History of Palestine

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(Redirected from Syria Palaestina)

The History of Palestine is the account of events in Palestine from ancient times to the present. See related articles History of ancient Israel and Judah: Early history for prior history and Occupations of Palestine for historical context.


Historical overview

The term Palestine originates with the Philistines, who inhabited the southern coast of the region in biblical times. The name appears to have been in continuous use from that time to the present. The Philistines were defeated by the Israelites in about 1000 BCE, but the Greek historian Herodotus writing in c. 500 BCE, referred to seemingly the entire eastern coast of the Mediterannean as Palestinian Syria. The Roman historian, Pliny the Elder, writing before the first Jewish revolt also referred to this region as Palestine, though at the time that he wrote none of the official Roman names for regions in this area was "Palestine", and in this sense the name was no longer used. The name Palestine was officially reintroduced by the Romans following the fall of a Jewish revolt led by Bar Kokhba in 132-135 CE in the province of Judea. The Romans adopted the name for the province, possibly in an effort to erase any memories of the Judean rebels they defeated. Similarly, Jerusalem, the region's historic capital, was rebuilt as Aelia Capitolina and turned into pagan polis.

Under Byzantine rule, the region became a center of Christianity, while retaining significant Jewish and Samaritan communities (although the Samaritans were greatly reduced following Julianus ben Sabar's revolt.) After 634, Palestine, under the Arabic name Filastin, became part of the newly established Islamic Caliphate, ruled successibely by the "Rightly Guided" caliphs, the Umayyads, the Abbasids, and the Fatimids. Over the following centuries it acquired a Muslim, Arabic-speaking majority, through conversion, language shift from Aramaic, and immigration. The Crusades, wars launched by European Christians following 1095 to take control of sites holy to Christianity, led to European control of the area for a little over a century, until Saladin reestablished Muslim rule, founding the Ayyubid dynasty. It then passed to Mamluk rule, and became part of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century.

In 1917, the British captured the region from the Ottoman Empire and called it Palestine/Eretz Israel (both had equal status as official names), after the longstanding Roman name for the area, Syria-Palestina and historical Hebrew name Eretz Israel. This came at a time of renewed interest in the country among the European powers, Arab nationalists, and Jewish Zionists, who sought to reestablish their ancient homeland there. Competition between the latter two groups came to a head immediately after World War II, when Zionist claims gained greater urgency after the murder of almost six million Jews in the Holocaust. The Zionists demanded an independent homeland to absorb the Jewish refugees from Europe; the local Palestinian Arab population, today known as just Palestinians, argued that they played no role in the Holocaust, so the refugee problem should not be resolved at their expense. However, the Palestinian Jews were also a factor, especially with the Balfour Declaration, 1917.

On November 29, 1947, the United Nations voted to partition what remained of the British Mandate of Palestine into two states: one Jewish, and one Arab. The proposal was rejected by the Palestinian Arabs and the surrounding Arab states but accepted by the Jews. On May 14, 1948, the Jewish population declared its independence as the state of Israel. Israel was promptly invaded by the armies of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria (for more information, see the article on the 1948 Arab-Israeli War). Large numbers of Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes during the fighting, in what is called in Arabic the Naqba, or "Tragedy", and to this day have not been allowed to return (see Palestinian exodus). Israel managed to maintain its independence and even expand its borders, but a new refugee problem, this one of Palestinian Arabs, was created, and was compounded by Jewish exodus from Arab lands.

What remained of the territories allotted to the Arab state in Palestine was occupied by Jordan (the West Bank) and Egypt (the Gaza Strip) from 1948 to 1967, when Israel occupied those areas in the Six Day War. Since that time, the Palestinians have struggled to assert their own independence, either in all the territories of Palestine or in the West Bank and Gaza Strip particularly. To date, efforts to resolve the conflict have ended in deadlock, and the people of Palestine, Jews and Arabs, are engaged in a bloody conflict.

In current usage, then, the term Palestine describes the geographical area, the geopolitical unit in its colonial boundaries, or, most frequently, the proposed state of the Palestinian people.

The disputes of the last half century in Israel and Palestine have their immediate origins in the Zionist movement of the 19th century in Europe, and the rise of Arab nationalism in the second half of the 20th century, but the roots of the conflict go back millennia because of the religious beliefs related to this land.

Political history of Palestine to 1917

Canaanite and Israelite Palestine

The earliest known people in Palestine were the Canaanites, who came at the time of and may well have been part of a wave of migration of Semitic speaking peoples out of the Arabian Peninsula. Some of these peoples came to be known as the Israelites. Successive waves of migration brought other groups onto the scene. For further discussion on the very early ethnic history of the region, see:

In 722 BCE, the northern Kingdom of Ephraim (commonly referred to as Israel, sometimes as Samaria) was destroyed by the Assyrians, its inhabitants ("the Lost Tribes") believed to have been deported, and replaced by settlers from elsewhere in the Assyrian Empire. Many however fled to their southern Israelite sister kingdom, and many stayed behind; they (mixed with deportees from Mesopotamia) became the Samaritans. The Babylonian Empire under Nebuchadnezzar conquered the (southern) Kingdom of Judah in 597-586 BCE, and deported the middle and upper classes of the Jews to Babylonia, where they flourished. Decades later, the Jews in Babylonia were permitted to return to Israel. However, a large proportion decided to stay in Babylonia for economic reasons. Most regard the collapse of the Israelite kingdoms as the beginning of the Jewish diaspora.

The exiled Jews who returned to their traditional home encountered the Jews that had remained, surrounded by non-Jews. One group of note (that exists up until this day) were the Samaritans, who adhered to most features of the Jewish rite and claimed to be descendants of the Assyrian Jews; they were not recognized as Jews by the returning exiles for various reasons (at least some of which seem to be political). The return of the exiles from Babylon reinforced the Jewish population, which gradually became more dominant and expanded significantly.

Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman Palestine

Missing image
The Roman province of Palestina

In 539 BCE the Babylonians were annexed by the Persian Empire, which held Palestine until the time of Alexander the Great, who conquered Gaza and the surrounding areas in the early 330s BCE. After Alexander's death in 323 BCE, his empire was partitioned, and the competing Ptolemaic and Seleucid Empires occupied various portions of the eastern Mediterranean, including different parts of Palestine. The Jews were divided between the Hellenists who supported the adoption of Greek culture, and those who believed in keeping to the traditions of the past, which resulted in the Maccabean revolt of the 2nd century BCE.

Following the Roman conquest in 63 BCE, the region that later became known as Palestine - first a client kingdom of the Roman Empire, after year 6 CE Roman province Iudaea (Roman province), after year 135 province Syria Palaestina - was in nearly constant revolt (see Jewish-Roman Wars). A number of events with far-reaching consequences took place, including religious schisms, such as Christianity branching of off Judaism.
The Great Jewish Revolt in 66-73 resulted in the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem (70) and the sacking of the entire city in by the Roman army led by Titus Flavius and the estimated death toll of 600,000 to 1,300,000 Jews (see Josephus Flavius).

In 135, the crush of the Bar Kokhba's revolt by Hadrian resulted in 580,000 Jews killed (according to Cassius Dio) and the reestablishment of Jerusalem as the pagan polis Aelia Capitolina, where Jews were forbidden to set a foot. Hundreds of thousands were taken as slaves throughout the Empire.

Over several centuries, the Diaspora grew even further. In addition to the large Jewish community in Babylon, large numbers of Jews settled in Egypt, and in other parts of the Hellenistic world and in the Roman Empire. This migration was primarily driven by economic opportunities, though the situation in Israel also contributed. Israel experienced a large amount of conflict, principally over Hellenistic and then Roman rule.

The frequent conflict contributed to Jewish emigration, both as refugees, through deportation, and by reducing economic opportunities in the region compared to elsewhere. It also led to many deaths among the Jewish population of Palestine, both deaths in battles with the Romans and others, deaths due to massacres, and deaths due to the famine and disease that so often accompany armed conflict.

Palestine from the Byzantines to the Ottomans

Palestine changed hands several more times in the post-Biblical period, becoming at first part of the Byzantine Empire after the division of the Roman Empire into east and west (a fitful process that was not finalized until 395), then an early peaceful transfer to the Second Islamic Caliphate under Umar ibn al-Khattab in 638. From that point until 1948, Palestine was dominated by Islamic influences and without much in the way of political independence, and always under the administration of regional powers. The Umayyad dynasty controlled the Caliphate until they were overthrown by the Abbasids in 750. Over time the monolithic Caliphate fragmented, and the Fatimid Caliphate assumed control of Palestine in the 900s. It was during the aforementioned period of frequent conquests that the Jews became one of many minorities.

In the next century, Seljuk Turks invaded large portions of West Asia, including Asia Minor and Palestine, which was the proximate cause of the Crusades by the Christian European powers. Jerusalem and the surrounding lands, being holy places to Christianity, were the object of these military expeditions. The Christian forces established the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which lasted from 1099 until Saladin reconquered the city in 1187.

The Ayyubid Sultanate, founded by Saladin, controlled the region until 1250, when the Mamluks invaded. The Mamluk Sultanate ultimately became a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire, in the wake of campaigns waged by Selim I in the 16th century.

The Jews and Palestine before 1917

Over time the Jewish population in Palestine declined, due to several causes: Jewish emigration, deaths due to the multiple rebellions against the Romans, the deportation of Jews and the settlement of pagans by the Romans in response to these revolts, and the conversion of some Jews to Christianity (and later Islam). This conversion was driven both by the attractiveness of these religions to some Jews, and the taxation applied to Jews by Christian and then Muslim rulers (see Dhimmi). These special taxes on Jews especially affected agriculture, in which the majority of the Jewish population in Palestine was involved (the Diaspora, by contrast, was primarily urban). As a result, the Jewish population in their original homeland dwindled over the centuries to a tiny percentage, both of the local population and of Jews as a whole. By the end of the first millennium almost all the Jewish population lived in the Diaspora; that is, in the Arab world beyond Palestine, or in Europe.

During this period Israel continued as a constant topic of Jewish thought and liturgy, though its Jewish population was by then minimal -- for many of the Jews of the period "Eretz Israel" was a mythical place of redemption, since few of them ever set foot in it, and those who did found it dramatically different from how they believed it once was.

Most Jews during this period believed that the Jewish people would return to Israel with the coming of the Messiah; some proposed that Jews attempt to return earlier, by their own devices, but until the rise of Zionism in the 19th century they were in a minority.

While up until the end of the 19th century, most Jews did not have aspirations to come to the land of Israel, there were always Jews in it; they settled mainly in the "four sacred cities" (Jerusalem, Safed, Tiberias and Hebron). Jews of European origin lived mostly off donations from off-country, while many Sephardic Jews found themselves a trade. By the end of the 19th century, the Jewish population of Palestine numbered 60,000, about 15% of the land's entire population on both banks of the Jordan river.

Rise of Zionism

Zionism, a political movement seeking to have Jews return to their ancient homeland in Palestine, arose in Europe and Russia in the 19th century, due to the liberation of European Jews from the many legal restrictions placed upon them in Medieval times, and the ideals of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. Due to widespread anti-Semitism Jews were not accepted as part of general society, but by leaving the ghetto they were no longer accepted by the Jewish community either. Zionism was also heavily influenced by the rise of nationalism, a major trend in 19th-century European politics. Zionists held that an independent Jewish homeland was necessary to ensure Jewish survival as a nation and to protect Jews from anti-Semitism. They began to settle in Palestine, though initially the numbers were small. The British government, who after World War I administered Palestine under a League of Nations mandate, supported this aspiration of the Zionists by the Balfour Declaration in 1917.

The entries on Zionism and History of Israel provide more information on this topic.

History of boundaries

The 5th century B.C. Greek historian Herodotus, and later Ptolemy and Pliny, referred to the eastern coast of the Mediterranean as "Syria Palaestina", and it is generally accepted that the region they referred to extended further inland than the domain of the Philistines.

During the Biblical Period, it was the site of the ancient Canaan and the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and later of the independent Jewish kingdom of Judea.

In A.D. 135, the Roman emperor Hadrian changed the name of the province from Syria Judea to Syria Palaestina, which is the Latin version of the Greek name, and it became an administrative political unit within the Roman Empire. Approximate A.D. 390 Palaestina was further organised into three units: First, Second, and Third Palaestina. Palastina Prima consisted of Judea, Samaria, the coast, and Peraea which the governor residing in Caesarea Maritima. 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 the usual residence of the governor. Palestina Tertia was also known as Palaestina Salutaris. This reorganization reduced Arabia to the northern Jordan east of Peraea. Roman administration of Palestine ended temporarily during the Persian occupation of 614-28, then permanently after the Arabs conquered the region beginning in 635.

The new Arab rulers divided the province of ash-Sham (Syria) into five districts, of which Palestine (in its modern sense) comprised two. Jund Filastin was a region extending from the Sinai to south of the plain of Acre. At times it reached down into the Sinai. Major towns included Rafah, Caesarea, Gaza, Jaffa, Nablus, Jerico, Ramla and Jerusalem. Initially Ludd (Lydda) was the capital, but in 717 it was moved to the new city of ar-Ramlah (Ramla). Much later, it was moved to Jerusalem. Jund al-Urdunn was a region to the north and east of Filastin. Major towns included Tiberias, Legio, Acre, Jerico, Beisan and Tyre. The capital was at Tiberias. Various political upheavals several times led to readjustments of the boundaries. After the 10th century, the division into Junds began to break down and the establishment of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem completed that process.

After Muslim control over Palestine was reestablished in the 12th and 13th centuries, the division into districts was reinstated, with boundaries that were frequently rewritten. Around the end of the 13th century, Palestine comprised several of nine "kingdoms" of Syria, namely the Kingdoms of Gaza (including Ascalon and Hebron), Karak (including Jaffa and Legio), Safad (including Safad, Acre, Sidon and Tyre) and parts of the Kingdom of Damascus (sometimes extending as far south as Jerusalem). By the middle of the 14th century, Syria had again been divided into five districts, of which Filastin included Jerusalem (its capital), Ramla, Ascalon, Hebron and Nablus, while Hauran included Tiberias (its capital).

At the beginning of the 15th century, Palestine was captured by the Ottoman Turks, who remained in control until World War I. After the Ottoman conquest, the name "Palestine" disappeared as the official name of an administrative district but remained in popular and semi-official use. Many examples of its usage in the 16th and 17th centuries have survived. During the 19th century, the "Ottoman Government employed the term Arz-i Filistin (the 'Land of Palestine') in official correspondence, meaning for all intents and purposes the area to the west of the River Jordan which became 'Palestine' under the British in 1922" (Mandel). Amongst the educated Arab public, Filastin was a common concept, referring either to the whole of Palestine or to the Jerusalem sanjaq alone (Porath).

After World War I, the League of Nations created the Mandate of Palestine under British control, with the objective to grant the Jews a homeland in Palestine based on the Balfour Declaration. According to the result of negotiations with France, the northern boundary was set at the position of the present northern border of Israel (excluding the Golan Heights) and the large part of the Negev now in Israel was included. To the east of the Jordan River, the Mandate included a large region approximately co-terminous with modern-day Jordan. However, even before the Mandate came into legal effect in 1922 (text), British terminology applied the word Palestine to the part west of the Jordan River and Trans-Jordan (or Transjordania) to the part east of the Jordan River. This terminology was applied consistently during the Mandate period and it is difficult to find any official documents that use any name other than "Palestine and Trans-Jordan" when referring to the whole area of the Mandate. Nevertheless, the fact that "Palestine" was once considered to include lands on the east side of the Jordan River continues even today to have significance in political discourse.

Since the end of the British Mandate in 1948, the extent of "Palestine" has become confused due to competing and contradictory political motivations. Palestinian Arabs refused to negotiate any partition of the land, most notably the 1937 Peel Commission partition plan and the 1947 UN Partition Plan and on May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed.

In the course of 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Israel captured additional 26% of the Mandate territory west of the Jordan river and annexed it to the new state. Jordan captured about 21% of the Mandate territory (which became known as the West Bank), including parts of Jerusalem that included the old city and eastern environments and separated the city into West and East Jerusalem. The Gaza Strip was captured by Egypt.

In September 1948, the Egypt-backed All-Palestine Government declared a state in the whole of Palestine (with the British meaning as described above and thereby theoretically displacing Israel), but this was never more than a state on paper. A week later, the Jordan-backed rival First Palestinian Congress convened in Amman and denounced the Gaza "government".

For several decades there has been an ongoing international political move to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Various declarations such as the 1988 proclamation of a State of Palestine by the PLO referred to a country called Palestine, defining its borders with differing degrees of clarity. Most recently, the Palestine draft constitution refers to borders based on the West Bank and Gaza Strip prior to 1967 Six-Day War. This so-called Green Line follows the 1949 cease-fire line; the permanent borders are yet to be negotiated.

Pre-biblical history

Around 1200 BC the Hittite empire is conquered by allied tribes from the north. The northern, coastal Canaanites (called the Phoenicians by the Greeks) are temporarily displaced, but return when the invading tribes show no inclination to settle. The Egyptians called the horde that swept across Asia Minor and the Mediterranean the Sea Peoples. At the head of this alliance of Sea Peoples were the Philistines, which possibly originated on the island of Crete. The region in which they settled is known as Philistia.

In the Bible

See the article on the history of ancient Israel and Judah, Torah and Tanakh.

The Roman conquest

The Romans ruled Judea through local client kings from 63 BC to 66 CE. In 70 CE the Roman Empire put down an uprising (Great Jewish Revolt) in the kingdom and destroyed the Temple. A second uprising, 132-135 (Bar Kokhba's revolt), was similarly suppressed, the area was renamed from Judea as the Roman province of Palestina, and its capital, Jerusalem, was dedicated to Jupiter and renamed Aelia Capitolina. After these two bloody uprisings (and other Jewish-led uprisings in other parts of the Mediterranean) in a span of seventy years, Jews were expelled from Jerusalem and its surrounding districts. The Jewish population in the north of Palestine remained large for several centuries.

The rise of Islam

Missing image
A map of Palestine as described by the medieval Arab geographers, with the junds of Jordan and Filistin highlighted in grey

With the rise of Islam in the 600s AD came the subsequent Arab military conquest into the Byzantine Empire and in doing so gaining control of much of that region, including Palestine. From that point on the Muslim religion spread throughout that area and found its place in Palestine, alongside the Abrahamic religions of Judaism and Christianity.

Crusader Kingdom

Palestine was the site of the Crusaders' Kingdom of Jerusalem during the 11th century.

The Ottoman period

In 1516 the Ottoman Turks occupied Palestine. The country became part of the Ottoman Empire. Constantinople appointed local governors. Public works were rebuilt in Jerusalem by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1537. Turkish rule lasted until World War I.

The British Mandate period

main article: British Mandate of Palestine

The region today

Today this area is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Arabs refer to this area as Palestine, (in Arabic: Filastin). Jews refer to this area as Eretz Yisrael (Hebrew: "the land of Israel".)

See also

ar:تاريخ فلسطين fr:Histoire de la Palestine


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