One tiny spot on the globe, squeezed between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, with two populations, Jews and Arabs, vying for the same hills, farmland, wadis and water. On the historical stage, with centuries of time gone by, both have ties to the land.
“Israel” Found on Egyptian Stele
From the 13th century BC to modern times, during various periods, their names have been written in historical records. For the most part, each name has been written in blood. An ancient Egyptian Stele records that in 1200 BC, Pharaoh Merneptah, son of Ramses II, decisively defeated an entity called Israel in the central highlands of that “tiny spot on the globe.” Those conquered highlands included two cities, Ashkelon, a city still found in the same Mediterranean Coast location 3200 years later and Gezer, the site of one of the most important Biblical archeological excavations in the Holy Land, Tel Gezer.
Biblical and historical accounts tell us that God’s nation of Israel divided into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah, over political differences after King Solomon died and his son Rehoboam acted on some bad advice when he ascended to his father’s throne. Those same accounts record that the divided entity of Israel remained in that “tiny spot on the globe” until 722 BC when the Assyrian Empire invaded, captured and dispersed all the citizens of the Northern Kingdom of Israel throughout their vast empire. While the Northern Kingdom of Israel was no longer in the area, her sister kingdom, Judah, remained in a smaller portion of that “tiny spot.”
In 530BC the Babylonian Empire, followed by the Persian Empire captured what remained of Israel, the Southern Kingdom of Judah. During those centuries and even during the time of Alexander the Great, the area was called the Province of Judah. Rising to prominence between the Greek and Roman empires, the 160 years of Maccabean rule radically reshaped and enlarged Judah’s boundaries. The Jews look back at this period of Judean dominance with great national pride, but corruption, greed and absolute power brought about the Maccabee’s downfall and provided the impetus for Rome to enter the picture.
Palestina Judea A Roman Province
During the reign of Caesar Augustus from 31 BC to 14 AD, the “tiny spot on the globe” was known as Palestina Judea, actually a reference to Israel’s mortal enemies, the Philistines. The final end of any Israelite reference came about in 135 AD when Rome began referring to the area as Palestina Syria after banning all the Jews from Jerusalem and the surrounding territory.
Palestina Syria remained a province of the Roman Empire until the early 7th century, 640 to be exact, when Jerusalem and Caesarea, after holding out for 4 years, finally fell to the Arabs. Their defeat handed Palestina Syria into the hands of Muslims. It was during this time that the Dome of the Rock, commemorating Muhammad’s journey to heaven and the Al-Aqsa Mosque were erected on the Temple Mount. Interestingly, it was during this time of Muslim control that, along with a significant influx of Arab population, a small Jewish population began returning to Jerusalem after their 500 year Roman dictated absence. Apart from a brief period of Crusader control, Palestina Syria remained under Muslim Arab control for almost 12 centuries, which included the Turkish Ottoman Empire that wrested control of the province from the Mamluks in the 14th century.
4 Centuries Without A Name
During the 4 centuries of Ottoman control, none of the administrative provinces in the area were called or referred to Palestine or Israel. It was as if the two were lost to time. The Ottoman control, benevolent in many ways, saw a marked increase in foreign settlements and colonies (which would later give rise to French, British and other national protectorates after WWI). Although numerically insignificant, the most important outposts, in terms of bringing the land back to a sustainable level, were the Jewish agricultural settlements. The demise of the Ottoman Empire during WWI led to international betrayals, fingerpointing and “behind the back” dealings that, aside from their daily conflicts, continue to impact this “tiny spot on the globe” still today.
The British Control
At the end of the war, in 1917, the land fell under British rule. In 1923 the British obtained a resolution from the League of Nations creating Mandatory Palestine, which also encompassed the current kingdom of Jordan. Until that time, the Arabs living there saw themselves primarily not as “Palestinians” in the sense of a national identity but as Arabs living in Greater Syria.
During the British Mandate there was a push to increase Jewish numbers in the land, a movement that was stymied by British limits placed upon Jewish immigration. Ultimately it would be the world’s horrified reaction to the Holocaust that pushed what became known as a Zionist program, since the late 1800s, over the finish line into the 1947 United Nations Resolution 181 which partitioned that “tiny spot” into two states, Arab and Jewish. The two sides had very different reactions, the Arabs rejected the resolution, the Jews rejoiced in what had been given to them. Six months later, time that saw the area aflame with resentments, reprisals and retaliations, the Jews declared statehood for their part of the partitioned area.
Wars Have Consequences
Immediately, the new Jewish state was invaded by Arab military forces comprised of armies from Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and local militia or Palestinian fighters. By the time the fighting ended in 1949, the Palestinians had lost 78 percent of what the UN had allotted to them, and 700,000 Palestinians had been uprooted from their homes, placing them in that “no-man’s land” status of refugee.
Hindsight is revealing, according to Secretary General of the Arab League from 1945 to 1951, Azzam Pasha, Arab leadership encouraged the Palestinians to temporarily leave their homes: “It was promised that conquering Palestine would be a military picnic, our advice to the Palestinians was to temporarily leave their homes” (Al-Huda, Lebanon June 5th, 1951). In addition, Syrian Prime Minister, Khalid Al-Azam (in his book Memories, 1973) laments and writes: “We brought disaster on the refugees, when we urged them to abandon their homes.” For Israelis, it was the “War of Independence.” For Palestinians, it is al-Nakba — “the Catastrophe.”
Then 19 years later, in what has become known as the Six Day War, Arab armies assembled again to drive Israel into the Mediterranean Sea. The military failure was even more catastrophic than the earlier war with more territory lost and the Arab nations unable to come to a consensus on how to take care of the overwhelming number of refugees the wars had created.
Does Anyone Prioritize The Palestinian?
Even today, I see the rhetoric from the Arab States against Israel as less about the Palestinian circumstances and more about the Islamic dogma of pushing Israel into the sea. Palestine may be a rallying cry but, in my mind, it is not the welfare of the Palestinian people that is the impetus for the saber-rattling of the surrounding Middle East nations and their surrogates like the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), Hamas and Hezbollah. The Palestinians are crushed between an Israel with its back to the sea and a coalition of Arab nations bent on eradicating the Jews from that “tiny spot on the globe.”
One wonders, if that were to happen, what would actually happen to the Palestinians. Would Jordan redraw its boundaries to include East Jerusalem and the West Bank? Would Egypt claim the Gaza Strip? Would Iran, Iraq and Lebanon bow out and let the land be given over in its entirety to the local Arab population?
What Will Even The Score?
Each time the Israeli Palestinian conflict boils over into rockets, stabbings, car rammings and worse, the question is always asked “what will it take to bring peace to the area?” According to Jodi Rudoren, New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief during the two Israel-Hamas wars in 2012 and 2014 (there have been four since 2008): “It does not, actually, help to examine what specifically started the current conflagration, or the one before or the one before that, because it does, in so many ways, end up at ‘Abraham had two sons: there was Isaac, and there was Ishmael’”—a reference to the Genesis account, also found in the Quran, that the Patriarch Abraham begat one son, Ishmael, said to be the ancestor of Arabs and another, Isaac, considered to be the ancestor of Jews.
In addition, consider what Dr. Daniel Miller said in his January 2022 Australian Outlook article for the Australian Institute of International Affairs, “The wrongs and brutalities done by each side to the other have become too numerous to count. It does no good to try to assign blame for the latest war between Israel and Hamas. The war and the specific events that led up to it are just more entries in a ledger written in blood and tears. The stark fact is that there is now no act of vengeance or retribution that Jews and Arabs could do to the other party in the conflict that would allow them to say that accounts had been settled on their side.” Both Miller and Rudoren conclude that the only way forward for Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Arabs is to cease looking backwards.
Whether or not that could lead to a viable or possible solution, only God knows. As we have seen, the geographic terms “Israel” and “Palestine” have a long history and specific connotations for Jews and Arabs with respect to their claims to the land. In Genesis, God declared that both sides would be at enmity for the ages and that seems to be a truth that the world will have to come to terms with until Christ returns.