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by Gary Fitleberg


What is the history of Gaza? Who holds claim to Gaza?

Gaza, or in Hebrew, Azza, is a city on the southern coastal plain of Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel, today Medinat Yisrael, or the modern nation State of Israel). In Biblical times, G-d gave this Holy Land as a gift, as an eternal covenant that can never, ever be broken, to the Children of Israel (the descendants of Jacob). This is clearly documented in the Deed of Trust to the land, which is the Bible. Two great gifts that can't be given away or stolen.

Gaza was a settlement about three miles from the Mediterranean coast, marking the southern border of ancient, Biblical Canaan. Its original inhabitants were a group of people known as the Avvites (Deut. 2;23; Josh. 13:3). This distinct group of people is now extinct.

It was captured and conquered by the men of the tribe of Judah (Judges 1:18) and was included in the allotment given to that tribe (Josh. 15:47). It remained in the possession of the Canaanites until the beginning of the 12th century BCE, when it became occupied by the Philistines. It was part of the Philistine Pentapolis, the southern-most city in that league of five cities (Josh. 13:3 1 Sam. 6:17; Jer. 25.20). As part of the Philistine Pentapolis, Gaza played an important role in the story of Samson (Judges 13-16).

Just to set the factual and historical record straight, the Philistines were a Mediterranean seafaring nation that is completely extinct today. They are not one and the same people as the Arab nation and people calling themselves "Palestinians" today. These Arabs are the descendants of Ishmael. The name "Palestine" and "Palestinians" evolved from the name Philistia, which was given to the area by the Roman conquerors as an insult to the Jewish people (named for the tribe of Judah and area of Judea). The name has been hijacked by the Arabs to lay a false claim to a land that does not belong to them Biblically, historically, legally, morally or rightfully.

In Gaza, the famous saga of Samson and his miraculous feats of strength took place. Samson perished in the Temple of Dagon while slaughtering his enemies (Judges 16). With the weakening of Egyptian support for the Philistines, the enemy finally submitted to David, who slew the giant Goliath in battle (II Sam. 5:25).

The Philistines, a distinct people, are also now extinct. >Let us now return to recounting the historical facts regarding Gaza.

It was the only city in its area to oppose Alexander the Great during 332 BCE. Later on, it was an outpost of the Ptolemies, who were the ruling power in Egypt during the Hellenistic period, until its capture in 98 BCE by Assyria's Antiochus III, the Seuclid king in control of an empire.

The city was subsequently attacked and reconquered by Jonathan the Hasmonean during 145 BCE (1 Macc. 11:61-62).

During the Hasmonean civil war, the city was taken by Alexander Janneaeus in 96 BCE. The Roman Pomey restored the city and Galbinus, also a Roman official, rebuilt the city (circa 57 BCE).

King Herod the Great held the city for a short time, but after his death, it came under the authority of the Roman proconsul of Syria. It flourished as a Roman city and remained a center for the Jewish community and the emerging Christian community throughout the Roman era (963 BCE through 324 CE), and continued into the Byzantine period, 324 CE through 1453 CE.

According to the Karaite Sahl ben Mazli'ah, Gaza, Tiberias and Zoar were the three centers of pilgrimages in Eretz Yisrael during the Byzantine period.

Gaza, a fertile plain, rich in fruits, wheat and vineyards, was the site of three main fairs in Roman-occupied Palestine.

In a great battle fought near Gaza in 635 CE, the Arabs vanquished the Byzantines; the city itself fell soon afterward. It remained the seat of the governor of the Negev, as is known from the Nessana Papyri. In the eighth century, R. Moses, one of the Masorites, lived there. The Judean and Samarian communities of the Jewish people flourished under Arab rule.

Then, again, there were a succession of attackers, conquerors and occupiers of Jewish Gaza.

King Baldwin I of Jerusalem occupied the city, which was known in Crusader occupation times as Gadres. From the time of Baldwin III (1152 CE), it was a Templar stronghold. In 1170, it fell to Saladin. Under Mamluk occupation and rule, Gaza was capital of a district (mamlaka) embracing the whole coastal plain up to Athlit. After the destruction of Gaza by the Crusaders, the Jewish community ceased to exist.

In the eleventh century, a man known as Rabbi Ephraim of Gaza was head of the community of Fostat (old Cairo).

Nothing more was heard about Gaza until the 14th century. Meshullam of Volterra found 60 Jewish householders there during 1481 CE. All the wine of Gaza was produced by the Jews (A.M. Luncz, in Yerushalayim, 1918). Obadiah of Bertinoro records that when he was there in 1488, Gaza's rabbi was a certain Moses of Prague who had come from Jerusalem (Zwei Briefe, ed. by A. Neubeuer, 1863).

Gaza flourished under Ottoman rule. The Jewish community was once again flourishing and prosperous during the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Karaite Samuel ben David found a Rabbanite synagogue there in 1641 (Ginzei Yisrael be-St. Petersburg, ed. by J. Gurland, 1865). In the 16th century, there was a bet din and a yeshiva in Gaza. Some of its rabbis wrote scholarly works. Farm-owners were obliged to observe the laws of terumah (priestly tithe), ma'aserot (tithes) and the sabbatical year.

At the end of the 16th century, the Najara family supplied some of Gaza's rabbis. Israel Najara, son of the Damascus Rabbi Moses Najara, author of the Zemirot Yisrael, was Chief Rabbi of Gaza and president of the bet din in the mid 17th century.

In 1665, on the occasion of Shabbtai Zevi's visit to Gaza, the city became a center of the messianic movement. One of his principle disciples was Nathan of Gaza.

The city of Gaza was briefly militarily occupied once again, this time by Napoleon in 1799.

In the 19th century, the city of Gaza declined. The Jews that were concentrated there were mostly barley merchants. They bartered with the Bedouins for barley, which they exported to the beer breweries of Europe.

Gaza was a Turkish stronghold during World War I. Two British attacks made on Gaza during 1916-17 failed and it was finally taken during a flanking movement by Allenby. Under British Mandatory occupation and rule, Gaza developed slowly. The last Jews living in Gaza left the town as result of the Arab anti-Jewish disturbances and massacres that took place during 1929.

In 1946, Gaza's population was estimated at 19,500, all Muslim except for 720 Christians.

During Israel's defensive War of Independence, when five Arab armies invaded the reestablished Jewish homeland with the intent of its annihilation, the invading Egyptian army attacked, conquered and occupied Gaza. (That occupation lasted from May 1948 through June 1967, when Egypt again attacked, intent on annihilating the only Jewish homeland in the world from the map. Israel defeated its attackers and reconquered its rightful land.)

The town, together with the newly created Gaza Strip, was put under Egyptian administration by the armistice agreement of 1949. The influx of Arab refugees, who were told by the Arab aggressors that they could soon return after the Jews "were driven into the sea," later swelled the city's population at least fourfold. Bear in mind that most of the Arabs living in Eretz Yisrael at the time only came in the middle to late 1920s to escape economic hardship and political persecution by their own people.

The 1967 census showed that 87,793 Arab inhabitants and settlers lived in Gaza City proper, while only 30,479 lived in the refugee camp created by the Arabs' call for the annihilation of the Jewish nation-state. The latter lived within the municipal boundaries of Gaza. Of this number, 1,649 were Christians and the rest were Muslims.

Now, we can compare this with the number of Egypt's Jews who were forcibly expelled in the "Forgotten Exodus", whose properties were confiscated, who were brutally beaten, robbed, tortured and sometimes murdered.

More ancient evidence to consider.

In 1965, a mosaic pavement was discovered by the Egyptian Department of Antiquities. This mosaic, dated 508/9, was uncovered on the seashore of Gaza's harbor. Its figures include one of King David as Orpheus, dressed in Byzantine royal garments and playing the harp. The name "David" in Hebrew letters appears above it. A Greek inscription at the center of the floor, which mentions the names of two donors (Menahem and Jesse) of the mosaic to the "holy place" and the name David, testifies that a synagogue stood there.

In 1967, A. Ovadiah excavated the area and discovered a synagogue from the sixth century CE.

Archaeological evidence supports the Biblical premise of a continuous Jewish presence in Gaza, from the late Bronze Period until the Byzantine Period (circa 1500 BCE through 632 CE).

Evidence of a considerable Jewish presence in Gaza during the Talmudic period is provided also by a relief of a menorah, a shofar, a lulav and an etrog, which appears on a pillar of the Great Mosque of Gaza, along with various Hebrew and Greek inscriptions.

Despite the fact that there have been many foreign occupations of Gaza, the territory belongs to the Jewish people.

There can be no honest dispute who this land belongs to Biblically, historically, legally, morally, and rightfully - the Children of Israel.


Gary Fitleberg is a political analyst specializing in International Relations with emphasis on Middle East affairs. This article was an opinion piece July 8, 2005 in Arutz Sheva (

Thanks are due David Haimson for bringing this article to our attention. To subscribe to Haimson's daily links to articles about Israel, send his an email at


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