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General History

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Showing 1 - 20 from 38 entries

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> Maqdisi: An 11th Century Palestinian Consciousness
> The moral economy of a checkpoint
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Maqdisi: An 11th Century Palestinian Consciousness
submitted by Jerusalem Quarterly

Zakariyeh Mohammed

Jerusalem Quarterly
Issue 22-23

It is safe to say that there has never been a thorough textual examination of the writings of ancient Arab writers, Palestinian or otherwise, regarding Palestinian identity. All of the texts known to discuss Palestinian identity date no earlier than the nineteenth century. Very rarely do these texts date as early as the eighteenth century and as such, the underlying assumption is that there is no point in seeking out older texts - the Palestinian identity is assumed to be contemporary, and no related earlier texts exist.

I believe this to be an erroneous assumption, however. Palestine, as a region, developed long before Islam and Christianity. Indeed, proof exists that its borders date as early as the fifth century BCE. Herodotus outlined this region nearly to its present-day borders, and called it “Palestine”. He says, in the context of the Persian invasion of Greece:

The Phoenicians and the Syrians of Palestine have prepared 300 ships […] This nation, according to its own self-description, has long lived on the Red Sea, where they still reside. This section of Syria and all of the areas extending from here until the border of Egypt is known by the name of Palestine.1

In another paragraph he says, “In the country extending from the land of the Phoenicians to the borders of Gaza City live the Syrians, who are called Palestinians.”

So, the area extending from the border of Phoenicia to the border of Egypt was one region called ‘Palestine’. Herodotus calls its people the ‘Syrians of Palestine’ to distinguish them from the other inhabitants of Syria, as is made clear later in the passage. These people, as we know, were called the Philists or the Philistines - that is to say, the ancient Palestinians. It was from them that this region acquired its name and its unique ethnic characteristics within the context of Greater Syria. They remained the most significant power in Palestine from the twelfth century BCE until the beginning of the fourth century BCE, when their independence was shaken by consecutive attacks from the Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians. (I have written a soon-to-be published book about the Philistines, which will demonstrate that they were Semites from the heart of the Arabian Peninsula and which invalidates the idea that their origins were Greek).

Based on this, Roman Palestine was not an invention of Rome. Rather it was adopted from a status quo that existed at least as early as the twelfth century BCE. The development of this region must have impacted the creation of an independent identity encompassing its inhabitants.

An aspect that requires more research is the concept of ‘the Holy Land’ and its affect on the permanence of Palestine as a region. It strikes me that, at times, the concept of the Holy Land supported the outlines of this region, while during other periods, it did not - depending on the Holy Land’s perceived borders. Certainly, this concept contributed to the establishment of Jerusalem as an indisputable and secure regional center. Thus, the region was provided an axis. However, it was not always a factor in establishing the borders of terra sancta, which shifted greatly over time. During some periods, the Holy Land included most of eastern Jordan, parts of Syria and Lebanon and more.

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