories. While the jurisdictions in the secular states of Europe had become territorial, the Ottomans perpetuated the legal system they inherited from the Byzantine Empire. The law in many matters was personal, not territorial, and the individual citizen carried his nation’s law with him wherever he went. Capitulatory law applied to foreigners in Palestine. Only Consular Courts of the State of the foreigners concerned were competent to try them. That was true, not only in cases involving personal status, but also in criminal and commercial matters. According to American Ambassador Morgenthau, Turkey had never been an independent sovereignty. The Western Powers had their own courts, marshals, colonies, schools, postal systems, religious institutions, and prisons. The Consuls also extended protections to large communities of Jewish protégés who had settled in Palestine.
The Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities of Palestine were allowed to exercise jurisdiction over their own members according to charters granted to them. For centuries the Jews and Christians had enjoyed a large degree of communal autonomy in matters of worship, jurisdiction over personal status, taxes, and in managing their schools and charitable institutions. In the 19th century those rights were formally recognized as part of the Tanzimat reforms and when the communities were placed under the protection of European public law.
In the 1860s, the Ottoman military was able to restore order east of Jordan by halting tribal conflicts and Bedouin raids. This invited migration to the east, notably the Salt area, from various populations in Lebanon, Syria and Palestine to take advantage of new lands. This influx amounted to some 12,000 over the period from 1880 to just before the First World War, while the Bedouin population east of Jordan increased to 56,000. However, with the creation of the Transjordanian emirate in 1921–22, the hamlet of Amman, which had been recently resettled by Circassians, attracted most of the new immigrants from Palestine, and many of those that had previously moved to Salt.
In the reorganisation of 1873, which established the administrative boundaries that remained in place until 1914, Palestine was split between three major administrative units. The northern part, above a line connecting Jaffa to north Jericho and the Jordan, was assigned to the vilayet of Beirut, subdivided into the sanjaks (districts) of Acre, Beirut and Nablus. The southern part, from Jaffa downwards, was part of the Mutasarrifate of Jerusalem, a special district under the direct authority of Istanbul. Its southern boundaries were unclear but petered out in the eastern Sinai Peninsula and northern Negev Desert. Most of the central and southern Negev was assigned to the vilayet of Hejaz, which also included the Sinai Peninsula and the western part of Arabia.
The Ottomans regarded “Filistin” as an abstract term referring to the “Holy Land”, and not one consistently applied to a clearly defined area. Among the educated Arab public, Filastin was a common concept, referring either to the whole of Palestine or to the Jerusalem sanjak alone or just to the area around Ramle. The publication of the daily paper Falastin (Palestine) from 1911 was one example of the increasing currency of this concept.
The rise of Zionism, the national movement of the Jewish people started in Europe in the 19th century seeking to recreate a Jewish state in Palestine, and return the original homeland of the Jewish people. The end of the 19th century saw the beginning of Zionist immigration. The “First Aliyah” was the first modern widespread wave of Zionist aliyah. Jews who migrated to Palestine in this wave came mostly from Eastern Europe and from Yemen. This wave of aliyah began in 1881–82 and lasted until 1903. An estimated 25,000–35,000 First Aliyah laid the cornerstone for Jewish settlement in Israel and created several settlements such as Rishon LeZion, Rosh Pina, Zikhron Ya’akov and Gedera.
In 1891, a group of Jerusalem notables sent a petition to the central Ottoman government in Istanbul calling for the cessation of Jewish immigration, and land sales to Jews.
The “Second Aliyah” took place between 1904 and 1914, during which approximately 40,000 Jews immigrated, mostly from Russia and Poland, and some from Yemen. The Second Aliyah immigrants were primarily idealists, inspired by the revolutionary ideals then sweeping the Russian Empire who sought to create a communal agricultural settlement system in Palestine. They thus founded the kibbutz movement. The first kibbutz, Degania, was founded in 1909. Tel Aviv was founded at that time, though its founders were not necessarily from the new immigrants.
The Second Aliyah is largely credited with the revival of the Hebrew language and establishing it as the standard language for Jews in Israel. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda contributed to the creation of the first modern Hebrew dictionary. Although he was an immigrant of the First Aliyah, his work mostly bore fruit during the second.
Ottoman rule over the eastern Mediterranean lasted until World War I when the Ottomans sided with the German Empire and the Central Powers. During World War I, the Ottomans were driven from much of the region by the British Empire during the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.
In World War I, the Ottoman Empire sided with Germany. As a result, it was embroiled in a conflict with the United Kingdom. Under the secret Sykes–Picot Agreement of 1916, it was envisioned that most of Palestine, when freed from Ottoman control, would become an international zone not under direct French or British colonial control. Shortly thereafter, British foreign minister Arthur Balfour issued the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which promised to establish a “Jewish national home” in Palestine but appeared to contradict the 1915–16 Hussein-McMahon Correspondence, which contained an undertaking to form a united Arab state in exchange for the Great Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire in World War I. McMahon’s promises could have been seen by Arab nationalists as a pledge of immediate Arab independence, an undertaking violated by the region’s subsequent partition into British and French League of Nations mandates under the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of May 1916, which became the real cornerstone of the geopolitics structuring the entire region. The Balfour Declaration, likewise, was seen by Jewish nationalists as the cornerstone of a future Jewish homeland.
The British-led Egyptian Expeditionary Force, commanded by Edmund Allenby, captured Jerusalem on 9 December 1917 and occupied the whole of the Levant following the defeat of Turkish forces in Palestine at the Battle of Megiddo in September 1918 and the capitulation of Turkey on 31 October. Allenby famously dismounted from his horse when he entered Jerusalem as a mark of respect for the Holy City and was greeted by the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic leaders of the city.
Following the First World War and the occupation of the region by the British, the principal Allied and associated powers drafted the mandate, which was formally approved by the League of Nations in 1922. Great Britain administered Palestine on behalf of the League of Nations between 1920 and 1948, a period referred to as the “British Mandate”. The preamble of the mandate declared:
“Whereas the Principal Allied Powers have also agreed that the Mandatory should be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2nd, 1917, by the Government of His Britannic Majesty, and adopted by the said Powers, in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
Not all were satisfied with the mandate. The League of Nations’ objective with the mandate system was to administer the parts of the former Ottoman Empire, which the Middle East had controlled since the 16th century, “until such time as they are able to stand alone”. Some of the Arabs felt that Britain was violating the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence and the understanding of the Arab Revolt. Some wanted a unification with Syria: in February 1919, several Muslim and Christian groups from Jaffa and Jerusalem met and adopted a platform endorsing unity with Syria and opposition to Zionism (this is sometimes called the First Palestinian National Congress). A letter was sent to Damascus authorizing Faisal to represent the Arabs of Palestine at the Paris Peace Conference. In May 1919 a Syrian National Congress was held in Damascus, and a Palestinian delegation attended its sessions.
The 1922 census of Palestine recorded the population of Palestine as 757,000, of which 78% were Muslims, 11% were Jews, 10% were Christians and 1% were Druze. In the early years of the Mandate, Jewish immigration to Palestine was quite substantial. In April 1920, violent Arab disturbances against the Jews in Jerusalem occurred, which came to be known as the 1920 Palestine riots. The riots followed rising tensions in Arab-Jewish relations over the implications of Zionist immigration. The British military administration’s erratic response failed to contain the rioting, which continued for four days. As a result of the events, trust among the British, Jews, and Arabs eroded. One consequence was that the Jewish community increased moves towards an autonomous infrastructure and security apparatus parallel to that of the British administration.
In April 1920, the Allied Supreme Council (the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy and Japan) met at Sanremo and formal decisions were taken on the allocation of mandate territories. The United Kingdom obtained a mandate for Palestine and France obtained a mandate for Syria. The boundaries of the mandates and the conditions under which they were to be held were not decided. The Zionist Organization’s representative at Sanremo, Chaim Weizmann, subsequently reported to his colleagues in London:
There are still important details outstanding, such as the actual terms of the mandate and the question of the boundaries in Palestine. There is the delimitation of the boundary between French Syria and Palestine, which will constitute the northern frontier and the eastern line of demarcation, adjoining Arab Syria. The latter is not likely to be fixed until the Emir Feisal attends the Peace Conference, probably in Paris.
In July 1920, the French drove Faisal bin Husayn from Damascus, ending his already negligible control over the region of Transjordan, where local chiefs traditionally resisted any central authority. The sheikhs, who had earlier pledged their loyalty to the Sharif of Mecca, asked the British to undertake the region’s administration. Herbert Samuel asked for the extension of the Palestine government’s authority to Transjordan, but at meetings in Cairo and Jerusalem between Winston Churchill and Emir Abdullah in March 1921 it was agreed that Abdullah would administer the territory (initially for six months only) on behalf of the Palestine administration. In the summer of 1921 Transjordan was included within the Mandate, but excluded from the provisions for a Jewish National Home. On 24 July 1922, the League of Nations approved the terms of the British Mandate over Palestine and Transjordan. On 16 September the League formally approved a memorandum from Lord Balfour confirming the exemption of Transjordan from the clauses of the mandate concerning the creation of a Jewish national home and Jewish settlement. With Transjordan coming under the administration of the British Mandate, the mandate’s collective territory became constituted of 23% Palestine and 77% Transjordan. The mandate for Palestine, while specifying actions in support of Jewish immigration and political status, stated, in Article 25, that in the territory to the east of the Jordan River, Britain could ‘postpone or withhold’ those articles of the Mandate concerning a Jewish National Home. Transjordan was a very sparsely populated region (especially in comparison with Palestine proper) due to its relatively limited resources and largely desert environment.
Palestine and Transjordan were incorporated (under different legal and administrative arrangements) into the “Mandate for Palestine and Transjordan Memorandum” issued by the League of Nations to Great Britain on 29 September 1923
In 1923, an agreement between the United Kingdom and France confirmed the border between the British Mandate of Palestine and the French Mandate of Syria. The British handed over the southern Golan Heights to the French in return for the northern Jordan Valley. The border was re-drawn so that both sides of the Jordan River and the whole of the Sea of Galilee, including a 10-metre-wide strip along the northeastern shore, were made a part of Palestine, with the provisions that Syria have fishing and navigation rights in the lake.
The Palestine Exploration Fund published surveys and maps of Western Palestine (aka Cisjordan) starting in the mid-19th century. Even before the Mandate came into legal effect in 1923, British terminology sometimes used ‘”Palestine” for the part west of the Jordan River and “Trans-Jordan” (or Transjordania) for the part east of the Jordan River.
The first reference to the Palestinians, without qualifying them as Arabs, is to be found in a document of the Permanent Executive Committee, composed of Muslims and Christians, presenting a series of formal complaints to the British authorities on 26 July 1928.
Between 1922 and 1947, the annual growth rate of the Jewish sector of the economy was 13.2%, mainly due to immigration and foreign capital, while that of the Arab was 6.5%. Per capita, these figures were 4.8% and 3.6% respectively. By 1936, the Jewish sector had eclipsed the Arab one, and Jewish individuals earned 2.6 times as much as Arabs. In terms of human capital, there was a huge difference. For instance, the literacy rates in 1932 were 86% for the Jews against 22% for the Arabs, but Arab literacy was steadily increasing.
In 1933, Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, Haavara agreement is in place between the Zionist Federation and the German government of the Third Reich to facilitate the emigration of German Jews.
The office of “Mufti of Jerusalem”, traditionally limited in authority and geographical scope, was refashioned by the British into that of “Grand Mufti of Palestine”. Furthermore, a Supreme Muslim Council (SMC) was established and given various duties, such as the administration of religious endowments and the appointment of religious judges and local muftis. During the revolt (see below) the Arab Higher Committee was established as the central political organ of the Arab community of Palestine.
During the Mandate period, many factories were established and roads and railroads were built throughout the country. The Jordan River was harnessed for production of electric power and the Dead Sea was tapped for minerals—potash and bromine.
Sparked off by the death of Shaykh Izz ad-Din al-Qassam at the hands of the British police near Jenin in November 1935, in the years 1936–1939 the Arabs participated in the Great Uprising to protest against British rule and against mass Jewish immigration. The revolt manifested in a strike and armed insurrection started sporadically, becoming more organized with time. Attacks were mainly directed at British strategic installations such as the Trans Arabian Pipeline (TAP) and railways, and to a lesser extent against Jewish settlements, secluded Jewish neighbourhoods in the mixed cities, and Jews, both individually and in groups.
Violence abated for about a year while the Peel Commission deliberated and eventually recommended partition of Palestine. With the Arab rejection of this proposal, the revolt resumed during the autumn of 1937. Violence continued throughout 1938 and eventually petered out in 1939.
The British responded to the violence by greatly expanding their military forces and clamping down on Arab dissent. “Administrative detention” (imprisonment without charges or trial), curfews, and house demolitions were among British practices during this period. More than 120 Arabs were sentenced to death and about 40 hanged. The main Arab leaders were arrested or expelled.
The Haganah (Hebrew for “defense”), a Jewish paramilitary organization, actively supported British efforts to quell the insurgency, which reached 10,000 Arab fighters at their peak during the summer and fall of 1938. Although the British administration did not officially recognize the Haganah, the British security forces cooperated with it by forming the Jewish Settlement Police and Special Night Squads. A terrorist splinter group of the Haganah, called the Irgun (or Etzel) adopted a policy of violent retaliation against Arabs for attacks on Jews. At a meeting in Alexandria in July 1937 between Jabotinsky and Irgun commander Col. Robert Bitker and chief-of-staff Moshe Rosenberg, the need for indiscriminate retaliation due to the difficulty of limiting operations to only the “guilty” was explained. The Irgun launched attacks against public gathering places such as markets and cafes.
The revolt did not achieve its goals, although it is “credited with signifying the birth of the Arab Palestinian identity”. It is generally credited with forcing the issuance of the White Paper of 1939, which renounced Britain’s intent of creating a Jewish National Home in Palestine, as proclaimed in the 1917 Balfour Declaration.
Another outcome of the hostilities was the partial disengagement of the Jewish and Arab economies in Palestine, which were more or less intertwined until that time. For example, whereas the Jewish city of Tel Aviv previously relied on the nearby Arab seaport of Jaffa, hostilities dictated the construction of a separate Jewish-run seaport for Tel Aviv.
When the Second World War broke out, the Jewish population sided with Britain. David Ben-Gurion, head of the Jewish Agency, defined the policy with what became a famous motto: “We will fight the war as if there were no White Paper, and we will fight the White Paper as if there were no war.” While this represented the Jewish population as a whole, there were exceptions (see below).
As in most of the Arab world, there was no unanimity among the Palestinian Arabs as to their position regarding the combatants in World War II. A number of leaders and public figures saw an Axis victory as the likely outcome and a way of securing Palestine back from the Zionists and the British. Mohammad Amin al-Husayni, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, spent the rest of the war in Nazi Germany and the occupied areas. About 6,000 Palestinian Arabs and 30,000 Palestinian Jews joined the British forces.
On 10 June 1940, Italy declared war on the British Commonwealth and sided with Germany. Within a month, the Italians attacked Palestine from the air, bombing Tel Aviv and Haifa.
In 1942, there was a period of anxiety for the Yishuv, when the forces of German General Erwin Rommel advanced east in North Africa towards the Suez Canal and there was fear that they would conquer Palestine. This period was referred to as the two hundred days of anxiety. This event was the direct cause for the founding, with British support, of the Palmach—a highly trained regular unit belonging to Haganah (which was mostly made up of reserve troops).
On 3 July 1944, the British government consented to the establishment of a Jewish Brigade with hand-picked Jewish and also non-Jewish senior officers. The brigade fought in Europe, most notably against the Germans in Italy from March 1945 until the end of the war in May 1945. Members of the Brigade played a key role in the Berihah’s efforts to help Jews escape Europe for Palestine. Later, veterans of the Jewish Brigade became key participants of the new State of Israel’s Israel Defense Forces.
Starting in 1939 and throughout the war, the British reduced the number of Jewish immigrants allowed into Palestine, following the publication of the MacDonald White Paper. Once the 15,000 annual quota was exceeded, Jews fleeing Nazi persecution were placed in detention camps or deported to places such as Mauritius.
In 1944 Menachem Begin assumed the Irgun’s leadership, determined to force the British government to remove its troops entirely from Palestine. Citing that the British had reneged on their original promise of the Balfour Declaration, and that the White Paper of 1939 restricting Jewish immigration was an escalation of their pro-Arab policy, he decided to break with the Haganah. Soon after he assumed command, a formal ‘Declaration of Revolt’ was publicized, and armed attacks against British forces were initiated. Lehi, another splinter group, opposed cessation of operations against the British authorities all along. The Jewish Agency, which opposed those actions and the challenge to its role as government in preparation responded with “The Hunting Season”—severe actions against supporters of the Irgun and Lehi, including turning them over to the British.
The country developed economically during the war, with increased industrial and agricultural outputs and the period was considered an `economic Boom’. In terms of Arab-Jewish relations, these were relatively quiet times.
In the years following World War II, Britain’s control over Palestine became increasingly tenuous. This was caused by a combination of factors, including:
- World public opinion turned against Britain as a result of the British policy of preventing survivors from reaching Palestine, sending them instead to Cyprus internment camps, or even back to Germany, as in the case of Exodus 1947.
- The costs of maintaining an army of over 100,000 men in Palestine weighed heavily on a British economy suffering from post-war depression, and was another cause for British public opinion to demand an end to the Mandate.
- Rapid deterioration due to the actions of the Jewish paramilitary organizations (Hagana, Irgun and Lehi), involving attacks on strategic installations (by all three) as well as on British forces and officials (by the Irgun and Lehi). This caused severe damage to British morale and prestige, as well as increasing opposition to the mandate in Britain itself, public opinion demanding to “bring the boys home”.
- The U.S. Congress was delaying a loan necessary to prevent British bankruptcy. The delays were in response to the British refusal to fulfill a promise given to Truman that 100,000 Holocaust survivors would be allowed to emigrate to Palestine.
In early 1947 the British Government announced their desire to terminate the Mandate, and asked the United Nations General Assembly to make recommendations regarding the future of the country. The British Administration declined to accept the responsibility for implementing any solution that wasn’t acceptable to both the Jewish and the Arab communities, or to allow other authorities to take over responsibility for public security prior to the termination of its mandate on 15 May 1948.
On 29 November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly, voting 33 to 13 in favour with 10 abstentions, adopted a resolution, Resolution 181 (II), recommended a partition with Economic Union of Mandatory Palestine to follow the termination of the British Mandate. The plan was to partition Palestine into an “Independent Arab state alongside a Jewish States, and the Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem”. Jerusalem was to encompass Bethlehem. Zionist leaders (including the Jewish Agency), accepted the plan, while Palestinian Arab leaders rejected it and all independent Muslim and Arab states voted against it. Almost immediately, sectarian violence erupted and spread, killing hundreds of Arabs, Jews and British over the ensuing months.
The rapid evolution of events precipitated into a Civil War. For four months, under continuous Arab provocation and attack, the Yishuv was usually on the defensive while occasionally retaliating. Arab volunteers of the Arab Liberation Army entered Palestine to fight alongside the Palestinians, but the April–May offensive of Yishuv forces defeated the Arab forces and Arab Palestinian society collapsed. Some 700,000 Palestinians caught up in the turmoil fled or were driven from their homes.
On 14 May 1948, David Ben-Gurion and the Jewish People’s Council declared the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel (The Land of Israel), to be known as the State of Israel. The neighbouring Arab states intervened to prevent the partition and support the Palestinian Arab population. While Transjordan took control of territory designated for the future Arab State, Syrian, Iraqi and Egyptian expeditionary forces attacked Israel without success. The most intensive battles were waged between the Jordanian and Israeli forces over the control of Jerusalem.
On June 11, a truce was accepted by all parties. Israel used the lull to undertake a large-scale reinforcement of its army. In a series of military operations, during the war it conquered the whole of the Galilee region, both the Lydda and Ramle areas, and the Negev. It also managed to secure, in the Battles of Latrun, a road linking Jerusalem to Israel. However, the neighboring Arab countries signed the 1949 Armistice Agreements that ended the war, and have recognized de facto the new borders of Israel. In this phase, 350,000 more Arab Palestinians fled or were expelled from the conquered areas.
Following the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, the area allocated to the Palestinian Arabs and the international zone of Jerusalem were occupied by Israel and the neighboring Arab states in accordance with the terms of the 1949 Armistice Agreements. In addition to the UN-partitioned area allotted to the Jewish state, Israel captured and incorporated a further 26% of the British Mandate territory. Jordan retained possession of about 21% of the former Mandate territory. Jerusalem was divided, with Jordan taking the eastern parts, including the Old City, and Israel taking the western parts. In addition, Syria held on to small slivers of the former Mandate territory to the south and east of the Sea of Galilee, which had been allocated in the UN partition plan to the Jewish state. For a description of the massive population movements, Arab and Jewish, at the time of the 1948 war and over the following decades, see Palestinian exodus and Jewish exodus from Arab lands.
On the same day that the State of Israel was announced, the Arab League announced that it would set up a single Arab civil administration throughout Palestine, and launched an attack on the new Israeli state.
The All-Palestine Government was established by the Arab League on 22 September 1948, during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. It was soon recognized by all Arab League members, except Jordan. Though jurisdiction of the Government was declared to cover the whole of the former Mandatory Palestine, its effective jurisdiction was limited to the Gaza Strip. The Prime Minister of the Gaza-seated administration was named Ahmed Hilmi Pasha, and the President was named Hajj Amin al-Husseini, former chairman of the Arab Higher Committee.
The All-Palestine Government is regarded by some as the first attempt to establish an independent Palestinian state. It was under official Egyptian protection, but, on the other hand, it had no executive role, but rather mostly political and symbolic. Its importance gradually declined, especially due to relocation of seat of government from Gaza to Cairo following the Israeli invasion in late 1948. Though Gaza Strip returned under Egyptian control later on through the war, the All-Palestine Government remained in-exile in Cairo, managing Gazan affairs from outside.
In 1959, the All-Palestine Government was officially merged into the United Arab Republic, coming under formal Egyptian military administration, with the appointment of Egyptian military administrators in Gaza. Egypt, however, both formally and informally denounced any and all territorial claims to Palestinian territory, in contrast to the government of Transjordan, which declared its annexation of the Palestinian West Bank. The All-Palestine Government’s credentials as a bona fide sovereign state were questioned by many, particularly due to the effective reliance upon not only Egyptian military support, but Egyptian political and economic power.
Shortly after the proclamation of All-Palestine Government in Gaza, the Jericho Conference named King Abdullah I of Transjordan, “King of Arab Palestine”. The Congress called for the union of Arab Palestine and Transjordan and Abdullah announced his intention to annex the West Bank. The other Arab League member states opposed Abdullah’s plan.
The New Historians, like Avi Shlaim, hold that there was an unwritten secret agreement between King Abdullah of Transjordan and Israeli authorities to partition the territory between themselves, and that this translated into each side limiting their objectives and exercising mutual restraint during the 1948 war.
The presence of a large number of immigrants and refugees from the now dissolved Mandate of Palestine fueled the regional ambitions of King Abdullah I, who sought control over what had been the British Jerusalem and Samaria districts on the west bank of Jordan River. Towards this goal the king granted Jordanian citizenship to all Arab holders of the Palestinian Mandate identity documents in February 1949, and outlawed the terms “Palestinian” and “Transjordanian” from official usage, changing the country’s name from the Emirate of Trans-Jordan to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The area east of the river became known as “al-Ḍiffah al-Sharqiyyal”, or “The East Bank”. In April 1950, with the formal annexation of the positions held by the Jordanian Army since 1948, the area became known as “al-Ḍiffah al-Gharbiyyal” or “The Western Bank”. With the formal union of the East and West Banks in 1950, the number of Palestinians in the kingdom rose by another 720,000, of whom 440,000 were West Bank residents and 280,000 were refugees from other areas of the former Mandate then living on the West Bank. Palestinians became the majority in Jordan although most believed their return to what was now the state of Israel was imminent.
In the course of the Six Day War in June 1967, Israel captured the rest of the area that had been part of the British Mandate of Palestine, taking the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) from Jordan and the Gaza Strip from Egypt. Following military threats by Egypt and Syria, including Egyptian president Nasser’s demand of the UN to remove its peace-keeping troops from the Egyptian-Israeli border, in June 1967 Israeli forces went to action against Egypt, Syria and Jordan. As a result of that war, the Israel Defense Forces conquered the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula bringing them under military rule. Israel also pushed Arab forces back from East Jerusalem, which Jews had not been permitted to visit during the prior Jordanian rule. East Jerusalem was allegedly annexed by Israel as part of its capital, though this action has not been recognized internationally. Israel also started building settlements on the occupied land.
The United Nation’s Security Council passed Resolution 242, promoting the “land for peace” formula, which called for Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in 1967, in return for the end of all states of belligerency by the aforementioned Arab League nations. Palestinians continued longstanding demands for the destruction of Israel or made a new demand for self-determination in a separate independent Arab state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip similar to but smaller than the original Partition area that Palestinians and the Arab League had rejected for statehood in 1947.
In the course of 1973 Yom Kippur War, military forces of Egypt crossed the Suez canal and Syria to regain the Golan heights. The attacking military forces of Syria were pushed back. After a cease fire, Egyptian President Sadat Anwar Sadat started peace talks with the U.S. and Israel. Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt as part of the 1978 Camp David Peace Accords between Egypt and Israel in hopes of establishing a genuine peace.
From 1987 to 1993, the First Palestinian Intifada against Israel took place. Attempts at the Israeli–Palestinian peace process were made at the Madrid Conference of 1991. As the process progressed, in 1993 the Israelis allowed Chairman and President of the Palestine Liberation Organization Yassir Arafat to return to the region.
Following the historic 1993 Oslo Peace Accords between Palestinians and Israel (the “Oslo Accords”), which gave the Palestinian Arabs limited self-rule in some parts of the occupied territories through the Palestinian Authority, and other detailed negotiations, proposals for a Palestinian state gained momentum. They were soon followed in 1993 by the Israel–Jordan peace treaty. To date, efforts to resolve the conflict have ended in deadlock, and the people of the region, Jews and Arabs, are engaged in a bloody conflict, called variously the “Arab–Israeli conflict” or “Israeli–Palestinian conflict”.
After few years of on-and-off negotiations, the Palestinians began an uprising against Israel. This was known as the Al-Aqsa Intifada. The events were highlighted in world media by Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel that killed many civilians, and by Israeli Security Forces full-fledged invasions into civilian areas along with some targeted killings of Palestinian militant leaders and organizers. Israel began building a complex security barrier to block suicide bombers crossing into Israel from the West Bank in 2002.
Also in 2002, the Road map for peace calling for the resolution of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict was proposed by a “quartet”: the United States, European Union, Russia, and United Nations. U.S. President George W. Bush in a speech on June 24, 2002, called for an independent Palestinian state living side by side with Israel in peace. Bush was the first U.S. President to explicitly call for such a Palestinian state.
Following Israel’s unilateral disengagement plan of 2004, it withdrew all settlers and most of the military presence from the Gaza strip, but maintained control of the air space and coast. Israel also dismantled four settlements in northern West Bank in September 2005. Following Israel’s withdrawal, Palestinian militia groups fired Qassam rockets into Israel and smuggled weapons and ammunition into Gaza from Egypt. After the kidnap of Israeli soldiers in June 2006, Israel launched a military operation and reentered some parts of the Gaza Strip. Amidst severe criticism, they built the Israeli West Bank barrier.
Following the January 2006 election of the Hamas government, Fatah resistance took the form of street battles that resulted in a victory for Hamas. Hamas took over the ministries of the (Fatah) Palestinian Authority and Gaza became a Hamas enclave outside PA control.
As of July 2009, approximately 305,000 Israelis lived in 121 settlements in the West Bank. The 2.4 million West Bank Palestinians (according to Palestinian evaluations) live primarily in four blocs centered in Hebron, Ramallah, Nablus, and Jericho.
On 23 September 2011, President Mahmoud Abbas on behalf of the Palestine Liberation Organisation submitted an application for membership of Palestine in the United Nations. The campaign, dubbed “Palestine 194”, was formally backed by the Arab League in May, and was officially confirmed by the PLO on 26 June. The decision was labelled by the Israeli government as a unilateral step, while the Palestinian government countered that it is essential to overcoming the current impasse. Several other countries, such as Germany and Canada, have also denounced the decision and called for a prompt return to negotiations. Many others, however, such as Norway and Russia, have endorsed the plan, as has Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who stated, “UN members are entitled whether to vote for or against the Palestinian statehood recognition at the UN.”
In July 2012, it was reported that Hamas Government in Gaza was considering declaring the independence of the Gaza Strip with the help of Egypt. In August 2012, Foreign Minister of the PNA Riyad al-Malki told reporters in Ramallah that PNA would renew effort to upgrade the Palestinian (PLO) status to “full member state” at the U.N. General Assembly on September 27, 2012. By September 2012, with their application for full membership stalled due to the inability of Security Council members to “make a unanimous recommendation”, Palestine had decided to pursue an upgrade in status from “observer entity” to “non-member observer state”. On November 27, it was announced that the appeal had been officially made, and would be put to a vote in the General Assembly on November 29, where their status upgrade was expected to be supported by a majority of states. In addition to granting Palestine “non-member observer state status”, the draft resolution “expresses the hope that the Security Council will consider favourably the application submitted on 23 September 2011 by the State of Palestine for admission to full membership in the United Nations, endorses the two state solution based on the pre-1967 borders, and stresses the need for an immediate resumption of negotiations between the two parties”.
On November 29, 2012, in a 138–9 vote (with 41 abstaining), General Assembly resolution 67/19 passed, upgrading Palestine to “non-member observer state” status in the United Nations. The new status equates Palestine’s with that of the Holy See. The change in status was described by The Independent as “de facto recognition of the sovereign state of Palestine”.
The UN has permitted Palestine to title its representative office to the UN as “The Permanent Observer Mission of the State of Palestine to the United Nations”, and Palestine has started to re-title its name accordingly on postal stamps, official documents and passports, whilst it has instructed its diplomats to officially represent “The State of Palestine”, as opposed to the “Palestine National Authority”. Additionally, on 17 December 2012, UN Chief of Protocol Yeocheol Yoon decided that “the designation of ‘State of Palestine’ shall be used by the Secretariat in all official United Nations documents”, thus recognising the PLO-proclaimed State of Palestine as being sovereign over the territories Palestine and its citizens under international law.
As of February 2013, 131 (67.9%) of the 193 member states of the United Nations have recognised the State of Palestine. Many of the countries that do not recognise the State of Palestine nevertheless recognise the PLO as the ‘representative of the Palestinian people’.