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Palestine FlagHistory of Palestine

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(Please note that all ancient dates are approximations only.)

Third millennium BC :

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The Canaanites were the earliest known inhabitants of Palestine. They became urbanized and lived in city-states, one of which was Jericho . They developed an alphabet. Palestine's location at the center of trade routes linking three continents made it a meeting place for religious and cultural influences from Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Asia Minor. It was also the natural battleground for the great powers of the region and subject to domination by adjacent empires, beginning with Egypt in the 3d millennium BC.

Second millennium BC :

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Egyptian hegemony and Canaanite autonomy were constantly challenged by such ethnically diverse invaders as the Amorites, Hittites, and Hurrians. These invaders, however, were defeated by the Egyptians and absorbed by the Canaanites, who at that time may have numbered about 200,000.

By the 14th century BC, Egyptian power was weakening. New invaders appeared including the Hebrews, a group of Semitic tribes from Mesopotamia, and the Philistines, an Aegean people of Indo-European origins.

In 1230 BC, Joshua conquered parts of Palestine, but were unable to overrun the entire area. By 1125 BC, the Israelites, a confederation of Hebrew tribes, had defeated the Canaanites, but had still been unable to overcome the Philistines, who had established an independent state on the southern coast and controlled the old Canaanite town of Jerusalem. In around 1050 BC, the Philistines defeated the Israelites.

First millennium BC:

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In 1000 BC, David, Israel's great king, defeated the Philistines and assimilated the Canaanites and established a large independent state, with its capital at Jerusalem. Under David's son and successor, Solomon, Israel enjoyed peace and prosperity, but at his death in 922 BC the kingdom was divided into Israel in the north and Judah in the south.

When nearby empires resumed their expansion in 722 BC, the divided Israelites could no longer maintain their independence. Israel fell to Assyria. In 586 BC Judah was conquered by Babylonia. Nebuchadnezzar entered Jerusalem, razed the Temple to the ground, and carried the population off in chains. When Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered Babylonia in 539 BC, he permitted the Jews to return to Judea, a district of Palestine.

Persian domination was replaced by Greek rule when Alexander the Great of Macedonia conquered the region in 333 BC. Alexander's successors, the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucids of Syria , continued to rule the country. The Seleucids tried to impose Hellenistic (Greek) culture and religion on the population. To preserve their religion and traditions, the Jews revolted and, under the Maccabees, set up an independent state between 141-63 BC.

In 63 BC Jerusalem was overrun by Rome. Herod was appointed King of Judea. He slaughtered the last of the Hasmoneans and ordered a lavish restoration and extension of the Second Temple. A period of great civil disorder followed with internal factional fighting and riots against the Roman authorities.

At some time during the rule of Herod the Great, Jesus of Nazareth was born. He probably lived during the period of 4 BC to 37 AD. His attempts to call people back to the pure teachings of Abraham and Moses were judged subversive by the authorities. He was tried and sentenced to death.

First millennium AD:

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In 70 AD, Titus of Rome laid siege to Jerusalem. The fiercely defended Temple eventually fell, and with it the whole city. Titus ordered the total destruction of the Herodian Temple. The Romans built a new city named Aelia, and on the ruins of the Jewish Temple they erected a new temple dedicated to Jupiter.

Emperor Constantine I adopted Christianity in 313 AD. After his mother Helena visited the Holy Land, the biblical sites of Christ's life and ministry became a focus of Christian pilgrimage. Most of the population became Hellenized and converted to Christianity. In 324, Constantine came to Aelia (Jerusalem), rebuilt the city walls, commissioned the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and opened the city for Christian pilgrimage.

In 614 AD, Byzantine (Roman) rule was interrupted by a brief Persian occupation. It was ended altogether when Muslim Arab armies invaded Palestine and captured Jerusalem in AD 638. The Arab conquest began 1300 years of Muslim presence in what then became known as Filastin.

Palestine was holy to Muslims because the Prophet Muhammad had designated Jerusalem as the first qibla (the direction Muslims face when praying) and because he was believed to have ascended to heaven on a night journey from the old city of Jerusalem. Tradition has it that he ascended from the spot where the Dome of the Rock was later built. Jerusalem became the third holiest city of Islam. The Muslim rulers did not force their religion on the Palestinians, and more than a century passed before the majority converted to Islam. The remaining Christians and Jews, considered People of the Book, were allowed autonomous control in their communities and guaranteed security and freedom of worship.

When power shifted to Baghdad with the Abbasids in 750 AD, Palestine became neglected. It suffered unrest and successive domination by Seljuks, Fatimids, and European Crusaders. It shared in the golden age of science, art, philosophy and literature enjoyed by the Muslim world. Like the rest of the empire, however, Palestine under the Mamelukes stagnated and declined.

1000-1946 AD:

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In 1517, the Ottoman Turks defeated the Mamelukes. With few interruptions they ruled Palestine until the winter of 1917-18. The country was divided into several districts (sanjaks) with administration largely in the hands of Arabs. The Christian and Jewish communities, however, were allowed a large measure of autonomy.

Between 1831-1840, Muhammad Ali, the modernizing viceroy of Egypt, expanded his rule to Palestine, but the Ottoman Empire reasserted its authority in 1840.

By 1845, the Jewish population of Palestine was 12,000. (although this had increased to 85,000 by 1914.) The majority of the population were either Arabic Muslims or Christians.

In 1897 the first Zionist Congress held Basle, Switzerland, issued the Basle program on the colonization of Palestine. In 1904, the Fourth Zionist Congress decided a Jewish homeland should be established in Argentina, but in 1906 the Zionist congress decided the Jewish homeland should be Palestine.

With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Britain promised the independence of Arab lands under Ottoman rule, including Palestine, in return for Arab support against Turkey which had entered the war on the side of Germany. In an agreement which contradicted this promise, Britain and France signed the Sykes-Picot Agreement in 1916. Sykes-Picot divided the Arab region into European zones of influence. Lebanon and Syria were assigned to France, Jordan and Iraq to Britain, and Palestine was to be internationalized. The British government also issued the Balfour Declaration in 1917, promising the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. The British, aided by Arabs who were fighting for their independence, captured Palestine from the Ottoman Turks.

In 1919 the Palestinians convened their first National Conference and expressed their opposition to the Balfour Declaration.

Palestine was set up as a British mandate with the approval of the League of Nations in 1922. Large-scale Jewish settlement and extensive Zionist agricultural and industrial enterprises in Palestine began during the British mandatory period, which lasted until 1948.

In 1929 large-scale attacks on Jews by Arabs rocked Jerusalem, sparked by a dispute over use of the Western Wall or "Wailing Wall". The wall is sacred to Muslims who say that it is part of the al-Aqsa Mosque. It is also sacred to Jews who maintain that it is the remaining wall of the Temple. However, the roots of the conflict lay in Arab fears of the Zionist movement which aimed to create a Jewish state in at least part of British-administered Palestine.

The Peel Commission, headed by Lord Robert Peel, issued a report in 1937 which stated that the mandate in Palestine was unworkable. There was no hope of any cooperative national entity there that included both Arabs and Jews. The commission went on to recommend the partition of Palestine into a Jewish state, an Arab state, and a neutral sacred-site state to be administered by Britain.

In 1939, the British government published a White Paper restricting Jewish immigration and offering independence for Palestine within ten years. This was rejected by the Zionists, who then organized a campaign against both the British and the Palestinians.


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The UN, on November 29, 1947, adopted a plan calling for partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem as an international zone under UN jurisdiction Arab protests against partition erupted in violence, with attacks on Jewish settlements in retaliation for Jewish attacks on Arab towns and villages.

On 15 May 1948, the British withdrew from Palestine. The same day, the armies of Egypt, Transjordan (now Jordan), Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq joined Palestinian and other Arab guerrillas in a full-scale war (first Arab-Israeli War). The Arabs failed to prevent establishment of a Jewish state, and the war ended with four armistice agreements between Israel and Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria arranged by the UN. The Palestine Catastrophe (Nakba) of 1948, in which the State of Israel was created, resulted in the occupation of more than three-quarters (3/4) of Palestine, coupled with the destruction of 531 communities and the expulsion of over 80% of the Palestinian population. The territory controlled by Israel had been home to a Palestinian population of over 800,000 before 1948. Of that number, only about 170,000 remained. The rest had become refugees. The small Gaza Strip was left under Egyptian control, and the West Bank was controlled by Jordan. With the expulsion of most Palestinians, Israel had a majority Jewish population.

The Suez Crisis in 1956 came as result of Egypt's nationalization of the Suez Canal. When Great Britain and France entered the fight alongside Israel, they quickly seizing the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. The fighting was halted by the UN after a few days, and a UN Emergency Force (UNEF) was sent to supervise the cease-fire in the Canal zone.

The Palestine Liberation Organization was established in 1965.

Nasser's insistence in 1967 that the UNEF leave Egypt, led Israel to attack Egypt, Jordan, and Syria simultaneously on 5th of June. The war ended six days later with an Israeli victory. Israel occupied the Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula, Arab East Jerusalem, West Bank, and Golan Heights.

In 1973, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel to regain the territories lost in 1967. The two Arab states struck unexpectedly on October 6, Yom Kippur. Israeli forces stopped the Arab armies after a three-week struggle. The Arab oil-producing states cut off petroleum exports to the United States and other Western nations in retaliation for their aid to Israel.

The Arab Summit in Rabat, in 1974, recognized the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

Israel launched an invasion of Lebanon in 1982, aimed at wiping out the PLO presence there. By mid-August, after intensive fighting in and around Beirut, the PLO agreed to withdraw its forces.

The first Intifada broke out in 1987. This was a series of uprisings in the Occupied Territories that included demonstrations, strikes, and rock-throwing attacks on Israeli soldiers.

The PNC meeting in Algiers, 1988, declared the State of Palestine as outlined in the UN Partition Plan 181. This was to include the territories of the Gaza Strip and the occupied portions of the West Bank (occupied since 1967). A flag and national anthem for the new state were adopted.

In 1991, the first comprehensive peace talks took place between Israel and delegations representing the Palestinians and neighboring Arab states In 1993 Israeli Prime Minister Rabin and PLO Chairman Arafat signed an historic peace agreement. Israel agreed to allow for Palestinian self-rule, first in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho, and later in other areas of the West Bank. In May of 1994, Arafat and Rabin signed the final version of the Declaration of Principles. In October, the Nobel prize for Peace was awarded jointly to Yitzhak Rabin, (Israeli Foreign Minister) Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat. Israeli and PLO officials finalized an agreement on the second stage of Israeli withdrawal in September 1995. In November Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing Israeli extremist.

PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat was elected President of the Palestinian National Authority in January 1996. In June, Likud Party leader, Benjamin Netanyahu become the new Prime Minister of Israel. In January 1997, Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) reached an agreement for an Israeli redeployment from the West Bank city of Hebron. Netanyahu and Arafat signed at peace-for-land agreement in October 1998. The agreement called for Israel to relinquish control of portions of the West Bank and for active measures to be taken by the PA against terrorism. In December, the Palestinian leadership renounced demands for the destruction of Israel.

Ehud Barak was elected Prime Minister of Israel won election in May of 1999 on a platform promising to make peace with the Palestinians, pull troops out of Lebanon and heal the deep divisions among Israelis. In September, an agreement was reached concerning the release of Palestinian prisoners, a major sticking point in negotiations over the implementation of the Wye River peace accord. In October, it was agreed to establish the first open land link between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The Second Intifada started in September 2000. Tensions on both sides escalated. Tensions escalated with murders and assinations perpetrated by both sides. Each side retaliated against the other side's acts of violence. There were numerous suicide bombings in Israel. The IDF (Israel Defense Force) closed Palestinian towns and villages, killed civilians, assassinated leaders, destroyed homes and businesses. In March and April 2002, the IDF reoccupied most of the towns and cities in the West Bank and Gaza. Government Ministries, shops, professional offices, homes and cars were looted and destroyed by the IDF. Residential areas of some cities were completely leveled (Jenin , Nablus) with concurrent loss of life. At the time of writing (August 2002), Ramallah and other cities are still under curfew.

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This page was updated on 26 November 2007.

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