Understanding the Arab World and the Middle East

An Appreciation

     The Arab world in the Middle East is an enigma to most Americans. Few  are aware of the contributions of Arab and Muslim culture to the West, how the legacy of Greek and Latin antiquity was preserved, adapted and translated so that medieval scholars  and Renaissance scholars later could profit from a legacy that otherwise would have been lost.

    Muslim scholars translated scientific texts into Latin in the 12 th century. The great Persian philosopher Avicenna (980-1037) had a great impact on Roger Bacon, Albert the Great and Thomas  Aquinas. The Arab philosopher from Andalusia, Averroës (1126-1198) introduced the West to the writings of Aristotle. It is noteworthy that many of the great Jewish philosophers like Maimonides (Ibn Ma'moun) did most of their philosophical writing in Arabic. For example, as  the historian Jaroslav Pelikan had pointed out,  two of the most important doctrinal expositions in Christianity and Judaism  - An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith by John of Damascus (Saint John Damascene) and Guide for the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides - were written under the protection of Islamic rulers, the latter written in Arabic no less. (1)  "The Arab contribution to mathematics - the development of the decimal system and Arabic numeral notation - is so important that it is the cornerstone of modern mathematics." (2)  

    Middle Eastern authorities note that for a very long time the lingua franca of the Eastern Mediterranean was Aramaic (still spoken in remote corners of Syria, for instance) - also known as Syriac.  The Syriacs of the region played an important role after the advent of Islam because they were exposed to to the Greek Byzantine and Latin Roman cultures as well.   Muslim scholars were exposed to the Greek and Latin writings through Arabic translations. They also benefitted from knowledge gained from Hindu civiliations (e.g. the numbers).

    Arabic thus became the lingua franca in lieu of Aramaic. Although these peopels and scholars were predionantly Muslims, this does not mean that they all  spoke Arabic as their mother tongue.  There were many Jews like Maimonides in the Levant and in Spain.  Many of  the scholars were Persians (like Avicenna)  who had their own language.

    The following brief outline is an effort on my part to better understand the happenings today in the Middle East, the parties involved, the geography, and terminology one encounters in the media.  I have found this informative and I hope you will as well.
Arab Nations of the Middle East (Asia)
Nation Capital City Religious adherence
Bahrain Manama 70% Shi'a, 30% Sunni
Iraq Baghdad 60%Shi'a, 32% Sunni, 3% Christian
Jordan Amman 92% Sunni, 6% Christian;  Druze
Kuwait Kuwait City 45% Sunni, 40% Shi'a
Lebanon Beirut 70% various Muslim, 30% Christian;
Oman Muscat 75% Ibadhi Muslim
Qatar Doha Sunni 
Saudi Arabia Riyadh Wahabbi Sunni and a persecuted Shia minority
Syria Damascus 74% Sunni, 16% other Muslim (Alawite, Druze), l0 % Christian until the recent  fall
of Saddam - many now in flight
United Arab Emirates Abu Dhabi 80% Sunni, 16% Shi'a
Yemen Sana'a Shaf'i Sunni, Zaydi Shi'a
Palestinian territory not yet a state Gaza Strip: 98.7% Sunni
" West Bank 75% Sunni, 17% Jewish, 8% Christian

Non-Arab nations in the Middle East
Nation Capital Religious adherence
Iran Tehran 89% Shi'a, 10% Sunni, Zoroastrian and
" " Christian
Israel * Tel Aviv 80% Jewish, 14% Sunni, 2% Christian
Druze and Baha'i
Turkey Ankara 99.8% Sunni
Afghanistan** Kabul 84% Sunni, 15% Shi'a

* To view a MSNBC map detailing Israel's arsenal of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons see: the following site:


   (** This last not really part of the Middle East but it is of current interest) as is Pakistan)
Arab Nations of North Africa
Nation Capital Religious adherence
Algeria Algiers 99% Sunni
Egypt Cairo 94% mostly Sunni, 6% Coptic Christian
Libya Tripoli 97% Sunni
Morocco Rabat 98.7% mostly Sunni
Tunisia Tunis 98% mostly Sunni

Other African nations with a large Arab population

Sudan (39% Arab) Khartoum 70% Sunni
Western Sahara none Sunni
Mauritania Nouakchott 100% Sunni
 Somalia is also a member of the Arab League, but speak a lanhuage different from Arabic
African countries with a smaller Arab population
Chad N'Djamena 50% Muslim. 25% Christian
" " 25% indigenous
Djibouti Djibouti 94% Muslim
Somalia Mogadishu Sunni

                                                                                                Source for statistics: The CIA World Factbook 2001

Click here for a Map of the Arab world 


    Four main languages:

            1. Persian (Farsi) about 60 milllion speakers

            2. Arabic (about 290 million)

            3. Turkish (about 66 million)

            4. Hebrew: (about 4 million_

According to Dr. Audrey Shabas the one scholar who is fluent in all four of the above is Dr. Alan Godlas of the University of Georgia.  His home page is said to be the best web site on Islam.

Other languages: (preserved mainly because the speakers  live in mountainous and more remote areas)

            1. Kurdish (about 30 million)
            2. Amharic (Ethiopia and Somalia)
            3. Armenian
            4. Aramaic (Assyrian, Chaldean, etc.)
            5. Berber (Tamazight)
            (Urdu is spoken in Pakistan and Afghanistan - not actually considered part of the Middle East)


Selected sources on the history of Islam

A - The Muslim population in the Middle  East is made up of two large groupings:

    Just  as the Christian world  underwent a great schism in 1054  that has lasted till the present
    moment so too the religion of Islam has experience divisions and sects.

    1. The Sunni Muslims:  (Arabic: sunniyy)    Main group in Islam, making up 90% of the religion's adherents. This brand of Islam has      dominated almost continuously since 661, when the Shi'is departed from the main fold. Sunni Islam claims to be the continuation of the Islam as it was defined through the revelations given to Muhammad and his life.  In the Middle East and North Africa Sunni Muslems:

                - population and rulers of Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, all the Persian Gulf  states
                    such as Qatar, Bahrain, etc.
                - population and rulers of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco
                - the majority population of Syria is Sunni - but the ruling power is the Alawite minority
                - majority population in Jordan and Palestine 

    Note: the eventual wrting down of the Quran is attributed to scribes and companions of Mohammed, in particular Mohammed's companion Zaid Ibn Thabit.  

     2. The Shiite Muslims: The largest non-Sunni branch of Islam, the Shi`i, in their various forms represent some 10-15 percent of Muslims. The term Shi'i refers to the partisans of the fourth Caliph, Ali, who was Muhammad's son in law through his daughter Fatima and the last Caliph to be elected, as well as the last to be drawn from the original nucleus of converts from the Mecca-Medina period.
       The Shi'i, in their various forms, are significant minorities in Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain, the Gulf States, Pakistan and India. They make up the overwhelming majority (88%) in Iran where Shi'i Islam has been the state religion since the 16th century AD. In summary, these Muslems in the Middle East make up:

                - the population and rulers of Iran
                - the poorer minority populations in the Persian Gulf states and southern Iraq (Basra area)
                - the largest religious community in Lebanon (includes the Hesbollah)

     3. Other minorities:

                 - Alawites: in Arabic: calawî (sing.), calawîya (pl.)  An Islamic sect, stemming from the Twelve Shi'is.
           They live in Syria, mainly in the mountains near the city of Latakia, but many also live in the cities of Hama and Homs, and in recent decades there has been a migration to Damascus.
           Their exact number is not known, but estimated to be between 1,5 and 1,8 million. Most of them live from agriculture, but the Alawaites are also central in the leadership of  Syria.  The president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, is aan Alawite as was his father, Hafez al-Assad. The Alawites  remain the ruling class in Syria.

                 - Druze   in Arabic: durzî (singular) durûz (plural)
         Religion and group of people with somewhere between 350,000 (estimate of Western scholars) and 900,000 (figures as presented by the Druze) are strong in Lebanon, but  are also found in Syria, Jordan and Israel, often in mountainous regions. There are also important Druze communities abroad, living in Europe and USA.
         While the Druze are not regarded as Muslims by other Muslims, they regard themselves as Muslims as well as carriers of the core of this religion. The origin of Druze is to a large extent from a group of Shi'is, the Isma'ilis, but they have diverged much, and the Koran does not seem to be a part of their religion. The Druze call themselves muwahhidun, 'monotheists'. They are the only Arabs to serve in the Israeli army.

                 - Kurds:  Kurds are the largest ethnic group in the world (25 million) without a homeland, "Kurdistan" a territory covering  southeastern  Turkey, northeastern Syria, northern Iraq, western Iran, Azerbaijan and Armenia. The clear majority of Kurds are Sunni Muslims, but a small group of less than 100,000 living in Iraq (small communities scattered in Turkey, Iran, and Syria, too) are Yazidis, the so called "devil worshipers" Kurds are predominantly living in rural districts.

Click here for  a map showing where the Kurds live: 

                  - Yazidis, known for the yazidi religion of Ninevah are found in Iraq (Mesopotamia), Syria, Iran and Turkey. Their shrine                     is in Iraq
                  - Turks: Ataturk tried to Westernize Turkey by adapting the Western alphabet, eliminating /60% of the "loan"                         words that were borriowed from Persian and Arabic.

B - Christians in the Middle East: (see in greater detail below)

- a large Coptic Christian (Orthodox and Catholic) (10 million) population in Egypt
- a large Maronite Catholic population in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Arab world
- Melchite or Greek (Orthodox and Catholic) in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Jordan and    Palestine
- Chaldean Christians (Catholic) in Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Lebanon
- Syriac Christians (Orthodox and Catholic) in Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq
- various small Arab Anglican and Protestant groups
-  ome Assyrians and Chaldeans are descendents of the old Nestorian Christian church
- Armenian Christians are found in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt.
- the Latin community (i.e., Roman Catholic as it is called in the US) in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine
- The above Christian communities are also found in Israel.
C. Jews in the Middle East

                - Israel (see maps below)
                    - Population: 80.1% Jewish: of which 32.% are of European or American origin,
                    20.8% Israeli born, 14.6% from Africa,
                    12.6% from Asia.  
                     Samaritan Jews considered heretical even from biblical tiimes, indiginous Jews who reside in Sechem
                    (Neopolis-Nablus) and its suburbs
                    19.9% non-Jewish population of which 14.6% are mostly Sunni Moslem.
                    2.1% Christian

D. Zoroastrians in Iran

The Occupied Territories

        1. Golan Heights (formerly part of Syria)

            18,200  Arabs
            16,500  Druze
              1,000   'Alawites
            20,000   Jewish settlers

        2. The West Bank (formerly part of Jordan) including East Jerusalem as of July 2000:

            83 % Arab
            17 % Jewish settlers (176,000)

        3. East Jerusalem (173,000

The Gaza Strip (fornerly  the Palestinian authority - today under Hamas leadership)

        99.4 % Arab population
          0.6%  7,000 Jewish settlers living on 17 settlements were removed by Israel (August-September 2005). Air space and borders             remain under Israeli control.


The Palestinian Authority is the "government" in the occupied territories

The P.L.O. an umbrella organization for many Palestinian factions and founded in 1964:

Fatah: (literally "the opening," by extension, "conquest")the main faction of the PLO under the leadership of Yassar Arafat;
Tanzim group headed by Marwan Barghouti is part of Fatah Founded in 1959.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (headed by Georges Habash, an Orthodox Christian)
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command (headed
by Nayef  Hawatmeh, an Orthodox Christian)
Hezbollah ("Party of God"): a Shiite Muslem militia backed by Iran and located in southern Lebanon

Hamas (Arabic acronym standing for "Islamic Resistance Movement" a Sunni Muslem organization located in the occupied territories, its leadership in Gaza was killed by the Israelis and is now led by Khalid Mouchaal from Syria..A third of  Hamas legislators are presently in Israeli jails.

Other noteworthy terms:

Tunesians: Derogatory word used by Palestinians for those Palestinian officials living in Tunesia  who came to Palestine with Arafat when the PLO exile ended.

Allah hu akbar: Arabic term:  God is most great.

The word 'Islam' is best translated with 'submission [under the will and guidance of God]', but it has a deeper meaning by coming from the same Arabic root (s-l-m) as 'salam', peace, and 'salama', safety and security.

Dome of the Rock: great mosque in Jerusalem (A.D. 687-691) believed by many to have been built on the sire of the Second Temple.

People of the Book:  Muslims, Christians and Jews

Koran (Qur'an): The holy book of Islam.  It contains 114 chapter (surah).  Four sacred books are mentioned in the Qu'ran:
            - the Torag
            - the Psalms
            - the Gospel
            - the Qu'ran

kufr: disbelief or atheism  There is a distinction between "kufr" and "kafir" (below):

kafir: a disbeliever. The term "infidel" is a purely Christian term that dates from the period of the Crusades. A kafir kniows the "truth but covers it or denies it.

Fellahin: (plural peasants or farm laborers

Intifada:    (in Arabic: intifâda -an Arabic term that illustrates the death agony movements of a chicken that has just been beheaded.) A popular broad-based Palestinian uprising in the Israeli occupied territories. The first Intifada dates from 1987 to 1993.     The Intifada involved demonstrations, strikes, riots and violence, and was performed both in Gaza Strip and on the West Bank. Sept 2000

 Al Jazeera (means "island" in Arabic. It refers to the Arabian Peninsula) : an independent Arab satellite TV station based in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar. This free-for-all station is broadcasting all over the Arab world and shaking up regimes and their population who have been used to only government-controlled media up till now.

Wahhabism: An extreme, puritanical brand of Islam as promoted by the Saudi monarchy.  It is this version of Islam that is practiced by Saudi native Osama bin Laden. The Wahhabi movement to reform Islam dates from the 18 th century.

Shari'ah:  is the total sum of injunctions of Islamic law, "the way of life that the Creator intends for the created  who believe in him, to abide by and to follow."  The number one source of the Shari'ah is the Qur'an (Koran) "the very words of Allah...preserved word to word and letter to letter." Where practiced to the letter, as in Saudi Arabia, Shari'ah is very severe resulting in punishments such as amputation and the death penalty.  One must be careful to distinguish Islamic law from the various cultural practices in different countries..

Jihad: (in Arabic: jihâd)  Arabic for 'battle; struggle; holy war for the religion.
       Jihad has two possible definitions: the greater, which is the spiritual struggle of each man, against
vice, passion and ignorance.
       The lesser jihad is simplified to cover holy war against infidels and infidel countries. This kind of jihad is described in both the Holy Koran and in the hadiths (collections of sayings and acts of Muhammad and the first Muslims that are used as an addition to the Holy Koran for understanding Islam.)  Jihad can be mean  "defence" as well as "attack."

Islamic Jihad:  Egyptian Islamic extremist group active since the late 1970s. Close partner of Bin Ladin's al-Qaida organization. It suffered setbacks as a result of numerous arrests of operatives worldwide, most recently in Lebanon and Yemen. Primary goals are to overthrow the Egyptian Government and replace it with an Islamic state.

Al Qa'ida: (in Arabic: al-qâcida, meaning the "base" or "foundation" and, by extension, "headquarteres") A pan-Islamist network of organizations established in the late 1980's; spread around all of the Muslim world, and also with groups in Europe, Asia, USA and Canada. Al-Qa'ida is involved in many fields, from humanitarian work to international terrorism.  Its most profiled leader, Osama bin Laden, has his base in the southern Afghanistan  mountains. It helped to finance, recruit, transport, and Islamic fighters from the Arab world to assist the Afghan resistance to Soviet invasion. During that time these "freedom fighters" were supported by the United States.

Mujahedeen: (singular: Mujahid) literally, "one who is engaged in jihad." Muslem guerilla force in a holy mission for Allah. There are various spellings used for this word.

-stan (as in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, etc.): means "country" from an Indo-Iranian word meaning "place" or "where one stands."

 abu::father of

 ibn, ben or bin: son of

Afghan/afghani: According to the New York Times an Afghan is a person from Afghanistan and afghani is the local currency (5,000 afghanis to the dollar). An Afghan is also a kind of rug and a breed of dog.

Taliban:  the Pashto plural from the Arabic word "Talib," which means "searcher" or "student of religious knowledge."
Afghan Islamic fundamentalist group. The Taliban's leader is Mullah Mohammad Omar.

Fatwa: Arabic: fatwâ. Fatwa is a legal statement in Islam (like an edict)  issued by a  mufti or a religious lawyer, on a specific issue.

Shatt-al-Arab: the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Iraq upstream fromBasra.

al-Nakba: "the catastrophe or catyclusm" 99refers to the 1947-1948 mass deportation of millions of Palestinians from their cities and villages,  massacres of civilians and razing to the ground entire villages and homes  http://www.alnakba.org

1998 marks the 50th anniversary of the Nakba (cataclysm). In human terms, that year saw the mass deportation of a million Palestinians from their cities and villages, Some lyrical passages from the Qur'an(Koran)

"He is found everywhere:  The East and the West are God's.
Wherever you may turn, there will be God's countenance.
God knows everthing: He is omniscient.
God has knowledge about the Hour.
He sends down showers and knows whatever wombs contain.
Yet no person knows what he will earn tomorrow
nor does any person know in what land he will die.
Still God is aware.

Opening Prayer of the Koran

Praise be to God Lord of the Universe
the mercygiving, the merciful
Ruler on the Day of Repayment.
You do we worship and You do we call on for help.
Guide us along the Straight Road,
the road of those whom you have favored
with whom you are not angry,
nor who are lost.

Closing Prayer of the Koran

O God, calm my desolation in my grave!
O God, grant me mercy through the mighty Qu'ran
and place it before me as a token
and as a Light and guidance, and a mercy.

O God, make me remember
whatever I may forget of it,
teach me what I may ignore of it,
and sustain me while it is being recited
in the small hours of the night
and the early hours of the day.

Make it an instrument to protect me,
O Lord of the Universe.

Christmas in the Koran (Qur'an)

What does the Koran say about the birth of Jesus? Fellow Christians in a world that so easily demonizes Islam might be interested  in knowing what the Koran has to say about Mary and the birth of Jesus.  Despite  some genealogical differences in the family tree I was pleased by these reverential texts I came across, as follows:

From the Qur'an

On Mary: (Surah III)

Thus the woman (Mary’s mother)y) said:  “My Lord, I have freely consecrated whatever is in my womb to You.”
…. When she gave birth, she said, “My Lord, I have given birth to a daughter. I have named her Mary, and askYou to protect her and her offspring from Satan the Outcast.”
Her Lord accepted her in a handsome manner and caused her to grow like a lovely plant.”

On the birth of John: (Surah III)

(The father of John) “appealed to his Lord, he said: "My Lord, grant me goodly offspring from Your presence, for You are the Hearer of Appeals.”  The angels called him while he was standing praying in the shrine: “God gives you news of John, who will confirm word from God, masterful yet circumspect, and a prophet chosen from among honorable people.”
He said: “My Lord, how can I have a boy? Old age has overtaken me, while my wife is barren.”
He said: “Even so does God do anything He wishes.”
He said: My Lord, grant me a sign.”
He said: “Your sign is that you will not speak to people for three days except through gestures.?

Also on John the Koran says:

“Peace be upon him the day he was born and the day he will die.
And the day he is raised to life again” (Surah 19)

Also on Mary the Koran says:

So the angels said: “Mary, God has selected you and purified you.  He has selected you over all the women in the Universe.  Mary, devote yourself to your Lord, fall down on your  knees  and bow alongside those who so bow down.”

Thus the angel said: “Mary, God announces word  to you about someone whose name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, who is well regarded in this world and the Hereafter, and one of those drawn near to God. He will speak to people while still an infant and as an adult. And will be an honorable person.”
She said: “My Lord, how can I have a child while no human being has ever touched me?”

He said: “That is how God creates anything he wishes.  Whenever He decides upon some matter, He merely tells it: ‘Be!’ =  and it is. He will teach him the Book and wisdom, plus the Torah and the Gospel as a messenger to the children of Israel.”

Much of the Nativity story (above) is repeated in Surah 19 entitled “Mary.”

Elsewhere the Koran says:

And concerning Mary…. who preserved her chastity:   “We breathed  some of Our  spirit into her womb and she thereby  confirmed her  Lord’s words and books.  She was so prayerful.” (Surah 66)

There is much more about Jesus throughout the Koran.  Although Jesus is not divine and in Islamic monotheism there is no place for a Trinity, Jesus is considered God’s Messenger and a prophet.
It is well for Christians to preserve these words in their hearts.

Source:  The Qur'an, translated by T.B. Irving  (Al-Jajj Ta’lim’Ali)
Goodword Books, New Delhi, 1999.

Christians  in the Holy Land (source: Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation - HCEF)

"The Mother Church"

After two thousand years, Christian families are still living and worshiping in the land where Jesus was born, died, and resurrected.  These Christians are not immigrants.  They are not converts from Judaism or Islam.  They are the descendents of those who first believed in Jesus Christ.  They live in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Madaba, Karak and other places in Palestine, Jordan and Israel.  They are Arab Christians - Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant.  Together, they comprise the Mother Church.

All Christianity traces its roots to the first Christian Pentecost (Acts 2:11).  The Church was born when the Holy Spirit, in the form of tongues of fire, descended upon the disciples in the Upper Room nearly 2,000 years ago.

 Christians and Churches of the Holy Land

Palestinian Christians, the forgotten faithful, belong to the Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant communities. Their language is Arabic; they are considered forgotten because most Christians in the West are unaware of their existence.

In the universal church, Palestinian Christians are unique due to their centuries of history and attachment to the land of Jesus Christ's birth, death, and resurrection. Some of these Christians can trace their family lineage to the early days of the church; they are the direct descendants of those who first followed Jesus.

Living under Israeli occupation, seeing their homes and lands confiscated, having schools repeatedly closed, blocked from traveling even for health or religious purposes, and with increasingly limited employment opportunities, thousands of Christians have emigrated to other countries.

In 1948, Christians comprised about 18 percent of the population of the Holy Land; today they are less than 2 percent. The population decline in Jerusalem has been even more dramatic. In 1922, Christians numbered 51 percent of the population in Jerusalem; in 1978, 10 percent; and in 1990, only 4 percent of the population was Christian. The Christians who remain deserve recognition of their struggle to gain freedom and peace in the land called holy. Pilgrims from the West who meet and pray with Holy Land Christians realize that they have individually and collectively shared deeply in the way of the cross.

The Christian Churches of Jerusalem


Armenian Orthodox Church
Armenian Christian pilgrims began to travel to the Holy Land in AD 301.  Armenians claim to have the longest uninterrupted presence in Jerusalem, and the Armenian Church is one of the three guardians of the Holy Places, along with the Greek Orthodox and the Franciscan Holy Custody (Catholics).  After the Armenian genocide of 1915 in Ottoman Turkey, in which it is claimed that more than one and a half million Armenians were killed, 20,000 Armenians fled to the Holy Land.  Ten thousand of them sought refuge in the Convent of the Olive Tree itself.  Today, there are about 2,000 Armenians in Jerusalem, around half of whom live in the Armenian quarter. 

Syrian Orthodox Church

The word "syrian" does not refer to the location of the church but rather to its use of the Syriac Aramaic language, a dialect of the language Jesus spoke in first-century Palestine.  Syrian Christians see themselves as the first people to adopt Christianity as natives of the Holy Land.  The Apostle Peter is considered to have been appointed the Syrian Orthodox Church's first Patriarch in AD 37.  There are only 500-700 Syrian Orthodox Christians in Jerusalem today.  Before 1948 and the creation of the State of Israel, there were around 6,000 families.  There are currently around 6,000 Syrian Orthodox Christians in the Holy Land, most of them living in the Bethlehem area.

Ethiopian Orthodox Church

The Ethiopians trace their link with Jerusalem back 3,000 years to when the Ethiopian Queen of Sheba is said to have visited King Solomon in Jerusalem.  Legend has embellished the biblical references to her visit by including a tradition that the Queen not only adopted King Solomon's faith during her six-month stay but returned to Ethiopia pregnant with his child.  There she gave birth to a son, Menelik, meaning 'son of the King,' who later visited his father in Jerusalem and returned with priests from the Temple of Jerusalem and instruments of worship from the Temple in Jerusalem such as temple drums.  These drums are one of the most distinctive features of Ethiopian Christian worship today.  Christianity was introduced to Ethiopia in AD 34 when the finance minister of Queen Candace of Ethiopia, who was visiting Jerusalem, was baptized by the Apostle Philip and, in turn, introduced baptism in Ethiopia.  Ethiopian Orthodox Christians are proud of their Jewish roots and links with Jerusalem.  Certain Ethiopian customs still follow Jewish practice today.  There are around 2,000 Ethiopian Christians in the Holy Land today.  The worship is in Ge'ez - the liturgical language of Ethiopian Christians and a product of Hebrew and Arabic languages.

Coptic Orthodox Church

The Coptic Orthodox Church traces its founding back to St. Mark and is the largest Christian church in the Middle East today.  The liturgy is in the Coptic language and also in Arabic.  There are now around 2,000 Copts in the Holy Land.  Many are originally from Egypt.  The word Copt, in fact, derives from the Greek word Aigyptos, meaning Egyptian, and is used for all Egyptian Christians.  The Coptic Orthodox Church takes pride in its country's place in the Bible.  Egypt is mentioned in the lives of Abraham, Joseph, Jacob, Moses and Jeremiah, and there were residents of Egypt present in Jerusalem at the day of Pentecost.  The Coptic Church is especially proud that Egyptian hospitality housed the Holy Family in its flight from Herod. 


Greek Orthodox Church
The Greek Orthodox is the largest faith community in the Holy Land with about 60,000 members.  The Church dates itself back to the Apostle James who was the first Bishop of Jerusalem.  Ever since AD 451, except during the Crusades, Jerusalem has been a Patriarchate of the Greek Orthodox Church and the Greek Patriarch has the status of 'first' when the church leaders in Jerusalem meet.  The Jerusalem Patriarchate is one of the three guardians of the Holy places, through its Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre.  The Patriarch, the upper hierarchy, and the Brotherhood are almost all Greeks, while the parish priests and lay people are Arabs.  The Byzantine liturgy is celebrated in Greek in the monasteries and Arabic in the parish churches.

Russian Orthodox Church
Byzantine Orthodox Christianity became the state religion in Russia in AD 988.  During the eleventh century, Russian pilgrims began to make their way to the Holy Land, but they did not establish their own institutions in Palestine until the 19th century, when pilgrims started to come in their thousands to Jerusalem.  After the Crimean War, when the number of pilgrims made a dramatic increase and the Tsar was eager to increase his influence in the region, 32 acres of choice real estate were acquired by the Russians, and the area now known as the Russian Compound was built.  The Russian Revolution of 1917 and its disdain of the Church put an end to pilgrimage and also gave rise to a 'Church in Exile' or 'The Church Abroad.'  The continuing Patriarchate in Moscow is called 'The Moscow Patriarchate.'  Both groups hold property and churches in Jerusalem and, since the collapse of Communism and the greater openness to the Christian faith in Russia, there has been increased dispute over ownership and who is the authentic voice of Russian Orthodoxy in the Holy Land. 

Romanian Orthodox Church

The Romanian church was established in Jerusalem in 1935.  Ten years earlier, the Church of Romania, with its headquarters in Bucharest, received the status of Patriarchate in the family of Orthodox churches, recognized as a leading Orthodox Church and Orthodox nation in the world because of its numbers and uninterrupted Christian witness.  Romanian Orthodox tradition relates that the Virgin Mary asked her son to give her as an earthly dowry the gift of praying and defending the people of a certain land.  Christ is said to have given her Mount Athos and the 'ring' of Romania, which is the shape of Romania's map.  Thus, Romania is believed to be under her care. 



The Catholic Church in the Holy Land belongs to seven Catholic Patriarchates: Roman Catholics; Greek Catholics or Melkites (see separate entry); Syrian Catholics; Maronites; Armenian Catholics; Chaldean Catholics; and Coptic Catholics.  The two main groups are the Roman Catholics, known in the Holy Land as Latins, and the Greek Catholics (Melkites).

Roman Catholic or Latin Church
The Latins are the largest group in the city of Jerusalem with around 5,000 members.  The Latin Patriarchate was established in Jerusalem in 1099 during the Crusades.  A century later, when the Crusaders were conquered and forced to leave the city, the Latin hierarchy fled with them.  In the absence of a residential Patriarch, Pope Clement VI, in 1342, made the Franciscan friars the official custodians of the Holy Land.  Over the next 500 years, the Franciscans were the Latin Church presence in the Holy Land, guarding the Holy Places and encouraging the growth of the local churches.  In the mid-19th century, the Latin Patriarchate was reestablished in Jerusalem.  Latin-rite Catholics are largely Palestinian Arabs with the parish clergy and the Patriarch of Palestinian origin. 

The Maronite Church of Antioch (founded by St. Maron) is the largest church in Lebanon.  The Chaldean Catholic Church, separated from the Assyrian Church of the East in the mid-1500s, is now the largest Christian Church in Iraq.  Both the Syrian Catholic Church and the Armenian Catholic Church retain much of the language and liturgy of their Orthodox counterparts but both are in communion with Rome.

Greek Catholic (Melkite) Church
The Greek Catholic (Melkite) Church was officially founded in 1724 after a split in the Patriarch of Antioch.  One group continued as the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch with its own Patriarch, while another bishop was recognized by the Roman Pope as the Patriarch of the Greek Catholic Church.  Although they have adopted some Roman Catholic practices, the Melkites have maintained the Byzantine liturgy (somewhat abbreviated) and many other Orthodox traditions.  Worship is mostly in Arabic.  Today there are 53,000 Greek Catholics in the Holy Land, making them overall the second largest Church after the Greek Orthodox.  Around 50,000 live in the Galilee region.  There is still a small community in Jerusalem. 


Anglican Church
The Jerusalem Diocese of the Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East was born in the 19th century with the missionary movement.  It shared a bishopric with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan until the late 19th century, after which England continued its support of the Anglicans separately.  Today, the Anglican Church has an Arab bishop and a large number of local schools and social service agencies.  The Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem has both an Arab and an expatriate congregation who work closely together.  Worship is in both English and Arabic. 

Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan (ELCJ)
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan came together with the Anglican Church in the 19th century with the missionary movement.  It shared a bishopric with the Anglican Church until the late 19th century, after which Germany continued its support of the ELCJ separately.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan includes six Arab-speaking congregations in Jerusalem and the West Bank and one in Amman, Jordan.  Worship also occurs in German and English.  Danish Lutherans also worship with the ELCJ.   
The ELCJ has a strong educational ministry, with 3,000 pupils in six schools, and is involved in ecumenical work and inter-faith dialogue.  It also sponsors hospices and hospitals in Palestine.

This information was excerpted from Living Stones Pilgrimage by Alison Hilliard and Betty Jane Bailey (University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, IN 1999)

A Timeline of the Israeli-Arab Conflict  


First Zionist Congress discusses plans to establish a Jewish state in Palestine


The Ottoman Empire, ruler of the Arab world since 1500’s, is defeated.


Sykes-Picot Agreement – divides the Ottoman Arab lands into zones exercised by either French or British spheres of influence. Palestine comes under British influence


Britain signs Balfour Declaration which declares “support of the establishment of the Jewish national home  . . .and safeguarding the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine.”


League of Nations divides Arab lands into entities called mandates to eventually spawn nation states for the indigenous people.  Britain accepts mandate for Palestine.


Hitler’s rise to power in Germany. Jewish migration into Palestine increases.


The Arab Revolt – First major outbreak of Arab-Jewish hostilities. Revolt leads to the Peel Commission recommendation in 1937 of partitioning Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. Arabs rejected and Jews accepted but wanted more land. 


Holocaust; Jewish migration into Palestine intensifies (680,000 Jews in Palestine in 1946).  Lebanon becomes independent in 1943; Syria in 1944; Jordan in 1946


Hostilities in Palestine escalate including Jewish terrorism against Britain. President Truman expresses support for partition and a “viable Jewish state.”


UN General Assembly Resolution 181 partitions Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.  Greater Jerusalem was to be an international city (corpus separatum). UNSC Res. 181 rejected by Arabs.


British mandate ends; Israel declares statehood. Arab armies attack Israel—war results in a divided Jerusalem and 650,000 Palestinian refugees.  UNGA Res 194 establishes commission to facilitate the repatriation or compensation of refugees.  


Armistice.  Israel holds 77% of territory.  Jordan annexes East Jerusalem and West Bank. Egypt controls Gaza Strip.  UNRWA established.  Jewish Arabs begin migration into Israel.


Suez Crisis. Nasser’s nationalization of the canal leads to military action by France, Britain and Israel. US forces allies’ withdrawal. Eisenhower threatens economic sanctions on Israel if it failed to do so.


Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) is established.


Six Day War: -– Israel conquers the Sinai, Golan Heights, Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, which it annexed. 600,000 Palestinians become refugees.  

UNSC Res 242 calls for Israeli withdrawal and establishes “land for peace” principle.


Israel begins policy of creating facts on the ground by establishing settlements. Egypt’s “War of Attrition” against Israel, with Soviets aiding Nasser, leads to the Rogers Plan which sets UNSC Res. 242 as the basis for negotiations.


Yom Kippur War – Egypt and Syria attack Israel.  No territorial change.  

UNSC Res 338 calls for negotiations between the parties.


Menachem Begin and Likud coalition win Israeli elections.  Settlements in occupied territories increase. Egypt’s President Sadat goes to Israel’s Knesset and expresses desire for Egypt and Israel to live together in “permanent peace based on justice” and calls for Palestinian right to its own state.


Camp David Accords – through negotiations led by President Carter, Sinai returned to Egypt in exchange for recognition of Israel; sets framework for settling Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Arab League expels Egypt. 
Israel invades Lebanon, occupies its southern border. 


Israeli government declares Jerusalem its eternal, undivided capital, affirming the de facto annexation of West Bank environs and East Jerusalem in 1967.


Israel annexes Golan Heights, captured from Syria in 1967.


Israel invades Lebanon a second time and lays siege to Beirut.  PLO moves its headquarters from Beirut to Tunis.

Reagan Peace Initiative and Fez Summit Peace Proposal


Intifada, a Palestinian popular uprising, begins in Gaza and spreads to West Bank


Palestinian National Council (PNC) accepts UNSC Res. 242 and 338, implicitly recognizing Israel. Declares a Palestinian state.  The United States opens dialogue with the PLO.


Gulf War begins in January in response to Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Madrid Conference – Israel and Arabs begin bilateral and multilateral negotiations


Bush-Baker Administration holds up $10 Billion in U.S. loan-guarantees to Israel (fiscal years 1993 to 1997) in attempt to limit Israeli settlement building.


Oslo Process begins with Clinton Administration – PLO and Israel sign the Declaration of Principles.


Palestinian Authority is established in Gaza and Jericho. Arafat arrives in Gaza. Jordan & Israel sign peace treaty.  Rabin, Peres, Arafat receive Nobel Peace Prize.  


“Oslo II” establishes 3 areas in West Bank: Area A— direct Palestinian control. Area B –jointly controlled: Palestinian civilian control and Israeli security control. Area C – exclusive Israeli control. Prime Minister Rabin is assassinated in Tel Aviv. 


Palestinian elections; Israel launches “Operation Grapes of Wrath” in southern Lebanon; Netanyahu becomes Prime Minister. Summit in Washington between Arafat, Netanyahu, King Hussein, and Clinton


Hebron Protocol signed dividing city of Hebron. Israel starts building a settlement, Har Homa, on a hill overlooking East Jerusalem resulting in widespread protests.  Peace process frozen; closures imposed in West Bank and Gaza.


Wye River Memorandum is signed but frozen. PNC renounces clauses in PLO charter offensive to Israel


PLO postpones declaration of statehood. Ehud Barak elected as Prime Minister, pledges to work for peace. Sharm el Sheik memorandum signed between Israel and PLO, final status talks begin.  President Clinton attends PNC Meeting in Gaza.


Camp David II – Clinton-led negotiations on final status issues between Barak and Arafat breakdown.  Second Intifada sparked by Sharon’s provocative visit to Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.  Violence escalates. Protesting Israeli-Arabs shot by Israeli police.  Taba Talks:  Arafat and Barak find common ground but no agreements.


Bush inaugurated. Sharon elected Prime Minister. Violence escalates.

Mitchell Report released.  Ceasefire attempts are made but broken


Reoccupation of Palestinian areas begins. Arafat placed under house arrest. Occupation of Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Saudi Crown Prince peace plan,  endorsed by Arab League,  promises recognition of Israel for ending occupation. UNSC Res. 1397 affirms 2-state vision, welcomes Saudi initiative and Quartet diplomacy. President Bush declares vision for a “viable Palestinian state next to a secure Israel.” Israel begins construction of “security fence” around the West Bank.


US-initiated war begins in Iraq and occupation of Iraq begins.  Mahmoud Abbas is elected Prime Minister.  The Road Map is released. Powell travels to the region.    

(Source: May 2003 adaptation by Churches for Middle East Peace from timeline prepared by Rev. Betty J. Bailey)


                  General timeline (Le Monde Diplomatique)


                               29 November : The UN General Assembly adopts the Palestine partition plan by a
                               two-thirds majority.


                               9-10 April : Massacre by Irgun troops in the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin.

                               14 May : Proclamation of the State of Israel. The Arab states reject the partition plan
                               and their armies enter Palestine (15th).


                               War in Palestine, ending in Israeli victory. Armistice agreements signed between Israel
                               and the neighbouring Arab states.

                               11 May : Israel becomes a member of the UN.

                               11 December : Adoption of UN Resolution 194, proclaiming the right of Palestinian
                               refugees to return to their homes.


                               24 April : The West Bank annexed by Transjordan. Egypt establishes its control of


                               October : Israel rejects UN peace plan, accepted by Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.


                               February : Baghdad Pact signed (24th). Israel attacks Gaza (28th).


                               October-November : Israel, France and Britain attack Egypt, in response to Nasser's
                               nationalisation of the Suez Canal on 26 July.


                               1 February : Egypt and Syria form the United Arab Republic (UAR).


                               October : Founding congress of Fatah in Kuwait.


                               13-17 January : First Arab League summit held in Cairo.

                               29 May : Creation of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).


                               1 January : First Fatah military action against Israel.


                               5 June : Israel attacks Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Following a six-day lightning war Israel
                               occupies Sinai, the Golan, the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Settlement begins in
                               the summer.

                               22 November : The UN Security Council adopts Resolution 242.


                               21 March : Battle of Karameh, in Jordan, between Israeli troops and Palestinians.

                               10-17 July : Fourth session of the PLO's Palestine National Council. Changes to the
                               National Charter.


                               1-4 February : Fifth session of the Palestine National Council. Yasser Arafat becomes
                               chairman of the PLO's executive committee.


                               February : Serious clashes between the PLO and the Jordanian government.

                               July : President Nasser of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan accept the Rogers Plan, a
                               set of US proposals involving implementation of Resolution 242.

                               September : Clashes between the PLO and the Jordanian army (« Black September »). A
                               year later the PLO is expelled from Jordan and the leadership of the Palestinian
                               resistance moves to Lebanon.


                               5-6 September : Attack at the Munich Olympic Games by a group belonging to the
                               Palestinian organisation « Black September ». Eleven Israeli athletes and coaches killed.


                               April : Israeli operation in Beirut. Three PLO leaders killed. Mass demonstrations of
                               solidarity with the Palestinian resistance in Lebanon.

                               August : Palestinian National Front formed in the occupied territories.

                               6 October : Egyptian and Syrian armies launch attack to recover the territories occupied
                               by Israel. Start of the Yom Kippur war.

                               22 October : Adoption of Security Council Resolution 338. Fighting stops a few days

                               26-28 November : Arab League summit in Algiers. Resolution passed recognising the
                               PLO recognised as the « sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people ».
                               Jordan abstains.


                               1-9 June : Twelfth session of the Palestine National Council. The PLO accepts the idea
                               of national authority over any liberated part of Palestine. A few weeks later the
                               rejectionist front is formed under the leadership of the Popular Front for the Liberation
                               of Palestine (PFLP).

                               26-29 October : Arab League summit in Rabat. Jordan joins majority in recognition of

                               13 November : Arafat addresses the UN General Assembly. The UN recognises the
                               right of the Palestinians to independence and self-determination. The PLO obtains
                               observer status.


                               April : Start of the civil war in Lebanon.


                               30 March : Land Day demonstrations in Galilee, organised by the Israeli Palestinians,
                               are violently repressed (six deaths).

                               13 April : Municipal election in the occupied West Bank. Clear victory for candidates
                              sympathetic to PLO.

                               June : Large-scale intervention by Syrian troops in Lebanon against the PLO and the
                               Lebanese National Movement.

                               6 September : The PLO is admitted to the Arab League as a full member.


                               12-20 March : Thirteenth session of the Palestine National Council in Cairo.
                               Acceptance of the idea of an independent Palestinian state in part of Palestine.

                               17 May : The right wins the Israeli elections for the first time. Its leader, Menahem
                               Begin, becomes prime minister.

                               1 October : US-Soviet declaration on peace in the Middle East, supported by the PLO.

                               19-21 November : President Anwar Sadat of Egypt goes to Jerusalem.


                               14 March : Israel invades South Lebanon.

                               17 September : Camp David accords signed by Egypt, Israel and the United States,
                               condemned in November by the Arab League summit in Baghdad.


                               July : Israeli-Palestinian war on the Lebanese border. Israelis bomb Beirut.

                               7 August : Peace plan proposed by Crown Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia.

                               6 October : President Sadat assassinated.

                               14 December : The day after martial law is declared in Poland, Israel annexes the Golan.


                               March-April : Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories. Elected mayors deposed.

                               25 April : Israel completes its withdrawal from Sinai.

                               6 June : Start of Israeli invasion of Lebanon, followed by siege of Beirut. The PLO
                               begins to withdraw from Beirut in September, under the protection of the Multinational

                               1 September : Speech by President Reagan, presenting his peace plan.

                               9 September : Adoption of the final resolution of the Arab League summit in Fez,
                               calling for the creation of an independent Palestinian state, recognising the PLO as the
                               sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and the right of "all the states of
                               the region" to live in peace.

                               14-18 September : New Lebanese president Beshir Gemayel assassinated. Israelis enter
                               West Beirut. Massacre in the Palestinian camps Sabra and Shatilah.

                               20 September : King Hussein of Jordan proposes a Jordanian-Palestinian


                               February : Sixteenth session of the Palestine National Council in Algiers adopts Fez
                               plan and Soviet proposals.

                               17 May : Israel-Lebanon peace agreement.

                               25 May : Beginning of dissidence within Fatah.

                               August-September : Resumption of civil war in Lebanon. Begin resigns as Israeli prime
                               minister and is succeeded by Yitzhak Shamir.


                               5 March : Amin Gemayel rescinds Israel-Lebanon agreement of 1983.

                               27 March : Aden reconciliation agreements between Fatah, the DFLP, the PFLP and the

                               1 April : Multinational Force leaves Lebanon.

                               23 July : Elections in Israel. « National unity government » formed.


                               11 February : Hussein and Arafat adopt a joint declaration in Amman known as the
                               « Jordanian-Palestinian agreement »

                               Spring : More massacres at Sabra, Shatilah and other Palestinian camps in Lebanon,
                               this time perpetrated by the Shi'ite Amal militia.

                               June : Israel completes withdrawal from Lebanon, except for a strip along the southern
                               border controlled by the South Lebanon Army.

                               1 October : Israeli air raid on the PLO headquarters in Tunisia (70 killed).


                               20-26 April : Reunification of the PLO (Fatah, PFLP, DFLP, CPP) at the eighteenth
                               session of the Palestine National Council in Algiers.

                               December : The Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories known as the intifada
                               begins in Gaza and then in the West Bank.


                               16 April : PLO second-in-command Abu Jihad assassinated by an Israeli commando
                               group in Tunis.

                               31 July : King Hussein of Jordan announces on television the severance of his
                               country's « legal and administrative ties » with the West Bank, annexed by his
                               grandfather Abdallah in 1950 and occupied by Israel since 1967.

                               12-15 November : At its nineteenth session, held in Algiers, the Palestine National
                               Council proclaims the State of Palestine, recognises Resolutions 181, 242 and 338, and
                               confirms its condemnation of terrorism.

                               13 December : Arafat addresses the UN General Assembly in Geneva (the United
                               States having refused to issue the PLO leader with a visa) and repeats the statements
                               made by the Palestine National Council in November. The following day he condemns
                               terrorism in any form. Washington then agrees to open a « substantive dialogue » with
                               the PLO.


                               6 April : Shamir puts forward a four-point plan centred on the holding of elections in
                               the occupied territories.

                               2-4 May : In Paris, Arafat declares the Palestinian National Charter « null and void ».


                               January : Sudden acceleration in the emigration of Soviet Jews to Israel. The monthly
                               number of arrivals continues to rise right through to December (34,000), making a total
                               of almost 200,000 for the year.

                               20 June : Following the attempt by a Palestinian commando group to land in Israel,
                               President Bush announces the suspension of the US-Palestinian dialogue.

                               2 August : Iraqi forces cross the border into Kuwait. Security Council Resolution 660
                               demands « that Iraq withdraw immediately and unconditionally all its forces ». Unlike
                               the majority of Arab countries, the PLO supports Saddam Hussein.

                               8 October : Massacre at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem (18 killed, 150 wounded).
                               Israel refuses to cooperate with the UN commission of inquiry.


                               15 January : Assassination in Tunis of PLO second-in-command Abu Iyad (Salah
                               Khalaf), his advisor Abu Muhammad (Fakhri al-Omari), and PLO security chief Abu
                               al-Hol (Hayel Abdel Hamid).

                               11 March : First trip to Jerusalem by US Secretary of State James Baker since the Gulf
                               War. Followed by many more, until Israel accepts the principle of a peace conference on
                               2 August.

                               18 October : Following the agreement of the Palestine National Council on 3 October
                               and a final round of consultations, Baker, accompanied by his Soviet counterpart,
                               announces in Jerusalem the convening of a peace conference in Madrid on 30 October.
                               Re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and Israel, broken
                               off in 1967.

                               30 October : Opening of the Madrid conference by US and Soviet presidents Bush and
                               Gorbachev, followed, on 3 November, by the first bilateral negotiations between Israel
                               and its Arab neighbours, with the Palestinians included as part of a joint
                               Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. The negotiations continue, not without difficulty, in
                               December and February, and the multilateral negotiations begin in Moscow on 28
                               January 1992.


                               24 February : US Secretary of State James Baker make the grant of bank guarantees for
                               a $10 billion loan to Israel conditional upon a halt to Jewish settlement in the West Bank
                               and the Gaza Strip.

                               23 June : Yitzhak Rabin wins the Israeli election.

                               10 September : Rabin envisages a « limited withdrawal » from the Golan in exchange
                               for « total peace with Syria ».

                               24-26 November : During a trip to Israel and Jordan, François Mitterrand defends the
                               Palestinians right to a state and calls on the Israeli authorities to consider the PLO
                               leaders as « necessary interlocutors ».

                               16 December : Following the kidnapping and murder of a border guard by Hamas, the
                               Rabin government deports 415 Palestinians suspected of pro-Islamist sympathies to
                               South Lebanon. Condemned by the Security Council, this decision blocks the peace
                               process for several months.


                               9-10 September : Mutual recognition by Israel and the PLO.

                               13 September : The PLO and the Government of Israel, in the presence of Yitzhak Rabin
                               and Yasser Arafat, sign the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government at the
                               White House.


                               25 February : Settler Baruch Goldstein kills 29 Palestinians in the Hebron mosque

                               29 February : Israel and the PLO sign protocol on economic relations in Paris.

                               4 May : Cairo agreement between Rabin and Arafat on arrangements for implementing
                               the Israel-Palestinian Declaration of Principles.

                               1 July : Arafat returns to Gaza.

                               14 October : Arafat, Rabin and Peres co-recipients of the Nobel peace prize.

                               26 October : Peace treaty signed between Israel and Jordan.


                               January : The occupied territories are sealed off by Israel following a suicide bombing
                               by the Islamic Jihad in Beit Lid in which 19 Israelis were killed.

                               April : Arafat orders the arrest of 170 Hamas members or sympathisers, following three
                               attacks claimed by the Islamists.

                               28 September : Despite a further attack in Jerusalem on 21 August, Arafat and Rabin
                               sign in Washington, in the presence of President Clinton, President Mubarak and King
                               Hussein, the Oslo II agreement providing for the extension of autonomy to the West

                               4 November : Yitzhak Rabin assassinated by rightwing extremist student Yigal Amir.
                               Succeeded by Shimon Peres.

                               November-December : Israel completes its withdrawal from the Palestinian towns,
                               except Hebron.


                               20 January : Yasser Arafat is elected president of the Palestinian Authority and his
                               supporters win two thirds of the 80 seats in the Legislative Council.

                               February-March : In reprisal for the murder of its master bombmaker, Yehia Ayache, by
                               the Israeli secret services, Hamas carries out a series of bloody terrorist attacks in
                               Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ashkelon.

                               April : Shimon Peres gives the go-ahead for Operation « Grapes of Wrath » against
                               Lebanon. On 18 April, 98 civilian refugees in the UN camp at Cana in South Lebanon die
                               in Israeli shelling. A ceasefire is agreed on the 27th.

                               24 April : Meeting in Gaza, at its first session to be held in Palestine, the Palestine
                               National Council removes from its Charter all the articles incompatible with Israel's right
                               to exist.

                               29 May : The Israeli elections are won by a coalition of rightwing, far-right and religious
                               parties led by Binyamin Netanyahu, who becomes prime minister.

                               27-29 September : The Jewish municipality of Jerusalem opens a tunnel under the
                               Mosque Esplanade, provoking an outburst of violence, the most serious since the
                               intifada, that spreads to all the occupied territories (76 deaths).

                               8 October : Yasser Arafat's first official visit to Israel, in response to an invitation to
                               Caesaria from the head of state, Ezer Weizman.


                               15 January : Signature of the Protocol concerning redeployment in Hebron, specifying
                               the transfer of civil powers and responsibilities to the Palestinian side.

                               25 February : The Israeli government announces its decision to build a Jewish
                               settlement at Har Homa, in the occupied Arab part of Jerusalem. Despite this violation
                               of the Oslo accords, the United States vetoes a UN Security Council resolution calling
                               upon Israel to abandon the project.

                               25 September : The Palestinian police close six offices and associations connected with
                               Hamas. On the same day Mossad attempts to assassinate Khaled Meshaal, the head of
                               Hamas' political bureau, in Jordan.

                               1 October : Under pressure from Jordan, Israel frees Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual
                               leader of Hamas, who is given a hero's welcome in Gaza on 6 October. Jordan releases
                               two Mossad agents in exchange for 35 Palestinian prisoners.


                               14 May : During the Palestinian commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the
                               creation of the State of Israel and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of
                               Palestinians, serious clashes with the Israeli army leave 9 dead and 1,200 wounded.

                               21 June : The Israeli government endorses Netanyahu's plan for Greater Jerusalem.

                               7 July : The UN General Assembly gives the Palestinian delegation « super-observer »
                               status. On 13 July the UN Security Council calls on Israel to abandon its Greater
                               Jerusalem plan.

                               23 October : Wye River Memorandum signed. A further 13 % of West Bank territory
                               (1 % under full Palestinian sovereignty and 12 % under joint sovereignty with Israel) is
                               to be handed over to the Palestinian Authority within three months in exchange for
                               stepping up Palestinian police repression of movements hostile to peace. The
                               Palestinian anti-terrorism plan is to be monitored by the CIA.

                               24 November : Opening of the Rafah/Gaza international airport.

                               18 December : While US and British forces bomb Iraq, the Israeli government suspends
                               application of the Wye River Memorandum.

                               21 December : By 81 votes to 30, the Israeli parliament decides to dissolve itself and
                               call new elections, to be held on 17 May 1999.


                               25 March : Meeting in Berlin, the EU Heads of State and Government proclaim the
                               Palestinians' permanent and unrestricted right to self-determination, including the
                               possibility of a state.

                               4 May : End of the period of Palestinian autonomy provided for in the Declaration of
                               Principles of 13 September 1993. The following day, in the light of the commitment made
                               by President Clinton in a letter to Yasser Arafat to do everything he can to ensure that
                               the negotiations on the permanent status of the West Bank and Gaza are concluded
                               within a year, the Palestine Central Council agrees to postpone the proclamation of an
                               independent Palestinian state.

                               17 May : Israeli elections for prime minister and the 120 members of the Knesset. The
                               Labour candidate, Ehud Barak, defeats Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu by the large
                               margin of 56 % to 44 %.

                               4 September : Memorandum signed by Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak at Sharm
                               el-Sheikh redefines the timeline for application of the Wye River Memorandum on
                               further redeployment of the Israeli army. It provides for the opening of two safe
                               passages between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, further release of prisoners, and
                               the conclusion of a comprehensive agreement on all permanent status issues by 13
                               September 2000 at the latest.

                               13 October : Prime minister Barak and the main Jewish settlers' organisation agree on
                               the dismantling of 10 illegal settlements out of the 42 established under the Netanyahu

                               15-16 December : Israeli-Syrian peace talks, broken off in 1996, resume in


                               March: Negotiations between Israel and Syria broken off.

                               May: Hasty withdrawal of the Israeli army from South Lebanon (originally planned for 7
                               July) following the Hezbollah offensive and the collapse of the South Lebanon Army

                               10 June: Death of Syrian president, Hafez al-Assad. His son, Bashar, prepares to
                               assume power.

                               28 September : Likud leader Ariel Sharon's provocative visit to the Al-Aqsa precinct in
                               Jerusalem, Islam's third holiest place, triggers Palestinian demonstrations that are
                               violently repressed by the Israeli police. President Arafat describes the visit as a
                               dangerous affront to Islam's holy places.

                               16-17 October: The Sharm al-Sheikh summit ends, after 24 hours of uncertainty, with a
                               verbal agreement to end the violence, hold an enquiry and restart talks as part of the
                               peace process.

                               21-22 October: Extraordinary 25th Arab summit in Cairo. The participants accuse Israel
                               of conducting "a war against the Palestinian people" but take no drastic measures.

                               1 November: Arafat and Peres meet, seeking to end the violence.

                               21 November: Egypt recalls its ambassador to Israel after Israeli air and sea attacks on
                               Gaza following an attack on a settlers' school bus.

                               28 November: Members of Knesset vote to dissolve parliament and call general

                               1-9 December: Barak says he will stand down; elections called for 6 February 2001.

                               21 December: Bill Clinton restarts the peace process.

                               28 December: A summit at Sharm al-Sheikh between Barak, Arfat, Clinton and Mubarak
                               is cancelled. Both sides have reservations over US proposals: Israel rejects Palestinian
                               sovereignty over the Aqsa compound in Jerusalem; the Palestinians refuse to give up
                               the principle of the refugees' right of return.


                               4 January: Israeli-Palestinian negotiations restart in Washington. Clinton fails in his
                               aim of brokering a lasting peace under his administration.

                               8 January: More than 100,000 Israelis demonstrate against any division of Jerusalem.

                               20 January: George W Bush becomes the 43rd US president.

                               21-27 January: The Taba talks end without agreement.

                               6 February: Ariel Sharon is elected prime minister of Israel with a 62.5% majority (the
                               turn-out is 62%, against the usual 80%). Barak says he will stand down from the
                               Knesset and the Labour party leadership.

                               7 March: Sharon, 73, becomes prime minister of a national unity government. Israel's
                               29th government, with 26 ministers and 12 vice-ministers, is supported by a coalition of
                               eight parties, giving it a majority of at least 73 out of 120 Members of Knesset.

                               11 March: the army imposes a total closure on Ramallah.

                               14 March: Two Palestinians killed, 10 injured, in clashes with the army.

                               27 March: Three killed in a suicide attempt in northern Israel.

                               28 March: Israel starts helicopter raids on Gaza and the West Bank.
                               End of the first ordinary Arab summit since the Gulf war in Amman.

                               31 March: Israeli special units capture six Palestinian militants north of Ramallah; five
                               of them are part of Arafat's Force 17.

                               14 April: Hizbollah attack kills one Israeli soldier.

                               16 April: A radar station (Dahr al-Baidar, east of Beirut) is the target of an Israeli air
                               attack. It is the first time since 1982 that Israel targets Syria's 35,000-strong force in

                               17-18 April: The Israeli army withdraws from the north-east extremity of Gaza.

                               18-19 April: Israeli incursions continue in Gaza despite US pressure. Sharon calls
                               extraordinary session of his security cabinet to discuss responses to Palestinian mortar
                               Arafat receives a delegation of US Congressmen in Ramallah.

                               21 April: Israelis and Palestinians meet to discuss security at the Erez crossing into

                               22 April: A bomb attack near a bus stop in the centre of Kfar Saba (Tel Aviv), claimed
                               by Hamas, kills two and injures 39.

                               23 April: A Palestinian child is killed in southern Gaza - the 400th Palestinian victim of
                               the second intifada.

                               An attack in Or Yehuda (south-east of Tel Aviv), claimed by the Popular Front for the
                               Liberation of Palestine, injures four.

                               29 April: After meeting with President Mubarak, foreign minister Peres announces that
                               Israel will reduce security measures in the territories.

                               2 May: The Israeli security cabinet meets for the first time in a Jewish settlement: Ofra.
                               Israeli attack on the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza kills one teenager and destroys a dozen

                               5 May: the London newspaper The Independent publishes extracts from the preliminary
                               report by US senator George Mitchell. The report requests that Israel ceases all
                               settlement activity and stops using rubber bullets.
                               Arafat calls for a summit to examine the conclusions of the inquiry.

                               7 May: President Chirac of France and King Abdallah of Jordan urge the Israelis and
                               Palestinians to accept an Egyptian-Jordanian peace initiative calling for a month-long
                               ceasefire so that peace talks can resume.

                               13 May:Israel defends its tough policy of liquidating Palestinian activists and
                               supporting the "natural growth" of the settlements. The army makes a sixth incursion
                               into Gaza.

                               15 May: 53rd anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel, known to the Arabs as
                               the nakba (catastrophe). During the celebrations four Palestinians are killed and more
                               than 200 wounded. One Israeli woman died when Palestinians opened fire on her car in
                               the West Bank.

                               18 May: A Hamas suicide attack in a commercial centre in Netanya kills five, including
                               the perpetrator, and wounds seven.

                               19 May: The Arab League asks Arab governments to sever political ties with Israel
                               unless it ceases military activities against the Palestinians.

                               21 May: The Mitchell report calls for a freeze on the expansion of settlements and the
                               imprisonment of Palestinian terrorists, to put an end to eight months of violence.
                               US secretary of state Colin Powell names William Burns as special mediator to help the
                               two sides implement the Mitchell report.
                               The Israeli press and political leaders denounce the use of F-16s.

                               23 May: In Paris Arafat calls for an international summit to implement the Mitchell
                               recommendations and demands an immediate halt to settlement activity.

                               End May: Sharon is accused in Brussels of war crimes and violations of human rights.

                               31 May: Death of Feisal Husseini, minister in charge of Jerusalem for the PA and
                               founder of the Arab Studies Centre at Orient House.

                               24 June: Official visit by Sharon to the US where he meets Bush. Differences emerge
                               over the freeze on Israeli settlements and conditions for implementing the Mitchell

                               27 June: Powell visits the Middle East. Before meeting him, Sharon declares: "the
                               settlements are not an obstacle to peace."

                               5-6 July: Sharon visits France.

                               31 July: Hamas buildings destroyed in Nablus, confirming Israel's declared policy of
                               eliminating Palestinian militants.

                               6 August: The PA refuses to arrest Israel's seven most wanted Palestinians.

                               9 August: The worst suicide attack since the start of the intifada, claimed by the Islamic
                               Jihad, kills 17 and wounds 90 in West Jerusalem.

                               10 August: Incursion by Israeli special forces inside PA offices in Orient House and
                               nine other PA offices in East Jerusalem.

                               14 August: For the first time since the start of the intifada the Israeli army enters the
                               West Back city of Jenin, under Palestinian control.

                               27 August: Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine leader Abu Ali Mustafa is
                               killed by two Israeli army missiles in Ramallah. The PA calls it a provocation for
                               out-and-out war.

                               29 August: Israel seizes several parts of the West Bank town of Beit Jalla (under
                               Palestinian control since 1995). The action is condemned by the international
                               community, in particular the US.

                               3 September: EU foreign policy representative Javier Solana visits the Middle East.
                               Backed by King Abdallah, he tries to effect a meeting between Arafat and Peres.

                                (Source: Le Monde Diplomatique.  http://MondeDiplo.com/focus/mideast/timeline-en)

1. Click here for a map showing the original plan for the partitioning of Palestine (November29, 1947) into Jewish and Arab territory, the subsequent territories conquered by Israel and the armisitce border of 1949.

2. Click here to see the fragmented "Palestinian state" under present conditions(Note that Israeli colonies, outposts and projects indicated in orange)

3. Click here for a map of the Palestinian diaspora and see where all the Palestinians have gone after leaving their homeland?

4. For a detailed analysis, historical background, and interesting polemics on the entire Middle East question consult: Mideastwatch

5. For an encyclopedia and lexicon of the Orient as well as an atlas of the orient that has served as one of the sources for this paper consult:


6. For the maps above and other souces consult: Le Monde Diplomatique at:




1. The New York Times, December 29, 2002.
2.. Encylopedia of the Middle Ages. Norman F. Cantor, Ed. Viking Press, 1999.
3.  How Israel Lost: The Four Questions. Richard Ben Cramen. Simon & Schuster, 2004.

 Most highly recommended by Dr. Shabbaz

Islam: the Straight Path by John Esposito (Georgetown University professor)