Book Review

A History of Palestine, 634-1099, by Moshe Gil, Ethel Broido

Stark reality of Muslim rule of Palestine, 634-1099, July 18, 2002

Reviewer: Andrew G. Bostom, MD, MS from Chepachet, RI USA

Middle East scholars have lauded "A History of Palestine, 634-1099" as the most comprehensive historiography of Palestine from the initial Arab Muslim conquests, until the arrival of the Crusaders in 1099. Remarkably, despite the constraints of academic annotation, and the uncertainties of translation (i.e., from Hebrew to English), Professor Gil's narrative is eminently readable for the non-professional student of history. Through the clear, dispassionate presentation of a rich profusion of data, he captures the stark, unromantic reality of Muslim ruled Palestine during this 465-year period. Professor Gil begins with a survey of events before the Arab Muslim invasion. He also notes 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..". The 465-year period carefully surveyed by Gil comprises the following stages: the Arab Muslim conquest and establishment, from 634 to 661; the Umayyad-Damascene rule, from 661 until 750; the Abbasid-Baghdadian rule, from 750 through 878; Turco-Egyptian rule- Tulunids and Ikshidids- from 878 until 970- "interrupted" by Abbasid-Baghdadian rule again, between 905 and 930; nearly two generations of war including numerous participants, the dominant party being the Fatimids, from 970 through 1030; just over 40-years of Fatimid-Egyptian rule, between 1030 and 1071; and a generation of Turkish rule encompassing most of Palestine, from 1071 until 1099. Gil offers a particularly revealing assessment of dhimmitude (i.e., the regulations imposed on the non-Muslims vanquished by jihad), and its adverse impact on these conquered, indigenous peoples, in chapter 3 pages, pages 139 to 161. For example, excessive, arbitrarily imposed taxation in the first quarter of the 11th century lead to the destitution, imprisonment, torture, and death of many Jews living in Jerusalem. However, the clearest outward manifestations of this imposed inferiority and humiliation were the prohibitions regarding dhimmi dress "codes", and the demands that distinguishing signs be placed on the entrances of dhimmi houses. During the Abbasid caliphates of Harun al-Rashid (786-809) and al-Mutawwakil (847-861), Jews and Christians were required to wear yellow ( as patches attached to their garments, or hats). Later, to differentiate further between Christians and Jews, the Christians were required to wear blue. Finally, in 850, consistent with Koranic verses and hadith (sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad) associating them with Satan and Hell, al-Mutawwakil decreed that Jews and Christians attach wooden images of devils to the doors of their homes to distinguish them from the homes of Muslims. Near the end of his extensive, scrupulously documented presentation, Gil offers this sobering assessment: "..These facts do not call for much interpretation; together they simply form a picture of almost unceasing insecurity, of endless rebellions and wars, of upheavals and instability..".

This review originally appeared on the website. Reprinted with permission of the author.