“Palestinian” derives from the Philistines

The word “Palestinian” derives from the Philistines. The English term Philistine comes from Old French Philistin; from Classical Latin Philistinus; from Late Greek Philistinoi; ultimately from Hebrew Pəlištî (פלשתי‎; plural Pəlištîm, פלשתים‎), meaning ‘person of Pəlešeth [פלשת‎]’; and there are cognates in Akkadian (aka Assyrian, Babylonian) Palastu and Egyptian Palusata; the term Palestine has the same derivation.

In the Book of Genesis, the Philistines are said to descend from the Casluhites, an Egyptian people. With regard to descendants of Mizraim, the biblical progenitor of the Egyptians, the Table of Nations in Genesis 10 states in Hebrew: “ve-et Patrusim ve-et Kasluhim asher yats’u mi-sham Plištim ve-et Kaftorim.” Literally, it says that those whom Mizraim begat included “the Pathrusim, Casluhim, out of whom came the Philistines, and the Caphtorim.”

The Torah does not record the Philistines as one of the nations to be displaced from Canaan.

In Genesis 15:18–21 the Philistines are absent from the ten nations Abraham’s descendants will displace as well as being absent from the list of nations Moses tells the people they will conquer, though the land in which they resided is included in the boundaries based on the locations of rivers described (Deut 7:1, 20:17).

In fact, the Philistines, through their Capthorite ancestors, were allowed to conquer the land from the Avvites (Deuteronomy 2:23). God also directed the Israelites away from the Philistines upon their Exodus from Egypt according to Exodus 13:17. In Genesis 21:22–27, Abraham agrees to a covenant of kindness with Abimelech, the Philistine king, and his descendants. Abraham’s son Isaac deals with the Philistine king similarly, by concluding a treaty with them in chapter 26 (Genesis 26:28–29).

Philistia (1175 BC–604 BC)

NOTE: The united Kingdom of Israel wasn’t until 1047 BC–930 BC
– the Philistines (Palestinians) predate the Israelites by 128 years

Philistia was a territory in the Southwest Levant, which included the cities of Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, Gath, Gaza, and Jaffa. It was populated by the Peleset or Philistines, who are believed to have been an Indo-European people who settled in Canaan around the year 1200 BC. At its maximum territorial expansion, its territory may have stretched along the Canaanite coast from Arish in the Sinai (today’s Egypt) to the Yarkon River (today’s Tel Aviv), and as far inland as Ekron and Gath. Nebuchadnezzar II invaded Philistia in 604 BC, burned Ashkelon, and incorporated the territory in the Neo-Babylonian Empire; Philistia and its native population the Philistines disappear from the historic record after that year.


The origins of Philistia begin with the attacks of Egypt by the Sea Peoples, which started in the mid-XIII century BC. The Peleset (now known as Philistines) were part of the Sea Peoples. About a century later, pharaoh Ramesses III boasted of having defeated the Peleset, and recorded this victory on a Medinet Habu temple inscription. This became the earliest extant record of the Philistines. The Great Harris Papyrus, a chronicle of Ramesses’ reign written no later than 1149 BC, also records this Egyptian victory over the Philistines.

Philistia’s northern boundary was the Yarkon River with the Mediterranean Sea on the west, the Kingdom of Judah to the east and the Wadi El-Arish to the south. Philistia consisted of the five city-states of the [Philistines, as the Philistine pentapolis, described in the Book of Joshua (Joshua 13:3) and the Books of Samuel (1 Samuel 6:17), comprising Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, Gath, and Gaza, in the south-western Levant.

Philistia included Jaffa (in today’s Tel Aviv), but it was lost to the Hebrews during Solomon’s time. Nonetheless, the Philistine king of Ashkelon conquered Jaffa again circa 730 BC. Following Sennacherib’s third campaign in the Levant, the Assyrians re-assigned Jaffa to the Canaanites of Sidonia, and Philistia never got it back.

The Five Lords of the Philistines are described in the Hebrew Bible as being in constant struggle and interaction with the neighbouring Israelites, Canaanites and Egyptians, being gradually absorbed into the Canaanite culture.

The Philistines disappear from written records following the conquest of the Levant by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II towards the end of the 6th century, when Ashkelon and many other cities from the region were destroyed.

East of Gaza

The area east of Gaza, particularly around Nahal Besor that reaches into the hills as far as Beersheva, had a very substantial Philistine presence. This area is a part of the Negev desert. It also includes Nahal Gerar to the north that joins Nahal Besor before flowing into the Mediterranean Sea.

This was a heavily populated area during the early Iron Age. It includes archaeological sites such as Tell Beit Mirsim, Tel Haror, Tel Sera (Ziklag) along Nahal Gerar, and Tell Jemmeh and Tell el-Farah (South) along Nahal Besor. All these sites and others in the area had Philistine settlements.

When the Neo-Assyrian Empire first invaded this area, the Philistine cities were given considerable autonomy in exchange for tribute. But having responded to various revolts, this policy hardened.


Pleshet is the Hebrew name for what might otherwise be called the “land of the Philistines” according to the Hebrew Bible (see Book of Genesis 21:32, Exodus 13:17, 1 Samuel 27:1, Joel 3:4).

The term refers to the coastal region that stretches roughly from Gaza in the south to Ashdod in the north. The five main cities of the Philistines during the time of the Kings of Israel were Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath.

Palistin (11th century BC – 9 century BC)

Palistin was an early Syro-Hittite kingdom located in what is now northwestern Syria and the southeastern Turkish province of Hatay. Its existence was confirmed by the discovery of several inscriptions mentioning Taita, king of Palistin.Relief image of King Taita (right side of the central panel), Hadad temple, Aleppo citadel.


Palistin was one of the Syro-Hittite states that emerged in Syria after the Late Bronze Age collapse.

It dates to at least the 11th century BC and is known primarily through the inscriptions of its king Taita and his wife. The kingdom emerged some time soon after the collapse of the Hittite Empire, of which it is one of the successor states, and it encompassed a relatively extensive area, stretching at least from the Amouq Valley in the west, to Aleppo in the east, down to Mhardeh and Shaizar in the south. Prof. Itamar Singer proposes that it was the predecessor state that, once it disintegrated, gave birth to the kingdoms of Hamath, Bit Agusi and Pattin (shortened form of Palistin).

Archaeological evidence

The excavations at Tell Tayinat in the Turkish Hatay province which might have been the capital of Palistin, revealed two settlements, the first being a Bronze Age Aegean farming community, and the second an Iron Age Syro-Hittite city built on top of the Aegean farming settlement. Palistin is attested as Walistin in an inscription discovered in 1936 at the site.

Palistin (“Watasatina”) is also attested in the Sheizar Stele, which is the funerary monument of Queen Kupapiya, the wife of Taita. Another stele, discovered in Meharde, might well be the funerary monument of King Taita. Both stelae mention the name of Taita, and invoke a “divine Queen of the Land”, possibly the goddess Kubaba. Most importantly, in 2003 a statue of King Taita bearing his inscription in Luwian was discovered during excavations conducted by German archeologist Kay Kohlmeyer in the Citadel of Aleppo.

Possible link to Philistines

While Hittitologist John David Hawkins initially gave two transcriptions of the Aleppo inscriptions, Wadasatini and Padasatini, a later reading suggests a third possible interpretation: Palistin. The similarity between Palistin and names for the Philistines, such as the Ancient Egyptian Peleset and the Hebrew פְּלִשְׁתִּים Plištim, have led archaeologists Benjamin Sass, and Kay Kohlmeyer to hypothesize a connection. It has even been suggested, for instance, that the area around Kunulua (Calno; Tell Tayinat) may even have been part of a Philistine urheimat.

Gershon Galil suggests that King David halted the Arameans’ expansion into the Land of Israel on account of his alliance with the southern Philistine kings, as well as with Toi, king of Ḥamath (mentioned in the Bible), who is identified with Taita II, king of Palistin (the northern Sea Peoples).

According to Galil, there are now eight inscriptions recently discovered at different sites indicating that a large kingdom named Palistin existed in this area, which included the cities of Hamath, Aleppo and Carchemish.

The proposed Palistin-Philistines link remains controversial. According to Hittitologist Trevor Bryce, the connection between the biblical Philistines and the kingdom of Palistin remains a hypothesis and further excavations are needed to establish such a connection. The Shaizar and Meharde inscriptions apparently preserve the ethnonym Walistin and there is no clear explanation for the alternation between a character signifying Wa- in the Shaizar and Meharde inscriptions and one signifying Pa- in the Aleppo inscriptions.

If it was the case – as has been proposed by some theories concerning the Sea Peoples – that they originated in the Aegean area, there is no evidence from the Syro-Hittite artefacts at Tell Tayinat, either pictorial nor philological, to indicate a link to known Aegean civilizations. On the contrary, most of the discoveries at Tell Tayinat indicate a typical Luwian state. To cite two examples: firstly, the Syro-Hittite inhabitants used predominantly red slipped burnished ware, which is totally different from the Aegean-type pottery used by the early farming inhabitants. And secondly, the names of the kings of Palistin and the kings of the successor state of Pattin are also Hittite, even though there is no evidence of a direct link between Taita and the old Hittite royal house. It has since been proposed, based on material evidence and epigraphical parallels, that some Philistines did in fact settle in Kinalua, living alongside the indigenous inhabitants before assimilating into the Luwian population of what became a typical Neo-Hittite state in all but its name, which was all that remained of the Early Iron Age Sea Peoples settlers.

Syria Palaestina (135–390)

Syria Palaestina was the name given to the Roman province of Judea by the emperor Hadrian following the suppression of the Bar Kokhba revolt in 135 AD.

The province was divided into Palaestina Prima and Palaestina Salutaris in about 357, and by 409 Palaestina Prima had been further split into a smaller Palaestina Prima and Palaestina Secunda, while Salutaris was named Tertia or Salutaris.


Syria was an early Roman province, annexed to the Roman Republic in 64 BC by Pompey in the Third Mithridatic War, following the defeat of Armenian King Tigranes the Great. Following the partition of the Herodian kingdom into tetrarchies in 6 AD, it was gradually absorbed into Roman provinces, with Roman Syria annexing Iturea and Trachonitis.

The Roman province of Judea incorporated the regions of Judea, Samaria, and Idumea, and extended over parts of the former regions of the Hasmonean and Herodian kingdoms of Israel. It was named after Herod Archelaus’s Tetrarchy of Judea, but the Roman province encompassed a much larger territory.

The capital of Roman Syria was established in Antioch from the very beginning of Roman rule, while the capital of the Judaea province was shifted to Caesarea Maritima, which, according to historian H. H. Ben-Sasson, had been the “administrative capital” of the region beginning in 6 AD.

Judea province was the scene of unrest at its founding in 6 AD during the Census of Quirinius and several wars were fought in its history, known as the Jewish–Roman wars. The Temple was destroyed in 70 AD as part of the First Jewish–Roman War resulting in the institution of the Fiscus Judaicus. The Provinces of Judaea and Syria were key scenes of an increasing conflict between Judaean and Hellenistic population, which exploded into full scale Jewish–Roman wars, beginning with the First Jewish–Roman War of 66–70. Disturbances followed throughout the region during the Kitos War in 117–118. Between 132–135, Simon bar Kokhba led a revolt against the Roman Empire, controlling parts of Judea, for three years. As a result, Hadrian sent Sextus Julius Severus to the region, who brutally crushed the revolt. Shortly before or after the Bar Kokhba’s revolt (132–135), the Roman Emperor Hadrian changed the name of the Judea province to Syria Palaestina, and founded Aelia Capitolina on the ruins of Jerusalem, which some scholars conclude was done in an attempt to remove the relationship of the Jewish people to the region.

Hadrian’s connection to the name change and the reason behind it is disputed.



After crushing the Bar Kokhba revolt, the Roman Emperor Hadrian applied the name Syria Palaestina, meaning “Palestinian Syria”, to Judea province.

The name Syria Palaestina predates Hadrian’s naming decision by at least five centuries, as the term was already in use in the West; Herodotus, for example, uses the term in the V century BC when discussing the component parts of the fifth province of the Achaemenid empire: Phoenicia, Cyprus, “and that part of Syria which is called Palestine” (Ionic Greek: Συρίη ἡ Παλαιστίνη, romanized: Suríē hē Palaistínē). In 2018 Nur Masalha wrote the name refers to Palestine as part of a broader Syrian region encompassing the Levant from Cappadocia and Cilicia in the north to Phoenicia and Palestina, bordering Egypt to the south. The city of Aelia Capitolina was built by the emperor Hadrian on the ruins of Jerusalem. The capital of the province of Syria proper remained in Antiochia.

Around the year 300, Syria Palaestina was enlarged by transferring to it the southern part of what had been the Roman Province of Arabia Petrea: the Negev, part of the Sinai, and ancient Edom.

Conflict with Sassanids and emergence of the Palmyrene Empire

Beginning in 212, Palmyra’s trade diminished as the Sassanids occupied the mouth of the Tigris and the Euphrates. In 232, the Syrian Legion rebelled against the Roman Empire, but the uprising went unsuccessful.

Septimius Odaenathus, a Prince of the Aramean state of Palmyra, was appointed by Valerian as the governor of the province of Syria Palaestina. After Valerian was captured by the Sassanids in 260, and died in captivity in Bishapur, Odaenathus campaigned as far as Ctesiphon (near modern-day Baghdad) for revenge, invading the city twice. When Odaenathus was assassinated by his nephew Maconius, his wife Septimia Zenobia took power, ruling Palmyra on behalf of her son, Vabalathus.

Zenobia rebelled against Roman authority with the help of Cassius Longinus and took over Bosra and lands as far to the west as Egypt, establishing the short-lived Palmyrene Empire. Next, she took Antioch and large sections of Asia Minor to the north. In 272, the Roman Emperor Aurelian finally restored Roman control and Palmyra was besieged and sacked, never to recover her former glory. Aurelian captured Zenobia, bringing her back to Rome. He paraded her in golden chains in the presence of the senator Marcellus Petrus Nutenus, but allowed her to retire to a villa in Tibur, where she took an active part in society for years. A legionary fortress was established in Palmyra and although no longer an important trade center, it nevertheless remained an important junction of Roman roads in the Syrian desert.

Diocletian built the Camp of Diocletian in the city of Palmyra to harbor even more legions and walled it in to try and save it from the Sassanid threat. The Byzantine period following the Roman Empire only resulted in the building of a few churches; much of the city went to ruin.


In circa 390, Syria Palaestina was reorganised into several administrative units: Palaestina Prima, Palaestina Secunda, and Palaestina Tertia (in the 6th century), Syria Prima and Phoenice and Phoenice Lebanensis. All were included within the larger Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Diocese of the East, together with the provinces of Isauria, Cilicia, Cyprus (until 536), Euphratensis, Mesopotamia, Osroene, and Arabia Petraea.

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 Transjordan part of Arabia, and most of Sinai, with Petra as the usual residence of the governor. Palestina Tertia was also known as Palaestina Salutaris.


Roman cult

After the Jewish–Roman wars (66–135), which Epiphanius believed the Cenacle survived, the significance of Jerusalem to Christians entered a period of decline, Jerusalem having been temporarily converted to the pagan Aelia Capitolina, but interest resumed again with the pilgrimage of Helena (the mother of Constantine the Great) to the Holy Land c. 326–28.

New pagan cities were founded in Judea at Eleutheropolis (Bayt Jibrin), Diopolis (Lydd), and Nicopolis (Emmaus).

Early Christianity

The Romans destroyed the Jewish community of the Church in Jerusalem, which had existed since the time of Jesus. Traditionally it is believed the Jerusalem Christians waited out the Jewish–Roman wars in Pella in the Decapolis.

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 in “Islam: Past Present and Future”, suggests that the Jewish Christians sought refuge in Arabia and he quotes with approval Clemen et al.:

“This produces the paradox of truly historic significance that while Jewish Christianity was swallowed up in the Christian church, it preserved itself in Islam.”

Christianity was practiced in secret and the Hellenization of Palaestina continued under Septimius Severus (193–211 AD).


In Southern Levant, until about 200 AD, and despite the genocide of Jewish–Roman wars, Jews had formed a majority of the population with Samaritans and Pagans forming the rest of the population.

By the beginning of the Byzantine period (disestablishment of Syria-Palaestina), the Jews had become a minority and were living alongside Samaritans, pagan Greco-Syriacs and a large Syriac Christian community.

Palaestina Salutaris (300–636)

Palaestina Salutaris or Palaestina Tertia was a Byzantine (Eastern Roman) province, which covered the area of the Negev, Sinai (except the north western coast) and south-west of Transjordan, south of the Dead Sea. The province, a part of the Diocese of the East, was split from Arabia Petraea during the reforms of Diocletian in c.300 CE, and existed until the Muslim Arab conquests of the 7th century.


In 106, the territories east of Damascus and south to the Red Sea were annexed from the Nabataean kingdom and reformed into the province of Arabia with a capital Petra and Bostra (north and south). The province was enlarged by Septimius Severus in 195, and is believed to have split into two provinces: Arabia Minor or Arabia Petraea and Arabia Maior, both subject to imperial legates ranking as consularis, each with a legion.

By the 3rd century, the Nabataeans had stopped writing in Aramaic and begun writing in Greek instead, and by the 4th century they had partially converted to Christianity, a process completed in the 5th century.

Petra declined rapidly under late Roman rule, in large part from the revision of sea-based trade routes. In 363 an earthquake destroyed many buildings, and crippled the vital water management system.

The area became organized under late Roman Empire as part of the Diocese of the East (314), in which it was included together with the provinces of Isauria, Cilicia, Cyprus (until 536), Euphratensis, Mesopotamia, Osroene, Phoenice and Arabia Petraea.

Byzantine rule in the 4th century introduced Christianity to the population. Agricultural-based cities were established and the population grew exponentially. Under Byzantium (since 390), a new subdivision did further split the province of Cilicia into Cilicia Prima, Cilicia Secunda; Syria Palaestina was split into Syria Prima, Syria Salutaris, Phoenice Lebanensis, Palaestina Prima, Palaestina Secunda and eventually also Palaestina Salutaris (in 6th century).


Palaestina Tertia included the Negev, southern Transjordan, once part of Arabia Petraea, and most of Sinai with Petra as the usual residence of the governor and Metropolitan Archbishopric. Palestina Tertia was also known as Palaestina Salutaris. According to historian H.H. Ben-Sasson,

The Muslim Arabs found the remnants of the Nabataeans of Transjordan and the Negev transformed into peasants. Their lands were divided between the new Qahtanite Arab tribal kingdoms of the Byzantine vassals, the Ghassanid Arabs and the Himyarite vassals, the Kindah Arab Kingdom in North Arabia, forming parts of the Bilad al-Sham province.

Palæstina Secunda (390–636)

Palæstina Secunda or Palaestina II was a Byzantine province from 390, until its conquest by the Muslim armies in 634–636. Palaestina Secunda, a part of the Diocese of the East, roughly comprised the Galilee, Yizrael Valley, Bet Shean Valley and southern part of the Golan plateau, with its capital in Scythopolis (Bet Shean). The province experienced the rise of Christianity under the Byzantines, but was also a thriving center of Judaism, after the Jews had been driven out of Judea by the Romans in the 1st and 2nd centuries.


Syria-Palaestina became organized under late Roman Empire as part of the Diocese of the East, in which it was included together with the provinces of Isauria, Cilicia, Cyprus (until 536), Euphratensis, Mesopotamia, Osroene, Coele-Syria, Syria Phoenice and Arabia Petraea. Under Byzantium, a new subdivision did further split the province of Cilicia into Cilicia Prima, Cilicia Secunda; Syria Palaestina was split into Palaestina Prima, Palaestina Secunda and eventually also Palaestina Salutaris (in 6th century). The major cities of the province were Scythopolis, Capernaum and Nazareth.

In the 5th and 6th centuries, Byzantines and their Christian Ghassanid allies took a major role in suppressing the Samaritan Revolts in neighbouring Palaestina Prima. By the 6th century Christian Ghassanids formed a Byzantine vassal confederacy with a capital on the Golan, forming a buffer state between the Byzantine Empire and the Arabian tribes.

In 614, both Palaestina Prima and Palaestina Secunda were conquered by a joint Sasanian-Jewish army. The leader of the Jewish rebels was Benjamin of Tiberias, a man of “immense wealth” according to Middle Aged sources, and by Nehemiah ben Hushiel, a Jewish Exilarch. The event came as shock to the Christian society, as many of its churches were destroyed according to Christian sources of that period. After withdrawal of the Persian troops and the afterward surrender of the local Jewish rebels, the area was shortly reannexed into Byzantium in 628 CE.

Byzantine control of the province was again and irreversibly lost in 636, with the Muslim conquest of Syria. It was later roughly reorganized as Jund al-Urdunn military district of Bilad al-Sham (Syria) province of the Rashidun Caliphate.


Prior to the 6th century, the province of Palaestina Secunda largely included Jews, as well as a mixed Greek and Aramaic-speaking population, who were mostly practicing Christianity. The Jews had made Galilee and the Gaulanitis their center since the defeat of the Bar Kokhba revolt of the 2nd century; and flourished through the 4th and 5th centuries, as Byzantine control of the area dimmed, providing a great deal of autonomy for local populations.

North-Eastern parts of the province were also inhabited by pagan Itureans, who lived in more significant numbers in the neighbouring Phoenicia and Phoenicia Libani provinces to the north. Christian Arab Ghassanids migrated to the province from Yemen in around 4th and 5th centuries and settled the Gaulanitis, as well as former territories of Arabia Petraea province, creating a buffer Byzantine client kingdom in the 6th century, with the capital on the Gaulanitis – the North-Eastern border of Palaestina Secunda.

In the early 7th century, the province experienced a significant demographic collapse due to the consequences of the Byzantine-Persian war and the Jewish rebellion. Following the short-lived restoration of Byzantine rule, the Muslim armies caused the flight of a significant portion of the Christians to the north – into territories of northern Syria and Anatolia still ruled by the Byzantines.



The province of Palaestina Secunda was a thriving center of Judaism through the 4th and 5th centuries, where the Jerusalem Talmud was compiled. The primary Jewish authority, the Sanhedrin, existed in Tiberias until the early 5th century, before being abolished by the Byzantine authorities. The last Nasi (president) of the Sanhedrin was Gamaliel VI, who died in 425. After his death, the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius did not allow for a successor, and in 429 terminated the patriarchate.


The conversion of Constantine set in motion events that restored Palestine as a major theater in the development of the Christian church, as it had not been since 70. Only a few Minim (probably including Jewish Christians) had lived in few Galilean towns such as Sepphoris and Capernaum. However, beginning in the 4th century the Byzantine government responded to Christian interest in the Holy Land by embarking on a massive program of patronage, especially church-building, that encouraged Christians to move to Palestine. Less successfully, imperial policy tried to encourage Jews to convert to Christianity by offering protection and rewards. Eventually, as a result of Christian settlement in the vicinities of Nazareth and Capernaum (where a synagogue and a church lie almost across the street from each other) and Tabgha, Galilee lost its Jewish majority.

Roman cult and paganism

Small minority of pagans – whether non-Christian Romans and Hellenists or Itureans had been populating the province during early Byzantine rule.

Jund Filasṭīn  (660s/680s–late 11th century)

Jund Filasṭīn was one of the military districts of the Umayyad and Abbasid province of Bilad al-Sham (Syria), organized soon after the Muslim conquest of the Levant in the 630s. Jund Filastin, which encompassed most of Palaestina Prima and Palaestina Tertia, included the newly established city of Ramla as its capital and eleven administrative districts (kura), each ruled from a central town.


Muslim conquest

The Muslim conquest of Palestine is difficult to reconstruct, according to the historian Dominique Sourdel. It is generally agreed that the Qurayshite commander Amr ibn al-As was sent to conquer the area by Caliph Abu Bakr, likely in 633. Amr traversed the Red Sea coast of the Hejaz (western Arabia), reached the port town of Ayla at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba, then crossed into the Negev Desert or further west into the Sinai Peninsula. He then arrived to the villages of Dathin and Badan near Gaza, where he entered negotiations with the Byzantine garrison commander. The talks collapsed and the Muslims bested the Byzantines in the subsequent clash at Dathin in February or March 634. At this stage of the conquest Amr’s troops encamped at Ghamr al-Arabat in the middle of the Araba Valley between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba. The town of Gaza was left alone, with Amr’s primary objective at the time being the subjugation of the Arab tribes in the vicinity.

After the Muslims armies led by Khalid ibn al-Walid captured Bosra in the Hauran in May 634 they crossed the Jordan River to reinforce Amr as he faced a large Byzantine army. In the ensuing Battle of Ajnadayn, fought at a site 25 kilometers (16 mi) southwest of Jerusalem in July or August, the Muslims under Amr’s overall command routed the Byzantines. In the aftermath of Ajnadayn, Amr captured the towns of Sebastia, Nablus, Lydda, Yibna, Amwas, Bayt Jibrin and Jaffa. Most of these towns fell after minor resistance, hence the scant information available about them in the sources.

Following the decisive Muslim victory against the Byzantines at the Battle of Yarmouk (636), fought along the Yarmouk tributary of the Jordan River east of Palestine, Amr besieged Jerusalem, which held out until the arrival of Caliph Umar, to whom Jerusalem’s leaders surrendered in 637. The coastal towns of Gaza, Ascalon and Caesarea had continued to hold out. The commander Alqama ibn Mujazziz may have been sent against Byzantine forces in Gaza a number of times during and after Ajnadayn. Amr launched his conquest of Egypt from Jerusalem c. 640. Caesarea was besieged for a lengthy period and captured most likely by Mu’awiya ibn Abi Sufyan in 639, 640 or 641. Not long after, Mu’awiya captured Ascalon, completing the conquest of Palestine, most of which had been undertaken by Amr.

Early administration

Filastin became one of the four original junds (military districts) of Bilad al-Sham (Islamic Syria) established by Caliph Umar. In effect the Muslims maintained the preexisting administrative organization of the Byzantine district of Palaestina Prima.

The Umayyad period (661–750) was a relatively prosperous period for Filastin and the Umayyad caliphs invested considerably in the district’s development. According to Sourdel, “Palestine was particularly honoured in the Umayyad period”. The first Umayyad caliph, Mu’awiya ibn Abi Sufyan, who held overall authority over Syria, including Palestine, from the reign of Caliph Uthman (r. 644–656), was initially recognized as caliph in a ceremony in Jerusalem.


At its greatest extent, Jund Filastin extended from Rafah in the south to Lajjun in the north, and from the Mediterranean coast well to the east of the southern part of the Jordan River. The mountains of Edom, and the town of Zoar (Sughar) at the southeastern end of the Dead Sea were included in the district. However, the Galilee was excluded, being part of Jund al-Urdunn in the north. It roughly comprised the regions of Samaria, Judea, and the adjacent Mediterranean coastal plain from Mount Carmel in the north to Gaza in the south.

According to al-Baladhuri, the main towns of Filastin, following its conquest by the Rashidun Caliphate, were, from south to north, Rafah, Gaza, Bayt Jibrin, Yibna, Amwas, Lydda, Jaffa, Nablus, Sebastia, and Caesarea. Under Byzantine rule the port city of Caesarea was the territory’s capital, a natural choice as it eased communications with the capital Constantinople. After the Muslim conquest, the administrative focus shifted to the interior. Amwas was referred to as a qasaba in the early Islamic sources; the term could refer to a central town, but most likely meant a fortified camp in the case of Amwas. It served as the principal military camp of the Muslim troops, where spoils were divided and stipends paid, until it was abandoned by the troops in 639 due to the plague of Amwas. From about 640 Ludd and/or Jerusalem have been determined as the capital or political-religious center of Filastin, according to modern historians.

After the caliph Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik founded the city of Ramla next to Ludd, he designated it the capital, and most of Ludd’s inhabitants were forced to settle there. In the 9th century, during Abbasid rule, Jund Filastin was the most fertile of Syria’s districts, and contained at least twenty mosques, despite its small size.

After the Fatimids conquered the district from the Abbasids, Jerusalem eventually became the capital, and the principal towns were Ascalon, Ramla, Gaza, Arsuf, Caesarea, Jaffa, Jericho, Nablus, Bayt Jibrin, and Amman. The district persisted in some form until the Seljuk invasions and the Crusades of the late 11th century.


At the time of the Arab conquest, the region had been inhabited mainly by Aramaic-speaking Miaphysite Christian peasants. The population of the region did not become predominantly Muslim and Arab in identity until several centuries after the conquest. The principal Arab tribes which inhabited Filastin and formed its army were the Lakhm, Judham, Kinana, Khath’am, Khuza’a, and Azd Sarat.

Mandatory Palestine (1920–1948)

Mandatory Palestine was a geopolitical entity established between 1920 and 1948 in the region of Palestine under the terms of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine.

During the First World War (1914–1918), an Arab uprising against Ottoman rule and the British Empire’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force under General Edmund Allenby drove the Turks out of the Levant during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign. The United Kingdom had agreed in the McMahon–Hussein Correspondence that it would honour Arab independence if they revolted against the Ottomans, but the two sides had different interpretations of this agreement, and in the end, the UK and France divided up the area under the Sykes–Picot Agreement – an act of betrayal in the eyes of the Arabs.

Further complicating the issue was the Balfour Declaration of 1917, promising British support for a Jewish “national home” in Palestine. At the war’s end the British and French set up a joint “Occupied Enemy Territory Administration” in what had been Ottoman Syria. The British achieved legitimacy for their continued control by obtaining a mandate from the League of Nations in June 1922. The formal objective of the League of Nations mandate system was to administer parts of the defunct Ottoman Empire, which had been in control of most of the Middle East since the 16th century, “until such time as they are able to stand alone”.

During the Mandate, the area saw the rise of nationalist movements in both the Jewish and Arab communities. Competing interests of the two populations led to the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine and the 1944 -1948 Jewish insurgency in Mandatory Palestine. After the failure of the Arab population to accept the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, the 1947–1949 Palestine war ended with the territory of Mandatory Palestine divided among the State of Israel, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, which annexed territory on the West Bank of the Jordan River, and the Kingdom of Egypt, which established the “All-Palestine Protectorate” in the Gaza Strip.

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