Chapter No.4:Population and Arab Settlement under Arabic- Muslim Occupation,640 - 1099 / Dr.Rivka Shpak Lissak

Chapter 4: Population and Arab Settlement in the Land of Israel under Arabic-Muslim Occupation (640 – 1099 CE)

This is the fourth chapter in the series:
“How the Jewish Majority in the Land of Israel was obliterated”:
Chapter 1: The Roman Policy – Obliterating the Jewish Cultural and National Entity
Chapter 2: The Christian-Byzantine Regime – Failure of Efforts to Convert
Chapter 3: The Arabic-Muslim Rule: Acculturation without Islamization


In his article “View of an Era: Status of the Land of Israel under Muslim Rule and during Political Change in the Muslim World”, Prof Moshe Gil states that the term ‘Bedouin’ was used interchangeably during that era with the term ‘Arab’, referring to those called Bedouins, past and present. Yitzhak Hasson notes in his article “The Spread of Arabic Tribes in the Land of Israel during the First Century of the Hajjara,” that some of the tribes were nomadic and some were not.

The Land of Israel is bordered by desert on several sides: The Syrian desert in the north-east, the Trans-Jordan desert east of the Jordan Valley, the Arabian desert, the Sinai desert, and the Negev in the south. Thus, at times when there was no strong central government, the country was exposed to invasions of Bedouin desert tribes who robbed, murdered, and pushed the local population to leave. The Bedouin tribes mostly originated from the Arabian Desert, but some entered the Land of Israel from the north and from Egypt.

Bedouin tribes tried to enter the country as early as the Roman occupation. But during the Roman period (63BCE – 324 CE) and until end of the Byzantine period (324CE – 640CE) their invasiosn were held back thanks to the two border fortification lines: The Limes Arabia along the border with the Syrian desert from Batzra in the Horan to Eylat, in the south, and the Limes Palestina from Moab in the east, through the west side of the Dead Sea, to the Beer Sheva Valley and on to Rafiah.

Yoram Zafrir’s study, “Security Challenges in the Desert Frontier during the Byzantine Period,” showed that the lines of fortifications, the Limes, were regularly manned with soldiers, and were not only a narrow fortification line but included a wide strip of agricultural settlements. Soldiers serving on the Limes received land as payment. The 10th Legion, which was stationed in Jerusalem after the Great Revolt (66CE – 70CE) was relocated at some point to defend the southern Limes. Its relocation south tells of the security situation in the south resulting from the pressure of the Bedouin tribes. Scholars disagree over when the Romans decided to build the Limas. Zafrir postulates that the decision was made at the time of the Emperor Diocletian, or earlier during the reign of the Emperor Aurelian, i.e., end of the 3rd century or early 4th century CE.

The Nitzana Papyri testify that at the end of the 6th century CE a decision was made to reduce the military personnel and maintain the Limes through the help of the ‘Border Guards’. These were some of the nomads themselves who were given the responsibility for securing the borders. Tribes stationed close to the borders were paid to guard them, under condition that they avoid attacking towns or trade-convoys and prevent the tribes living deeper in the desert from entering the country. The Byzantines supported the Kingdom of the Ghassanid (a Bedouin tribe from the Arabian peninsula) in the Syrian desert on the border of the Land of Israel. The Ghassanid Kingdom acted as a buffer against Bedouin invasion of the country. The Ghassanid tribes, who served as Byzantine mercenaries, moved from a nomadic lifestyle to permanent settlement and were converted to Christianity by monks from local monasteries.

According to Zafrir’s study, conditions along the borders destabilized at the beginning of the 7th century as the Byzantine Empire was weakened by its war with the Persians. Once the Byzantines ceased paying, the Ghassanid tribe considered itself no longer obliged to prevent the southern Bedouins from penetrating the country. The tribe's conversion to Christianity had not struck deep roots yet. It is possible that had the tribe continued to be paid to guard the border, the Arabic conquerors would have met stronger opposition.

Yitzhak Hasson determined in his article that it was not only Byzantium’s weakness that caused the border defenses to be abandoned. Up until the beginning of the 7th century the Ghassanid guarded the border well, but then their kingdom began to disintegrate as a result of internal conflicts, in addition to the cessation of Byzantine payments. According to Hasson, however, Ghassanid battalions fought alongside the Byzantines against the Arabs in the Yarmouk battle (636CE), along with men from the Baharaa, Salih, Tanuh, Lakham, Juddam, and Kalb tribes (called ‘Al Arab al Mousta’arba’ in Muslim sources).


During the Byzantine period the majority of the population in the Land of Israel was Christian, Jews and Samaritans were a minority, and Bedouin tribes lived on its desert frontier. The country’s population was comprised mostly of Greek-speaking Christians of Greek origin and Aramaic-speaking Syrian-Aramaeans forced to convert into Christianity during a conversion campaign carried out by the Church in collaboration with the Christian-Byzantine regime. The Jewish minority was concentrated mostly in the Galilee, the Samaritans lived mostly in Northern Samaria, and the Bedouins lived in the south and on the border of the cultivated areas.

Scholars disagree on population numbers during the Christian-Byzantine period. In his lecture “Bedouins in the Land of Israel under Islamic Rule” (given at Sde Bokker), Prof. Moshe Sharon estimated the population at 3.5 - 4 million. But most scholars disagree. Maggen Broshi, in his article “The Population of the Land of Israel,” based his estimate of 1 million on archaeological findings. Michael Avi Yona, in his book “Historical Geography of the Land of Israel,” gave an estimate of 1.5 million to 2 million.

These data do not take into account, on the one hand, the masses of Jews fleeing the country after the religious persecutions and massacres at the end of the Christian-Byzantine period, and, on the other hand, the Greek-Christians leaving the country on the eve of the Arabic conquest.

The Arabic conquerors left unchanged the country’s administrative structure. The country was divided into three districts:

Palestina-Prima: Judea, Samaria, and the coastal plains, with Caesarea as the district capital. The Arabs moved the capital to Ramle after its construction in 711CE.

Palestina-Secunda: The Galilee, the Valleys, and parts of Southern Lebanon, with Beth Shean (Scythopolis) as the district capital. The Arabs moved the capital to Tiberias.

Palestina-Tertia: The Negev, the Arava, with Petra as the district capital.

Each district was administratively and militarily well organized. The importance of Provincia Palestina grew as the status of Christianity rose in the Empire to become its official religion in the 4th century CE.

The districts’ names were changed to Arabic: Palestina-Prima was renamed Jund Falastin, while Palestina-Secunda was renamed Jund al Urdun.

According to Prof. Moshe Gil, the local population was already suffering from raids on farming communities and trade routes carried out by Bedouin tribes from the Arabian Desert, as the Christian-Byzantine rule weakened and the north-eastern borders defense was abandoned by the Ghassanid.

The Arabic conquest exacerbated the situation by its massacres of Jewish communities. The Arabs raided towns and villages as part of the fight against the Byzantines. Archaeological finds indicate that the Muslim conquest harmed Jewish farming – Father Sophrenius tells of wide spread destruction of Jewish agriculture in the Yezreel Valley, the Galilee and the South, and the demolition of synagogues in many Jewish towns.

The conquerors massacred the Christians as well – some 4000 Christians, Jews and Samaritans were massacred in the Gaza area and their villages destroyed.

The massacres of the Jewish and Christian population, the Bedouin raids and plunder and the struggles among Arabic dynasties for control over the land caused many Jews and Christians to flee the country.

The Islamization and acculturation (to Arabic Culture) policies were formulated only at the end of the 7th century or the beginning of the 8th. The Caliph Abd el Malek (685 – 705) gradually replaced the non-Muslim administration and established Arabic instead of Greek as the administrative language. He also instituted Arabic coinage in place of Persian and Byzantine coinage and introduced the Arabic language and culture to replace the Greek Christian culture.

A. The population on the Eve of the Arabic- Muslim Invasion
On the eve of the Arabic conquest Jews formed about 10% to 15% of the population, i.e., 150,000 to 200,000 individuals. The chapter on the Muslim occupation in the book “The North of Israel – the Galilee, the Golan, and the Valleys through the Ages,” ed. Ruth Polleg, explains that at the time of the Umayyad “the spread of Jewish settlement remained unchanged” and the Galilee was populated by Jews and Christians, but no Arabs. Joseph Braslavski, on the other hand, determined in his study, War and Self- Defense of the Jews until the Crusades, p.5, that the security and economic conditions brought about “the disintegration of the ancient Jewish settlement in the country and its slow death”. Benjamin Zeev Kedar disagrees. In his study "Between Arabs and Crusaders," he describes the restoration of the Jewish settlement between Arabic and Crusader times. Michael Avi Yona determined that on the eve of the Arabic conquest “there were 43 Jewish settlements in the country: 31 villages and 12 cities. Most of the villages were located in the Galilee, although there were a few remaining in the Jordan Valley. In the South and in the Negev Jews lived only in cities”. According to Mordecai Avi’am’s archaeological survey ( brought in Allenblum, Ronnie, Frankish Rural Settlements in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem), there were 56 settlements in the Eastern Galilee during the Byzantine period.

During the Arabic occupation some Jews returned to the Land of Israel. Jewish clans that were expelled from the Arab Peninsula by Muhammad settled in Jerusalem, Ramle, Jericho, and Trans-Jordan. Arabic sources estimated their number in the thousands.

B. Penetration Waves during the Arabic-Muslim Occupation (640 – 1099 CE)

There is no data on the number of Arabs who settled in the country.

In his lecture Moshe Sharon described three waves of Bedouin migration from the Arabian desert to the Fertile Crescent area, including Israel (the third wave, during the Ottoman period, is discussed in chapter Seven). These Bedouin invasions into the country brought ruin and destruction on the local population. Their penetration was made possible when the border defense was neglected as well as due to the Arabic-Muslim rulers’ policy of neglect within the country, that allowed the Bedouins to do as they pleased.

Most scholars agree that during the Umayyad period (640 – 750) there was not a significant Bedouin penetration into the Land of Israel. According to Prof Yitzhak Hasson in his article “The Spread of Arabic Tribes in the Land of Israel”, the Umayyad Bedouin policy was set by the Caliph Mou’awiya (640—680): “His policy was to maintain the order of life in the conquered areas under his rule in order to increase the taxes he raised, and his successors did the same”.

In contrast, during the Abbasside and Fatimid periods (750 – 1099), Bedouin penetration into the country increased gradually, although their penetration was not necessarily accompanied by settlement. Hasson determined that “only the fall of the Umayyad dynasty and the move of the center of the Muslim world from Syria to Iraq spurred the nomadization process”. The tribes who were living in the Negev advanced into the inner regions of the country, but maintained their nomad lifestyle there.

Sharon emphasizes that all the Arabic sources determine that for a long time following the Arabic conquest there was “no significant change in the population composition, which remained essentially the same as that known from the Byzantine period”. The Arabic population in the country was negligible. Sharon determined that “Bedouin tribes in large numbers did not penetrate the western region of the Land of Israel before the Fatimid period, the 10th and 11th centuries”. Prof Gil agrees with Sharon that there was no significant change in the population composition. One of his sources is the testimony of Muhammad Ben Abdallah Al Ma’afary from Seville who traveled the country in 1095 and reported that Christians formed the population majority. If, at the end of the Fatimid period, the majority of the country’s population was Christian, then quite likely this was the situation between the 7th and 10th century as well.

The Archaeologist Itamar Texel gave a lecture in 2005 titled “Characteristics of the Rural Populace in the Land of Israel at the Beginning of the Early Muslim Period,” reporting on archaeological surveys he conducted and concluding that “from surveying the types of sites and from the (little and uncertain) information given by these surveys, it seems that during the first few decades following the Muslim conquest, and perhaps even by the end of the 7th century, there was no significant change in the size of the rural population in the Land of Israel. Direct and indirect changes in the area’s economy, on the one hand, and the increasing pressures from the Muslim rule, on the other hand, gradually brought about (particularly during the latter half of the Umayyad period) the weakening of quite a few rural communities and the gradual decline in their size and number. This decline gathered momentum from the 8th century onwards.”

The First Wave, during the Umayyad Period

The Umayyad ruled the Land of Israel from 640 to 750CE. They moved their government center from the Arabian Peninsula to Damascus. The Land of Israel was only one part of their empire and was not their top priority. Throughout the period, the country was a battle field where the Umayyad fought other factions, adversely affecting the local economy. Nevertheless, the population was taxed by the government: at first, all non-Muslims had to pay the same tax, but as time went on this tax was split into the poll tax (Jeziye), land tax (Kharaj) and non-believers tax (Ahal Al Dhimma tax). Revenues from the non-believers tax were an important income source for the rulers.

The first migration wave began in the 7th century with the rise of Islam. The Muslim army emerging from the Arabian Peninsula was comprised of Bedouin warriors who moved along with their families and flocks. Prof Moshe Sharon, however, rejects the theory that the 7th century Arabic conquest was immediately accompanied by massive Arabic settlement in the country. He gives several reasons for the absence of massive Arabic settlement in the Land of Israel prior to the 10th century:

I. Umayyad policies (640-750CE) prevented Bedouins from entering the country.
The ruling Umayyad dynasty’s interest was to maintain the existing administrative and economic systems and to keep the peasant population on the land. Regional governors appointed by the Umayyad took pains to prevent the entry of Bedouins into settled areas. The Christian traveler Arkulfus who traveled the country in 670CE, shortly after the Arabic conquest, described it as densely populated with Christians from Jerusalem to the Galilee. Umayyad rulers signed treaties with the Christian and Jewish populations and promised to secure their lives and property. They kept in place the Christian administrators and Greek continued to be the administrative language until the 8th century, and in some places to the beginning of the 9th century.
II. The conquering army continued on to new conquests
Bedouin warriors did not settle on the land because they continued to advance towards Syria and other destinations. Arabic warriors advanced northwards to the Taurus Mountains, east towards Iran, and south-west towards Egypt and North Africa, and from there to Spain. Michael Assaf also states in his book, History of the Arab Rule in the Land of Israel, that the conquest thrust could not spare forces for settlement. The Arabs’ system was to establish cities in the conquered areas that served as military bases from where warriors emerged to conquer the surrounding areas. Israel is the only country where no such cities were built: Ramle was the only city built by the Arabs, in 711CE, nearly 100 years after the conquest. It was not a military base but an administrative center which replaced Caesarea as the capital of the Byzantine Palestina-Prima district. Sharon emphasizes that Arabs comprised a negligible minority in Ramle’s population. The Arabic geographer Al Ya’akubi wrote that Ramle’s population was mixed, and comprised mostly of Samaritans and Jews.
III. Preference for living in the periphery of settled areas
As the Bedouin warriors at that time were nomads, those who reached Israel were not interested in urban or agrarian life and preferred to live as nomads on the border of the settled region rather than within it. Furthermore, the settled regions were under the protection of the rulers. The Umayyad Caliphs themselves constructed their palaces on the border of the desert – for example, the Hisham palace near Jericho.Prof. Nehemia Levtzion, in book, Islam, an Introduction to the Religion’s History, wrote that the Arabs tended to segregate themselves, maintain their tribal social structure and nomadic life style, and did not settle in the populated region.

Hasson lists additional reasons for warriors avoiding the settled regions:

I. Fear of disease – the epidemic that broke out in the country in 639 resulted in the death of many warriors (some estimate as many as 25,000 died) including Muhammad’s cousin and commanders of the Arab army.
II. Absence of empty space – the Umayyad did not exile the local population. Only the Byzantine aristocracy and military fled the country, and, according to some historians, the Greek-Christian urban upper classes left as well.

Hasson notes one exception: Bedouins settled in Tiberias and Beth Shean. Prof Levtzion writes that Arabs occupied houses in inland cities – Tiberias, Jerusalem and others, that had been deserted by the Greek Christian upper classes who fled because of the Muslim conquest. Assaf writes that the surrender agreements of Beth Shean and Tiberias mention the transfer of 50% of the houses to Arabs.

At the end of the 7th century or the beginning of the 8th, a decision was made to also settle Muslims in the coastal cities of Ashkelon, Acre, Caesarea, and Tyre, to protect the country against Byzantine attacks from the sea. In his article “The Cities of the Land of Israel under Muslim Rule”, Prof Moshe Sharon points out that the Bedouin warriors were fearful of the sea and refused to settle along the coast despite being offered land in return, and therefore Muslim Persians were sent there to settle. Assaf, on the other hand, holds that Arabs did settle in the coastal cities and were given houses deserted by their fleeing Christian Greek owners; but maintained their separation from the rest of the population, settling in their own neighborhoods.

An Arabic 9th century source attests to the composition of the coastal cities population, which included Jews, Samaritans, Persians, Greeks, and a few Arabs.

At a later stage, soldiers released from the Caliph’s Muslim army settled in villages and towns that had been deserted by Christians fleeing ahead of the Arab conquerors, but no numerical data is available.

In summary, Umayyad policies did not emphasize Arabic settlement in the country nor the conversion of its population, but rather acculturation, the introduction of the Arabic language and culture while protecting the local population against Bedouin raids that harmed farming. Islamization policies were hardly enforced with only a few exceptions, as during the time of the Caliph Omar II (717-720). Acculturation (Arabization) advanced faster than Islamization. No significant change in the population composition took place and the population remained mostly Christian, with Jewish and Samaritan minorities.

The Second Wave – Starting in the 9th Century and Increasing during the 10th and 11th Centuries until the Crusaders’ Conquest in 1099.

As mentioned before, Sharon stateted in his study, "The Bedouin and the Land of Israel under Islamic Rule," that although Bedouin penetration began towards the end of the Abbasside period, Bedouin penetration from the South and the East increased during the Fatimid period (942-1071) and the Seljuk period (the Seljuks belonged to the Turcoman tribes of Central Asia. They ruled the country from 1071 until 1089). “From the mid 10th century on, and particularly during the 11th century, we see a steady inflow of Bedouin tribes into the country, from the South and from the North”. This opinion is shared by most scholars.

In 750 CE control of the Land of Israel passed to the Abbasside Dynasty, who ruled until 942CE. The Abbasside chose Baghdad as their capital and its policies regarding the Land of Israel were characterized by neglect. This neglect damaged the economy, most severely the farmers, causing a widespread move off the land. During the Abbasside period the army was comprised of Muslim Persians rather than Arabs, whereas during the 9th century it was comprised of Turcoman tribes. Persians were also in charge of the administration. The Abbasside neglect of the country allowed Bedouin tribes to move in and take over sections of the country, effectively becoming their rulers.

The Abbasside army treated the population cruelly and caused it to rebel in 758, 771, and 800. The rebellion in 800 was led by a Jewish man named Yihye, son of Jeremiah, and was assisted by Umayyad Arabic supporters. The rebellion was harshly suppressed and Yihye was executed. Revolts broke out again in 807, 809-810, and 842, in protest against the Army’s cruelty and the heavy taxes.

The Abbasside rulers’ neglect meant that its local representatives were practically unsupervised in their territories. One of the local governors, Ahmed ben Touloun took over Egypt in 868 and the Land of Israel and Syria in 878. Touloun restored the coastal cities which had been neglected since the Arabic conquest. Touloun’s conquests upset the political situation and the country became a battlefield for the various factions, including the Bedouins. After his murder in 884 things became worse, with control of the land passing from hand to hand for 30 years, until finally the Fatimid took over in 942.

The Fatimid moved their government center to Egypt. In theory, the Land of Israel was under Fatimid rule from 942 to 1099, but in practice it continued to be a battle ground for the Fatimid army fighting against the various elements that took over portions of the country. The government instability allowed the enemies of the Fatimid dynasty, such as the Byzantines and the Carmatians, to raid and conquer various areas. The Byzantines, who had not reconciled themselves to the Arabic conquest of the country, constantly raided the coastal regions. The local population was also involved in these struggles and was divided for and against the Fatimid dynasty. These struggles were motivated by political and religious reasons.

The endless fighting during the 10th and 11th centuries impacted the economic conditions severely. Trade with countries abroad was halted, the roads were unsafe, and consequently farmers’, tradesmen’s, and merchants’ living was hurt. Farmers left the land, the urban centers were dilapidated and their inhabitants impoverished. In his article “Arab Occupation and Rule, 634-1099”, Hayim Zeev Hirshberg describes the economic deterioration: Industry shrank, off-shore markets were lost, and farming collapsed under the heavy tax burden and the general insecurity. All this resulted in increasing emigration from the country. We have no data for the number of Jews who left for economic and security reasons.

On top of all this, three earthquakes that occurred in 1016, 1033, and 1068, accelerated the economic deterioration. The city of Ramle was destroyed in the 1068 earthquake. A severe drought lasted from 1056 to 1063, and again from 1068 to 1074.

The government’s instability and its neglect of border security encouraged the invasions by Bedouin tribes, beginning in the 9th century and throughout the 10th and 11th centuries. Two tribes, Banu Hallal and Banu Suleim, emerged from the Najjad area in the Arab Peninsula and, moving towards the Sinai Peninsula, pushed other tribes and tribe-fragments into the country ahead of them. Banu Hallal and Banu Suleim moved from the Sinai to Egypt in the 10th century and further to North Africa in the 11th century.

One of the tribes displaced by Banu Hallal and Banu Suleim was the Tia tribe – the largest tribe in its time, residing in the center of the Sinai desert. This tribe wandered around the center of Sinai and the Negev, progressing north up to the Ketzi’ot stream. Although the tribe originated from the south of the Arab Peninsula, parts of it settled west of the Euphrates. Some time around 974 the tribe began to move into the Land of Israel from the north, through the Syrian Desert. The tribe spread over the Jordan Valley and Beth Shean Valley, displacing the local population, engaging regularly in robbery throughout the Fatimid period. The leaders of the Tia tribe, Bani Jerah, effectively controlled the country. The Fatimid tried unsuccessfully to halt the Bedouin invasions but their efforts resulted in open rebellion against them. Bani Jerah made Ramle their capital. In 1013 Bedouins took over Egypt and crowned their own Caliph in Cairo. In 1024 they conquered the Land of Israel and ruled it for 5 years. The country constantly changed hands throughout this period.

Bani Jerah and the Tia tribe played a central role in the wars over the country, changing sides as their interests dictated. At times they collaborated with the Fatimid, and at other times with the Byzantines. In his article “Bedouin Invasion of the Land of Israel during the Fatimid Period, 969-1096”, Joshua Frankel distinguishes three stages in the Bani Jerah history in the country:
First Stage: 969-975
Bani Jerah were part of the Carmatian (a Shiite sect) invasion forces in Syria, but were defeated.
Second Stage: 975-1029
The beginning of this period is marked by collaboration with the Fatimid who granted estates to them in the area of Ramle, but later on, exploiting the Fatimid’s decline, Bani Jerah rebelled. In 1013 they took over Egypt, and in 1024 they took over the Land of Israel and ruled it for 5 years.
Third Stage: 1029-1071
The Fatimid succeeded in over powering Bani Jerah and their power in the country declined. Only a few households remained in the country, accepting the rule of the Fatimid, until a new element entered the scene – the Seljuks.

Bani Jerah managed to take over the country because the Fatimid government was weakened by its struggles in Egypt (the Fatimid were a Shi’a minority among the Sunni North African majority) and its fighting in Syria and the Land of Israel against the Carmatians, the Byzantines, Bedouin tribes, and insurgencies of local governors.

As a result of the weakness of the Fatimid, the local population was a prey to robbery, pillage, and murder by Bani Jerah. The Bedouin take-over left in its wake ruin and the destruction of not only the farming sectors but of every other sector of the economy as well. Prof Sharon determined that effectively, Bedouins were the true rulers of the country. Bani Jerah dealt a severe blow to the country's fabric of life. Villages suffered not only of raids, but of the Bedouin custom of grazing their flocks in cultivated fields. Only the coastal cities, protected by the Fatimid navy, escaped the Bedouin treatment. Bani Jerah did not have a long-term view, pillaging merchant convoys instead and destroying commerce, making the roads unsafe so that transporting produce from farms to city became difficult, causing the price of produce and food to sky rocket. A. Eshtor describes in his book, Social and Economic History of the Near East in the Middle Ages, the shrinking of cultivated area and the resulting impact on the declining population in the country in a study of the socio-economic conditions in the Middle East.

Under this Bedouin pressure, farmers moved off the land into the cities, where they were relatively more protected by city walls, or to Judea and Samaria.

Neglecting the security of the population and leaving them in the hands of the Bedouins caused also massive emigration from the country. During the 10th century Jews were compelled by this situation to leave for Babylon and Egypt. In his book, Letters from the Land of Israel, Avraham Ya’ari cites letters from the Cairo Genizah (Jewish Archive) telling of the massacres, rape of women and young boys, destruction, ruin, and the emigration of the Jews. The countryside around Ramle was particularly hurt during the time Bani Jerah ruled the area. One of the letters, from 1024, describes the hardships suffered by the Jews:
The Arabs and the Ishmaelites gathered together and descended as the locust and camped by Ramle . . . They killed all those who stood up to them . . . They hit them and beat them and lashed them many ways . . . Many died and were thrown onto the rubbish heaps and into the pits, in the markets and in the streets, near the buildings and in the entrances . . . The virgins and the children and the young boys were taken to be done with as they pleased and to rape them . . . Whoever were left of the Jews of Ramle fled hungry . . .and most who fled died”.

Jerusalem, too, experienced pogroms and the number of Jews there shrank to 50 (people or families).

Bedouin Penetration into the Land of Israel during the Seljuk Rule (1071-1089)

The Seljuks were Muslim Turcoman tribes originating from Central Asia, who began as mercenaries but ended up overtaking the Arabic Caliphate, including the Land of Israel. The Seljuk dynasty split and one of its descendants took Israel from the Fatimid during the 1070’s. The Fatimid and the Seljuk were rivals not only over control of the area, but also because of their religious differences – the Fatimid were Shi’a while the Seljuk were Sunni.

The Seljuk rebuilt Ramle, which was in ruins, but moved their capital to Jerusalem. Most historians agree those times were hard for non-Muslims. In his book, History of the Jews in the Land of Israel under Muslim Rule, the historian Arye Horesh described the Seljuk period as the “darkest time in our history”. The Seljuk terminated the Jewish center in Jerusalem – the major Yeshiva moved to Tyre and many Jews were forced to leave the city. Jews were still residing in the smaller settlements, especially in the Galilee. However, there are no sources that would help determine their numbers. Because the Seljuk were nomads, wrote Frankel, they competed with the Arab Bedouin tribes over pastures and water sources, but no further information on Seljuk—Bedouin relations is available.

The Fatimid never accepted the Seljuk conquest and tried to remove them. In 1089 the Seljuk Empire was crumbling and the Fatimid retook control of Israel for a short time. The Crusaders did not have to exert great effort to takeover the country in the first Crusade.

C. The Distribution of Arabic Settlements in the Land of Israel and the Population Composition towards the End of the Arabic-Muslim Rule

No data is available for the number of Arabs who settled in the country during the Arabic-Muslim occupation. Hasson determined that “the spread of Arabic tribes and their settlement in the Land of Israel did not interest the early Muslim writers” and therefore “there is no specific, focused information about this subject”. He also stateted that the term ‘Tribe’ referred to an overarching frame that included a group of tribes. Hasson concluded that due to this situation of the historical sources “it is not possible to chart a comprehensive map of the settlement of [Arabic tribes] in the Land of Israel during the 7th century”.

The Juddam Tribe – spread in the area of Eylat, in the Arava, with some spreading in the Jund al Urdun (the Galilee and the Valleys). Scholars, however, struggle to determine the tribe’s region because a considerable number of its members maintained a nomadic lifestyle.

The Lakham Tribe – spread partly around Bethlehem and Mount Hebron. However, according to Prof Gil in his article “Regarding the Settlement Processes of the Arabic Tribes in the First Century of Islam," the tribe did not settle permanently but acquired the right to collect revenue from these regions.

The Kalb Tribe and Bannu El-Ash’ar – Prof Sharon wrote in his article “The Cities of the Land of Israel under Islamic Rule," that the Kalb tribe concentrated in Tiberias and its environs. Joshua Frankel wrote in his article “The Seljuk in the Land of Israel” that the Jerah and Kalb tribes were connected by marriage. Most of the Kalb tribe lived in the area of Damascus and Aleppo.

Prof Gil quotes the Muslim geographer Al Ya’akubi, stating that in the second half of the 9th century most of the tribes in Tiberias belonged to Bannu El Ash’ar, a large tribe originating from the south of the Arab peninsula. However, at the end of the 10th century there was still only one mosque in Tiberias, compared with 5 churches and a synagogue, indicating that Arabs were a minority in Tiberias.

Bedouin Settlement in Northern Samaria

The Muslim geographer Al Ya’akubi reported in 892 that Arabic tribes settled in the city of Nablus alongside its Samaritan residents. The archaeologist Israel Finkelstein, in his "The Land of Ephraim Survey," conducted the surveys in Samaria. He discovered that the number of settled sites in Northern Samaria decreased drastically during the late Byzantine period. Finkelstein discovered a link between the emptying of Northern Samaria of its inhabitants and the almost complete obliteration of the Samaritans by the Byzantine regime. Prof Ronni Ellenblum referred to the subject in his book, Frankish Rural Settlements in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. He agrees with Finkelstein. According to this survey, nomadic Bedouin tribes began filling the vacuum created by the disappearance of the Samaritans. Crusader sources mention nomad Bedouin tribes in Samaria during the Crusader period, i.e., the 12th century. Dr Milka Levi - Rubbin said in a lecture titled “New Evidence – Samaria,” that based on Muslim sources including the geographer Al Ya’akubi, the population in Samaria was comprised of Arabs, Non-Arabs, and Samaritans, with a Muslim majority in the area of Nablus.

Ellenblum refers to a study by Abraham Poliak who investigated the Islamization processed in the region, in his article, L’Arabization de L'Orient Semitique." Poliak concluded that the region became Muslim not as a result of local conversion to Islam but as a result of the gradual transition of Bedouin tribes from a nomad lifestyle to permanent settlement, a process which was concluded during the Crusader period. Of 62 settlements that existed during the Crusader period (1099-1260) and the Mamluk period (1260-1516), 39 did not existed during the Byzantine period and were established after this period. Surveys show that these were newly established settlements that were not built on the ruins of older settlements – no ostraca from the Byzantine period were found in them – and their settlement patterns were different from earlier settlements.

Ellenblum described three stages in the settlement of Bedouin tribes:
In the first stage, the site was deserted by its permanent inhabitants.
In the second stage nomad tribes invaded the area while maintaining a nomadic lifestyle.
In the third stage, the nomads had undergone a process of transition to permanent settlement. Such a transition had already begun in the early Arabic-Muslim period. Historical sources tell of the process of Islamization in the region from the early Arabic-Muslim period up until the beginning of the 12th century. The Muslim inhabitants of Northern Samaria were not converts but Muslims who had settled in the area.

Southern Samaria

In Southern Samaria the Christian-Byzantine settlements had not changed during the Arabic period.

The Ramle district

The Tia Tribe and its leaders the Banni Jerah – Between 975 and 1029 (during the Fatimid period) members of the Tia tribe were given land around Ramle. A few Banni Jerah households remained in the area after the Fatimid managed to defeat the Tia tribe and its Banni Jerah leaders in a series of confrontations between 1029 and 1071.

Prof Gil concluded that “the tribes maintained their lifestyle and were not attracted to farming”. They were military men whose income was derived from taxes on the farmed areas. “Most of the land remained in the hands of its inhabitants who were taxed. During the occupation this population was comprised of Christians and Jews”. According to Prof Gil this was the situation on the eve of the Crusader conquest.

Arabic Settlement in the Cities of the Land of Israel

A number of articles deal with the question of whether, and to what extent, Arabs settled in the coastal cities, and agree that the coastal cities’ population was mixed and did not have an Arabic majority (cf. El’ad Amikam, “Coastal Cities of the Land of Israel”; Milka Levi Rubin, “The Role of the Conquest in Shaping the Layout of Settlement in the Land of Israel during the Early Muslim Period”).

In his article “Cities of the Land of Israel under Islamic Rule” Prof Moshe Sharon discusses Arabic settlement in the country’s cities, on the coast as well as inland.

Coastal Cities
On the eve of the Arabic conquest, Acre, Dor, Caesarea, Arssouf, Jaffa, Yavne, Ashkelon, Gaza, Mimas (Gaza Harbour) and Raffiah had mixed populations comprised of a Christian majority, Jews, and Samaritans. Since the coastal cities came regularly under attack by the Byzantine navy trying to regain control, the Arab rulers had an interest in settling Arab warriors, who were Bedouins, in those cities. To gain their cooperation, they were offered land around the cities and houses that were deserted by their Christian owners who had fled on the approach of the Arab conquerors. The Bedouin warriors, however, were usually not interested in urban settlement as they preferred holding on to their nomadic lifestyle, encamping in the periphery. The Bedouins were particularly reluctant to settle near the sea, and so the Umayyad rulers settled Persians- Muslims in the coastal cities.

The Abbasside regime neglected the coastal cities.

The Fatimid rulers showed greater interest in the coastal cities following the growth of maritime trade in the Mediterranean and the forging of trade relations between Byzantium, the trading cities in Italy, and Egypt. It seems the Byzantines had not given up their ambition to regain control over the coastal cities of the Land of Israel. The Fatimid were interested in building a naval force and establishing their rule over the Southern and Eastern shores of the Mediterranean, and therefore encouraged the settlement of Arabic civilians and warriors in the coastal cities. According to an Arabic source from the 9th century, however, the coastal cities were still populated by Christians, Samaritans, and Jews, with only a small Arabic minority.

The Seljuks, who took over the country for a short time, were nomad warriors who failed to conquer the coastal cities which remained in Fatimid hands until their conquest by the Crusaders.

Cities Inland

The Arabic rulers had an interest in the cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, Bethlehem, Lydda, Tiberias, Saffed, and, of course, Ramle (which they established at the beginning of the 8th century and made the capital of the Palestine Jund in place of Caesarea). The cities were governed by representatives of the central government rather than by a body elected or appointed by local residents.

Different cities interested the Arabic rulers for different reasons.

Jerusalem – The Umayyad worked to transform Jerusalem from a city with a Christian majority and character, to a Muslim replacement for Mecca. For this purpose they built the Dome of the Rock on the ruins of the Jewish Temple and supported the development of traditions that would tie Jerusalem to Islam, such as the tradition of Muhammad’s nocturnal visit to Jerusalem. The Umayyad encouraged Arabic and Muslim settlement in Jerusalem for the same reason, but according to the Arabic historian Al Mukdassi, writing at the end of the 10th century, they were not very successful in that, while the number of Jews settling in Jerusalem grew. Abbasside and Fatimid rulers continued the efforts to transform Jerusalem into a Muslim city. At first, the Arabs referred to Jerusalem by its Roman name, Aelia, but later on they named it Beit Almukdas. The name Al Kuds became common at a later date.

Hebron – Hebron, too, was actively transformed into a Muslim holy city, although its holy status had, from the start, a popular ‘folk’ character. Thus, traditions concerning Abraham were developed and the city was named Al Halili, meaning ‘the friend’, and the Cave of Machpela (traditional burial site of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their wives) was incorporated into Islamic traditions. An effort was made to attract Muslim settlers to Hebron. According to Sosumenus, in the 5th century Hebron and its environs were settled mostly by Jews, and according to letters from the Cairo Genizah, there was a well ordered Jewish community in Hebron during the 10th century.

Ramle – Due to its location near major trade routes, the Capital of the Palestine district was an important commercial and administrative center. Its population, however, included a large Jewish community (supporting three synagogues) as well as Christians and Samaritans.

Tiberias – The Arabs moved the capital of Al Urdun district from Beth Shean to Tiberias. Tiberias had surrendered to the Arabs and signed a defense treaty, but the Arabs changed their policy towards the city, claiming it had broken the agreement. They built a mosque on a confiscated area in the city’s center. Winter tourism was developed in Hammat, and in Sanbara, near Tiberias, the Umayyad built a hotel. Tiberias’ location near trade routes and on the shore of the Sea of Galilee made it an important commercial city. According to Arabic historians the Arabic conquerors demanded half of Tiberias’ (and other cities’) area (cf. Hayim Zeev Hirshberg, “Arabic Conquest and Rule, 634-1099”). Walls were built around the city, according to a Persian traveler who visited Tiberias in 1047.

The largest community in Tiberias, throughout the Arabic period, was the Jewish community. Tiberias maintained its status as the main Jewish center in the Galilee until the end of the 10th century or early 11th century. The Christian community was the next largest based on the fact that there were five churches in Tiberias. The single mosque in Tiberias indicates that the Muslim community was quite small (cf. “The North of Israel – the Galilee, the Golan, and the Valleys through the Ages”, ed. Ruth Polleg). During the 8th and 9th centuries Tiberias was a prosperous city.

Beth Shean – Beth Shean was the Capital of the Palestina Secunda district during the Roman-Byzantine period. The Arabs moved the capital to Tiberias. Beth Shean was a mixed city, populated by Christians, Jews, and Samaritans who were joined by Arabic tribes. The city was a prosperous trade center until its destruction in the earth quake of 749. It was later rebuilt and given its Arabic name, Bissan. Scholars are divided over its fate during the Arabic period – some believe it was a small and insignificant town, while others hold it regained its status as an important trading center.

Jericho – the Umayyad developed Jericho and established a textile industry in it. The indigo textile dye was extracted from plants grown in Jericho and was marketed throughout the country. Farming in the area was also developed and the Umayyad built a palace near the city. The Abbasside, however, neglected Jericho and it shrank back into a small village.

Mt Negev and the Arava

Several archaeological surveys were conducted in recent years in Mt Negev and the Arava (cf. Gideon Avni, “Islamic Penetration into the Border Regions of the Land of Israel – An Archaeological View from the Negev”). In this article, Avni reports the changes in scholars’ approach to this region. Contrary to theories developed by 19th century historians (and popular up until the 1970’s) which identified a clear, distinct transition from the Byzantine period to the Arabic period (evident in a transition from Christianity to Islam), modern historians hold that Arabic penetration into the country was a long and gradual process, with Islam entering the Negev only from the first half of the 8th century. This new theory is based on the Archaeological finds in the Negev and the Arava, a growing debate over the credibility of Arabic sources, and the search for non-Arabic sources.

According to Avni, excavations in the sites of Shivta, Nitzana, and Rehovot indicate they were inhabited continuously from the Byzantine period to the Arabic one, and their population began decreasing during the 9th and 10th centuries. From the 7th century to the 9th century Mt Negev and the Arava were densely populated. Archaeological surveys show that the appearance of mosques alongside churches in the permanent settlements, and “open” mosques in the nomads’ areas, did not take place in the 7th – 8th centuries but in the 9th – 10th centuries.

In summary, on the eve of the Crusader conquest in 1099, the Arabs concentrated in two main areas: Mt Negev and the Arava, and Northern Samaria, with enclaves in the areas of Tiberias, Ramle, and Mt Hebron. In the coastal and inland cities the Arabs were a minority and the population was mixed.


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The Christians were the majority in the country's population1099

until the Crusaders occupation in 1099 the Oriental Christians (Greeks and Syrian- Arameans)were the largest ethnic - religoius group. They were the majority - not the Arabs- Muslims.

The Arabs ruled the country but only a minority settled in the country.

The Christians were the majority during the Crusaders, 1290

The Greek- Syrian Aramean Population converted to Christianity during the Byzantine Occupation.
They were still the largest group during the Crusaders' Occupation, 1099- 1269/90.

What happened to them under the Mamluks(Fanatic Muslims)1260/90- 1516?
Many ran away, or were massacred, or expelled or became slaves.
Some converted to Islam.