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.
(Ezekiel, 16:1)

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 and Judah.

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 Maccabeans.

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.

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