the Arabization of Eretz Israel
Colonialism is the practice of a country or empire imposing control and power over other peoples or territories through the establishment of colonies. Colonizers impose their religion, language, economic systems, and more on the colonized population. Colonizers generally extract resources from their colonies or utilize their colonies in other ways for economic benefit.
Settler colonialism is a specific type of colonialism in which foreign settlers aim to replace the Indigenous population. This “replacement” of the Indigenous population happens in a multitude of ways; genocide and ethnic cleansing, of course.
Most commonly, however, settlers “replace” the Indigenous populations through forced assimilation, with the imposition of the colonizer’s culture, language, and religion on the colonized population.
Settler colonialism is how, for example, Latin Americans, most of whom have Indigenous ancestry, came to become “Latin,” speak Spanish or Portuguese, and predominantly practice Catholicism instead of Indigenous religions. Similarly, in the Middle East and North Africa, most formerly Indigenous peoples assimilated into Arab culture and identity, speak Arabic, and predominantly practice Islam.
In other words, the process of Arabization and Islamization of the region is actually an example of settler colonialism.
The Arab Empire (also known as “Caliphate”) conquered the region of the Levant (modern-day Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and parts of Turkey) in the seventh century, some 1,600+ years after the establishment of the Kingdom of Israel. Prior to the Arab conquest, the Land of Israel (renamed Palestine by the Romans around the year 136) had been occupied by the Neo-Assyrian Empire, the Neo-Babylonian Empire, the Sassanid Empire (i.e. Persians), the Greeks and Macedonians, the Roman Empire, and the Byzantine Empire.
The first city in Palestine to surrender to the Arab army was the ancient Israelite city of Beit She’an, followed by Tiberias. One by one, the cities fell to the Arab army. In November 636, the Arab army conquered Jerusalem, though a siege continued for four months, until the Byzantines finally capitulated in 637.
Christian and Jewish sources from the period describe the brutality of the Arab conquerors. By the time of the Byzantine capitulation, the Jewish population was highly demoralized.
Through their conquests, the Arabs established (literal) colonies in various regions, including the Levant. According to Indigenous eyewitness accounts (e.g. Jews and Samaritans in the Levant, Copts in Egypt, Zoroastrians in Mesopotamia), the rapid conquest and colonization of these regions was devastating to the local territories and populations. Early Arab Caliphate leaders encouraged Arabian tribes to emigrate from Arabia and settle in the newly-established colonies for economic purposes (such as to utilize — in other words, exploit — the natural resources). By the ninth century, as a result of forced conversions, coercion, proselytization, and Arab migration, Islam became the majority religion in Palestine, and Arabic had replaced the previously-used languages as the lingua Franca. Also in the 9th century, the Arabs renamed Jerusalem “Al-Quds,” replacing the ancient Hebrew name for the city.
PACT OF UMAR
Following Muhammad’s death in 632, the Arab Islamic empires conquered lands exponentially quickly. As a result of this rapid colonization, the Muslim authorities were faced with the “problem” of how to handle the conquered Indigenous peoples that resisted conversion to Islam.
This “problem” was solved with a treaty known as the Pact of Umar. This so-called treaty allowed select religious and cultural minorities (known as “People of the Book”) to practice their beliefs so long as they paid the “jizya” tax and abided by a set of restrictive, second-class citizenship laws. In Palestine, particularly, these laws provided an economic advantage; because most of the population at the time consisted of Jews and Christians — that is, “People of the Book” — this taxation generated an enormous flow of income for the growing empire.
Jews were forbidden from building new synagogues. Synagogues could not be taller than mosques and the homes of Jews could not be taller than the homes of Muslims. Jews could not raise their voices during Muslim prayer times. Jewish children could not be taught the Quran. Jewish funerals had to be quiet and Jews could not be buried near Muslims. Jews had to show deference to Muslims; for example, if a Muslim wished to sit where a Jew was sitting, the Jewish person had to give up their seat. Muslims were prohibited from converting to Judaism. Jews had to dress differently than Muslims. Jews had to wear identifying yellow belts or turbans and had to cut off their sidelocks. Jews could not ride the same animals as Muslims and could not use a saddle. Jews were forbidden from taking Muslim titles. Jews could not own weapons. Jews had to host Muslim passerbys for 3 days. Jews could not govern, lead, or employ Muslims. Jews could not buy a Muslim prisoner or slaves who had been allotted to Muslims. Jews could not engrave Arabic inscriptions on signet seals. Jewish witnesses were not admissible in court. Jews were subject to a “jizya” tax. Jews could not join the military or work for the government. When harmed by a Muslim, Jews had to purchase Muslim witnesses, which left Jews with virtually no legal recourse. Jews could not marry a Muslim woman. Jews could not criticize Islam or the Quran on penalty of death.
Letters between the Jews of Jerusalem and the Jews of Cairo during the period of the Arab Caliphates indicate that the taxes imposed upon the Jewish population of Palestine were especially crippling. In fact, the Jews of Jerusalem wrote to their fellow tribespeople in Egypt begging for financial assistance. This need for financial assistance continued well into the Ottoman period (1517-1917), during which Jews in the Diaspora engaged in a practice known as Halukkah, an organized collection of charity funds to distribute to the Jews still residing in the Land of Israel.
When Jews in Jerusalem failed to pay their taxes, they were subject to various punishments, including imprisonment, torture, and even death. Jewish letters from the time period describe tax collectors as ruthless and wicked.
Shortly following the Arab conquest of Palestine, Caliph Uthman (644-656) enacted a number of Arabization policies, displacing Jews to less fertile areas while also promoting the settlement of Arabian tribes in Palestine. Initially the Arabian tribes settled outside of the cities, which were predominantly Jewish and Christian. However, heavy taxation prompted many to leave the cities, making room for Arab Muslims to settle in their stead.
Up until the eighth century, viticulture (i.e. wine-making) had been Palestine’s predominant agricultural product. Viticulture largely sustained the Jewish population; however, because wine is banned in Islam, Caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah (996-1021) ordered most vineyards destroyed.
All of this to say that these oppressive policies plus many others led to the gradual decline of the original Indigenous populations of the region.
By the time of the Arab Conquest, the Indigenous populations of the Land of Israel — that is, Jews and Samaritans — still indisputably formed the majority of the demographic if the two populations were combined.
There are zero recorded Jewish mass conversions to Islam in Palestine and only one recorded Samaritan mass conversion to Islam. As such, it took a couple of centuries for Muslims — and Arabs — to become the predominant population in Palestine. By the ninth century, the Arabization of Palestine was complete, with Jews and Samaritans becoming more and more disenfranchised.
Particularly devastating for Jews and Samaritans was what is known as the Hakim Edict, constructed by Caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah in 1012 (996-1021). The Hakim Edict demanded the conversion of Jews and Samaritans to Islam. Should they refuse, they would be exiled from Palestine. Most Samaritans likely converted to Islam, whereas many Jews fled to the mountains and particularly to Egypt.
Prior to this expulsion, Al-Hakim’s implementation of second-class citizenship laws was particularly oppressive. In addition to other differentiating garments, Jews were forced to wear heavy wooden calf necklaces. In public baths, Jews had to replace the calf with a bell. Alcohol was strictly forbidden, which proved difficult for both Christians and Jews, who used wine for their religious rites. Synagogues and churches were destroyed. Many Jews unwillingly converted to Islam but continued practicing Judaism in secret.
In order to free themselves from this second-class status, minorities under the rule of the Arab Empire had to convert to Islam or fight alongside Muslims in battle. As such, many were also coerced to convert to live a better quality of life.
According to the Tanakh (“Hebrew Bible”), the First Jewish Temple, also known as Solomon’s Temple or the Beit HaMikdash in Hebrew, was built during the period of the United Monarchy of the Kingdom of Israel (1042-930 BCE). Its construction was completed in 957 BCE.
The Temple served not only as a place of worship, but also as a place of general assembly. At the heart of the Temple was the “Holy of Holies,” the most sacred place in Judaism, a place so sacred that only the High Priest of Israel was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, bringing incense and carrying the blood of a sacrificial lamb.
The First Temple stood until the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. In 516 BCE, what was originally a modest structure was built atop the remains of the First Temple, on Temple Mount. During the period of the Herodian Kingdom of Judea (37 BCE-4 BCE), the Temple was refurbished, becoming much larger and more spectacular.
Between 66-73 CE, the Jews in Judea revolted against Roman rule for the first time. The revolt ended in disaster, with Jewish towns decimated, tens of thousands massacred, and devastatingly, the Second Temple destroyed. Today, all that remains are its ruins.
Beginning in 688, the Arabs constructed the Dome of the Rock and later the al-Aqsa Mosque atop the ruins of the destroyed sacred Jewish Temple.
It was customary for conquering armies — including the Arab armies — to build religious monuments on top of the ruins of the sacred sites of those they conquered as a demonstration of power.
“Temple denial” is the antisemitic conspiracy that the First and Second Temples did not exist or were located elsewhere. This, of course, is absolutely absurd. The existence and location of the Temples is extensively corroborated by archeology. The ruins of the Second Temple still stand today.
After Jordan conquered East Jerusalem in the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, the Islamic Waqf (Islamic religious committee) in control of Temple Mount erased all references to Solomon’s Temple from its guidebooks (yet some 23 years earlier, the Waqf’s guidebooks had asserted that the fact that Solomon’s Temple was located at Temple Mount was “beyond dispute”). During the Second Intifada (2000-2005), Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat claimed that the Temple had been located in Nablus. At another point, he asserted that it had been located in Yemen and that he’d “seen” its location.
In 1998, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem claimed, “There is not the slightest sign of the previous existence of the Jewish temple on this site. There is not a single stone in the entire city that refers to Jewish history [...] It is the art of the Jews to deceive the world. They can't fool us with that. There is not a single stone in the Western Wall that has anything to do with Jewish history. The Jews have no legitimate claim to this wall, either religiously or historically.” This, of course, is verifiably a lie. Other figures that have engaged in Temple denialism include former titular major of East Jerusalem Zaki al-Ghul and the current Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, who claimed that there was never a Jewish Temple but that there had been a mosque on Temple Mount since “the creation of the world.”
Temple denialism can be understood in the context of Indigenous denial. Historians have identified various stages of Indigenous denial, starting with the first (“they didn’t exist”) and the second (“if they did [exist], they weren’t here”). Claiming that the Temples either didn’t exist or were located elsewhere is a denial of verifiable Jewish history and Jewish connection to the land.
The only way to deny Jewish Indigeneity according to the accepted definition of Indigeneity is to pretend that (1) the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel does not exist, or (2) claim that today’s Jews are not the descendants of the ancient Israelites (we, verifiably, are).
LET’S DEBUNK THIS
Statements such as this one fundamentally misrepresent how settler colonialism works. While genocide and ethnic cleansing — i.e. literally and physically eliminating the original population — are common, what is actually more common is the gradual (or rapid) erosion of the original Indigenous identities in favor of the identity of the colonizer. This is done through the forceful imposition of the colonizer’s religion, language, cultural norms, and identity. That is why, for instance, most Latin Americans have some degree of Indigenous ancestry, but they are not considered Indigenous, as they have long assimilated into Latin (i.e. European) culture. That is why Native children in North America were forcefully sent to “residential schools,” to Europeanize and Christianize the Native population.
The Arab conquerors did not peacefully and naturally integrate with the Indigenous populations; they both committed ethnic cleansing and physical genocide (e.g. the 1012 Hakim Edict) as well as forcefully imposed their religion, language, customs, and identity upon the original inhabitants, thus de-Indigenizing them. Those who converted to Islam and Arabized assimilated into the identity of the colonizer and thus acquired the privilege that came with such an identity, at the expense of those who preserved their ancestral Indigenous customs and peoplehood (i.e. Jews and Samaritans).
So yes: Muslims and Arabs did replace the Indigenous populations. And that is quite literally what settler colonialism is.
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