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Gaza Under the World

posted on: Feb 16, 2022

“How many hearts must break before greed is conquered and humanity rises?” Zarina Bibi

By: Ahmed Abu Sultan/Arab America Contributing Writer    Gaza, also referred to as Gaza City, is a Palestinian city in the Gaza Strip. Inhabited since at least the 15th century BC, Gaza has been dominated by several different peoples and empires throughout its history. In Semitic languages, the meaning of the city name is fierce or strong. Gaza’s history of habitation dates back 5,000 years, making it one of the oldest cities in the world. Located on the Mediterranean coastal route between North Africa and the Levant, for most of its history, it served as a key port of southern Palestine and an important stopover on the spice trade route traversing the Red Sea. However, even with the modern crisis occurring there, the world turned a blind eye to the bleeding ancient city.

Ancient History

Settlement in the region of Gaza dates back to the ancient Egyptian fortress built in the Canaanite territory at Tell es-Sakan, to the south of present-day Gaza. The site went into decline throughout the Early Bronze Age II as its trade with Egypt sharply decreased. Another urban center known as Tell el-Ajjul began to grow along the Wadi Ghazza riverbed. During the Middle Bronze Age, a revived Tell es-Sakan became the southernmost locality in Palestine, serving as a fort. In 1650 BCE, when the Canaanite Hyksos occupied Egypt, a second city developed on the ruins of the first Tell as-Sakan. However, it was abandoned by the 14th century BCE, at the end of the Bronze Age.

During the reign of Tuthmosis III, the city became a stop on the Syrian-Egyptian caravan route. Gaza later served as Egypt’s administrative capital in Canaan. Gaza remained under Egyptian control for 350 years until it was conquered by the Philistines in the 12th century BC. Afterward, Gaza became part of the Philistine. According to the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Judges, Gaza was the place where Samson was imprisoned by the Philistines and met his death. A story worth telling that defined the population of that city even during the modern era. After being ruled by the Israelites, Assyrians, and then the Egyptians, Gaza achieved relative independence and prosperity under the Persian Empire. Greek culture consequently took root and Gaza earned a reputation as a flourishing center of Hellenistic learning and philosophy after the conquests of Alexander the Great.

Throughout the Roman period, Gaza was a prosperous city and received grants and attention from several emperors. A senate governed Gaza, and a diverse variety of Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians, Jews, Egyptians, Persians, and Bedouin populated the city. Gaza’s mint issued coins adorned with the symbols of gods and emperors.

“It’s not history repeating itself in Gaza, it’s horror repeating itself.” Dean Cavanagh

From Christians to Muslims to Christians to Muslims

Following the division of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century, Gaza remained under the control of the Eastern Roman Empire that in turn became the Byzantine Empire. The city prospered and was an important center for southern Palestine. However, it was not long before the Islamic conquest. In 634, Gaza was besieged by the Muslim Rashidun army under general ‘Amr ibn al-‘As, following the Battle of Ajnadayn between the Byzantine Empire and the Rashidun Caliphate in central Palestine. It was captured by the Muslim forces three years later. Believed to be the site where Muhammad’s great grandfather Hashim ibn Abd Manaf was buried, Gaza was not destroyed and its inhabitants were not attacked by ‘Amr’s army despite the city’s stiff and lengthy resistance. An aspect that will be repeated countless times across history. 

The arrival of the Muslim Arabs brought significant changes to Gaza. Initially, some of its churches were transformed into mosques, including the present Great Mosque of Gaza. A large segment of the population swiftly adopted Islam, and Arabic became the official language. In 767, Muhammad ibn Idris ash-Shafi’i was born in Gaza and lived his early childhood there; he founded the Shafi’i religious code, one of the four major Sunni Muslim schools of fiqh (religious law). Security, which was well-maintained during early Muslim rule, was the key to Gaza’s prosperity. Although alcohol was banned in Islam, the Jewish and Christian communities were allowed to maintain wine production, and grapes, a major crop of the city, were exported mainly to Egypt.

The Crusaders conquered Gaza in 1100 and King Baldwin III built a castle in the city for the Knights Templar in 1149. He also had the Great Mosque converted back into a church, the Cathedral of Saint John. However, it did not last long before it was put under Mamluk rule. Afterward, the city was reduced to a village for the longest period under Ottoman rule. This signified the negligence the Eastern Ottomans had towards the religion they adopted to further their interest in the region.

“Imagine urself waking up & finding urself inside that roar of rockets, bombardment & death symphony played by the howling of weepings.” Bela Anĝelo

Western Colonialism

While leading the Allied Forces during World War I, the British won control of the city during the Third Battle of Gaza in 1917. After the war, Gaza was included in Mandatory Palestine. In the 1930s and 1940s, Gaza underwent a major expansion. New neighborhoods were built along the coast and the southern and eastern plains. International organizations and missionary groups funded most of this construction. Much of that work was reversed not long after due to the 1948 crisis.

In the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan, Gaza was assigned to be part of an Arab state in Palestine but was occupied by Egypt following the 1948 Israeli-Arab War. Gaza’s growing population was augmented by an influx of refugees fleeing or expelled from nearby cities, towns, and villages that were captured by Israel. In 1957, Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser made a number of reforms in Gaza, which included expanding educational opportunities and the civil services, providing housing, and establishing local security forces.

Gaza was occupied by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War following the defeat of the Egyptian Army. Frequent conflicts have erupted between Palestinians and the Israeli authorities in the city since the 1970s. The tensions led to the First Intifada in 1987. Gaza was a center of confrontation during this uprising, and economic conditions in the city worsened. Since that point in time, Gaza fell into a dark cloud where there is no future in sight. Whenever the people of the city take one step forward, something happens that takes them 500 steps back. Nowadays, the city is under strenuous siege, further choking the unrelenting population. We can only hope that maybe tomorrow will be better, and this cloud will be lifted.


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Arab America contributor, Ahmed Abu Sultan, illustrates the history behind the ancient city of Gaza. Ever since its foundation, the city was handed to countless civilizations that impacted the culture populating that area. Nowadays, the city of Gaza is under worse conditions than ever. God knows what tomorrow will bring this ancient city.