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Thursday, June 03, 2004

BACKGROUND: Jewish Connections to Gaza

by Anthony David Marks, via Israel Hasbara Committee

In the minds of some there is confusion or lack of knowledge of the Jewish Biblical and modern historical connections to the Gaza Strip area. They are more substantial than most realize. The following references should elucidate the subject.

Biblically speaking:
1. Genesis 15 – The area in which Gaza is located was included as part of Abraham’s inheritance.

2. Numbers 34:2-6 - The Bible details precisely the northern, southern, eastern and western borders of ancient Israel. Readers should note that in every reference there is a body of water – the Mediterranean Sea, a lake, a river and a wadi (a dry river bed that flows only after an infrequent heavy rain). Bodies of water are permanent markers in most cases.

In Numbers 34:5 with reference to the southern border it states: From Azmon the boundary shall turn towards the Wadi of Egypt (near el-Arish, see photos [1] and [2]) and terminate at the sea (Mediterranean). This would include the entire present-day Gaza Strip and additional land in the Sinai.

3. Joshua 13:2 - The Lord said to Joshua: This is the territory that remains to be conquered: all the districts of the Philistines, those of the Gerurites, from the Shihon, which is close to Egypt, to the territory of Ekron in the north, are accounted. Canaanite, namely those of the five lords of the Philistines – the Gazities (Gaza), the Ashdodites (Ashdod) etc….

4. Joshua 15:47 - Most Biblical commentators hold that the modern day Gaza Strip was within the territory allotted to the tribe of Judah.

5. Consider in Joshua Chapter 15: This was the portion of the tribe of Judea (15:20); Ekron, with its dependencies and villages (15:45); Ekron, westward, all the towns in the vicinity and Ashdod, with their villages (15:46); Ashdod, its dependencies and its villages, Gaza, its dependencies and its villages, all the way to the Wadi of Egypt and the edge of the Mediterranean Sea (15:47).

6. Judges 1:18 - And Israel captured Gaza and its territory, Ashkelon and its territory, and Ekron and its territory.

7. Kings 5:1 – Solomon’s rule extended over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines and the boundary of Egypt (Wadi of Egypt or to el-Arish).

8. Ezekiel 47:19-20 – 47:19 The southern limit shall run: A line from Tamar to the waters of Meriboth-kadesh, along the Wadi (of Egypt and ) the Great Sea (Mediterranean). That is the southern limit.

Historically speaking:
During the 3rd century BCE, Gaza and Akko were the leading centers of trade and industry. Both cities had numerous Jewish residents, including some very wealthy and influential families. [1]

There were Jewish communities in Gaza during the Hasmonean period (166-63 BCE).

During ancient times, in the taking of tithes (shmittah), the Gaza area was included in this Jewish religious obligation. Shmittah is observed to this day in Jewish settlements located in the Gaza Strip as it was deemed part of ancient Eretz Israel.

In 145 C.E. King Yochanan, brother of Judah the Maccabee, recaptured Gaza and sent Jews to rebuild the community.

During the 4th century CE, Emperor Constantine attempted to build a church in Gaza but the Jewish population located there was opposed to this. At that time, Gaza was the principal port for trade and commerce for the Jewish population of the Holy Land. A very ancient synagogue was excavated there some time ago. Influential rabbis, Israel Najara, author of the popular prayer and Shabbat song Kah Ribon Olam, and Rabbi Avraham Azoulai, the renowned mekubal, lived in Gaza Jewish communities.

During the 7th century CE: “When the Arab hosts now began spreading northward, they encountered the first focus of resistance in the city of Gaza, then occupied by a strong Byzantine garrison under the command of the provincial governor, Sergius. At that time Gaza embraced a substantial Jewish settlement, in fact the most important community in Judea. Jews seem to have fought alongside the Byzantines in the ensuing battle, which ended in Sergius’ defeat.” [2]

Also during this period, “…according to the famous grammarian, Jonah ibn Janah, Gaza, too, lost its status as the foremost community in Judea, but it remained a center of learning and well-developed community life.” [3]

In 1665 Shabbtai Tzvi, the false messiah, stopped in Gaza and met Abraham Nathan, b. Elisha Hayyim Ashkenazi. Nathan later convinced Shabbtai Tzvi of his messianic destiny. Shabbtai Tzvi then proclaimed himself the Messiah.

Rabbi Yaakov Emden (1697 – 1776), a leading rabbinical authority, in Mon Uketziya wrote: “Gaza and its environs are absolutely considered part of the Land of Israel, without a doubt.”

In 1799 Jews were forced to leave Gaza when Napoleon’s army marched through.

From 1885 to World War I Jews lived in Gaza.

A renewed Jewish community existed in Gaza until the Muslim pogroms against Jews in 1929. To prevent a slaughter of the Jews of Gaza, the British army forced the Jewish community to evacuate.

During this time, Jews were murdered in many communities throughout Palestine, especially Jerusalem, Hebron and Safed – three Jewish holy cities.

The following is a list of Jewish communities in the Gaza Strip:
Alei Sinai, founded in 1983
Bedolach, founded in 1986
Bnei Atzmon (Atzmona), founded in 1979
Dugit, founded in 1990
Gadid, founded in 1982
Gan-Or, founded in 1983
Ganei Tal, founded in 1979
Katif, founded in 1986
Kerem Atzmona, founded in 2000
Kfar Darom, founded in 1946
Kfar Yam, founded in 1984
Morag, founded in 1984
Netzer Hazani, founded in 1977
Netzarim, founded in 1984
Neve Dekalim, founded in 1983
Nisanit, founded in 1984
Peat – Sadeh, founded in 1989
Rafiah – Yam, founded in 1986
Shirat HaYam, founded in 2000
Tel Katifa, founded in 1992

Recent quotes from leading Israeli politicians about disengaging from Gaza:

Natan Sharansky, Minister without Portfolio:
Minister Natan Sharansky, part of the Likud Party said in a radio interview, “… the move would give a big boost to terrorism while dividing Israelis. Maybe I’m stupid, but I don’t understand why we are doing something so painful and dramatic at a time of war on terror.”
Moshe Arens, former three-time Minister of Defense:
“I don’t want to suspect [Sharon] and believe that the timing [of his statement regarding Arafat] is connected to the referendum… I know that he and his aides are very determined to pass this thing, and bring up all sorts of claims in its favor, some of which are not valid……”

“We are right in the middle of the war, and we’re making gains - we’re even hearing various Arab spokesmen say that terrorism is not gaining them anything, and the like – and therefore this is not precisely a smart time to retreat. As the Chief of Staff said, a retreat from Gaza will strengthen and encourage the terrorists. Even President Bush has said that the main thing is to dismantle and destroy the terrorist infrastructure – so now we should give them territory?”

“The American policy is quite stable, long-standing and does not change from day to day, and I don’t think it will worsen if the disengagement doesn’t pass.”
Benny Begin, former Likud Minister, speaking on national TV 19 April 2004:
“The truth must be told. This is a plan to evacuate the communities in Gaza and northern Samaria, and nothing else. It will allow Hamas to unfurl its flag over the synagogues in Neve Dekalim.”

“…..we all know if we leave Gaza, terrorism will increase and the situation will deteriorate.”

“According to this plan, who will provide electricity to Gaza? – Israel. And who will provide food to Gaza? – Israel…………..This is precisely the situation today.”

“It’s absurd to speak of disengaging when Sharon’s plan states that the IDF will maintain security in Gaza, and will permit workers to cross into (pre- 1967) Israel daily. This is not disengagement……”
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in 2002:
“Netzarim [a Jewish town in Gaza] is the same as Negba and Tel Aviv; evacuating Netzarim will only encourage terrorism and increase the pressure upon us.”
Binyamin Ben Eliezer, when serving as Yitzhak Rabin’s Minster of Housing and Construction(Jerusalem Post, 9 March 1993):
“I wish I could believe that pulling out of Gaza would solve the problems. But this won’t solve anything and is only running away from the problem which we have to face.”
Shimon Peres, when serving as Foreign Minister, (Israel Army Radio’s “Good Evening, Israel” program, 22 March 1988):
“To just get up and leave Gaza would be a mistake and a scandal. It would create a chaotic situation, a situation like Lebanon; I don’t suggest we take such a step.”
Yisrael Galili, a minister in the cabinet of Golda Meir’s Labor Party government (Jerusalem Report, 14 July 2003):
“[Gaza was] critical for Israel’s security and could never be given up.”

The above information is by no means a complete account of the Jewish connection from time immemorial to the area now known as the Gaza Strip, only an indication of it. But it is obvious from the above references that there was a distinct and undeniable Jewish presence in the Gaza Strip area from ancient times.

In modern times, in 1929, Jews were forced to flee the area just as they were forced to flee Europe in the 1930s and Arab lands after the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. This time in 2004 a Jewish government is forcing them to leave.

[1] A Social and Religious History of the Jews^t6, Salo Wittmayer Baron, Vol 1, page 255, (Original copyright 1937)

[2] Ibid, Vol 3, page 87

[3] Ibid, page 102
Source: Israel Hasbara Committee.

For more, see also the Jewish Virtual Library.