In search for the history of the area which includes the modern Israeli/Palestine territories, the recorded history shows a group of coastal cities and heavily forested mountains inhabited by a Semitic people, the Canaanites which are regarded as the first known inhabitants of this area, around 4000 BC. These early inhabitants called their nation Canaan. They lived in the narrow East-Mediterranean cost and the parallel strip mountains of Lebanon.
The Canaanites who inhabited that area were called Phoenicians by the Greeks (from the Greek word phoinos, meaning ‘red’) in a reference to the unique purple dye the Phoenicians produced from murex seashells. The Phoenicians mastered the art of navigation and dominated the Mediterranean Sea trade for around 500 years.
They excelled in producing textiles, carving ivory, working with metal and glass. The Phoenicians built several local cities East Mediterranean among which: Byblos, Berytus (Beirut), Tripoli. The Phoenicians made a variety of metal articles. They also colored cloth the famous Tyrian purple with dye obtained from shellfish and were famous for their finely carved ivories. They worshiped fertility gods and goddesses generally designated by the names Baal and Baalat.
The Phoenician alphabet was developed around 1200 BC from an earlier Semitic prototype. It was used mainly for commercial notes. The Phoenician alphabet served as a basis for the Greek alphabet and was a key factor in the development of Greek literature. Later, the Greek alphabet formed the basis of all European alphabets. The alphabets of the Middle East and India are also thought to derive, directly or indirectly, from the Phoenician alphabet.
They established trade routes to Europe and Western Asia. Phoenician ships circumnavigated Africa a thousand years before those of the Portuguese. They founded colonies wherever they went in order to expand their rising population without having to conquer neighboring lands. Their colonies included Cyprus, Rhodes, Crete, Malta, Sicily, Sardinia, Marseilles, Cadiz, and Carthage around the first Millennium B.C. These places were almost empty of people when they arrived there. Phoenicians then subjected to many invading armies. This period will be elaborated in my next episode. Now the question is:
What was the fate of the original Phoenicians of this area?
The invaders of Phoenicia never replaced the original population even when they added to their genetic diversity. Many Phoenician Christians became Muslims and their identity, as a separate people, was lost. At the same time, other Phoenician Christians kept their Byzantine, Maronite, Syriac, Assyrian or Chaldean (Coptic in Egypt) faith and are now able to identify their culture. Simply put, the Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians come from mostly Phoenician blood which is a mix of the original Canaanites and the blood of invading armies that occupied that part of the world.
The invading Arabs also did not replace the population but coaxed many of them into Islam while the rest remained Christian. Simply put the population of the eastern Mediterranean is mostly made of the original Canaanite Phoenician people. The present population both Christian and Muslim continues to be Phoenician stock and those people were not put to death or exterminated and replaced by Arabs. Having said this, I am not saying that all the Muslims in Lebanon, Syria and Palestine are pure Phoenicians but that in their majority they come from Phoenician blood.
To sum up, the area on which the Israeli/Palestine conflict is focusing is firstly inhabited by the Phoenicians, who are the first people known to live in this area. Phoenicians had not been replaced by any invading army instead they still constitute the origin of most of the modern population of this land, the Palestine.
By Ahmed Halim