Palestine is one of the most ancient homelands of humankind. There is evidence that Palestine was inhabited almost two hundred thousand years ago.
With the beginning of the Middle Stone Age (Mesolithic period) circa 12,000 BC, humans in Palestine began to raise animals, to farm and produce handcrafts. For example, the skull of a dog, a picture of a bull carved into a bone and a sculpted piece of human skull, all dating back to that period, were found in the caves of Carmel.
Around 7000 BC, Jericho became the first place in Palestine where humans built dwellings for themselves and they also built a ten-meter high wall surround the city. Thus Jericho is considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited city on earth. Farming and animal breeding began there and stability characterized the area for more than a thousand years before they Mesopotamia-Somer (Iraq). The craft of pottery began in Jericho around 5000 BC, spreading from there to the rest of Palestine and Syria.
In several Palestinian cities, numerous artifacts from the Metallic Stone Age (c.4000 BC) were found, including in the city of Megiddo, where the oldest types of decorated pottery were discovered. In Beisan, excavations in 1921 and 1922 at “Tel Al-Hesn” led to the discovery of an accumulated series of ruins of ancient cities, mounting to 18 layers, with the lower layers dating back to 4000 BC and the upper layers to the Middle Ages.
Around 5000 BC, the first wave of Semitic migrations began and by the end of the fourth millennium BC and the beginning of the third millennium, the Semites had left the desert towards Iraq. The Akkadians settled in the south and the Assyrians in the north. The Semites are one of the three lineages of which the white race in today's world is traced back to, and the Arabian Peninsula is considered the original homeland of the Semitic race.
While already inhabited by people before recorded history, Palestine was subjected to a large influx of Semites from the Arabian Peninsula in the beginning of the 3rd millennium. This was known as the “Amorite Canaanite”, which increased around 2500 BC when the Amorites migrated to Greater Syria, to its southeastern parts (Transjordan), and the Canaanites to the coast, southwestern parts (Palestine). As such, the country was named after them – the land of Canaan – which is the oldest name given to our country, Palestine. The Canaanites ruled for nearly 1500 years.
The Jebusites, one of the Canaanite tribes, built the city of Jebus around 2000 BC, which is the Canaanite Arab name for Jerusalem. The city was built on the southwestern mountain of today's Jerusalem and is known today as Al-Nabi Daoud Mountain (Al-Nabi David). (Very recent excavations showed that the city was built even earlier, around 3,000 BC, which is more than two thousand years before the building of the Temple.)
The Prophet Abraham, peace be upon him, who was probably an Amorite living in Ur in Babylon (Iraq), emigrated around 1805 BC and settled in Haran (Syria) and later in the Beersheba area in the land of Canaan. Throughout that time, he called for unification and the oneness of God. He married his second wife Hajar (Egyptian) and around 1794 BCE had Ishmael (Ismail), peace be upon him, in the southwest of Asluge. Ismail is the grandfather of the Adnanian Arabs – Adnan was one of his grandsons, from whom the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, is descended. About 14 years after the birth of Ismail, around the year 1780 BC, Abraham had his second child Isaac, from his wife Sara in Jarar. When Abraham died, his sons buried him next to his wife Sara in Makfeela cave.
Isaac lived in the extreme southern part of the land of Canaan where his son Jacob was born and given the name Israel. Years later her went to Haran and married Rebekah and Rachel, who gave birth to 12 male children, all born in Syria except Benjamin who was born on the road of Bethlehem on their way back from Haran to the land of Canaan. Jacob later went to Egypt around 1656 BC.
Around 1675 BC, the Hyksos invaded Egypt. They were most probably Semites who include the Canaanites and the Amorites as well as others who lived in Syria and Palestine. The Hyksos introduced horses, military chariots and other armaments to the area and governed Egypt for nearly 100 years. Ahmose (1580-1557 BC) was able to expel the Hyksos from Egypt and chased them to Palestine and then to Syria.
The Egyptians again marched towards Palestine during the reign of Thutmose III (15011-1447 BC) and the land of Canaan became an Egyptian province for approximately four centuries. During that period, the rule of the Pharaohs was unstable and they were forced to dispatch a number of campaigns in order to put an end to the rebellions that were occurring. They also fought, for example, the Hittites, who succeeded in bringing most of northern Syria under their control, and Al-Khabiro, who had maintained control of most of Palestine during part of this period. In the year 1269 BCE, the Egyptians and Hittites concluded a treaty that brought what had been to the north of Qadesh and Byblos under the control of the Hittites and what was to the south of them under the control of the Egyptians. Around 1100 BC, several wars broke out between the Canaanite Kings and the Egyptian Kingdom reached its greatest weakness.
The Aegean Philistines who came from Greece (Crete Island) began to settle in the coastal areas of Syria and Egypt. The Egyptian Pharaoh Merenptah was able to quell them around 1225 BC, as was also done years later by Ramses III in the year 1191 BC. Then the Aegeans succeeded in occupying the coast of Palestine and Ramses III allowed them to remain there permanently. Their occupation extended from the area north of Gaza to the coast of Carmel as well as the mountain ranges in the East. The Philistines gained strength and power and had great influence on Canaanite civilization and the making of military weapons.
The family of Jacob (Israel) increased and grew after their migration to Egypt. Around 1227 BC Prophet Moses, peace be upon him, migrated with his people and crossed the sea according to the Biblical story. After forty years in dispersion, Moses tried unsuccessfully to enter Palestine from the south and was forced to go to Transjordan. Moses died after he had seen Palestine from the high mountains of Transjordan, but he had never entered Palestine.
Joshua became the leader of the Hebrews after the death of Moses around 1086 BC. He crossed the River Jordan and surrounded Jericho. He then entered the city, burning it and killing its inhabitants. Joshua and his people continued to annihilate the Canaanites and he was able to bring a great portion of the Canaanite cities under his authority. When Joshua died, the elders took charge of the Hebrews and this era was known as the period of the “Judges”, which lasted for 150 years. Saul was later elected their King and consequently a Jewish Kingdom was established around the year 1020 BC.
After the death of Saul, the Hebrews were divided, and after wars between the two sides, David became a King in about 1016 BC. He was able to establish a strong army and to consolidate the foundation of his reign. At the beginning, David made Hebron his capital. When he entered Jebus (Jerusalem), he moved to it and made Mount Zion his headquarters. The Kingdom of David extended almost from the area of Mount Carmel to Mount Hermon in the north to the Egyptian borders in the south and to the desert in the east. As for the Palestinian coast, it was under the control of the Philistines and remained under the rule of Egypt. The Jews often clashed with the Philistines and fought each other in several battles until the balance tilted in favor of the Jews. (One of these battles is the story of David and Goliath.) After David, his son Solomon became the third King and built the Temple that bears his name as well as a palace and expanded the walls of Jerusalem.
After the death of Solomon, the Jewish Kingdom, which survived for 97 years, was divided into two small kingdoms: the Kingdom of Israel in the north (923-722 BC) and the Kingdom of Judah in the south (923-586 BC). There were fierce battles between the two kingdoms and both called for help from neighboring kingdoms. The area of the Kingdom of Israel was twice the size of that of the Kingdom of Judah and its population was triple. Many of them were pagans. Ten of their nineteen kings died at the hands of their own people. In 722 BC, the Assyrians were able to destroy the Kingdom of Israel and its capital Samaria. The Chaldeans, led by Nebuchadnasar, twice attacked the Kingdom of Judah in the last days of its rule. The second time was in the year 586 BC. When he entered Jerusalem, Nebuchadnasar burned the Temple and destroyed the city and took 50,000 captives to Babylon. Palestine then came under the control of the Chaldeans.
After 70 years, the Persians seized Babylon and their King Cyrus ordered that the Jews be returned to Jerusalem. Those who returned were able to restore the Temple around 516 BC. Their leaders collected and explained a group of religious laws, many from old times, in the Hebrew language, which is today's printed Torah.
Persian rule in Palestine continued for almost two hundred years until the year 322 BC. The organization of the Kingdom and the administrative and economic reforms benefited the country and stability and prosperity prevailed until decadence and decline struck the empire. One of the leading causes of this was its failure in its wars with the Greeks.
Around 332 BC, Jerusalem opened its doors to Alexander the Macedonian and his armies. From there he went to Gaza and besieged it. After fierce resistance, he entered it and suppressed its people. During this battle, Alexander was injured. With the fall of Gaza, Alexander completed the conquest of all of Greater Syria. Later he went to Egypt, conquering it without effort. After the death of Alexander in 323 BC in Babylon, his generals disputed with regard to the fate of his empire and wars and conflicts broke out among them. As a result, Palestine was subject to more wars. In 323 BC, Palestine was given to Laomedon and later became part of the Kingdom of Ptolemies with Alexandria as its capital. They prudently governed the country from 301 to 198 BC.
In the year 213 BC, the Seleucids, the rulers of Syria led by Antiochus, attacked the Ptolemies to expel them from the areas they controlled in Syria and Palestine. Thus a war began and lasted for more than twenty years between the two Greek dynasties in which the Ptolemies gained victory in the beginning until Antiochus III was able to defeat them completely and expel them from the southern part of Greater Syria in 198 BC. During the reign of the Seleucids, they pressured the Jews to abide by Greek traditions and customs, which led to a revolt by the Maccabean dynasty, which clashed with the Seleucids and established a kingdom in 141 BC. The Maccabeans forced the Arab inhabitants of Galilea to convert to Judaism and committed horrifying massacres until the Romans established their control of Palestine.
The conquests of Alexander generally led to the spread of Hellenistic (Greek) civilization. The Greeks, Ptolemies, and Seleucids worked hard to spread their languages, ideas, traditions, sciences, and religions throughout the east (Levant) by building cities and schools. It was said that Palestine absorbed Greek character, including the spoken language despite the fact that this was confined to the major cities. The inhabitants of the villages, however, chose to preserve their traditions and use their own language.
The Romans seized the countries that were governed by the successors of Alexander the Macedonian. They conquered Macedonia and Greece and controlled a large portion of Asia Minor also. They marched onto Syria and Palestine and wrested control over them in 62 BC. The first Roman Governor of Syria rebuilt a number of cities that were destroyed by the Maccabeans such as Samaria, Beisan, and Gaza. This Governor stripped Hyrcanus II, King of the Jews, of his title as King, but he allowed the Jews as well as the others to retain some internal autonomy. After the assassination of Julius Caesar, war broke out between the Roman generals, which led to a struggle between them resulting in the sharing of the rule of the empire between Anthony and Octavius. Syria was under Anthony after he reclaimed it from the Persians who controlled it for a short period of time after the death of Julius Caesar. In 27 BC, Anthony entered the city of Jerusalem, executed the last of the Maccabean leaders and appointed Herod bin Antepas as King.
Rule was then transferred to the Herodosian Idumeans (37 BC-100 AD) in deference to Herod, who helped in consolidating Roman rule in the country and built many cities such as Caesarea and built several palaces and fortresses, including Massada.
Herod converted to Judaism and renovated the Temple in Jerusalem. Before his death in 4 BC, Herod requested that his properties be divided among his three sons, who the Roman Emperor Augustus appointed as governors. (One of them, Antepas, married his niece Herodia, whose daughter Salome asked Antepas for the head of Yehya ibn Zakaria (John the Baptist).)
Jesus Christ, peace be upon him, was born in Bethlehem in about 4 BC, sixty years after the Romans entered Palestine. He lived and grew up in Nazareth, and when he became thirty years old he began to travel throughout Palestine preaching the unification of God and his mercy and love for mankind, the immortality of the soul and reward and punishment. The Jews and Palestinians, who were pagan worshippers, and the Romans resisted the new religion being preached and reacted by oppressing the Christians. Jesus chose twelve men (Apostles) to be his students, almost half of whom were Palestinians. One of those students was Judas Iscariot,(a Jew), who at the end betrayed Jesus and sold him for thirty pieces of silver. In brief, Palestine is considered the heart of Christianity, where Jesus was born and lived all his life, and it was from Jerusalem that he was resurrected and it was there that he preached and called people to the faith.
During the period of Roman rule, the Jews clashed with the Romans several times beginning in 66 AD. The Roman leader Titus besieged Jerusalem and entered it in 70 AD. He burned the Temple that was built by Herod. During the reign of Trajan (98-117 AD), the Jews in five of the Roman kingdoms (Mesopotamia, Cyprus, Egypt, Cyrenica, and Palestine) revolted. Trajan set out to destroy them in the first four kingdoms. After Trajan died, he was succeeded by Hadrian (117-138 AD), who suppressed the Jews in Palestine, killing a large number of them. They were in a state of disobedience under the leadership of Samaan or Bar Kawkab. Hadrian named Jerusalem Aelia Kapitlina and built a statue for Jupiter upon the ruins of the Temple of Herod. It was at this time that Jewish ties to Palestine were brought to an end.
Roman rule in Palestine endured from 62 BC to 395 AD, during which most of the country enjoyed an era of stability, peace and security. However, the number of people who emigrated to it was low. The main goal of the Romans with regard to Greater Syria and Palestine was to use them as a ground base to launch attacks against their enemies and to utilize their resources, including taxes. At the time, the official language was Latin and in the fields of literature and commerce Greek was the dominant language. However, Aramaic was the language used in the markets and by the people in their homes. The population of Palestine at that time was estimated to be about one million.
The armies of Palmyra under the leadership of Zenobia (267-272 AD) controlled Palestine for almost five years until the Roman emperor Aurelius defeated the Kingdom in 272 AD. The people of Palmyra were Arabs similar to the Nabateans, but their capital, Palmyra, never flourished except when Petra started to decline.
Constantine, the Roman Emperor, became a Christian and in 326 AD his mother, Queen Helena, visited Palestine and built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Resurrection) in Jerusalem and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. In 380 AD, Constantine built a new capital for the Empire, which was named after him: Constantinople (now Istanbul).
In 395 AD, the Roman Empire was divided into two empires: the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) with Constantinople as its capital, and the Western Roman Empire with Rome as its capital. Greater Syria, including Palestine, was under the Eastern Roman Empire. The economic situation in the region continued as it had been in the past and the empire enjoyed a lengthy period of stability. In Palestine, the cities of Caesarea, Ashkelon and Gaza continued the cultural path in the Byzantine era and Greek was the language used for teaching in the schools.
During the reign of Justinian (527-565 AD), several earthquakes struck, destroying many cities and villages. The earthquake of 551 was the fiercest of all. In 610 AD, Heraclius took charge of the empire and during his reign the armies of Chosroes, the Persian King, attacked Syria and advanced to Palestine, occupying Caesarea. From there he went on to Jerusalem, entering the city in 614 AD. He burned the Church of the Nativity to the ground and 90,000 Christians were killed. Heraclius returned and attacked the Persians and defeated them in 627 AD. Consequently, Syria was returned to the Byzantine Empire.
During the reign of the Eastern Roman Empire, the Ghassani state came into being. The Ghassanis, Yemeni tribes, adhered to Christianity and during the fourth century they entered the Byzantine political sphere of influence. The Romans used them to quell one of the rebellions in Palestine in 529 AD.
In the year 570 AD, Prophet Mohammed ibn Abdallah, peace be upon him, was born in Mecca. The revelation of the Holy Koran to Prophet Mohammed began in the year 610 AD, marking the beginning of the third monotheistic religion of Islam. Islam gave a distinct and special status to the city of Jerusalem, to which the Prophet Mohammed was taken and from which he ascended to heaven in the “night journey”. The Muslims directed their prayers towards Jerusalem before they did towards Mecca.
During the reign of Caliph Abu Baker, several armies were dispatched north. The army that was sent to Palestine was under the command of Amr ibn Aas. He defeated the Byzantines in several battles, the most important of which was Ajnadiyn in 634 AD, and took control of the southern part of the country. In 636, after the decisive battle at Yarmuk under the command of Kahled ibn Al-Walid, the Arabs completed the conquest of Palestine and the rest of Greater Syria. With regard to Jerusalem, its patriarch, Sophronius, placed a condition on the surrender of the city, demanding that it only be surrendered to the Caliph in person. Thus, Caliph Omar ibn Al-Khattab came to Jerusalem and personally gave promise to the people of their safety and that of their religion and churches. (Al-Uhdah Al-Umarriya)
During the Umayyad rule, Abdel Malek ibn Marwan built the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque beside it. Both, along with the surrounding area, became known as Al-Haram Al-Sharif (the Holy Sancturary). This site is the third holiest place in Islam after Mecca and Medina. The Umayyads began the process of Arabizing the city's administration and developed new monetary coins – the dinar. It was during this period that the Arabic language and Islam spread rapidly.
The end of the tenth century witnessed a general decline in the Abbassid Dynasty and a gradual takeover by the Seljuk Turkish state. During the same century, the Fatamids extended to Egypt and captured Palestine as well from the Seljuks. After that conquest, enmity between the two sides was severe.
In 1090, the Roman Pope Urban II called for a rescue of Jerusalem from the Muslims and began preparations for the Crusades. The Crusades were a series of military campaigns sent to Palestine and the Levant to capture as much territory as possible. In 1096, the armies marched by land, reaching and surrounding the city of Jerusalem by 1099. Within one month, a small Fatamid force surrendered and the Franks occupied the city, desecrating Al-Haram Al-Sharif and massacring the population. The Crusaders then established the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, as well as the three other Emirates in the rest of Greater Syria.
In 1144, one of the three Emirates (Al-Raha) was recaptured by the Master of Mosul, Imad al-din Zanki. He, along with his son, continued the campaign and captured several cities, including Damascus, bringing them under the control of his state. The second Crusade took place from 1147 to 1149, although with little success.
Salah Al-Din Al-Ayyoubi (Saladin) ruled Egypt, annexed Syria and took control of Tiberius and began to fight against the Crusaders. In 1187, the Battle of Hittin took place against King Ghe of Jerusalem and Reynald de Chatillon, the Prince of Kerak. Salah Al-Din achieved great victory in this battle, after which he regained control of the cities and finally surrounded Jerusalem, which surrendered in the autumn of that same year. He allowed the Christian Arabs of the city to maintain their properties and to buy the properties of the departing Franks. He also forced the defeated Franks to leave the city without their weapons, but only after also paying a ransom.
This conquest of Jerusalem led to the third Crusade, led by King Richard (The Lion Heart) of England, King Philip Augustus of France and Frederick, the Emperor of Germany. The Crusaders occupied Acre in 1192, after which the peace treaty of Al-Ramleh was reached between Salah Al-Din and King Richard. The agreement left Jerusalem under control of the Muslims while allowing the Christians to make pilgrimages to the city. The coastal strip between Jaffa and Acre remained under Frank control and the rest of the coast from Askelon south stayed under Salah Al-Din's control.
Salah Al-Din left Palestine and went to Damascus, where he died in 1193. Following his death, in 1197, disputes took place among his successors, enabling a new Crusade campaign to regain control of certain areas. Frederick II, Emperor of Germany, recaptured Jerusalem. Following negotiations between him and Al-Kamel Al-Ayyoubi, an agreement was reached in 1229. Under the agreement, Frederick took control of Jerusalem, under the condition that the Muslims control the Islamic holy sites. Bethlehem and Nazareth were among several cities that came under Frederick's control, while the rest of Palestine stayed under Muslim control. Fifteen years later, Al-Saleh Ayyoubi of Egypt regained control of Jerusalem.
In 1250, the Mamluk Dynasty was established in Egypt and its rule also extended to Palestine and Greater Syria. In 1258, the Mongols (Tartars) occupied Baghdad and destroyed the Abbasid Caliphate. They also occupied Damascus and tried to move south. However, they were defeated in the south by Sultan Qutuz of Egypt, at the battle of Ein Jalut, near Beisan in Palestine in 1259. The Mamluks continued thereafter to recapture the areas under Frank control, but total eviction of the Crusaders was not achieved until 1291 by Sultan Al-Ashraf Khalil ibn Qalawoon when he occupied Acre in 1291.
In 1516, the Ottoman Sultan Salim II defeated the Mamluks, capturing Greater Syria and Egypt in 1517. Palestine then became part of the Ottoman Empire for the next 400 years.
During Ottoman rule, several important developments took place, such as the establishment of the rule of Sheikh Zaher Al-Omar in the north of Palestine (1749-75). He aimed to control Palestine before he was killed near Acre.
In 1799, Napoleon occupied southern Palestine and entered Jaffa, but his siege of Acre failed. One of the most important event in the history of Palestine in the 19th century was the campaign of Ibrahim Pasha to gain Greater Syria and Palestine in 1831. These areas remained under the control of Mohammed Ali Pasha of Egypt until 1840, when the Ottomans recaptured them.
In the last decades of Ottoman rule, Palestine was administratively divided into provinces. Jerusalem was directly linked with the Ministry of Interior in Istanbul. Nablus and Acre were incorporated into the province of Beirut. The remainder of the country was under two governing provinces.
Palestine dispatched deputies to the first Ottoman parliament in 1876, and during this period many Arabs called for political and administrative reforms and self-autonomy. They called for Arabic to be considered the official language. After the reinstatement of the constitution in 1908 and the policies of Turkization pursued by the government, many Arab leaders, including the leaders of Palestine, began to seek independence.
The 20th century witnessed the occupation and rape of Palestine by Zionist forces.