The earliest known inhabitants of Palestine were of the same group as the Neanderthal inhabitants of Europe. By the 4th millennium B.C. Palestine was inhabited by herders and farmers. It was in the 3d millennium that most of the towns known in historical times came into existence. They became centers of trade for Egyptian and Babylonian goods. During the 2d millennium, Palestine was ruled by the Hyksos and by the Egyptians. Toward the end of this period Moses led the Hebrew people (see Jews) out of Egypt, across the Sinai, and into Palestine.
Around 1200 B.C., the Philistines ("Sea Peoples") invaded the southern coastland and established a powerful kingdom (see Philistia). The Hebrews were subject to the Philistines until c.1000 B.C., when an independent Hebrew kingdom was established under Saul, who was succeeded by David and then by Solomon. After the expansionist reign of Solomon (c.950 B.C.), the kingdom broke up into two states, Israel, with its capital at Samaria, and Judah, under the house of David, with its capital at Jerusalem. The two kingdoms were later conquered by expanding Mesopotamian states, Israel by Assyria (c.720 B.C.) and Judah by Babylonia (586 B.C.).
In 539 B.C. the Persians conquered the Babylonians. The Jewish Temple, destroyed by the Babylonians, was rebuilt (516 B.C.). Under Persian rule Palestine enjoyed considerable autonomy. Alexander the Great of Macedon, conquered Palestine in 333 B.C. His successors, the Ptolemies and Seleucids, contested for Palestine. The attempt of the Seleucid Antiochus IV (Antiochus Epiphanes) to impose Hellenism brought a Jewish revolt under the Maccabees, who set up a new Jewish state in 142 B.C. The state lasted until 63 B.C., when Pompey conquered Palestine for Rome.
Palestine at the time of Jesus was ruled by puppet kings of the Romans, the Herods (see Herod). When the Jews revolted in A.D. 66, the Romans destroyed the Temple (A.D. 70). Another revolt between A.D. 132 and 135 was also suppressed (see Bar Kokba, Simon), Jericho and Bethlehem were destroyed, and the Jews were barred from Jerusalem. When Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity (312), Palestine became a center of Christian pilgrimage, and many Jews left the region. Palestine over the next few centuries generally enjoyed peace and prosperity until it was conquered in 614 by the Persians. It was recovered briefly by the Byzantine Romans, but fell to the Muslim Arabs under caliph Umar by the year 640.
At this time (during the Umayyad rule), the importance of Palestine as a holy place for Muslims was emphasized, and in 691 the Dome of the Rock was erected on the site of the Temple of Solomon, which is claimed by Muslims to have been the halting station of Muhammad on his journey to heaven. Close to the Dome, the Aqsa mosque was built. In 750, Palestine passed to the Abbasid caliphate, and this period was marked by unrest between factions that favored the Umayyads and those who preferred the new rulers.
In the 9th cent., Palestine was conquered by the Fatimid dynasty, which had risen to power in North Africa. The Fatimids had many enemies—the Seljuks, Karmatians, Byzantines, and Bedouins—and Palestine became a battlefield. Under the Fatimid caliph al Hakim (996–1021), the Christians and Jews were harshly suppressed, and many churches were destroyed. In 1099, Palestine was captured by the Crusaders (see Crusades), who established the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. The Crusaders were defeated by Saladin at the battle of Hittin (1187), and the Latin Kingdom was ended; they were finally driven out of Palestine by the Mamluks in 1291. Under Mamluk rule Palestine declined.
In 1516 the Mamluks were defeated by the Ottoman Turks. The first three centuries of Ottoman rule isolated Palestine from outside influence. In 1831, Muhammad Ali, the Egyptian viceroy nominally subject to the Ottoman sultan, occupied Palestine. Under him and his son the region was opened to European influence. Ottoman control was reasserted in 1840, but Western influence continued. Among the many European settlements established, the most significant in the long run were those of Jews, Russian Jews being the first to come (1882).
In the late 19th cent. the Zionist movement was founded (see Zionism) with the goal of establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine, and dozens of Zionist colonies were founded there. At the start of the Zionist colonization of Palestine in the late 19th cent., the rural people were Arab peasants (fellahin). Most of the population were Muslims, but in the urban areas there were sizable groups of Arab Christians (at Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem) and of Jews (at Zefat, Tiberias, Jerusalem, Jericho, and Hebron).
At the same time Arab nationalism was developing in the Middle East in opposition to Turkish rule. In World War I the British, with Arab aid, gained control of Palestine. In the Balfour Declaration (1917) the British promised Zionist leaders to aid the establishment of a Jewish "national home" in Palestine, with due regard for the rights of non-Jewish Palestinians. However, the British had also promised Arab leaders to support the creation of independent Arab states. The Arabs believed Palestine was to be among these, an intention that the British later denied.
In 1919 there were about 568,000 Muslims, 74,000 Christians, and 58,000 Jews in Palestine. The first Arab anti-Zionist riots occurred in Palestine in 1920. The League of Nations approved the British mandate in 1922, although the actual administration of the area had begun in 1920. As part of the mandate Britain was given the responsibility for aiding the Jewish homeland and fostering Jewish immigration there. The British stressed that their policy to aid the homeland did not include making all Palestine the homeland, but rather that such a home should exist within Palestine and that there were economic limits on how many immigrants should be admitted (1922 White Paper).
In the 1920s, Jewish immigration was slight, but the Jewish communities made great economic progress. In 1929 there was serious Jewish-Arab violence occasioned by a clash at the Western, or Wailing, Wall in Jerusalem. A British report found that Arabs feared the economic and political consequences of continued Jewish immigration with its attendant land purchases. Zionists were angered when a new White Paper (1930) urged limiting immigration, but they were placated by Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald (1931).
The rise of Nazism in Europe during the 1930s led to a great increase in immigration. Whereas there were about 5,000 immigrants authorized in 1932, about 62,000 were authorized in 1935. Arabs conducted strikes and boycotts; a general strike in 1936, organized by Haj Amin al Husayni, mufti of Jerusalem, lasted six months. Some Arabs acquired weapons and formed a guerrilla force. The Peel commission (1937), finding British promises to Zionists and Arabs irreconcilable, declared the mandate unworkable and recommended the partition of Palestine into Jewish, Arab, and British (largely the holy places) mandatory states. The Zionists reluctantly approved partition, but the Arabs rejected it, objecting particularly to the proposal that the Arab population be forcibly transferred out of the proposed Jewish state.
The British dropped the partition idea and announced a new policy (1939 White Paper). Fifteen thousand Jews a year would be allowed to immigrate for the next five years, after which Jewish immigration would be subject to Arab acquiescence; Jewish land purchases were to be restricted; and within 10 years an independent, binational Palestine would be established. The Zionists were shocked by what they considered a betrayal of the Balfour Declaration. The Arabs also rejected the plan, demanding instead the immediate creation of an Arab Palestine, the prohibition of further immigration, and a review of the status of all Jewish immigrants since 1918.
The outbreak of World War II prevented the implementation of the plan, except for the restriction on land transfers. The Zionists and most Arabs supported Britain in the war (although Haj Amin al Husayni was in Germany and negotiated Palestine's future with Hitler), but tension inside Palestine increased. The Haganah, a secret armed group organized by the Jewish Agency, and the Irgun and the Stern Gang, terrorist groups, were active. British officials were killed by the terrorists. The horrible plight of European Jewry led influential forces in the United States to lobby for support of an independent Jewish state, and President Truman requested that Britain permit the admission of 100,000 Jews. Illegal immigration, often involving survivors of Hitler's death camps, took place on a large scale. The independent Arab states organized the Arab League to exert internationally what pressure they could against the Zionists.
An Anglo-American commission recommended (1946) that Britain continue administering Palestine, rescind the land-transfer restrictions, and admit 100,000 Jews, and that the underground Jewish armed groups be disbanded. A plan for autonomy for Jews and Arabs within Palestine was discussed at a London conference (1947) of British, Arabs, and Zionists, but no agreement could be reached. The British, declaring their mandate unworkable and despairing of finding a solution, turned the Palestine problem over to the United Nations (Feb., 1947). At that time there were about 1,091,000 Muslims, 614,000 Jews, and 146,000 Christians in Palestine.
The United Nations Special Committee on Palestine devised a plan to divide Palestine into a Jewish state, an Arab state, and a small internationally administered zone including Jerusalem, and the General Assembly adopted the recommendations on Nov. 29, 1947. The Jews accepted the plan; the Arabs rejected it. As the British began to withdraw early in 1948, Arabs and Jews prepared for war (see Arab-Israeli Wars).
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