A VERY BRIEF HISTORY OF PALESTINE

The name "Palestine" derives from a people of Greek origin who settled in the coastal plains of the country and who were known as the "Philistines".

At about the time that the Philistines settled in the coastal plains of the country, the hilly interior was settled by the Jews who called themselves "Bnei Israel", the people of Israel. The country was known by the Jews as ""Eretz Israel", the land of Israel.

These settlements took place some time about the twelfth century B.C. and prior to this the country had been known as "Canaan" and had been occupied by the Canaanites, a people belonging to the Northwest Semitic peoples of Mesopotania and Syria as did the Jews themselves. The Canaanites spoke a Semitic language of which Hebrew was a dialect.

The Canaanites had occupied the country for some 1,500 years and during this period had developed a linear alphabet which ultimately became the basis of Western writing systems.

The Philistines, quite naturally, got a very bad Press from the Israelite prophets of the Old Testament and nowadays the term 'Philistine' is often used in a derogatory sense.

The Old Testament prophets tell us that Abraham came to Canaan from the city of Ur of the Chaldeans and that the country was settled by the descendants of Jacob, son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, perhaps sometime around 2,000 B.C. The followers of Jacob were said to have been taken into captivity by the Pharaoh of Egypt but were led out of captivity, to Canaan, by the prophet Moses.

How literal these accounts are is a matter of conjecture but by about 1,000 B.C. there is little doubt that tradition had become historical fact.

After about 200 years the Jews united and under the leadership of Saul and David, the first Kings of Israel, defeated the Philistines, the Canaanites and the other people who dwelt in the country and the Kingdom of Israel was founded some time around 1,000 B.C.

Under David, Jerusalem fell into Jewish hands for the first time and the Kingdom of Israel expanded northwards into much of Syria. David's son, Solomon built the first temple to Yahweh in Jerusalem and expanded Israel's trading network as far as Yemen in the south.

After Solomon's death, the land of Israel split into two parts, Israel in the north and Judah in the south, the latter controlling Jerusalem. The united Kingdom of Israel had lasted just over 70 years.

Israel was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. and large numbers of its population were forcibly resettled in Mesopotamia and were replaced by other peoples, subjects of the Assyrians. Judah was absorbed into the Babylonian Empire in 586 B.C., the Babylonians being the successors of the Assyrians in Mesopotamia. Many of the state and religious leaders were transported to Babylon, Jerusalem being destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 588 B.C.

At the end of the sixth century B.C., Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered Babylon and those Israelites who had been exiled were allowed to return to Israel. The country changed hands again when Alexander the Great defeated the King of Persia in 323 B.C. Subsequently, the territory came under the control of Egypt and later, Syria.

In 140 B.C. there was a successful revolt by the Macabees against Syrian rule which restored Jewish independence for 80 years but in 63 B.C. the Romans incorporated the country, then known briefly as Judea, into the Roman Empire. Following further revolts, the first by the Zealots and the second led by Bar Kokhba, Palestine/Judea became a Roman Colony known as Syria Palestina, From this date, the Jews were driven out of the Holy Land and existed almost entirely in the diaspora, the scattering of their nation throughout the world.

Following the birth of Christ and with the spread of Christianity and its adoption by the Eastern Roman Empire, Palestine and Jerusalem, became a place of pilgrimage for Christians and acquired an importance for Christian rulers equal to that which it had for Jews.

With the decline of the Roman Empire, Palestine passed briefly into the hands of the Persians but at about 570 A.D. the Prophet Muhammad was born at Mecca and the revelation from God (Allah) that he delivered to the Arabs, became the religion of Islam.

The Arabs are a Semitic people, related to the northern Semitic tribes where the Canaanite and Hebrew peoples originated. Their languages are similar in some respects and for example, the word 'Shalom' in Hebrew means the same as the word 'Salaam' in Arabic - 'Peace' - commonly used as a greeting. The similarity is very noticable in place names in Palestine.

The Moslems took control of Palestine and entered Jerusalem in 638 A.D. Fifty years later the Dome of the Rock was built on the site of the Jewish Temple which had been destroyed by Titus. The Moslems believe that the Prophet flew to Heaven from this site on his magic steed, the "buraq". The Dome of the Rock is therefore of great religious significance to Moslems and third only in importance to Mecca and Medina. In Arabic, Jerusalem is known as "Al Quds" - The Holy.

Palestine and in particular, Jerusalem, had now become of great importance to the Jewish, Christian and Moslem religions and thus, the target of many invaders.

In 1099, the Crusaders had taken Jerusalem but had lost it to the Egyptians under Saladin after about 100 years. In 1517 the country was taken by the Ottoman Turks and remained in their control for 400 years.

Following the Great War of 1914 - 1918 and with the defeat of the Turks who had fought on the side of the Germans, Britain was given mandatory rights over Palestine and assumed control of the country in 1918.

In the meantime, prompted by the pogroms in Europe, in which many thousands of Jews were massacred, Jewish interest in the land of their ancestors increased. Jews fled from Europe, Russia in particular, to the United States of America and to Britain where anti semitism did not exist and large numbers emigrated to Palestine and settled there. The latter were encouraged and inspired by the Zionist movement. The Jewish population of Palestine thus increased much to the dismay of the Arab inhabitants and led to many clashes between the State of Israel and their Arab neighbours following the withdrawal of the Mandatory Authority in 1948.

In 1920 the Palestine Police was formed and remained as a Force until 1948 when Britain gave up the mandate and the Force was instructed to "Stand Down".

Return to the beginning