The Early History of Palestine (Before World War I)
The origin of some of the earliest known civilizations is traced back in the Middle East where the land of Palestine comprised of a human habitation existing even before the biblical times. With the name of Palestine so prominent in the news, it is important that we know where its roots lies.
Where did the name Palestine come from?
The land area of Palestine refers to the region which lies between the Syrian interior and southern Mediterranean coastal plains. The word Palestine is the derivation of “Plesheth”, which meant migratory or rolling. “The land of Palestine” was inhabited by a warrior tribe for most of the population while there were also Hebrews living there. But in the Old Testament, the land is not called Palestine but Canaan.
What was the extent of Palestine in Biblical Times? The name “Plesheth” has appeared in the Bible frequently and has come to be known in English as “Philistine”. The start of the Biblical period brings Palestine in Christian significance; however, the region was inhabited even long before Abrahamic religions. The region was referred to as the land of Israel or Eretz Yisrael in the Old Testament as it was not called Palestine in those times. What is the evidence for the antiquity of Israel? Around 13th century BC, the Exodus from Egypt brought the Children of Israel in the land of Canaan where they first settled as a tribe and then established their separate kingdoms of Judah and Israel. The name of Jacob is changed to Israel in the Old Testament following his encounter with God. In Genesis, God address Jacob: “Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Who were the original inhabitants of Palestine? The trace of the original populace of Palestine is rather difficult but the ancient inhabitants of Palestine are known to be ancient Greeks hailed from Asia Minor and not Arabs or Semites. The location of Palestine at the crossroads to some chief civilizations like Egyptians, Babylonians and Romans made it a frequently invaded land with several people living here through the ages. When did the Jews come to Palestine? The presence of Jews in Palestine is evident from the mention of the name “Israel” in a historic Egyptian inscription where this ethnic group is said to have located between the areas of the Jordan Valley and Mediterranean. In Hebrew Bible, “Land of Israel” is used as a term in as old as the texts of Exilic period. The highland zone was occupied by two separate kingdoms, the Kingdom of Israel situated in the north while the Kingdom of Judah to the south. What do the names Judea and Samaria refer to? Judea and Samaria are the biblical names for the area that is now known as the West Bank. The area holds importance for the Arabs as a large population of them is living there while conflicts arise with Israel trying to take over the territory. Historically, the ancient kingdoms of Judah and Israel are known to have corresponding to Judea and Samaria roughly. After the fall of the two kingdoms, the name Judah was Hellenized to Judea and Israel was renamed Samaria from Shomron. What is the Arab history in Palestine? The origin of Arabs is intermingled with several races and ethnic groups instead of a more singular line. The tradition says that Arabs come from the line of Abraham and his son Ishmael. The tribal, Bedouin society of the Arabian Desert is the birthplace of “Arab”. There are other ethnic Arab groups as well that spread in the land and existed for millennia. Before modern Arab nationalism which developed in 19th and 20th century, Arab speaking people identified themselves with a particular tribe, a village or a family. When did Islam come to Palestine? Following the Battle of Yarmouk in 636 CE, the Islamic Empire was established in Palestine as Muslims conquered Syria and there started a Muslim rule which spread over 1300 years. It is known that the Muslim empire was a “golden age” for Jews as they were treated much better than by the Christians What was the history of Palestine between Biblical times and the modern era? The land of Palestine has been populated by the nation known as Palestinians since historical times. These people are known to have been religiously diverse always with Muslim as its majority, living peacefully with fellow Jews, Christians and Druze people. However, with the Zionist movement of 20th century, a large number of Jews immigrated to Palestine from many parts of the Europe which increased the Jewish population drastically, leading to conflicts between Arabs and Jews. What is the significance of Jerusalem to Jews and Muslims? Jerusalem is probably the only city in the world which has gained continuous attention and controversies, especially among the followers of the three biggest religions: Islam, Judaism and Christianity. For Muslims, Jerusalem is the third most holy city after Mecca and Medina. This is the place where Prophet Muhammad SAW made his ascent to the heaven, an event which holds a huge religious significance for Muslims. Also, before Muhammad SAW was asked to pray facing Mecca, Muslims faced Jerusalem for their prayers. The soil and air of Jerusalem is holy for Jews and they mention the city’s name in their prayers. King Solomon made Jerusalem the capital of his vast kingdom and built the First Temple in 10th century BC. What is Zionism and who are Zionists? The turn of the 20th century saw a Jewish nationalist movement springing up with Theodor Herzl as its founder. This ideology was named Zionism and its supporters are called Zionists, the name derived from Zion, Jewish synonym for the land of Israel. The goal of this movement was to gain Eretz Yisrael back and to create a Jewish homeland in the country of Palestine. There are a large number of Jews who do not support the Zionist views, stating it to be completely different from the traditional Jewish beliefs, laws and the teachings of Torah. What is Aliyah? Aliyah is one of the three major components of Judaism and in Hebrew its means ascent, immigration of Jews to The Land of Israel. The term holds a high importance for the religious Jews and has become an aspiration since the Babylonian exile. Jews hold the view that travelling to Israel is going up the level both metaphysically and geographically as anyone moving to Jerusalem from Egypt, Mediterranean basin or Babylonia climbs to a higher altitude, 2,700 feet above sea level. Who, besides Jews, supported the Zionist’s ideas? It is known that the idea of Jews returning to the Holy land was supported not only by the Jews but some prominent figures like King Edward VII, Queen Victoria, Napoleon Bonaparte, Henry Dunant of the Red Cross and the political leaders of United States, South Africa, Czechoslovakia and Italy. Zionists found their support in some Christian, Hindu as well as Muslim people where the Shah of Persia met with the Jewish leaders from British in 1873 and suggested that Jews should buy a land and establish their home. Who were the inhabitants of Palestine before the Zionists? The historical figures show a substantial Arab population in Palestine till 1914 until Jews started pouring from across Europe as a result of the Zionist movement. As Palestinian refer to people who were the descendents of races living here, they have been the original inhabitants from centuries and even at present, 49% of the population consists of Palestinian Arabs, concentrated largely in West Bank and Gaza and the rest in Israel. What about Christians in Palestine? Christians consider Palestine a Holy place as it is the birthplace of Christianity; however, there is very little Christian population in Palestine, comprising only 5% in West Bank and Gaza collectively and 10% of the Israeli population in Palestine. Due to the emigration that led from the Six-Day War in 1967 and 1948 War, many of the Palestinian Christians now live outside of the Mandate Palestine but a lot of them still live in the Palestinian territories nonetheless. How did the Zionists acquire land in Palestine? In 1947, Palestine was divided among Arabs and Jews with an unjust 55% to Jews and 45% to Arabs. When Israel announced independence in 1948, the previously only 6% percent of the Jewish population increased drastically, taking more than their share, a percentage that is increasing to the present day because of the Zionist movement. Zionists acquired land from Arabs unjustly, inciting and launching wars on the Arabs, depopulating the villages and What was the impact of the Zionists on Palestine? Aims of the Zionist movement failed to compliment the positive approach with which Palestinian Arabs thought of gaining independence. From the very beginning, Zionist movement has made efforts to achieve Jewish majority in Palestine with immigration as their tool and establishing Jewish property on as much as land as they could. All this necessitated the displacement of Palestinians from their homes and conflicting with their interests.