ARAB ISLAMIC CONQUEST
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.
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.
The second-class status of Jews was not abolished until 1839.
EARLY ARAB PERIOD
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. 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.
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. 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.
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), which gave Jews and Samaritans two choices: (1) conversion to Islam, or (2) expulsion. Most Jews fled.
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.
"God has entangled us with this people, the nation of Ishmael, who treat us so prejudicially and who legislate our harm and hatred…No nation has ever arisen more harmful than they, nor has anyone done more to humiliate us, degrade us, and consolidate hatred against us."
Quote from Jewish sage Maimonides (1138-1204)
EARLY OTTOMAN PERIOD
In 1517, during the tail end of the Ottoman-Mamluk War, the Ottoman troops attacked the Jewish community of Hebron (some historians suggest, however, that the perpetrators were actually the Egyptian Mamluks). Hebron is second holiest Jewish city and had a continuous Jewish community dating back thousands of years. A local Jew, Japheth ben Manasseh, recounted the massacre a year later, describing how local Jews were raped, beaten, and killed.
A similar pogrom took place in the city of Safed (Tzfat), which at the time, had some 300 Jewish families. The retreating Mamluks accused the Jews of allying with the Ottomans, and as such, they were brutally slaughtered, with the local Arabs joining in on the violence. Similarly, Jewish homes and businesses were plundered and the surviving community fled. A few years later, however, the community reestablished itself with the financial help of the Egyptian Jewish community.
In 1660, serious violence erupted between the pro-Ottoman Druze and Druze rebels. Though the Jewish community was not involved, the local Arabs used the unrest as an opportunity to massacre the local Jewish population of Safed; similarly, the Druze enacted a pogrom against the Jewish population of Tiberias.
Most historians agree that the Jewish community of Safed was essentially decimated, although historian Gershom Scholem argues that reports of complete destruction were exaggerated. We do know, however, that many in the community were massacred and that the survivors fled to adjacent villages and cities, including Sidon and Jerusalem. The community in Tiberias, however, was fully destroyed, with the entire Jewish community fleeing, essentially turning it into a desolate ghost town for many years.
In 1834, in the midst of the Peasants’ Revolt in Palestine, an Egyptian army general launched an assault against Hebron to eliminate the last pockets of resistance. The assault succeeded. However, despite the fact that the Jews of Hebron had not been involved in the revolt, the army chose to attack the Jewish community, indiscriminately raping and slaughtering Jews. The violence united the local Sephardic and Ashkenazi communities. The Jews referred to the massacre as “the great destruction.”
While the vast majority of historians date the beginnings of a Palestinian national consciousness to the interwar period between the two world wars, a minority of historians believe that a cohesive Palestinian national identity began to form during the 1834 Peasant’s Revolt.
Jews were brutally slaughtered by their Arab neighbors during the 1834 Peasant’s Revolt. These Jews were not new immigrants to Palestine, but rather, they were Jews that had lived in Palestine continuously for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, long before the conquests of the Arab Empire and the arrival of Arabs to Palestine. In other words, from the first moments that a Palestinian identity began to form, Palestinians excluded Jews.
In Safed, a 33-day-long massacre took place at the hands of the local Arabs who took advantage of the power vacuum. Witnesses described the horrifying violence, including the rape and slaughter of Jewish men, torture, the beatings of rabbis, the destruction and desecration of synagogues, and the looting of Jewish assets. Some 500 were killed and hundreds were seriously injured. Just four years after the 1834 Safed pogrom, the local Arabs once again attacked the Jewish community of Safed.
In 1882, the Ottoman Empire banned Jewish land purchases in Palestine.
Due to the changing geopolitical landscape of the Middle East (e.g. the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Sykes-Picot agreement between the United Kingdom and France) and the influx of Jewish immigrants and refugees into Palestine, local Arab leaders began escalating Arab-Jewish tensions. In March of 1920, a widespread demonstration against the Jews of Palestine resulted in the looting of businesses and Arab attacks against Jews. Rioters carried antisemitic slogans, including “Palestine is our land and the Jews are our dogs!” and “death to Jews!” On April 4th, during the Nebi Musa festival, 60,000-70,000 Arabs congregated in Jerusalem and some began attacking Jews. Jews were raped and murdered.
In August of 1929, the Haganah offered protection to the Jewish community of Hebron, a mixed Ashkenazi-Sephardi community. The community, largely religious and apolitical, refused, as they believed that the Arabs would only target Zionists. Unfortunately, the opposite happened. The local Arabs offered to spare the Sepharadim of Hebron if they gave up the Ashkenazim; the Sepharadim refused. As such, 67-69 Jews were brutally massacred.
Between 1936-1939, the Arabs of Palestine, with the support of the Nazi regime, revolted against the British, condemning Jewish refugee immigration to Palestine (so no, Palestinians didn’t “welcome Jewish refugees” during the Holocaust). Hundreds of Jews were massacred during the Arab Revolt. To appease the Arabs, the British passed the 1939 White Paper, essentially banning nearly all Jewish immigration and severely restricting Jewish land purchases.
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