(Please note that all ancient dates are approximations only.)
Third millennium BC :
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 :
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
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:
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:
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.