PALESTINE was the name applied by Herodotus and other Greek and Latin writers to the Philistine coastland, and sometimes also to the territory between it and the Jordan Valley. Early in the Roman Empire the name Palaestina was given to the region around Jerusalem. The Byzantines in turn named the province west of the Jordan River, stretching from Mount Carmel in the north to Gaza in the south, Palaestina Prima.
ROME AND BYZANTIUM
In A.D. 70 the Roman emperor Titus suppressed a Jewish revolt in Palestine, razed Jerusalem to the ground, and destroyed its Temple. After a second Jewish revolt (A.D. 132-135) the emperor Hadrian built a new, pagan city on the ruins of Jerusalem, which he called Colonia Aelia Capitolina and forbade Jews to enter. After Hadrian's reign the number of Christians living in Jerusalem rose steadily until, with the conversion to Christianity of the emperor Constantine I (died 337) and the pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 320 of his mother, Queen Helena, the Christian character of Jerusalem and Palestine began to predominate over the pagan. Constantine himself built the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and his successors, particularly Justinian (died 565), covered the country with churches and religious monuments. The Byzantines allowed the Jews to enter Jerusalem only one day a year to weep by a stone on the site of the Temple, but in deference to Jesus' prediction in Matt. 24:2, they kept the site desolate.
ISLAM AND THE UMAYYADS
Long before the rise of Islam in the seventh century, there had been continuous intermingling between the Christian peoples of Palestine and the Arab inhabitants (some of whom were also Christians) to the south and east. At first the prophet Muhammad and his followers turned in their prayers to Jerusalem, not Mecca. According to the Koran, Muhammad was miraculously transported in nocturnal flight from Mecca to Jerusalem, whence he ascended in seven stages to the presence of God. To this day Muhammad’s spiritual journey is celebrated throughout the Muslim world on the twenty-seventh day of the seventh month of the Muslim calendar. Centuries after the event, the Muslim accounts of Muhammad's ascension became a source of inspiration to Dante in the writing of the Divine Comedy.
The Arabs captured Jerusalem from the Byzantines in 637. To show his respect for the city, Omar (the second caliph after the death of the Prophet) accepted its surrender in person and treated its inhabitants with extraordinary clemency and moderation. In the words of Sir William Fitzgerald: "Never in the sorry story of conquest up to that day, and rarely since, were such noble and generous sentiments displayed by a conqueror as those extended to Jerusalem by Omar." Omar was anxious to identify the places associated with Muhammad's ascension. The rock from which the ascension had taken place was located with difficulty, as it lay buried under a dunghill. After cleansing the rock, Omar led his entourage (which included many Companions, i.e., close associates, of the Prophet) in prayer beside it. The call to prayer was made for the first time since Muhammad's death by Bilal, his muezzin. One of the Companions who attended the ceremony, Ubadah, was appointed by Omar as first qadi ("judge") of Jerusalem, and died in the city while holding that office. The Arabic name given to Jerusalem was al-Bait al-Muqaddas (the Holy House) in apposition to al-Bait al-Haram (the Sacred House), Mecca’s designation. The Byzantine province of Palaestina Prima became the administrative and military province (djund) of Filastin -- the Arabic name for Palestine since then.
Palestine was particularly honored by the Umayyad Arab dynasty (661-750), whose capital was Damascus. Mu'awiya (661-680), founder of the dynasty, had himself proclaimed caliph in Jerusalem. One of his successors, the fifth Umayyad caliph, Abd al-Malik (685-705), built the magnificent Mosque of the Dome of the Rock over the rock from which Muhammad had ascended to heaven; Adb al-Malik's son Walid (705-715) built the adjacent Mosque of al-Aqsa. The Mosque of the Dome of the Rock, a dazzling synthesis of Byzantine, Persian, and Arab architecture, is the earliest surviving Muslim monument anywhere. The area of the two mosques became known as al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary). The Umayyads' preference for Palestine and Jerusalem was in part politically motivated, because during the earlier decades of the dynasty Mecca and Medina were in the hands of rivals. But their attitude was also rooted in the Traditions (i.e., sayings) of the Prophet, some of the most famous of which equated Jerusalem with Mecca and Medina. It was to these Traditions that the Umayyads appealed when they urged Muslims to perform the pilgrimage at Jerusalem instead of in the two other holy cities. Thus even after Mecca and Medina came under Umayyad control in 692, the seventh Umayyad caliph, Suleiman (715-717), had himself invested with the caliphate in Jerusalem; he also built the city of Ramleh in Palestine, which he made his residence and adorned with a magnificent mosque and palace. Long after the Umayyads, the magnetic pull of Jerusalem was noted by the Persian traveler Nasir-i-Khusrau, who on visiting the city in 1047, wrote: "The people of these parts, if they are unable to make the pilgrimage of Mecca, will go at the appointed season to Jerusalem."
The Abbasid dynasty (750-1225), with its seat in Baghdad, succeeded the Umayyads. It reached the zenith of its power and influence within a century of its foundation. Thereafter many provinces of the empire fell under local Muslim rulers holding only nominal allegiance to the Abbasid caliph, whose role resembled that of the holy Roman emperor after the decline of his power. For the greater part of the period from the end of the ninth century until the Crusades, Palestine was governed by Muslim rulers based in Cairo.
At the height of their power, two Abbasid caliphs made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Al-Mansur, the second Abbasid caliph (754-775), visited Jerusalem twice and ordered the repair of damage to the city caused by an earthquake. Al-Mahdi, the third Abbasid caliph (775-785), visited Jerusalem especially to pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque. The seventh Abbasid caliph al-Ma'mun (813-833), ordered major restorations to be carried out in the Mosque of the Dome of the Rock under the supervision of his brother and successor, al-Mu'tasim (833-842), who was then his viceroy in Syria. So anxious were the Abbasids to be associated with Jerusalem that they ineptly substituted in inscriptions on the dome the name of al-Ma'mun for the Umayyad Abd al-Malik as the builder of the mosque.
Descriptions of Palestine in the centuries preceding the Crusades abound in the writings of Muslim and Arab geographers. Ya'kubi from Khorasan noted in 891-892 that Palestine had "a numerous population of Arabs...and a certain proportion of non-Muslims, Christians, Jews and Samaritans." Ibn-al-Fakih from Hamadhan, who wrote in 903, related the Traditions about Jerusalem and gave detailed descriptions of its mosques. Ibn-Abd Rabih (died 940) from Cordova described the Dome of the Rock as well as other Muslim sanctuaries in Jerusalem, as did Istakhri (fl. 950) from Persepolis, closely followed by ibn-Hawkal (died 977). Overshadowing all of these accounts is the work of Muqqadasi (died 986), a native of Jerusalem. He enumerated the principal products of Palestine, "among which agricultural produce was particularly copious and prized: fruits of every kind (olives, figs, grapes, quinces, plums, apples, dates, walnuts, almonds, jujubes and bananas), some of which were exported, and crops for processing (sugarcane, indigo, and sumac). But the mineral resources were equally important: chalk earth...marble from Bayt Djibrin, and sulphur mined in the Ghawr [Jordan Valley] not to mention the salt and bitumen of the Dead Sea. Stone, which was common in the country, was the most generally used building material for towns of any importance."
In the wake of the caliphs from Omar onward, pious men and women in their thousands made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Jerusalem exerted a powerful attraction on the adherents of the mystical Sufi movement from its beginnings in the eighth century. For example, Rabi'a al-Adawiyah (ca. 717-801), a woman mystic accorded first place in the list of Muslim saints, who preached a life of "penitence, patience, gratitude, holy fear, voluntary poverty and utter dependence (tawak-kul) upon God,” chose to leave her native Basra in Iraq in order to live, meditate and die in Jerusalem. In addition to ordinary pilgrims and mystics, Jerusalem attracted a steady flow of scholars: experts in Koranic exegesis and in the Traditions, theologians and grammarians who came to write and lecture in the city's grand mosques and the dozens of colleges affiliated with them.
The greatest of these scholars was al-Ghazzali (1058-1111), the leading theologian of Islam and one of its most original thinkers. Al-Ghazzali left his post as lecturer at the prestigious Nizamiyah Academy in Baghdad in 1095 to take up residence in Jerusalem, where he began to work on his magnum opus, The Revivification of the Sciences of Religion, a magisterial reconciliation of rationalism, mysticism, and legal orthodoxy which, in addition to revitalizing Islamic theology, left its mark through partial Latin translations on Jewish and Christian scholasticism. Also in Jerusalem, at the insistence of his students there, al-Ghazzali completed a concise exposition of the Muslim creed, calling it The Jerusalem Tract.
Omar had allowed Christians the undisturbed use of their churches in Jerusalem. His successors strictly maintained this policy except for some serious outbreaks of anti-Christian fanaticism in Jerusalem in 966 (in which Jews took part with Muslims), and again in 1009. Otherwise Christian pilgrimage to the holy places continued uninterrupted. The Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid (786-809), of legendary fame, acceded to Charlemagne’s request that hostels for Christian pilgrims be established in Palestine and nuns be permitted to serve in Jerusalem.
Jews had been debarred from living in Jerusalem first by the Romans under Hadrian and then by the Christian Byzantines. In their negotiations for the surrender of the city to Omar, the Christian inhabitants probably demanded that the ban on the residence of Jews be included in the treaty of the surrender. Nevertheless, Omar's successors deviated from the terms of the treaty with regard to the Jews, and gradually allowed Jews to take up residence in the city. The first mention of a synagogue in Jerusalem after Hadrian seems to be one made by Persian traveler Nasir-i-Khusrau in 1047.
THE CRUSADES AND COUNTER-CRUSADES
Arab and Muslim rule over Palestine was interrupted by the Crusader invasion and the establishment of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem (1099-1187). The counter-Crusades, led by Saladin (died 1193) and his successors, persisted until 1291, when the last Frankish strongholds, Caesarea and Acre, were retaken. After their entry into Jerusalem, the Crusaders had tortured, burnt, and massacred thousands of defenseless Muslims (men, women, and children) as well as the small number of Jewish residents who had taken refuge in their synagogue. By contrast, Saladin's entry into Jerusalem in 1187, at the pinnacle of his military might, displayed the same reverence for the city and compassion for its Christian inhabitants that the caliph Omar had shown some five hundred years earlier. As Stanley Lane-Poole commented: "If the taking of Jerusalem were the only fact known about Saladin, it were enough to prove him the most chivalrous and great-hearted conqueror of his own, and perhaps of any, age."
Saladin's first task after entering Jerusalem was to cleanse the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque of defilement. For a whole week, noble and humble men alongside each other washed the walls and floors of the buildings and sprinkled them with rose water. The relatives and descendants of the Muslim inhabitants of Jerusalem (who had been made refugees by the Crusader conquest of the city) were given back their family properties; and where no owners could be found, the dwellings were assigned to well-known Arab clans. Saladin introduced the institution of the madrasah ("collegiate mosque") into Jerusalem and endowed one bearing his name (al-Salahiyyah). He also endowed a hospital and two hostels for scholars and mystics. The soldiers who had died in his campaign were buried outside the Gate of Mercy on the eastern side of the Haram al-Sharif (Nobel Sanctuary) by his command. In 1193 Saladin's son al-Afdal built the Magharibah Mosque near the gate of the same name on the southwest side of the Haram; this was the site where Muhammad had tethered his wondrous mount before his ascension. Al-Afdal dedicated the land outside the gate as waqf ("religious endowment") for the mosque and for pilgrims and scholars from North Africa.
Saladin and his successors, the Ayyubids, allowed Christians to reside and practice their faith in Jerusalem; and the city was kept open to Christian pilgrims from Europe, although the fear persisted for centuries that the Franks might attempt to reconquer it. The number of Jews residing in Jerusalem under the Crusaders had declined to one, a dyer, noted by the Jewish traveler Rabbi Pethahiah of Regensburg (ca. 1177). But Saladin and his successors revived the Jewish presence in Jerusalem. Indeed, after the Crusades all of the lands of Islam became a haven for Jews from Europe, inasmuch as the Crusades were equally anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim.
The Crusades and counter-Crusades inspired a resurgence of intense Muslim and Arab interest in Palestine, which took three forms: (1) A host of writers and poets celebrated the religious significance and value of Jerusalem in a new literary genre known as the Books of Virtues (Fada’il). The themes of these works were the special efficacy of prayers offered in the city and the advantages of pilgrimage to it or residence and death in it. But Jerusalem was not the only place singled out for veneration. Great emphasis was laid both on Muslim tombs and shrines in different parts of the country (e.g., the tomb of Hashim, grandfather of Muhammad, at Gaza) and on sites associated with the Hebrew prophets – tombs or reputed tombs and birthplaces or spots the prophets had visited or dwelt in. (2) Pilgrimages and visits to Palestine multiplied and became a popular regional phenomenon. (3) Competition arose among Muslim rulers and affluent individuals to build public institutions (schools, hostels, soup kitchens, clinics, baths, and fountains) as endowments for the mosques and other Muslim shrines in Palestine.
This resurgence of Muslim and Arab interest in Filastin/Palestine was no passing mood in mere reaction to the Crusader threat. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, for example, it took yet another form. The pilgrimage to Jerusalem became a central tenet of many Sufi tariqahs (“brotherhoods”). The Mosque of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem (which housed the rock from which Muhammad ascended to heaven) became the site of special rituals and elevating experiences. There the mentors of the tariqahs would instruct their disciples in programs of rigorous fasting and contemplation. Special prayer sessions known as dhikrs (“recollections”) were held at which the attributes of God and the Prophet were repeatedly recollected in such variations as to induce a state of religious ecstasy. These sessions were in preparation for the climactic experience of identification, at the very site of the Prophet’s ascension, with the Prophet’s own imagined spiritual state during his ascension. For to the Sufis, Muhammad’s ascension symbolized the soul’s escape from its corporeal moorings. Palestinian and other Arab adherents of Sufi tariqahs are still found today.
In 1260 power passed from the hands of Saladin’s descendants, the Ayyubids, to those of the Mameluke sultans of Egypt. From that date until the Ottoman conquest of Egypt of 1517, Palestine remained part of the Mameluke realm. It was the Mamelukes who drove the last Crusaders out of Palestine and who in 1260, at the battle of Ayn Jalut near Nazareth, defeated the Mongol hordes under Hulagu, grandson of Genghis Khan saving the country from certain destruction. Except during the period of the Crusades, the administrative unit of the djund of Filastin, established by the caliph Omar, had been maintained. The Mamelukes reorganized the country administratively by dividing it into six districts: those of Gaza, Lydda, Kakun (after a village north of Lydda), Jerusalem, Hebron, and Nablus. These territories west of the Jordan River continued to serve as a major crossroads linking Cairo with Damascus and Aleppo, traversed as much by merchants as by administrators, pilgrims, and couriers.
The Mamelukes granted Jerusalem special favors. Several of the sultans lightened its taxes or presented splendid copies of the Koran to its mosques, while most undertook repairs and additions (e.g., colonnades and minarets) to its sanctuaries. Sultan Baibars (1260-77) built a khan, or inn, for the relief of the poor, and Sultan al-Ashraf Ka’it Bay (1468-95) rebuilt on a grand scale madrasah that still bears his name (al-Ashrafiyyah). Muslim geographers made frequent mention of Palestine and Jerusalem during this period, among them Yakut (1179-1229) from Asia Minor; Abdul Fida (1273-1332), a descendant of Saladin’s brother; and ibn-Battuta (1304-77) from Tangiers. They recounted the references to Jerusalem in the Koran and the Traditions, and described its mosques, sanctuaries, schools, bazaars, inns, and pious foundations. Most important for Jerusalem as well as Hebron under the Mamelukes is the work written in 1495 by the qadi of Jerusalem Mujir al-Din, who also listed the names of famous Muslim scholars, soldiers, rulers, and many mystics buried in the city, in addition to the many Jerusalemites who attained high office in the service of the Mamelukes.
From 1516 until the end of World War I, the whole region of western Asia was part of the Ottoman Empire. The majestic superstructure of the walls encircling the Old City of Jerusalem, built by the Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-66), attests to Jerusalems’s standing in Ottoman eyes. Equally revealing is the endowment made in 1552 by Khasseki Sultan (known in Europe as Roxelana), the favorite and queen of Suleiman. Seeking “the pleasure of Allah,” she built a complex in Jerusalem “for the poor and the needy, the weak and the distressed” that included a monastery “with fifty-five doors” and an inn together with a public kitchen, bakery, stables, and storerooms. The endowment deed specified the range of employees required to run this institution – stewards, clerks, master cooks (and apprentices), food inspectors, dishwashers, millers, handymen, and garbage collectors. It described in detail the menus to be served, the ingredients to be used, and the quantities to be cooked. For the maintenance of the establishment, it set aside the revenues from twenty-three Palestinian villages as well as those from a village in northern Lebanon, and shops and soap factories in Tripoli. Khasseki Sultan’s public kitchen and bakery were still functioning under the British Mandate.
The Ottomans scrupulously continued the Muslim tradition of tolerance toward Christian religious interests in Palestine. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem was acknowledged in the sixteenth century as the custodian of the Christian holy places, and from about the same time France became the guardian of the Latin clergy. Like earlier Muslim powers, the Ottoman Empire opened its gates to hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing persecution in Spain and other parts of Christendom. But the vast majority, as in the earlier centuries after the Crusades, did not choose to live in Palestine. Thus the number of Jews in Jerusalem in the first century after the Ottoman conquest dropped from 1,330 in 1525 to 980 in 1587. Even by the middle of the nineteenth century, only a few Jews had availed themselves of the opportunity to settle in the Holy Land. Those who did so lived in the four cities of special significance to Judaism: Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed, and Tiberias. The Ottomans presided over a set of regulations and understandings, known as the “status quo”, that governed privileges and access rights of Jews and Christians at their respective religious sites and monuments. These regulations and understandings were based on customary practice as it had accumulated over the years. They included rights acknowledged by earlier Muslim rulers and the decisions of Muslim courts in support of these rights, as well as Christian and Jewish commitment to adhere to customary practice.
The activities of European merchants in the coastal towns of Palestine were unimpeded by the Ottomans. The agriculture and industrial products of the interior found their way to Europe via the ports of Gaza, Acre, and Jaffa. As before, the overland trade routes between Syria and Egypt passed through Palestine, while the pilgrimage routes to Mecca (whether from Cairo, Damascus or beyond) converged at the Palestinian port of Aqaba. By the mid-nineteenth century, many European powers had consulates in the country, and during the second half of the century Christian missions – Catholic, Protestant, and Greek Orthodox – proliferated along with their schools, hospitals, printing presses, and hostels. In 1892 a French company completed the building of a railroad connecting Jaffa and Jerusalem. Of all the Arab provinces in the Ottoman Empire, with the exception of the Maronite sections of Mount Lebanon, Palestine was the most exposed and accessible to Christian and European influences.
The exposure also had its disadvantages, particularly with the gradual decline of the Ottoman political and military power. The industrial revolution and the European economic penetration of the region dealt a severe blow to local crafts and industries, while increasing European political leverage against Constantinople. One much-abused avenue for such leverage was afforded by the so-called Capitulations – a system of extraterritorial privileges granted to nationals of European powers who resided in the Ottoman Empire. The early Zionist immigrants and settlers were to make full use of the Capitulations.
In 1887-88, the area that later became Mandatory Palestine was divided into three administrative units: the district (sanjak) of Jerusalem, comprising the southern half of the country, and the two northern districts of Nablus and Acre. The two northern districts were administratively attached to the province (vilayet) of Beirut, but because of its importance to the Ottomans, the district of Jerusalem was governed directly by Constantinople. The area across the Jordan River (Trans-Jordan or Jordan) was administratively separate from the Palestinian districts and formed part of the province of Syria, with Damascus as its capital. At this time the population of the three Palestinian districts was ca. 600,000, about 10 percent of whom were Christians and the rest mostly Sunnite Muslims. The Jews numbered about 25,000; the majority were deeply religious, devoting themselves to prayer and contemplation and deliberately eschewing employment or agricultural activity. Until the advent of Zionism, relations between Palestinians and Jews were stable and peaceful, mellowed by more than a millennium of coexistence and often shared adversity.
Contributing to the climate of tolerance was the reverence held by Islam for the Hebrew prophets, enhanced in the case of Palestine by the tradition of pilgrimage to biblical sites. Palestinian Muslims, more than any other Muslims, were particularly imbued with such reverence if only because they lived in continuous proximity to the sites associated with these prophets. The inscription of Jaffa Gate (the main western gate into the Old City of Jerusalem) reads: “There is no God but Allah, and Abraham is his friend.” Mosques and Muslim shrines honoring Hebrew prophets and bearing their names in Arabic were regular features of the Palestinian landscape. Perhaps unique among Muslims was the Palestinian practice of celebrating religious festivals in honor of Hebrew prophets. No less distinctive was the widespread use by Palestinians of Hebrew first names. The same tolerance is evident in the attitudes of Palestinian Muslims toward their Christian compatriots, relations with whom have been remarkably free of tension (unlike the situation in some neighboring Arab countries). It is no coincidence that the various Christian sects in Jerusalem have traditionally entrusted the keys of the Holy Sepulcher to a Palestinian Muslim family.
Although proud of their Arab heritage and ancestry, the Palestinians considered themselves to be descended not only from the Arab conquerors of the seventh century but also from indigenous peoples who had lived in the country since time immemorial, including the ancient Hebrews and the Canaanites before them. Acutely away of the distinctiveness of Palestinian history, the Palestinians saw themselves as the heirs of its rich associations. Politically their loyalty was to Constantinople, partly because the Ottoman sultan was also caliph and head of the Muslim community (ummah) and partly because they felt like citizens rather than subjects of the empire. Their feeling of citizenship derived from the fact that the Ottoman Turks had never colonized the Arab provinces in the sense of settling in them; thus among the Arabs Ottomanism had acquired the connotation of partnership between the peoples of the empire rather than that of domination by one ethnic group over another. Nevertheless, relations between the different ethnic groups within the empire became increasingly strained during the period from the turn of the century to World War I, largely under the influence of growing European nationalism. Both Arabs and Turks were affected by this climate, which strengthened the appeal of the specific ethnic and political identity of each. A powerful secondary influence in the same direction was the Arab intellectual and literary renaissance that crystallized toward the end of the nineteenth century and radiated its influence from Cairo, Damascus, and Beirut.
The promulgation of the new Ottoman Constitution in 1876 (short-lived as it was) enabled the first elections to be held to the Ottoman Parliament, in which many delegates from the Arab provinces, including Palestinians from Jerusalem, took their seats. (It is ironic that Palestinians were sitting in the Parliament in Constantinople twenty years before the Zionists held their first congress in Basel in 1897.) Arabs, including Palestinians, were appointed to high office not only in the civil service, the diplomatic corps, the judiciary, and the army, but also as ministers in the Ottoman cabinet. The “Young Turks” Revolution in 1908, which brought reformists to power, further raised Arab and Palestinian expectations, stimulating political debate and intellectual activity best exemplified in Palestine by the appearance of new journals and newspapers. Delegates from Jerusalem, Jaffa, Nablus, Acre, and Gaza were elected to the Ottoman Parliament in 1908 and 1912. But Ottoman reforms could not keep abreast of deteriorating Turkish-Arab relations. Many Arabs wanted a greater share in government. Some advocated decentralization; others spoke of Arab unity, revolt, and independence.
ZIONISM AND WORLD WAR I
Meanwhile, during the 1880s an important development in Eastern Europe began to cast its lengthening shadow on the future of the Palestinians. The phenomena of European nationalism and colonialism had inspired a national political movement known as Zionism among a growing number of East European Jewish intellectuals. The Zionists yearned to escape from Jewish minority status and the twin threats of assimilation and persecution. They saw the acquisition of territory where a Jewish sovereign state could be established as the means of national fulfillment and salvation. The ancient Jewish association with and religious attachment to Palestine were regarded as justifying its choice as the site for such a state, though some early Zionists were willing to consider alternative sites.
The Zionist decision, late in the nineteenth century, to colonize Palestine with a view to turning it into a Jewish state irrespective of the existence and wishes of its indigenous population ushered in the turbulent modern phase of Palestinian history, whose consequences are with us today. The course set by the Zionists was bound to lead to conflict and tragedy, an outcome foreseen by some Zionists leaders themselves. For Palestine, as we have seen, was not an empty land. Its inhabitants lived in a score of cities and towns, and some eight hundred villages and hamlets, built of stone. While the bulk of the population gained their living from agriculture, the townspeople engaged in commerce and the traditional crafts; some were in the civil service, others in the professions. Many of the urban rich were landlords, but members of the older families were also in the upper echelons of the civil service, the judiciary, and the professions. The Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim, formed a proud and vibrant community that had already crossed the threshold of an intellectual and national renaissance. They shared and reflected the cultural and political values of the neighboring Arab metropolitan centers. For centuries they had had trade links with Europe and contact with Europeans who came as Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land. For decades they had been exposed to modernizing influences as a result of the educational and medical work of European and American Christian missions. Service in the European and Asian provinces of the Ottoman Empire had widened their horizons.
The Palestinians were as deeply entrenched in their country on the eve of the Zionist venture as any citizenry or peasantry anywhere. The contemporaneous photographic collection of Félix Bonfils (1831-85) and his son Adrien (1860-1929) is visual testimony to this fact. No less telling is the evidence of the many European artists and painters who visited Palestine before the advent of Zionism, e.g., William Henry Bartlett (1809-54), David Roberts (1796-1864), Edward Lear (1812-88), and William Holman Hunt (1827-1910). After all, the Palestinians’ main grievance against Constantinople was that they wanted greater recognition of their rights and more responsibility in government; they were altogether unlikely to acquiesce in the Zionist political program, which challenged their very title to their land.
The first Zionist colony in Palestine was founded in 1878, and the first wave of Zionist immigrants arrived in 1882. In the same year a French Jewish millionaire, Baron Edmond de Rothschild, began his support of Jewish colonization in Palestine. In 1896 a German Jewish millionaire, Baron Maurice de Hirsch, established a branch of his Jewish Colonization Association in Palestine, while Theodor Herzl, a Hungarian Jew, published Der Judenstaat – a treatise that integrated prevailing Zionist ideas and outlined a program of implementation. The following year in Basel, Switzerland, Herzl convened the First Zionist Congress, which created the World Zionist Organization, the insitutional framework of subsequent Zionist diplomacy and operations. In 1901 the Keren Kayemeth (Jewish National Fund) was established in London to acquire land in Palestine that would remain inalienably Jewish and on which only Jewish labor would be employed. Between the 1880s and 1914 some thirty Zionist colonies were founded, and by 1914 the total Jewish population in Palestine had reached about eighty thousand, although the majority retained their European nationalities.
The initial phases of Zionist activity in Palestine took place in spite of the mounting alarm and opposition of the Palestinians. The Ottoman authorities repeatedly tried to legislate controls on Zionist mass immigration and land acquisition only to be frustrated by the pressure of European powers, the corruption of their own local officials, the greed of individual landowners, and Zionist ingenuity in exploiting the Capitulations system. The earliest tensions between Palestinians and Jews developed as a result of the colonizing program and declared political purposes of European Zionist immigrants. Vast estates were purchased by the central Zionist institutions from feudal absentee landlords in Beirut, over the heads of Palestinian tenants and sharecroppers.
World War I brought Britain and those Arabs who were dissatisfied with Ottoman rule into an alliance with each other. Sharif Hussein of Mecca hoped, by siding with Britain and the Western Allies against Constantinople, to win unity and independence for the Arabs at the end of the war. In July 1915 Hussein undertook a correspondence in good faith with Sir Henry McMahon, the British high commissioner of Egypt. Concluded in 1916, the Hussein-McMahon correspondence was interpreted by the Arabs to mean that, in the post-war settlement, the British would recognize the independence of a united Arab state comprising the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire, including Palestine. By May 1916, however, Britain, France, and Russia had reached a secret agreement according to which the bulk of Palestine was to be internationalized. Most significant for future developments was a secret letter addressed in November 1917 by Arthur James Balfour, British secretary of state for foreign affairs, to Baron Lionel Walter de Rothschild, a British Zionist, promising British support for the establishment in Palestine for a national home for the Jewish people. This document marked the historic watershed in the fortunes of Zionism. Jerusalem was captured by British and Dominion forces under the command of General Sir Edmund Allenby in December 1917. The rest of the country was occupied by October 1918. The road to the realization of Zionism lay wide open.