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Two Peoples, One Land

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Sunday, May 12, 2002
Common roots
An ancient bond
It’s called the Holy Land, its ancient history dear to the world’s three main monotheistic religions — Judaism, Islam and Christianity. While many argue that the theological past has little to do with the nationalistic forces driving the region today, protection of religious areas and icons remains a rallying cry for the faithful.

The Tomb of Abraham: An Israeli Hebron man holds his hands in the air as he visits the tomb of a man revered by the three monotheistic religions.
Abraham, the Bible says, was called by God to leave his home and move to a new land, where he was to become the father of a mighty nation. His journey has become a tale of faith and transformation embraced by Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

As the story goes, some 4,000 years ago Abraham traveled from the Chaldean city of Ur — in present-day Iraq — to the land of Canaan — essentially modern-day Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The book of Genesis says God then spoke to Abraham in Canaan, saying: "To your offspring, I will give this land."

Abraham's offspring included two sons. The first was Ishmael, whom he fathered with Hagar, his wife Sarah's former servant. The other was Isaac, whom he fathered with Sarah.

Books DID YOU KNOW ... Around 1200 B.C.E., about the same time Moses led the Israelites back to Canaan, a Mediterranean seafaring people called the Philistines settled on the western seaboard of what is now Israel and the Gaza Strip. After the Jews returned, the Philistines battled them for years, including the skirmish recounted in the story of David and Goliath. The word Philistine is the etymological predecessor of the word Palestine. However, the modern-day Palestinians do not claim a cultural or hereditary connection to the Philistines — the tie between the two peoples is in name only.

The Crusades: About 1090 C.E., Pope Urban II called for the rescue of Jerusalem from Muslims, and by 1099 C.E. armies had conquered Jerusalem and massacred most of its Muslims and Jews. The first crusade led to others over the next 200 years, each eventually defeated by Muslim forces. When President Bush referred to a "crusade" against terrorists after the attacks of Sept. 11, he hit the sorest of spots in early relations between Muslims and Christians.

Diaspora: Refers to the Jews exiled from Israel, beginning with the conquest of Israel by Babylonians. Also used today to describe Jews who live outside Israel. Palestinians also have used the term to describe their refugees from wars with Israel.

Map: The journeys of Abraham and Moses

Jews believe they are descended from Isaac, who, as the legitimate son of Abraham, was the intended inheritor of God's promised land. Muslims believe they are descended from Ishmael, Abraham's first-born. They say Hagar was Abraham's second wife and believe their claims to the holy land are as valid as those of the Jews.

Abraham is said to have lived 175 years, and then buried in a cave called Machpelah, in what is now the city of Hebron in the West Bank.

Abraham has become revered by three religions. In the Christian New Testament, Abraham is called "the ancestor of all who believe." The Koran mentions Abraham more often than the prophet Mohammed, who is believed by Muslims to have been a direct descendant of Abraham. Jews see Abraham as the first person to recognize their God.


Famine drove the Israelites from Canaan to Egypt and then, as recounted in the book of Exodus, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and back to conquer Canaan around 1200 B.C.E.

Until about 721 B.C.E., the Israelites ruled Canaan, calling it Israel in the north and Judea in the south, where they built their first temple in Jerusalem.

Then the Israelites were conquered by the Assyrians and Babylonians, their temple destroyed and the Israelite tribes scattered.

In 539 B.C.E., some Israelites returned to Jerusalem and built their second temple, which was subsequently destroyed by Romans in 70 C.E., after a Jewish revolt. The Jews were then expelled.

This second expulsion is seen by many Jews as lasting about 2,000 years — until the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 — though small Jewish populations remained while the land was in the control of others. Palestinians have said their people lived in the land throughout history, and that their ancestors predate Abraham's arrival in Canaan.

The rise of Christianity and Islam forever altered the Holy Land. It became filled with sites sacred to three religions whose adherents now compose more than half of the world's population.

The Dome of the Rock: Muslim women walk through Jerusalem’s holiest Muslim site, the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, toward the golden Dome of the Rock.

Map: Key religious cities
Islam arose about 600 years after the birth of Christ, when the prophet Mohammed is said to have begun receiving divine revelations later compiled in the Koran. The religion spread quickly, growing into a power that for a time controlled lands from Spain and northern Africa to India. The Islamic world's dominance then declined, eventually ending with the rise of European colonialism in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Islam's two holiest sites are in Saudi Arabia — Mecca, the birthplace of Mohammed, and Medina, where he is buried.

But Islam's third-holiest site is in Jerusalem, in the area that holds the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock.

The Dome of the Rock covers a stone promontory from which Muslims believe Mohammed ascended on a miraculous night journey to heaven and back.

Jews also revere the site, which is where they believe Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac, before being told by God that that no longer was necessary.

The Al-Aqsa mosque, which was built around 700 C.E., sits across from the Dome of the Rock, which was completed about 15 years earlier. Both buildings sit on top of the small hill that held the two Israelite temples before they were destroyed.

The Muslims refer to this hill as Haram al-Sharif, meaning "the noble sanctuary." Jews call the hill the Temple Mount, and consider one of the hill's retaining walls, the Western Wall, a holy shrine.

In addition to being home to the shrines of three religions, the Holy Land has been home to a series of conquerors. It has been ruled by Israelites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans, Persians, Muslims, Christian Crusaders, and finally, the Ottoman Empire, which lost the land in World War I to the Allied powers.

Britain then ruled the area under a mandate from the League of Nations, and it was under Britain's watch that the modern struggle between Jews and Arabs for independent national homelands began.

Copyright © 2002 The Seattle Times Company

The revolts Right arrow


Before Common Era

2000-1800 B.C.E.
  Abraham leads Israelite nomads from Mesopotamia into Canaan. Famine eventually drives his descendants into Egypt.

1250-1200 B.C.E.
  Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt into Canaan, defeating Canaanites and Philistines.

1000-928 B.C.E.
  David conquers Jerusalem, making it his capital. His son, Solomon, builds the First Temple. After Solomon's death, the kingdom is split into Israel and Judea.

721 B.C.E.
  Israel is conquered by the Assyrians and its people scattered, becoming the 10 Lost Tribes.

587 B.C.E.
  Babylonians conquer Judea and destroy Jerusalem and the First Temple, taking the Israelites into slavery in Babylon.

539 B.C.E.
  Persia conquers Babylon. Jews return from exile, reconstruct Jerusalem and build the Second Temple.

63 B.C.E.
  Roman conquest of Jerusalem by Pompei.

  Common Era begins.

27-30 C.E.
  Jesus of Nazareth practices ministry.

66-70 C.E.
  First Jewish revolt. Roman army destroys the Temple and starts expelling Jews from the land of Israel.

133-135 C.E.
  Second Jewish revolt crushed. Judea renamed Palestina.

324 C.E.
  Emperor Constantine legalizes Christianity and begins identifying its holy sites in the region.

622 C.E.
  Prophet Mohammed leaves Mecca for Medina, where he establishes an Islamic community.

640 C.E.
  Arab conquest of Jerusalem. Jerusalem becomes a holy site for Muslims.

1099 C.E.
  Crusaders conquer Jerusalem. Jews and Muslims slaughtered.

1187 C.E.
  Muslims retake Jerusalem.

1517 C.E.
  Ottoman Turkish conquest of Holy Land.

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