By Mohammed Adamu
Continued from last week.
WE have seen from last week’s piece that neither Palestine as a territory nor Jerusalem as a city started existing only some 1000 BC when Israel’s King David was said to have declared it Capital of the Jews. Nor did they start existing only some 1500 or 2000 years before Christ when Abraham himself came to the land of Canaan west of the ‘Jordan River’ to fecundate it with the seeds of generations of prophets and men of God. In truth, proving 3000 years of existence only will grossly understate how long Palestine and Jerusalem have been around in recorded history, before the chain of scriptural events that would create the claims of three of the world’s major monotheistic faiths over them, would occur. Palestine and Jerusalem were not only ancient, they in fact existed since the Stone Age –a period in man’s technological development when the use of stones as tools was the highest he had attained. This -at its earliest-was said to have been between 2.5 million years ago, up to the last 5000, or precisely 2400 BC, preceding the advent of the Bronze Age. Meaning that at the earliest of the ‘Stone Age’ the aborigines of Jerusalem and Palestine must have been there a little less than 2.5 million years before the call of Abraham; or almost thereabout before the birth of Abraham’s sons, Ishmael and Isaac; or of Abraham’s grandson Jacob who fathered the twelve tribes; or of the preeminent one of the twelve tribes, Abraham’s great grandson Judah, who began the nation, its Kingdom and its religion; or much later of Jesus who brought the gospel; or Muhammad, Islam.
Having already broached the various religious interests, particularly in Jerusalem, of the three Middle Eastern monotheistic religions, namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the questions then arise: how were these interests created? How did each of these faiths come to the possession, ownership or both, either of Jerusalem or of Palestine, or of both? Was it –like I asked previously- peacefully by being the earliest settlers? Or by unchallenged occupation? by cession or sale; or was it by the force of arm? But first Palestine; -before Jerusalem.
Palestine from its earliest description as one of the regions “west of the Jordan River”, (of which Jerusalem was part), was variously referred to –biblically and historically- as Philistine, to indicate a people, or as Philistia, to refer to the nation. The Philistines were described as “a highly civilised inhabitants” of that coastal region “of the Mediterranean Sea.” The first King of ancient Israel, Saul was said to have conquered them in 1020 BC, and almost annihilated the Amalekite tribe in their midst who –in the attempt to save Palestine- may have proved warlike and resilient. The descendants of the survivors of the Amalekites were said to have been “finally exterminated in the days of King Hezekiah.” But thereafter Saul was still to be defeated in what was described as “a disastrous battle with the Philistines on Mount Gilboa” –an area of the conquered territory which the Israelites had made their own. Later King David was said to have “routed them repeatedly” and that under Solomon, his son and successor, the entire Philistia was defeated and “incorporated in the Jewish empire.”
The aboriginal inhabitants of Jerusalem during the Stone Age were said to have been driven out between 5000 BC and 4000 BC by a people –believed to be the Canaanites- who by then had already advanced into the Bronze Age. Meaning, after all, that even the Canaanites that were thought to be the aborigines of Jerusalem or of the greater Palestine of which Jerusalem was a part, were not originally natives to the land. They were occupiers too of these territories just like all other future religious interests would be –whether those interests were those of the Israelites or Jews, or those of the Christian Crusaders or of the Muslim invaders –whether peacefully or violently. But by the 15th century BC, the Canaanites too would briefly come under Egyptian rule “during the conquests of King Thutmose III”; -prior to about 1250 BC –or 150 years before the eventual conquer and the declaration of Jerusalem as the Capital of the Jews.
By the way, the Canaanites were said largely to be a group of Semitic languages of ancient Syria and Palestine including, but not mainly, Hebrew (which ironically was originally non-Judean and was derived interestingly from Canaanite sources). It included also Phoenician (which was an early form of Hebrew that also developed into Lebanese) and numerous dialects of other inhabitants of the ancient land of Moab –now forming part of Jordan. Thus the Canaanites who displaced the aborigines to come into the earliest ownership of Jerusalem could be said to be largely of Syriac and or Palestinian descent since the two Semitic languages were more ancient than the Hebrew or Phoenician dialects that may have descended from them. In fact, it was after they took the land from the Canaanites that the Israelites or Jews were said to have adapted Hebrew for the first time as a language. Hebrew would thereafter be referred to as ‘the speech of the Canaan and Judean. It can thus be seen that even the Syriac language –like the Palestinian one- predated Hebrew just as the existence of the Syrians and Palestinians (as people) also predated the existence of the Israelites and the Jews.
Although virtually every invasion or conquer of Palestine was contemporaneous with the invasion and conquer of Jerusalem, it was in 1250 BC precisely that Hebrews or Jews to be precise, from Egypt were said to have set out to begin the earliest conquest of Canaan –before King Saul’s invasion and the annihilation of the Amalekites back in 1020 BC. And although they succeeded in conquering virtually all of that territory, history has it that Jerusalem was “So powerfully fortified” it took two more hundred years after the fall of the greater Palestine, before the jewel Jerusalem itself fell -around 1000 BC, when David, having earlier been made King of Israel, now proclaimed ‘Jerusalem’ Capital of the Jews. Meaning that the Jews, Hebrews or Israelites as they were interchangeably referred to, had not owned or possessed any of the area known as Canaan at any time in history before 1250 BC.
It was after this declaration that King David -and later Solomon, his son- would create virtually all the Judaistic interests (temples, shrines and all) in what would be proclaimed later as the God-given ‘holy land’ of the Jews, or thereafter of the Christians who, under the commanderships of several Popes, would also undertake several Crusades, to attempt to rescue the ‘holy lands’ -ironically from native Muslims who were branded settlers from somewhere else. For the records most of the Muslims from whom Christendom’s many Crusades attempted to take the ‘holy lands’, were in fact Arabized and Islamized natives of the same territories. They did not come from somewhere else. And so the widely propagated notion that all Muslims in Palestine, Jerusalem and other territories of the ‘holy lands’ were originally Arab conquerors, was and still is erroneous. Said De Lacy O’Leary n his book ‘Islam at the Cross-roads’, “History makes it clear…. That the legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of the sword upon conquered races is one of the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have ever repeated.”
Then there were the Romans also who had severally invaded and conquered Jerusalem. The Roman General, Pompey the Great conquered it in 63 BC and thereafter made Herod King of Judea. Herod, a Palestinian of Arab origin was ten years when Pompey conquered Palestine, and because Herod’s father Antipater had helped the Romans, he was made a citizen of Rome and appointed Governor of Judea. By the time Antipater’s son, Herod –now also a Roman citizen- was 26, he was made governor of Galilee and thereafter King of Galilee. By 39 BC the Roman Senate confirmed Herod King of all of Judea. And it was Herod, a Romanized Palestinian of Arab descent who would rebuild the Temple Mount, and who would erect a ‘retaining wall’ for the Temple that stands today as ‘Western Wall’ or the ‘Wailing Wall’. Virtually all of the Ministry of Jesus leading to the ‘crucifixion’ happened during a long period of Roman proxy rule over Jerusalem and other territories of Canaan west of the Jordan River. The Jews were to revolt against the oppressive rule of successive governors appointed by Rome including at the time of Jesus’ Ministry, Pontius Pilate. Between AD 66 and AD 70 revolting Jews took control of Jerusalem until Titus, son of the Roman Emperor Vespasian retook it and destroyed the temple; so that over 60 years thereafter the Jews under Simon Bar Kokhba had to rebel again, resulting virtually in the complete destruction of the city and the banishing of Jews from it.
Under the Roman emperor Hadrian, Jerusalem was rebuilt but now as a pagan city and its name changed to Aelia Capitolina. Actually it was the pagan emperor Constantine the Great who picked up the rag tag remains of the earliest, un-organised Christendom, compiled, canonised and assembled the numerous versions of its scripture into a one book, the Bible, and then built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which would give the Jerusalem “an increasingly Christian aspect” and thereafter make it a destination for Christian pilgrims.
By 638, the wave of un-induced Arabization and Islamization having laid the entire Middle Eastern territory virtually prostrate to the beckoning rule now of a continuously expanding Muslim Caliphate, the city of Jerusalem, predominantly now populated by Arabized Muslims, was said to have peacefully and in a glamorous ceremony organized by Heraclius, welcomed Caliph Umar Ibn Alkhattab, who, almost by a mutually-agreed cession, began the control and administration of Jerusalem under the Caliphate. It was nonetheless recorded in religious history as an invasion, a conquest and an occupation. Soon the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque were constructed on the Temple Mount. But in the 11th century the Seljuks –a non-Arab, self-Islamized Turkik dynasty was said to have expanded its empire to Jerusalem and –after taking Anatolia- was perceived to have plans of expanding its control beyond the ‘holy lands’ toward Europe. This would be the excuse Pope Urban II needed to instigate the first Crusade, when Christian Europe was persuaded to “travel to the Middle East and fight to reclaim the Holy Land, (and) especially Jerusalem”. The Crusaders would slaughter many of the Muslim and Jewish residents of Jerusalem and would rule “with great cruelty until Saladin captured the city again for the Muslims in 1187”.
In 1189 Christian Europe launched the third Crusade taking only Palestine but failing to retake Jerusalem. King Richard I of England who led that Crusade had to sign an armistice agreement with Saladin allowing the Crusaders to “reconstruct their kingdom along the Palestinian-Syrian coast but left Jerusalem in Muslim hands.”
To be concluded