Palestine is the region between the Mediterranean Sea and the banks of the Jordan River, plus various adjoining lands to the east and south. Many different definitions of the region have been used in the past three millennia.
According to the Bible, nearly 4,000 years ago, patriarch Abraham traveled with his family from the Chaldean city of Ur - in present-day Iraq - to the land of Canaan - essentially modern-day Palestine. According to the Bible, Palestine was already populated by it's native people. The Book of Genesis says God then spoke to Abraham in Canaan, saying: "To your offspring, I will give this land". Both Arabs and Jews claim to be the descendants of Abraham.
Egyptian writings refer to the region as R-h-n-u (pronounced Rechenu). Several names for the region are found in the Bible: Eretz Yisrael "Land of Israel", Eretz Ha-Ivrim "land of the Hebrews", "land flowing with milk and honey", "land that God swore to your fathers to assign to you", "Holy Land", and "land of the Lord". The portion of the land lying west of the Jordan was also called "land of Canaan" during the period in which it fell under the control of Egyptian vassals traditionally descended from Canaan the son of Ham. After the division of the Jewish kingdom into two the southern part was called "Judah" and the northern part was called "Israel".
The name "Palestine" comes from the Philistine people. The Philistines (whose name is understood to mean "invaders" in Hebrew) occupied the southern coast of the region disappearing as a distinct group by the Assyrian period. What is possibly the earliest mention of them occurs in Egyptian texts which record a people called the Peleset, one of the Sea Peoples who invaded Egypt in Ramesses III's reign.
The Hebrew name is used in the Bible to denote the coastal region inhabited by the Philistines.
The boundaries of the area he referred to are not explicitly stated but Josephus used the name only for Philistia. The term was also used by Ptolemy.
In Latin, Pliny wrote of a region of Syria that was "formerly called Palaestina" when describing the eastern coast of the Mediterranean.
Humans have lived in Palestine since early ancient ages. There are ruins which trace back to the ancient Stone Age (500,000-14,000 BC) and the middle Stone Age (14,000-8000 BC). This age in Palestine is called Al-Natoofieh civilization, attributed to Al-Natoof caves, north of Jerusalem. Al-Natoof origin is not yet known. Their civilization was concentrated on the coast. They lived in caves such as those found on Al-Karmel Mountain.
In the Modern Stone Age (8000-4500 BC) the cave life of man in Palestine was changed to settlements. He changed from food collector to food producer. The first evidence supporting settlement life appeared in Jericho, which is the most ancient city in the world. It was established in 8000 BC.
The Brass Stone Age ran from 4500 BC to 3300 BC. A lot of archaeological civilization locations that trace back to that era were discovered in the Beer Sheba region, between the Hebron mountains and the Dead Sea and along the sea coast of Al-Khudiera.
The beginning of the third millennium BC was characterized with the emergence of the old empires in the east accompanied by the discovery of writing and the start of writing history. From here, historical ages started in Palestine.
Palestine has an extremely diverse terrain that falls generally into four parallel zones. From west to east they are the coastal plain; the hills and mountains of Galilee, Samaria, and Judea; the valley of the Jordan River; and the eastern plateau. In the extreme south lies the Negev, a rugged desert area. Elevations range from 408 m (1,340 ft) below sea level on the shores of the Dead Sea, the lowest point on the surface of the earth, to 1020 m (3347 ft) atop Mount Hebron.
The region has several fertile areas, which constitute its principal natural resource. Most notable of these are the Plain of Sharon, along the northern part of the Mediterranean coast, and the Plain of Esdraelon (or Jezreel), a valley north of the hills of Samaria. The water supply of the region, however, is not abundant, with virtually all of the modest annual rainfall coming in the winter months. The Jordan River, the region's only major stream, flows south through the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias), the region's only large freshwater lake, to the intensely saline Dead Sea.
The history of Palestine is one of continual warfare. It is also known as the Holy Land, the Promised Land, Canaan and the Land of Israel.
Early Hebrew history is outlined in the first five books of the Old testament and attributed to Moses.
Abraham, from Ur, is regarded as the traditional founder of the Hebrews. He led his people through Palestine into the Nile delta, an area known as the Land of Goshen. Abraham (peace be upon him), was the first of the Prophets whom we know lived and died in Palestine. He is the father of all Prophets, as many prophets descended from his offspring, including Prophets Isaac, Jacob, Yousef, Isma'il and Mohammed (peace be upon them). He was born in Orr in Iraq and lived there for a period of time. He destroyed idols, called for monotheism and faced Al-Namroud with evidence. They tried to burn him at the stake as a punishment for destroying the idols, but God Almighty made it cool and a means of safety for him. Abraham migrated with his nephew Lut for the sake of God.
Abraham, the Father of the Prophets, was one of the firm-willed prophets. He had a missionary role in calling for the message of monotheism in Palestine. He used to establish mosques and prayer niches for the worship of God everywhere he used to visit. It seems that he did not have trouble or distress with the people of Palestine, and he was not forced to leave it because of his religion and message. He remained settled in Palestine with full freedom of movement until his death.
The Canaanites were the earliest known inhabitants of Palestine. During the 3rd millennium BC they became urbanized and lived in city-states, one of which was Jericho. They developed an alphabet from which other writing systems were derived; their religion was a major influence on the beliefs and practices of Judaism, and thus on Christianity and Islam.
Palestine's location - at the center of routes linking three continents - made it the meeting place for religious and cultural influences from Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Asia Minor. It was also the natural battleground for the great powers of the region and subject to domination by adjacent empires, beginning with Egypt in the 3rd millennium BC.
Egyptian hegemony and Canaanite autonomy were constantly challenged during the 2nd millennium BC by such ethnically diverse invaders as the Amorites, Hittites, and Hurrians. These invaders, however, were defeated by the Egyptians and absorbed by the Canaanites, who at that time may have numbered about 200,000. As Egyptian power began to weaken after the 14th century BC, new invaders appeared: the Hebrews, a group of Semitic tribes from Mesopotamia, and the Philistines (after whom the country was later named), an Aegean people of Indo-European stock.
Hebrew tribes probably immigrated to the area centuries before Moses led his people out of serfdom in Egypt (1270? BC), and Joshua conquered parts of Palestine (1230? BC). The conquerors settled in the hill country, but they were unable to conquer all of Palestine.
The Israelites, a confederation of Hebrew tribes, finally defeated the Canaanites about 1125 BC but found the struggle with the Philistines more difficult. The Philistines had established an independent state on the southern coast of Palestine and controlled a number of towns to the north and east. Superior in military organization and using iron weapons, they severely defeated the Israelites about 1050 BC. The Philistine threat forced the Israelites to unite and establish a monarchy. David, Israel's great king, finally defeated the Philistines shortly after 1000 BC, and they eventually assimilated with the Canaanites.
The unity of Israel and the feebleness of adjacent empires enabled David to establish a large independent state, with its capital at Jerusalem. Under David's son and successor, Solomon, Israel enjoyed peace and prosperity, but at his death in 922 BC the kingdom was divided into Israel in the north and Judah in the south. When nearby empires resumed their expansion, the divided Israelites could no longer maintain their independence. Israel fell to Assyria in 722 and 721 BC, and Judah was conquered in 586 BC by Babylonia, which destroyed Jerusalem and exiled most of the Jews living there.
The exiled Jews were allowed to retain their national and religious identity; some of their best theological writings and many historical books of the Old Testament were written during their exile. At the same time they did not forget the land of Israel. When Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered Babylonia in 539 BC he permitted them to return to Judea, a district of Palestine. Under Persian rule the Jews were allowed considerable autonomy. They rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and codified the Mosaic law, the Torah, which became the code of social life and religious observance. The Jews believed they were bound to a universal God, Yahweh, by a covenant; indeed, their concept of one ethical God is perhaps Judaism's greatest contribution to world civilization.
Persian domination of Palestine was replaced by Greek rule when Alexander the Great of Macedonia took the region in 333 BC. Alexander's successors, the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucids of Syria, continued to rule the country. The Seleucids tried to impose Hellenistic (Greek) culture and religion on the population. In the 2nd century BC, however, the Jews revolted under the Maccabees and set up an independent state (141-63 BC) until Pompey the Great conquered Palestine for Rome and made it a province ruled by Jewish kings. It was during the rule (37-4 BC) of King Herod the Great that Jesus was born.
Two more Jewish revolts erupted and were suppressed - in AD 66 to 73 and 132 to 135. After the second one, numerous Jews were killed, many were sold into slavery, and the rest were not allowed to visit Jerusalem. Judea was renamed Syria Palaistina.
Palestine received special attention when the Roman emperor Constantine the Great legalized Christianity in AD 313. His mother, Helena, visited Jerusalem, and Palestine, as the Holy Land, became a focus of Christian pilgrimage. A golden age of prosperity, security, and culture followed. Most of the population became Hellenized and Christianized. Byzantine (Roman) rule was interrupted, however, by a brief Persian occupation (614-629) and ended altogether when Muslim Arab armies invaded Palestine and captured Jerusalem in AD 638.
The Arab conquest began 1300 years of Muslim presence in what then became known as Filastin. Palestine was holy to Muslims because the Prophet Muhammad had designated Jerusalem as the first qibla (the direction Muslims face when praying) and because he was believed to have ascended on a night journey to heaven from the area of Solomon's temple, where the Dome of the Rock was later built. Jerusalem became the third holiest city of Islam.
The Muslim rulers did not force their religion on the Palestinians, and more than a century passed before the majority converted to Islam. The remaining Christians and Jews were considered "People of the Book." They were allowed autonomous control in their communities and guaranteed security and freedom of worship. Such tolerance (with few exceptions) was rare in the history of religion. Most Palestinians also adopted Arabic and Islamic culture. Palestine benefited from the empire's trade and from its religious significance during the first Muslim dynasty, the Umayyads of Damascus.
When power shifted to Baghdad with the Abbasids in 750, Palestine became neglected. It suffered unrest and successive domination by Seljuks, Fatimids, and European Crusaders (seeŠ Caliphate; Crusades). It shared, however, in the glory of Muslim civilization, when the Muslim world enjoyed a golden age of science, art, philosophy, and literature. Muslims preserved Greek learning and broke new ground in several fields, all of which later contributed to the Renaissance in Europe. Like the rest of the empire, however, Palestine under the Mamluks gradually stagnated and declined.
The Ottoman Turks of Asia Minor defeated the Mamluks in 1517 and, with few interruptions, ruled Palestine until the winter of 1917 and 1918. The country was divided into several districts (sanjaks), such as that of Jerusalem. The administration of the districts was placed largely in the hands of Arabized Palestinians, who were descendants of the Canaanites and successive settlers. The Christian and Jewish communities, however, were allowed a large measure of autonomy. Palestine shared in the glory of the Ottoman Empire during the 16th century, but declined again when the empire began to decline in the 17th century.
The decline of Palestine - in trade, agriculture, and population - continued until the 19th century. At that time the search by European powers for raw materials and markets, as well as their strategic interests, brought them to the Middle East, stimulating economic and social development. Between 1831 and 1840, Muhammad Ali, the modernizing viceroy of Egypt, expanded his rule to Palestine. His policies modified the feudal order, increased agriculture, and improved education. The Ottoman Empire reasserted its authority in 1840, instituting its own reforms. German settlers and Jewish immigrants in the 1880s brought modern machinery and badly needed capital.
The rise of European nationalism in the 19th century, and especially the intensification of anti-Semitism during the 1880s, encouraged European Jews to seek haven in their promised land, Palestine. Theodor Herzl, author of The Jewish State (1896; translated 1896), founded the World Zionist Organization in 1897 to solve Europe's Jewish problem. As a result, Jewish immigration to Palestine greatly increased.
In 1880, Arab Palestinians constituted about 95 percent of the total population of 450,000. Nevertheless, Jewish immigration, land purchase, and claims were reacted to with alarm by some Palestinian leaders, who then became adamantly opposed to Zionism.
Aided by the Arabs, the British captured Palestine from the Ottoman Turks in 1917 and 1918. The Arabs revolted against the Turks because the British had promised them, in correspondence (1915-1916) with Husein ibn Ali of Mecca, the independence of their countries after the war. Britain, however, also made other, conflicting commitments. Thus, in the secret Sykes-Picot agreement with France and Russia (1916), it promised to divide and rule the region with its allies. In a third agreement, the Balfour Declaration of 1917, Britain promised the Jews, whose help it needed in the war effort, a Jewish ˝national homeţ in Palestine. This promise was subsequently incorporated in the mandate conferred on Britain by the League of Nations in 1922.
During their mandate (1922-1948) the British found their contradictory promises to the Jewish and Palestinian communities difficult to reconcile. The Zionists envisaged large-scale Jewish immigration, and some spoke of a Jewish state constituting all of Palestine. The Palestinians, however, rejected Britain's right to promise their country to a third party and feared dispossession by the Zionists; anti-Zionist attacks occurred in Jerusalem (1920) and Jaffa (1921). A 1922 statement of British policy denied Zionist claims to all of Palestine and limited Jewish immigration, but reaffirmed support for a Jewish national home. The British proposed establishing a legislative council, but Palestinians rejected this council as discriminatory.
After 1928, when Jewish immigration increased somewhat, British policy on the subject seesawed under conflicting Arab-Jewish pressures. Immigration rose sharply after the installation (1933) of the Nazi regime in Germany; in 1935 nearly 62,000 Jews entered Palestine. Fear of Jewish domination was the principal cause of the Arab revolt that broke out in 1936 and continued intermittently until 1939. By that time Britain had again restricted Jewish immigration and purchases of land.
The struggle for Palestine, which abated during World War II, resumed in 1945. The horrors of the Holocaust produced world sympathy for European Jewry and for Zionism, and although Britain still refused to admit 100,000 Jewish survivors to Palestine, many survivors of the Nazi death camps found their way there illegally. Various plans for solving the Palestine problem were rejected by one party or the other. Britain finally declared the mandate unworkable and turned the problem over to the United Nations in April 1947. The Jews and the Palestinians prepared for a showdown.
Although the Palestinians outnumbered the Jews (1,300,000 to 600,000), the latter were better prepared. They had a semiautonomous government, led by David Ben-Gurion, and their military, the Haganah, was well trained and experienced. The Palestinians, on the other hand, had never recovered from the Arab revolt, and most of their leaders were in exile. The Mufti of Jerusalem, their principal spokesman, refused to accept Jewish statehood. When the UN proposed partition in November 1947, he rejected the plan while the Jews accepted it. In the military struggle that followed, the Palestinians were defeated. Terrorism was used on both sides.
The state of Israel was established on May 14, 1948. Five Arab armies, coming to the aid of the Palestinians, immediately attacked it. Israeli forces defeated the Arab armies, and Israel enlarged its territory. Jordan took the West Bank of the Jordan River, and Egypt took the Gaza Strip.
The war produced 780,000 Palestinian refugees. About half probably left out of fear and panic, while the rest were forced out to make room for Jewish immigrants from Europe and from the Arab world. The disinherited Palestinians spread throughout the neighboring countries, where they have maintained their Palestinian national identity and the desire to return to their homeland. In 1967, during the Six-Day War between Israel and neighboring Arab countries, Israel captured the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as well as other areas.
In 1993, after decades of violent conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, leaders from each side agreed to the signing of an historic peace accord. Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin met in the United States on September 13, 1993, to witness the signing of the agreement. The plan called for limited Palestinian self-rule in Israeli-occupied territories, beginning with the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho.
Palestinian administration of these areas began in 1994. In September 1995 the PLO and Israel signed a second peace accord, expanding limited Palestinian self-rule to almost all Palestinian towns and refugee camps in the West Bank. Under the agreements, Israel maintains the right to send armed forces into Palestinian areas and controls the areas between Palestinian enclaves.
Mariam Shahin, Palestine, a Guide, Interlink Books 2005
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