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A SHORT HISTORY OF PALESTINE


A look at the ancient history of the land of Palestine up to the advent
of Islam


The land of Palestine, which in ancient times was known as Canaan,
covers an area of 25,000 square kilometres, lies on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean
Sea and borders Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. Palestine is a fertile land enjoying a
temperate climate. It witnessed the advent of such great prophets as Jesus (pbuh) and
Moses (pbuh) and was the land through which Hazrat Abraham (pbuh) traversed and
where he lived. From a geo-political point of view too, it is a very sensitive and
strategic country.

The city of Jerusalem (Yerushalayim (Hebrew), known by Muslims as the
city of Beit ul-Moqaddas or al-Quds or simply کQuds meaning کthe holy) was built
in the Judean hills and is situated, along with a temple to Jehovah, atop Mount Moriah. It
is one of the important sites of Palestine, to its east lies Mount Zion and on its west
the Mount of Olives.

The eventful history of Palestine begins with the names of the prophets
of our forefathers. The prophet Jacob was also known by the name Israel, and the Bani
Israel are the descendants of Jacob who enjoyed power about thirteen centuries before the
birth of Christ. At the time of the Pharoahs rule and before the advent of Moses
(pbuh), the Israelis formed a huge community in Egypt. Four hundred and thirty years after
Jacobs arrival in Egypt, Hazrat Moses led the Bani Israel tribe away from
bondage in Egypt across the desert towards the Promised Land.

The journey was to take forty years and was not without incident. One
of the most notable was while Moses (pbuh) spent forty days away from his people on Mount
Sinai where he was inspired by God to write down the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone.
In his absence, his tribe once again turned to idol worship and it was because of their
disobedience that they had to spend forty years in the desert. Throughout this long
period, Moses did not desist from guiding his people, but time and again the Bani Israel
rebelled and transgressed.

After his death in Moab, within sight of the Promised Land he had never
reached, Joshua, his successor, led the Bani Israel through Jordan towards the Promised
Land. Their arrival there signalled the start of a campaign for conquest which included
the plunder and killing of the local people. The ruler of Jerusalem united with the rulers
of five other cities against Joshua and his men, but all were defeated and hanged. The
people of Palestine, however, continued to resist the invasion and eventually prevailed
over the Bani Israel. Bloody battles persisted between the two sides in which the
inhabitants of Palestine continued to impose defeat. Eventually, however, the Bani Israel
amassed power and gained control over the main cities and in c. 1010 BC Hazrat
David was able to snatch Jerusalem from the Palestinians and found the Beit ul-Moqaddas or
the House of God there. This building was completed by Hazrat Solomon.

Beit ul Moqaddas was built about 1100 years after the building of the
Kaba in Mecca by Hazrat Abraham (pbuh) and 970 years before the birth of Christ. Hazrat
David is a fourteenth generation descendant of Hazrat Abraham, the founder of the
Kaba, and according to the Gospel of Matthew, Hazrat Jesus lineage reaches back
twenty-eight generations to David. Consequently, Mecca (the Kaba) is the first sacred
place of the monotheists and the al-Aqsa mosque in Quds the second.

The Ark of the Covenant: The Ark of the Covenant in Muslim tradition is
the box in which Moses was laid by his mother and cast into the waters of the river Nile.
Moses placed his stone tables, his chain mail and the tokens of his prophethood in this
box so that no one could touch them. At the time of Hazrat David, this box was
lined both within and without with gold and transferred from Hebron to Mount Zion where an
altar was built to keep it. For a while it lay in the hands of the victorious Palestinians
but was eventually handed back to the Bani Israel. It was kept on Zion until the time of Hazrat
Solomon when upon completion of the Beit ul-Moqaddas building, the ark was transferred to
Quds. Solomon ruled for forty years and returned peace to Quds, but following him the
oppression and plundering of the Bani Israel began again.

About 730 BC, King Shalmaneser invaded Israel, imprisoned the Bani
Israel and settled Babylonians in the area. In 586 BC, the land of the Jews was attacked
once again, this time being overrun by the Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar. During this
assault, most of the population was expelled or imprisoned, the Jewish monarchy was
overthrown and the First Temple built by Solomon razed.

Since the arrival of the Bani Israel or the Israelites in Palestine 480
years before the founding of Quds (about 1300 years before Christ) under the leadership of
Joshua, this land has been afflicted with strife. Today, 3300 years later, Palestine has
still not found peace.

Subsequent Jewish prophets such as Jeremiah, Isaiah and Daniel, whose
words and prophecies are recorded in the Old Testament, comforted the Jews during years of
suffering and imprisonment and the destruction of Jerusalem, continuously promising
deliverance and offering glad tidings of the coming of a great messiah. The conquests of
Cyrus, the Achaemenian king who rose in the East and created his empire taking one land
after another, pleased the Jews and their rulers. Cyrus went on to take Babylonia, where
he freed the Jews from their captivity, and Palestine and Jerusalem, to where he allowed
them to return. Cyrus ruled his empire with moderation and treated all tribes and
religions well. It was on his orders that the House of God was once again constructed.

Peace reigned in Jerusalem until towards the end of the reign of Darius
III, when in 333 BC the Persians in Palestine were overpowered by Alexander, king of
Macedon. Upon his succession, Alexander had immediately set about the invasion of the
Persian empire, wresting Egypt, Syria and Phoenicia from the hands of the Persians,
leaving a trail of death and destruction in his wake. Much of Irans treasures were
plundered during this period and in revenge for the destruction of Athens by Xerxes,
Takht-i Jamshid, the seat of Persian government, was sacked and burned and Alexanders
commanders made rulers over conquered Persian cities.

After Alexander, Palestine fell into the hands of his successors. In 63
BC, Roman domination began with the capture of Jerusalem by the Roman general Pompey.
Twelve thousand Jews were killed in the siege and the walls of the city were destroyed.
Under such conditions, the advent of Jesus was eagerly awaited by the people of that
region who saw in him the fulfilment of their hopes.

The promised messiah was born in Nazareth, a town of lower Galilee, to
a mission which came to be marked, as the Bible relates, by many miracles. In Jerusalem,
Jesus spent all his days teaching and learning at the temple, thus provoking the jealously
of the Rabbis who set about trying to get rid of him. Eventually, on the instigation of
the Jewish Council, which issued a ruling against him, Jesus was crucified by the Roman
procurator, Pontius Pilate, who, it is said, actually liked Christians.

The Most Noble Quran actually rejects the story of Christs
crucifixion as believed by the Christians and states instead: "But they killed him
not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them . . . Nay, God raised him up
unto Himself." (Quran 4:157). Be that as it may, Christianity, the religion of
which Jesus is the central figure, lived on and went on to attract many followers.

Repressive Roman administration sparked numerous revolts by the Jews
which the Romans dealt with harshly, resulting in the deaths of many Jews. In 70 AD,
Titus, the elder son of the Roman Emperor Vespasian, put down a Jewish revolt in Judaea
with an army of 80,000, and after a siege lasting a few months, destroyed Jerusalem
causing the Jews to disperse once again.

About three hundred years after the death of Christ, when Constantine I
(the Great 306-337 AD), emperor of Rome, converted to Christianity making it the official
religion, Jerusalem underwent a revival. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, begun in 325 AD
on the site believed to be that of Jesus Christs crucifixion at Calvary, was completed
ten years later and Jerusalem became a holy Christian city. For more than five centuries,
from 135 AD when the Roman Emperor Hadrian seized and destroyed the city reconstructing it
as a Roman colony and banning all Jews, only a small number of Jews ever lived there.

At the time of Chosroes II Aparvez, the Sassanian king, war between the
two empires of Iran and Byzantium broke out. It lasted from 604 to 630 AD and saw the
defeat of the Byzantines by the Iranian armies. With the help and guidance of Jews who
lent their assistance to Iran during the war, the Persians captured Palestine in 614 AD.
However, after the death of Chosroes, this land once again fell into the hands of the
Christians with its capture by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius in 628 AD.

Jerusalem after Islam


In the first thirteen years of his mission, when Hazrat Muhammad
(upon whom be peace) lived in Mecca, the al-Aqsa mosque (the Remote Mosque) in Jerusalem
was the Muslims qibla (prayer direction), the first. Two years after his
migration to Medina, at the Bani Sulameh mosque in Medina, the qibla of the Muslims
was changed on Gods command from the al-Aqsa mosque to the al-Haram mosque (the Sacred
Mosque containing the Kaba) in Mecca. Perhaps the most important reason for the change
was to rob the Jews of the excuse to pour scorn on the Muslims for praying in this
direction.

After the death of the Prophet, at the time of the first caliph, the
Muslim army was sent to face the Byzantines in Syria and Palestine. It was during the rule
of the second caliph, however, that the Byzantine armies were defeated and Syria and
Jerusalem fell into Muslim hands. The inhabitants of the city initially put up strong
resistance and a siege lasted for many months leading to food shortages and the spread of
disease which, among other things, finally forced their surrender.

The second caliph entered the conquered city to conclude a peace treaty
wearing simple even shabby raiment and riding an unembellished mount, much to the surprise
of the inhabitants. The caliph treated his subjects with tolerance and moderation. Under
his rule, Jews were allowed to return and Christians given freedom of worship.

From 637 AD (15 AH) until the twentieth century, Palestine was to
remain in Muslim hands. The population of Jerusalem comprised mostly Muslim Arabs and
because it had been the first qibla for Muslims, it was held in great esteem and
was recognised as a holy place.

The Crusades


With the attack by western European Christians led by Godfrey of
Bouillon on the Muslims in 1096 (488 AH), resulting in the capture of Jerusalem, the wars
known as the Crusades began and lasted for nearly two centuries. Several motives for the
start of these wars have been cited, not least among them the Christians desire to
exact an earthly revenge for advances made by the Muslims on the western front; the lure
of eastern wealth and land; and in some cases, though by no means all, the genuine
religious belief that heaven awaited those who ascended there from the site of Christs
tomb. However, as historians have concluded, what lay at the heart of the matter was the
issue of Palestine and the city of Jerusalem, the tributary status of the Christians of
this city and the unpropitious treatment they came to be exposed to.

In the Middle Ages - the period of European history from the fall of
the Roman Empire in the West (476 AD) to the fall of Constantinople (1453 AD) at the hands
of the Ottoman Sultan Muhammad II the Conqueror - Europe was ruled despotically by the
Church. The pope of the time, Pope Urban II, in order to start the first crusade, resorted
to deceit. Priests spread the rumour that signs of Christs coming had appeared in
Palestine. Consequently, large numbers of Christians set off for Jerusalem in the hope of
witnessing the second coming of Christ. It didnt happen, but every year the priests
preached that it had been postponed until the following year, in this way increasing the
number of pilgrims to Palestine.

In the early days of this affair, the Pope set off on a pilgrimage to
Jerusalem, accompanied by seven hundred pilgrims. He turned back for Europe upon reaching
Cyprus and spread the rumour that the Muslims had stopped him entering the holy city. With
such tricks the flames of war were fanned and for nearly two centuries claimed their
victims.

In the first crusade, seven hundred thousand men, mostly from the
masses of poor to whom, with their depressed economic and social conditions, taking the
cross was a relief rather than a sacrifice, set off towards Jerusalem with a number of
knights. Along the way, as the story goes, others joined them increasing their number to
millions. However after three years of fighting, plundering and a slow advancement, only
forty thousand men reached Jerusalem, the others either having been killed in battles with
the Muslims or having succumbed to illness. After a months siege and a difficult
battle, the besiegers finally stormed the city and perpetrated an indiscriminate massacre
involving all ages and both sexes, and plundered everything in the name of booty. Godfrey
their leader, who shortly after the victory was crowned king of the Crusader state in
Palestine, in a report to the Pope wrote: "As to those who fell into our hands in
Jerusalem, know this, our men rode in a sea of Muslim blood as deep as the horses
knees."

So it was that for the next ninety years, Palestine lay under the sway
of the Christians. Although the first crusade resulted in the capture of Jerusalem and the
establishment of Crusader states in the Holy Land, the second (1147-9 AD / 542-544 AH)
failed to stop a Muslim resurgence and Jerusalem fell to Salah al-Din (Saladin) Ayubi in
1187. Following this victory, most of the remaining Christian strongholds in the region
were seized in a series of brilliantly executed campaigns. The Christians were swept out
of the conquered lands and only Antioch, Tripoli and Tyre, besides certain smaller towns
and castles, remained in their possession.

The fall of the holy city aroused Europe. The Pope, who saw the fall as
a humiliation for the Christians, issued a religious edict for holy war. In response,
hostilities among Europes rulers were buried and Frederick Barbarossa, emperor of
Germany, Richard I Coeur de Lion, king of England, and Philip Augustus, king of France,
took the cross. These three were the most powerful sovereigns of western Europe, and with
them the third crusade (1189-92 AD / 585-588 AH) began.

Frederick, who was the first to set off, was drowned while crossing the
River Calycadnus in SE Asia Minor. Most of his followers subsequently returned home. But
the kings of England and France entered the fray, capturing some lost ground (although
Jerusalem eluded them) and leaving a trail of slaughter in their wake, harrowing accounts
of which European chroniclers have recorded. Peace between the two belligerents was
finally achieved and following the death of Salah al-Din Ayubi, which came only a few
months after the peace, the sultanate he had built was divided amongst his various heirs
of the Ayyubid family.

In Europe, after much conflict between the popes and the kings, Pope
Innocent III (1198-1216 AD) won maximum authority, excommunicated the kings and issued a
religious edict for holy war with the Muslims. After only a few short years of peace, the
flames of war were rekindled. The crusaders set upon their fourth crusade (1202-1204 AD)
capturing Constantinople.

The fifth crusade (1217-21 AD / 614-618 AH) was started once again at
the instigation of Pope Innocent and his successor. The Church wanted the European kings
to return Jerusalem to the Christian fold. They, however, were not inclined to embark on
such a campaign and thus a religious decree for holy war with the Muslims was once again
issued. This crusade resulted in a Christian defeat.

Papal incitement was once again behind the start of the sixth crusade
(1228-9 AD). In 1229, due to serious disputes which had arisen among the Ayyubids,
Jerusalem was yielded to Frederick II of Germany, leader of the Crusaders, as the result
of an infamous treaty which guaranteed one Ayyubid leader Fredericks aid against the
others. The al-Aqsa mosque, however, remained in Muslim hands. Jerusalem remained under
Christian control until 1244 when a contingent of Khwarizm Turks, previously dislodged
from their Central Asian abode by Chengiz Khan, restored the city to Islam.

The seventh crusade (1248-54 AD / 646-652 AH) ended in disaster for the
Christians in Egypt. Their leader Saint Louis (Louis IX) of France had embarked on the
campaign in revenge for the defeat of the Christians in Gaza. His army, however, was
entirely destroyed and he, along with most of his nobles, was taken prisoner. After a
month of captivity, he and his men were released on the payment of a ransom and the
restoration of Dimyat (an Egyptian city that had earlier surrendered to his forces). In
1270, he led another futile crusade, the eighth and last (1270-1 AD), now to Tunisia,
where he died.

Following the seventh crusade and the death of the last Ayyubid king,
the Mamluks (a dynasty of slaves) took over the reins of power, dominating for about two
and three-quarter centuries (1250-1517 AD) one of the most turbulent areas of the world.
These slave sultans cleared their Syrian-Egyptian domain of the remnants of the Crusaders
and checked for ever the advance of the redoubtable Mongol hordes of Hulagu and Timur.

Meanwhile, in Anatolia the Ottoman dynasty, founded by Uthman I (Osman)
1259-1326 AD, was busy securing its power. At the end of the thirteenth century, Uthman
established the Turkish state which was expanded by his successors, by dint of many
battles and victories, to include all of Asia Minor and much of SE Europe. Jerusalem came
under Ottoman rule in 1517 where it remained until it was captured by British forces in
December 1917. But it was the capture of Constantinople - an important Christian trade
centre and the capital of the Easter Roman empire - earlier in 1453 (857 AH) by Uthmans
descendant Muhammad II the Conqueror (1451-81 AD) which formally ushered in a new era,
that of the Ottoman empire.

The capture of Constantinople was a watershed in European history. It
marked the end of the Middle Ages and, just as the Crusaders had transferred the knowledge
and civilisation of the Muslims to Europe, so too this city, which remained the capital of
the Ottoman empire for five hundred years, would inspire changes during the Renaissance
and subsequent periods. Following its capture, important strides were made in the fields
of industry, literature and architecture, and the lands under Ottoman sway flourished as
Europe looked on with a wary eye.

The rise in Iran of the Safavid dynasty, which made the Shiite branch
of Islam the official state religion, and the overt and covert machinations devised by the
European governments, in particular the British government, led to bloody battles between
Iran and the Ottomans which lasted for more than two centuries. Consequently, at a time
when Europe had embarked on its movement to revive art and learning (the Renaissance)
after making peace with the Ottomans, the world of Islam was cleft by a great schism, the
power of the Muslims was exhausted in these lengthy wars and instead of turning their
thoughts to the defence of the Islamic civilisation, they were distracted by civil war and
religious rancour.

Jerusalem and Palestine in the Twentieth Century


After the Industrial Revolution, the face of Europe changed rapidly and
the Europeans began to surpass the Muslims in the different fields of science and art.
During this period, the East had fallen into a stupor while Europe created modern
industrial methods and mass produced manufactured goods. Domestic markets came to be
saturated so foreign markets were sought to which surplus goods could be exported and raw
materials obtained. Thus the era of colonisation and appropriation of other countries was
begun.

Preparations for the establishment of an Israeli state and Palestinian
and Arab reaction


At the end of the 19th century, revolts took place in Palestine, and
the British, who up until that time had supported the Ottomans, suddenly shifted their
allegiance and stood against them in support of the agitators. The reason behind this
switch in allegiance lay in Britains need to protect India, its most important colony
at the time and the source of its wealth and power, against possible incursion by Russia
and France, two of her most powerful adversaries. In her attempts to do this, Britain saw
no choice but to wrest sovereignty over certain Asian countries from the Ottomans, and in
particular to gain control of the Suez Canal. The British government thus embarked on a
policy of inciting the Arabs to rebel against the Ottoman Turks. Amongst its targets was
the opportunist Ottoman representative in the Hijaz, Husayn, the Sharif of Mecca, who,
with the promise of Britains help, was encouraged to break away from Ottoman rule. In
1916, at the instigation of the British, he declared himself the کking of the Arabs
and began the Arab revolt.

In May 1916 (1334 AH), a secret agreement between London and Paris, the
Sykes-Picot agreement, was signed to carve up the Ottoman Empire among Britain, France and
Russia after their victory in the First World War. Later, however, on seeing that the
agreement ran counter to its control over the Suez Canal and taking advantage of Russias
weakened position and the revolution which was taking place in that country, Britain
reneged on its agreement in 1917 (1335 AH) and made Palestine a British mandate.

These measures were taking place at a time when nationalist ideas and
their circulation were being strongly encouraged by the imperialist British government as
a way to dismember the Ottoman empire and weaken the Ottoman government. Such ideas, which
gradually displaced the Islamic identity in many Muslim countries, became the main weapon
used by imperialism, of which the British government at that time was the standard-bearer,
to secure and further imperialist policy interests. The result was the development of
ethnic tendencies and the rise of divisive and separatist movements in Islamic lands,
particularly in the domains of the Ottoman government.

As nationalist movements emerged in the Middle East, fanciful claims
about the unity of the worlds Jews, which had no basis in historical realities, began
to be propounded and promoted. The Zionist movement espousing the idea of transforming the
Jewish religious community into a nation with an independent state was sparked by the
publication of Theodore Herzls The Jewish State in 1896. When a number of Jews

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