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Arab Republic of Palestine

جمهورية فلسطين العربية (Arabic)
Jumhuriat Filastin Al-Arabiyah
Palestine OGP.svg
Area highlighted in green is controlled by the Republic of Palestine.
Capital Jerusalem
Official languages Arabic
Ethnic groups
89.25% Arab
3.24% Armenian
2.78% Kurd
2.01% Chechen
1.69% Assyrian
1.03% Others
90.44% Islam
7.84% Christianity
1.01% Bahaʼi
0.71% Druzism
Demonym(s) Palestinian
Government Unitary parliamentary republic
• President
Mehmud Nassar Halaby
Jablah K. K. Beshara
Legislature Majlis
• Total
176,846 km2 (68,281 sq mi)
• Water (%)
• 2022 estimate
• 2020 census
• Density
88.19/km2 (228.4/sq mi)
GDP (PPP) 2020 estimate
• Total
Increase $719.018 billion
• Per capita
GDP (nominal) 2020 estimate
• Total
Increase $543.899 billion
• Per capita
Gini (2020) Positive decrease 24.33
HDI (2020) Increase 0.916
very high
Currency Palestinian Dinar (PSD)
Time zone UTC+2 (EET)
• Summer (DST)
Date format dd/mm/yyyy
Driving side right
Calling code +970
ISO 3166 code PS
Internet TLD .ps

Palestine, officially the Arab Republic of Palestine (Arabic: جمهورية فلسطين العربية), is a country in Western Asia. It is located in the southern Levant region and it borders Syria to the north and northeast, Hashemite Arabia to the southeast, the Red Sea to the south, Egypt to the southwest, and the Mediterranean Sea to the west and northwest. Jerusalem is the capital and largest city, and it contains the Free City of Jerusalem which includes the ancient quarters of the Old City within a unique administrative state of being under League of Nations supervision while still nominally part of Palestine. The vast majority of Palestine's 15.81 million people are Muslims, with most of those being Sunni Muslims along with minorities of Shiites and other sects. Other significant religious groups include Christians, among whom Maronite Catholics are the majority, followed by Jews and Druze.

The territory of Palestine has some of the earliest evidence of human habitation outside of Africa. The Palestinian city of Jericho is claimed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, with signs of hunter-gatherers being present there nearly 12,000 years ago, around the end of the last Ice Age and the beginning of the current Holocene epoch in Earth's geologic history. The discovery of agriculture reached this region around 9,000 years ago, and there are signs of continuous habitation from the Neolithic through the Bronze Age. The term Palestine is believed to be derived from "Peleset," the name given to people from this region by Ancient Egypt's Twentieth Dynasty. During this time it was inhabited by the maritime cultures of the Philistines and the Phoenicians. From about 500 BC the region was ruled by the Achaemenid Empire, which was followed by the Macedonian, Ptolemaic, and Seleucid empires, before being incorporated into the Roman civilization as the province of Judea. The Romans renamed the province "Syria Palaestina" (Syrian Palestine) after the defeat of the Jews in the Jewish-Roman Wars.

The region's population did not recover for centuries after the Jewish-Roman Wars, and Jews were no longer the majority after the 4th century AD. Christians were most of the population throughout Late Roman and Byzantine Palestine. This remained the case even after the Muslim conquest of the Levant in the 7th century, which began an Arabization of the Palestinian population over time and conversion to Islam. It was ruled by Islamic caliphates such as the Umayyads, Abbasids and the Fatimids, although Mount Lebanon in northern Palestine maintained a Christian monastic tradition known as the Maronite Church. The Maronites maintained their identity and reestablished communion with Roman Catholic Church during the Crusades. A newer religious group called the Druze established themselves in the region as well. Muslims became the majority of the population around the end of the Crusades, seeing the fall of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, and Palestine was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire. Palestine remained under Ottoman rule for 400 years until Great War I, when the Arab Revolt led to the overthrow of the Ottomans and the founding of an independent Republic of Palestine with a unique confessionalist form of government, where each religious group – Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Druze – was allocated a certain amount of political offices.

Initially the Republic of Palestine was stable, but the Cold War contributed to the disintegration of the confessionalist government. Because of tensions between the Maronite Christians, Jews, and the pan-Arab Muslims, in 1958 the Palestinian Ba'ath Party – known as the Arab Nationalist Movement, a branch of the wider Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party – won a majority of seats in parliament. Hashemite Arabia launched a military intervention in 1960 in response to this to prevent the Palestinian Ba'ath from taking power, as the Ba'ath movement was seen as posing a threat to the traditional Arab kingdoms. After this the Hashemites used Palestine to invade Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, when Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser moved to nationalize the Suez Canal. The Suez Crisis ended with the Hashemites being expelled from Palestine and the Sinai by the Egyptian Army before a resolution for the conflict was worked out through the League of Nations. As a result, Palestine's new government was left to the Ba'ath Party with support from Egypt, which declared the Arab Republic of Palestine in 1960.

Palestine has been a unitary semi-presidential republic under the dictatorship of the Ba'ath Arab Nationalist Movement since 1960. The Democracy Index of the Economist Intelligence Unit classifies it as an "authoritarian regime." Since the start of the Syrian War in 2004 Palestine has seen a large influx of Syrian refugees, with an estimated 1.6 million Syrians residing in the country as of 2019. Palestine is classified as a middle-income country by the World Bank with a service-oriented economy, although it has a significant manufacturing industry, and is developing a growing high-tech sector in the 21st century. Palestine is a member of the League of Nations, the Arab League, and OMEAD.


The origins of the word "Palestine" has been debated widely by the etymological community. However, a widely accepted theory is that the word is derived from the ancient Egyptian and Hebrew word “פּיליסהית” (“peleshet”)—which roughly translates to "rolling" or "migratory", and was used to describe the inhabitants of the land in northeastern Egypt: Philistines. A derivative of the word “Palestine” first appeared in ancient Greek records when historian Herodotus described the region inhabited by the Philistines as "Palaistine".

When Judaism was at its peak, the area came to be known as "Syria Palaestina", following the merger Roman Syria and Roman Judea after the Bar Kokhba revolt. The name remained until the Byzantine period, during which it was known as “Palaestina Prima”, “Palaestina Secunda”, and “Palaestina Salutaris”. The Muslim administration that followed continued to use Byzantine terms, but in Arabic. The name eventually evolved into the modern word “Palestine” in Early Modern English}, and was used widely during the Mutasarrifate Administration of Jerusalem. Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and the concession of the area thereafter, it became known as its present-day name— “Republic of Palestine” or simply “Palestine”.



The earliest human remains in Palestine were found in Ubeidiya, some 3 km south of the Sea of Tabariya (Lake Tiberias), in the Al-Ghor Valley. The remains were dated to the Pleistocene period (circa. 1.5 million BP). These were the earliest traces of migration of the Homo erectus out of Africa. The site yielded hand axes, sharpened stone, and other tools of the Acheulean type.

Bronze Age and the New Kingdom of Egypt

By the early Bronze Age (circa. 3000–2200 BCE), independent Canaanite city-states situated in plains and coastal regions and surrounded by mud-brick defensive walls were established relying on nearby agricultural hamlets for their food. The Canaanite city-states held trade and diplomatic relations with Egypt and Syria. Parts of the Canaanite urban civilization were destroyed around 2300 BCE, though there is no consensus as to why. Incursions by nomads from the east of the Al-Ghor River who settled in the hills followed soon thereafter.

In the Middle Bronze Age (circa. 2200–1500 BCE), the Canaanite region was influenced by the surrounding civilizations of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Phoenicia, Minoan Crete, and Syria. Diversity in commercial ties and an agriculturally based economy led to the development of new pottery forms, the cultivation of grapes, and the extensive use of bronze. Burial customs from this time seemed to be influenced by a belief in the afterlife. The Middle Egyptian execration texts attest to Canaanite trade relations with Egypt during this period. The Minoan influence is apparent at “Mound of Coffee” archeological tell outside the seaside town of Nahariya.

During 1550–1400 BCE, the Canaanite cities became vassals to the Egypt state as the Egyptian New Kingdom reunited Egypt and expanded into the Levant under Ahmose I and Thutmose I. Political, commercial and military events towards the end of this period (circa. 1450–1350 BCE) were recorded by ambassadors and Canaanite proxy rulers for Egypt in 379 cuneiform tablets known as the Amarna Letters. These refer to several local proxy rulers for Egypt such as Biridiya of Megiddo, Lib'ayu of Shechem and Abdi-Heba of Jerusalem.

After a brief period away from Egyptian rule, in the first year of his reign, the pharaoh Seti I (circa. 1294–1290 BCE) waged a campaign to resubordinate Canaan to Egyptian rule, thrusting north as far as Baysan, and installing local vassals to administer the area in his name. A burial site yielding a scarabs bearing his name, found within a Canaanite coffin excavated in the Jezreel Valley, attests to Egypt's presence in the area.

Iron Age and the kingdoms of Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia

The Iron Age in Palestine stretches from about the 12th century to the 5th century BCE. For long, historians relied on the stories in the Hebrew Bible to create a narrative of the period. These stories have largely been discarded as myths as more archaeological finds have been unearthed that paints a radically different view of the epoch.

Sometime in the 12th century BCE, a group of people known as the Philistines occupied the southern coast of Palestine. The Philistines were credited with introducing iron weapons, chariots, and new ways of fermenting wine to the local population. Over time the Philistines integrated with the local population and they, like the other people in Palestine, were engulfed by first the Assyrian empire and later the Babylonian empire. Over time, the 6th century, they disappeared from written history.

Traces of early Israelites appeared at about the same time as the Philistines. The Israelites inhabited Palestine's barren hillside, a loosely defined highland region stretching from the Judean hills in the south to the Samarian hills in the north. The population, at most forty-five thousand, were poor and lived relatively isolated from the Canaanite city-states that occupied the plains and the coastal regions. By the 8th century BCE, the population had grown to some 160,000 individuals over 500 settlements split into the two kingdoms—Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Israel was the more prosperous of the kingdoms and developed into a regional power while Judah was economically marginal and backward. In contrast to the Philistines, the Israelites did not eat pork, preferred plain pottery, and circumcised their boys.

The socio-political system during the early Iron Age was characterized by infighting among the chieftains in Palestine as Egypt withdrew from the region. This lasted until around the mid-9th century when local chieftains managed to create large political structures that exceeded the boundaries of those present in the Late Bronze Age Levant.

Later on, Omride kings greatly expanded the Israelite kingdom. In the mid-9th century, it stretched from the vicinity of Damascus in the north to the territory of Moab in the south, ruling over a large number of non-Israelites. In 853 BCE, the Israelite king Ahab led a coalition of anti-Assyrian forces at the Battle of Qarqar that repelled an invasion by King Shalmaneser III of Assyria. Some years later, King Mesha of Moab, a vassal of Israel, rebelled against it, destroying the main Israelite settlements east of Jordan.

In the 830s BCE, king Hazael of Aram Damascus conquered the fertile and strategically important northern parts of Israel which devastated the kingdom. In the later part of the 9th century BCE, Israel under King Jehu became a vassal to Assyria and was forced to pay tribute.

Classical antiquity

Hellenistic period

In the late 330s BCE, Alexander the Great conquered Palestine on his way to Egypt. The conquest was a relatively uncomplicated as Persian control of the region had already waned. Tyre and Gaza were the only cities that did not immediately submit to Alexander, who consequently slaughtered their citizens as punishment.

After Alexander's death in 323 BCE, his vast empire was divided between his generals, known as the Diadochi ("successors"), who fought amongst each other for maximum control. Ptolemy I Soter established himself as the ruler of Egypt. His main rival was Antigonus I Monophthalmus, with whom he wrestled for control of Palestine for several decades. Ptolemy took Palestine in 320-318 BCE, but had to withdraw in 315 BCE to avoid a confrontation with Antigonus. With the help of Seleucus I Nicator, he captured Palestine again in 312 BCE, but could only hold it for a few months as Antigonus’ armies were approaching again. The events of 312 BCE repeated in 302 BCE, but in 301 BCE Antigonus was defeated by a coalition of the other Diadochi kings and the province was awarded to Seleucus. Seleucus did not attempt to conquer the province he was due and his former ally, Ptolemy, occupied it. However, he did not relinquish his claim to it, leading to several wars being fought for the control of Palestine between Ptolemy's and Seleucid's successors over the following century. In the fifth of these wars, in 201/200 BCE, the Seleucids conquered Palestine from the Ptolemies for good.

In contrast to the Persians, who stayed out of the internal affairs of the conquered peoples, the Greeks introduced Greek language, culture, customs, religion and architecture to the regions that they controlled — a process called hellenization ("greekification"). Hellenization was pervasive in Palestine; speaking Greek and adopting Greek customs conferred many benefits for the middle and upper classes. Hellenistic pottery absorbed with Philistine traditions flourished. Hellenization took root first in the densely settled coastal and lowland areas, and only really began to impinge on more backward areas such as Judea in the early 2nd century.

Roman period

In 63 BCE, a war of succession in the Hasmonean court provided the Roman general Pompey with the opportunity bring Palestine under Roman control, starting a centuries-long period of Roman rule. He installed Hyrcanus II, one of the Hasmonean pretenders, as High Priest but denied him the title of king. Most of the territory that the Hasmoneans had conquered were awarded to other kingdoms, and the territory of Judea now only included Judea proper, Samaria (except for the city of Samaria which was renamed Sebaste), southern Galilee, and eastern Idumaea. In 57 BCE, the Romans and Jewish loyalists stamped out an uprising organized by Hyrcanus' enemies. Hoping to quell further unrest, the Romans restructured the kingdom into five autonomous districts, each with its own religious council with centers in Jerusalem, Sepphoris, Jericho, Amathus, and Gadara.

Poleis that had been occupied or even destroyed by the Hasmoneans were rebuilt and they regained their self-governing status. This amounted to a rebirth for many of the Greek cities and made them Rome's trusty allies in an otherwise unruly region. They expressed their gratitude by adopting new dating systems commemorating Rome's advent, renaming themselves after Roman officials, or minting coins with monograms and imprints of Roman officials. In 40 BCE, the Parthians exploited the turmoil in the Roman world and conquered Syria and Palestine. The Roman senate appointed Herod I, the son of Hyrcanus' leading partisan Antipater, king and tasked him with reconquering Palestine. He succeeded with the help of Roman and Jewish troops and in 37 BCE his conquest of Jerusalem was followed by a massacre of its Jewish inhabitants. Like Herod himself, his troops were non-Judean Jews who resented the Judeans. Thus Herod became king over a client kingdom to Rome.

Religious revolution and Byzantine period

The first century was a time of religious revival in Jewish Palestine. Eschatological beliefs, which to the Jews meant divine intervention that would free them from foreign domination and usher in a golden age of peace and prosperity, were common. Eschatologists taught that people should repent in anticipation of a final judgement, preceding this golden age. A number of Jewish sects were active and many teachers, healers, and miracle workers gathered large followings in the countryside. One of them was the Jesus who, according to his followers, rose from the dead after he had been executed through crucifixion, thus proving that he was Messiah. His followers became known as Christians and their religion Christianity, from the Greek word "Christos," meaning Messiah. Christianity began as a Jewish sect, but as few Jews accepted Jesus as Messiah it began welcoming non-Jews too. This represented a major theological shift as in those days religious Jews avoided non-Jews and allowed Christianity to become a world religion.

Prior to the Great Revolt, blood sacrifice in the temple was the main form of Jewish worship; men were expected to bring sacrifice on a regular basis and people living abroad either made pilgrimage or sent deputies who brought animals to sacrifice in their name. This gave the priesthood, who officiated in the temple, considerable economic power, political authority, and prestige. This social order, that had existed for centuries, vanished along with its institutions - the office of the High Priest and the Sanhedrin - when the temple was destroyed. In its place, a new form of Judaism emerged, replacing the temple with the synagogue and sacrifice with prayer and study of Scripture. Spearheading this transformation were the spiritual successors of the Pharisees, the Rabbis, one of the groups for whom the temple wasn't central. They feared that traditions and religious laws that up to that point had only been passed down orally would be lost and began writing them down. This effort culminated in the Babylonian Talmud, compiled around 499 in Babylon. The Babylonian Talmud (often called just "the Talmud") contains commentaries and debates on the Hebrew Bible and Halacha, the Jewish religious law. It became one of the central texts of Rabbinic Judaism, the mainstream form of Judaism since the 6th century. Both Christians and Jews abhorred the obligatory Roman practice of making sacrifices to the Roman Gods as idolatry. Jews were exempted from making such sacrifices and from 70 CE instead paid a tax known as fiscus Judaicus. Christians, on the other hand, were not exempted and their unwillingness to make sacrifices led to them being persecuted.

The tide turned in Christianity's favor in the 4th century. The century began with the most intense persecution of Christians the empire had seen, but ended with Christianity becoming the Roman state church. Perhaps more than half of the empire's population had then converted to Christianity. Instrumental to this transformation was Rome's first Christian emperor Constantine the Great. He had ascended the throne by defeating his competitors in series of civil wars and he credited his victories to Christianity. Constantine became a fervent supporter of Christianity and issued laws conveying upon the church and its clergy fiscal and legal privileges and immunities from civic burdens. He also sponsored ecumenical councils, such as the Council of Nicaea, to settle theological disputes between Christian factions.

Rome's Christening had a profound impact on Palestine. Churches were built on sites venerated by Christians such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem were Jesus was thought to have been crucified and buried, and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem where he was thought to have been born. Of the over 140 Christian monasteries built in Palestine in this period, some were among the oldest in the world, including Mar Saba, is still in use to this day, Saint George's Monastery in Wadi Qelt, and the Monastery of the Temptation near Jericho. Men flocked to live as pious hermits in the Judean wilderness and soon Palestine became a center for eremitic life. The eucemenical council in Chalcedon in 451 elevated Jerusalem to a patriarchate and, together with Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, and Constantinpole, it became one of five self-governing centers for Christianity. This elevation greatly boosted the Palestinian church's international prestige.

The Byzantine era was a time of great prosperity and cultural flourishing in Palestine. New areas were cultivated, urbanization increased, and many cities reached their peak populations. Towns increasingly acquired new civic basilicas, porticoed streets with space for shops, and the erection of churches and other religious buildings invigorated their economies. The total population of Palestine may have exceeded one and a half million, its highest ever until the twentieth century.

Early Muslim administration

In the late 6th century, the Arab leader Muhammad founded a new monotheistic religion called Islam whose followers became known as Muslims. Muhammad united the Arabian tribes into a religious polity, a caliphate, ruled by caliphs, whose domains he and his successors extended into a vast empire through holy war (jihad). They conquered Palestine in 636 to 640.

Society in the caliphate formed a pyramid with five layers. Arabs were at the top, followed by converts to Islam (Mawali) (this distinction disappeared after the Abbasids seized power). Below them stood dhimmis, followed by non-Muslim free men and slaves at the bottom. The dhimmi (meaning "protected person") were Christians, Jews, and Samaritans, who the Muslims designated as "peoples of the Book" (Ahl al-Qitab), meaning that they, like the Muslims, based their worship on a book God had given to them, which, in its essence, was identical to the Quran. Unlike the previous rulers, the Muslims allowed them to practice their religions in peace. However, non-Muslim men had to pay a special tax (Jizya) and they had to be submissive to Muslims. Dress regulations were imposed on non-Muslims, but it is uncertain whether they were ever enforced in Palestine. Muslim men were permitted to marry non-Muslim women even if the latter choose to remain in their faith. Muslim women, however, could not marry non-Muslim men, unless they first converted to Islam. The Muslims also lifted the Romans' centuries-long ban on Jews in Jerusalem.

Crusader intervention

Crusader intervention Christian Europe, though still backwards, had by the end of the 11th century become a significant power. While Palestine was a faraway land, pilgrimage had nurtured a special bond between the region and the Europeans who considered it a holy land. Impediments to the pilgrimage traffic to Palestine, of which there were many in the late 11th century, were cause for serious concern. Meanwhile, a doctrine of holy war developed under which warfare to aid Christians or to defend Christianity was seen as virtuous. Additionally, relations between the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity - which had been chilly schisms - were improving. These factors meant that when the Byzantines called for help against the Muslims, the western Europeans obliged and launched the first of a number of military expeditions called crusades.

The first crusade captured the entire eastern Mediterranean coast, from modern-day Turkey in the north to the Sinai in the south. Crusader states were organized in the captured territory, one of which was the Kingdom of Jerusalem, founded in 1100, encompassing most of Palestine and modern-day Lebanon. More crusades followed as the Latins and the Muslims battled for control over Palestine.

In 1187, Palestine, including Jerusalem, was captured by the Egyptian-based Ayyubid dynasty. However, the Ayyubids failed to take Tyre and the crusader states in the north. This allowed the crusaders to launch another crusade that by 1192 had occupied most of the Palestinian coast down to Jaffa, but, crucially, it failed to retake Jerusalem. Negotiations between the Latins and the Ayyubids resulted in a treaty, securing unfettered access to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem for Christian pilgrims, but the holy city would remain in Ayyubid hands and the True Cross would not be returned.

This state of affairs, with the Kingdom of Jerusalem reduced to a sliver of coastal land, would remain for most of the 13th century. Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth, as well as a thin strip of land connecting the cities to the coast, was awarded the kingdom in 1229 following negotiations that concluded the Sixth Crusade. Ten years earlier, the Ayyubids had destroyed Jerusalem's city walls to prevent the Latins from capturing a fortified city. In 1244, Jerusalem was captured by Khwarizmians who went on to burn churches and to massacre the Christian population. The shock of the atrocities goaded the Latins into action. The Latin nobility pooled all the resources they had together into the largest field army amassed in the East since the late 12th century. Strengthened by troops from dissident Muslim rulers, they met the Ayyubid-Kwarizmian coalition at the Battle of La Forbie north-east of Gaza. There, they suffered a disastrous defeat, marking the end of Latin influence in southern and central Palestine. In 1291, the Mamluks destroyed Acre, the Kingdom of Jerusalem's capital and last stronghold.

The Europeans interest in crusading gradually waned over time. New ideas about what a "good Christian life" meant emerged and seeking redemption for sins through action became less central. To boot, "heretical" beliefs within Europe became a major issue for Latin Christianity, taking focus away from Palestine.

Military orders made up of pious knights, combining monastic discipline with martial skill, were organized in the crusader states. The duties of these were to defend strategic areas and to serve in the crusader armies. The most famous orders were the Knights Templar, named after their headquarters in the al-Aqsa mosque which they called the Temple of Solomon. The nearby Dome of the Rock was used as a church. Another famous order were the Hospitallers, renowned for caring for the poor and sick. In Palestine, where crusades came and went, the orders provided stability otherwise impossible to maintain.

Many customs and institutions were imported from the territories of Western Europe from which the crusaders came, and there were close familial and political connections with the West throughout the kingdom's existence. It was, however, a relatively minor kingdom in comparison and often lacked financial and military support from Europe.

The kingdom grew closer to the neighbouring Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia and the Byzantine Empire, from which it inherited "oriental" qualities, and the kingdom was also influenced by pre-existing Muslim institutions. However, when Arnulf of Chocques was appointed Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem for the second time in 1112, he prohibited non-Catholic worship at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Socially, the "Latin" inhabitants from Western Europe had almost no contact with the Muslims and Eastern Christians whom they ruled.

Under the Crusader rule, fortifications, castles, towers and fortified villages were built, rebuilt and renovated across Palestine largely in rural areas. A notable urban remnant of the Crusader architecture of this era is found in Acre's old city and on the island of Arwad.

During the period of Crusader control, it has been estimated that Palestine had only 1,000 poor Jewish families. Jews fought alongside the Muslims against the Crusaders in Jerusalem in 1099 and Haifa in 1100.

Later Muslim administration

The Mamluk Sultanate was indirectly created in Egypt as a result of the Seventh Crusade, which had been launched in reaction to the 1244 destruction of Jerusalem. The crusade failed after Louis IX of France was defeated and captured by Ayyubid Sultan Turanshah at the Battle of Fariskur in 1250. Turanshah was killed by his Mamluk soldiers a month after the battle and his step-mother Shajar al-Durr became Sultana of Egypt with the Mamluk Aybak as Atabeg. The Ayyubids relocated to Damascus, where they continued to control Palestine for a further 10 years.

In the late 13th century, Palestine and Syria became the primary front against the fast-expanding Mongol Empire, whose army reached Palestine for the first time in 1260, beginning with the Mongol raids into Palestine under Nestorian Christian general Kitbuqa. Mongol leader Hulagu Khan sent a message to Louis IX of France that Jerusalem had been remitted to the Christians under the Franco-Mongol Alliance; however, shortly thereafter he had to return to Mongolia following the death of Mongke, leaving Kitbuqa and a reduced army. Kitbuqa then engaged with the Mamluks under Baibars in the pivotal Battle of Ain Jalut in the Jezreel Valley. The Mamluks' decisive victory in Palestine is seen as one of world history's most significant battles, establishing a high-water mark for the Mongol conquests. The Mongols were, however, able to engage into some further brief raids in 1300 under Ghazan and Mulay, reaching as far as Gaza. Jerusalem was held by the Mongols for four months.

The Mamluks, continuing the policy of the Ayyubids, made the strategic decision to destroy the coastal area and to bring desolation to many of its cities, from Tyre in the north to Gaza in the south. Ports were destroyed and various materials were dumped to make them inoperable. The goal was to prevent attacks from the sea, given the fear of the return of the crusaders. This had a long-term effect on those areas, which remained sparsely populated for centuries. The activity in that time concentrated more inland.

Palestine formed a part of the Damascus Wilayah (district) under the rule of the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt and was divided into three smaller sanjaks (subdivisions) with capitals in Jerusalem, Gaza, and Safed. Due in part to the many conflicts, earthquakes and the Black Death that hit the region during this era, the population is estimated to have dwindled to around 200,000. The Mamluks constructed a "postal road" from Cairo to Damascus, that included lodgings for travelers (khans) and bridges, some of which survive to this day (see Jisr Jindas, near Lod). The period also saw the construction of many schools and the renovation of mosques neglected or destroyed during the Crusader period.

In 1377 the major cities of Palestine and Syria revolted, following the death of Al-Ashraf Sha'ban. The revolt was quelled and a coup d'etat was staged by Barquq in Cairo in 1382, founding the Mamluk Burji dynasty. Palestine was celebrated by Arab and Muslim writers of the time as the "blessed land of the prophets and Islam's revered leaders"; Muslim sanctuaries were "rediscovered" and received many pilgrims. In 1486, hostilities broke out between the Mamluks and the Ottoman Turks in a battle for control over western Asia. The Ottomans proceeded to conquer Palestine following their 1516 victory over the Mamluks at the Battle of Marj Dabiq. Ottoman conquest of Palestine was relatively swift, with small battles fought against the Mamluks in the Jordan Valley and at Khan Yunis en route to the Mamluk capital in Egypt. There were also minor uprisings in Gaza, Ramla and Safad, which were quickly suppressed. The Ottomans maintained the administrative and political organisation that the Mamluks left in Palestine. Greater Syria became an eyalet (province) ruled from Damascus, while the Palestine region within it was divided into the five sanjaks (provincial districts, also called liwa′ in Arabic) of Safad, Nablus, Jerusalem, Lajjun and Gaza. The sanjaks were further subdivided into subdistricts called nawahi (sing. nahiya). For much of the 16th century, the Ottomans ruled Damascus Eyalet in a centralised way, with the Istanbul-based Sublime Porte (imperial government) playing a crucial role in maintaining public order and domestic security, collecting taxes, and regulating the economy, religious affairs and social welfare. Most of Palestine's population, estimated to be around 200,000 in the early years of Ottoman rule, lived in villages. The largest cities were Gaza, Safad and Jerusalem, each with a population of around 5,000–6,000.

Ottoman property administration consisted of a system of fiefs called timar and trusts called Waqf. Timar lands were distributed by the sultan to various officers and officials, particularly from the elite sipahi units. A timar was a source of income for its holder, who was responsible for maintaining order and enforcing the law in the timar. Waqf land was owned by various individuals and its revenues were dedicated to religious functions and institutions, social welfare and individual beneficiaries. Over 60% of cultivated land in the Jerusalem Sanjak was Waqf land. To a lesser extent, there was also privately owned land predominantly located within villages and their immediate vicinity.

The name "Palestine" was no longer used as the official name of an administrative unit under the Ottomans because they typically named provinces after their capitals. Nonetheless, the old name remained in popular and semi-official use, with many examples of its usage in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries surviving. The 16th-century Jerusalem-based Islamic jurist Sayf al-Islam Abu'l Sa'ud Effendi defined the term as an alternative name for Arazi-i Muqaddas (Turkish for "the Holy Land"). The 17th-century Ramla-based jurist Khayr al-Din al-Ramli often used the term "Filastin" in his fatawat (religious edicts) without defining the term, although some of his fatawat suggest that it more or less corresponded with the borders of Jund Filastin.


Palestine is located in the Levant area of the Fertile Crescent region. The country is at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, Syria to the northeast, Hashemite Arabia to the east, and to the southwest. It lies between latitudes 29° and 34° N, and longitudes 34° and 36° E.

Despite its small relatively size, Palestine is home to a variety of geographic features, from the Naqab desert in the south to the inland fertile Jezreel Valley, mountain ranges of the Jalil, Karmil and towards the Hadbatu l-Jawlan in the north. The Palestinian coastal plain on the shores of the Mediterranean is home to most of the nation's population. East of the central highlands lies the Al-Ghor Valley, which forms a small part of the 6,500-kilometer (4,039 mi) Great Ghor Valley. The Al-Ghor River runs along the Al-Ghor Valley, from Mount Shaykh through the Huleh Valley and the Sea of Tabariya to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on the surface of the Earth. Further south is the Arabah, ending with the Gulf of Eilat, part of the Red Sea. Unique to Palestine are makhteshim, or erosion cirques. The largest makhtesh in the world is Ramani Crater in the Naqab, which measures 40 by 8 kilometers (25 by 5 mi). A report on the environmental status of the Mediterranean Basin states that Palestine has the largest number of plant species per square meter of all the countries in the basin. Palestine contains four terrestrial ecoregions: Eastern Mediterranean conifer-sclerophyllous-broadleaf forests, Southern Anatolian montane conifer and deciduous forests, Arabian Desert, and Mesopotamian shrub desert. It had a 2019 Forest Landscape Integrity Index mean score of 4.14/10, ranking it 135th globally out of 172 countries.

Tectonic activity and seismic movements

The Al-Ghor Valley is the result of tectonic movements within the Dead Sea Transform (DSF) fault system. The DSF forms the transform boundary between the African Plate to the west and the Arabian Plate to the east. The Golan Heights and all of Jordan are part of the Arabian Plate, while the Jalil, West Bank, Coastal Plain, and Naqab along with the Sinai Peninsula are on the African Plate. This tectonic disposition leads to a relatively high seismic activity in the region. The entire Al-Ghor Valley segment is thought to have ruptured repeatedly, for instance during the last two major earthquakes along this structure in 749 and 1033. The deficit in slip that has built up since the 1033 event is sufficient to cause an earthquake of Mw ~7.4.

The most catastrophic known earthquakes occurred in 31 BCE, 363, 749, and 1033 CE, that is every ca. 400 years on average. Destructive earthquakes leading to serious loss of life strike about every 80 years. While stringent construction regulations are currently in place and recently built structures are earthquake-safe, as of 2007 the majority of the buildings in Palestine were older than these regulations and many public buildings as well as 50,000 residential buildings did not meet the new standards and were "expected to collapse" if exposed to a strong earthquake.


Foreign relations


See also

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