The long Jewish history of Gaza


 Mosaic flooring in a 6th century synagogue in Gaza

With rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel once again topping the news headlines, it is as well to recall that Gaza has not always been an Arab city: Jews have lived there for centuries.

As Dr Shaul Zadka reminded us in atalk in London last night, one of Gaza’s notable Jewish inhabitants was the 17th century Nathan of Gaza. He can best be described as spin-doctor for Shabbetai Zvi, who wreaked mayhem across the Jewish and non-Jewish world, proclaiming himself the Messiah.

Since 2006, not a single Jew has lived in Gaza, after Israel pulled out 8,000 Israeli civilians from the territory. It looks like there may not be many Christians left there either, following harassment and forced conversions after Hamas took over control.

Here is a potted history of the Jewish roots of Gaza, from the Jewish Virtual Library:

“Gaza is within the boundaries of Shevet Yehuda in Biblical
Israel (see Genesis
, Joshua
, Kings
and Judges
) and
therefore some have argued that there is a Halachic requirement to live
in this land. The earliest settlement of the area is by Avraham and
Yitzhak, both of whom lived in the Gerar area of Gaza. In the fourth
century Gaza was the primary Jewish port of Israel for international
trade and commerce.

“Great medieval rabbis such as Rabbi Yisrael Najara,
author of Kah Ribon Olam, the popular Shabbat song, and renowned Mekubal
Rabbi Avraham Azoulai, were rabbanim in Gaza Jewish communities.

The periodic removal of
Jews from Gaza goes back at least to the Romans in
61 CE,
followed much later by the Crusaders,
Napoleon, the Ottoman
, the British and
the contemporary Egyptians. However, Jews
definitely lived in Gaza throughout the centuries,
with a stronger presence in the nineteenth
and early twentieth centuries. 

“Jews were
present in Gaza until 1929, when they were
forced to leave the area due to violent
riots against
them by the Arabs. Following these riots,
and the death of nearly 135 Jews in all,
the British prohibited Jews from living in
Gaza to quell tension and appease the Arabs.
Some Jews returned, however, and, in 1946,
kibbutz Kfar
Darom was established to prevent the British
from separating the Negev from the Jewish

“The United
1947 partition
allotted the
coastal strip from Yavneh to Rafiah on the
Egyptian border to be an Arab state. In
Israel’s war
for independence
, most Arab inhabitants
in this region fled or were expelled, settling
around Gaza City. Israeli forces conquered
Gaza, and proceeded south to El-Arish, but
subsequently gave control of the area to
Egypt in negotiations, keeping Ashdod and
Ashkelon. In 1956, Israel went to war with
Egypt, conquered Gaza again, only to return
it again.

With the 1967 Six
Day War
, Israeli forces reentered
Gaza and captured it. During the war, Israel
had no idea what it would do with the territory.
Eshkol called it “a bone stuck in
our throats.”1″


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