The death of Yasser Arafat- jihad terrorisms' modern godfather- has been accompanied by a rash of optimistic assessments regarding the prospects for a resolution of the longstanding Arab-Israeli conflict. These comments by former U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, are representative of such thinking:
Though Arafat's death will create emotional upheaval for Palestinians and the risk of a violent struggle to fill the void, it may also create circumstances that make the emergence of a new era possible.
For those of us who long desperately to share former Ambassador Ross' optimism, the living historical legacy of more than 13 centuries of jihad in Palestine provides a sobering perspective.
Jihad War: A Uniquely Islamic Institution
Jacques Ellul 1, the late philosopher and theologian, emphasized in his foreward to Les Chretientes d’Orient entre Jihad et Dhimmitude. VIIe - XXe siecle, (1991) how contemporary historiography whitewashed the basic realities of jihad war:
In a major encyclopedia, one reads phrases such as: ‘Islam expanded in the eighth or ninth centuries…’; ‘This or that country passed into Muslim hands…’ But care is taken not to say how Islam expanded, how countries ‘passed into [Muslim] hands’…Indeed, it would seem as if events happened by themselves, through a miraculous or amicable operation…Regarding this expansion, little is said about jihad. And yet it all happened through war!
…the jihad is an institution, and not an event, that is to say it is a part of the normal functioning of the Muslim world…The conquered populations change status (they become dhimmis), and the shari’a tends to be put into effect integrally, overthrowing the former law of the country. The conquered territories do not simply change ‘owners’.
Writing over six decades ago, Professor Arthur Jeffery described the continuum from jihad, to what has become known as dhimmitude- the sociopolitical status of those indigenous non-Muslim peoples vanquished by jihad campaigns:
..[Muhammad] did at least propose that all Arabia should be the land of Allah and planned vigorous measures to insure that within its borders the religion of Allah should be supreme. Communities of the People of the Book [Book= Bible; thus referring primarily to Jews and Christians] might remain within the land, but they must be in subjection….deriving their rights from the supreme Muslim community, not from any recognized rights of their own. As [they] did not accept this without struggle, it had to be forced on them, and that meant war. But war in the cause of Allah is Holy War, and so even in the Prophet’s lifetime we have the question of Jihad… 2
Richard Bell, in his authoritative1937 translation and exegesis of the Qur’an 3 demonstrates that Sura (chapter) 9, “…is a chapter of war proclamations…”, and verses Q.9.29 to Q.9-35, specifically,
…form in effect a proclamation of war against Jews and Christians, and probably belong to the year IX [9-years after the Hijra] when an expedition was designed for the North which would involve war with Christians and possibly also with Jews.4
Jeffery belittled as “the sheerest sophistry” attempts
...made in some circles in modern days to explain away all the Prophet’s warlike expeditions as defensive wars, or to interpret the doctrine of Jihad as merely a bloodless striving in missionary zeal for the spread of Islam…The early Arabic sources quite plainly and frankly describe the expeditions as military expeditions, and it would never have occurred to anyone at that day to interpret them as anything else…To the folk of his day there would thus be nothing strange in Muhammad, as the head of the community of those who served Allah, taking the sword to extend the kingdom of Allah, and taking measures to insure the subjection of all who lived within the borders of what he made the kingdom of Allah…5
Thirty years later, Maxime Rodinson warned, more broadly that
…The anti-colonial left, whether Christian or not, often goes so far as to sanctify Islam and the contemporary ideologies of the Muslim world... Understanding has given away to apologetics pure and simple…6
The prescient critiques of Jeffery and Rodinson anticipated the state of contemporary scholarship on jihad. Two salient examples of this current apologetic trend will suffice.
Khaled Abou El Fadl, a Professor of Law at UCLA, writing in 2002, maintained categorically,
…Islamic tradition does not have a notion of holy war. Jihad simply means to strive hard or struggle in pursuit of a just cause...Holy war (al-harb al-muqaddasah) is not an expression used by the Qur'anic text or Muslim theologians. In Islamic theology war is never holy; it is either justified or not... 7
El Fadl’s recent contention cannot be supported on either theological-juridical, or historical grounds, and in fact contradicts the conclusion of an earlier essay he wrote. Specifically, El Fadl wrote the following in 1999:
There is no doubt that Muslim jurists do equate just war with religious war (jihad) [parenthetical insertion of the word jihad by El Fadl himself] 8
His footnote for this quote cites the classical Hanbali jurist Ibn Taymiyya, as well as two pre-eminent modern scholars of jihad, Professors Majid Khadduri, and Rudolph Peters.
Khadduri and Peters authoritative assessments are summarized below. Majid Khadurri wrote the following in 1955:
Thus the jihad may be regarded as Islam’s instrument for carrying out its ultimate objective by turning all people into believers, if not in the prophethood of Muhammad (as in the case of the dhimmis), at least in the belief of God. The Prophet Muhammad is reported to have declared ‘some of my people will continue to fight victoriously for the sake of the truth until the last one of them will combat the anti-Christ.’ Until that moment is reached the jihad, in one form or another will remain as a permanent obligation upon the entire Muslim community. It follows that the existence of a dar al-harb is ultimately outlawed under the Islamic jural order; that the dar al-Islam is permanently under jihad obligation until the dar al-harb is reduced to non-existence; and that any community accepting certain disabilities- must submit to Islamic rule and reside in the dar al-Islam or be bound as clients to the Muslim community. The universality of Islam, in its all embracing creed, is imposed…as a continuous process of warfare, psychological and political, if not strictly military. 9
And Rudolph Peters wrote this in 1995:
The doctrine of the jihad, as laid down in the works on Islamic law, developed out of the Koranic prescriptions and the example of the Prophet and the first caliphs, which is recorded in the hadith. The crux of the doctrine is the existence of one single Islamic state, ruling the entire umma. It is the duty of the umma to expand the territory of this state in order to bring as many people under its rule as possible. The ultimate aim is to bring the whole earth under the sway of Islam and to extirpate unbelief: ‘Fight them until there is no persecution (or seduction) and the religion is God’s (entirely)’ [K. 2:193 and 8:39]. Expansionist jihad is a collective duty (fard ‘ala al-kifaya), which is fulfilled if a sufficient number of people take part in it. If this is not the case, the whole umma is sinning…The most important function of the doctrine of jihad is that it mobilizes and motivates Muslims to take part in wars against unbelievers, as it is considered to be a fulfillment of a religious duty. The motivation is strongly fed by the idea that those who are killed on the battlefield, called martyrs (shahid, plural shuhada), will go directly to Paradise. At the occasion of wars fought against unbelievers, religious texts would circulate, replete with Koranic verses and hadiths extolling the merits of fighting a jihad and vividly describing the reward waiting in the hereafter for those slain during the fighting.10
Professor John Esposito is the doyen of contemporary academic apologists for Islam. His writings regarding expansionist military jihad simply ignore voluminous, but inconvenient historical data. For example, he provides this ahistorical characterization of the entire period between the initial Islamic jihad conquests, in the fourth decade of the 7th century C. E., and the first Crusade, in 1099 C.E. :
Five centuries of peaceful coexistence elapsed before political events and an imperial-papal power play led to centuries-long series of so-called holy wars that pitted Christendom against Islam and left an enduring legacy of misunderstanding and distrust.” 11
Recently, Bat Ye’or analyzed Esposito’s summary assessment of the first millennium of jihad conquests. Bat Ye’or notes how Esposito completely, “…ignores the concepts of jihad and dar al-harb…”12, and she highlights the “thematic structure” of Esposito’s selective overview, typical of the prevailing modern apologetic genre:
…historical negationism, consisting of suppressing or sketching in a page or a paragraph, one thousand years of jihad which is presented as a peaceful conquest, generally welcomed by the vanquished populations; the omission of Christian and, in particular, Muslim sources describing the actual methods of these conquests: pillage, enslavement, deportation, massacres, and so on; the mythical historical conversion of "centuries" of "peaceful coexistence", masking the processes which transformed majorities into minorities, constantly at risk of extinction; an obligatory self-incrimination for the Crusades…13
The essential pattern of the jihad war is captured in the great Muslim historian al-Tabari’s recording of the recommendation given by Umar b. al-Khattab to the commander of the troops he sent to al-Basrah (636 C.E.), during the conquest of Iraq. Umar (the second “Rightly Guided Caliph”) reportedly said:
Summon the people to God; those who respond to your call, accept it from them, (This is to say, accept their conversion as genuine and refrain from fighting them) but those who refuse must pay the poll tax out of humiliation and lowliness. (Qur’an 9:29) If they refuse this, it is the sword without leniency. Fear God with regard to what you have been entrusted.” 14
Jihad was pursued century after century, because jihad, which means “to strive in the path of Allah,” embodied an ideology and a jurisdiction. Both were formally conceived by Muslim jurisconsults and theologians from the 8th to 9th centuries onward, based on their interpretation of Qur’anic verses 15 (for e.g., 9:5,6; 9:29; 4:76-79; 2: 214-15; 8:39-42), and long chapters in the Traditions (i.e., “hadith”, acts and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, especially those recorded by al-Bukhari [d. 869] 16 and Muslim [d. 874] 17). The consensus on the nature of jihad from all four schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence (i.e., Maliki, Hanbali, Hanafi, and Shafi’i), and seminal Shi’ite clerics, is clear. Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406), jurist (Maliki), renowned philosopher, historian, and sociologist, summarized these consensus opinions from five centuries of prior Muslim jurisprudence with regard to the uniquely Islamic institution of jihad:
In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the [Muslim] mission and [the obligation to] convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force... The other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty for them, save only for purposes of defense... Islam is under obligation to gain power over other nations. 18
Indeed, even al-Ghazali (d. 1111), the famous theologian, philosopher, and paragon of mystical Sufism, (who, as noted by the great scholar of Islam W.M. Watt, has been “…acclaimed in both the East and West as the greatest Muslim after Muhammad…” 19), wrote the following about jihad:
…one must go on jihad (i.e., warlike razzias or raids) at least once a year...one may use a catapult against them [non-Muslims] when they are in a fortress, even if among them are women and children. One may set fire to them and/or drown them...If a person of the Ahl al-Kitab [People of The Book – Jews and Christians, typically] is enslaved, his marriage is [automatically] revoked…One may cut down their trees...One must destroy their useless books. Jihadists may take as booty whatever they decide...they may steal as much food as they need... 20
By the time of the classical Muslim historian al-Tabari’s death in 923, jihad wars had expanded the Muslim empire from the Iberian peninsula to the Indian subcontinent. Subsequent Muslim conquests continued in Asia, as well as on Christian eastern European lands. The Christian kingdoms of Armenia, Byzantium, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, and Albania, in addition to parts of Poland and Hungary, were also conquered and Islamized. When the Muslim armies were stopped at the gates of Vienna in 1683, over a millennium of jihad had transpired 21. These tremendous military successes spawned a triumphalist jihad literature. Muslim historians recorded in detail the number of infidels slain or enslaved, the cities and villages which were pillaged, and the lands, treasure, and movable goods seized. Christian (Coptic, Armenian, Jacobite, Greek, Slav, etc.), as well as Hebrew sources, and even the scant Hindu and Buddhist writings which survived the ravages of the Muslim conquests, independently validate this narrative, and complement the Muslim perspective by providing testimonies of the suffering of the non-Muslim victims of jihad wars 22.
From Jihad to Dhimmitude
In The Laws of Islamic Governance 23 al-Mawardi (d. 1058), a renowned jurist of Baghdad, examined the regulations pertaining to the lands and infidel (i.e., non-Muslim) populations subjugated by jihad. This is the origin of the system of dhimmitude. The native infidel population had to recognize Islamic ownership of their land, submit to Islamic law, and accept payment of the poll tax (jizya). al-Mawardi highlights the most significant aspect of this consensus view of the jizya in classical Islamic jurisprudence: the critical connection between jihad and payment of the jizya. He notes that “The enemy makes a payment in return for peace and reconciliation.” Al-Mawardi then distinguishes two cases: (I) Payment is made immediately and is treated like booty, however “it does, however, not prevent a jihad being carried out against them in the future.”. (II). Payment is made yearly and will “constitute an ongoing tribute by which their security is established". Reconciliation and security last as long as the payment is made. If the payment ceases, then the jihad resumes. A treaty of reconciliation may be renewable, but must not exceed 10 years. In the chapter “The Division of the Fay and the Ghaneemah” (booty), al- Mawardi examines the regulations pertaining to the land taken from the infidels. With regard to land taken through treaty, specifically, he indicates two possibilities: either the infidels convert or they pay the jizya and their life and belongings are protected. And the nature of such “protection” is clarified in this definition of jizya by the seminal Arabic lexicographer, E.W. Lane, based on a careful analysis of the etymology of the term:
“The tax that is taken from the free non-Muslim subjects of a Muslim government whereby they ratify the compact that assures them protection, as though it were compensation for not being slain” 24
Another important aspect of the jizya is the widely upheld view of the classical schools of Islamic jurisprudence about the deliberately humiliating imposition and procurement of this
tax 25. Here is a discussion of the ceremonial for collection of the jizya by the 13th century Shafi’i jurist an-Nawawi:
…The infidel who wishes to pay his poll tax must be treated with disdain by the collector: the collector remains seated and the infidel remains standing in front of him, his head bowed and his back bent. The infidel personally must place the money on the scales, while the collector holds him by the beard, and strikes him on both cheeks… 26
A remarkable account from 1894 by an Italian Jew traveling in Morocco, demonstrates the humiliating conditions under which the jizya was still being collected within the modern era:
The kaid Uwida and the kadi Mawlay Mustafa had mounted their tent today near the Mellah [Jewish ghetto] gate and had summoned the Jews in order to collect from them the poll tax [jizya] which they are obliged to pay the sultan. They had me summoned also. I first inquired whether those who were European-protected subjects had to pay this tax. Having learned that a great many of them had already paid it, I wished to do likewise. After having remitted the amount of the tax to the two officials, I received from the kadi’s guard two blows in the back of the neck. Addressing the kadi and the kaid, I said” ‘Know that I am an Italian protected subject.’ Whereupon the kadi said to his guard: ‘Remove the kerchief covering his head and strike him strongly; he can then go and complain wherever he wants.’ The guards hastily obeyed and struck me once again more violently. This public mistreatment of a European-protected subject demonstrates to all the Arabs that they can, with impunity, mistreat the Jews.” 27
The “contract of the “jizya”, or “dhimma” encompassed other obligatory and recommended obligations for the conquered non-Muslim “dhimmi” peoples. 28 Collectively, these “obligations” formed the discriminatory system of dhimmitude imposed upon non-Muslims- Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, Hindus, and Buddhists- subjugated by jihad. Some of the more salient features of dhimmitude include: the prohibition of arms for the vanquished non-Muslims (dhimmis), and of church bells; restrictions concerning the building and restoration of churches, synagogues, and temples; inequality between Muslims and non-Muslims with regard to taxes and penal law; the refusal of dhimmi testimony by Muslim courts; a requirement that Jews, Christians, and other non-Muslims, including Zoroastrians and Hindus, wear special clothes; and the overall humiliation and abasement of non-Muslims. It is important to note that these regulations and attitudes were institutionalized as permanent features of the sacred Islamic law, or Shari’a. Again, the writings of the much lionized Sufi theologian and jurist al-Ghazali highlight how the institution of dhimmitude was simply a normative, and prominent feature of the Shari’a:
…the dhimmi is obliged not to mention Allah or His Apostle…Jews, Christians, and Majians must pay the jizya [poll tax on non-Muslims]…on offering up the jizya, the dhimmi must hang his head while the official takes hold of his beard and hits [the dhimmi] on the protruberant bone beneath his ear [i.e., the mandible]… They are not permitted to ostentatiously display their wine or church bells…their houses may not be higher than the Muslim’s, no matter how low that is. The dhimmi may not ride an elegant horse or mule; he may ride a donkey only if the saddle[-work] is of wood. He may not walk on the good part of the road. They [the dhimmis] have to wear [an identifying] patch [on their clothing], even women, and even in the [public] baths…[dhimmis] must hold their tongue….29 (Emphasis added.)
The Great Jihad and the Muslim Conquest of Palestine
September 622 C.E. marks a defining event in Islam- the hijra. Muhammad and a coterie of followers (the Muhajirun), persecuted by fellow Banu Quraysh tribesmen who rejected Muhammad’s authenticity as a divine messenger, fled from Mecca to Yathrib, later known as Al-Medina (Medina). Professor Moshe Gil notes that Muslim sources described Yathrib as having been a Jewish city founded by a Palestinian diaspora population which had survived the revolt against the Romans. 30 Distinct from the nomadic Arab tribes, the Jews of the north Arabian peninsula were highly productive oasis farmers. These Jews were eventually joined by itinerant Arab tribes from southern Arabia who settled adjacent to them and transitioned to a sedentary existence.
Following Muhammad’s arrival, he created a “new order”, as described by Gil:
…establishing a covenant between the tribes which imposed its authority on every clan and its members, [which] soon enabled him to attack the Jews and eventually wipe out the Jewish population of the town. Some were banned from the towns, others were executed, and their property-plantations, fields, and houses- was distributed by Muhammad among his followers, who were destitute refugees from Mecca. He also used the former property of the Jews to establish a war fund, setting up a well-equipped army corps of cavalry troops the likes of which had never before been seen on the Arabian peninsula. Muhammad evidently believed in the capacity of this army, imbued with fiery religious belief, to perform great and sensational feats of valor.31
Richard Bell summarized Muhammad’s final interactions with the Jews and Christians of Medina, and northern Arabia. His analyses, based upon the sacred Muslim texts (i.e, Qur’an, hadith, and sira), authoritative Qur’anic commentaries, and the narratives of Muslim chroniclers of early Islam, also underscored the theological basis for the “Great Jihad”:
His relations with the Jews form a part of all biographies of Muhammad, for they worked out to a bitter and savage conclusion in the course of his first few years residence in Medina…Shortly after the Battle of Badr a Jewish tribe, the Bani Qainuqa, were deprived of their goods, and expelled from Medina. The Bani Nadir were similarly expelled some two years later, and finally the Bani Quraiza were besieged, and, after capitulation at discretion, were slaughtered, their goods confiscated, their women and children enslaved. This bitter hostility was no doubt due to the annoyance which the opposition of the Jews caused him…in Muhammad’s mind there also rankled the old feeling that the Jews had misled him in regard to what the Revelation contained, and having discovered that Jesus had been a prophet to the Bani Isra’il whom the Jews had rejected, he may have in his own mind justified his harsh dealing with them by the reflection that they were renegades who had already more than once rejected the Divine message…But when Muhammad’s power began to spread in Arabia his attitude towards the Christians soon began to cool. Any real alliance or even peaceful accommodation was indeed impossible from the first. Muhammad complains (Q.2:113/114) that neither Jews nor Christians will be satisfied with him until he follows their milla or type of religion. It was just as impossible for him to make concessions…Thus the relationship with the Christians ended as that with the Jews ended- in war...We know that before the end of his life Muhammad was in conflict with Christian populations in the north of Arabia, and even within the confines of the Roman [Byzantine] Empire. What would have happened if he had lived we do not know. But probably the policy which Abu Bakr carried on was the policy of Muhammad himself. There could have been no real compromise. He regarded himself as vicegerent of God upon earth. The true religion could only be Islam as he laid it down, and acceptance of it meant acceptance of his divinely inspired authority…The Hijra and the execution of the Divine vengeance upon the unbelievers of Mecca had given the immediate occasion for the organization of such a warlike community. The victory of Badr confirmed it. This is what it had grown to, a menace to whatever came in its way. Muhammad could bide his time, but he was not the man to depart from a project which had once taken hold of his mind as involved in his prophetic mission and authority. He might look with favor upon much in Christianity, but unless Christians were prepared to accept his dictation as to what the true religion was, conflict was inevitable, and there could have been no real peace while he lived.” 32
Only limited forays- razzias (raids)- against Byzantine civilization in Palestine occurred during Muhammad’s lifetime. 33 Within two years of Muhammad’s death, however, Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, launched the Great Jihad. 34 The ensuing three decades witnessed Islamdom’s most spectacular expansion, as Muslim armies subdued the entire Arabian peninsula, and conquered territories which had been in Greco-Roman possession since the reign of Alexander the Great.35 Despite Greek domination and Hellenization of these lands for over nine centuries (largely unaltered by the intervening Roman conquest), in less than two centuries, as Constantelos has observed,
…both Hellenism and Christianity were eliminated as major ethnic, religious, and cultural forces in the Near East, save in Asia Minor and Cyprus. 36
Gil, in his monumental analysis A History of Palestine, 634-1099, emphasizes the singular centrality that Palestine occupied in the mind of its pre-Islamic Jewish inhabitants, who referred to the land as “al-Sham”. Indeed, as Gil observes, the sizable Jewish population in Palestine (who formed a majority of its inhabitants, when grouped with the Samaritans) at the dawn of the Arab Muslim conquest were “…the direct descendants of the generations of Jews who had lived there since the days of Joshua bin Nun, in other words for some 2000 years…”. 37 He also explodes the ahistorical thesis of scholars who,
…perceive an ethnic motivation behind the [jihad] conquests. They see Arabs everywhere: even the Canaanites and the Philistines were Arabs, according to their theories. This applies to an even greater degree to the population of Palestine and Syria in the seventh century, who were certainly Semites. Thus, according to their claims, the conquering Arab forces in the course of their battles, actually encountered their own people or at least members of their own race who spoke the same language…This is of course a very distorted view: Semitism is not a race and only relates to a sphere of language. The populations met along the route of battle, living in cities or the country side, were not Arabs and did not speak Arabic. We do know of Bedouin tribes at that time who inhabited the borderlands and the southern desert of Palestine, west of the Euphrates (Hira) in the Syrian desert, Palmyra, and elsewhere. But the cultivated inner regions and the cities were inhabited by Jews and Christians who spoke Aramaic. They did not sense any special ties to the Bedouin; if anything it was the contrary. Their proximity and the danger of an invasion from that quarter disturbed their peace of mind and this is amply reflected both in the writings of the Church Fathers and in Talmudic sources. 38
Gil concludes that views of the jihad conquest of Palestine expressed in the sources from the vanquished, indigenous non-Muslim populations,
…reflect the attitude of the towns and villages in Palestine quite accurately; the attitude of a sedentary population, of farmers and craftsmen, toward nomads whose source of income is the camel and who frequently attack the towns, pillage and slaughter the inhabitants, and endanger the lives of the wayfarer. These sources completely contradict the argument…to the effect that the villagers and townsmen in Palestine accepted the invasion of those tribes bearing the banner of Islam with open arms of their so-called racial affinity. 39
Bat Ye’or summarizes the Arab Muslim conquest of Palestine as follows:
…the whole Gaza region up to Cesarea was sacked and devastated in the campaign of 634. Four thousand Jewish, Christian, and Samaritan peasants who defended their land were massacred. The villages of the Negev were pillaged…Towns such as Jerusalem, Gaza, Jaffa, Cesarea, Nablus, and Beth Shean were isolated and closed their gates. In his sermon on Christmas day 634, the patriarch of Jerusalem, Sophronius, lamented…that the Christians were being forcibly kept in Jerusalem: ‘…chained and nailed by fear of the Saracens,’ whose ‘savage, barbarous and bloody sword’ kept them locked up in the town…Sophronius, in his sermon on the Day of the Epiphany 636, bewailed the destruction of the churches and monasteries, the sacked towns, the fields laid waste, the villages burned down by the nomads who were overrunning the country. In a letter the same year to Sergius, the patriarch of Constantinople, he mentions the ravages wrought by the Arabs. Thousands of people perished in 639, victims of the famine and plague that resulted from these destructions. 40
According to [the Muslim chronicler] Baladhuri (d. 892 C.E.), 40,000 Jews lived in Caesarea alone at the Arab conquest, after which all trace of them is lost... 41
Gil further elaborates on the initial wave of jihad conquests, and details the lasting destruction they wrought:
…at the time of the conquest, Palestine was inhabited by Jews and Christians….The Arab tribes were to be found in the border areas, in keeping with arrangements made with the Byzantine rulers….one can assume that the local population suffered immensely during the course of the war [i.e., jihad conquests] and it is very likely that many villages were destroyed and uprooted in the frontier regions, and that the lot of these local populations was very bitter indeed. It appears that the period of the conquest was also that of the destruction of the synagogues and churches of the Byzantine era, remnants of which have been unearthed in our own time and are still being discovered. The assumption is based both on what is said in a few Christian sources…and on Muslim sources describing ‘Umar’s [Umar b. al-Khattab] visits to al-Sham. There is no doubt that one of the main purposes of these visits was to establish order and put an end to the devastation and slaughter of the local population…Towns in the western strip and the central strip (the region of the red sand hills and the swamps) in the Sharon, decreased from fifty-eight to seventeen ! It is estimated that the erosion of the soil from the western slopes of the Judaean mountains reached – as a result of the agricultural uprooting during the Muslim period – the gigantic extent of 2,000 to 4,000 cubic meters….We find direct evidence of the destruction of agriculture and the desertion of the villages in the fact that the papyri of Nessana are completely discontinued after the year 700. One can assume that at the time the inhabitants abandoned the place, evidently because of the inter-tribal warfare among the Arabs which completely undermined the internal security of the area. 42
An archaeological analysis by Naphtali Lewis emphasizes that the distress of the inhabitants was exacerbated after the year 700. Conditions became unbearable, due to the general political situation and worsening attitudes toward the dhimmis, rendering the Negev a wasteland.
It was precisely at this period in the Caliphate of Abd-al-Malik and his sons (685-743 C.E.) that the Arab state embarked on a new, nationalistic policy. The official records of Islam began to be kept in Arabic…and non-Arabs began to be eliminated from government service. With this Arabization of rule came increasing fiscal burdens for the Christians-burdens which they could now no longer escape by conversion to Islam…[This] may well have rendered life impossible for the villagers of the Negev, who had already before…had occasion to complain of fiscal oppression. In the period of their prosperity…the production of the Negev villages was supplemented by financial assistance from the Byzantine Emperors, in the form of stipends and emoluments paid the military settlers; in the first half-century of Arab rule, which terminated this positive support but otherwise changed conditions little, life could apparently still be sustained- and where life is even barely bearable people are generally reluctant to leave their homes; but when the government changed its policy and began to make conditions as a result become increasingly difficult, life in the southern desert became impossible and the Negev villages disappeared…growing Arab strength…drove out the Negev inhabitants; the weakness of central authority in the area would result from the growing depopulation and relapse into nomadism. 43
Finally, Gil has translated these observations by the 10th century Karaite commentator Yefet b. ‘Ali expressing awareness of the fact that there was great destruction in Palestine and that there were places which remained uninhabited, while there were other places to which people returned and settled:
…the places which were completely destroyed so that no memory of them remains, like Samaria…and the second…are the places which have been destroyed and ruined, but despite this there are guards and people living there, such as Hebron and others…44
To continue reading this article, click here.