Seven decades of the history of Nablus

The Nablus Independence Hotel

Independence Hotel

The Independence Hotel is to celebrate the 70th anniversary of its founding in the Canaanite city of Nablus. It is still preserving its historical beauty and presence despite the boom in modern hotels in the city and across the occupied West Bank.

At the entrance to Hittin Street, which links the neighborhoods of Nablus with its old town, the Independence Hotel, run by Mustafa Eran and his brothers, attracts foreign and local tourists, though modestly recently.

According to Mustafa Eran, 64, the hotel was founded in 1948 when the Nakba (catastrophe) of the Palestinian people took place. His father came to the city from Jaffa, where he worked in the tourist industry, with his work spreading to Haifa. He founded several small hotels, all of which were later closed except for the Independence Hotel, which became a historical landmark in the city.

Anyone visiting the hotel would first walk through a narrow corridor and find on one side of which windows of one of the hotel rooms that date decades back. He would then encounter a large lounge with a large reception hall in the middle of which is a modest office, from which Eran manages the hotel.

The rooms are spread on both sides of the building, some of which overlook Hittin Street, and the others overlook the Asi Cinema and the Nablus Municipality building, which has a garden full of trees and a water fountain.

The hotel consists of six large and spacious rooms, according to Eran and a large 65-meter salon. Six families live on working in it, although the current economic situation barely covers the actual cost, the family’s insistence on preserving it as a legacy continues.

Difficult stages
Eran recalls the harsh conditions which the hotel experienced following the occupation of Nablus in 1967. The hotels of the city were banned from receiving guests for ten years. Israeli soldiers then occupied the hotel for 18 days and reoccupied it during the first intifada and the invasion of Nablus in 2002 for 13 days. This caused considerable damage to the hotel’s furniture and property.

He said with sorrow in his tone, “Every time we receive promises to get compensation for the damage that has been done, but with nothing materializing.”

The hotel’s foreign customers come to know about the history of old Nablus. Tourists from France, Italy and Japan, stay at the hotel. Some tourist guides include information about the hotel. It is also close to the old town and the new neighborhoods, which attracts locals as well, especially merchants from Hebron and Jenin.

Eran boasts that the hotel’s atmosphere makes it full of life than modern hotels, as its large salon hosted memorable discussions between traders and guests, which made it a special place for everyone who stayed there.

(Source / 20.11.2017)

Israel guilty of ‘collective punishment in Gaza after 1967 war’

Image of Israeli soldiers interrogating Palestinians during the 1967 Gaza war [Miren Edurne/facebook]

Image of Israeli soldiers interrogating Palestinians during the 1967 Gaza war

A secret document has been published which reveals that Israel was guilty of collective punishment against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip a few days after the end of the 1967 war.

According to Haaretz, the document records that the Israeli military governor of Gaza ordered the expulsion of 110 Palestinians to Sinai and the demolition of eight homes as collective punishment in retaliation for an attempted attack against Israeli troops. The document, says the newspaper, was prepared by the Israeli Foreign Ministry on 15 June, 1967, days after the end of the war.

Jewish sources date the incident to June 12 or 13, when a landmine exploded in the Gaza area and tracks led from the scene to several houses in the Tarabsheh refugee camp. “At the time, 110 people said that they were soldiers in the Palestinian Liberation Army and claimed responsibility for the attack en masse,” explained Haaretz. “As punishment, it was decided to take them to Sinai and leave them there and to demolish eight houses in the camp.”

Read: Only 40% of Gaza’s destroyed homes during Israel 2014 war have been rebuilt

Fayez Abu Shamala is an expert on Israeli affairs. He insists that tens of thousands of Palestinians were deported after the 1967 war and not just a few, as the Israeli document claims. Speaking to Quds Press on Thursday, Abu Shamala said that the Israeli occupation authorities tried to empty the Gaza Strip of its Palestinian inhabitants after the 1967 war and force them to move to Jordan and Egypt.

“The occupation forces imposed a curfew on all areas of the Gaza Strip and summoned the population aged 15-60 years,” he said. “Later, they gathered young people from the age of 17-20 years, and threw them west of the Suez Canal.” Local families, he pointed out, did not know the fate of their children. “A month later, however, the International Committee of the Red Cross informed them that they are were in the Bilbes area, west of the Suez Canal, and that the Egyptians had provided them with tents to live in.”

Abu Shamala said that the Israelis opened the borders with Egypt and Jordan to empty the Gaza Strip of its inhabitants. The aim of the document published now, he alleged, is to “simplify what happened after the 1967 war by claiming that only 110 Palestinians were deported.” Although some of the Palestinians sent to Egypt were able to return to Gaza, many more remained in exile and died there.

An earlier, related, article published by Professor David Kretschmer and Gershom Gorenberg has given details of an incident in Rafah in 1972, in which thousands of Bedouins were expelled from the northern and eastern region of Sinai, which was occupied by Israel at the time.

(Source / 18.03.2017)

Palestinian historical city of Sebastia besieged by settlements

A general view of ancient Roman ruins in the village of Sebastia, West Bank, May 5, 2011

At the intersection between Nablus and Jenin in the West Bank, specifically between the fields of corn and cypress and almond trees, different civilizations intermingle in a town that took on importance in 876 B.C. In Sebastia, Canaanites settled, and statues like Rhodes Andreas line the tunnels.

The Roman, Greek, Farsi, Assyrian and Ottoman empires left their mark on the cathedral in the city center through columns, palaces, towers and antiquities. The cathedral was built during the Byzantine days in the 12th century B.C., and French engineers rebuilt it to breathe life into it. It still stands to this day.

Sebastia, which is located on a hilltop that is 440 meters high (one-quarter of a mile), north of Nablus city, is known as the Palestinian capital of Romans, as it is famous for Greek and Roman antiquities dating back to the days of the Roman era.

Although Sebastia is a melting pot for civilizations and enjoys historical value dating back 3,000 years, it is besieged by settlements and threatened with disappearance due to Israeli violations such as attempts to move the antiquities to Israeli museums.

Traveling through narrow alleyways in the old town of Nablus, Al-Monitor visited Sebastia. Upon reaching it, features of historical civilizations appeared. The Roman Theater was the first place we visited, followed by the Hellenistic Tower, which dates back to the Greek era. The influence of ancient civilizations was obvious with every additional step we took in town — from King Omri’s palace to King Herod’s statue.

The story of civilizations in Sebastia began in 876 B.C. when King Omri built the city and reinforced it with fences. He considered it his capital and called it Sumaria. Many other civilizations followed.

Dergham al-Fares, director of the Archaeological Sites Department at the Palestinian Authority, told Al-Monitor, “Many civilizations followed King Omri’s era. The first was the Canaanite, then the Iron Age, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman and Byzantine. Then came the Islamic era in addition to the short Crusader rule.”

Among the most important archaeological sites in Sebastia, according to Fares, was King Omri’s palace, which dates back to 3,000 years, and the Hellenistic Tower, south of the Roman Theater, which is one of the most significant ruins of the Roman era, along with two towers and palaces and the street of columns stretching along 800 meters (half a mile) with 600 archaeological columns on each side.

Sebastia, the gateway of historical civilizations, is facing a future of invaders different from those in previous eras. These invaders are committing serious violations to eliminate the city’s history and impose the Jewish story on it. One of the most dangerous violations is the Israeli decision to ban the entry of foreign tourists to the land of Palestinian antiquities. To tighten the noose on Sebastia, Israel established the Shavei Shomron settlement after confiscating and controlling most of the city’s lands.

Sebastia mayor Nael al-Shaer told Al-Monitor, “Israel’s violations against Sebastia affected all archaeological sites and entailed the theft of antiquities from the Ottoman Mosque and their transfer to Israeli museums, as well as the attempt to move some pieces from the Royal Roman Cemetery in the town center. But after failing to lift the large stone graves, they left everything, and the town kept the wooden cranes to stand witness to the Israeli destruction.”

Shaer revealed the danger of the new Judaization project in Sebastia, which aims at confiscating all of its lands through the increased attacks of settlers with security coverage from the Israeli army.

Shaer added that settlers have also been destroying properties, and they smashed three places recently, including a restaurant, parks, an antiquity shop and excavation operations in archeological sites in the country like al-Tall, which has a surface area of 115 dunams (28 acres).

According to Shaer, Israel wants to isolate the archaeological site in Sebastia, whose surface area exceeds half of the total area of the town, and the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority wants to impose entrance fees.

The suffering of Sebastia citizens is not limited to settlers’ abuses and the theft of their lands. The sewage water from Shavei Shomron settlement is leaking into the land, ruining trees and crops and producing health hazards that are jeopardizing people’s lives.

Maysra al-Hatoum, owner of an agricultural land close to the settlement, had to stop planting crops because of the hazard of sewage water and pigs and stray dogs grazing on them.

Official Palestinian institutions tried to include Sebastia and its archaeological monuments on UNESCO’s World Heritage List to protect them from the risk of Judaization and seizure and to encourage tourists to visit the sites.

Ihab Hajj Daoud, the director general of Archaeological Sites Restoration and Management at the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, told Al-Monitor that his ministry is preparing projects to protect the antiquities of Sebastia, including an integrated scheme to preserve the archaeological and historical site in the town, as well as the cultural landscape.

In a related context, he added, “The Palestinian diplomatic attempts to add Sebastia on the World Heritage List are hindered by some impediments, such as Israel’s lack of recognition of this list, as well as its control over the archaeological sites in Sebastia, located in Area C under the Oslo Accord.”

He continued, “The Palestinian government has no security authority over Area C, where the archaeological sites are located. The government lacks the needed capacities to develop these sites to promote tourism.”

Al-Hajj Daoud said, “We have prepared a list of 20 archaeological sites in the Palestinian territories, including the town of Sebastia. We want these sites to be submitted to UNESCO and registered on the World Heritage List.”

He explained that the objective behind adding Sebastia on the World Heritage List is to protect the site from the Judaization practices and settlers’ aggressions and to fend off Israel’s attempts to blur the identity of the site and its archaeological monuments that the Palestinians have been preserving over the last thousand years.

Daoud does not expect Sebastia to be included on UNESCO’s list anytime soon, as Israel will use its veto right to vote against it and resort to the Oslo Accord that put the Palestinian stolen lands under Israel’s control.

(Source / 08.02.2017)

From the Archives: A Short Sketch of Muslim History

Professor Abdus Salam

This short article was written by Dr. Abdus Salam at the age of 26, when he was a professor of mathematics at Government College, Lahore, in 1951. Professor Salam took the position of Chair of Theoretical Physics at Imperial College, London, in 1957 and was later awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979, a first for a Muslim and Pakistani. This article was originally serialised in The Muslim Sunrise, an American magazine started by Mufti Muhammad Sadiqra, a companion of the Promised Messiahas; it is being republished in The Review of Religions. As over 60 years have passed since its initial publication, some facts in the article reflect the time when it was written.

In this paper I shall try to sketch an outline of Islam’s political history, and show the glorious faith preached by the Holy Prophetsa spread out of the confines of Arabia to the farthest corners of the world. I shall also try to give an outline of the history of all the present day independent Muslim countries. It shall necessarily be a very short sketch but I hope it shall give some idea of what power Islam once was and God willing, shall once again be through Ahmadiyyat, the true Islam.

This map, published in 1926 in The Historical Atlas by William Shepherd, depicts the expansion of the Muslim world from the time of the Holy Prophetsa, through the Umayyad caliphate in 750 A.D. Courtesy The General Libraries at the University of Texas at Austin

Five Periods

Islamic history may conveniently be divided into five periods.

The first period may be called the Arab period. This comprises the times of (a) the first four Caliphs of Islam; (b) The Umayyads at Damascus; (c) and the Abbasids at Baghdad.

1. The first period runs from 632 A.D. to 950 A.D., approximately. During this period the centralism of Islam was intact and the Caliph was both the spiritual and the temporal head of the Islamic world. It was immediately followed by a hundred years of divided principalities when the Caliph’s temporal power was reduced to naught. It appeared as if Islam’s political power would entirely disintegrate.

2. But about 1050 A.D. a new people appeared on the scene — the Saljuqs. They accepted Islam and under them, for approximately two hundred years more, the centralism of Islam was restored. Thus our second period—that of the Saljuqs—comes to a close round about 1250 A.D.

3. The third period begins with the Mongol onslaught in 1258 when Baghdad was sacked, the Caliph killed, and the lands of Islam entirely ruined. But in 20 years the Mongols themselves had accepted Islam. Their period, including that of Tamerlane, extends till about 1500 A.D.

4. From 1500 we enter the fourth period, that of the Safavids in Persia, Ottoman Turks in Turkey, and the Great Mughals in India—the period of national and regional dynasties.

5. Finally, the period starting from about 1700 A.D. brings us to the present day. In this period European powers began playing their role in the world of Islam.

With this introduction we shall now go on to a detailed consideration of the periods I have mentioned.

Period of the Caliphate

At the death of the Holy Prophetsa of Islam in 632 A. D., practically the whole of Arabia proper had accepted Islam. Under his first duly elected successor, the Caliph Abu Bakrra, the power of Islam was consolidated still further in Arabia.

A view of the Imam Hussain Mosque in the city of Karbala in 1932. In 680 A.D., Hazrat Hussainra, grandson of the Holy Prophetsa, was martyred in the city. Courtesy of the Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection.

But it was during the time of the second successor, Hazrat Umarra, that Islam spread outside Arabia and won its most glorious victories. The Byzantines and the Persians both thought Arabia belonged to them and, construing the rise of Islam as a rebellion against them, hastened to march to chastise the Arabs. A handful of Muslims faced numbers, in some cases in the ratio of one man to ten, but the fiery zeal of the faith swept all before it. Damascus fell to the arms of Islam in 635, Yarmuk in 636 and with it Syria. The fate of Persia was decided at Qadisiya in 637 and Egypt was conquered in 640. But the reign of Caliph Umarra was not memorable only on account of its military glory. It was in his reign that for the first time in world history the principle was recognized that the state was responsible for the material welfare of all its citizens. It was recognized that the state had more obligations than rights. The saying with which he began his reign will never be antiquated:

“By Allah, he that is the weakest among you shall be in my sight the strongest for I shall vindicate for him his rights, but him that is the strongest will I treat as the weakest until he complies with the law.”

After Umarra succeeded Usmanra and Alira. After Alira the principle of election of the caliph died out. Mu’awiyah, who succeeded him in 661 as the Caliph, made the Caliphate hereditary and the Umayyad dynasty began.

The question of succession of the Prophetsa raised the greatest political problem that Islam has had to face. The Shias contended that after the Prophetsa, Hazrat Alira should have succeeded the Prophetsa though he never himself laid any claims to caliphate on the score of his blood relationship. Actually, it was the Persians, to whom divine right was more or less a sacred article of faith, who were the greatest champions of Alira‘s family. All through Muslim history this difference between Shias and Sunnis has persisted.

Returning to the Umayyads: during the period of Mu’awiyah’s successor, Yazid, the battle of Karbala happened in 680 A.D. Hazrat Alira‘s son Hazrat Hussainra declined to pay homage to a Caliph who had not been elected in a shura [advisory or electoral council]. He was martyred on the plains of Karbala.

Among the Umayyad Caliphs Walid I was the most glorious. In his reign in 711 A.D., a handful of Muslims under Tariq ibn Ziyad crossed over into Spain. In a few years they had overrun it with irresistible force and for the next 700 years Spain was a Muslim country. During this period Muhammad bin Qasim invaded India and conquered Sindh and Multan.

The Abbasids

The Umayyads fell in 750 A. D. and were succeeded by the Abbasids, who, though Sunnis in faith, came to power with the help of Khurasani Shias. The Abbasids transferred their seat of government from Damascus to Baghdad. The most glorious reign among the Abbasids was doubtless that of Haroon al-Rashid, the hero of the celebrated Arabian Nights, and his son Mamoon. Islamic learning and the prosperity of the Muslim Countries was at a pitch that it had never reached before.

About a hundred years after Haroon’s death, the power of the Abbasid caliphs began to wane. In Khurasan, the Samanids took over power; in Fars, the Buyids; in Mesopotamia the Hamadanis; in Africa the Fatimids
 and in Arabia the Carmathians. All these rulers (except the Fatimids) acknowledged the sovereignty of the Caliph in name but the disintegration was so complete that it appeared as if Islam was politically doomed. The only event of note we may mention in this period occurred when Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni for the first time laid foundation of a permanent Muslim rule in India.

The Saljuqs

During this period when the empire of the Caliphate had vanished, and what had once been a realm united under a sole Muslim ruler was reduced to a collection of scattered dynasties, a new race arose, a new people accepted Islam, and with their fresh zeal poured new blood into the dying veins. The Turkish Saljuqs accepted Islam; they bred a generation of Muslim warriors to whom more than anything else the Crusaders owed their repeated failures.

A manuscript page from Al-Ghazali’s book, Revival of the Sciences of Religion. The Saljuq period saw great progress in learning, especially during the time of Malik Shah, which saw the founding of observatories, the creation of the Jalali calendar, and the founding of Jamia Nizamia, or university. Courtesy of the Tunisian National Library

The first Saljuq sultan was Tughral Tughan Khan, who died in 1063. He was followed by his brilliant son Alp Arslan. This period was of unequalled prosperity and security. It also produced the greatest Muslim statesman of all times, Nizam al-Mulk. The Abbasid Caliph still held sway over Baghdad but he delegated all temporal power to the Saljuq Sultans. The Saljuq kingdom extended from the borders of Afghanistan to the ends of the Arabian peninsula. Except Egypt and Spain alI the Muslim world was united and never after that period has it been united again in the same manner.

Alp Arslan was succeeded by his son Malik Shah. His period was the heyday of learning and original research in the mathematics and sciences. In 1074 the observatory was founded where the celebrated Omar Khayyam worked. The Jalali calendar was instituted which, in the judgment of a modern scholar, is more accurate than our present Gregorian one. The Nizamia University in Baghdad was founded. This university had the honour of having one of its chairs being occupied by the celebrated Muslim dialectician Al-Ghazali.

The Saljuq power began declining towards the end of the twelfth century. But even in its decline it had enough vitality to repulse the Crusaders. The great Saladin of Scott’s novels flourished about 1170. It is curious that the attitude towards the Crusades was entirely different in Christian countries and in the Muslim lands. While in the West they were given the form of a holy war and the whole military might of Europe was behind them, in Muslim countries they were considered as local affairs, local depredations which the governors of the provinces concerned could effectively deal with. In 1171 after the decisive battle of Hattin when Saladin sent several Frank prisoners to the Caliph Al-Nasir at Baghdad, the booty included a bronze iron cross inlaid with the wood of the true cross. It was duly buried near Baghdad.

In the later part of the Saljuq period an ulcer grew in Islamic society. The Nizari Ismailis, also known as the Assassins, gained strength. They held absolute sway over a few forts like Alamut, but the terror they inspired with their secret activities made them a great power in the land.

The Mongols

In the beginning of the 13th century the Saljuq power had declined. Some other dynasty may have taken their place but about 1220 occurred one of the greatest eruptions in the history of the world. The nomadic tribes of Central Asia, the Mongols, swarmed over the whole civilized world (both Europe and Asia) and under Genghis Khan and Hulagu Khan swept like an avalanche all before them. About 1260 it appeared that Islam’s political power had disappeared for good; Baghdad had been razed to the ground; the Caliphate obliterated; the lands of Islam, Persia, Transoxiana [the area covering parts of modern-day Uzbekistan, Kyryzstan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan] and Iraq laid completely waste.

The Mongols proved to be a formidable ghting force, conquering much of Europe and Asia. Yet they too eventually accepted Islam. © Peter Hermes Furian | Shutterstock

But then again the miracle happened. The religion of the conquered itself conquered the conquerors. I shall briefly recount the story of the Mongols here: Why the Mongols rose like that, nobody has ultimately ascertained: “In its suddenness, its devastating destruction, its appalling ferocity, its passionless and purposeless cruelty, its irresistible though shortlived violence, the Mongol onslaught resembles some brute cataclysm of the blind forces of nature rather than a phenomenon of human history.”1

About 1220 they fell on the lands of Islam and Europe. In Europe they sacked Moscow, Rostov, Kiev, and Krakow. Their second wave in 1258, under Hulagu, obliterated Baghdad and the Islamic caliphate. It seemed they came merely to kill and ruin. One by one all the Muslim countries fell before their onslaught. They did not excel in courage—if they spared the inhabitants of a town which surrendered, it was either to profit by their skill or to employ them against their countrymen. “Dozens of wretched captives accompanied the advancing hordes, erected the engines of the besiegers, then were driven to the breaches effected in the walls to fill with their bodies moat and trench, and were finally, if they still escaped death, put to the sword to give place to a new batch of victims drawn from fresh conquests. Their cruelty was calculated, and deliberately designed to strike with a paralysis of terror those whom they proposed next to attack while they left behind them reeking ruins and charnel houses.”2

That nothing might be left to complete the ruin of their victims they retired from a town which they had sacked, sent a detachment to revisit its ruins and kill such wretches as had emerged from their hiding places. The extent of terror they aroused can be judged from the following quotation from Ibn-ulAthir (written in 1230):

“I have heard that one of them took a man captive but had not with him any weapon wherewith to kill him and he said to his prisoner, ‘Lay your head on the ground and do not move’ and he did so and the Tatar went and fetched his sword and slew him therewith.”

They professed no religion but their destruction of the centers of Islamic civilization advanced them so much in favor of the Pope that His Holiness was pleased to write to Ogotai Khan and others letters with his own signature. The Pope only realized their perfidy when their hordes began devastating the Christian lands with equal impartiality.

In the annals of Islam there has been no event with the like import. The destruction of Baghdad as metropolis of Islam, its reduction to the status of a provincial town, and the murder of the Caliph, struck a fatal blow at the semblance of unity which had subsisted among the nations of Islam. The sack of Baghdad lasted a week while 80,000 people were put to death. The loss suffered by Muslim learning which never again regained its pristine level defies description and almost surpasses imagination. Not only were thousands of priceless books annihilated, but also the very tradition of accurate scholarship and original research was almost destroyed. But in spite of all this they could not kill the religion of Islam. They themselves fell victims to it. About 1275 the Mongol rulers had accepted Islam. Thenceforward, those very Mongols were Islam’s greatest champions.


The political history of the next 200 years consists of the rule of Muslim Mongol princes in Persia till about 1350 while Ottoman Turks established themselves in Asia Minor. Egypt was ruled by the descendants of Saladin. After 1350 another Central Asian conqueror arose, Tamerlane. He professed Islam but he had no other motive except world conquest and domination. He swept over Persia, India, Afghanistan, parts of Russia and some parts of China like Genghis Khan before him. His most notable victory was over Bayezid I, the Sultan of Turkey in 1402. It checked for a while the progress of Ottoman Turks to be the most dominant force in Islam but the net effect of his conquests was ephemeral. His successors ruled over Central Asia and Persia for almost a hundred years when they were supplanted by the Safavids. Thus the Mongol period, in which has been included Tamerlane, started roundabout 1250 and came to end about 1500 A.D., except in India where the Mughal rule effectively lasted till about 1750 A.D.

 This image depicts the emperor Tamerlane defeating the Mamluk sultan of Egypt. While his conquests were far-ranging, they lasted no longer than a century.

It would not be out of place to stop here and take some stock of Muslim learning in this dark period. We come across some of the greatest religious names. The first to mention is that of Shah Shams Tabriz. His disciple Maulana Jalal-ud-Din Rumi wrote his Masnavi near about 1260. The author describes his work in the Masnavi as “The roots of the roots of religion and discovery of the mysteries of reunion and sure knowledge.” The Sufi movement had its heyday in the thirteenth  century. Sheikh Mohyuddin Ibn Arabi, the greatest name in medieval Islam, a native of Andalusia, went to live in Damascus and died there in 1240.

In the literary sphere Hafiz-e-Shirazi and Sa’adi Shirazi belong to this period, while in mathematics and astronomy, Naseeruddin al-Tusi was writing and compiling his table in the 13th century.

In the historical field some of the greatest books were written in this period. Ibnul-Athir, Ibn Arabshah, Ata-ul-Malik Juvayni being a few of the great historians. A short time later in Aleppo Shah Nimatullah (born 1330) was writing his famous prediction of the coming of the Promised Messiah and his promised son.

The Period of National Dynasties

Now we start with the fourth period of our history, starting about 1500 A.D.

In 1500 the Safavids—a Shia dynasty—seized power in Persia. Persia had been Shiite throughout its previous history but it was the first time that a Shia dynasty came to power. This had a profound effect on the course of future history. The Islamic world was divided into two antagonistic camps as it were—the Shiite Persia, parts of Afghanistan and Iraq and the Ottoman Turk Empire comprising Turkey, parts of Iraq, Arabia, Syria, Egypt and Algiers. Spain by now had passed out of Muslim hands. In India ruled the descendants of Tamerlane—the Great Mughals.

The Taj Mahal, built by the Mughal ruler Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his wife, illustrates the power and wealth wielded by the Mughal rulers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. © User Asitjain | Wikimedia Commons | Released under CC BY-SA 3.0

From 1500 to 1700 we witness the great kingdoms; that of Great Mughals Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan, and Aurangzeb in India; of the Safavids, Shah Ismail, Tahmasp, and Shah Abbas in Persia; of the Ottoman Turks, Mohammed I, Selim I, and Sulaiman the Magnificent in Turkey. India was the greatest power in the world in the Mughal days. For Persia this was the golden period of her prosperity and well-being. The Turks ruled the biggest empire they had ever had.

Among the Turkish Sultans Selim I conquered Egypt, Syria and Hejaz [parts of modern-day Saudi Arabia] and assumed the title of Caliph. Sulaiman the Magnificent, who ruled from 1510-1566, conquered Belgrade and parts of Poland. Vienna was besieged by Turkish armies while Turkey possessed the strongest fleet in the world. The Turkish empire extended from the frontiers of Germany to the Persian border. Although during this period the centralism of Islam had disappeared, politically the Muslim world was at its zenith. Eastern Europe lay prostrate under Turkish feet and as a contemporary European historian wrote “Except for his war with Persia, there is nothing that can keep the Turk from annihilating us in Europe.”

After 1700 A.D.

Turkish power in Europe held intact till about 1800. But the Mughal Empire in India had begun disintegrating and during the course of next two centuries was gradually supplanted by British supremacy. The Safavids in Persia lost their hold on the country and in 1727 Persia was conquered by the Afghans. The Afghans were Sunnis and bitterly hated the Shiite Persians. This was the first time after Sultan Mahmud (about 1000 A.D.) that the Afghans asserted themselves as an independent entity. They were soon however driven out of Persia by Nadir Shah who, rising from humble beginnings, ultimately seized all power and came to rule over Persia. His career of conquests was as amazing as that of Tamerlane or Napoleon.

To finish with Persian history, Nadir Shah’s family was soon deposed and the Qajars took its place. They tilled over Persia effectively till the revolution of 1906, when the Persians won for themselves the Constitution. The Qajars were followed by Raza Shah Pahlavi in 1925. During the last war Reza Shah abdicated in favor of his son who is the present Shah.

Concerning Turkish history, after 1700 a big element enters it with the coming of Russia. War with Russia started about 1700. Turkish arms were at first victorious. In 1710 Peter the Great’s army was menaced with total destruction. But about 1770 Turkish fortunes began to wane. Crimea got her independence from Turkey in 1788. France, the traditional ally of Turkey, broke her traditional role when Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798.

After that Egypt under Muhammad Ali went out of the Turkish orbit and became quasi-independent for some time. About the same time Algiers was captured by the French.

The Greeks won their independence from the Turks about 1820 with the help of European powers. The Turkish caliphate went on losing ground till power was seized from the Caliph’s hands by the Young Turk Party in 1910. Turkey entered the wrong side in World War I and lost all her European and Asiatic possessions. The Arab countries as they exist today evolved after the first World War. Turkey itself had a political rejuvenation under Kemal Ataturk and is now materially one of the most advanced Muslim countries.

Before I conclude I shall range over all the independent Muslim countries one by one and summarise their histories—each from their national point of view, starting from the extreme East.

Independent Muslim Countries

 The Ottoman empire ruled over much of the Muslim world but eventually dissolved in the 1920s. © Peter Hermes Furian | Shutterstock

Indonesia: Islam began making itself felt in Java and Sumatra through the active missionary work of Arab traders from a very early date. But only in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries did its political power become important. The Arabic script displaced the Kavi (ancient  Javanese) script. Among the various principalities ruled over by Muslim princes may be mentioned the Sultanate of Aceh in Sumatra, not only for its glory in the sixteenth century but also for the resistance which it offered to the Dutch as recently as the nineteenth century. Indonesia has won its independence from the Dutch and is now the most populous Muslim country in the world.

Pakistan: Muslims came to India in the eighth century. But Muslim domination began about the twelfth century. For 300 years India was ruled by various Afghan dynasties. They were succeeded by the Mughals in 1526. The Mughal power passed after 200 years when the English took over. Pakistan—the expression of Indian Islam for freedom—was brought into existence in August, 1947.

Afghanistan: Afghanistan was a part of the Umayyad and Abbasid empires. It first had its separate existence about 1000 A. D. when the Ghaznavi dynasty ruled over it. After that Afghanistan shared the fate of Persia, all through its chequered history. It was no more than a province, sometimes of the Muslim Indian Empire, sometimes that of the Persian.

In 1725, however, the Afghans again rose and gained an independent status. In the 19th century they clashed with Britain. Since then however, Afghanistan has existed as an independent power.

Persia: Persia was a part of the Umayyad and Abbasid empires. It was under the Saljuqs in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. For the next one hundred years Mongol princes ruled over it. From about 1350 till 1500 Tamerlane and his descendants held sway, while from 1500 to 1700 the Safavids ruled over it. After that the Qajar dynasty was founded. The constitution, the expression of Persian democracy, was instituted in 1907, under which the present Shah rules over the country.

Central Asia: Comprising Transoxiana and Russian Turkistan, this area formed part of Persia till the eighteenth century. Russia gradually conquered Bukhara, Tashqand, and Samarqand in the next hundred years. Now one hesitates to call them Muslim countries under the Soviets because they have little contact with rest of Islamic world.

The Arab Countries: Iraq, Syria (including Palestine which throughout Muslim history formed part of Syria) and Saudi Arabia shared the fate of Persia till 1500 A.D. After that they formed part of the Ottoman Turkish empire. They won their independence during World War I with British help. But the British, after the war, defected from their promises and parcelled out Syria to the French, keeping Iraq and Transjordan under themselves,

It is only after this war3 that Syria, Iraq and Transjordan have gained their independence.

Turkey: Turkey was first conquered for Islam by the Abbasids. Ottoman Turks migrated to it about 1288. Constantinople was taken in 1453 by Mohammad I. Turkey rose to great power but its decline started in the 19th century. In the first World War, alliance with Germany cost Turkey all its possessions in Europe, Asia and Africa.

Egypt: Egypt was ruled by. the Umayyads till 750, then by the Fatimids till 1170, then by the Mamluks till around 1500, A.D. when Selim I conquered it and incorporated it in the Turkish empire. It won independence in 19th century but lost it again to the British. The subsequent rise of Egypt in Middle East affairs, and its struggle with Great Britain is all recent history. Now Egypt stands out as the paramount middle eastern power.

This concludes our survey of the map of the Muslim World.

There is one glorious event in the history of Islam which I have reserved for treatment at the end.

I have stated earlier that at the lowest ebb of Islamic political power, Islam’s religious vitality has displayed itself again and again. Islam’s political might reached its nadir towards the end of 19th century and about that time rose Ahmadiyyat. Hazrat Ahmadas, the Promised Messiah and the Mahdi was raised at Qadian in 1889 and through him Islam will be regenerated spiritually and politically.

(Source / 29.12.2016)

Revival: The Muslim Response to the Crusades

This part of ‘The Crusades: An Arab Perspective’ explores the birth of the Muslim revival in the face of the Crusades.

The Crusades: An Arab Perspective is a four-part documentary series telling the dramatic story of the crusades seen through Arab eyes, from the seizing of Jerusalem under Pope Urban II in 1099, to its recapture by Salah ad-Din (also known as Saladin), Richard the Lionheart’s efforts to regain the city, and the end of the holy wars in 1291. Part one looked at the First Crusade and the conquest of Jerusalem. In part two, we explore the birth of the Muslim revival in the face of the crusades.

By the early 12th century, the crusades had successfully captured not only the holy city of Jerusalem but huge swaths of the Muslim Levant. Islam’s third holiest site, the al-Aqsa Mosque, was in the hands of the crusaders.

Their entrance to the city [of Jerusalem] was horrifying. They started with an infamous massacre. They killed people in the streets, in their houses and in alleyways. Arab sources talk about a hundred thousand people slaughtered.

Antoine Domit, professor of history at the Lebanese University

The Muslim world, a mighty power for the previous four centuries, was shocked by the Christian annexation of large parts of their empire.

With Jerusalem under their control, the crusaders began to build a new system of rule in the lands they had captured.

They expelled many of its original inhabitants, including Muslims, Jews, and eastern Christians, and began to fill Jerusalem with settlers arriving from Western Europe.

“Those people were slaves and vassals and had no rights at all in Europe. When they came to us, their whole life changed when they became landowners. Their social status changed and so did the demographic and social class structure,” explains Afaf Sabra, professor of history, Al-Azhar University.

Furthermore, the commanders of the First Crusade, lesser knights from Europe, began to style themselves monarchs in the lands they conquered.

In July 1100, Baldwin of Boulogne, one of the leaders of the First Crusade, was crowned Baldwin I, King of Jerusalem.

“With the establishment of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the county of Edessa and the Principality of Antioch, expansion into the Arab lands became easier. The new colonial leaders began expanding their realm very easily,” says Qassem Abdu Qassem, head of the history department, Zaqaziq University.

Islam’s third holiest site, the al-Aqsa Mosque, was in the hands of the crusaders in 1099

Aleppo and the economics of war

Within a decade, most of the Levantine coast was in the crusaders’ hands. And the Christian enclaves in the east now numbered four, with the addition of a new county in Tripoli.

“The coastal area was for the crusaders a very, very tactically significant area, both to supply provisions and to bring pilgrims through the harbours. So securing the coastal areas was a crucial part of crusaders’ tactics,” notes Jan Vandeburie, of the School of History, at the University of Kent.

The economics of the war soon began to dominate the crusades and the Regent of Antioch, Tancred, marched his army towards Aleppo, then the trade capital of the Levant.

Aleppo’s ruler, Radwan, who has been described as spineless and servile, had a friendly relationship with the crusaders. The story goes that he even put a cross on the mosque of Aleppo, which provoked a strong reaction from the locals as they revolted against their duplicitous ruler.

The uprising was irresistible and the Muslim people forced the caliphate in Baghdad, weak though it was, to take action. Abbasid Caliph Al-Mustazhir asked for help from his protector, the Seljuk Sultan.

The governor of Mosul, Mawdoud, was ordered to gather his army and put an end to the crusader siege of Aleppo. Mawdoud was successful in forcing the crusaders to lift the siege of Aleppo because other crusader entities would not come to support them. But Aleppo’s ruler Radwan prevented Mawdoud’s army from entering the city.

“At the same time, Toghtekin [the governor of Damascus] was being attacked by the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Mawdoud’s forces came to help him resist the attack. Mawdoud met King Baldwin in a battle near Tiberias known as the battle of As-Sannabra during which the Muslims defeated the crusaders,” says Sabra.

Toghtekin welcomed Mawdoud gratefully after his victory at As-Sannabra, but later had him assassinated.

Imad Ed-Din Zengi and the Muslim revival

The new governor of Mosul, Imad Ed-Din Zengi, seized control of Aleppo in 1128. Bringing Mosul and Aleppo together “meant taking control of a major gateway to the internal regions of the Levant and towards Mesopotamia,” says Ahmad Hetait, former dean at the Faculty of Arts at Islamic University.

The Muslims’ initial response had been inadequate but now it was time for a revival. The revival arose from the people, not the rulers.

Afaf Sabra, professor of history, Al-Azhar University

In effect, cutting off trade and communication routes between Antioch and Edessa, along with that of the county of Tripoli and the Kingdom of Jerusalem, posed a major obstacle to the crusaders as they confronted the Islamic world.

“The crusaders had relied on dividing the Muslim fiefdoms to deal with them separately, thanks to their insular rulers. Now a unified front was born,” says Muhammad Moenes Awad, professor of history at Sharjah University.

With Damascus protected by a truce with the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Imad Ed-Din Zengi began to prepare for what would be his greatest military achievement: On December 25, 1144, his army attacked and captured the County of Edessa in a matter of hours. It had been the first crusader state in the region but was now the first city to be retrieved by Muslims.

“This is seen as a breakthrough, the real start, the revival of the ‘jihad’ in the Muslim Near East. It’s the first big defeat for the crusaders and it shows that they can actually be defeated and that the Muslim revival can begin to gather some pace,” says Jonathan Phillips, professor of history at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Imad Ed-Din Zengi’s victory in Edessa was a turning point; it lifted the Muslims’ morale and enthusiasm for the fight. Two years later, however, Imad Ed-Din Zengi was killed by his own slave. He was succeeded by his son, Nour Ed-Din.

The Second Crusade

In 1147, Pope Eugene held a religious council which led to the Second Crusade

The loss of Edessa was not taken lightly in Europe. In 1147, Pope Eugene held a religious council calling for the Second Crusade, to be led by two European kings, Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany.

In the summer of 1147, the armies set off towards the Holy Land and after almost a year, the German and French forces finally arrived in Jerusalem.

Soon after, they decided to launch an attack on Damascus, which ended in disaster.

“They retreated, there wasn’t a great battle. They weren’t defeated in some epic struggle, they just slunk away. And that’s a real blow to the morale of the crusaders in the west,” says Phillips.

The tragic failure of the Second Crusade was by no means the last disaster to befall the Christians. Six years later, Nour Ed-Din finally managed to annex Damascus, the very city they had failed to capture.

Qassem Abu Qassem describes Nour Ed-Din Zengi as a leader who “had devoted his whole life to the principle of jihad”, and says that by uniting Muslims under one banner, he enabled them to recover occupied land and Jerusalem.

“It was here that an Islamic revival was born. It had begun before but at this time it became more organised, less random,” concludes Afaf Sabra.

(Source / 17.12.2016)

99 years since the fall of Jerusalem

The Ottomans surrendered Jerusalem to Britain on 9 December 1917

What: The Battle of Jerusalem
Where: Palestine
When: 17 November – 30 December 1917

What happened?

Not long after the Balfour Declaration was signed on 2 November 1917 promising the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine after World War I, British troops led by General Edmund Allenby turned towards Jerusalem. The Battle for Jerusalem occurred during the British Empire’s Sinai and Palestine Campaign against the Ottoman Empire.

The Fall of Jerusalem

The Ottomans surrendered Jerusalem to Britain on 9 December 1917. The Ottoman Army withdrew its troops and surrendered the Holy City to British command with a letter from the city’s governor:

“For the past two days, bombs have been raining on Jerusalem, holy to all communities. Therefore, the Ottoman Government, in order to safeguard the religious places from ruin and destruction, has withdrawn its forces from the city and has commissioned officials to take care of the religious places like the Holy Sepulchre and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Hoping that your treatment will also be similar…”

Two days later, Allenby entered the Holy City on foot through the Jaffa gate, becoming the 34th conqueror of Jerusalem. The fighting started on 17 November and continued until 30 December, three weeks after Jerusalem’s surrender.

Upon Allenby’s entry, a proclamation declaring martial law and Jerusalem under siege was read aloud in English, French, Arabic, Hebrew, Russian and Greek, in which Allenby assured the people that Britain would not harm Jerusalem, its residents, or its holy sites.

“Since your city is regarded with affection by the adherents of three of the great religions of mankind and its soil has been consecrated by the prayers and pilgrimages of multitudes of devout people of these three religions for centuries, therefore do I make it known to you that every sacred building, monument, holy spot, shrine, traditional site, endowment, pious bequest, or customary place of prayer of whatsoever form of the three religions will be maintained and protected according to the existing customs and beliefs of those to whose faith they are sacred.”

Allenby reportedly declared, “The wars of the Crusades are now complete,” and then British Prime Minister David Lloyd George described the capture of Jerusalem as “a Christmas present for the British people.”

(Source / 14.12.2016)


Britain and France Carve Up The Middle East

One Problem: Ottoman Turks Winning the War

Special to The Great War Project.

(1-4 May) The British may have been defeated at Kut in Mesopotamia on the last day of April a century ago, but they are not defeated in the Middle East. At least that’s the way they see it.

Just three days before the British surrender in Kut — after a Turkish siege of 145 days — British and French diplomats, negotiating for months in Paris, sign a secret pact partitioning the Middle East after the war.

The document, known as the Sykes-Picot agreement, is the work of Sir Mark Sykes from Britain and Georges Picot of France. They hold private talks for months, negotiating the postwar partition of the Middle East.

“The diplomats,” writes historian Martin Gilbert, “were dividing up Asia Minor [much of the Middle East] in a secret agreement with France. In the Levant [present day Lebanon] France would control the Lebanese coast, with its capital at Beirut.”

The Middle East as seen through the Sykes-Picot agreement.

The agreement creates “an Arab sovereign state in Syria,” reports Gilbert, “based in Damascus, that would be under French protection.”

Britain would be sovereign over the port city of Haifa [now in northern Israel] and the crusader city of Acre [also in northern Israel], thus controlling the bay that would serve as the Mediterranean terminus for oil pipelines coming from Mesopotamia.

“Palestine,” reports Gilbert, “would be under the triple protection of Britain, France, and Russia.”

And finally, Gilbert observes, an Arab state under British protection would stretch from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea.

Of course this all depends on the Ottomans’ losing the war. Just now though, they are celebrating the great victory against the British at Kut…

…on the Tigris River a hundred miles south of Baghdad.

“More than 9,000 troops surrendered to the Turks on April 29th,” a century ago, according to Gilbert.

Nonetheless, in Britain the surrender at Kut comes as a great shock. “More men had surrendered to the despised Turk at Kut,” Gilbert writes, “than had surrendered to the Americans at Yorktown,” (a great victory for the Americans during their revolutionary war).

What’s more, this comes just four months after the Turks drive the British and allied troops off the Gallipoli peninsula. The British position in western Turkey and the Middle East is disastrous.

“Despite the fresh example of the catastrophe at Gallipoli,” writes historian Scott Anderson, “many senior British commanders simply couldn’t accept that they might lose to the ‘rabble’ of the Ottoman army once again.”

The next day the Turks begin a forced march of  thousands of captured soldiers. Their destination is “distant Anatolia.”

A veritable death march is beginning.

Writes historian Gilbert, “The soldiers captured at Kut, nearly 12,000 in all, British and Indian alike, were marched northward without any concern whatsoever for their well-being, or for their helpless status as prisoners-of-war.”

Many of the captured soldiers are forced to walk barefoot after their boots are stolen. “Those who stumbled or fell were beaten with whips and sticks.”

Thousands to British and Indian soldiers on march from Kut to Baghdad, May 1916.

Some British officers travel up the Tigris River by boat and manage to observe the march briefly. One writes later, “the eyes of our men stared from white faces drawn long with the suffering of a too tardy death, and they held out their hands towards our boat.”

There is nothing the observing British officers can do.

And what of the work of Sykes and Picot?

“Even the most starry-eyed imperialist had to recognize,” observes historian Anderson,

“there was something faintly ludicrous about Britain and France sitting around and divvying up the postwar Middle East at a time when, if not outright losing that war, they certainly weren’t winning it.”

(Source / 30.07.2016)

Gaza and drones: a horrific 51-day attack

Women suffering (@Samar Abu Elouf)


Article 09.07.2016

Two years ago today, on July 7, 2014, the Israeli government launched a horrific 51-day air, land and sea attack on the people of Gaza. Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) fired missiles, rockets, artillery and tank shells relentlessly on 1.8 million Palestinians squashed by Israeli land and sea blockades into a narrow strip 25 miles long and five miles wide, one of the most densely populated places in the world. Nearly 500 Palestinians were killed by Israeli assassin drones.

Drone warfare has become the norm for both the United States and Israel. Drones fly above Gaza 24 hours a day watching the movements of every Palestinian and ready to fire rockets at those chosen to die by the IDF.

Al Mezan Center for Human Rights documents that, from 2008 until October 2013, out of 2,269 Palestinians killed by Israel, 911 were killed by drones, most during the 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead. In the 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense, 143 out of 171 Palestinians killed by Israel were by drone attack.

In the 2014 Israeli attack on Gaza, the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights documents 497 Palestinians killed by drones, 32 percent of Palestinian deaths.

At the end of the 51 days, 2,310 Palestinians had been killed, 10,600 wounded, including 3,300 children; 872 homes were totally destroyed or severely damaged, and the homes of 5,005 families were damaged but still inhabitable; 138 schools were damaged or destroyed, 26 hospitals and health facilities were damaged. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), over 273,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip had been displaced of whom 236,375 (over 11 percent of the Gazan population) were taking shelter in 88 United Nations schools.

Palestinian militias shot homemade rockets killing 66 Israeli soldiers, five Israeli civilians, including one child, and one Thai citizen in Israel.

The 51-day Israeli attack on Gaza should not be characterized as a war between opposing forces but rather as a massive one-sided attack on Palestinians made at the choosing of Israel with its overwhelming military air, sea and land forces backed up with endless military supplies and equipment from the United States, including the missile system called the “Iron Dome.”

Now two years after the Israeli attack on Gaza, tensions in the West Bank are exploding. Beginning in October 2015, a few West Bank Palestinian youth have forsaken non-violent confrontation with Israeli military and have taken up knives instead of rocks in the latest intifada against Israeli occupation and oppression, against the continued building of illegal settlements on Palestinian lands and against the imprisonment of hundreds of Palestinian youth. The use of knives against IDF soldiers has expanded to deaths of Israeli civilians as well, including a 13-year-old girl in her home. Thirty-four Israelis, two U.S. citizens, an Eritrean and a Sudanese have been killed in the knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, and 214 Palestinians have been killed by IDF soldiers during this period.

The potential for Israeli response/revenge to these knife attacks is great and would probably not be directed to just the West Bank, but also toward Gaza.

As with other conflicts, the stories of death and of survival of civilians trapped in merciless bombings and fighting should compel leaders to work to end conflicts, but seldom do.

A new book published two days ago on July 5, 2016 chronicles the 2014 IDF attack on Gaza and focuses on the psychological and physical destruction suffered by the people of Gaza by one particular weapon system — the assassin drone that killed 497 during the 2014 attack.

Palestinian writer Atef Abu Saif provides the day-by-day life of a family and a community under fire from an enemy in the sky -beginning with July 7, 2014- two years ago today.

The Drone Eats With Me: A Gaza Diary” is a graphic description of life under fire and particularly with the assassin drone lurking in the sky 24 hours a day waiting for its next victim. “The drone keeps us company all night long. It’s whirring, whirring, whirring, whirring is incessant -as if it wants to remind us it’s there, it’s not going anywhere. It hangs just a little way above our heads.”

Atef writes the sound of the drones is close: “the noise of this new explosion subsides; it’s replaced by the inevitable whir of a drone, sounding so close it could be right beside us. It’s like it wants to join us for the evening and has pulled up an invisible chair.”

Atef describes his future during the 51-day attack: “Our fates are all in the hands of a drone operator in a military base somewhere just over the Israeli border. The operator looks at Gaza the way an unruly boy looks at the screen of a video game. He presses a button and might destroy an entire street. He might decide to terminate the life of someone walking along the pavement, or he might uproot a tree in an orchard that hasn’t yet borne fruit. The operator practices his aim at his own discretion, energized by the trust and power that has been put in his hands by his superiors.”

(Source / 17.07.2016)

Palestine Museum of Natural History

Dr. Sana Atallah

Dr. Sana Atallah

The idea of a museum to research and document animals in Palestine came from the first Palestinian zoologist, Dr. Sana Atallah.  Born in 1943, Atallah grew up in Beit Sahour, Palestine and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in science at the American University of Beirut.  His master’s thesis research was on rodents.  He then completed his PhD in 1969 at the University of Connecticut, U.S.A., on mammals of the Eastern Mediterranean region.  Offered a position at the Pahlavi University in Tehran (later called Shiraz University) in 1970, Atallah taught only one semester before being killed, at the age of 27, in a tragic car accident along with a student researcher.

Despite his young age, Atallah had already produced over a dozen scientific publications, and his doctoral thesis was published posthumously in two parts (1977 and 1978).  In the 1960s Atallah collected specimens from Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine.  His research collection is now spread among many museums, including those at AUB, University of Connecticut, Shiraz University, and here in Palestine.  In 1972, David Harrison named a subspecies of the hare Lepus capensis atallahi in honor of his departed friend Atallah—who had earlier named a taxon in honor of Harrison (Acomys russatus harrisoni) and one in honor of his AUB advisor and friend (Acomys lewisi).

Dr. Sana Atallah

Dr. Sana Atallah

As a child, Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh, founder of the Palestine Museum of Natural History, often accompanied his uncle Sana Atallah for research in the field, which inspired his love of nature in Palestine.  Qumsiyeh was thirteen years old when Atallah died in a car accident, and that is when he resolved not only to fulfill his uncle’s mission of doing research on mammals in the Arab world, but also to build a museum.

Baker Prof. Qumsiyeh & his PhD advisor Dr. Robert J. Baker

IMG_0931Prof. Qumsiyeh & B.U. Master’s students

Qumsiyeh finished high school in Bethlehem, among the top ten students in the Tawjihi matriculation exam for Palestinians (West Bank and Gaza).  He earned his bachelor’s degree at Jordan University and while still an undergraduate, published his first research paper (on new records of bats from Jordan).  He went on to get his Master’s of Science degree at the University of Connecticut (on the bats of Egypt) and his PhD at Texas Tech University (on chromosomes of gerbils and jirds).  He then did medical genetics training in Memphis, Tennessee, and served on the faculties of medicine at three U.S. universities (Tennessee, Duke, and Yale), before returning to Palestine in 2008.  Prof. Qumsiyeh has published over 130 scientific papers on topics ranging from systematics to biodiversity to cancer, plus hundreds of other refereed articles.  His books include Bats of Egypt, Mammals of the Holy Land, Sharing the Land of Canaan: Human Rights and the Israeli/Palestinian Struggle (in English, Spanish, and German) and Popular Resistance in Palestine: A History of Hope and Empowerment (Arabic, English, French, forthcoming in Italian).

Currently Professor Qumsiyeh teaches and does research at Bethlehem and Birzeit Universities.  In addition to directing the main clinical cytogenetic laboratory at Bethlehem University, he is the director of the Palestine Museum of Natural History and the Institute for Biodiversity and Sustainability.  He was chairman of the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People, and served on the board of Al-Rowwad Children’s Theater Center in Aida Refugee Camp.  His main civic interests lie in media activism and public education.  Qumsiyeh has given hundreds of talks around the world, has published over 250 letters to the editor in publications such as Boston Globe, Time Magazine, and NY Times, and has been interviewed extensively on TV and radio (local, national, and international).  His book on human rights activism is published electronically on his website (

Since returning to Palestine 2008, Prof. Qumsiyeh has developed a system for working with and empowering young people, as he believes this is the key to freedom and development in Palestine.  He and his students were the first Palestinians to publish research on biodiversity in such groups as scorpions and amphibians, to demonstrate genetic impact on human health of Israeli industrial settlements, to study infertility among Palestinian males, to study cancer cytogenetic in Palestine, and on other topics.  Based on these studies and others, plus the work and ideas of dozens of young volunteers, the Palestine Museum of Natural History was launched in June 2014 with ambitious plans—described in our section on mission and goals.

It has not been an easy task to do this.  The Museum was started with land and building facility use from Bethlehem University and seed operating money from Dr. and Mrs. Qumsiyeh and from individuals.  In the transition period of 2014-2017, we rely heavily on volunteers and we welcome your support (see sections on staff and support).  We are working to apply for institutional fundings in order to bring on board much needed professional team members.

(Source / 07.07.2016)

Operation Cast Lead

Article of January 04, 2012


Operation Cast Lead

Israel’s use of white phosphorus munitions in densely populated urban areas of Gaza during Operation Cast Lead was internationally criticized

On December 27, 2008, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, a massive, 22-day military assault on the Gaza Strip. The ferocity of the attack was unprecedented in the more than six-decade-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, killing some 1,400 Palestinians, most of them civilians.

In the aftermath of the offensive, a UN-appointed fact finding mission found strong evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by both the Israeli military and Palestinian militias. Investigations by human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch came to the same conclusion.


  •  According to investigations by independent Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations, between 1,385 and 1,419 Palestinians were killed during Cast Lead, a majority of them civilians, including at least 308 minors under the age of 18. More than 5000 more were wounded. Thirteen Israelis were also killed, including 3 civilians. (See below for a more detailed breakdown of casualties)
  • According to the UN, 3,540 housing units were completely destroyed, with another 2,870 sustaining severe damage.
  • More than 20,000 people – many of them already refugees, some two or three times over – were made homeless.
  • Attacks on Gaza’s electricity infrastructure caused an estimated $10 million in damage, according to the Israeli advocacy group Gisha.
  • 268 private businesses were destroyed, and another 432 damaged, at an estimated cost of more than $139 million, according to an assessment by the Private Sector Coordination Council, a Palestinian economic group. A separate report found that 324 factories and workshops were damaged during the war.
  • According to the UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides services to Palestinian refugees, the offensive damaged almost 20,000 meters (approx. 12 miles) of water pipes, four water reservoirs, 11 wells, and sewage networks and pumping stations. Israeli shelling also damaged 107 UNRWA installations.
  • Eighteen schools, including 8 kindergartens, were destroyed, and at least 262 others damaged. Numerous Palestinian government buildings, including police stations, the headquarters of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and part of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ compound, were also destroyed.
  • After an investigation of the destruction of civilian infrastructure in Gaza, Human Rights Watch accused the Israeli military of violating the international ban on “wanton destruction” found in the Fourth Geneva Convention.


Six months before Cast Lead, Israel negotiated a ceasefire with Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups in Gaza. Under the agreement, which went into effect on June 19, 2008, both sides agreed to stop hostilities across the Green Line, the de facto border between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Despite a number of violations by both sides, the truce was largely successful.

Hamas negotiators claim that Israel agreed to end its closure of Gaza’s border crossings as part of the ceasefire agreement, however Israeli officials dispute this. While Israel did resume operations at one border crossing, the overall policy of closure did not change. Two months after the truce began, the UN reported that the number of goods allowed into Gaza actually decreased.

Nevertheless, overall, a situation of relative quiet prevailed in and around Gaza until November 4, when Israeli soldiers staged a raid into the Strip, killing six members of Hamas. The attack, which took place on the eve of the US presidential elections, ended the ceasefire and led to an escalation of hostilities culminating in Cast Lead the following month.


Cast Lead proceeded in two phases: a week of intense aerial bombing followed by two weeks of a joint air and land assault and invasion. The surprise attack began at 11:30 a.m. on December 27, 2008, with Israeli F-16 fighter jets, Apache helicopters, and unmanned drones striking more than 100 locations across the tiny, crowded Gaza Strip within a matter of minutes.

Among the targets were four Palestinian police stations, including the central police headquarters in Gaza City, where a graduation ceremony for new officers was underway. Ninety-nine police personnel and 9 members of the public were killed in the first minutes of the attack. By the end of the first day at least 230 Palestinians had been killed.

The massive bombardment continued until January 3, 2009, when the Israeli army invaded the Strip from the north and east. Israel’s navy also shelled Gaza from offshore.

On January 18, 2009, under enormous international pressure and just two days before Barack Obama was sworn in as President of the United States, Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire and withdrew its forces from Gaza. Palestinian armed groups followed with a separate unilateral ceasefire.


Reports of the exact number of Palestinians killed vary, but casualty figures supplied by credible independent nongovernmental organizations are generally consistent.

The Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reported that the offensive left 1,419 Palestinians dead, including 1,167 civilians. The Centre also reported more than 5,000 Palestinians wounded, as did the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem reported 1,385 Palestinians killed, including 762 noncombatants, and 318 minors under the age of 18.

Officially, local authorities in Gaza put the total Palestinian fatalities at 1,444. For its part, the Israeli government claimed that 1,166 Palestinians were killed, including 709 combatants.

According to Israeli authorities, three Israeli civilians and one soldier were killed by rockets fired from Gaza during Cast Lead. Nine Israeli soldiers also died in combat in Gaza, including four killed by friendly fire. According to the UN, 518 Israelis were wounded.


In April 2009, following international outrage at the carnage caused by Cast Lead, the UN Human Rights Council established a Fact Finding Mission to investigate possible violations of international law committed during the conflict. Leading the mission was Justice Richard Goldstone, a former judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and war crimes prosecutor for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

The four members of the mission visited Gaza in late May and early June 2009, holding hearings there and in Geneva. They conducted 188 interviews and reviewed more than 10,000 pages of documents, more than 30 videos, and 1,200 photographs.

Israel refused to cooperate with the inquiry, denying the mission the opportunity to meet with Israeli officials or visit the West Bank.

As a result of its investigation, the mission issued the so-called “Goldstone Report,” a 575-page document detailing alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Israeli military. The report also accused Palestinian armed groups of war crimes as a result of indiscriminate rockets attacks on Israeli civilians living near Gaza.

The Goldstone Report documented 36 specific cases and incidents where Israeli forces allegedly violated international laws during the Gaza offensive. These include:

    • Samouni family massacre: In perhaps the most infamous incident of the war, Israeli soldiers ordered around 100 members of the Samouni family into a single building in the Zaytoun area of Gaza City. Soldiers held the family in the building for 24 hours before shelling the building on January 4, 2009. Twenty-one members of the family, all civilians, were killed.
    • Al-Daya family massacre: On January 6, an Israeli F-16 jet fired a missile at the home of the Al-Daya family, also in the Zaytoun neighborhood of Gaza City, killing 22 family members, most of them women and children.
    • White flag killings: The UN mission and human rights groups also documented several cases in which witnesses saw Israeli soldiers kill Palestinians who were fleeing while carrying makeshift white flags to indicate their status as civilians. In one case, a soldier shot and killed two women, Majda and Rayya Hajjaj (aged 37 and 65 respectively) who were fleeing with their families while carrying a white flag in the town of Johr Ad-Dik. In August 2012, in a plea deal with prosecutors, a solider was sentenced to just 45 days in prison for their deaths. To date he’s the only person to face serious charges stemming from Cast Lead.
  • Use of white phosphorus in populated areas: Rights groups, journalists, and the UN mission in Gaza also documented numerous instances of the use of white phosphorus, an incendiary substance that is illegal when used in populated areas. Israeli forces used white phosphorus in attacks on at least two hospitals (Al-Quds Hospital and Al-Wafa Hospital), as well as the central UN compound in Gaza City. Numerous civilian casualties were caused by white phosphorus in the small, densely populated Strip.

In addition to the Goldstone Report, human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watchissued reports of their own documenting numerous allegations of war crimes being committed by Israeli forces.


Amnesty International

Operation ‘Cast Lead’: 22 Days of Death and Destruction (July 2009)

Impunity for war crimes in Gaza and southern Israel a recipe for further civilian suffering (July 2009)


Red Lines Crossed: Destruction of Gaza’s Infrastructure (August 2009)

Human Rights Watch

White Flag Deaths: Killings of Palestinian Civilians during Operation Cast Lead (August 2009)

“I Lost Everything”: Israel’s Unlawful Destruction of Property during Operation Cast Lead (May 2010)

United Nations

Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (The Goldstone Report) (Sept 2009)

(Source / 01.07.2016)