PALESTINE BETWEEN THE ROMANS AND MODERN TIMES
As a geographic unit, Palestine extended from the Mediterranean
on the west to the Arabian Desert on the east and from the lower
Litani River in the north to the Gaza Valley in the south. It
was named after the Philistines, who occupied the southern coastal
region in the twelfth century B.C. The name Philistia was used
in the second century A.D. to designate Syria Palestina, which
formed the southern third of the Roman province of Syria.
Emperor Constantine (ca. 280-337) shifted his capital from Rome
to Constantinople in 330 and made Christianity the official religion.
With Constantine's conversion to Christianity, a new era of prosperity
came to Palestine, which attracted a flood of pilgrims from all
over the empire. Upon partition of the Roman Empire in 395, Palestine
passed under eastern control. The scholarly Jewish communities
in Galilee continued with varying fortunes under Byzantine rule
and dominant Christian influence until the Arab-Muslim conquest
of A.D. 638. The period included, however, strong Jewish support
of the briefly successful Persian invasion of 610-14.
The Arab caliph, Umar, designated Jerusalem as the third holiest
place in Islam, second only to Mecca and Medina. Under the Umayyads,
based in Damascus, the Dome of the Rock was erected in 691 on
the site of the Temple of Solomon, which was also the alleged
nocturnal resting place of the Prophet Muhammad on his journey
to heaven. It is the earliest Muslim monument still extant. Close
to the shrine, to the south, the Al Aqsa Mosque was built. The
Umayyad caliph, Umar II (717-720), imposed humiliating restrictions
on his non-Muslim subjects that led many to convert to Islam.
These conversions, in addition to a steady tribal flow from the
desert, changed the religious character of the inhabitants of
Palestine from Christian to Muslim. Under the Abbasids the process
of Islamization gained added momentum as a result of further restrictions
imposed on non-Muslims by Harun ar Rashid (786-809) and more particularly
by Al Mutawakkil (847-61).
The Abbasids were followed by the Fatimids who faced frequent
attacks from Qarmatians, Seljuks, and Byzantines, and periodic
beduin opposition. Palestine was reduced to a battlefield. In
1071 the Seljuks captured Jerusalem. The Fatimids recaptured the
city in 1098, only to deliver it a year later to a new enemy,
the Crusaders of Western Europe. In 1100 the Crusaders established
the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, which remained until the famous
Muslim general Salah ad Din (Saladin) defeated them at the decisive
Battle of Hattin in 1187. The Crusaders were not completely evicted
from Palestine, however, until 1291 when they were driven out
of Acre. The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were a "dark age"
for Palestine as a result of Mamluk misrule and the spread of
several epidemics. The Mamluks were slave-soldiers who established
a dynasty that ruled Egypt and Syria, which included Palestine,
from 1250 to 1516.
In 1516 the Ottoman Turks, led by Sultan Selim I, routed the
Mamluks, and Palestine began four centuries under Ottoman domination.
Under the Ottomans, Palestine continued to be linked administratively
to Damascus until 1830, when it was placed under Sidon, then under
Acre, then once again under Damascus. In 1887-88 the local governmental
units of the Ottoman Empire were finally settled, and Palestine
was divided into the administrative divisions (sing., mutasarrifiyah)
of Nabulus and Acre, both of which were linked with the vilayet
(largest Ottoman administrative division, similar to a province)
of Beirut and the autonomous mutasarrifiyah of Jerusalem,
which dealt directly with Constantinople.
For the first three centuries of Ottoman rule, Palestine was
relatively insulated from outside influences. At the end of the
eighteenth century, Napoleon's abortive attempt to establish a
Middle East empire led to increased Western involvement in Palestine.
The trend toward Western influence accelerated during the nine
years (1831-40) that the Egyptian viceroy Muhammad Ali and his
son Ibrahim ruled Palestine. The Ottomans returned to power in
1840 with the help of the British, Austrians, and Russians. For
the remainder of the nineteenth century, Palestine, despite the
growth of Christian missionary schools and the establishment of
European consulates, remained a mainly rural, poor but self-sufficient,
introverted society. Demographically its population was overwhelmingly
Arab, mainly Muslim, but with an important Christian merchant
and professional class residing in the cities. The Jewish population
of Palestine before 1880 consisted of fewer than 25,000 people,
two-thirds of whom lived in Jerusalem where they made up half
the population (and from 1890 on more than half the population).
These were Orthodox Jews (see Glossary), many of whom had immigrated
to Palestine simply to be buried in the Holy Land, and who had
no real political interest in establishing a Jewish entity. They
were supported by alms given by world Jewry.
Data as of December 1988