Arab-Israel Conflict - Part-1
By Ehtesham Anwar
The successful unification of the Arabian Peninsula under Islam by the first Caliph, Hazrat Abu Bakr Siddique RA (632–634), who made it possible to channel the expansion of the Arab Muslims into new directions and those conquests were carried on by his successor, the Caliph Omar Ibn al-Khattab RA (634-644), who later conquered the Arabian Peninsula following the siege of Jerusalem in 638. The first battle took place at Wadi Al-Arabah, south of the Dead Sea, where the Byzantine crusaders were defeated and retreated toward Gaza but were overtaken and almost annihilated by Mujahideen.
In other places, however, the natural advantages of the defenders were more effective, and the invaders were hard-pressed, then the prominent Muslim General Khalid bin Walid, operating in southern Iraq, was ordered come to aid of his fellow Generals on the Syrian front, and the combined forces received victory on July 30, 634, at a place in southern Palestine that called Ajnadayn and then the entire Palestine laid open to the Muslim invaders.
The decisive battle that delivered Palestine to the Muslims took place on August 20, 636 and only Jerusalem and Caesarea held out, the former until 638, when it surrendered to the Muslims, and the latter until October 640. Palestine, and indeed all of Syria, was then in Muslim hands. After the surrender of Jerusalem, Hazrat Omar (RA) divided Palestine into two administrative districts (jund) similar to the Roman and Byzantine provinces; they were Jordan (Al-ʿUrdūn) and Palestine (Filasṭīn). Jordan included Galilee and Acre (modern ʿAkko, Israel) and extended east to the desert; Palestine, with its capital first at Lydda (modern Lod, Israel) and later at Ramla (after 716), covered the region south of the Plain of Esdraelon.
The Caliph Omar (RA) had lost no time in emphasising Islam’s interests in the holy city of Jerusalem as the first “Qiblah” toward which, until 623, Muslims had turned their faces in prayer and as the third holiest place in Islam, when the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself had changed the “Qiblah” to Mecca in 623. On visiting the Temple Mount area—which Muslims came to know as Al-Ḥaram al-Sharīf (Noble Sanctuary) — and finding the place suffering from neglect, Hazrat Omar (RA) and his followers cleaned it with their own hands and declared it a sacred place for prayers, erecting there the first structure called Al-Aqṣa Mosque (Bait-ul-Maqdas).
Following the Siege of Jerusalem, the Caliph Omar bin Khattab (RA) and Safforonius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, signed Al-Uhda al-Omariyya (The Umariyya Covenant), an agreement that stipulated the rights and obligations of all non-Muslims in Palestine. The Christians and Jews were considered People of the Books, enjoyed some protection but had to pay a special poll tax called (Jizyah) in return of that protection. According to Muhammad bin Jarir Tabari, the covenant guaranteed Christians, the freedom of religion but prohibited Jews from living in Jerusalem, however, during the early years of Muslim control of the city, a small permanent Jewish population returned to Jerusalem after a 500-year absence.
Under the Umayyads, a Muslim dynasty from the holy cities (Mecca and Medina) that gained power in 661, who had initially led the Islamic world, Palestine formed with Syria, one of the main provinces of the empire. For various reasons, the Umayyads paid special attention to Palestine and during the process Arabisation and Islamisation were gaining momentum there, and it was one of the mainstays of Umayyad power and was important in their struggle against both Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula. The Caliph deputed Emirs to administer various districts of the Palestinian territory, assisted by financial officers, and this pattern continued, in general, until the time of Ottoman rule.