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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Palestine: That Unwanted Backwater That Only Jews Could Love

Nadene Goldfoot
Palestine was just a battleground or a corridor to Arab rulers and their non-Arab successors.  Sometimes it was just an outpost.  Its people were simply a source of taxes and manpower for supplying endless foreign and bloodthirsty wars.

No non-Jewish culture developed here.  The population remained "an ethnic hodgepodge of the different invaders."  Crusaders came and found people speaking Arabic but made up of dozens of races not counting Jews or Druze, who practiced 5 versions of Islam and 8 of Christianity.  The Umayyad empire had died but Islam had continued with none interested in this backwater land except for what they could get out of it for the imperial armies.

Mamluks in 1250 followed the Crusaders and were not interested in Palestine.  They divided the land to administer.  It was just a conquered land and the people living there were exploited and treated as hostiles.  Arabs were treated as conquered subjects.  They didn't improve under the Ottoman Turks, either.  Being Muslim got you no favors.  Jews were more heavily taxed than the Arabs and hated just a little more by the Arabs than the Turks.

Arabs helped to ruin the land by the constant forays and warfare from the deserts.  They laid waste the land east of the Jordan River during the Abbasid and Fatimid eras.  In the 13th century with Mamluks on the scene, Bedouin raiders plundered livestock and destroyed crops and plantations and were the bane of the farmers.  Bedouin camps dotted the countryside and served as bases for highway attacks on travelers and on caravans that carried merchandise and on pilgrim cavalcades.

Count Volney wrote about Palestine in 1785 and said, "peasants are making inroads on each other's lands, destroying their corn, durra (sorghum grains), sesame and olive-trees, and carrying off their sheep, goats and camels.  The Turks are negligent in repressing this.  The Bedouin are at open hostilities with them.  Peasants resist their authority or do mischief to each other.  There is an anarchy more dreadful than the despotism that prevails.  Mutual devastation  makes Palestine more wretched than that of any other land.  This county is more frequently plundered than any other in Syria because it lies next to the desert and is open to the Arabs".

"Bedouin nomads tore up their olive trees, destroyed their crops, filled their wells with stones, broke down their cisterns, took away their livestock-and sometimes were called in as allies to help destroy the next village."

So, by the middle of the 19th century, Palestine had suffered hundreds of years of abuse and had become a treeless waste with a sprinkling of emaciated towns, malaria-ridden swamps in once fertile valleys, and the once thriving South Negev was now a desert, with a population that almost dwindled to nothing.

Palestine was mentioned only once in the Koran as being a holy place for Jews and Christians.  It wasn't mentioned as being holy for Muslims.  If anyone wanted an education, they didn't go to Palestine.  They went to Damascus or Cairo.

Edward Robinson (1794-1863) , American Christian archaeologist and theologian, has one of the arches in Jerusalem named after him, Robinson's Arch, which is on the SW flank of the Temple Mount and once supported a staircase which led to the temple.  He wrote in 1838 that hundreds of names of villages and sites were only Arabic rendering or translations of ancient Hebrew names, either biblical or Talmudic.  Arabs called the land "Filastin" where is just the Arabic transliteration of "Palestine," the name given by the Romans when they tried to obliterate the "presence' of the Jewish people after 70 CE.  He traveled the land with missionary Eli Smith who spoke Arabic.  They were identifying ruins that were connected to the Bible.

Sir George Adam Smith, author of Historical Geography of the Holy Land, wrote in 1891 that no civilization could take the place of the Turks except the Jews who have given to Palestine everything it has ever had of value to the world.

This land was unloved by its rulers from 70 CE on.  It was uncared for by most of its handful of inhabitants.  By the middle of the 19th Century, it began to become alive again with the return of the Jewish pioneers.

Resource: Battleground, Fact and Fantasy in Palestine by Samuel Katz p. 110-115

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