After the destruction of the Temple,
Long before the Arab conquest, as a British
Member of Parliament pointed out in 1939,
the Jews fled to Arabia
a thousand years before the Prophet
Mohammed was born, the Jew, already exiled, sitting by the waters of Babylon,
was singing: "If I forget thee O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its
The Reverend Parkes says that the theme that
"gives to Jewish history characteristics which begin by being unusual and
end by being unique" is that "the religion which was developing into a
universalistic ethical monotheism never lost its root in The Land."2
... Jewry has nowhere established
another independent national centre; and, as is natural, the Land of Israel
is intertwined far more intimately into the religious and historic memories
of the people; for their connection with the country has been of much longer
duration -- in fact it has been continuous from the 2nd millenium B.C.E.
up to modem times.... The Land therefore has provided an emotional centre
which has endured through the whole of their period of "exile", and has
led to constant returns or attempted returns, culminating in our own day
in the Zionist Movement."3
Israel had already become a nation about 1220
B.c.-nearly two thousand years before the first Arab invasion began.4
The Jews' persistent presence on the land survived periodic attempts to
extinguish them throughout their history. Around the first century,
Many Diaspora Jews observed the
commandments of pilgrimage, and on the High Holidays in Jerusalem one might
have met Jews from such different lands as Parthia, Media, Elam, Mesopotamia,
Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia Minor, I'hrygia, Pamphylia, Cyrene, Crete, Rome
By the time of the Roman conquest of Judea
the Jews were considered "turbulent and troublesome people to deal with,"
according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica,6
when they stubbornly refused to surrender their country to Roman rule.
The Emperor Hadrian, "determined to stamp
out this aggressive Jewish nationalism," ruled that henceforth Jewish traditions
such as circumcision, the Sabbath, reading of the law-in fact, the beliefs
of Judaism itself-were illegal and "forbidden."7
Hadrian was "determined to convert the still half-ruined Jerusalem into
a Roman colony." After the Jews' Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, the revolt
of Jewish leader Bar Kochba-who had "200,000 men at his command" -- recaptured
Jerusalem and many "strongholds and villages throughout the country." The
"full-scale country-wide war ... raged with fierce bitterness for four
years, the Romans having to bring in legion after legion of reinforcements
to suppress the insurgents."8
Although the Romans ultimately regained
political reign, "sacked the city [of Jerusalem] ... and expelled the bulk
of the Jewish survivors from the country"9
the cost of victory was shattering -- "It is said that as many as 580,000
men were slain!" -- Romans as well as Jews. It was after the debacle that
Hadrian changed the name of the city of Jerusalem to Aelia Capitolina,
ordered the building of a temple of Jupiter on the Jewish Temple site and
"forbade any Jew, on pain of death, to appear within sight of the city."10
But in the same way that the name Judea
did not disappear, neither did the Jews abandon their land. A number had
obstinately remained, and many others quickly returned to rebuild their
world. Some Jews, however, fled the Roman conquest for other points --
including Arabia, where they formed some new settlements and in many instances
joined Jewish Arabian communities established at the time of release from
the captivity in Babylon or existing even before then. Thus evolved the
flight of the first "Palestinian" refugees-the Judeans, or Jews.
The Haven in Arabia
A look at the haven where these "Palestinian"
or "Judean" Jewish refugees from the Romans found sanctuary is important
to understanding the "heart of the matter" in the Middle East today --
the conflict between Arab and Jew. The circumstances of the Arabian Jewish
communities in the Arabian Peninsula -- both before and after the Arab
Conquest-bear importantly upon Arab-Jewish relationships until this day,
because the pattern that developed in Arabia established a tradition that
has been followed ever since.
According to Arabist scholar Alfred Guillaume,
Jews probably first settled in Arabia in connection with the fall of Samaria
in 721 B.C.:
...it is almost certain that the
self-contained Jewish military colony in Aswan and upper Egypt, about which
the world knew nothing until a few years ago, was founded just after the
fall of Samaria, and consequently it is not impossible that some Jewish
settlements in Arabia were due to fugitives fleeing from the old northern
capital of the Hebrews.
Guillaurne is certain that "in the first and
second centuries A.D., Arabia offered a near asylum" to the Jews who had
been victimized by the "utterly ruthless" Romans.11
In the Arabian land considered by many
to be "purely Arab," the land which would spawn Islam many centuries later,
Numbers of Jewish and Christian
settlements were established in different parts of Arabia, both spreading
Aramaic and Hellenistic culture. The chief southern Arabian Christian centre
was in Najran, where a relatively advanced political life was developed.
Jews and Judaised Arabs were everywhere, especially in Yathrib, later renamed
Medina. They were mainly agriculturists and artisans. Their origin is uncertain
and many different theories have been advanced.12
Although the fact is little recognized, more
than one historian has affirmed at the Arab world's second holiest city,
Medina, was one of the allegedly "purely Arab" cities that actually was
first settled by Jewish tribes." Bernard Lewis writes:
The city of Medina, some 280 miles
north of Mecca, had originally been settled by Jewish tribes from the north,
especially the Banu Nadir and Banu Quraiza. The comparative richness of
the town attracted an infiltration of pagan Arabs who came at first as
clients of the Jews and ultimately sucqeeded in dominating them. Medina,
or, as it was known before Islam, Yathrib, had no form of stable government
at all. The town was tom by the feuds of the rival Arab tribes of Aus and
Khazraj, with the Jews maintaining an uneasy balance of power. The latter,
engaged mainly in agriculture and handicrafts, were economically and culturally
superior to the Arabs, and were consequently disliked.... as soon as the
Arabs had attained unity through the agency of Muhammad they attacked and
ultimately eliminated the Jews.13
Guillaume reports that the anti-Jewish attack
at Khaibar was fiercely fought off, but "though the inhabitants fought
more bravely here than elsewhere, outnumbered and caught off their guard,
they were defeated."14 Those who somehow survived
constituted the formula for Islam's future successes. Some of the Jews,
"non-Muslims" or infidels, "retained their land," at least until Muslims
could be recruited in sufficient numbers to replace the Jews. Meanwhile,
the Arabian Jews paid a fifty-percent "tribute," or tax, for the "protection"
of the new plunderers. As Professor Lewis writes, "The Muslim victory in
Khaibar marked thefirst contact between the Muslim state and a conquered
non-Muslim people and formed the basis for later dealings of the same type."15
Other Jewish colonies succumbed in much
the same way: "Jews were allowed to keep their land on condition that they
surrendered half the produce to Medina." But, "the arrangement did not
last long Virtually all of Khaibar's and Medina's surviving Jews
-- along with "all the other Jews and Christians in the peninsula" -- were
dispossessed and expelled through the Prophet Muhammad's edict, zealously
implemented by his caliph Omar.16
Much of the wealth of the country which
had been concentrated in the hands of the Jews had now been seized by the
Muslims, who were no longer indigent immigrants but wealthy landowners,
men of substance, owning camels and horses and their own weapons.... Muhammad's
fame spread far and wide, and the bedouin flocked to him in thousands.17
Whose Land?, p. 26.
3. J.B. Pritchard,
Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (Princeton, N.J.:
Princeton University Press, 1955), p. 378. 20.M. Stem, "The Political and
Social History of Judea Under Roman Rule," in A History of the Jewish People,
H.H. Ben-Sasson, ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1976),
Britannica, 11th ed. (1911), vol. XX, p. 622.
Yadin, Masada (New York: Random House, 1966), p. 11.
Britannica, vol. XX, p. 622.
Guillaume, Islam (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1954), pp. 10-11.
Lewis, The Arabs in History, rev. ed. (New York, Evanston, San Francisco,
London: Harper-Colophon Books, 1966), pp. 31-32.
W. Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews, 3 vols. (New York:
Columbia University Press,
1937), 1, pp. 308T
Arabs in History, p. 40.
13. S. Safrai,
"The Lands of the Diaspora," in A History ofthe Jewish People, Ben-Sasson,
ed., p. 380.
Islam, p. 49.
Arabs, p. 45.
Islam, p. 49,
pp. 49-50. The appellation Bedouin derives from the word badia (steppe),
which connotes the Arabian desert territories native to the wanderers.
Also see C.M. Doughty, Travels in Arabia Deserta (London, 1888), since
then in many editions; H. St. Philby, Arabia (1930); Heart of Arabia (1922);
Arabia of the Wahhabis (1928); T.E. Lawrence, Revolt in the Desert (1927)
and The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1935); In Arabic, A'rif al-A'rif, Al Kada'Bein
Al Badou (1937), Taarikh Beir Al Sab' (1932). In German see G.H. Dalman,
Arbeit und Sitte in Palestina (1928), 5 vols.
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