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Know your Palestinian Heritage
 

 
Painting of Gaza by
David Roberts
, 1839
 
Gaza City
 

The Great Mosque
 of Gaza is the oldest
 mosque in the city
 
Saint Porphyrius Church
 
Mosaics in Gaza
 
Muslims studying the Qur'an
with Gaza in the background,
painting by Harry Fenn
 
Natives of Gaza
 
   
Gaza Sea at sunset
 
Gaza


Painting of Gaza by
David Roberts, 1839

 

Early History of Gaza

The Canaanites are believed to have given Gaza its name, which means strength. The Egyptians called it “Gazzat”. The Persians have called it “treasure”, and the Arabs often refer to it as Gazzat hashim, in honor of Hashim the Prophet Moh’d’s great grandfather, who is buried here.


Gaza Sea at sunset

A joint Palestinian-French dig began in 1998-1999 in Wadi Gaza unearthing a wall city Tel al-Sakn dated to 3200 BCE. The city was abandoned around 2000 BCE when its inhabitants moved to Gaza’s ancient capital Tell el-Ajjoul, the city that was a Canaanite city under Egyptian influence. The inhabitants were fishermen, hunters, cultivators and were knowledgeable in bronze and iron production.


Mosaics in Gaza

The Philistines inherited the coast from the Canaanites, and they brought decorative and elaborate art, mercantile skills, new burial customs and advanced knowledge of metalworking and warfare. Despite the opposition to their presence in Canaan they stayed and integrated. Most scholars have studied the Philistines and their accomplishments.

Christianity: On the eve of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, Gaza was a center for pagan deities and Hellenistic culture and remained until the 4th century. Gazans had their household gods, street corner idols and special rituals associated with birth, harvest, marriage, rain and death. The upper classes and intellectuals paid homage to the Greek deities. Christianity continued to be practiced underground until the rule of Constantine.  A 400-year battle between the pagan gods and forces of Christianity was fierce and bloody.  Hilarion, a leading figure of Christianity was the Gazan founder of monastic life in Palestine.  Near his birthplace of Tabatha known as Um al-Tuut (Nuseirat), he built a monastery. The Christian era began for Gazans in 402 when the Byzantine Emperor Acadius instructed his troops to burn the holiest shrine in Gaza, the temple of Marna. Many local people fled , and many buried or hid their own deities to save them from the Christian authorities. In the place of the temple, a church named Eudochia was built and close by stands the church of St. Porphyry and a Christian cemetery still stands to the church. The church belongs to the small Christian community of the Greek Orthodox.


Saint Porphyrius Church


Muslims studying the Qur'an
with Gaza in the background,
painting by Harry Fenn

In the early Christian era (484-550) Gaza was home to some of the most important thinkers and scholars in the region. At about this time, pilgrims began to visit the Holy Land. Churches added hostels, and Gazans made souvenirs of  dried earth with clay stamps and inscriptions. Gaza was second to Jerusalem in size by 527. By this time the prophet Muhammad was born (c.570 CE). When Islam came in 637, Gazans were among the first to pledge their allegiance to the new religion. Islam came to them in Arabic, a Semitic language akin to their own Aramaic. Merchants from the Arabian Peninsula, Africa, and Egypt had traded in and traveled to Gaza for centuries, using it as a base for their business ventures in the Levant and as far afield as Iraq, Persia and India.  Among these merchants was an Arabian named Hashim Ibn Abd Manaf who lived in the middle of the 6th century. Hashim died in Gaza before his great-grandson, Muhammad, became the Prophet of Islam. Out of respect for the Prophet Muhammad,  Hashim’s grave became a shrine, venerated by visitors to this day.


The Great Mosque
 of Gaza is the oldest
 mosque in the city

Many of the Arabians who would become the Prophet Muhammed’s companions had visited Gaza as traders before the birth of Islam. Omar ibn al-Khattab, later credited with the Islamization of Palestine , was such friend. Many mosques and public buildings are still named in his honor. In 1614  before the advent of Islam, the wars between Byzantium and the Persians led to the destruction of the church of Eudochia. Since it was seen as the center for religious veneration, converted Gazans pushed to have a mosque built at the site. Remains of the church are still visible in parts of the mosque. By the early 10th century, an Islamic/Arab character was in place. The Abbasids built watchtowers along the coast at Maioumas-Gaza, Askalan, Isdud, Ybna and Jaffa.

 

“Gaza remains standing today, even if its hands are tied. Its horizon is fenced off. Yet the Gaza Strip harmoniously continues the long Arab coastline south along the Mediterranean. In olden times, it was called Syrian, but its scenery already has an Egyptian air. It also went by the name of “Arab Gaza” because it was the natural terminus of the Arabian Peninsula on the Mediterranean.”
                                                        Jean-Baptiste Humbert in Mediterranean Gaza-History and Archaeology in Palestine.


Gaza

Sources: Palestine: a guide by Mariam Shahin. 2005.
Palestine and the Palestinians: guidebook by Alternative Tourism Group, 2005.
Photos taken from: http://en.wikipedia.org/?title=Gaza,
                             Palestine: The Holy Land, Ministry of Tourism, n.d.

 

 


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