Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Palestine (Palaestina), or the Holy Land, the southern part of Syria, comprising the region apportioned by Joshua among the twelve tribes of Israel, but never occupied by them throughout its whole extent. It lies between lat. 31° and 33° 20' N., and is bounded on the W. by the Mediterranean; towards the E. it is impossible to assign any precise limit. The area of the cis-Jordanic portion is 6,000 square miles, and that of the remainder cannot at any time have exceeded 3,800 square miles. Just as the old name Canaan denoted originally the low-lying country along the coast, so Palestine means literally "Land of the Philistines," and was not used of the inland districts before the time of the Romans.

Physical Characteristics. Notwithstanding its narrow limits, Palestine presents a remarkable variety of surface, scenery, and climate. The central portion consists of an undulating tableland (the "hills" or "hill-country"), separated from Lebanon on the N. by the fertile Plain of Esdraelon (Jezreel), which is 20 miles long and 9 miles broad. It has a gentle slope towards the W., but descends abruptly to the Jordan valley, the surface gradually rising, as it extends southwards, till it reaches its greatest elevation (about 3,300 feet) in the neighbourhood of Hebron, beyond which, near Beersheba, it sinks into the Idumaean Desert. The northern part of this tract is more fertile than that towards the S., the least productive district being the country round Jerusalem; but even there, the vine is grown with success, and the barren aspect of the plateau is relieved in many places by gardens of olives and figs and luxuriant cornfields. There is no reason to suppose that the quantity of timber in this region - as represented by the oak, terebinth, fir, sycamore, cedar, acacia, etc. - has decreased since the Old Testament period. To the W. of the central tableland and the Lebanon ranges, N. and S. of Mount Carmel, there runs a strip of low seaboard, which expands into the plain of Philistia as the coast trends away to the S.W., N. of Philistia (an agricultural district with a rich soil) is the Valley of Sharon, once the Garden of Palestine, but now for the most part a marshy or sandy wilderness, owing to the destruction of the irrigatory system and the formation of dunes to a distance of several miles inland. To this section belongs also the Shephelah ("low ground"), a low ridge between the high watershed range and the plain, renowned both in ancient and modern times for the excellence of its crops. The maritime plain is intersected by deep gullies, traversed in some cases by perennial streams. Oranges, lemons, citrons, bananas, and melons grow luxuriantly, especially in the gardens of Jaffa and Ascalon. E. of the central tableland is a deep fissure (El-Ghor), increasing in width from 5 to 13 miles, down which the Jordan flows with tortuous course (100 miles as the crow flies, but in reality nearly twice that length), from the base of Mount Hermon (1,000 feet above the Mediterranean), through the Waters of Merom (Bahr-el-Huleh), to the Dead Sea, which is 1,292 feet below its level. Beyond Jordan is another upland district, forming a prolongation of the Anti-Libanus ranges, with an elevation of 2,000 to 3,000 feet, succeeded on the E. by a plateau which stretches away to the Arabian Desert. This region contains wide tracts of excellent pasture. The highest point in Palestine is Jebel Jermuk (3,934 feet). The height of Ebal is 3,084 feet; that of Gerizim 2,849 feet; and that of Carmel - a north-western spur of the uplands terminating in a promontory - 1,740 feet. The Jordan is the only important river; but the Kishon - a turbid stream, swollen after the rains, but dry for part of its course in summer - is interesting from its Biblical associations. Springs are abundant in the hill-country of Galilee, Samaria, and Judaea; but in Philistia the water-supply is derived entirely from cisterns. The climate varies greatly in different districts. The rainy season begins with the autumnal equinox. Thunderstorms are common in November and December; but the heaviest fall takes place in January, after which the weather begins to clear, though rain does not cease till the vernal equinox is over. With the exception of a single heavy shower in June or July, there is seldom any rain between end of April and beginning of October.

History. The giant races to which allusion is made in the Old Testament - races of Aramaean descent, and therefore akin to the Israelites - were conquered by tribes known collectively as Canaanites, whom the Israelites found in possession when they arrived from Goshen (about 1274 B.C.). According to the Biblical account, they were Hamitic, but linguistic evidence points rather to a Semitic origin. The Philistines in the S.W. belonged to a different stock; their ancestors must probably be sought amongst the Egyptian Caphtorim. These races were not extirpated, nor did they lose the whole of their territory, for the limits assigned to the Israelitish tribes must be regarded as prospective rather than actual. The central tableland or hill-country W. of the Jordan was the only part of Palestine of which they ever secured a firm hold. The Philistines especially maintained their supremacy over a considerable area, and long after the migration they frequently inflicted crushing defeats on the Israelites. There is even some ground for believing that the modern Fellahin are descended from the people who occupied the land before the Jewish invasion. E. of the Jordan Israel carried on a ceaseless struggle with various Semitic tribes. The children of Reuben were frequently driven from their walled towns by Moabites from beyond the Arnon, and farther N. there were the Amorites in Gilead and Bashan, and the Ammonites on the confines of the Arabian Desert. Moreover, for several centuries after the Jewish settlement, these tribes, with others of the same stock - Amalekites and Midianites from the S. and S.E. - often invaded Palestine proper and held it for long periods as a tributary province. In all cases they were eventually driven out by leaders called Judges (Shofetim), who exercised temporary authority over one or more tribes. After the choice of a single and permanent king (1067 B.C.), the sense of national unity grew stronger, and tribal distinctions tended to disappear, although Ephraim fostered a jealousy of Judah which ultimately led to the most disastrous results. Under Saul's successors Israel advanced to a high position among the nations of the East. The stately city which grew up on the site of the rock-fortress wrested by David from the Jebusites became the capital of a dominion extending from the Euphrates to the borders of Egypt, and the treaty of Solomon with Hiram, King of Tyre, brought the Jews into commercial relations with the most remote regions of the known world. This period of prosperity (1055-977) was brought to a close by the dissension which resulted in the formation of two separate kingdoms - Judah and Israel - the former comprising the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, to which were afterwards added parts of Simeon and Dan. Jerusalem remained the capital of Judah, whilst that of Israel was eventually established at Samaria. Syria was at first the most formidable enemy of Israel; but later on the weakness of both kingdoms exposed them to the attacks of a more distant and powerful foe. In 721 the ten northern tribes were carried captive to Assyria, their place being taken by colonists, who are supposed by some to have been the ancestors of the Samaritans. After the lapse of 133 years the people of Judah shared the same fate. A decree issued by Cyrus of Persia after his conquest of Assyria restored the tribes of Judah and Benjamin to their former abode (536); but the fate of the ten other tribes has always remained a mystery. During the period of their subjection to Persia, the Jews were governed by a satrap who resided at Damascus, the high priest acting as his deputy at Jerusalem. In 332 Palestine became a part of the Macedonian Empire. On the death of Alexander the Great it passed to the Ptolemies of Egypt, from whom, after perpetual conflicts, it was wrested by the Seleucid monarchs of Syria towards the end of the 3rd century. The tyranny of Antiochus Epiphanes (170) excited a national rising, led by the Maccabees, who established a theocratic form of government, the high priest exercising political functions. Hyrcanus II., the last of the Maccabaean or Asmonean line, became tributary to Rome in 63, the political power being shared by the Idumaean Antipater, whose son Herod was in 40 B.C. recognised by the Romans as sole ruler of Judaea. On his death, in 2 B.C., his dominions were divided between his three sons. Judaea (comprising the district S. of Mount Ephraim), together with Idumaea on its S. border, and Samaria to the N., was allotted to Archelaus, who assumed the title of ethnarch. Galilee (to the N. of Samaria) and Peraea (occupying the E. bank of the Jordan as far N. as the Lake of Tiberias) fell to the tetrarch Herod Antipas. Herod Philip, also styled tetrarch, ruled in the region E. of the Upper Jordan, including Gaulonitis, Batanaea, Auranitis, Trachonitis, and Ituraea. In 6 A.D. Archelaus was deposed, and his territory was placed under the government of a Roman procurator. The Jews prospered under Roman rule; but they could not endure the yoke of the stranger, and broke out in a fierce insurrection, quelled by Vespasian and Titus (66-70). Soon afterwards the whole of Palestine was incorporated in the province of Syria. After the revolt of Bar-Cochba (136), the treatment of the Jews became even sterner; they were not allowed to approach the walls of their holy city, now a Roman town (AElia Capitolina), with a temple to Jupiter on the site of Solomon's. The religious fervour which characterised the three centuries succeeding the conversion of Constantine manifested itself in Palestine in its most exaggerated forms. The land became the scene of vehement theological disputes; its solitudes were peopled by anchorites, and stones were torn from forts and synagogues to build the monasteries which sprang up on every side. The rule of the monk was brought to a close by the invasion of Chosroes II. of Persia (614), and before Palestine had time to recover from this disaster it fell into the hands of the Saracens (636). El Islam now became triumphant in the Holy Land, and it was only by abject submission that the Christians were able to purchase a contemptuous toleration. In the 11th century the weakness of the Egyptian Caliphate enabled the Seljuk Turks to add Palestine to their possessions. The insults offered to pilgrims by the new rulers excited the indignation of western Europe, and gave rise to the Crusades. The First Crusade resulted in the formation of the Christian kingdom of Jerusalem, which was organised on the feudal model, with vassal principalities in Palestine and Syria (1099). Within 100 years Jerusalem was taken by Saladin (1187), and.with the exception of the brief period during which it was ruled by the Emperor Frederick II. (1228-44), it has remained in the hands of Moslems ever since. In 1244 the land was overrun by the Chorasmians; but it was soon afterwards recovered by the Mameluke Sultans of Egypt, who were left in undisturbed possession after the capture of Acre, the crowning catastrophe of the Crusades, in 1291. In 1517 Selim I. added Palestine to his dominions, and since that date it has formed part of the Ottoman Empire.

Present Condition. Politically, Palestine comprises the four livas of Jerusalem (El Kuds), Nablus, Acre, and the Hauran, each governed by a mutessarif under the wali (ruler of the wilayet), who is immediately responsible to the Porte. The settled inhabitants, who number about 620,000, are a mixed race, the descendants of the old Aramaean population and their Saracenic conquerors, but the Bedouins (q.v.) are pure Arabs. Arabic is the language in general use. Religious differences are strongly marked, the Mohammedans, who form about 80 per cent. of the inhabitants, regarding the various Christian Churches with the utmost contempt. There are still settlements of Druses (q.v.) in Galilee and on Mount Carmel. Up to a recent date the Jewish population was almost wholly confined to the four sacred cities - Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias, and Safed. The number of Turks is not large; they constitute the official class, and are regarded with an abhorrence which is fully justified by their extortionate government. During nearly four centuries of Ottoman misrule Palestine has been reduced to a state of abject misery. Ruined aqueducts, cisterns, and dwellings testify to the decay into which the country has fallen since the prosperous days of the Romans. Industries which throve in the Middle Ages have been abandoned, and little effort is made to take advantage of the abundant resources of the soil. There are few exports beyond sesame, fruits, barley, olive-oil, and maize shipped from Acre, Haifa, and Jaffa. An attempt is now being made to open up the country, the chief result so far being the construction of several roads - quite a new feature in Palestine - and also a railway from Jaffa to Jerusalem (opened 1892). The Jewish immigration which has set in of late years continues in spite of Turkish opposition; and German colonies have been planted in the neighbourhood of Ramleh and Jaffa. These and other changes are rapidly altering the aspect of the country and the character of the inhabitants. Meanwhile the expeditions of the Palestine Exploration Fund have supplied the first accurate information regarding the topography and antiquities of the Holy Land. Many lost Biblical sites have been identified, and the eight volumes of the Survey of Western Palestine have superseded all older authorities.