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The origin of the Palestinians and the land called Israel (or Palestine as called by Romans) and who should “own” the land. A brief history look at the modern day Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The Palestinians are the modern day descendants of two ancient civilizations – the Canaanites and the Philistines. According to early history and the Bible, the present day land was called the Land of Canaan and the Canaanites ruled the area. Their society was fragmented with a city-state-like structure where each area or city had it own king with political and religious duties. The Canaanites came to power at around 3,000 BCE but their kingdom systematically fell to invasion from ancient Israelis freed from their bondage in Egypt.

The Philistines came into the land at around 1200 BCE and mainly lived near the southern coastal plains (near present day Gaza). Both the Philistines and Canaanites were considered “pagans” by Jews, Christianities and Muslims because of their polytheistic beliefs. Later, following the arrival of the Jews, many converted to Judaism and centuries later to Christianity. The Israelis took up residence in the land at around 1000 BCE and with a fierce military conquest, established the longest lasting dynasty in the Middle East. However, the identity of the Hebrew people itself is as indigenous to the land as the identity of the Palestinians or their ancestors. At the time of around 610 AD (C.E.), almost 1600 years later, most of Palestine was either Christian or Jewish and the most widely used language was Aramaic and Hebrew. This territory remained in the lands of the Jews for the better part of the 1600 years until the Roman invasions and later the Byzantine Empire. All of this changed with the rise of Islam in 600s AD and shortly after the death of the Prophet Mohammad, the Arabs started extensive campaigns in the Middle East.

Warriors from the Arabian Peninsula swept across the Middle East and into Northern Africa and within a few short years, these lands were incorporated into their rapidly expanding Islamic empire. The conquered people were keen to embrace Islam as their religion. However, Islam did not become the religion of the majority in Palestine until around the 9th century but even today there still remains a large Christian minority among the Palestinian people (10%-15% depending on source of data). As with Islam, the language of the Arabs called Arabic soon spread and by 9th century it became the dominant language of the region. The mainstream of Palestinian society became assimilated into the Arabic and Islamic identities, thus the reason for many Palestinian’s intertwined identities.

While the Jews did not embrace Islam or the Arab culture, they actually encouraged the rule of their new Arab rulers. Their reasoning was that they would be better off ruled by Muslim Arabs than by the Roman legions or the Byzantine empires. The Muslim Arabs, at least for 2-3 centuries, considered the Jews and the Christians as the “people of the book” and accepted the divine revelations of Judaism and Christianity and thus tolerance of each other’s cultures were encouraged. However, the Jewish Diaspora never came back together as a collective and the establishment of the Jewish state was not a agenda pursued by either Muslims or the Jewish community. The notion that the Arab-Israeli conflict or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a millennia old blood feud is utterly wrong.

During the time of the Muslim rule, there was no Hebrew or Palestinian state. Both groups shared the land. The Jewish History and the Palestinian history are striking similar, both modern day ideologies of Zionism and Arab Nationalism came in the end of the 19th century with the involvement of the Europeans in Middle East. The land is the ancient home for both people and no one group has exclusive claim. From 1000 BCE, the Jews and the Palestinians have been living in the land (with a Jewish State existing for majority of these years) in pace. The rise in nationalism in both groups is the cause for the current modern day struggle we see in the Middle East. Recognizing that both groups have no choice but to live together, Israelis, Palestinians and other Arabs may one day choose to place emphasis on the common elements in their respective national identities instead of their differences could result in a peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli-Arab conflict that is plaguing the modern age.