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Past to Present

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A Palestinian woman waits at a checkpoint in Hebron that leads to the Israeli controlled area of the street /Photo New York Times

The earliest archaeological discoveries recorded in what is known as the historic Palestine date back between 7500 and 3100 BC in Jabal Al-Qafra at the south of Nazareth and Safh Al-raml near Tiberias. The discoveries confirmed that the region witnessed a kind of simple life. The most important thing in that era was the establishment of Jericho, which is considered the oldest town in history.

Old times

The migration of the Canaanites was the first important human migration to historical Palestine at the beginning of the third millennium BC. The region was called the land of Canaan until the arrival of the Cretan tribes in 1200 BC.

In the third millennium BC, Abraham arrived from Ur in Iraq and gave birth to Isaac, the father of Jacob who is also called Israel and to whom the Israelites belong.

This land witnessed a series of invasions carried out by the Cretan tribes that settled in the coasts of Jaffa and Gaza. The land was named Palestine after the name of the invading Cretan tribe that merged with the Canaanites. Over time, the Canaanite component overcame the entire population who became Arab Canaanites.

David was able to establish a kingdom for the Israelites in Jerusalem. Due to the invasions of Assyrians and Chaldeans, the Jews’ state disappeared in Palestine after its continuation of four centuries (1000 – 586 BC). This era was riddled with disputes, wars, and turmoil.

Persians invaded Palestine in 539 BC and their dominance continued for two centuries. In 332 BC, Alexander the Great subdued Palestine to the Greek Empire. Palestine remained under the rule of the divided Greek empire after the death of Alexander until 198 BC.

Since then, Palestine witnessed a state of unrest, with many countries on the ground, such as the Maccabees and the Arab Nabateans in 90 BC. Palestine remained subordinate to the Nabatean capital Petra until the Romans took control of it.

The Romans made Palestine first a vassal of Rome, and then of Byzantium until the mid-seventh century AD, when Arab Muslims conquered it. During the Roman period, Palestine witnessed the birth of Jesus Christ.

Arabs and Middle Ages

In 634, Yazid bin Abi Sufyan and his companions entered Gaza. That same year, Amr bin Al-Aas defeated the Romans at the Battle of Ajnadayn and took control of Beisan “Beit She’an”, Lod and Jaffa. Under the instructions of Caliph Umar ibn Al-Khattab, Khalid bin Al-Walid united the Muslim armies into one army to fight the Yarmouk battle which is a defining moment in the history of Palestine. At that point, Arab tribes flowed from Syria, Hijaz, Najd, and Yemen to Palestine. Most of Palestine’s inhabitants converted to Islam. Consequently, Arabic became the dominant language there.

During the Umayyad era (661-750), Palestine was a subordinate of Damascus and was ruled by Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik. One of the most important monuments of that period is the Dome of the Rock, which was built by Abdul Malik bin Marwan. Between 750 and 1258, Palestine became a part of the Abbasid state. During that era, Arabization increased. New generations arose as a result of intermarriage between Arab “conquerors” and the people of the country.

Between 816 and 913, the Tulunids managed to control Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and Palestine. One of the famous monuments of that period is the fortification of Acre’s port. The fourth century AH (913-1010 AD) is considered a century of political turmoil. Carmatians from the Gulf region raided the Levant and conquered Palestine; inflicting so much destruction. After that, Palestine was ruled by the Ikhshidis, the Seljuks, and the Fatimids.

At the end of the 11th century AD, the crusaders began their military campaigns against Palestine. These campaigns continued for two centuries during which the crusaders managed to extend their influence to most Palestinian cities, not to mention entering Jerusalem in 1099. Nur al-Din Zangi recaptured some cities. Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi continued obtaining victories in the Battle of Hattin. Salah al-Din restored Jerusalem in 1187.

During the Mamluk rule, the battle of Ain Jalut took place near Nazareth in 1259. This battle is one of the most important and well-known Islamic battles. In 1516, the Ottomans triumphed over the Mamluks in the battle of Marj Dabiq near Aleppo and entered Palestine. Since then, Palestine came under the Ottoman rule for four centuries.

France, led by Napoleon, tried to invade Palestine after the occupation of Egypt. However, the campaign was defeated after the siege of Acre.

From the British Mandate to the conflict with Israel

In 1838, Muhammad Ali, the Wali of Egypt, decided to expand his areas of influence by annexing the Levant. His son Ibrahim Pasha succeeded in conquering Al-Arish, Gaza, Jaffa, then Nablus and Jerusalem. However, the rule of Muhammad Ali did not last for more than ten years. Palestine was regained by the Ottomans.

After the British forces’ victory over Turkey in the First World War, Palestine entered the British Mandate period in 1917. This mandate lasted until May 1948 – the date of establishing the State of Israel in accordance with the U.N partition resolution No. 181 issued in November 1947. This led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their lands in what was known as the “Nakba of Palestine”.

Since then, Palestinians have been waging a bitter struggle to establish their independent state and implement international legitimacy decisions. This struggle included battles, wars, popular uprisings and peace negotiations. This included the 1948 war that led to the massive displacement of Palestinians; the Six Day War of 1967 that resulted in the annexation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights; the Battle of Karama in 1968; the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982; the first intifada and the Oslo Peace Accord in 1993.

The formation of the Palestinian state still faces major challenges represented in the Israeli settlements, the American recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the existing political stalemate between the Fatah and Hamas.

Further Reading

The region was first conquered by Arabs at the beginning of the 7th century. After the second caliph (successor of the Prophet Muhammad), Umar ibn al-Khattab, had defeated the Byzantines in 636 in the Battle of Yarmouk, his armies...
From the end of the 11th century, Palestine was in the clutches of crusaders from Western Europe. These were commanded by noblemen, who were driven both by religious motives as well as a drive for territorial expansion and commerc...
Mamluk rule was brought to an end in 1516 by yet another group of conquerors from the east, the Ottoman Turks, who had converted to Islam. For the following four centuries (with a brief interlude in the first half of the 19th cent...
In 1920, the British Mandate of Palestine thus came into existence, encompassing the territory of the future State of Israel and Palestine. The remainder of Bilad al-Sham was broken up into the mandate territories of Lebanon (Fran...
A century on, the importance of the Balfour Declaration and the policies that accompanied it cannot be overstated. British rule of Palestine enabled massive Zionist immigration until the late 1930s. This laid the foundations for t...
The declaration of the State of Israel on 15 May 1948 meant disaster for the Palestinians. In the previous months, a detailed campaign of ethnic cleansing had already been set into motion – Plan Dalet – which was meant to dras...
The Jordanian rulers annexed the West Bank for a period of two years. As Transjordan now encompassed both the East and the West Bank, together with the annexation the name Transjordan was transformed into the (Hashemite Arab) King...
The Gaza Strip was also abruptly cut off from its historic hinterland in 1948. The region fell under Egyptian military administration until 1967. Again, this was a development with dramatic social and economic implications.
At the end of the 1950s, a new leadership announced itself in the organization of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (Fatah). The leader of the movement was a young engineer, Yasir (Yasser) Arafat. Other Palestinian resistanc...
The June War of 1967, which lasted for six days, is an example of an escalation of the situation; an escalation which various Arab rulers, not the Palestinians, were held responsible. Israel seized the opportunity to start a war w...

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