Gaza In History


Gaza's history of habitation dates back 5,000 years, making it one of the oldest cities in the world. Located on the Mediterranean coastal route between North Africa and the Levant, for most of its history it served as a key entrepôt of the southern Levant and an important stopover on the spice trade route traversing the Red Sea.

Bronze Age

Settlement in the region of Gaza dates back to Tell es-Sakan, an Ancient Egyptian fortress built in Canaanite territory to the south of present-day Gaza. The site went into decline throughout the Early Bronze Age II as its trade with Egypt sharply decreased. Another urban center known as Tell al-Ajjul began to grow along the Wadi Ghazza riverbed. During the Middle Bronze Age, a revived Tell es-Sakan became the southernmost locality in Canaan, serving as a fort. In 1650 BCE, when the Canaanite Hyksos occupied Egypt, a second city developed on the ruins of the first Tell as-Sakan. However, it was abandoned by the 14th century BCE, at the end of the Bronze Age.

Ancient period

Gaza later served as Egypt’s administrative capital in Canaan.During the reign of Tuthmosis III, the city became a stop on the Syrian-Egyptian caravan route and was mentioned in the Amarna letters as "Azzati". Gaza remained under Egyptian control for 350 years until it was conquered by the Philistines in the 12th century BCE, becoming a part of their "pentapolis".According to the Book of Judges, Gaza was the place where Samson was imprisoned by the Philistines and met his death.

After being ruled by the Israelites, Assyrians, and then the Egyptians, Gaza achieved relative independence and prosperity under the Persian Empire. Alexander the Great besieged Gaza, the last city to resist his conquest on his path to Egypt, for five months before finally capturing it 332 BCE; the inhabitants were either killed or taken captive. Alexander brought in local Bedouins to populate Gaza and organized the city into a polis (or "city-state"). Greek culture consequently took root and Gaza earned a reputation as a flourishing center of Hellenic learning and philosophy.

Gaza experienced another siege in 96 BCE by the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus who "utterly overthrew" the city, killing 500 senators who had fled into the temple of Apollo for safety. Josephus notes that Gaza was resettled under the rule of Antipas, who cultivated friendly relations with Gazans, Ascalonites and neighboring Arabs after being appointed governor of Idumea by Jannaeus. Rebuilt after it was incorporated into the Roman Empire in 63 BCE under the command of Pompey Magnus, Gaza then became a part of the Roman province of Judaea. It was targeted by the Jews during their rebellion against Roman rule in 66 and was partially destroyed. It nevertheless remained an important city, even more so after the destruction of Jerusalem.

Throughout the Roman period, Gaza was a prosperous city and received grants and attention from several emperors.A 500-member senate governed Gaza, and a diverse variety of Philistines, Greeks, Romans, Canaanites, Phoenicians, Jews, Egyptians, Persians, and Bedouin populated the city. Gaza's mint issued coins adorned with the busts of gods and emperors. During his visit in 130 CE, Emperor Hadrian personally inaugurated wrestling, boxing, and oratorical competitions in Gaza's new stadium, which became known from Alexandria to Damascus. The city was adorned with many pagan temples; the main cult being that of Marnas. Other temples were dedicated to Zeus, Helios, Aphrodite, Apollo, Athene and the local Tyche. Christianity began to spread throughout Gaza in 250 CE, last in the port of Maiuma. Conversion to Christianity in Gaza was accelerated under Saint Porphyrius between 396 and 420. In 402, he ordered all eight of the city's pagan temples destroyed,
and four years later Empress Aelia Eudocia commissioned the construction of a church atop the ruins of the Temple of Marnas. It was during this era that the Neoplatonic philosopher, then Christian, Aeneas of Gaza called Gaza, his town, "the Athens of Asia".

Islamic era

Following the division of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century BCE, Gaza remained under control of the Eastern Roman Empire that in turn became the Byzantine Empire. The city prospered and was an important center for the Levant. In 634 CE, contrary to the popular mythology, the Byzantine city of Gaza was besieged by the Arabs Rashidun Caliphate under 'Amr b. al As following the famous battle of Dathin in her vicinity and the Battle of Ajnadayn in Palestina Prima. Yet she only surrendered in 637 CE (after Byzantine province of Egypt surrendered without fighting), and under the terms of surrender dictated by 'Amr b. al As the civilian population was spared while the Byzantine soldiers were taken to Egypt and killed there( Walter E. Keagi, Byzantium and the early Islamic conquests, p. 95). Believed to be the site where Muhammad's great grandfather Hashim ibn Abd Manaf was buried, the city was not destroyed by the victorious Rashidun army in spite of the stiff and lengthy resistance. The arrival of the Muslim Arabs brought drastic changes to Gaza; at first some of her churches were transformed into mosques, including the present Great Mosque of Gaza (the oldest in the city), the population slowly adopted Islam but Christian element remained strong (until recently, 1960s) and Arabic became the official language, while other local languages still persisted.  In 767, Muhammad ibn Idris ash-Shafi'i was born in Gaza and lived his early childhood there; al-Shafi'i founded a prominent Sunni Muslim legal philosophy (or fiqh) called Shafi'i, in his honor. In 796, Gaza was destroyed during a civil war between the Arab tribes of the area. However, by the 10th century CE the city had been rebuilt by a third Arab caliphate ruled by the Abbasids; Arab geographer al-Muqaddasi described Gaza as "a large town lying on the highroad to Egypt on the border of the desert." In 977 CE, a fourth Arab caliphate ruled by the Fatimids established an agreement with the competing Seljuk Turks, whereby the Fatimids would control Gaza and the land south of it, including Egypt.

European Crusaders conquered Gaza from the Fatimids in 1100 and King Baldwin III built a castle there in 1149. After the castle's construction, Baldwin granted it and the surrounding region to the Knights Templar. He also had the Great Mosque converted into the Cathedral of Saint John. In 1154, Arab traveler al-Idrisi wrote Gaza "is today very populous and in the hands of the Crusaders." In 1170, King Amalric I of Jerusalem withdrew Gaza's Templars to assist him against an Islamic Ayyubid force led by Saladin at the nearby city of Deir al-Balah; however, Saladin evaded the Crusader force and assaulted Gaza instead, destroying the town built outside the castle. Seven years later, the Templars prepared for another defense of Gaza against Saladin, but this time the Islamic forces attacked Ascalon. In 1187, Saladin captured Gaza and ordered the destruction of the city's fortifications in 1191. Richard the Lionheart apparently refortified the city in 1192, but the walls were dismantled again as a result of the Treaty of Ramla agreed upon months later in 1193. The Ayyubid period of rule ended in 1260, after the Mongols under Hulagu Khan completely destroyed Gaza, which became his southernmost conquest.

Following Gaza's destruction by the Mongols, Muslim slave-soldiers based in Egypt known as the Mamluks began to administer the area in 1277. The Mamluks made Gaza the capital of the province that bore its name, Mamlakat Ghazzah ("the Governorship of Gaza"). This district extended along the coastal plain from Rafah in the south to just north of Caesarea, and to the east as far as the Samaria highlands and the Hebron Hills. Other major towns in the province included Qaqun, Ludd, and Ramla. In 1294, an earthquake devastated Gaza, and five years later the Mongols again destroyed all that had been restored by the Mamluks. However, circa 1300, Syrian geographer al-Dimashqi described Gaza as a "city so rich in trees it looks like a cloth of brocade spread out upon the land." In 1348, the Bubonic Plague infested the city, killing the majority of its inhabitants and in 1352, Gaza suffered from a destructive flood, which was rare in that arid part of the Southern Levant. However, when Arab traveler and writer Ibn Batutta visited the city in 1355, he noted that it was "large and populous, and has many mosques." The Mamluks contributed to Gazan architecture by building mosques, Islamic schools, hospitals, caravansaries, and public baths.

Ottoman rule

In 1516, Gaza—by now a small town with an inactive port, ruined buildings and reduced trade—was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman army quickly and efficiently crushed a small-scale uprising, and the local population generally welcomed them as fellow Sunni Muslims. The city was then made the capital of Sanjak Gaza, part of the larger Province of Damascus. The Ridwan family, named after governor Ridwan Pasha, was the first dynasty to govern Gaza and would continue to rule the city for over a century.

Although no explanation is provided in the biographies of the Ridwan family, they chose Gaza as their home and the location of their castle, Qasr al-Basha. Husayn Pasha, a member of the Ridwan family, inherited the impoverished governorship of Gaza in the 17th century. His period in office was peaceful and prosperous for Gaza and he gained a good reputation for considerably reducing the strife between the nearby Bedouins and the settled population. The Great Mosque was restored, and six other mosques constructed, while Turkish baths and market stalls proliferated. Anonymous petitions sent to Istanbul complaining about Husayn's failure to protect the Hajj caravan, however, served as an excuse for the Ottoman government to depose him. After the death of Husayn's successor, Ottomans officials were appointed to govern in place of the Ridwans. The Ridwan period was Gaza's last golden age during Ottoman rule. After the family was removed from office, the city itself went into gradual decline.

Gaza was briefly occupied by the French Army under Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799, but they abandoned the city after the failed siege of Acre that same year. Starting in the early 19th century, Gaza was culturally dominated by neighboring Egypt; Muhammad Ali of Egypt conquered Gaza and most of the south of Ottoman Syria in 1832. American scholar Edward Robinson visited Gaza in 1838, describing it as a "thickly populated" town larger than Jerusalem, with its Old City lying upon a hilltop, while its suburbs laid on the nearby plain. Gaza's port was inactive in the mid-19th century, however, the city benefited from trade and commerce because of its position on the caravan route between Egypt and northern Syria as well as from producing soap and cotton for trade with the Bedouin. Robinson noted that virtually all of Gaza's vestiges of ancient history and antiquity had disappeared due to constant conflict and occupation.

The Bubonic Plague struck again in 1839 and the city, lacking political and economic stability, went into a state of stagnation. In 1840, Egyptian and Ottoman troops battled outside of Gaza. The Ottomans won control of the territory, effectively ending Egyptian rule over southern Syria. However, the battles brought about more death and destruction in Gaza whilst the city was still recovering from the effects of the plague.

Modern era

While leading the Allied Forces during World War I, the British won control of the city during the Third Battle of Gaza in 1917. After the war, Gaza was included in the British Mandate of Palestine. In the 1930s and 1940s, Gaza underwent major expansion. New neighborhoods were built along the coast and the southern and eastern plains. International organizations and missionary groups funded most of this construction. In the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan, Gaza was assigned to be part of an Arab state in western Palestine but was occupied by Egypt following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Gaza's growing population was augmented by an influx of refugees fleeing nearby cities, towns and villages that were captured by Israel. In 1957, Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser made a number of reforms in Gaza, which included expanding educational opportunities and the civil services, providing housing, and establishing local security forces.

Gaza was occupied by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War following the defeat of the Egyptian Army. Frequent conflicts have erupted between Palestinians and the Israeli authorities in the city since the 1970s. The tensions lead to the First Intifada in 1987. Gaza was a center of confrontation during this uprising, and economic conditions in the city worsened. In September 1993, leaders of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) signed the Oslo Accords. The agreement called for Palestinian administration of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho, which was implemented in May 1994. Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza, leaving a new Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to administer and police the city. The PNA, led by Yasser Arafat, chose Gaza as its first provincial headquarters. The newly established Palestinian National Council held its inaugural session in Gaza in March 1996. In 2005, Israel pulled out the troops occupying Gaza, along with thousands of Israelis who had settled in the territory.

Source: Wikipedia Gaza