Palestine has always been a center of political, cultural, social, and spiritual life. A testament to Palestine’s ancient past, the country’s archaeological history is incredibly rich and diverse. Innumerable excavated sites are found throughout Palestine and a huge variety of artefacts have been discovered: ancient tools, pottery, sculptures, mosaics, drawings, cave dwellings, burial places, temples, shrines, castles, fortresses, and even entire cities.
By virtue of Palestine’s position geographically – linking Europe, Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and Asia – it became a centre of social, cultural, religious, and economic exchange and interaction between many civilizations. Palestine thus influenced many other cultures and was influenced by them.
Palestine is a place of great importance for all three of the world’s major religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Judaism had appeared in Palestine by the end of the second millennium BCE and, of course, Christianity began with the birth of Jesus in the Palestinian village of Bethlehem. By the seventh century CE Islam was conceived with the appearance of the Prophet Mohammad on the Arabian Peninsula. The Islamic conquest of Palestine took place in 636 CE. From that date on, Palestine remained under Islamic rule, with the exception of the Crusader invasions, which began at the end of the eleventh century and continued for nearly two hundred years. Most Arabs of Palestine are not descendants of the newcomers who came here with the Islamic conquest or the Crusades, although they intermingled and later became somewhat integrated with them. Rather, their relationship with the land goes back to the very beginnings of human settlement in Palestine.
Until relatively recently most modern accounts of the history of Palestine were written by European and American archaeologists and scholars. Their emphasis was generally very narrow, especially in the nineteenth century, when most studies focused on attempts to prove the historical accuracy of the Bible. This emphasis on the biblical dimension led to the marginalisation of all evidence that pointed to the depth, diversity, and richness of native Palestinian civilization, including its unique contributions to architecture, agriculture, industry, and art, to name but a few. A conscious process was undertaken by Western scholars to justify the claims over Palestine made by European imperial powers, which sought to use it as a bridgehead to the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. The Zionist enterprise was the agent of these imperialist interests. An association was concocted between the Jewish religion which, like so many other belief systems, played a major part in the development of Palestine’s culture and civilization, and the political Zionist project. This merger was used to justify the colonisation of Palestine by suggesting that Palestine’s native inhabitants were relative newcomers with no real rights to their lands. The myth was created that the history of Palestine began only with the emergence of Judaism, an idea that is absolutely at odds with all serious studies of Palestinian history.