Ancient region of the Middle East, much of which is now part of modern Israel and Palestine. Now a selfgoverning state (Palestinian Authority) in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Extending inland from the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, its shifting boundaries generally reached E to the Jordan River. It has been inhabited since the Paleolithic Age, and discoveries have shown that its earliest people were much like the Neand erthals of Europe. In the prehistoric period and in the earliest years of Middle Eastern civilization, Palestine, with Syria to the N, was a crossroads of influences from all the great early civilizations, Egyptian, Babylonian, and Hittite. It was also a crossroads of trade from E, N, and S as part of the Fertile Crescent, the terminus of caravan routes from the Arabian Peninsula, and the locus of the earliest extensive navigation and maritime trade in the Mediterranean Sea. The first fully developed civilization in the area was that of Canaan, consisting of a group of fortified city-states, such as Hazor or Megiddo. The nomadic Hebrews first entered Canaan when their patriarch, Abraham, led his people westward from Mesopotamia c. 1900 b.c. The region was then dominated by the Hyksos and the Egyptians. When Canaan was conquered by Egypt in 1479 b.c., many of the Hebrews were taken to Egypt in enslavement.
Moses led a group of these Hebrews back into Canaan in the 13th century b.c., beginning the slow Hebrew conquest of the country. Much of the superior Canaanite culture was absorbed by the Hebrews as they settled down in the Promised Land . Circa 1225 b.c. the Philistines (Pulesti), a branch of the piratical Sea Peoples who ravaged the eastern Mediterranean after the breakup of the earliest civilizations around the Aegean Sea, invaded the southern coastal region called after them, Philistia, and for a time subjugated the Hebrews. The Sea Peoples brought iron tools and weapons with them, destroying the Hittite Empire and subduing such powerful coastal city-states as Tyre and Ugarit.
The Hebrews fought back under Saul and their great king, David, and defeated the Philistines, whose enmity had done much to awaken a national consciousness among the Hebrews themselves. The new Hebrew kingdom, established c. 1000 b.c., grew powerful under David and his son, Solomon, and was distinguished in the Palestinian region for its devotion to a monotheistic religion. Solomon’s death brought the division of the kingdom into Israel in the N and Judah in the S, with its capital at Jerusalem. The conquest of Israel by Assyria in 721 b.c. and the taking of Judah in 586 by Babylon and the exiling of the Judaeans to Babylonia ended the first great period of Hebrew history. Babylonia soon fell to Cyrus the Great (c. 600–529 b.c.) of Persia, who allowed many of the Jews to return to Israel, where they maintained their national and religious identity by compiling a strict code of social and religious conduct enshrined in the Old Testament of the Bible.
Once more they were submerged by the conquering armies of Alexand er the Great of Macedon in 333 b.c. and by his successors, the Seleucid Empire and the empire of the Ptolemies of Egypt. It was at this time that the name Palestine was first applied to the land , as the Greek Herodotus referred to the Eastern shore of the Mediterranean as “Syria Palaestina” meaning “the land of the Philistines.” The Seleucid attempt to impose Hellenism on the Jews forged a new unity among them and inspired a revolt under the Maccabean family that led to the founding of a new Maccabean Jewish state in 142 b.c. This endured until the Roman conquest of Judaea under Pompey in 64–63 b.c., after which the country was put under the rule of the puppet kings, the Herods. From c. 5 b.c. to a.d. 29, during the lifetime of Jesus Christ, Palestine was part of the Roman province of Judaea, at times a separate province and at times a subprovince of Syria. Once more the Jews arose in the great revolt of a.d. 66 to 73, which was ruthlessly suppressed by the Roman Vespasian and his son Titus, who destroyed the temple in Jerusalem and vanquished the last desperate Jews in the fortress of Masada. The Diaspora that followed, or exodus of Jews to all the countries of the known world, made them an international people, held together as always by their strict religion and laws. A second revolt in a.d. 135, under the Roman Emperor Hadrian, led to further destruction in Judaea, the renaming of the province as Palestine, and the rebuilding of Jerusalem as the Roman city of Aelia Capitolina.
Following Constantine’s recognition of Christianity in a.d. 313, Palestine flourished as an important center of Christianity and pilgrimage. Under the Byzantine Empire many of the cities were refortified and the Christian holy sites richly endowed. Taken by the Sassanian Persians in 614, Palestine was recovered briefly by the Byzantines under Heraclius before falling to Muslim Arabs by a.d. 640. Then came the territorial contention between the Muslim Ummayad and Abbasid Caliphates in the late eighth century, the conquest of Palestine by the Egyptian Fatimids in the ninth, domination by the Seljuk Turks after 1071, and the capture of Jerusalem by the Christian crusaders in 1099, when the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem was established. The crusaders suffered a disastrous defeat at the Battle of Hattin in 1187, and were finally expelled by the armies of the Egyptian Mamluk Empire in 1291.
The defeat of the Mamluks by the Ottoman Empire in 1516 isolated Palestine as part of the province of Syria for more than three centuries until 1831, when the Egyptian viceroy opened the region to European influence. In 1882 the first Russian Jews arrived with the goal of establishing a Jewish homeland there. At the same time the first stirrings of Arab nationalism developed in opposition to Turkish rule. Both Jews and Arabs received encouragement from the British, who eventually found themselves compromised by their dual policy. During World War I the Arabs aided the British in gaining control of Palestine. The scientist-statesman, Chaim Weizman, persuaded Great Britain to support the establishment of a national home for the Jews. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 formalizing this was approved by the League of Nations in 1922, and Great Britain was appointed to govern Palestine as a mand ate. Increased Jewish immigration between the wars met resistance by Arabs already resident there, and from the British. During World War II both Arabs and Zionists supported the Allied side, but extremist groups were emerging within each. Hitler’s genocide against the Jews generated a wave of sympathy for the establishment of a Jewish state, and survivors of the Nazi terror emigrated to Palestine in great numbers. By 1947 the British considered their mand ate unmanageable and passed the problem to the United Nations in February. At this time the Palestinian population was composed of 1,091,000 Muslim Arabs, 614,000 Jews, and 146,000 Christians. The Palestinian territory was divided in 1948 to form the state of Israel, with the western portion going to Jordan. The solution was not a happy one. Arab-Israeli relations have existed in a state of tension with sporadic fighting and occasional wars to the present. In the 1967 war, Israel acquired the entire territory of the former League of Nations mand ate.
After the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, the area remained under Israeli occupation. Conflicts with Arab residents there grew in the late 1970s as Israeli Jewish settlers began to build a series of large-scale housing developments. Although the 1978 Camp David accords incorporated plans for Arab self-rule in the West Bank, these goals were never implemented. Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 to destroy Palestinian guerrilla bases brought renewed rioting and political turmoil in the West Bank. In 1987, the Intifada began in Gaza, and spread to the West Bank, bringing a cycle of violence and counterviolence resulting in many Palestinian deaths and the destruction of the local economy. In 1991, Palestinian support of Iraq in the Gulf War led to the expulsion of many Palestinian guest workers and increased unemployment in the West Bank.
In 1993, after secret negotiations, an agreement was reached between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization calling for limited Palestinian selfrule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in mid-1994. These agreements were delayed after a series of suicide bombings inside Israel. Yasser Arafat was elected president of the Palestinian Authority, and Israel withdrew from some West Bank territory. Progress in further withdrawals was slowed due to continual terrorist attacks in Israel and the increasing settlements developing in the West Bank and Gaza by Jewish settlers. In, 2003, the Palestinian parliament established the post of prime minister, effectively reducing Arafat’s powers as president, something the United States and Israel had been demand ing for some time. Mahmoud Abbas, regarded as more moderate than Arafat, was appointed to the post. Abbas resigned after clashing with Arafat over control of Palestinian security forces. After Arafat’s death in 2004, Abbas was elected president in 2005. Israel has been accelerating the withdrawal of forces from Gaza, but has been gaining international opposition to its construction of a fence along the West Bank to protect its territory from terrorist incursions. The fence also divides some Arab land s and take some territory in its route designed for defensibility.