History of the Holy Land
In the History of the Holy Land the area of the southern Levant, which lies in modern Israel, Jordan, and Palestine, is probably the most important region of its size of our planet. Barely the area of the Netherlands (or slightly larger than the U.S state of Maryland), this region has remained at the center of the world’s attention ever since human civilizations emerged.
Its importance is not only due to the historic passage provided between Africa and Asia but also because countless spiritual movements and figures emerged from this piece of land and ascended to the world stage.
Due to its enormous significance for the largest religious group in the world, the Abrahamic Religions, it has commonly been known as the Holy Land for millennia. Historically, it has also been known as either Israel or Palestine or both, depending on the period.
There is evidence of large-scale human habitation of southern Levant from tens of thousands of years ago. The first known civilization in the region, however, is the Natufian civilization, dating back to 9,000 B.C.
The Natufians were primarily hunters and lived in caves but also planted grain on small scale. They also marked the start of widespread pottery production in the region.
Gradually, people living in the region underwent the Agricultural Revolution, along with most of the world. Towns started emerging in the region as far back as 7,000 B.C, but they were small and presumably independent entities, as their external influence is limited.
The first large-scale civilization encompassing the Holy Land emerged with the immigration of Ghassulian peoples in the fourth millennium B.C. Their place of origin is unknown, but they brought advanced technologies to the area, particularly Copper metallurgy. Presumably, this copper was imported from the Sinai Peninsula through a small trade network.
In this period also, however, there is no evidence of any unified political entity dominating the region. The Ghassulians faced a steady decline in the late-fourth Millennium B.C and became integrated into the urban settlements along with recent migrants from the north.
Most of the major towns of the biblical era were settled during this period. The inhabitants, known as the Canaanites, would gradually develop into the Semitic peoples of the known historical era, including Arabs, Aramaeans, and Jews.
The region, however, was never unified and continued to see turmoil throughout the third millennium B.C. Urbanization had all but ended in most of the region by the twenty-third century B.C. when most of the population was nomadic and divided into several tribal alliances.
The Bible confirms this lifestyle for the Amorites during the early biblical period in the Book of Joshua. The Canaanites, who lived near the coast and north of the Negev Desert, maintained their urban culture during the period but dwindled in population in comparison to the nomadic tribes.
By the beginning of the second millennium B.C, Palestine once again became increasingly urbanized, thanks to the expansion of agriculture and trade with Egypt and Mesopotamia.
In the seventeenth century B.C, Palestine and Egypt were occupied by the Hyksos, a Semitic people including, among others, the Habiru, the possible ancestors of the late Biblical Hebrews. They were in turn defeated by the Egyptian king Ahmose I, who founded the New Kingdom.
Presumably, many of the defeated Hyksos were enslaved in large numbers in Egypt, until they migrated to Palestine with Moses about a hundred years later (c. 1450). Archaeological and written records confirm that Palestine remained under the hegemony of Egypt until the thirteenth century B.C, after which it largely remained a cluster of poorly-connected urban and nomadic settlements with no central authority.
Many people refer to Abraham in the Bible as the history of Abraham however the story of Abraham goes further than just the bible. His story actually begins around 2,000 B.C. An immigrant, Abraham was ordered to settle in northern Palestine by God, Who promised his progeny would inherit the promised land.
Abraham lived in the region along with his wife Sarah and nephew Lot. Abraham once traveled to Egypt to purchase supplies during a famine, where the Pharaoh famously abducted his wife and then returned her after receiving a curse.
Sterile until the age of 85, Abraham was miraculously blessed with children by God at that very ripe age, first from a slave named Hagar and then from Sarah.
Abraham separated with Lot during this period, who went on to settle in the Jordanian town of Sodom. There, he was captured in combat during a rebellion.
By this time, Abraham had developed considerable political influence in his area of Mamre, from where he assembled an army and liberated Lot in the Battle of Siddim.
Sometime after this event, the malicious inhabitants of Sodom were punished by God with the destruction of their town, but Lot and his family were rescued by angels for their virtuous conduct.
The offspring of Abraham flourished in the Holy Land, until the time of the Seven-Year famine. At that time, Jacob (named Israel by God), grandson of Abraham, was an old man with ten sons, one of whom, Joseph, had been sold by his brothers into slavery in his childhood.
Having ended up in Egypt, Joseph had gained a powerful government office there. When the famine struck, Egypt was the least affected country of the Middle East. Therefore, Jacob sent his remaining sons to Egypt to buy grain.
Being treated incredibly generously by Joseph, the whole family of Jacob moved to Egypt at his invitation. Jacob, however, requested to be buried in his ancestral land in Palestine after his demise. The wish was carried out with great ceremony, but the family did return to Egypt and settled there for the time being.
The great privilege which the family of Israel initially enjoyed in Egypt did not last forever. Sometime after Joseph passed away, the Israelites became an oppressed, enslaved group in a Coptic-majority country. Their numbers had grown exponentially, one of the factors which led to their persecution. In the end, one Pharaoh ordered all male Israelite children to be killed on birth, a genocide intended to terminate the very existence of this Semitic group once and for all.
Very few boys survived this genocide, including one named Moses. Moses was raised by the family of the Pharaoh. In his youth, Moses accidentally killed an Egyptian man and fled to Midian, where he lived until he was ordered by God to struggle for the freedom of Israelites as a prophet.
Moses led the peaceful struggle along with his brother, Aaron, which included several dialogues with the Pharaoh. Aided by several miracles, Moses was finally able to negotiate a complete departure of the Israelites from Egypt.
The Pharaoh eventually broke his promise and pursued them, trying to cross where the Red Sea had miraculously allowed the Israelites a path. The Pharaoh sank along with much of his army in the attempt.
After arriving in Asia, the Israelites lived in the Sinai desert for forty years, being fed by God from the sky without labour. After the demise of Moses, however, the Israelites, led by Joshua, went on to conquer a large portion of the Holy Land from local Canaanites, an area which they now named Israel after their ancestor Jacob.
Archaeology evidence confirms the rough date range of the emergence of Israelites by the Bible but is interpreted by some archaeologists to suggest that they emerged from the local Canaanite culture, rather than being a migrant group arriving from Egypt.
The First King of Israel
Around the late-eleventh century B.C, Israel became a unified kingdom under God’s direct order, communicated through Prophet Samuel. Saul was appointed as the first King of Israel and went on to fight several campaigns against the polytheist inhabitants of the region, Canaanite groups such as the Philistines, after whom the Holy Land would later be named Palestine by the Assyrians, Greeks, Romans and Arabs.
David, a young hero in the army of Saul, became his successor and it was under him that the whole of Holy Land was united under Israeli rule. The Kingdom reached the peak of its prosperity under David’s son, Solomon, who founded the first Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.
After Solomon, however, it split into two parts, the northern and southern kingdoms. The southern one is commonly known as the Kingdom of Judah and was based around the Holy city of Jerusalem.
The two Israeli nations remained at odds with each other for centuries after the division, until both were invaded and occupied by Assyrian invaders. The northern Kingdom of Ten Tribes fell in 720 B.C, while the southern Kingdom of Judah managed to survive until 586 when it was captured by the infamous Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar.
The Temple of Solomon, spiritual centre of Israel, was razed to the ground and much of the population was deported to the east. A period of about 50 years, known as the Babylonian Captivity, ensued, during which the Hebrew population of Assyria lived under adverse circumstances.
Persian and Greek Rule
The events after the conquest of Judah are, once again, mostly known from historical and archaeological sources.
The Semitic people in captivity in Babylon were emancipated around 540 B.C, after the conquest of the region by Cyrus the Great.
Much of the Middle East, including Israel-Palestine, came under the rule of the Achaemenid Empire. Jews had, by this time, migrated to various parts of the region, but were most densely concentrated in the now Palestine province of Persia, where they rebuilt the Holy City of Jerusalem.
350 B.C. 2nd Destruction of Jerusalem
The Semitic subjects, however, continued to rebel against the Persian rule. One massive rebellion in 350 B.C ended up in the second destruction of Jerusalem (the Second Temple survived this onslaught), only twenty years before the region was captured by the Greeks under Alexander the Great.
It was under the rule of the Macedonian Empire and its successor Greek kingdoms that Palestine reached a new level of economic and demographic development. Recognising the strategic location of the Holy Land, the Greeks inhabited and even founded many cities in the region, bringing economic prosperity to the region and its ancient inhabitants.
This, however, would soon lead to a resistance movement by the local Semitic peoples, who feared that increasing assimilation would lead to the end of their religion and culture.
During the civil wars following the death of Alexander, Palestine changed hands multiple times between the warring parties, but eventually ended up in the hands of the Seleucid Empire. Later during the Seleucid period, Palestine saw a sharp divide between the coastal regions dominated by Greeks and assimilated locals and the inward mountainous regions mostly populated by traditionalist Jews.
216 BC – 164 BC Seleucid Emperor Antiochus Epiphanes
Furthermore, beginning with the crushing defeat of the Seleucids against the Roman Republic in 189 B.C, Palestine also came under increasing economic burden from the rising taxes. Around 170 B.C, the Seleucid emperor Antiochus Epiphanes led an unsuccessful invasion of Egypt. On his return from this humiliating defeat, he robbed the Temple of Jerusalem of all its treasure accumulated by centuries of offerings.
Two years later, a full-blown crackdown on Judaism was enforced in the mountainous regions of Palestine, the centre of Jewish culture, by the Greek garrison at Akra near Jerusalem. This incredible persecution by the ruling polytheists eventually resulted in a strong reactionary movement by the conservative Jews, beginning on a large scale with the Maccabean Revolt in 167 B.C.
Judas Maccabeus, the leader of the Maccabean, successfully started a long campaign against the few Hellenic garrisons in the region. Although the initial revolt was crushed in 160 B.C, the Maccabeus family continued to lead the Jewish resistance to Greek rule in Palestine. The family gained semi-autonomy over the region in 143-42 B.C under Simon Maccabeus, establishing the Hasmonean Dynasty which dominated much of inner Palestine for almost a century.
The Hasmonean Dynasty survived the arrival of Romans in the region, being recognised by the Roman Senate in 139 B.C. Eventually, however, during the turmoil which followed the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C, the last Hasmonean king, Antigonus, ended up allying with the Parthian foes of the Roman Empire and was executed by Roman general Mark Antony in 37 B.C.
The pro-Persian sentiment had flourished in Palestinian Jews due to two reasons.
First, their opposition to the old Graeco-Roman enemies of Judaism, and second, the historically-generous behaviour of the Persians towards Jews, imprinted in popular memory most importantly by the end of Babylonian Captivity by Cyrus the Great some five hundred years ago.
Nevertheless, after the execution of Antigonus, the Romans installed a pro-Roman Semitic faction under King Herod, whose family would continue to rule Judah for almost a century. This period was of material prosperity for the kingdom, whose territory now also included parts of the eastern bank of the Jordan River. Nevertheless, internal tensions continued and more than once, the Roman Empire had to impose a direct rule to stabilise its southern vassal state.
Lord Jesus Christ
It was during this period of semi-autonomous rule that our Lord Jesus Christ was born in Galilee (in or near Nazareth). An Israelite, Jesus was Aramaic by ethnicity and is believed to have been born miraculously to a virgin named Mary. Not many details about his life are known.
After being baptised around the age of 30, Jesus began preaching his ideas about God and true Judaism. Remaining bachelor his whole life, Jesus was truly dedicated to his teachings which soon became extremely controversial with the mainstream Jews.
He was eventually accused of heresy and crucified by the Roman authorities after only a few years of ministry. Nevertheless, the consequences of his teachings, which soon became a separate religion, were very far-reaching.
44 A.D. Roman Rule
In year 44 A.D, the Romans once again imposed direct rule over the Herodian Kingdom of Judah. Similar to what had happened some two hundred years ago with the occupying Greeks, Roman rule over the Holy Land was viewed in an extremely negative light by the Jewish inhabitants.
The corruption, mismanagement and anti-Jewish policies of the Roman governors made it even worse until the rebellious sentiment finally exploded in the year 66 in the light of several massacres of Jews by the ruling Greek classes.
70 A.D. Roman Onslaught
This resistance, just like the Maccabean Revolt of 167 B.C, was deeply-rooted and the attrition became increasingly troublesome for the Roman authorities. In 70 A.D., the Romans, at last, launched a full-scale onslaught into the mountains of Judah from Syria, capturing (and practically demolishing) the holy city of Jerusalem in August.
For the second time in history, the Jewish state had been completely exterminated by a foreign invader and just like the last time in 586 B.C, the Second Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed by the victorious Pagans.
After the events of 70 C.E, the Rabbinic school of Jabneh gained popularity with mainstream Judaism and Rabbinic Judaism became the new norm among northern Semitic peoples, although smaller groups such as Christians and Samaritans also survived this change of government.
By now, the Jewish Diaspora around the Middle East was probably larger than the native Jewish population in Palestine. The region remained largely peaceful under a strict Roman military rule, but the existing anger began to mount once again in 120s, ending up in a second major rebellion in 132.
132 A.D. Second Rebellion
This struggle, however, ended in a full-scale genocide by the Romans, which, terminating in 135, practically emptied eastern Palestine (Judah) of its two-thousand-year-old Jewish population.
Jerusalem was completed repopulated with Romans and Syrians under the name of Aelia Capitolina and Jews were banned from entering the city (a restriction which permanently ended only after the Muslim conquest of Palestine in 630s).
Even these extreme measures, however, failed to wipe out the memory of the Holy City from the minds of believers. Jews remained a majority in Galilee, northern Palestine, but the coast, Judah and Negev would now be dominated by other ethnicities for almost eighteen centuries until the establishment of modern Israel in 1948.
Palestine remained a largely-peaceful and stable internal region of the Roman Empire for almost all the remainder of Roman and Byzantine rule, until the early seventh century.
One significant change, however, occurred in its demographics starting in the fourth century. Christianity, a sect of Judaism which had become very popular with the Romans, became the official religion of the Empire in the early fourth century under Constantine I.
Recognising the significance of Jerusalem as the spiritual centre of Christianity, Saint Constantine and subsequent emperors invested considerable resources to convert Palestine into a Christian religious centre.
Council of Chalcedon
By the middle of the fifth century, a majority of the Palestinian population was Christian, although most of the local Christians increasingly separated themselves from the official orthodoxy following the Council of Chalcedon (despite occasional official persecution).
Some Samaritan revolts and subsequent massacres in the fifth and sixth century also helped shift the demographics of the region in favour of Christianity.
By the time Islam arrived in the Holy Land, it had already become one of the most religiously diverse regions of the world, having sizable communities of Chalcedonian Christians, Miaphysite (or Oriental Orthodox) Christians, Manichaeans, mainstream Jews, Samaritans and Sabaeans, along with a considerable number of Pagans from various traditions (all in a population of likely less than a 100,000).
During the early-Byzantine/late-Roman era, Palestine was divided into three administrative provinces, Palestina Prima (comprising the coast and Judah), Palestina Secunda (northern plateaux) and Palestina Tertia (the southern desert).
Arab Kingdoms of South
The history of southern Palestine or more precisely the Negev Desert was very different from that of Judah, Galilee, coastal Palestine and the rest of the Holy Land until the late antiquity.
This region was dominated by Arabs, a Semitic people who largely led a nomadic lifestyle.
The first known Arab tribe to have dominated southern Palestine was the Qedar confederation, whose vast kingdom likely included the Negev as early as the eighth century B.C.
The Qedar Confederation
Qedar likely had trade relations with the ancient Jewish states, as they are mentioned in the Old Testament (Genesis and 1 Chronicle). The Qedar confederation was succeeded by Nabataeans, a northern Arabic people who dominated the whole of Syrian Desert for almost five centuries.
With their capital at Petra, the Nabataeans ran a large trade network between Yemen and the Fertile Crescent. They were polytheists and had a rich written and material culture.
106 A.D. Annexation of Nabataean Kingdom
Under rather mysterious circumstances, the Roman emperor Trajan annexed the whole of Nabataean Kingdom in 106 A.D and established a new capital at Bosra, presumably without resistance. Nevertheless, Negev remained an Arab-majority nomadic country for the time to come.
It soon became clear, however, that the current Roman frontier practices were ineffective against the frequent raids of Arab Bedouins against the border regions. Once again, the Romans started recruiting powerful Arab tribes to serve as allies and buffer states.
Fourth Century – Tanūkh
From the fourth century, onwards, the internal Arab struggle to secure Roman and later Byzantine recognition and funds grew intense and led to large groups of Arab tribes emerging as kingdoms, who secured a Roman alliance with the promise to defend the Palestinian and the Syrian Desert frontier.
The first huge confederation of this type was that of Tanūkh, starting sometime in the fourth century.
In the early fifth century, Tanūkh were kicked out of their position by the Ṣalīḥ, who were in turn recognised by the Romans as auxiliaries.
502 A.D Salih Confederation is Ousted
In 502, however, a south Arabian migrant tribe, Ghassān, soundly defeated and ousted the Ṣalīḥ confederation in a short but intense war. The Ghassānid Kingdom was recognised by the Roman Empire as an allied buffer state on its southern desert border.
Unlike the previous Arab allies, however, Ghassān soon became a very potent force in the defence of Greater Syria as a whole, many of their Kings playing a key role in the sixth-century Perso-Roman wars.
hey, however, also became a frequent victim of court conspiracies due to their unequivocal allegiance to the Oriental Orthodox Church. Despite occasional tensions with the court, Ghassānids remained one of, if not the most important Byzantine ally on the eastern front until the Muslim Conquests (in fact, even after that, as they migrated to Anatolia along with the retreating Byzantine troops).
Sassanid and Islamic Conquests
So far, Palestine had remained largely unaffected by the wider politics and armed conflicts of the Roman-Byzantine Empire. This changed rather drastically in the early seventh century.
In 602, a petty Byzantine officer Flavius Phocas revolted on the Balkan front, primarily due to the austerity measures implemented by Emperor Maurice. He managed to reach Constantinople and killed Maurice with his army, claiming the throne for himself.
Kings Khosrow II
It had been centuries since the Romans saw a dictator usurp the throne, and that combined with Phocas’ incompetency, made him deeply unpopular. The strongest reaction, however, came from the King of Kings Khosrow (Chosroes) II, who had been installed to his throne by the deceased emperor Maurice a decade ago.
Khosrow responded to Phocas’ coup d’état with a full-scale invasion of Byzantium. This time, the invasion proved incredibly successful and almost all of the eastern territories fell to the Persians in a two-decade-long campaign.
614 A.D. Palestine
In Palestine, the invasion, which came in 614, created a strong reaction from various population groups. The Jewish community, pro-Persian as ever, firmly allied with the invaders and were involved in various massacres and destruction of churches during the campaign.
The persecution of Christians reached its peak at the conquest of Jerusalem in early-summer that year. Many churches across the city were demolished, Christians were massacred and the holiest relic of Christianity, the True Cross was desecrated and taken away by the Sassanid Persians as a trophy.
As the Sassanid rule appeared more and more permanent, however, the government could less afford to favour a small minority over the overwhelming Christian majority. The Sassanids soon betrayed their Jewish allies and set up a Christian governor, once again expelling the Jews from Jerusalem.
628 A.D Peache Treaty
Palestine remained under Persian rule for more than thirteen years, until its ownership was transferred back to the Byzantines under the peace treaty of 628.
After the said treaty, Emperor Heraclius, who had ousted Phocas in 610 with popular support, personally accompanied the True Cross in his pilgrimage to Jerusalem the following year. Also following the re-acquisition of Palestine, Heraclius began a brutal oppressive campaign against Jews, forcibly baptising and killing on a massive scale.
Late 627 A.D.
While this was happening in the north, in late-627, the Islamic State of Medina, a newborn local power in western Arabia (Ḥijāz or Hejaz), sent a delegation to Ghassān, among many other rulers, inviting them to Islam. A Ghassānid governor Shuraḥbīl, enraged at the message, allegedly executed the envoy sent to him.
Medina made multiple appeals for the Byzantine ally to be punished in kind but to no avail. Unbeknownst to Heraclius, his ignorance of this seemingly small affair would cost him one-third of his empire in the following decade.
The first engagement between the Ghassānid Kingdom and Medina came in 629 near Mu’tah, east of Jordan River, in which the Muslim attackers retreated in good order.
Five years later, however, a second, full-scale invasion was launched by the first Caliph Abu Bakr, with four armies totalling up to 27,000 soldiers. The first major action of the Islamic Conquest of Syria took place in Palestine, when the garrison of Caesarea, capital of the Byzantine province of Palestina Prima, was virtually annihilated in an action near Gaza in February 634.
But this was not the end of the action in Palestine, as resistance continued for years. The first of the two decisive battles which decided the fate of Syria, Ajnādayn (30th July 634), also took place in the high plains of northern Palestine near modern-day Jenīn.
636 A.D. Siege of Jerusalem
After the battle, three of the four armies proceeded towards the north, leaving the famous general ‘Amr ibn al-‘Āṣ to besiege Byzantine strongholds in Palestine one by one. For the Siege of Jerusalem, ‘Amr was joined by all the Muslim commanders in Syria in late-636.
The city surrendered on a rather interesting condition; Patriarch Sophronius required the Caliph, now Umar, to personally come to meet him and sign the agreement. Umar arrived in Palestine and visited all the holy sites of Jerusalem with Sophronius, in addition to negotiating the surrender of the garrison.
The aftermath of the Islamic conquest of Palestine was completely peaceful, contrary to the Sassanid invasion two decades ago. The invasion had been largely supported by the Miaphysite Christians and Jews and opposed by the ruling Chalcedonians, but the Muslim authorities strictly prohibited religious violence among the various groups and guaranteed freedom and equal rights to all.
Jews of Palestine Return to Jerusalem
For the first time in about five hundred years, the Jews of Palestine were legally allowed to permanently return to Jerusalem.
Palestine was the Holy Land for Muslims as well, who recognised all the prophets of the biblical era who had lived and preached in the region. Jerusalem, the Holy City, was the first Qibla, site of the Mi’rāj ascension and third most revered city in Islam.
For this reason (along with its economic prosperity), the already diverse region now saw a massive influx of a new group of immigrants, Muslim Arabs. The conversion of the local population, however, was slow and it would still be more than four centuries before the majority of Palestinians would profess Islam.
Rashidūn and Umayyad Caliphates
In the early-Islamic era, tens of thousands of Muslims are likely to have arrived in Palestine. Although numerically inferior, they soon came to dominate the political and military circles, although Christian and Jewish officials and soldiers still existed throughout the Islamic rule.
Palestine, however, never became a great centre of Muslim learning as it had become a Christian monastic and scholarly centre some three centuries ago. During the twenty-year Rashidūn rule, Palestine was reorganised along with the rest of the Caliphate. The mainland became one Jund (military district), while the eastern coast of Jordan became another.
Establishment of Islamic Landmarks
During the First Civil War, Palestine was firmly on the Syrian side from the very beginning (it is worth noting that a considerable number of Christians also fought on the Umayyad or Syrian side).
After the Umayyad Dynasty came into power as a result of the Treaty of Kufa (in 661), Palestine became one of the most important and loyal provinces of the Caliphate. Its spiritual significance meant that the government invested considerable resources for establishing Islamic landmarks in the region, including the Dome of the Rock (built by ‘Abd al-Malik in 691) and al-Aqṣā Mosque (built by al-Walīd, 705-715).
It was also during this period that non-Muslim populations were first required by law to wear distinctive marks to identify themselves in Muslim communities, a form of public discrimination. The general policy was to exempt non-Muslims from mandatory military service, instead of which they were obliged to pay the Jizya protection tax.
Palestine remained largely peaceful during the Umayyad rule, although some minor actions were fought there during the Second Civil War. During the Third Civil War, Palestinian soldiers fought valiantly on the Umayyad side, but after its defeat at the Battle of the Zab in January 750, did not offer any significant resistance to the ‘Abbāsid victors in their homeland.
Nevertheless, unrest continued during the early-’Abbāsid rule, and small pro-Umayyad uprisings saw support from the Palestinian Arabs. During the ‘Abbāsid intellectual revolution under Harun al-Rashid and al-Ma’mun, many of the Palestinian scholars of all fields are likely to have moved to Iraq, judging from the known examples.
Start of the Third Century
With the beginning of the third century of the Islamic calendar, however, ‘Abbāsid rule in the provinces began to decline rapidly and several states seceded politically from the union, while still retaining verbal allegiance to the Caliph. One of these states was the Ṭūlūnid Dynasty of Egypt, which came to encompass the whole of Palestine in the second half of the ninth century.
This began a long-lasting trend of Egyptian dominance over Palestine, which would more or less continue to be the rule until the Mamlūk period.
Near the end of the Ṭūlūnid rule in 903, the Qarmaṭīans, an extremist politico-religious sect of Isma’īlī tradition (to which the notorious Assassins also belonged), launched a huge insurrection in the entire Fertile Crescent, which affected Palestine as well.
The central ‘Abbāsid authorities intervened to put an end to this rebellion, and in the process, reoccupied the whole of Ṭūlūnid territories, including the Holy Land. In 935, the new governor of Egypt, Muḥammad ibn Ṭughj (the Ikhshīd) increasingly began to assert his independent authority against the ‘Abbāsid centre, establishing the Ikhshīdid Dynasty. The short-lasting Ikhshīdid domains included the whole of Palestine.
969 A.D. Fāṭimīds
Meanwhile, another Isma’īlī cult, the Fāṭimīds, gained power in central North Africa and began to push for conquests further east. After half a century of invasions, the Fāṭimīds eventually captured Egypt in 969, followed by Palestine.
Fāṭimīd rule brought economic prosperity, but political repression to the Holy Land (not only to minorities but also to mainstream Muslims). One particularly extremist Fāṭimīd Caliph, al-Ḥakīm, demolished the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 1009, which was only rebuilt two decades later.
The iron hand of Fāṭimīd rule lasted for about a hundred years in Palestine. In 1071, the rising Turkic power of the Seljūk Empire recaptured Palestine in the name of the ‘Abbāsid Caliphate. The Seljūks retained the Holy Land until the First Crusade, which saw a hitherto-distant player enter the politics of the Middle East.
The First and Second Crusades
In the last second half of the eleventh century, the arrival of Seljūk Turks in the Middle East resulted in a major power shift in the region. The Seljūks soon not only reversed all the gains made by the great emperor Basil II but also captured vast swathes of Anatolia following the humiliating defeat and capture of the Byzantine Emperor Romanos Diogenes at Manzikert in 1071.
Concerned, the emperor Alexios Komnenos finally gathered the courage to send an appeal to the western Christians, who had only recently split away from the Byzantine Orthodox Church in favour of papal authority.
The plea for aid was met with unusual enthusiasm on the part of Pope Urban II, who in turn appealed to all the western Christianity in general, promising complete redemption for all who participated in the holy struggle. This would mark the beginning of a two-century long phenomenon known as the Crusades.
The People’s Crusade
The very first expedition of this sort was the People’s Crusade, led by a wildly popular preacher known to history as Peter the Hermit. This campaign, however, was a disaster for the untrained Christian mob, which was soundly defeated and forced back by the Turks in less than two months even before reaching Syria.
The next expedition, however, the main part of the First Crusade, was met with almost miraculous success in the Middle East. The actual target selected by the Pope for this invasion is unclear; on the ground, the Crusaders forced their way directly through Anatolia into northern Syria and ultimately Palestine, despite adverse conditions.
The resilience of the holy warriors and lack of adequate response from the Islamic world (in fact, the Fāṭimīds took advantage of the situation to briefly recapture Seljīk territory in Palestine) ultimately led to the fall of the whole coast of Greater Syria and Cilicia, along with the whole of the Holy Land and significant territories in Northern Mesopotamia.
Contrary to the original goals of the endeavour, however, the success of the First Crusade resulted in little direct assistance to the hard-pressed Byzantine Empire. Breaking their promise to emperor Komnenos, the prominent leaders of the Crusade divided the captured territory among themselves, creating four distinct Christian states (collectively known as the Outremer) in the region dominated by Muslims since 630s.
For decades, the Crusader states slowly expanded and consolidated their position in the hostile environment of the Middle East. The first real effort at counterattack by the Muslim world came from the founder of Zangīd Dynasty, a part of the Seljūk Empire, ‘Imād al-Dīn Zangī. Leading a well-planned, long campaign against the northernmost Crusader state of Edessa, Zangī managed to capture the capital city of Edessa in 1144, entirely wiping out the state from the map of the Middle East.
The anti-Crusade efforts were continued by Zangī’s son, Nūr al-Dīn, who ramped up pressure on the Principality of Antioch, another state of the Outremer. Concerned, the new Pope Eugene III issued a declaration for the Second Crusade in December 1145, but the first armies did not assemble until two years later.
The Second Crusade
The Second Crusade also came in the form of two distinct expeditions. The German expedition was defeated in Asia Minor and never reached Syria. The French expedition did arrive in the Holy Land and led a short campaign against Damascus, but failed to achieve any noteworthy results towards the defence of the Outremer.
The Kings’ Crusade
Slowly but gradually, the Zangīd, and later Ayyūbid, dynasties continued to gain ground at the cost of the Crusader states and by 1170s, they were surrounded on land by hostile Muslim forces.
In 1187, the zealous Sultan Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn (or Saladin) led a devastating campaign against the Kingdom of Jerusalem, crushing the bulk of Crusader forces in the region at the Battle of Haṭṭīn and finally recapturing Jerusalem for Islam in the summer of 1187. It is believed that Pope Urban III died of shock at hearing the news in October of that year.
Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa
The new Pope Gregory VIII immediately called for a new Crusade. This time, the proclamation was met with unusual enthusiasm by the most powerful rulers of Europe. The first to respond with a full-scale invasion of the Middle East was Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa.
Barbarossa enjoyed some initial successes during his journey in Asia Minor. However, the Divine will have Frederick drown at a small river in south-eastern Anatolia, shortly before reaching his real battlefield. Discouraged by the tragedy and bad omen, much of the German army was immediately dissolved and the vast majority of soldiers returned to their homeland.
The Third Crusade
Meanwhile, the kings of France and England, Philip II and Henry II respectively decided to end their ongoing war and join forces for the Third Crusade. During the preparations, Henry II died and was succeeded by his son Richard (the Lionheart).
Meanwhile, the remainder of Crusader forces were joined by the first European forces in late-1189 during the siege of the coastal town of Acre. As more forces continued to arrive from both sides, the Siege became extraordinarily long and brutal.
After the besieging forces were joined by first Philip II and then Richard in 1191, they eventually managed to force the garrison to surrender after a siege of two years.
This was followed by a defeat of Saladin’s army at the Battle of Arsuf in September, leaving Jerusalem vulnerable to the Crusaders.
In one of the most iconic failures of coordination in history, the Crusader army completely failed to take advantage of the void created by their victories and wasted months contemplating the best course of action.
The 2nd of September 1192 – Peace
Eventually, a peace treaty was signed between the European kings and the Ayyūbid sultan on 2nd September 1192. Jerusalem and all the previous conquests remained under Muslim rule, but the western Christians were granted free access to the Holy Land for pilgrimage.
The most important result of the Third Crusade was the stabilisation and reinforcement of the Outremer in the aftermath of the Battle of Haṭṭīn, which helped the Crusader states survive for another hundred years.
End of the Crusader States
The Holy Land remained largely stable for three-and-a-half decades following the Third Crusade. It was not until 1228 when the Sixth Crusade, planned and led by the excommunicated Emperor Frederick II, attempted capturing Jerusalem for Christianity, that a European army entered the Holy Land again.
Frederick found the Ayyūbid ruler, al-Kāmil embroiled in internal struggle and unwilling to resist. He ceded Jerusalem to the Crusaders in a treaty in February 1229. As a result, for the first time in five centuries, the Jews were once again expelled from the Holy City as they had been in the Roman times.
Although they retained the city for fifteen years, Christians were not able to consolidate the defences of Jerusalem enough and a short siege in 1244 resulted in the surrender of the garrison. This time, the city had been restored permanently to Islam, and the only one to answer Pope Innocent IV’s calls for a new crusade was Saint Louis IX, King of France.
Although he failed to achieve any positive results, his tremendous efforts to recapture the Holy Land were recognised well by the Catholic Church, who proceeded to canonise him in 1297.
Meanwhile, in the face of the decline of the Ayyūbid Dynasty, the Muslim territories in Egypt and Syria were once again united by the new Mamlūk Dynasty. Baybars I, the most prominent Mamlūk sultan of the thirteenth century, proved to be very passionate about the eradication of the remaining Crusader lands in the Middle East.
Practically cut from any hope of European intervention, the Outremer shrank drastically during the last decades of its existence. The city of Acre and the few remaining Crusader fortresses in the region surrendered in 1291, bringing an end to Christian rule in the Holy Land.
Once the coast was clear of the presence of Crusaders, the Mamlūks proceeded to destroy or refortify many of the most important ports to prevent any future naval invasions. This meant that contrary to the Roman era, the Palestinian population was now once again concentrated further inland.
In a long-lasting arrangement, the Mamlūks merged the Holy Land with the province of Damascus. The region generally continued to experience economic growth and prosperity for much of the Mamlūk rule.
Since it had been liberated after centuries of foreign occupation, the Muslim pilgrimage to the Holy Land increased massively during this time and a large number of mosques, schools and shrines were constructed.
Palestine did, however, suffer from some tragedies of late-Mamlūk period. Several pandemics occurred in the region, including some plagues connected to the Black Death.
The havoc unleashed upon the Middle East by Tamerlane (or Timūr) did not directly reach Palestine, although the population was severely affected by its economic and social consequences.
1382 A.D. Mamluk Dynasty
The Mamlūk Dynasty suffered from a slow decline during the Burjī period (1382 onwards). With the rise of Ottoman power to the north over the fifteenth century, conflict was inevitable. Finally, the Ottoman armies swiftly conquered all the remaining Mamlūk territories in Palestine and Egypt in 1516-17. During the war, several minor actions did take place in the south of Levant, but the transformation of power was very swift overall. The Ottoman Empire initially continued the economic infrastructure set up by the Mamlūks.
Palestine was no longer the official name of any administrative unit during the Ottoman era, although it continued to be the common name of the Holy Land for the inhabitants. It remained a part of the Damascus province until 1830, after which its status was changed multiple times until 1887 when Jerusalem was made an autonomous district and the rest of Palestine was tied to the Beirut province.
Officially a part of the Empire throughout its existence, the governors of the region became increasingly independent from Constantinople from late-sixteenth century onwards. The Riḍwān Dynasty dominated the Holy Land during most of the seventeenth century, followed by the Zaydānīs (who were based in northern Palestine) in the eighteenth century.
The most notable local Arab ruler of this period was Ẓāhir al-‘Umar, who ruled northern Palestine from 1737-75, directly resisting several attempts at reunification by Ottoman forces. After the death of Ẓāhir al-‘Umar in 1775, the autonomous region was again brought under the direct control of the Ottoman capital under Aḥmad Jazzār Pasha, who in turn ruled semi-autonomously for three decades afterwards.
1799 A.D. Napoleon
It was during the rule of Jazzār in February 1799 that French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Palestine, after having captured Egypt during a short, swift campaign. On the coast of the Holy Land, however, local resistance became ever stronger with enormous British and Ottoman support.
It was eventually at Acre, the same city which had depleted the numbers and morale of the Third Crusade forces some six hundred years ago, that Napoleon’s conquests in the Middle East were brought to a halt in May 1799, and the disgraced emperor soon returned to France.
Although very brief, the French rule (or more precisely, campaign) in Palestine had very significant cultural and military ramifications for the region. It was the first time after the end of Crusades that the Holy Land had seen full-scale armed conflict between global Great Powers.
1831 A.D. Egyptian Muhammed Ali
The push towards modernisation, fuelled by the French campaign, became more intense after Palestine was captured by the forces of the Egyptian reformer Muhammad Ali in 1831-32 with little resistance.
The reforms were met with extreme hostility by the local population, who revolted in 1834, but were brutally put down by the Egyptian army.
In 1840, however, the ever-increasing power of Muhammad Ali prompted several European powers to intervene, returning Palestine to the Ottoman domain.
The Nineteenth Century – Zionism
The spiritual interest in Palestine saw a renewal in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Tens of thousands of European immigrants started arriving in the region, the most important migrant group being European Jews. It was also during this period that the modern concept of Zionism was born.
Effectively, the European Jews who desired to return to their ancestral homeland were determined to establish a state of their own in the region, rather than live under the 1300-year old Muslim rule. This determination to revive ancient Israel would make the twentieth century the most turbulent of post-Roman Palestinian history.
During the last decades of Ottoman rule, Palestine saw the rise of a new significant threat to the region, Zionism. A religious-nationalist ideology aiming at forcibly establishing a Jewish state in Muslim-majority Palestine, modern political Zionism was invented in the late-nineteenth century and gained immense popularity in Jewish circles of Europe and North America. Thousands started arriving each year, leading to increasing religious and ethnic tensions.
1914 First World War
A fundamental change in the political status of Palestine occurred with the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.
The Holy Land was about to witness military action on a scale unseen in the region since times immemorial. Since the Ottoman Empire had joined the Central Powers, its border with British Egypt was doomed to become a battleground.
After a failed German-Ottoman offensive against the British-controlled Sinai, the Allied counterattack towards Palestine began in 1917. Achieving a breakthrough in October, the British forces fought a highly destructive campaign in the area, including a catastrophic, two-month-long battle near the Holy City of Jerusalem which caused more than 60,000 casualties.
In the early stages of the campaign, the British high commissioner of Egypt promised the then-leader of Ḥusaynī Dynasty (which still rules in Jordan today), Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī, of supporting an independent Arab state after the war.
Nevertheless, after securing the support of many locals, this promise was secretly betrayed in the infamous Sykes-Picot Agreement in May 1916. According to the agreement, much of the Middle East was to be divided between the victorious Allies after the war, with the British keeping the whole of the Holy Land.
1917 A.D Balfour Declaration
An even greater betrayal of Palestinian Arabs came with the Balfour Declaration in November 1917. Seeking to secure further Jewish (and indirectly, American) support for the war, the British announced their willingness to help establish a Zionist state in the British-occupied Mandate of Palestine. This was the early period of the rise of Arab nationalism.
In 1920, the Ḥusaynī family made a last, futile attempt at creating a united Arab state in Greater Syria. The treachery of the situation meant that the British rule in Palestine remained deeply unpopular throughout its three decades.
It should be emphasised that pan-Arabism was a secular ideology and was as much supported by Christian Arabs as by Muslim Arabs (and even by some traditional Jewish groups), all of whom had lived harmoniously in the region for over 1,300 years.
1919 A.D British Mandate
The official start of the British Mandate in 1919 was immediately followed by a rapid increase in Jewish immigration to Palestine and anti-Zionism riots by the local populace. In December, the Arab Executive was formed in an attempt to peacefully negotiate for the Arab position with the British government, but it was never even formally recognised by the government. Meanwhile, western Jewish immigration to the Holy Land increased dramatically to the region.
In 1921, the Jewish National Fund started a long and organised scheme of buying as much of Palestinian land as possible to establish exclusive Jewish settlements for the new arrivals. This led to large-scale riots in May 1921, during which about a hundred lives were lost. In 1922, the Mandate of Palestine was approved by the League of Nations, which also incorporated the Balfour Declaration.
Palestinian Protests and Activists
The following two decades saw a similar pattern of British policy in the region; the groundwork for a Zionist country was gradually laid down despite massive protests, riots and opposition from the Palestinians.
The most important of these Arab efforts to assert their rights came in 1936-39, a chaotic period during which as much as 5,000 Arab activists were killed by the British authorities and Zionist militia. Overall, the British rule in Palestine continued to establish the framework for the future Zionist state, while attempting to silence Arab opposition alternatively by either force or false promises.
Although the period was dominated by political divide and tensions, the British rule in Palestine also brought some economic prosperity to the region with the introduction of latest technology and implementation of modern infrastructure programs.
After the end of World War II, the United States became the largest supporter of the Zionist cause. The Jewish paramilitary organisations established and strengthened by the British government during the preceding decades now started terrorist attacks against the British establishment to pressure it for the immediate creation of the Zionist state.
1947 A.D. UN Resolution 181
In November 1947, the newly-founded United Nations General Assembly passed its Resolution 181, dividing Palestine into two Arab and Jewish states against the wishes of the majority of its inhabitants. The area allocated by the United Nations to the Zionist state exceeded that granted to the Arab state and was a single, united territory, in contrast to the Arab one.
Having secured the consent of the United Nations, Zionist military groups now launched a full-scale campaign to forcibly conquer as much territory as possible (they conquered a lot more than allocated by Resolution 181).
Much of the territory Zionist forces captured from Arab locals were systematically cleansed of its Millennia-old inhabitants, including sometimes through massacres of unarmed civilians. The total failure of the British government and the United Nations (which only first condemned the Zionist violence in March 1948) to prevent this situation was alarming.
In response, the Arab League decided to mobilise a volunteer force to protect the Palestinian Arabs in December 1947. The fighting reached its peak in April-May 1948.
The 14th of May 1948
On the14th of May 1948, the Zionist state officially declared its inception, assuming the name of Israel (taken from the ancient Biblical state of the same name). The British high commissioner of Palestine left the region and the state was recognised by both superpowers of the era, the United States and the Soviet Union, all on the very same day.
The fighting continued for over a year. Eventually, Israeli forces drove the Arab troops out of its conquered territory and the last armistice with its Arab neighbours was complete by mid-1949.
This left the Arab Palestine divided into two territories. The West Bank, along with Jordan (which was also a part of the Mandate of Palestine) became the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (ruled by Ḥusaynī kings), while the strip of Gaza came under the administration of Egypt (which refused to accommodate Palestinians as full citizens).
The foundation of Israel had completely changed the demographics of the region. The bulk of the Holy Land west of Jordan River had been completely cleansed of Arab and Aramaic presence for the first time in over thirteen centuries.
The only Arab communities which remained in Israel’s northern territories were put under a strict military rule and denied access to ownership of land, freedom of movement and other civil rights. The Arabs of Gaza Strip also faced similar circumstances under Egyptian rule. This political and economic genocide came to be known as al-Nakbah, “The Catastrophe”, in the Palestinian community.
A Divided Homeland
The shock of 1948, which left the bulk of Palestinians deprived of all property and even a home, was very slow to heal. The iron hand of oppressive foreign powers meant there was little the actual Palestinian population could do to retrieve their homeland.
The first important response in this regard came with the formation of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), a coalition which claimed to be the representative of all Palestinian people. In keeping up with the Arab position, PLO refused to recognise the Zionist state and vowed to continue the struggle for an undivided, independent Palestine.
In addition to PLO’s peaceful efforts, several Palestinian organisations also took to more violent approaches, the most important of which was the Fataḥ. In 1968, Fataḥ joined PLO, with its leader Yasser Arafat becoming the chairman of PLO’s executive committee. With the tensions in place, conflict was only a matter of time.
1965 A.D. Israel Invades Egypt
In 1956, Israel invaded the bordering Egyptian territory of Sinai but failed to conquer the region. However, this defeat did not stop Israel’s military ambitions. Primarily with the assistance of the United States, Israel proceeded to develop the most powerful military in the whole Middle East.
With tensions already in place and Israel’s military threat growing ever stronger, war broke out in June 1967. This time, Israel took significant areas of land from Egypt, Jordan and Syria, including the whole of remaining Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The Arab states retaliated with a full-scale attack in 1973 but failed to make any significant gains. In the aftermath of these conquests, however, the state of Israel did start to relax restrictions on its increasing number of Arab inhabitants. Meanwhile, tensions between the Palestinians of West Bank and Jordanian government also began to rise in the aftermath of these failures.
17 September 1978 Camp David Accords
After 1973, many Arab states started taking a conciliatory approach toward Israel. The first breakthrough in these peace efforts in the region came in 1978 with the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt, followed by a peace treaty in 1979.
In these agreements, Israel promised to recognise PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people and grant autonomy to the West Bank and the Gaza strip within five years. However, far from granting autonomy, Israel invaded southern Lebanon in 1982 to dismantle the growing presence of PLO in the region, killing thousands of refugees in the process.
Meanwhile, Israel also started building exclusive Jewish colonies in the occupied territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during this period, leading to widespread international condemnation. No steps were taken towards filling the promises made in the Camp David Accords until the 1990s. On the other side, however, several Palestinian militia groups also engaged in some terrorist attacks against Israel and its citizens.
1987 A.D. The First Intifāḍah
In 1987, a major wave of demonstrations (known as the First Intifāḍah) swept across occupied Palestine and was met with widespread arrests and extrajudicial killings by Israeli law enforcement. Nevertheless, it did much to highlight the seriousness of the situation, and Israel finally agreed to engage in negotiations with the PLO in its aftermath.
1993 A.D. Oslo Accords
In 1993, the PLO and Israel agreed to recognise each other in the Oslo Accords (PLO abandoning its original position on the issue). The West Bank and the Gaza Strip were partly evacuated by Israeli authorities the following year and the Palestinian Authority was established in the region. Much of the West Bank, however, remains illegally occupied by Israel to this day.
Another consequence of the First Intifāḍah was the rise of Ḥamās in the Gaza Strip. Ḥamās is an Islamist organisation which started with social work but later expanded to encompass political struggle for Palestinian independence as well.
Recognising the continued failure of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation to deliver Palestinian independence, Ḥamās took a more uncompromising approach to the issue and became wildly popular with the Palestinian populace living under Israeli occupation.
2000 A.D. The Second Intifāḍah
In 2000, in face of repeated failures to grant deliver previous promises, the Second Intifāḍah began in the occupied Palestinian territories. Excessive use of force by Israeli authorities and terrorist attacks by Palestinians claimed thousands of lives during more than five years. Israel used the situation as an excuse to once again occupy the whole of PLO-controlled areas.
Second Palestinian elections were only held in 2006, in which Ḥamās also participated as a political party for the first time. As a result of this election, however, the PLO leadership split between Ḥamās, who had won in the Gaza Strip, and Fatah, who had won in the West Bank.
Only Ḥamās, however, was able to force Israeli troops out of its territory (following severe tensions and armed conflict in 2008), while the PLO failed to gain control of much of the West Bank. Reconciliatory efforts continued, leading to Ḥamās submitting control of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority in 2014. The union, however, was slow to materialize and came to a definite end in 2019. As of October 2020, the Palestinian question continues to divide the Holy Land.