History of the land Israel

This article is not about the history of the Jews or Arabs or Palestinians or Canaan, it’s about the history of the land, which is now called Israel.

Brief (modern) history

Several peoples are trying to lay claim on the land of Israel because of various reasons. The Jews and the Arabs are examples of that. But is there is basis of those claims? No. The Jews base their claim on historical claims, because they occupied these countries thousands of years ago. But what they don’t mention conveniently is that there are already people living in the lands what is now Israel, 600,000 years ago! But, as you can read in this article, they were not the only ones. Here was a great civilization living here for thousands of years, called the Canaan (8,200 years ago they had already cities here)! The Muslims have also claims, but the factual reasons are not there. Here follows the short history about Israel until now, which also causes such confusion.

Ancient Patriarchal Near East 1800 to 1400 B.C.

Ancient Patriarchal Near East 1800 to 1400 B.C.

Israel is sacred not only to Judaism and Islam, but ChristianityDruze and Bahá’í Faith too! This land was ruled by many empires, home to many variety of ethnicities, it became dominant by the Jews until the 3rd century.  From the 3rd century, this land became increasingly Christian, then largely Muslim following the 7th century conquest until the middle of the 20th century. It was a focal point of conflict between Christianity and Islam between 1096 and 1291, and from the end of the Crusades until the British conquest in 1917 was part of the Syrian province of first the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt and then (from 1517) the Ottoman Empire. (I ‘excluded’ ‘some’ facts in this history, but they are not important for the big picture.)

7th century conquest

7th century conquest

Ottoman Empire

Ottoman Empire

In the late-19th century, persecution of Jews, particularly in Europe, led to the creation of the Zionist movement. Following the British conquest of Syria, the Balfour Declaration in World War I and the formation of the Mandate of Palestine, Aliyah (Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel) increased and gave rise to Arab–Jewish tensions, and a collision of the Arab and Jewish nationalist movements. Israeli independence in 1948 was marked by massive migration of Jews from both Europe and the Muslim countries to Israel, and of Arabs from Israel leading to the extensive Arab–Israeli conflict. About 42% of the world’s Jews live in Israel today, the largest Jewish community in the world.

Since about 1970, the United States has become the principal ally of Israel. In 1979 an uneasy Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty was signed, based on the Camp David Accords. In 1993 Israel signed Oslo I Accord with the Palestine Liberation Organization and in 1994 Israel–Jordan Treaty of Peace was signed. Despite efforts to establish peace between Israel and Palestinians, many of whom live in Israel or in Israeli-occupied territories, the conflict continues to play a major role in Israeli and international political, social and economic life.

The economy of Israel was initially primarily socialist and the country dominated by social democratic parties until the 1970s. Since then the Israeli economy has gradually moved to capitalism and a free market economy, partially retaining the social welfare system.

So far the known history, without referring to any holy book.

When were humans in Israel?

Flint tool artifacts of early humans have been discovered on the territory of the current state of Israel at Yiron, the oldest stone tools found anywhere outside Africa. Other groups include 1.4 million years old Acheulean industry! Acheulean industry produced flint tools.

In the Carmel mountain range (north of Israel) at el-Tabun, and Es Skhul, Neanderthal and early modern human remains were found, including the skeleton of a Neanderthal female, named Tabun I, which is regarded as one of the most important human fossils ever found. The excavation at el-Tabun produced the longest stratigraphic record in the region, spanning 600,000 or more years of human activity, from the Lower Paleolithic to the present day, representing roughly a million years of human evolution.

Ancient Near East

Ancient Near East, more then 8,200 years ago


Many modern people claim that the land of Israel was abandoned or empty, which was clearly not. Here follows the story about Canaan.

And there was Canaan, located in the Ancient Near East. The people living in Canaan spoke Phoenician, which was originally spoken in this region and is a Semitic language, its closest living relative is its sister language Hebrew, to which it is very similar. Archaeological proof that the Canaan lived in this area was from the 16th century BC! In that time, Canaan was considered to be a colony of the New Kingdom of Egypt.

Tel Megiddo

Megiddo was a site of great importance in the ancient world. It guarded the western branch of a narrow pass and trade route connecting Egypt and Assyria. Because of its strategic location, Megiddo was the site of several historical battles. The site was inhabited from approximately 7000 BC to 586 BCE

Much of the modern knowledge about Canaan stems from archaeological excavation in this area at sites such as Tel Hazor, Tel Megiddo, and Gezer. Canaanite culture developed from Nomadic to agriculture, with the raising of livestock from 6200 BC (that’s about 8,200 years before today). It’s the care, tending and use of animals such as camels, goats, cattle, yaks, llamas, and sheep. Canaan was being mentioned in the various holy books (partly and incorrectly I must say), but as I said, I focus on the proven history.

One of the earliest settlements in the region was at Jericho in Canaan. The earliest settlements were seasonal, but, by the Bronze Age, had developed into large urban centers. By the Early Bronze Age other sites had developed, such as Ebla (where an East Semitic tongue was spoken), which by ca. 2300 BC was incorporated into the Mesopotamia-based Akkadian Empire of Sargon the Great.

The first cities in the the region arose during 3500-2000 BC. These “proto-Canaanites” were in regular contact with the other peoples to their south such as Egypt, and to the north Asia Minor (Hurrians, Hattians, Hittites, Luwians) and Mesopotamia (Sumer, Akkad, Assyria), a trend that continued through the Iron Age. The end of the period is marked by the abandonment of the cities and a return to lifestyles based on farming villages and semi-nomadic herding, although specialized craft production continued and trade routes remained open.

Between the 2000-1550 BC, Canaan cities returned and the region was divided among small city-states, the most important of which seems to have been Hazor. Many aspects of Semitic Canaanite material culture now reflected a Mesopotamian influence, and the entire region became more tightly integrated into a vast international trading network. Around 1650 BC Canaanites invaded the eastern Delta of Egypt, where, known as the Hyksos, they became the dominant power.

In the early Late Bronze Age (1550-1200 BC), Canaanite confederacies were centered on Megiddo and Kadesh, before again being brought into the Egyptian Empire and Hittite Empire. Later still, the region was conquered into the Neo Assyrian Empire (in existence between 911 and 609 BC).

From the mid 14th century BC through to the 11th century BC, much of Canaan (particularly the north, central and eastern regions of Syria and the north western Mediterranean coastal regions) fell to the Middle Assyrian Empire, and both Egyptian and Hittite influence waned as a result. Powerful Assyrian kings forced tribute on Canaanite states and cities from north, east and central Syria as far as the Mediterranean.

From the mid 14th century BC through to the 11th century BC, much of Canaan fell to the Middle Assyrian Empire, and both Egyptian and Hittite influence waned as a result. Powerful Assyrian kings forced tribute on Canaanite states and cities from north, east and central Syria as far as the Mediterranean. Arik-den-ili (c. 1307–1296 BC), consolidated Assyrian power in the Levant, he defeated and conquered Semitic tribes of the so-called Ahlamu group. He was followed by Adad-nirari I (1295–1275 BC) who continued expansion to the northwest, mainly at the expense of the Hittites and Hurrians, conquering Hittite territories such as Carchemish and beyond. In 1274 BC Shalmaneser I ascended the throne, a powerful warrior king, he annexed territories in Syria and Canaan previously under Egyptian or Hittite influence, and the growing power of Assyria was perhaps the reason why these two states made peace with one another. This trend continued under Tukulti-Ninurta I (1244–1208 BC) and after a hiatus, Tiglath-Pileser I (1115–1077 BC) who conquered the Arameans of northern Syria, and thence he proceeded to conquer Damascus and the Canaanite/Phoenician cities of (Byblos), Sidon, Tyre and finally Arvad.

In that time, Jerusalem existed, but as a small settlement. The oldest part of the city was settled in the 4th millennium BCE.


Map of the southern Levant, about 830s BC.

Map of the southern Levant, about 830s BC.

In 1200 BC, this land was dominated by the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, besides the Philistine city-states on the Mediterranean coast, and the kingdoms of Moab, Ammon and Aram-Damascus east of the Jordan River, and Edom to the south. The north was divided into various petty kingdoms, the so-called Syro-Hittite states and the Canaan city-states.

Note that the Philistines were already living in Gaza (originally they came from the Boat People, what is now Crete, Greece).

The entire region (including all Canaanite and Aramean states, together with Israel, Philistia and Samarra) was conquered by the Neo-Assyrian Empire during the 10th and 9th centuries BC, and would remain so for three hundred years until the end of the 7th century BC. Assyrian emperor-kings came to dominate Canaanite affairs.

Canaan included what today are Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories, northwestern Jordan, and some western areas of Syria. According to archaeologist Jonathan N. Tubb, “Ammonites, Moabites, Israelites and Phoenicians undoubtedly achieved their own cultural identities, and yet ethnically they were all Canaanites“, “the same people who settled in farming villages in the region in the 8th millennium BC.”

Canaanite civilization was a response to long periods of stable climate interrupted by short periods of climate change. During these periods, Canaanites profited from their intermediary position between the ancient civilizations of the Middle East to become city states of merchant princes along the coast, with small kingdoms specializing in agricultural products in the interior. This polarity, between coastal towns and agrarian hinterland, was illustrated in Canaanite mythology by the struggle between the storm god, variously called Teshub or Ba’al Hadad and Ya’a, Yaw, Yahu or Yam, god of the sea and rivers. Early Canaanite civilization was characterized by small walled market towns, surrounded by peasant farmers growing a range of local horticultural products, along with commercial growing of olives, grapes for wine, and pistachios, surrounded by extensive grain cropping, predominantly wheat and barley. Harvest in early summer was a season when nomadism was practiced—shepherds staying with their flocks during the wet season and returning to graze them on the harvested stubble, closer to water supplies in the summer. Evidence of this cycle of agriculture is found in the Gezer calendar and in the biblical cycle of the year.


The Egyptians ruled these lands from 1550-1180 BC.

The first record of the name Israel occurs in the Merneptah stele, erected for Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah c. 1209 BCE, “Israel is laid waste and his seed is not.” William Dever sees this “Israel” in the central highlands as a cultural and probably political entity, more an ethnic group rather than an organized state.

Ancestors of the Israelites may have included Semites native to Canaan and the Sea Peoples (seafaring raiders originally coming from southern Europe, later they became the Palestinians). McNutt says, “It is probably safe to assume that sometime during Iron Age a population began to identify itself as ‘Israelite'”, differentiating itself from the Canaanites through such markers as the prohibition of intermarriage, an emphasis on family history and genealogy, and religion.

The Hebrew Bible describes constant warfare between the Jews and other tribes, including the Philistines, whose capital was Gaza. Around 930 BCE, the kingdom split into a southern Kingdom of Judah and a northern Kingdom of Israel. The Kingdom of Israel was eventually destroyed by Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III around 750 BCE. The Philistine kingdom was also destroyed. The Assyrians sent most of the northern Israelite kingdom into exile, thus creating the “Lost Tribes of Israel“. The Samaritans claim to be descended from survivors of the Assyrian conquest. An Israelite revolt (724–722 BCE) was crushed after the siege and capture of Samaria by the Assyrian king Sargon II. Sargon’s son, Sennacherib, tried and failed to conquer Judah. Assyrian records say he leveled 46 walled cities and besieged Jerusalem, leaving after receiving extensive tribute.

In 586 BCE King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon conquered Judah. According to the Hebrew Bible, he destroyed Solomon’s Temple and exiled the Jews to Babylon. The defeat was also recorded by the Babylonians. The Judean king, Jehoiachin, switched allegiances between the Egyptians and the Babylonians and that invasion was a punishment for allying with Babylon’s principal rival, Egypt. The exiled Jews may have been restricted to the elite.

Jehoiachin was eventually released by the Babylonians and according to both the Bible and the Talmud, the Judean royal family (the Davidic line) continued as head of the exile in Babylon (the Exilarch).

Then the region was dominated by historical periods of the Persian and Hellenistic rule from 538 BC to 160 BC, the Hasmonean dynasty 160–37 BC, Herodian kingdom 37 BCE–6 CE, Roman rule 6–390,Byzantine rule 390–611, Arab rule 636–1099, Crusader and Ayyubid rule 1099–1291, Mamluk rule 1260–1517, Ottoman rule (1517–1920).

Looking at the sites of Tel Hazor, Tel Megiddo, and Gezer, the proof of powerful Canaan rules and armies, not being conquered and beaten by the Israelites (but  by the Romans), whatever their holy book may claim, is proof that the current rulers of this country were not the first. Before them was a flourishing empire with thousands of years of history, more then anyone combined!

The Destruction of Canaan

According to the biblical narrative in the Book of Exodus, the patriarch Moses lead his people, the Israelites, out of the bondage of slavery in Egypt and toward the `promised land’ of Canaan where their god had promised them they would live in peace in a “land flowing with milk and honey.” The Book of Joshua, following the Exodus narrative, tells of the campaigns of the Israelite General Joshua in the land of Canaan subduing the populace with the help, and by command of, his god (most famously destroying the city of Jericho, which was the oldest city in the region with the greatest cultural legacy). Scholars date the invasion of the Israelites to about 1250 BCE and archaeological excavations in the region have confirmed some kind of disturbance in the region between 1250 and 1200 BCE which resulted in the destruction of Canaanite towns and cities. These ruins, however, do not always match the descriptions given in the Book of Joshua.

Even so, the destruction of the cities and the absence of further development of the culture, indicate that some catastophic event, or series of events, impacted the people of Canaan significantly. The time period in which General Joshua allegedly conquered the land of Canaan corresponds with a period of general upheaval in the ancient world from the destruction of Troy by the Achaeans to the fall of the Hittite Empire, the ruin of the great city of Ugarit and the beginning of the harassment of coastal towns by the mysterious Sea Peoples. Whatever the cause, by 1100 BC Canaan was no more than a narrow territory north of the Kingdom of Israel located by the sea in present day Lebanon.

But even with all the destruction and killings of the Canaan populations in the large cities, some cities could not be destroyed by them, like Tel Megiddo. That city stayed as it was, successfully defended against everyone until the Romans came.

Ancient cities in Canaan

Ancient cities in Canaan

Also many cities, which are still with us, are in fact old, ancient Canaan cities, like Jericho. This city is seen as the oldest city in the world (almost 10,000 years), many times destroyed and rebuilt (about more then 200 times). Jerusalem was one of the many towns in the area, started as an Canaan town, the same with Bet She’an, Hazor, etc.

The once mighty Tel Megiddo with it’s unbelievable long history of more then 8,000 years, managed to stand up against time and many enemies and invaders, until it was destroyed by the Romans. But even when the Romans did their best with their destruction, Tel Megiddo is still there and you and everyone else can still visit the place and see for yourself what’s left of such powerful city.

At this moment near the Sea of Galilee and the city Tiberias, the archeologists are still digging out tools originating from 26,000 years ago. The Canaan was kicking that time.


2 responses to “History of the land Israel

  1. Pingback: Why is Israel so unique? | Shalom Israel·

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