Monday, November 03, 2014

Arabs' Historical Connection With Palestine?

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                      

Let's get down to the nitty gritty.  Arabs, who include Palestinian Arabs, originally came from Arabia which is the SW peninsula of Asia.  Arabia is made of 1,027,000 square miles or 2,630,000 square km.    Compare that to Israel's 8,000 sq. miles.  It includes Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Kuwait, Bahrein, Qatar, Trucial Oman on the Persian gulf, Muscat and Oman, and South Yemen.
                                                                     
Mohammad was born in 570 and died in 632 at the age of 62.  He started the new Islamic religion.  Arabs came out of the desert of Arabia with the purpose of conquest and established an empire within 100 years that extended over 3 continents, from the Atlantic Ocean to the border of China.  Early on they had conquered Palestine from the Byzantine Empire (330-1453CE) . It was finally destroyed by the Ottoman Empire's Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror.  
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The Byzantium was the Eastern Roman Empire with its capital in Constantinople, Turkey and covered a changing geography depending on the year. They controlled all of the Balkans and Asia Minor, the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, Egypt, and parts of North Africa.  It was the heir of the Roman Empire. They were eastern Orthodox Christians. and they spoke Greek    Up to 637 CE it included Palestine.  Jews lived in this empire from its takeover in the 4th century.  Eastern emperors had their own specific religious attitudes towards the position of Jews and their religious life, which continually deteriorated towards the Jews.  Justinian (527-565) had terrible anti-Jewish laws in his Codes and issued a decree in 533 about synagogue services which interfered with their conduct of such.  Heraclius in 614 issued an edict ordering the conversion of the Jews. Judaism was forbidden by Leo in 723, Basil I in 873-874, Romanus Lucapenus in 932-6, etc.   
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The Muslim Arabs took from the Jews the lands they had held onto for 20 generations after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. 

Arab rule came from Damascus, Syria by the Omayyad /Umayyad dynasty  which lasted a little less than 100 years (661-750).  It was not a stable empire with the Caliphs lasting about 6 years each.  They were in the position of having a huge empire made up of people of many different religions.  Their history, handed down from the Abbasid historians who didn't like them, said they were hard drinkers and pleasure lovers.  Only a few strengthened the empire and advanced its frontiers.Islam was militantly aggressive so that's why they took over vast areas so fast. This was the start of Muslim rule in Palestine for 450 years. The Umayyads had been fairly tolerant in their rule.  

Constantinople had taken away the Arab sons in Palestine, the local tax farmer sucked them dry, the village over the hill of a rival tribe had to be watched or fought in a cycle of mutually destructive retaliation.  Bedouin nomads tore up olive trees, destroyed crops, filled wells with stones, broke down cisterns, took away livestock.  

Arab problems started with establishing who the next Caliph would be as Mohammad had no sons.  Ali died and Mu'awiya took the caliphate as a member of the Quraysh tribe that Mohammad had belonged to. 

As to how Arabs looked upon other new Muslims they had converted in their vast empire, the bottom of the rank and file were the slaves, black, white and yellow.  The next level above slaves were the dhimmi, the Jews, Christians and Sabians.  Later this privileged group that they didn't want to kill included the Zoroastrians of Iran and the Berbers of North Africa.  Next in line above them were non-Arab Muslims they called CLIENTS.  It was they that were problems.  The Arabs were following the leadership of Umar I and interpreted the Koran from a limited point of view with the supremacy of the Arabs and didn't want to share their privileges with converts.  The Arabs didn't know anything else but to handle problems militarily so they asserted Arab national superiority.  

 They were overthrown in 750 by the Abbasids who were their bitter antagonists.  They claimed descent from Abbas, Muhammad's uncle.  They ushered in a new era (750-1258).  Creating a United Arab Empire had failed.  Now the world saw 2 rival empires.  The capital moved from Syria to Baghdad, Iraq and Iran.  Kufa, on the border of Iran, became the new capital.  Non-Arabs felt liberated.  Iranians held the high positions of government.  Arabs were not fashionable anymore, but Islam remained and out of it was to come Iranian, Ottoman and sometimes Indian ideas. The Abbasid dynasty of Turks were growing in anarchy and were also Muslim rulers.The Abbasids  governed for 200 years dominated first by the Persians (Iran), then by the Turks. They were conquered by the Mongols in 1258.   

  The Fatimids finally defeated them and that's when the Arab hadn't had any part in the governing of the empire; not in the capital or in the provinces.  The Fatimids from Cairo were more of persecutors.  Their empire lasted from 750 to 1099 and brought in Shia Islam.  
                                                                 
 The Crusaders (1095-1291) massacred the Jews in the cities.  Yet the surviving Jews held on, survived and worked and fought.  They had fought the Crusaders with the Arabs.  The Crusaders had gathered up Jews, put them in a synagogue and burned them alive.  Jews held out in Haifa against Crusaders and held onto the city from June to July 1099.  At the time there were Jewish communities all over the land.  50 known included Jerusalem, Tiberias, Ramleh, Ashkelon, Caesarea and Gaza.  

The Mameluke's (military class Turks taken as slaves) took the reigns of power in 1250 after the Christian Crusaders.  They were a group of slaves that ruled Egypt from 1250 to 1517; 267 years.  Palestine had no existence to them, even as a sub entity.  The Mameluke's exploited its people with hostility and indifference.  Some Arab tribes collaborated with them in some internal struggles that marked their rule, but the Arabs lacked any direct influence in their government.  Arabs were  conquered subjects and were treated this way.  
                                                                         

Arabs had accomplished several things, though.  Throughout out the lands conquered, Arabic became the dominant language and Islam the predominant religion.  People conquered accepted Islam usually was for the social and economic discrimination suffered by a non-Muslim.  So what had happened was a cultural assimilation which brought about the so-called Golden Age of Arabic culture.  Notice that the people who were not assimilated were the Jews.  They could not change from their own deeply rooted religion to one that had none of the same moral and ethical values they loved in their own religion even though it was one that worshipped ONE G-d.  

In the 10th century the Arab writer Ibn Hukal said: " Nobody cares about building the country or concerns himself for its needs. " 

The invaders from the desert brought no tradition of learning, no heritage of culture to the lands they conquered.  Instead, some of them learned from the people they had conquered.  Arabic civilization was not Arabian either in its origins and structure nor in its principal ethnic aspects.  They only contributed their language and their religion.  It was their conquered people who actually contributed their own enlightenment and learning.  

Many conquered people had books of learning and they were translated into Arabic.  Most of the great works in mathematics, astronomy, medicine and philosophy were translated. renditions from others.  Then some original works came along in Arabic on all these subjects and also on alchemy, pharmacy and geography.  These were not from the Arab mind or developed by Arabs but were from the conquered Persians, Egyptians or Arabians, either Christian or Jewish or Muslims.  

Arab literature was not all from Arabs.  They had help from non-Arab people.  Their philosophy, linguistics, lexicography and grammar were primarily Arabian in origin but with outside help.  
                                                                          

During all this period, Palestine was never mentioned.  "The few Palestinian scholars were born and may have died in Palestine, but they studied and worked in either Egypt or Damascus, the hubs of learning for the Arabs.  Palestine was nothing more to them than a forgotten backwater of the empire.  Where all was happening was in Damascus, Baghdad or Cairo.  These were the centers of the Muslim Empire.  Jerusalem, where the Muslims had built a mosque over the site of the ancient Jewish Temple in the act of trying to establish a Muslim Holy Place, never achieved any political or even cultural status.  None of the empires had interest in Palestine except for what they could squeeze out of it for the imperial exchequer or the imperial army.  

Arabs didn't improve under the Ottoman Empire (1299-1922), either.  Even though they all were Muslims, they didn't get any benefits from this fact.  The Ottomans replaced Arabic with Turkish as the language of the country.  Arabs disliked their Turkish rulers just 1 degree less than the Jews did because the Jews were heavily taxed and the Arabs weren't.  
                                                               

The Arabs did one thing to Palestine.  They contributed to its devastation.  Part of this devastation came about through the warring of the previous dynasties;   the Arab, Turkish, Persians or Egyptians, Crusaders and invading hordes of Mongols or Kharezamians, plus by the local Arab chieftains.  They had brought with them internal strife of inter tribal warfare within Palestine.  The Bedouins (Arabs) were always raiding from the neighboring deserts on the populations of little villages.  This had been happening way back during the Byzantine era.  Over 15 centuries they had eroded the face of Palestine.  

The Bedouin depredations were more intense during the latter phase of the Abbasids and Fatimid era.  Palestine east of the Jordan was laid waste.  In the 13th century with the Mameluke's, ruining the land went on constantly.  It worsened during the Ottoman Empire.  Bedouin raiders plundered livestock and destroyed crops and plantations.  they plagued the life of the farmers of that period.  Bedouin camps dotted the countryside and were bases for highway attacks on travelers or any caravans carrying merchandise and on the cavalcades of pilgrims.  

In 1785, Count Volney described what he saw in Palestine.  He said the peasants were invading each other's lands and would destroy their corn, durra, sesame and olive-trees, carry off their sheep, goats and camels.  The Turks were negligent in repressing this and paid less attention to this happening in Palestine.   since their authority was very precarious.  The Bedouins had camps on the level countryside and were attacking the Ottomans and resisted their authority.  The Palestinian part of Syria (Palestine) was more wretched than that of any other.  this country is indeed more frequently plundered than any other in Syria because it lies open to the Arabs.  
                                                                
                      Russian  Jews of Aliyah clearing the swamps, getting Malaria afterwards

By 1850, hundreds of years of abuse had turned Palestine into a treeless waste where there was a sprinkling of dilapidated towns, and malaria-ridden swamps.  This was where originally there had been fertile northern valleys and a once-thriving South (Negev) now  turned into a desert with a population of almost nothing.  There never was a Palestinian Arab nation. Visitors felt that the country had been waiting for the return of its lawful Jewish people.  In 1200 years the Arabs had built only Ramleh and that was in the 8th century.  The 1880's brought in the 1st Aliyah of Russian Jews who tackled the swamps.  

Culturally, the Arab conquest of the Fertile Crescent and Iran was a barbarian invasion of the advanced civilizations of the Byzantine and Sasanid (Iranians)  empires.  The first group were the conquerors and preached the simple faith of Islam they had brought with them from the desert.  The Umayyads were very close to the primitive Bedouin culture and had to handle civil wars but brought their faith in contact with Christianity and Iranian cultures and raised more questions about faith and the the conduct of Islam.  The Abbasids borrowed from the non-Islamic world and this was all translated into Arabic.  Their creativeness was built upon acquired knowledge from those conquered.  

Resource: Battleground-fact and fantasy in Palestine by Samuel Katz p. 108-109, p 88.
Middle East Past & Present by Yahya Armajani, Thomas M. Ricks 2nd Edition, College Text
The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/465/Abbasid-Dynasty
http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/Crusader.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fatimid_Caliphate
http://www.allaboutturkey.com/ottoman.htm
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