Gaza: Six Millennia History

By Dr. Saeb Shaath

Gaza held to be of major strategic importance; the only overland route between Africa and Asia, which led predynastic Egypt to establish in 3500 B.C. the citadel of Tell Sakan on the banks of the Wadi Ghazzeh, some twelve kilometers from the modern city.

In the second millennia BC, the Egyptians lost control of the city to the “Hyksos”, who expanded Gaza nearer to the sea front and built “Tell al Ajjul”.

Hyksos people marched southward and captured the Great Egyptian Empire, about 1650 BC. They lasted around 100 years, before the Egyptian army chased them out to the outskirts of Gaza “Tell al Ajjul”, the Egyptian besieged Gaza for over of 3 years.

History informs us that the Egyptian then failed to crack Gaza and retreated, 200 years later Gaza however fell once again under the domination of Egypt, an event marked in History as the conquest by Thutmose III on 25 April 1468 B.C.

Gaza’s history has been shaped by its strategic location; in 734 B.C., the Assyrian empire took complete control of Gaza. The Persian Empire in 539 B.C. expanded and annexed Gaza. In Gaza there is the ancient Greek city of Antidon dated to around 520 B.C a port and settlement four kilometers from Gaza city. In 332 BC, Alexander the Great besieged Gaza, the last city to resist his design, for the control of the ancient world. Most of the old Babylonian domain, including Egypt, swiftly crumbled into Alexander’s hands.

Gaza dared to resist; nevertheless, a siege of two months followed by a ruin as complete as that of Tyre. The defenders, mostly local Arabs, fought to death, the women and children were taken captive. In 145 BC Gaza was conquered by Jonathan the Hasmonean (Brother of Judah the Maccabee) who destroyed the suburbs of Gaza by fire .The Jewish king Alexander Jannaeus after a siege of a year, brought destruction and massacres around 96 BC. Neither Alexander the Great’s bloody conquest in 332 B.C. nor the brutal one by Alexander Janneus in 96 B.C. could destroy Gaza who endured and rose again.

 Around 50 B.C. Gaza became magnificent and so luxurious under the Romans. Gaza would reach the peak of civilization; Gaza’s exports in the 5th century A.D Byzantine empire era, reached as far as England, Ireland and Geneva. Gaza’s Schools educated leading theologians such as Barsanuphius, John of Gaza and Mark the Deacon, whose writings profoundly influenced Christianity at its very early stages. According to  the Jewish Encyclopaedia : Famous Gazan Jews have included the medieval liturgical poet Israel Najara, who is buried in Gaza’s local cemetery, the Sabbatean prophet Nathan of Gaza as well as rabbi Abraham Azulai who lived in Gaza in 1619, it was there that he wrote the book for which he is remembered, his cabalistic work "Hesed le-Avraham".

The arrival of the Islam in 637 A.D. would not change its unique character. Gaza remained a central crossroad. From the 8th century sheltered the most highly celebrated school of law in all of Islam, founded by Muhammad al-Shafi. The Crusaders under Baldwin I fought hard the Arabian armies to control Gaza. In the 1170 the Crusaders lost Gaza to Saladin.

Gaza became a prosperous city under the Mameluks _ Between the 13th  and 16th century, "A city so rich in trees it looks like a cloth of brocade spread out upon the land," wrote the 14th-century Syrian scholar al-Dimashqi of his extensive view of Gaza City.

In1516, at the battle of Khan Yaunis _Gaza’s Southern major Town, Turkish forces under the Grand Vizier Sinan Pasha defeated the Mameluks in KhanYaunis, Gaza falls under Turkish control. In 1660, Hussein Pasha made Gaza the capital of Palestine.

Napoleon captured Gaza city In February 1799, when his forces entered the city terrible plague engulfed them and forced Napoleon to retreat from Gaza. In 1832 Mohammad Ali made Gaza part of Egypt; soon it becomes part of the Ottoman Empire who fought the British  three Battles in defence of Gaza.

The Ottomans lost it to the British in the Third Battle of Gaza on 7 November 1917 during the First World War. Sir Archibald Murray who led the first and the second Battle of Gaza in 1916 – 1917 was dismissed and replaced by "the Bull” -General Edmund Allenby, who deceived the defenders by attacking Beersheba and then besieging Gaza. Gaza fell, Allenby’s road to Jerusalem opened up.

On September 12, 2005, the Israeli cabinet formally declared an end to military rule of Gaza; the IDF dismantled the settlements and retreated behind the walls and electric fences. It was another astonishing reminder of Gaza’s history and defiance.

-Dr. Saeb Shaath is a writer and a public speaker on Middle Eastern affairs; he is the co-founder of Irish Map (Medical Aid for Palestine). He contributed this article to

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