A CONCISE HISTORY
by Rashid Khalidi
Different dates have been given for
the founding of the city of Jerusalem, in some cases for
the most tendentious of political reasons. However, the
actual age of Jerusalem, according to the best archaeological
evidence, is five thousand years. The Israeli historian
Zev Vilnay, in his Encyclopedia for Knowledge of the Land
of Israel, and Ephraim and Menachem Tilmay in their book
Jerusalem agree that the age of the city is 5,000 years.
The area on which the present location
of Jerusalem is situated saw its first concentrated settlements
in the Stone Age, ca. 4000 BC. These settlements were non-permanent.
During the Bronze Age, ca. 3000 BC, archaeological evidence
has established that the Canaanites were the people of Palestine.
These Canaanites, along with the Amorites and Jebusites,
were the original inhabitants of Jerusalem, which was founded
as a permanent settlement at this time.
The oldest recorded name of the city,
"Urusalem" is Amoritic. "Shalem" or
"Salem" is the name of a Canaanite-Amorite god;
"uru", means "founded by." The names
of the two oldest rulers of the city, Saz Anu and Yaqir
Ammo, were identified by the American archaeologist W.F.
Albright as Amoritic. The Amorites had the same language
as the Canaanites and were of the same Semitic stock. Many
historians believe that they were an offshoot of the Canaanites,
who came originally from the Arabian Peninsula. The Bible
concurs that the Amorites are the original people of the
land of Canaan.
Thus saith the Lord God unto Jerusalem.
Thy birth and thy origin are of the land
of Canaan; thy father was an Amorite,
and thy mother a Hittite.
In the second millenium BC, Jerusalem
was inhabited by the Jebusites, a Canaanite tribe, and the
culture of the city was Canaanite. The Jebusites built a
fortress, "Zion", in Jerusalem. Zion is a Canaanite
word meaning "hill" or "height." Jerusalem
was also known as Jebus. Canaanite society flourished for
two thousand years, and many aspects of Canaanite culture
and religion were later borrowed by the Hebrews.
According to a number of historians
and scholars, many of the Arabs of Jerusalem today, indeed
the majority of Palestinian Arabs, are descendants of the
ancient Jebusites and Canaanites. In 1902, the British anthropologist
Sir James Frazer wrote in his book The Golden Bough: "The
Arabic-speaking peasants of Palestine are the progeny of
the tribes which settled in the country before the Israelite
invasion. They are still adhering to the land. They never
left it and were never uprooted from it."
In 1927, the historian Delacy O'Leary
wrote in Arabia Before Muhammad: "The majority of the
present Palestinian peasants are descendants of those who
preceded the Israelites." He reiterated this in his
Palestine-Muhammadan Holy Land:
The simple fact is that the majority
of the Arab people of Palestine are not descendants of those
that arrived as part of the wave of Islamic-Arab conquest
in the seventh century. The majority of the native Palestinians,
both Christian and Muslim Arabs, are of a mixed race whose
connection with the land reaches back into very early history.
Conquerors and settlers who followed in the wake of military
success and political control were only a small minority
of the continuing historic population. This population of
Palestinians are the historic people of the land.
It was on this already inhabited land,
and in the existing city of Jerusalem, that the next wave
of peoples, the Israelites, appeared. According to the Bible
(which was written down over 600 years later, and is thus
by no means a contemporary historical source), in approximately
1200 BC, the Israelite king Joshua conquered Canaan, but
failed to drive the Jebusites from Jerusalem. The second
Israelite attempt to conquer the city, in about 1000BC,
succeeded as the Israelite king David conquered the citadel
of Zion in Jerusalem.
There is some historical dispute among
scholars over whether David conquered the whole city or
just the Jebusite citadel. Either way, Jebusites and Israelites
appear to have lived side by side in Jerusalem thereafter.
The city retained its Jebusite character and name, and the
new name given to the city by David, Ir David, never caught
on. The city continued to be referred to as Zion or Jerusalem.
During the reign of David, the city changed from being a
minor Canaanite city-state to the capital of David's kingdom,
and later that of Solomon, the United Kingdom of Israel
After the disintegration of the United
Kingdom in 928 BC, Jerusalem became the capital of the Israelite
kingdom of Judah. Jerusalem saw a number of conquerors after
that, including the Egyptians in 926 BC, the Syrian Kingdom
of Damascus, 840-810 BC, and the Assyrians in 720 BC. These
conquests were short-lived however, and Jerusalem remained
the capital of Judah until the arrival of the Babylonians,
whose king, Nebuchadnezzar, conquered Judah and captured
Jerusalem in 597 BC. To punish the Judeans for switching
allegiances away from him, the Judean leadership was deported
and replaced with a new one.
Eight years later, when this new leadership
rebelled, Nebuchadnezzar reconquered and destroyed Jerusalem
and exiled the Jews from the city for the first time, as
Jerusalem came under Babylonian rule. In 538 BC the Persians
overthrew the Babylonians and Jerusalem became the capital
of a Persian province. The Jews were consequently allowed
to return to Jerusalem. The Persians ruled the city for
over two hundred years, but the cycle of conquest continued
with Alexander the Great next conquering the city in 332
BC. He was followed by the Seleucids, the Hasmoneans and
The coming of the Roman Empire in 63
BC witnessed the Crucifixion of Jesus and the second destruction
of Herod's Temple in 70 AD, as well as the expulsion of
the Jews after the Bar Kokhba revolt in 135 AD. The Jews
were not allowed to return to Jerusalem until after the
arrival of the conquering Islamic-Arab armies in 638 AD.
In 639 AD the Muslim Caliph Umar Ibn al-Khattab allowed
the Jews to return to Jerusalem and established guarantees
which became known as the Covenant of Omar, guaranteeing
the lives, property, freedom of worship and establishing
the norms of conduct vis-a-vis the city's non-Muslim population.
This became the basis of many centuries of tolerance and
mutual coexistence among Muslims, Christians and Jews in
Jerusalem under Islamic rule. Muslims regarded Jerusalem
as the first direction of prayer and the third holy place,
after Mecca and Medina, and towards the end of the 7th century
AD Umar's successors built and embellished the magnificent
Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque on the Haram al-Sharif,
or Noble Enclosure, on the site of Herod's Temple.
Muslim rule over Jerusalem continued
for the next thirteen centuries, interrupted only by 88
bloody years of Crusader rule. The first Crusader capture
of the city resulted in the slaughter of both the Jewish
and Muslim populations. The Muslim re-conquest of the city
in 1187 AD by Saladin allowed the Jews to once again return
from exile. Thereafter, under Ayyubid, Mameluke and Ottoman
rule, which lasted until Britain conquered Jerusalem in
1917, the city remained a focus of devotion, pilgrimage
and worship for Jews, Christians and Muslims.