The “war” in the Middle East has been going on in different shapes and sizes for thousands of years, even before the history recorded in the Bible. Many consider the Middle East as the birthplace of man. It could also be considered the birthplace of war. They have been at it longer and more consistently than just about any area in the world. At the crossroads of Asia, Africa and Europe, Canaan has long been desired by greedy tribes and nations as a major trade route. In the pyramid of King Mycerinus at Giza, Egypt, built in the 26th century, BC, it is believed that many of the treasures it once housed passed through Israeli lands. A resource poor area, tourism has always been big business.
Researchers studying the history of man’s development have found evidence of ancient man going back not just to biblical times, but millions of years. Lucy, the famous skeletal remains of what might be the missing link between monkeys and humans, was found in Ethiopia, at the southern edge of the Middle East. Scientists have traced our DNA orgins to a tribe in Africa not much further south, and followed its evolution through the different “races” in the gene pool up through the Middle East and India to Australia to the south, and eventually, as the ice pulled back, upwards towards what is now Asia, Europe, and across into North America and further south to South America.
Archeologists are finding evidence to substantiate the stories in the Old Testament, but they have also found much that doesn’t fit. The debate between whose version of history should be recognized goes on. What we do know is that this area was a major trade route for east-west migration from Mesopotamia (Iraq) to Canaan (Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and part of Syria), as well as north-south migration. According to Genesis, Abraham was a nomad from Mesopotamia who came to Canaan around 2000 BC. His family was poor and lived in what would now be called the “slums”. They were called the “Habiru” by the residents of the area, believed to mean “outsider” or “foreigner”, and the term eventually became “ivrit” or “Hebrew”, used to represent the descendents of Abraham. When famine struck, most of the people abandoned the area and headed to Egypt. When a new pharaoh came to power, confronted with the mass immigration from the lands of famine, he drove the migrants out of the country and enslaved those who remained. Moses led the descendents of these slaves back to Canaan in the 13th century BC.
While the story of the return to Canaan tends to be a bit confusing in the Bible, archeologists have determined that the new immigrants fought the residents for the land and evenutally settled in four tribal regions: Rueben and Gad to the east; Dan in the north; Menasseh, Benjamin, and Ephraim in the center region; and Judah to the south. Judah, home of current Jerusalem, did not last long and was reconquered by another migrant group called the Jebusites, who gave it their name, Jebus.
After the return to Canaan and the long battles to claim the land, the migrants soon gave up their nomadic existence and turned to agriculture and tourism. It is believed by historians that the area did not unite until the establishment of the monarchy at the end of the 11th century BC. The united front did little to end the battles. The area continued to see fighting from all sides, including a constant civil war over the different regions as power and control changed. The Bible tells the story of how Samuel drove the Philistines from the mountain territories. Around the 10th century BC, David became king, making Jerusalem his capitol, beginning the construction of the first Jewish Temple. Prior to David’s conquest, Jerusalem had been inhabited by Canaanites, Amorites and Jebusites who, along with other Arab tribes.
The wars continued with many groups taking their turn destroying the cities and seizing control, then being tossed out themselves. For several hundred years, much of the fighting happened among the different tribes, with Judah to the south and Israel to the north, and many other groups waiting in the wings. Later, war came more from outside as Egyptians, Assyrians, and Phoenicians took their turn waging war on the battling kingdoms. In the 7th century BC, the Assyrians captured much of the area, and exiled the inhabitants, as was their practice. In the Bible, this is refered to as the “exile of the ten northern tribes” or the “First Diaspora”. The southern kingdom, Judah, managed to remain in power, but eventually fell to the Babylonians in 586 BC, resulting in the destruction of the First Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Much of the population was exiled again, though some remained. The Babylonian empire was soon replaced by the Medes and Persians who reinstated a Judean king in Jerusalem. The Temple was eventually restored, beginning what is known as the Second Temple Period, with interference and argument from the northern kingdom of Israel. The tiny kingdom of Judah with Jerusalem as its capitol seems to have survived intact until the 3rd century BC.
History is pretty clear from here on out. Many exiles from the different wars over the centuries decided not to return to Judah, including the oldest and longest-lasting group of the Diaspora living in Iraq until 1951 AD. Many fled to Egypt and Africa and into Asia to the north, eventually making their way across Europe and Russia, following the expanding trade routes set up by their ancestors centuries before. Worried about the loss of traditional beliefs, Ezra the Scribe put together what is now known as the “Torah” and saw to it that the exiles should continue to observe its precepts. It was announced in Jerusalem that this would become the law by which the Judeans would rule themselves with the ritual laws and civil codes, establishing the foundation for the Jewish faith, lifestyle, and cultural practices that would continue no matter where the Judeans went, resulting in what is know known as the “kosher laws”.
The Western Wall is also known as the Wailing Wall. It is named that for the tears shed for the fall of the Temple, and the losses of the Jewish people. It isn’t the actual wall of the Temple, as many believe, but it is the wall that surrounded the square in which the Temple stood. It is sacred to the Jews. For centuries, Jews have come to pray at the wall, but after Jordan won the area in the 1948 war, Jews and Israelis were not permitted access until the 1967 war. During this time, the significance and representation as a monument to the Jewish people grew to amazing levels never scene before. It continues to be a tribute of 5000 years of survival as a “people”. Today, tourists and residents stuff papers with prayers and wishes into the cracks of the wall, believing they are sending a message to God.
In the third century BC, once again the area was conquered, this time by the Greeks, adding their immense influence of art and culture to the mix. The area became known as Palestine, named for the Philistines who survived over the centuries nearby, and became the center of a tug-of-war between Syria and the Ptolemids of Egypt. The second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70 by the Romans, and that site has been occupied since AD 700 by the Mosque of Omar. Next to it, with its golden dome, the Dome of the Rock is a symbol of the city of Jerusalem. Inside this ornate construction is believed to be the stone Mohamed touched with his foot before ascending to heaven for a talk with God in a dream, though he never mentioned Jerusalem as the spot, and had never visited Jerusalem during his life time. The two Islamic buildings are built on the remains of the First and Second Temple, and the remains of the Western Wall of the Temple Square is now called the “Wailing Wall”.
And the fighting continued. After the Greeks, the Romans, Turks, and even Napoleon took turns waging war and control over Palestine. The Crusades brought much of Europe to wage a Holy War on Palestine for several hundred years. The Arabs fought amongst themselves over the area over and over again, fighting themselves as well as others, until the 17th century AD when the European community began to spread across Africa and parts of Asia, bringing vast trade opportunties as the Middle East once again became a major trade route. By the end of World War I, the British gained control of Palestine from the Turks (Ottoman Empire) when the Middle East and other areas were divided up between the European countries.
Tel Aviv, Israel