Monday, July 13, 2009

A brief history of the middle east

Everyone seems to have an opinion of the Middle East, and everyone seems to have an opinion about the seemingly everlasting Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the land in what has come to be known by many as the “Holy Land”. Of course the Middle East includes many other surrounding countries, but this post is a short history of what used to be a geographical area called Palestine.

I won’t attempt to go into great detail, but will do more in subsequent posts. This post is only an overview of the history of the area - a first step for readers who would like to know what is going on there and why.

First of all, both the Israelis and the Palestinians (and a lot of other historical inhabitants) have a “claim” to that land, but, in point of fact, it has seldom actually been “controlled” by any of the claimants for any length of time in history. By that I mean there has almost always been some outside “landlord” or “occupier” to whom the actual inhabitants were more or less subjugated.

Going far back in time, the Egyptians enjoyed great influence over a pretty vast area in that part of the world, but coming forward in time more recently, lest we spend too much time on the real early stuff, one might logically start with the Babylonians. They took over in 586 BC, although the Assyrians already held sway over parts.

50 years later, the Persian Empire was the owner of the moment, under Cyrus the Great, followed by Greek rule after being conquered by Alexander the Great. They were all “great” back then. Then the Egyptians again and then ancient Syria. In 63 BC came the Roman Empire, which eventually morphed into the Byzantine Empire in that area. In 638 AD began the long 1300-year rule of the Arab Conquest. In 1517, the Ottoman Turks conquered, and held the territory until the Ottoman Empire was defeated and broken up in World War One.

I don’t present the above to confuse you, only to illustrate that the long-term residents of the area (and there were more than just the present day Israelis and Palestinians) were, with few exceptions, seldom actual masters of their own domain. Even after World War I, the area was controlled by the French and the British.

I point all this out to remind you that the concept of sovereignty by the actual inhabitants is a fairly recent event, and simply because they and their ancestors lived there for a very long time does not mean they were the rightful controllers of the land over everyone else. To the contrary, all of the inhabitants of the area were almost always tenets of some occupier or another. That gives the lie to whether Israeli or Palestinian (or others) REALLY have a pure ancestral claim to the land any more than any other long-term inhabitant. There were indeed some short-term exceptions, but to put it bluntly, they were almost always the conquered people of this or that Empire.

Next: The British Mandate land area (which had been issued by the League of Nations following WWI) is broken up and apportioned by the United Nations.


  1. The Canaanites were the first inhabitants, then they were taken over. So who does it really belong to?

  2. @Ettarose - I can't believe you actually commented on this. Even A. didn't comment. You are so loyal! Wow! Yes, Canaanites, but I don't want to go back THAT far! 500 BC seems far enough. Who does it really belong to? Israel now, until someone kicks them out. "Ownership" changes quite often throughout history. :) This is not the last post; it is the first. Have patience! What are you doing. Have you accepted a new position yet? (I'm trying to be polite.)

  3. So I'm being accused of disloyalty now? I can see it's only a warm up. I'm saving myself.

    It seems to me that if ownership isn't agreed by the former owner and the new owner, the ownership will be disputed. It also seems to me that Israel's borders seem to have changed in living memory. It doesn't really matter why, if your land changes ownership without your consent.

  4. Not taking sides (I'm not knowledgeable enough and don't think the answer's black and white), but I have to mention that many a colony got their independence for no better reason than declaring, "Damn it, I live here" and fighting to claim where they live for their own. The US included.

  5. Hold me in your prayers today, I am heading to court. No positions accepted, quit trying to be polite. The one with the bigger switch has control.

  6. @A.- It isn't a warm up for something major. Maybe a couple more. A lot of people seem to have opinions without the facts. And I also need to be told how it may be quite different than I think.

  7. @Stephanie B - yes a lot of people got their independence that way. But there is a twist to this one, in that everybody was free and independent already and just wanted more land. Or so it seemed. We'll see. Nobody was really colonized at the end of this one, I don't think. Not in the traditional sense of exploitation, at least. The next post is important if a person was interested in how this conflict in the Middle East got started.

  8. @Ettarose - You are in the right. The judge will do the right thing. Be strong.

  9. I'll wait then. Middle Eastern history is not my strong suit.



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