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A History of Palestine and Jihad
Passover and the Ignored Liberation

By Andrew G. Bostom April 12, 2006

During Passover Jews celebrate their liberation from Egyptian servitude, an estimated 3300 years ago. And yet each Passover, I am struck by how this widely celebrated ancient narrative contrasts starkly with an equally important, but almost unrecognized historical phenomenon completed in full only by the creation of the State of Israel just 58 years ago—the liberation of the Jews from the oppressive system of jihad-imposed dhimmitude in their very homeland. These uniquely Islamic systems—jihad and its corollary institution, dhimmitude—have shaped events in historical Palestine—modern Israel, Judea, Samaria, Gaza, and Jordan—from 634, through the present, setting in place archetypal patterns still quite evident today.

There is only one historically relevant meaning of jihad regardless of contemporary apologetics. The noted 19th century Arabic lexicographer E.W. Lane, who studied the etymology of the term, observed, “Jihad came to be used by the Muslims to signify wag[ing] war, against unbelievers”. Jihad was pursued century after century because jihad embodied an ideology and a jurisdiction. Both were formally conceived by Muslim jurisconsults and theologians from the 8th to 9th centuries onward, based on their interpretation of Koranic verses and long chapters in the Traditions i.e., the “hadith”, or acts and sayings of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, especially those recorded by al-Bukhari [d. 869] and Muslim [d. 874]

Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406), jurist, renowned philosopher, historian, and sociologist, summarized these consensus opinions from five centuries of prior Muslim jurisprudence with regard to the uniquely Islamic institution of jihad:

In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the [Muslim] mission and [the obligation to] convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force… The other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty for them, save only for purposes of defense… Islam is under obligation to gain power over other nations.

To understand the legacy of jihad in historical Palestine , one must return to Arabia —the birthplace of Islam, and its founder, the Muslim prophet Muhammad. September 622 C.E. marks a defining event in Islam- the hijra. Muhammad and a coterie of followers (the Muhajirun), persecuted by fellow Banu Quraysh tribesmen who rejected Muhammad’s authenticity as a divine messenger, fled from Mecca to Yathrib, later known as Al-Medina (Medina). The Muslim sources described Yathrib as having been a Jewish city founded by a Palestinian diaspora population which had survived the revolt against the Romans. Distinct from the nomadic Arab tribes, the Jews of the north Arabian peninsula were highly productive oasis farmers. These Jews were eventually joined by itinerant Arab tribes from southern Arabia who settled adjacent to them and transitioned to a sedentary existence.

Following Muhammad’s arrival, he re-ordered Medinan society, eventually imposing his authority on each tribe. The Jewish tribes were isolated, some were then expelled, and the remainder attacked and exterminated. Muhammad distributed among his followers as “booty” the vanquished Jews property—plantations, fields, and houses—and also used this “booty” to establish a well-equipped jihadist cavalry corps. Muhammad’s subsequent interactions with the Christians of northern Arabia followed a similar pattern, noted by the great scholar of early Islam, Richard Bell. The “relationship with the Christians ended as that with the Jews (ended)- in war”, because Islam as presented by Muhammad was a divine truth, and unless Christians accepted this formulation, which included Muhammad’s authority, “conflict was inevitable, and there could have been no real peace while he [Muhammad] lived.”

Within two years of Muhammad’s death, Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, launched the Great Jihad. The ensuing three decades witnessed Islamdom’s most spectacular expansion, as Muslim armies subdued the entire Arabian peninsula, and conquered territories which had been in Greco-Roman possession since the reign of Alexander the Great; within a century of Muhammad’s death the jihad wars of his successors had expanded the Muslim empire from what is now Portugal , to modern Pakistan .

Moshe Gil, in his monumental analysis A History of Palestine, 634-1099, emphasizes the singular centrality that Palestine occupied in the mind of its pre-Islamic Jewish inhabitants, who referred to the land as “al-Sham”. Indeed, as Gil observes, the sizable Jewish population in Palestine (who formed a majority of its inhabitants, when grouped with the Samaritans) at the dawn of the Arab Muslim conquest were, “the direct descendants of the generations of Jews who had lived there since the days of Joshua bin Nun, in other words for some 2000 years…” Jews and Christians speaking Aramaic inhabited the cities and the cultivated inner regions, devoid of any unique ties to the Bedouin of the desert hinterlands, who were regarded as bellicose and threatening, in the writings of both the Church Fathers, and in Talmudic sources.

The following is a summary of the devastating consequences of the Arab Muslim conquest of Palestine during the fourth decade of the 7th century, directed by the first two Caliphs, Abu Bakr and Umar b. al-Khattab.

The entire Gaza region up to Cesarea was sacked and devastated in the campaign of 634, which included the slaughter of four thousand Jewish, Christian, and Samaritan peasants. Villages in the Negev were also pillaged, and towns such as Jerusalem , Gaza , Jaffa , Cesarea, Nablus , and Beth Shean were isolated. In his sermon on the Day of the Epiphany 636, Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, bewailed the destruction of the churches and monasteries, the sacked towns and villages, and the fields laid waste by the invaders. Thousands of people perished in 639, victims of the famine and plague wrought by this wanton destruction. The Muslim historian Baladhuri (d. 892 C.E.), maintained that 30,000 Samaritans and 20,000 Jews lived in Caesarea alone just prior to the Arab Muslim conquest; afterward, all evidence of them disappears. Archaeological data confirms the lasting devastation wrought by these initial jihad conquests, particularly the widespread destruction of synagogues and churches from the Byzantine era, whose remnants are still being unearthed. The total number of towns was reduced from fifty-eight to seventeen in the red sand hills and swamps of the western coastal plain (i.e., the Sharon ). Massive soil erosion from the Judaean mountains western slopes also occurred due to agricultural uprooting during this period. Finally, the papyri of Nessana were completely discontinued after the year 700, reflecting how the Negev also experienced the destruction of its agriculture, and the desertion of its villages.

And what was the nature of the system of governance imposed upon the conquered indigenous Jews, Samaritans, and Christians of Palestine? In his seminal The Laws of Islamic Governance al-Mawardi (d. 1058), a renowned jurist of Baghdad , examined the regulations pertaining to the lands and infidel (i.e., non-Muslim) populations subjugated by jihad. This is the origin of the system of dhimmitude. The native infidel “dhimmi” (which derives from both the word for “pact”, and also “guilt”—guilty of religious errors) population had to recognize Islamic ownership of their land, submit to Islamic law, and accept payment of the Koranic poll tax (jizya), based on Koran 9:29. He notes that “The enemy makes a payment in return for peace and reconciliation. ” Al- Mawardi then distinguishes two cases: (I) Payment is made immediately and is treated like booty, “it does, not however, prevent a jihad being carried out against them in the future. “. (II). Payment is made yearly and will “constitute an ongoing tribute by which their security is established”. Reconciliation and security last as long as the pavment is made. If the pavment ceases, then the jihad resumes. A treaty of reconciliation may be renewable, but must not exceed 10 years.

The “contract of the jizya”, or “dhimma” encompassed other obligatory and recommended obligations for the conquered non-Muslim “dhimmi” peoples. Collectively, these “obligations” formed the discriminatory system of dhimmitude imposed upon non-Muslims-Jews, Christians, [as well as Zoroastrians, Hindus, and Buddhists]-subjugated by jihad. Some of the more salient features of dhimmitude include: the prohibition of arms for the vanquished non-Muslims (dhimmis), and of church bells; restrictions concerning the building and restoration of churches, synagogues, and temples; inequality between Muslims and non-Muslims with regard to taxes and penal law; the refusal of dhimmi testimony by Muslim courts; a requirement that Jews, Christians, and other non-Muslims, including Zoroastrians and Hindus, wear special clothes; and the overall humiliation and abasement of non-Muslims. It is important to note that these regulations and attitudes were institutionalized as permanent features of the sacred Islamic law, or Shari ‘ a. The writings of the much lionized Sufi theologian and jurist al-Ghazali (d. 1111) highlight how the institution of dhimmitude was simply a normative, and prominent feature of the Shari’a:

…the dhimmi is obliged not to mention Allah or His Apostle.. .Jews, Christians, and Majians must pay the jizya [poll tax on non-Muslims]…on offering up the jizya, the dhimmi must hang his head while the official takes hold of his beard and hits [the dhimmi] on the protruberant bone beneath his ear [i.e., the mandible]… They are not permitted to ostentatiously display their wine or church bells…their houses may not be higher than the Muslim’s, no matter how low that is. The dhimmi may not ride an elegant horse or mule; he may ride a donkey only if the saddler-work] is of wood. He may not walk on the good part of the road. They [the dhimmis] have to wear [an identifying] patch [on their clothing], even women, and even in the [public] baths…[dhimmis] must hold their tongue.

The practical consequences of such a discriminatory system were summarized in A.S. Tritton’s 1930 The Caliphs and their Non-Muslim Subjects, a pioneering treatise on the status of the dhimmis:

…[C]aliphs destroyed churches to obtain materials for their buildings, and the mob was always ready to pillage churches and monasteries…dhimmis…always lived on sufferance, exposed to the caprices of the ruler and the passions of the mob…in later times..[t]hey were much more liable to suffer from the violence of the crowd, and the popular fanaticism was accompanied by an increasing strictness among the educated. The spiritual isolation of Islam was accomplished. The world was divided into two classes, Muslims and others, and only Islam counted…Indeed the general feeling was that the leavings of the Muslims were good enough for the dhimmis.

Dhimmitude in Palestine During the Initial Period of Muslim Rule 634-1099

The stark, unromantic reality of Muslim ruled Palestine during these 465-years is perhaps best illustrated by examining a putative “Golden Age” during the Abbasid-Baghdadian Caliphate, between 750 and 878. Under early Abbasid rule (approximately 750-755 C.E., perhaps during the reign of al-Saffah), Greek sources report orders demanding the removal of crosses over Churches, bans on Church services and teaching of the scriptures, the eviction of monks from their monasteries, and excessive taxation. Gil notes that in 772 C.E., when Caliph al-Mansur visited Jerusalem ,

..he ordered a special mark should be stamped on the hands of the Christians and the Jews. Many Christians fled to Byzantium .

Bat Ye’ or elucidates the fiscal oppression inherent in eighth century Palestine which devastated the dhimmi Jewish and Christian peasantry:

Over-taxed and tortured by the tax collectors, the villagers fled into hiding or emigrated into towns.

She quotes from a detailed chronicle of an eighth century monk, completed in 774:

The men scattered, they became wanderers everywhere; the fields were laid waste, the countryside pillaged; the people went from one land to another.

The Greek chronicler Theophanes provides a contemporary description of the chaotic events which transpired after the death of the caliph Harun al-Rashid in 809. He describes Palestine as the scene of violence, rape, and murder, from which Christian monks fled to Cyprus and Constantinople .

Perhaps the clearest outward manifestations of the inferiority and humiliation of the dhimmis were the prohibitions regarding their dress codes, and the demands that distinguishing signs be placed on the entrances of dhimmi houses. During the Abbasid caliphates of Harun al-Rashid (786-809) and al-Mutawwakil (847-861), Jews and Christians were required to wear yellow (as patches attached to their garments, or hats). Later, to differentiate further between Christians and Jews, the Christians were required to wear blue. In 850, consistent with Qur’anic verses associating them with Satan and Hell, al-Mutawwakil decreed that Jews and Christians attach wooden images of devils to the doors of their homes to distinguish them from the homes of Muslims.

Muslim Turcoman rule of Palestine for the nearly three decades just prior to the Crusades (1071- 1099 C.E.) was characterized by such unrelenting warfare and devastation, that an imminent “End of Days” atmosphere was engendered. A contemporary poem by Solomon ha-Kohen b. Joseph, believed to be a descendant of the Geonim, an illustrious family of Palestinian Jews of priestly descent, speaks of destruction and ruin, the burning of harvests, the razing of plantations, the desecration of cemeteries, and acts of violence, slaughter, and plunder.

The brutal nature of the Crusader’s conquest of Palestine , particularly of the major cities, beginning in 1098/99 C.E., has been copiously documented. However, the devastation wrought by both Crusader conquest and rule (through the last decades of the 13th century) cannot reasonably be claimed to have approached, let alone somehow “exceeded”, what transpired during the first four and one-half centuries of Muslim jihad conquests, endless internecine struggles for Muslim dominance, and imposition of dhimmitude.

Moreover, we cannot ignore the testimony of Isaac b. Samuel of Acre (1270-1350 C.E.), one of the most outstanding Kabbalists of his time. Conversant with Islamic theology and often using Arabic in his exegesis, Isaac nevertheless believed that it was preferable to live under the yoke of Christendom, rather than that of Islamdom. Acre was taken from the Crusaders by the Mamelukes in 1291 by a very brutal jihad conquest. Accordingly, despite the precept to dwell in the Holy Land, Isaac b. Samuel fled to Italy and thence to Christian Spain, where he wrote:

…they [the Muslims] strike upon the head the children of Israel who dwell in their lands and they thus extort money from them by force. For they say in their tongue, …’it is lawful to take money of the Jews.’ For, in the eyes of the Muslims, the children of Israel are as open to abuse as an unprotected field. Even in their law and statutes they rule that the testimony of a Muslim is always to be believed against that of a Jew. For this reason our rabbis of blessed memory have said, ‘Rather beneath the yoke of Edom [Christendom] than that of Ishmael.

And about 120 years earlier (in 1172), Maimonides had written these words having escaped in 1148 the purely mythical “tolerance” of Muslim Spain, specifically Cordoba, during the jihad depredations of the Almohads:

The nation of Ishmael…persecute us severely and devise ways to harm us and to debase us…None has matched it in debasing and humiliating us. None has been able to reduce us as they have. We have done as our sages of blessed memory instructed us, bearing the lies and absurdities of Ishmael. We listen, but remain silent…In spite of all this, we are not spared from the ferocity of their wickedness, and their outbursts at any time. On the contrary, the more we suffer and choose to conciliate them, the more they choose to act belligerently toward us.

Sadly, this chronic, grinding oppression interspersed with paroxysms of violent fanaticism persisted throughout the approximately 630 year period, combined (i.e., 1291-1918), of Mamluk, and then Ottoman Muslim rule of historical Palestine, until the British Mandate after World War I.

For example, the Polish Jew, Gedaliah of Siemiatyce (d. 1716), who, braving numerous perils, came to Jerusalem in 1700, recorded these appalling conditions, in his book, Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem, motivating him to return to Europe in order to raise funds for the Jews of Jerusalem:

No Jew or Christian is allowed to ride a horse, but a donkey is permitted, for [in the eyes of Muslims] Christians and Jews are inferior beings… The Muslims do not allow any member of another faith-unless he converts to their religion-entry to the Temple [Mount] area, for they claim that no other religion is sufficiently pure to enter this holy spot.

Moreover, the Muslim law requires that each religious denomination wear its specific garment so that each people may be distinguished from another. This distinction also applies to footwear. Indeed, the Jews wear shoes of a dark blue color, whereas Christians wear red shoes. No one can use green, for this color is worn solely by Muslims. The latter are very hostile toward Jews and inflict upon them vexations in the streets of the city…the common folk persecute the Jews, for we are forbidden to defend ourselves against the Turks or the Arabs. If an Arab strikes a Jew, he [the Jew] must appease him but dare not rebuke him, for fear that he may be struck even harder, which they [the Arabs] do without the slightest scruple.

Even the Christians are subjected to these vexations. If a Jew offends a Muslim, the latter strikes him a brutal blow with his shoe in order to demean him, without anyone’s being able to prevent him from doing it. The Christians fall victim to the same treatment and they suffer as much as the Jews, except that the former are very rich by reason of the subsidies that they receive from abroad, and they use this money to bribe the Arabs. As for the Jews, they do not possess much money with which to oil the palms of the Muslims, and consequently they are subject to much greater suffering.

These prevailing conditions for Jews did not improve in a consistent or substantive manner even after the mid 19th century treaties imposed by the European powers on the weakened Ottoman Empire included provisions for the Tanzimat reforms. First introduced in 1839, these reforms were designed to end the discriminatory laws of dhimmitude for both Jews and Christians, living under the Ottoman Shari’a. European consuls endeavored to maintain compliance with at least two cardinal principles central to any meaningful implementation of the reforms: respect for the life and property of non-Muslims; and the right for Christians and Jews to provide evidence in Islamic courts when a Muslim was a party. Unfortunately, these efforts to replace the concept of Muslim superiority over “infidels”, with the principle of equal rights, failed. Almost two decades later, an eyewitness account from Jerusalem , written by the British Jerusalem Consul James Finn, (reported November 8-11, 1858) highlights this tragic failure:

…my Hebrew Dragoman, having a case for judgment in the Makhkameh before the new Kadi…was commanded to stand up humbly and take off his shoes…during the Process, although the thief had previously confessed to the robbery in the presence of Jews, the Kadi would not proceed without the testimony of two Moslems-when the Jewish witnesses were offered, he refused to accept their testimony-and the offensive term adopted toward Jews…(more offensive than Giaour for Christians) was used by the Kadi’s servants… In continuing to report concerning the apprehensions of Christians from revival of fanaticism on the part of the Mahometans, I have… to state that daily accounts are given to me of insults in the streets offered to Christians and Jews, accompanied by acts of violence… the sufferers are afraid

Tudor Parfitt’s 1987 analysis of the entire Tanzimat period concluded that these problems persisted for Jews through the close of the 19th century,

…the courts were biased against the Jews and even when a case was heard in a properly assembled court where dhimmi testimony was admissible the court would still almost invariably rule against the Jews. Inside the towns, Jews and other dhimmis were frequently attacked, wounded, and even killed by local Muslims and Turkish soldiers. Such attacks were frequently for trivial reasons.

During World War I in Palestine, the embattled Young Turk government actually began deporting the Jews of Tel Aviv in the spring of 1917—an ominous parallel to the genocidal deportations of the Armenian dhimmi communities throughout Anatolia. A contemporary Reuters press release discussing the deportation stated that,

Eight thousand deportees from Tel Aviv were not allowed to take any provisions with them, and after the expulsion their houses were looted by Bedouin mobs; two Yemenite Jews who tried to oppose the looting were hung at the entrance to Tel Aviv so that all might see, and other Jews were found dead in the Dunes around Tel Aviv.

Ultimately, enforced abrogation of the laws and social practices of dhimmitude required the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, which only occurred during the European Mandate period following World War I. Remarkably soon afterwards, however,( i.e., within two years of the abrogation of the Shari’a!) by 1920, Musa Kazem el-Husseini, former governor of Jaffa during the final years of Ottoman rule, and president of the Arab (primarily Muslim) Palestinian Congress, demanded restoration of the Shari’a in a letter to the British High Commissioner, Herbert Samuels:

[Ottoman] Turkey has drafted such laws as suit our customs. This was done relying upon the Shari’a (Religious Law), in force in Arabic territories, that is engraved in the very hearts of the Arabs and has been assimilated in their customs and that has been applied …in the modern [Arab] states… We therefore ask the British government…that it should respect these laws [i.e., the Shari’a]…that were in force under the Turkish regime…

It is within this overall historical context that one must view contemporary Palestinian Muslim pronouncements regarding the status of non-Muslims—Jews in particular, but Christians as well—under past, present, and future under Islamic rule.

For example, Palestinian Authority (PA) Undersecretary for Religious Endowment, Sheik Yussef Salamah, representing the PA at a May 1999 “Inter-Cultural Conference,” in Tehran, praised the 7th century system of Ahl Al-Dhimma (i.e, the system of dhimmitude), as the proper paradigm for relations between Muslims and Christians today.

During a Friday sermon broadcasted live on June 6, 2001 on PA TV, from the Sheik ‘Ijlin Mosque in Gaza, Palestinian Authority employee Sheik Muhammad Ibrahim Al-Madhi reiterated these sentiments with regard to Jews:

We welcome, as we did in the past, any Jew who wants to live in this land as a Dhimmi, just as the Jews have lived in our countries, as Dhimmis, and have earned appreciation, and some of them have even reached the positions of counselor or minister here and there. We welcome the Jews to live as Dhimmis, but the rule in this land and in all the Muslim countries must be the rule of Allah

And most recently, interviewed by Wall Street Journal reporter Karby Legget in late December of 2005, Hassam El-Masalmeh, who heads the Hamas contingent at the municipal council of Bethlehem , confirmed the organizations plan to re-institute the humiliating jizya. El-Masalmeh stated explicitly,

We in Hamas intend to implement this tax (i.e., the jizya) someday. We say it openly – we welcome everyone to Palestine but only if they agree to live under our rules.

There have been ceaseless calls for jihad in Palestine during modern times—in the 1920s and 30s by Hajj Amin El Husseini and Izz Al-Din al Qassam; by the late Yasser Arafat throughout his 40-years as leader of Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization; and now under Hamas. Hamas’s foundational covenant calls for an annihilationist jihad to eradicate Israel . It states, “There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by jihad.” Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers are presently assisting Hamas commanders in arming and training a new jihadist army called the Murbitun—a name which derives from the pious Almoravid religious warriors—Islamized Berbers whose jihad campaigns ravaged North Africa and Iberia in the 11th and 12th centuries. And on April 1, 2006 the new Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mahmoud al-Zahar made clear the goal of such jihadists, “…our dream to have our independent state on all historic Palestine …will become real one day. I’m certain of this because there is no place for the state of Israel on this land”

Thus let me close with these penetrating insights from historian Bat Ye’or, who observed, that jihad remained,

…the main cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Since Israelis are to be regarded, perforce, only as a religious community, their national characteristics – a geographical territory related to a past history, a system of legislation, a specific language and culture – are consequently denied. The “Arab” character of the Palestinian territory is inherent in the logic of jihad. Having become fay territory by conquest (i.e. “taken from an infidel people”), it must remain within the dar al-Islam. The State of Israel, established on this fay territory, is consequently illegal.

And she concluded,

… Israel represents the successful national liberation of a dhimmi civilization. On a territory formerly Arabized by the jihad and the dhimma, a pre-Islamic language, culture, topographical geography, and national institutions have been restored to life. This reversed the process of centuries in which the cultural, social and political structures of the indigenous population of Palestine were destroyed. In 1974, Abu Iyad, second-in-command to Arafat in the Fatah hierarchy, announced: “We intend to struggle so that our Palestinian homeland does not become a new Andalusia .” The comparison of Andalusia to Palestine was not fortuitous since both countries were Arabized, and then de-Arabized by a pre-Arabic culture.