History Files

Please help the History Files

Contributed: 175

Target: 400

Totals slider

The History Files still needs your help. As a non-profit site, it is only able to support such a vast and ever-growing collection of information with your help, and this year your help is needed more than ever. Please make a donation so that we can continue to provide highly detailed historical research on a fully secure site. Your help really is appreciated.

Near East Kingdoms

Levantine States


Israelites & Israel

Today's Israel and Palestine are irrevocably linked in terms of their history. The former was carved out of a large proportion of the already-expanded latter from 1948. Before that though lies four thousand years of history, sometimes recorded, sometimes alluded to, and sometimes a complete mystery. Unpicking it to establish a relatively stable story has been the work of decades, and even today there are differences of opinion regarding many of the details.

The region in which both names came to be created was Canaan, the long Mediterranean coast between ancient Syria and Egypt which today is known as the Levant. Various independent or united Semitic-speaking city states formed in this region from around 3000 BC onwards, reaching a peak of independent development in the second millennium BC. It was during the climate-induced social collapse of the late thirteenth century BC that both a state known as Israel and a region known as Palestine emerged, giving both terms similar founding dates (very approximately), with the Phoenicians emerging to the immediate north during the same period.

Then came the Jewish Diaspora and the age of great empires in the form of the Persians, Greeks, Romans, Eastern Romans, Islam, and the Ottomans, until the twentieth century saw the most recent phase of empire-building come to an end and individual sovereign states emerge.

The term 'Israelite' is often used interchangeably with the terms 'Hebrew' and 'Jew', but these terms are not strictly interchangeable. The specific term 'Israelites', or 'people of Israel', is best used only for periods after the followers of Yahweh undertook their exodus from Egypt. It can also be used conveniently for the earlier period in which these people were subject to patriarchs (approximately between the eighteenth and sixteenth centuries BC).

The term loses its accuracy after the united kingdom of Israel under David and Solomon divided into the kingdoms of Samaria and Judah around 927 BC. The Old Testament tends usually to use the term 'Hebrew' for the entire period before 1000 BC, but it is best to avoid it here due to controversy surrounding its origins (regarding whether it descends from 'Eber', the ancestor of Abraham, or habiru, a general term for brigands and the dispossessed).

Phoenicians shifting cedarwood from shore to land

(Information by Peter Kessler and from the John De Cleene Archive, with additional information by Sean Bambrough & Wayne McCleese, from The Amarna Letters, William L Moran (1992), from the Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible, Geoffrey Wigoder (Gen Ed, 1986), from Jewish War & Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus, from Unger's Bible Dictionary, Merrill F Unger (1957), from Easton's Bible Dictionary, Matthew George Easton (1897), from Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times, Donald Redford (Princeton University Press, 1992), and from External Links: Encyclopædia Britannica, and Bible Atlas.)

Ottoman Palestine
AD 1517 - 1810

The early Israelite kingdom of Israel had quickly divided into Samaria and Judah before being conquered by Near East empires in the first millennium BC. A puppet Herodite dynasty was installed by Rome in the first century BC. Two major revolts in the first two centuries AD saw Jerusalem destroyed, the Roman colony of Aelia Capitolina built at least partially over the top of it, and Judea being renamed as the province of Roman Palestine.

It was under the leadership of Umar I 'the Great' that Islam conquered Palestine and Phoenicia from the Eastern Roman empire, in AD 636 and 637 respectively. For much of the next millennium and-a-half the region remained dominated by Muslim leaders. The First Crusade entered Anatolia by the middle of 1096, with any lands it captured being known collectively as Outremer. A Christian kingdom was created at Jerusalem in 1099, which ruled over Crusader Palestine before the tide turned and Abbasid forces under Abuyyid leadership regained the upper hand in 1244. Islamic Palestine had been restored.

Renewed Ayyubid control meant a return to Jewish and Orthodox Christian settlement in the region, these having been banned for the later part of Crusader domination. The Jews were again accorded a certain measure of freedom, including the right to live in Jerusalem. The Dome of the Rock was converted back from a church into an Islamic structure. These freedoms came to an end with the arrival of Mameluke domination before the thirteenth century had ended. The region suffered badly from strife and discord, declining severely before the Ottoman empire took control in 1517.

The Ottomans maintained the previous administrative and political organisation while carrying it out effectively (in contrast to Mameluke efforts). Attached administratively to the province of Damascus and ruled from Constantinople, Palestine was divided into five sanjaks (provincial districts, also referred to as liwa' in Arabic): Gaza, Jerusalem, Lajjun, Nablus, and Safad, The sanjaks were further subdivided into sub-districts or nawahi.

At the outset of the Ottoman era, some thousand Jewish families lived in Palestine, mainly in Jerusalem (ancient Shalem), Nablus (ancient Shechem), Hebron, Gaza, Safed (Tzfat), and the villages of Galilee. These were the descendants of a greatly-reduced number of Jews who had never left the region (and who would later be defined as Mizrahi Jews). They were joined in small numbers by Jewish Diaspora immigrants from North Africa and Europe who had probably saved the local population from extinction. Orderly government, until the death in 1566 of Sultan Suleiman 'the Magnificent' brought improvements and stimulated Jewish immigration. Some newcomers settled in Jerusalem, but the majority went to Safed.

Classed as dhimmis ('protected person'), Jews were grouped with Christians and Samaritans, all of whom the Muslims designated 'peoples of the Book' (ahl al-kitab), meaning that they and Muslims alike based their worship on a book which their God had given to them, one which in essence was identical to the Koran. However, Palestine had also seen a millennium of Arab immigration and Islamic control. Being Muslim, these arrivals gained a degree of precedence over the 'protected persons'. Ottoman controls also allowed an exodus of Jews however, with the Yemenite Jews in particular being boosted at this time.

Cairo's Sultan Hasan Mosque, Egypt

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Allan Rousso, from Palestine, Joshua J Mark (available via the Ancient History Encyclopaedia website), from Easton's Bible Dictionary, Matthew George Easton (1897), from Meqorot u-Meḥqarim be-Toldot Yisrael, Simha Assaf (Jerusalem, 1946), from the Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible, Geoffrey Wigoder (General Ed, 1986), from A History of Palestine, 634-1099, Moshe Gil (Cambridge University Press, 1997), from Acre: The Rise and Fall of a Palestinian City, 1730-1831, Thomas Philipp (Columbia University Press, 2001), from Corpus Inscriptionum Arabicarum Palaestinae, B-C, M Sharon (Vol 2, BRILL, 1999), from Corpus Inscriptionum Arabicarum Palaestinae, G, M Sharon (Vol 4, BRILL, 2009), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia Britannica, and History: Foreign Domination (Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, now available only via the Wayback Machine), and Moments in the land of Israel: 1700 (The Portuguese Jewish News).)

1517 - 1524

Sharaf ad-Din Musa al-Muzaffari

First Ottoman governor of Gaza (including Palestine?).


Ottoman Sultan Selim I is impressed with Djanbirdi al-Ghazali and his loyalty to his former Mameluke masters until they had wielded no true authority during the Ottoman invasion.

The former viceroy of Hama is made governor of the province of Damascus (now the eyalet of Greater Syria) which includes a great deal of the Levant between central Syria and Palestine and Transjordan. His first act is to subdue the Turkic nomads in the region so that the pilgrim caravan can travel safely to Mecca.

Ottoman coin
The early sixteenth century Ottoman conquest of Egypt (and Palestine) saw an influx of Ottoman coins, with this example being issued during the reign of Suleyman I the Magnificent (1520-1566)

1524 - 1550

Kara Şahin Mustafa Pasha

Ottoman governor of Gaza (including Palestine?).


The Ridwan family becomes the most prominent of Palestine's Arabic families, dominating the Ottoman governorship in Gaza. The father of the dynasty founder, however, Kara Şahin Mustafa Pasha, serves in a number of governorships which has the effect of spreading family influence far and wide across all of Palestine.

By this time the Jewish population in Safed has risen to about ten thousand, and the town has become a thriving textile centre as well as the focus of intense intellectual activity. The study of Kabbala (Jewish mysticism) flourishes, while contemporary clarifications of Jewish law, as codified in the Shulhan Arukh, are spreading throughout the Jewish Diaspora from houses of study in Safed.

c.1560 - 1564

Ridwan Pasha

Ridwan dynasty founder.

1564? - 1570?

Kara Şahin Mustafa Pasha

Father. Second time. Formerly in Egypt. Served widely.

1570 - 1573

Ridwan Pasha

Son. Returned from governorship in Yemen.

1575 - 1605

Ahmad Pasha (I)



Ahmad Pasha's long term of office and widespread influence sees him also taking charge in Jerusalem and Nablus for periods of his career. Later in his years he briefly becomes the beylerbey (provincial governor) of Damascus.

Damascus steel
The legendary strength of ancient Damascus steel was used by swordmakers in the Near East from about AD 900 until the middle of the eighteenth century

1605 - 1644

'Arab Hasan Pasha

Son. Bankrupted Gaza. Removed from office.

1644 - 1661

Husayn Pasha

Son. Assigned his son to his office.

1648 - 1657

The Cossack-Polish War or Khmelnytsky Uprising sees a Cossack rebellion in the eastern parts of the Polish-Lithuanian voivodeship of Kyiv. Fighting against Polish domination of the region, the bloody and brutal war results in the creation of the Cossack Hetmanate. It also sees a massacre of around ten thousand members of the Jewish Diaspora (consisting of Ashkenazi Jews), triggering a low-yield migration to Palestine.


The Ottoman central authorities are wary of Husayn Pasha's overarching influence in Palestine, especially given his and the region's financial straits. They attempt to implicate him in a corruption scandal. Contemporary testimonies show that a group of village headmen from Jabaliya who apparently have been harmed by Husayn Pasha's shaky deal in Nablus now head to Damascus to lodge a complaint there.

They are advised by Damascus to file the complaint directly against Husayn Pasha in an effort to undermine his credibility. However, Husayn is able to restore his financial reputation and position through a loan with the French consul in Jerusalem, one Chevalier d'Arvieux.

Jerusalem about 1900
Jerusalem in the mid-seventeenth century witnessed a tug-of-war in terms of control, with the Ottomans becoming more determined to stamp their direct authority over the region (shown here is a colourised photographic print of Jerusalem from about 1900)

1660 - 1661

Ibrahim Pasha

Son. Died on a military expedition.

1661 - 1663

Husayn Pasha

Returned to office. Deposed & executed by Musa Pasha.

1663 - 1679

Musa Pasha

Brother. Stood down his post.

1679 - 1690

Ahmad Pasha (II)

Son. Last of the Ridwans in Gaza.


After having executed Husayn Pasha despite his having committed no crime, subsequent Ridwan governors have been less successful and less wealthy. The Ottomans finally ensure the end of the Ridwan dynasty in Palestine with the end of the term of office of Ahmad Pasha (II).

The Ridwan dynasty is stripped of its office and privileges. Governors of Palestine are henceforth sent directly by the Ottomans, but these are aloof and uninterested in minor local matters. Gaza begins a decline which reduces it to an unimportant village, while Jerusalem gradually takes its place as pre-eminent city in Palestine.

Ottoman janissaries
The janissaries were infantry units which formed the Ottoman sultan's bodyguard and household troops, but they also sometimes played a role in deciding who sat on the throne


Rabbi Yehuda Hachasid leads a large group of about fifteen hundred Jews into Jerusalem, swelling the existing population there. A known Polish scholar and preacher, he and about thirty families have been travelling since 1697. Along the way they have picked up many more followers, but a particularly arduous voyage from Italy has killed about one third of their total number.

They are received with some suspicion and hostility by a very poor and downtrodden Jewish community of around two hundred Ashkenazi Jews and a thousand Sephardi Jews which relies on charity from abroad. The rabbi dies a few days after their arrival and the group gradually disperses across Palestine.


The Naqib al-Ashraf Revolt (or uprising) sees the general population of Jerusalem rebel against the Ottoman authorities. Between May 1703 and October 1705 the revolt is led by the city's naqib al-ashraf (the local head of the order of Muhammad's descendants). Muhammad ibn Mustafa al-Husayni al-Wafa'i commands a force which consists of townspeople, peasants from nearby villages, local Bedouins, and religious notables (ulama).

1703 - 1705

Muhammad ibn Mustafa al-Husayni

Arab revolt leader and governor of Jerusalem. Executed.

1703 - 1705

For over two years the rebels enjoy what amounts to self-governance of Jerusalem until divisions emerge within their ranks. An Ottoman siege results in al-Husayni and his chief followers fleeing the city, later to be captured and executed.

Old Jerusalem, about 1900
Jerusalem found itself enjoying a brief period of independence between 1703-1705, before an Ottoman siege brought it to an end

1708 - 1723

Sayed Ahmad

Ottoman governor of Gaza (including Palestine?).


The new Jewish arrivals have incurred heavy debts in their quest to build the Hurva Synagogue. Having so far failed to repay those debts, their creditors break into the synagogue and start a fire. The Ottoman authorities hold both the new arrivals and the existing community of Ashkenazi Jews responsible, so they expel the latter from the city.

1723 - ?

Salih Pasha Touqan

Ottoman governor of Gaza (including Palestine?).

1760 - 1773

Uthman Pasha al-Kurji

Ottoman governor of Gaza. Also in Damascus. Fled.

1771 - 1773

Ali Bey, now the rebellious governor of Egypt, has dispatched an army under commanders Abu al-Dahab and Ismail Bey to subdue Damascus. Together with Zahir al-Umar, governor of Galilee, the combined armies of Egypt and Palestine defeat Gaza's forces - and Uthman - outside Damascus, and Uthman flees northwards to the city of Homs. Zahir al-Umar gains Palestine.

1773 - 1774

Zahir al-Umar

In Gaza & Palestine. Formerly in Galilee. Killed.

1774 - 1775

Having gained too much territory and power during his part in the fighting of 1771-1773, the Ottomans decide to reign in Zahir al-Umar. They attack him and Acre, and Zahir al-Umar is killed outside of the city's walls in 1775. One of the architects of his downfall, Ahmad Agha al-Dinkizli, is granted the governorship of Palestine but dies en route, possibly poisoned by a rival.

Torelli Stefano's Allegory of Catherine the Great's Victory over the Turks and Tatars
Torelli Stefano's Allegory of Catherine the Great's Victory over the Turks and Tatars was painted in 1772, combining images of concrete historical personages with figures from the artists' free-flying imagination - the painting was commissioned to glorify the victory of the Russian army in the first Russo-Turkish War (1768-1774) and Catherine the Great is portrayed as the goddess Minerva in a triumphal chariot (click or tap on image to view full sized)


Ahmad Agha al-Dinkizli

Died en route to Palestine. Poisoned by a rival?

1785 - 1786

Ahmed Pasha al-Jazzar

Governor of Acre, Galilee, Damascus (& Jerusalem?).


At the same time as imperial Russia begins operating an area known as the ' Pale of Settlement' in central and Eastern Europe, Palestine has also suffered widespread neglect, largely due to a gradual decline in the quality of Ottoman rule.

By the end of the eighteenth century much of the land is owned by absentee landlords and is being leased to impoverished tenant farmers, with taxation as crippling as it is capricious. The great forests of Galilee and the Carmel mountain range are denuded of trees, while swamp and desert encroach on agricultural land.

However, the situation for Ashkenazi Jews in Russian-controlled Eastern Europe now leads to a steady drip of migration into Palestine, which gradually builds up the Jewish population here until it becomes substantial.

1798 - 1799

Republican France invades Egypt under the leadership of Napoleon Bonaparte, in the hopes of creating a corridor to Britain's possessions in India. His battles against the Mamelukes fatally weakens them, and temporarily drives them into Upper Egypt.

Napoleon's invasion of Egypt
Napoleon's invasion of Egypt spelled the end of power for the Mameluke beys, although to the French themselves it was little more than a sideshow in Napoleon's bold attempt to capture British-dominated India by land

After winning the Battle of Shubra Khit on 13 July 1798 and the Battle of the Pyramids on 21 July 1798, Napoleon immediately sets off for Syria and Palestine, which he attacks between February and June 1799. A defeat at Acre forces him to abandon the adventure. Ahmed Pasha al-Jazzar is a regional hero for his successful defence, which comes with offshore aid from the British Navy.

1804 - 1805

Suleiman Pasha al-Adil

Ottoman governor of Gaza (including Palestine?).

1805 - 1807

Muhammad Abu Marraq

Ottoman governor of Gaza. Ousted by Suleiman.

1807 - 1810

Muhammad Abu-Nabbut

Ottoman governor of Gaza for Suleiman.


General prosperity is on a slow rise and Ottoman building projects are benefiting the region. Now overall governance of modern Israel, Lebanon, and Syria from this point onwards is initially handled by the wali of Damascus, with sub-commanders in the various districts. The lieutenant-governors of Jerusalem during the Ottoman empire period of rule in the region are the Mütesarrifs.

Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original king list page for the History Files.