- The Jews were indeed the earliest residents of what was Judaea and Samaria – later called Palestine by the Romans.
- Right through historical times, the two states were variously under Jewish kings and Egyptian kings.
- The first big “Empire” to overrun Palestine were the Persians under Cyrus the Great – around 500BC. Babylon was next – remember Nebuchadnezzar?
- The Romans arrived in 60BC. As the dominant world power at that time, they made Palestine a Roman province. The persecution of the Jews as a people started with them purely because they were a colonized people. Remember Pontius Pilate? He was the Roman Consul in Palestine based in what is now Tiberias.
- The Roman and Byzantine influence lasted until 600AD. It was during the rule of Rome that Jerusalem was sacked so completely that the only thing left standing of the old Temple was the Wailing Wall. The siege of Masada celebrated in Jewish memory happened in Roman Rule. The large scale expulsions of Jews happened under Roman watch.
- A minor preacher called Jesus was born during Roman Rule and died on the Cross. At that time his acolytes mainly thought of themselves as a sect of Judaism. However the death and destruction that the Romans wrought in Jerusalem and elsewhere aided the apocalyptic vision that occurs in the Bible. The Bible as we know it was after the fact – written a couple of centuries after the death of Jesus. The Christian persecution of the Jews – due to begin shortly – is based on the view that the Jews killed Christ. It was the Romans.
- In the 600s the Arabs arrived soon after as they spread the word of Islam by the sword and fire. The Prophet believed that the Angel ascended to heaven from the Dome and hence the Umayyad Caliphs built the Dome of the Rock on the site of the Temple in 690AD.
- Right through the Umayyad, Fatimid and Abbasid Caliphates there were degrees of tolerance and degrees of lunacy. The crusades began in 900AD and Crusader kingdoms co-existed with Muslim kingdoms. Jerusalem came under Christian rule until the last of the Crusaders was expelled by Saladin in the 12th
- The Jewish population of Palestine remained quite small and now under threat from both Christians as well as Muslims.
- The Ottomans conquered Palestine by the 14th century after a couple of hundred years of conflict when the Mongols, the Persians, the Nestorians and Islamic rulers all wreaked havoc on the region.
- Ottoman rule ushered in four centuries of stability. By the early 19th century the Ottoman Pashas who ruled various part of the Empire were gaining power as the Ottoman Emperor grew weaker. As part of that process in 1832 the Egyptian Pasha took direct control of Palestine. The British intervened and turned Palestine over to a weak Ottoman Empire in return for major concessions – such as free access to British and other Europeans.
- Migration followed. Egyptian Arab, Bedouin, Druze and most of all Jewish. Encouraged by a new Orientalism in Victorian Britain that saw a return to classicism. Part of the Victorian renaissance, a Christian Britain flexing its muscles. At this time the Jewish population in Palestine was quite small, and Jerusalem was a small city.
- Anti-Semitism, already rife in Russia and Eastern Europe, get a political voice. Theodor Herzl, a secular Austrian Jew, writes “Der Judenstat” – arguing for the return of all Jews to Eretz Israel – comprised of Palestine and Syria – the ancient lands of Judaea and Samaria.. This is the foundation of Zionism.
- The World is slowly moving towards war. Rebellions against a weakened Ottoman Empire break out, encouraged by the Western powers flexing their Christian muscles. Today’s Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Greece all become independent kingdoms. Conflict between them results in the Balkan Wars. World War I formally begins in August 1914 with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo, but has been going on since 1910.
- The Ottomans, after dithering for some time, decide to side with the Germans. The British decide to move against the Ottomans.
- Key to this objective was to destabilize Palestine, still very much an Ottoman territory (as was today’s Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Kuwait). They decide to accede to the demand for a Jewish state in Palestine. Sir Arthur Balfour issues a declaration in 1917. Simultaneously, a French diplomat Picot and an English diplomat Sykes draw up a map carving up the Levant into today’s states.
- In 1917 General Sir Allenby formally enters Jerusalem at the head of the British Army. The British take Palestine and bring it under a League of Nations mandate as the power in charge.
- The first order for the British is to stop unrest created largely by aggressive Jewish migration into Palestine and the natural resistance of the local Arab population. Note that Jews were in a minority in Palestine at the turn of the century. The British, viewing this now as a serious law and order problem limit Jewish migration into Palestine.
- Conflict develops between Arabs, Jews and the British Army who try to keep the peace but not very well. Extremist Jewish organisations form to overthrow the British and push out the Arabs. One of them is Irgun, the origin of the Likud party of today. At the same time, a class of secular Jews create political parties with the same objective.
- The Irgun conduct several spectacular attacks on the British Army and on Arabs. The most notable Likud attack blows up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1948.
- A tired and war weary Britain decides to call it a day. The UN creates the state of Israel in 1948. The Palestinian majority areas are part of the Kingdom of Jordan. Immediately war breaks out as Egypt, Jordan and Syria invade the new state.
- Israel armies consisting of citizen volunteers stop and defeat the invading Arab armies, and take territory. At this time they also carry out an ethnic cleansing of the coastal areas of Arab citizens, who flee into the West Bank (still part of Jordan) and into Jordan. The UN brokers a Ceasefire and hostilities end.
- The State of Israel, lead by secular moderate Jews, surrounded by enemies, faces a second attack in 1967. In the six day war, Israel takes the West Bank of Jordan and the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. For the first time since 72AD, Jerusalem is back in Jewish hands.
- The Occupied Territories are in a state of limbo until Sadat and Begin sign the Camp David accords in 1977. Slowly, Israel begins to integrate these Occupied Territories into itself. The PLO has been active since 1967 bombing targets and conducting a guerilla war. At one point in 1970 they try to take over the Kingdom of Jordan turning King Hussein against them. A number of PLO strikes take place – hijacking of airliners, Munich, Entebbe. Public opinion in Israel is moving towards some kind of accommodation with the Palestinians.
- In 1993 the PLO recognizes the State of Israel, recognizes its right to exist, and in return the PLO was recognized by Israel as the representative of the Palestinians. The PLO gives up violence and terrorism.
- In 1997, the PLO lead by Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin sign a peace agreement. Jordan gives up claim to the West Bank. Israel agrees in principle to give the Palestinians the West Bank as a State.
- In 1992, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, mass migration of Russian Jews begins into Israel, changing its demographics and politics forever. More than 2 million Russian Jews arrive. They are not of Arab blood (note that Arabs are not just Muslim), have no experience of the middle east, and practice a hardline Zionist faith. A former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky is one of the leaders of this diaspora.
- After Camp David Israeli politics takes a swing to the right. Rabin is assassinated. Building of condos starts in the West Bank.
- It is estimated that 40% of the West Bank is now occupied by condos. Access to the condos from the main Israeli state is through secure corridors, walled off and patrolled by the IDF.
- Binyamin Netanyahu, shortly to be the longest serving Israeli PM, emerges as the voice of this muscular Jewish state that decries and denounces any idea of a Palestinian state.
2 thoughts on “An Ultra Brief History of Palestine”
Makes sorry reading of how man against man has remained over the centuries and how organised religion may be the worst form of evil invented by man. Something that should be in the private space, when organised and brought into the public domain only brings misery.
As always very impressed by your command and mastery of world history.
But why this post now ?
Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment Ramesh. Where is your blog these days, I miss it!!
I have been debating and thinking about things with friends, and someone made some astonishingly uneducated remarks about Palestine. I first told him to go read, and helped him with this primer. Just thought I would post it here thats all!!