Does Israel belong to the Jews or have they usurped ancient Arab land? Part II

Part II

The reader of Part I will have noticed that, to this point, there has been no historically recorded mention of either “Palestinians” or Arabs as sojourners in the land, and the end of Persian rule in the region marked the end of Canaanite culture as a result of hundreds of years of rule by empire, the collapse and destruction of city-states and kingdoms, and the transportation of populations (Ahlström, History of Ancient Palestine, 822–3).

It was during the period of the Roman ruler of Herod “the great” that that the life and teachings of the Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, took place. The revolutionary Nazarene and his followers should be viewed as one of many groups in Jews in Judaea reacting against poor treatment under Roman rule and the forced Romanization–Hellenization of Jewish culture. The more violent revolutionary groups were the Zealots and Sicarii and it was their resistance to Roman rule which eventually led to the outbreak of the first Jewish war against Rome (66–74 CE).

The second and last major Jewish war against Rome (132–135 CE), the Bar Kochba Revolt, broke out some 60 years later. Two thirds of the Jewish population of Judaea were annihilated, Jerusalem, still of no consequence or importance to Arabs or Islam (which developed around 700 years later…), was renamed Aelia Capitolina with the Roman province of Roman Judaea changed to Palaestina in 139 CE to complete the Jewish disassociation between the land and its indigenes.

Jews were barred from entering the Roman (not Arab or Muslim) city by imperial decree and threat of death, were forcibly scattered throughout the empire and, eventually, as far as Europe, and a shrine to Jupiter was built on the old site of the Temple to Yahweh in Jerusalem, and in the year 139 CE.

Still no mention in the historical record of Phillistines or Canaanites or Arabs (Muslim and/or otherwise) or a “Palestinian” people, nation or ethnicity in this neck of the woods.

So, what of the Arab claim to the land of Israel and Jews as European interlopers in Muslim territory allegedly ordained by Allah?

Harms and Ferry (2005:23-24) state that “…no one is totally certain where the Arabs came from, or when they appeared as a distinct group… According to scripture and legend the Arabs are descendants of Ishmael, who was the son of Abraham”.

However, Harms and Ferry themselves find it difficult to endorse the existence of real-life Abraham as I have noted above.

They do, however, point out that it was the Bedouin, nomads, who moved from oasis to oasis with their camels, as the quintessential Arab who traversed the desolate sands of pre-Islamic Arabian Peninsula, sometimes referred to as to as Jazirat al-‘Arab, “the Island of the Arabs.”

The west coast of the peninsula was inhabited by sedentary groups of people knowns as Jews who practiced their religion, language and culture not a thousand miles from forced exile from their spiritual heartland in Jerusalem, as well as a number of sects of Christianity as the early Christian church evolved.

Most nomadic and sedentary Arabs also resident in that region practiced varieties of pagan animism and a belief in deities, sacred objects and demons or jinns.

Thus, with the Persians, holding sway over the area of today’s Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan prior to the birth of the Jewish Nazarene Jesus, the Romans, on the other hand setting up their centre of power in Constantinople after his birth and death, and the powerful empire of Ethiopia, to the southwest of Arabia in Africa, Arabia was stuck in the middle of this shift/change/evolution of ruling groups/empires, and it was against this socio-political backdrop that the Arab-designated Prophet Muhammad arrived and would one day be known to the followers of Islam as “the Seal of the Prophets”.

However, there is still NO reference in the historical record, over 550 years after the death of Jesus the Jew at the hands of the Romans and, arguably, according the Merneptah stele reference to Israel approx. 1,800 years before that,  of Jerusalem being of ANY importance to either the nomadic OR sedentary Arabs of the Hejaz.

As Mohammed was growing up, Jewish tribes were living in all the major Arabian towns, including Tayma, Medina and Khaibar. Twenty Jewish tribes lived in the peninsula, three of them in Medina. In the words of the Jewish historian H.Z. Hirschberg, Jewish tribes had ‘lived for generations’ in the region where Mohammed began his preaching. Hirschberg (‘Arabia,’ Encyclopaedia Judaica, Volume 3, columns 232–6)   points out that two of the leading Arab tribes at Medina, the Banu al–Aws and the Banu Khazraj, were at one time vassals of the Jewish tribes.

Disillusioned with ongoing Bedouin materialism, their light respect for then-current pagan/animist beliefs and rapacious greed, Mohammad moved from Mecca to Medina.

Of the eleven or so clans that made up Medina (or Yathrib), three were Jewish, and one at one time had had control of Yathrib.

Muhammad viewed Jews and Christians as “People of the Book” and looked to the Jews for support as, with no explanation other than his own, he believed himself to be a continuation of the Abrahamic lineage (that name again….) and described himself as God’s prophet.

He even deferred to a millennia of established prior Jewish practice in the Jewish fast of Yom Kippur, in his choice of Jerusalem as the new religion, Islam’s, qiblah, the direction in which one faced during prayer, adoption of the Jewish example (in Medina) by introducing a third prayer at midday, strict Jewish dietary laws, circumcision of male babies and fasting on the 10th day of each new year.

So far so good.

The Jews of the three large clans in Yathrib (Medina) challenged the legitimacy of his preaching. For this lack of support, Muhammad changed the qiblah to Mecca (where it remains today) and exchanged the fast of Yom Kippur for the month-long fast of Ramadan. He then expelled two of the three Jewish clans from Medina, and, according to historically verified records, slaughtered the men of the Qurayzah clan and sold their women and children into slavery. This brutal removal of those who opposed Mohammed became a model for future Muslim rulers, and a tactic he repeated successfully with the Jews of the Khaibar oasis a few weeks later. One far reaching consequence of Muhammad’s defeat of the Jews of the Khaibar oasis was that the terms imposed on Khaibar’s surviving Jews set the precedent in Islamic case law (Sharia Law) for the subsequent treatment of all non–Muslims under Muslim rule (the jizya tax and dhimmitude).

At the age of around 60, Muhammad advanced on the city of his birth, Mecca, and took it with 10,000 men. The inhabitants, confronted by this overwhelming show of force, converted to Islam. He died two years later.

However, the die had been set, the precedent of dhimmitude for all non-believers established, and all that followed in the decades after in the sweep of the forced Islamification of the Peninsula and points north, east and north-west into the southern Levant remained the core of the Muslim playbook and a putative source of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

 Six years later, Arab armies under Omar ibn al–Khattab, Muhammad’s second father in law, closed in on Jerusalem and in 638 CE were handed the keys of the city, which soon morphed into Islam’s third holiest site and the site of the “farthest mosque, al-Aqsa.

For what it’s worth, al Aqsa was completed 70 years after Muhammad’s death and approximately 1,850 years after King David made Jerusalem his capital, a capital anchored in, and core to, unchanged Jewish ethnicity, peoplehood and nationhood, practicing an unchanged faith, spirituality and culture over three millennia in the land of Israel AND in the diaspora.

Interestingly, Phillip Hitti’s now-classic quote (History of the Arabs, 1970:240) describes the aftermath of the waves of Arab invasions: “The invaders of the desert brought with them no tradition of learning, no heritage of culture, to the lands they conquered. In Syria, in Egypt, in al-‘Iraq, in Persia, they sat as pupils at the feet of the peoples they subdued.”

“The Arabs made their way into these foreign lands encountering highly cultured societies, happening upon classical literature, Hellenistic thought, Byzantine institutions, Roman law, Syriac scholarship, and Persian art.” (Harms and Ferry 2005:34)

“At first these resources were appropriated directly, with little reshaping. Before long, however, they were more selectively utilized, combined into novel patterns that served as both resources and stimulus to creative Muslim scholarship. The result was not simply a montage of bits and pieces of disparate culture. It was a new creation with its own distinctive pattern, infused with a new spirit and expressing a new social order.” (J. R. Hayes, The Genius of Arab Civilization: Source of Renaissance, 1983:6)

Thus far, hopefully it is made clear that despite the series of invasions, occupations and colonisations centuries before the invasion and occupation of the Southern Levant by the Muslim Arabs, Jews persevered and continued to live in the Judaea, Samaria, Gaza AND in their historical capital, Jerusalem, for at least 1800 years before the Arab invasions.

As another example, at the end of the fifteenth century, the Czech traveller Martin Kabátnik encountered Jews during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and reported that they still thought of the area as their land: “The heathens [that is, the Muslim rulers] oppress them at their pleasure. They know that the Jews think and say that this is the Holy Land that was promised to them. Those of them who live here are regarded as holy by the other Jews, for in spite of all the tribulations and the agonies that they suffer at the hands of the heathen, they refuse to leave the place.”

In their turn, the Turks taxed the Jews on the basis of the Qur’anic command that the “People of the Book” (primarily Jews and Christians) must be made to “pay the jizya [tax] with willing submission and feel themselves subdued” (9:29).

Yet still Jews came. In 1810, the disciples of the great Talmudic scholar known as the Vilna Gaon arrived in the land of Israel.

They also stayed and by 1857 for example, Tiberias boasted a population of 1000 Jews, 300 Muslims and 3 Chrisitans.

I mention these facts and numbers because the lie of the slur of the “Jewish colonial invader” of “Palestinian” land is laid bare by the fact that from 650 CE to around late 1880 CE, there was no “Zionist Project” ascribed to the Jews.

But, the delegitimiser will argue that “Palestinian Arabs” were “always there”. Clearly, this article, to this point, has shown that to be untrue, and, in 134 CE, some 70 years after the Romans had expelled the Jews from Jerusalem, the Roman historian Dio Cassius wrote “The whole of Judaea became desert, as indeed had been foretold in their sacred rites, fell of its own accord into fragments, and wolves and hyenas, many in number, roamed howling through their cities.”

No Jews in Judea through a forced population transfer?

And certainly no mention whatsoever of “Palestinians” or “Arabs” in the mix. And Islam had not yet been created.

No, the re-creation of the modern State of Israel was not some furtive and unseemly Jewish colonial project driven by a “Zionist Agenda”.

In 1838, some 22 years before the author of Der Judenstaat and the subsequent “Zionist Project” was even born, English MP, the Earl of Shaftesbury stated he was “….anxious about the hopes and destinies of the Jewish people…[because] the inherent vitality of the Hebrew race reasserts itself with amazing persistence….adapts itself more or less to all currents of civilization all over the world, nevertheless always emerging with distinctive features and a gallant recovery of vigour. There is an unbroken identity of Jewish race and Jewish mind down to our times: but the great revival can take place only in the Holy Land.”

Never a truer word was said.

And so, the Jews, who had never left Judaea, and millennia before the Muslim Arabs arrived, were augmented by a steady continuous trickle of Jews who continued to come into the country.

But with the immigration of Jews in the First and particularly the Second Aliyah, the number of Arab migrants increased dramatically. As the historian William B. Ziff observed in 1938: “At the turn of the [twentieth] century there were 40,000 Jews in Palestine and about 140,000 others of all complexions. The inhabitants [other than the Jews] had no other feeling for this pauperized, disease-ridden country than a fervent desire to get away from it. Emigration proceeded steadily. Immigration was virtually non-existent. Not until the Zionists had arrived in numbers did the Arab population begin to augment itself.”

The convolutions, tensions, violences, bastardries and politics of what followed next, most readers with an interest in the ME conflict know well per their specific interests, biases and readings.

For example, for those who champion the fallacy that Israel “stole” Arab “Palestinian” land, census records show that in the mid eighteenth century, there were only fifty thousand Arabs in the Land of Israel, not  “millions of Arabs” (let alone Arab Muslim “Palestinians”) in Eretz Yisrael — Palestine — prior to the beginning of the twentieth century, nor indeed prior to 1948.

That said, the ongoing sleight of hand attempts to link today’s “Palestinians” to the ancient Canaanites and to Christians (the “Jesus was a Palestinian” choir) does not emanate from any genuine good-faith attempts to interrogate history, but to delegitimise a people and a nation who remain an integral and inviolate part of that history.

And the variety and resourcefulness of those delegitimisations of Jewish indigeneity in what was Ancient Canaan and what became, to modern historians, Palestine, are to be marvelled at.

For example, we can start with the Muslim demand to be believed that Islam supersedes Judaism and Christianity because Muhammad was the “last prophet”.    Last prophet or not, religions cannot be “superceded”. But the jihad, or Muslim concept of dar-al-harb (house of war) inside and outside of the Middle East to work towards that goal, continues.

But perhaps the greatest successful delegtimisation perpetrated by the victorious armies of the Arab Muslim invasions of the Levant is the claim of the third most holy site in Islam, of “farthest mosque” repute, the site of al Aqsa mosque, and the shrine (now a mosque) of the Dome of the Rock, located in the same Jerusalem which existed as a core site of monotheistic Judaism 1,800 years before the Arab Muslim invasion of the Levant and the creation of Islam.

In victory upon entering Jerusalem in 638 CE, the Arabs erected a Muslim shrine dedicated to the captor of Jerusalem, Omar ibn al-Khattab, on the site of the Jewish First and Second Temples and thus began the effective hunt for some sort of ‘history’ and legitimacy for the new religion, Islam, on the site of the world’s oldest practising monotheistic faith: Judaism.

 As Citron (2006:33) points out: “There is no evidence that Mohammed was ever in Jerusalem in his lifetime, and there is no mention of Jerusalem in the Qur’an…[and] certainly the al-Aqsa did not even exist in Mohammed’s lifetime. Here again, facts do not get in the way of Arab propaganda.”

The shrine of the Dome of the Rock, built in 691 CE, and the al-Aqsa mosque, built in 701 CE, were erected almost 60 years and 70 years respectively after Muhammad’s death, and were built on the site of the First and Second Temples of historical record in the Temple Mount complex.

Gilbert (2010, In the House of Ishmael) writes: “One of the men who entered Jerusalem with [Omar ibn al-Khattab] in 638 was a Jewish convert to Islam, Ka’b al–Ahbar.

At Omar’s request, Ka’b pointed out the rock where the Jewish Temple had been built by Solomon, King of the Israelites, more than 1,500 years earlier. When Ka’b tried to persuade Omar to build the Mosque of Omar (Dome of the Rock) north of the holy rock, rather than directly on the spot where the Temple had stood, he was accused of Judaising tendencies. ‘You wish to resemble Judaism’–

Omar is said to have told Ka’b–‘but we Muslims have been commanded to pray only in the direction of the Ka’bah’–that is, towards Mecca.

Omar ibn al–Khattab died in 644, after ten years as Caliph, and before a decision was made to build the dome that bears his name.

After Omar’s death, Ka’b stayed on at the court of the third Caliph, Othman (644–656), and, in 670 the first Umayyad Caliph, Mu’awiya ibn Abi Sufyan, ordered the construction of Omar’s planned ‘Dome of the Rock’ on the Temple Mount. Mu’awiya wanted the Dome to be higher and more impressive than any of the Christian churches in the city. It took twenty–one years before the imposing hexagonal structure was completed.”

For the thinking man, it is difficult to look past the fact that the Muslim buildings were simply monuments to Arab conquest, a symbol of conquests over both the Jewish and Christian ‘infidel’ concomitant with the Muslim belief in the “supersession” of Judaism and Christianity by the new religion from the Arabian Peninsula, Islam.

In the seemingly endless polarised debate and propaganda waves of whether Israel is a “colonial” aberration in “Arab lands” to be despised and removed, the actual historical facts support the view that the re-constituted State of Israel is not, and has never been, the Arabs’ country of origin.

To Jews and the west, Palestine – Filastin in Arabic – owed its name to the Romans, not Arab or Muslim sojourners in the Southern Levant. It was imprinted on Western consciousness as the Holy Land, the place of the Jewish Jesus’ birth, crucifixion by the Romans, and subsequent resurrection; and as the biblical homeland of the long-scattered Jews.

To the Islamic world after the Arab invasions of the Levant, some 1,800 years after King David made Jerusalem his capital, Palestine and Jerusalem became somehow the home of Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque – the third most sacred site after Mecca and Medina from where the Muhammad allegedly ascended to heaven, and where the Judaism and Chrisitanity were to be “superseded”.

Martin Gilbert (2010, In Ishmael’s House) puts it like this:

“For more than a thousand years before Mohammed’s birth in the year 570, Jews lived in what became Muslim conquest lands. These lands stretched from Spain to Afghanistan, and were inhabited by Arabs, Persians, Turks, Berbers and Jews. They included the great Jewish religious academies of Sura and Pumbeditha (now Faluja in present–day Iraq), two cities that were at the centre of Jewish religious thought and ethics, and where the Babylonian Talmud was compiled more than two thousand years ago.

Jerusalem, which came under Muslim rule for the first time in the year 638 CE, had formed a focal point of Jewish life for more than a millennium before the dawn of Islam. It had been the Jewish capital for more than six hundred years when it was conquered by the Babylonians in 587 BCE. The city also became the centre of a Jewish kingdom, ruled by Jewish kings, for seventy eight years from 141 BCE to 63 BCE. Some of Jerusalem’s rulers at other times, including the Romans and the Seleucid Greek Antiochus IV, turned against the Jews; others, including Alexander the Great and the Ptolemys of Egypt, allowed Jewish life to flourish.

When the King of Persia, Cyrus the Great, defeated the Babylonians in 539 BCE, he liberated the Jews of Jerusalem. Some of the ‘freed slaves’–who were no longer forced to worship idols– began to rebuild their Temple…”

Article 11 UNGA Resolution 194, adopted near the end of the 1947-49 Arab-Israeli conflict has stated that “refugees (no mention of “Palestinians” here…) wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours [emphasis added] should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date…”

Article 1 subsection ii of UNSC 242 in 1967 called for “Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area [emphasis added] and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”

Neither of these calls for stability and respect for sovereignty mentions a “Palestinian people” or a “Palestinian state” and neither did the original Balfour Declaration 1917. On the contrary, the Arabs rejected both recommendations and never clamoured for the state of “Palestine” when Jordan illegally occupied the “West Bank” between 1948-67.

That said, in incessantly invoking UN advocacy on their behalf as victims of Jewish colonialism, the Arabs who now define themselves as Palestinians have never addressed the very recommendations of the self-same agency from whom they seek help.

In the final analysis, the re-named Israel-Palestine conflict is not about who the territory of the State of Israel “belongs” to historically, culturally and morally; hundreds of tomes in libraries of history will provide a clear answer to that.

What is continuing to happen, despite the irrefutable evidence of ownership, is what historian Benny Morris observed: “It has become clear to me that from its start, the struggle against the Zionist enterprise wasn’t merely a national conflict between two peoples over a piece of territory, but also a religious crusade against an infidel usurper.”

Given the antecedents I have tried to illustrate above, that would be a fair assessment.


First published at  C.R.A.P – Countering Racist Anti-Israel Propaganda

Does Israel belong to the Jews or have they usurped ancient Arab land? Part II

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One comment

  1. My understanding is the Muslim claim that wherever Sharia law was once enforced remains Muslim waqf (something like held in trust) until the end of time.

    By that reasoning, Spain, Portugal, Bosnia, Bulgaria, India, Malta, Greece, Sicily etc. all belong to the Muslims.