During the Byzantine-Sasanian war of 602-628, Jews revolted against their Byzantine rulers for the heavy oppression and the mounting anti-Jewish rhetoric they faced. It is believed that between 20.000 and 26.000 Jews lead by Nehemiah Ben Hushiel and Benjamin of Tiberias marched alongside the Sasanians, assisting them in the capture of territory in the Palaestina Prima province, including Jerusalem.

 

Nehemiah became the ruler of Jerusalem and was killed months later alongside his council of the 16 righteous as a result of a Christian revolt.

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Jews had hoped the Persians would give them back their land, the land of Israel out of which they were expelled by the Romans almost 5 centuries earlier. However, the Persians changed their policy siding with the Christians against the Jews themselves. A synagogue on the Temple Mount was destroyed, Jews were heavily taxed and banned from further settling in and around Jerusalem (nowadays, it's not only the Persians who seek to forbid Jews from settling their land).

 

Emperor Heraclius successfully invaded the heartland of the Sasanians in the year 627 forcing them to persue peace. He later reached Tiberias on his way to Jerusalem, where the Jews of Tiberias and Nazareth lead by Benjamin of Tiberias surrendered and asked for his protection fearing renewed persecution from the Christians. They succeeded in obtaining the Emperor's promise and comittment to their safety, as it is also believed that Benjamin had converted to Christianity.

 

March 21st of the year 630 C.E, Emperor Heraclius entered Jerusalem, officially sealing its return to Byzantine sovreignty. He allegedly marched into the city accompanied by Benjamin of Tiberias. However, despite the Emperor's promise Jews were expelled from Jerusalem and forbidden from settling within a three-mile radius. A massacre followed in which the Jews of the Galilee and Jerusalem were mass murdered, with few possible survivors who were able to flee to the mountains or to Egypt.

 

To this day a fast is observed by the Coptic church called the Fast of Heraclius. According to Eutychius of Alexandria, the Patriarch of Jerusalem at the time and his bishops convinced the Emperor that his promise to the Jews isn't binding, and institued a week's fast in expitation for his breach of promise and informed other churches to this effect. Thus, Heraclius gave orders and consent for the massacre of the Jewish population of Jerusalem and the Galilee.

 

SARACENS AT THE GATES

 

The Byzantians didn't see a lasting peace thereafter, Saracen mobs soon started raiding Byzantine cities in the region. Sophronius then Patriarch of Jerusalem, wrote a letter to Sergius I of Constantinople during the summer of 634 in which he mentioned the Saracen enemy saying:

 

''...a strong and vigorous sceptre to break the pride of all the barbarians, and especially of the Saracens who on account of our sins, have now risen up against us unexpectedly and ravage all with cruel and feral design, with impious and godless audacity...''

 

 

Perhaps massacring Jews is one of the sins Patriarch Sophronius referred to in his letter. Anyway, months later, in December of 634, during his Nativity sermon Sophronius said:

 

''We, however, because of our innumerable sins and serious misdemeanours, are unable to see these things and are prevented from entering Bethlehem by the way of the raod... Not bound by bodily bonds but bound by fear of the Saracens... As once that of the Philistines, so now the army of the godless Saracens has captured the divine Bethlehem and bars our passage there, threatening slaughter and destruction if we leave this holy city and dare to approach out belved and sacred Bethlehem.''

 

Here once more the Patriarch mentions the innumerable sins, which surely include the slaughter of Jews, and expresses his regret for not being able to enter Bethlehem for the Christmas pilgrimage out of fear of the Saracens and their threats. Those who forbade Jews from entering their own captial and holy city Jerusalem are now prohibited themselves from entering 'their' ''divine Bethlehem''.

 

SARACENS: TERROR AND BLOOD

 

The Saracens, despite several disputes about the root of the term it has been agreed that it referres to the Arabs.

 

One may say that the Saracens were the divine punishment the Byzantians deserved for what they have done to the Jewish people, but the crimes of manslaughter, pillaging and other forms of barbarism that the Saracens have committed cannot be condoned, even if committed against one's enemy. Such crimes are unjustified, even during wartime and against one's enemy. Sources from the era speak of the Saracens siege of Jerusalem describing the horrour, murder and bloodshed that the Arabs have inflicted upon the land and its population. Patriarch Sophronius later writes in his sermon on the Holy Baptism probably in the year 636 or 637:

 

''But the present circumstances are forcing me to think differently about our way of life, for why are [so many] wars being fought among us? Why do barbarian raids abound? Why are the troops of the Saracens attacking us? Why has there been so much destruction and plunder? Why are there incessant outpourings of human blood? Why are the birds of the sky devouring human bodies? Why have churches been pulled down?''.

 

This was the last from Patriarch Sophronius, and Jerusalem surrendered to the Arabs in April 637. Perhaps an apology to the Jewish people would have been a good compliment to these thoughful questions. Perhaps a recognition that murdering Jews is a grave sin, could have helped end the anti-Jewish rhetoric by the Church that started much earlier and continued throughout the middle ages and up to contemporary history. Many other sources from the era speak of the destruction the Arabs caused everywhere, such as Thomas the Presbyter who according to a Syriac manuscript probably belonging to the year 640 wrote:

 

''In the year 945, indiction 7, on Friday 4 February (634) at the ninth hour, there was a battle between the Romans and the Arabs of Muhammad (tayyiiye d-Mhmt) in Palestine twelve miles east of Gaza. The Romans fled, leavin behind the patrician bryrdn, whom the Arabs killed. Some 4000 poor villagers of Palestine were killed there, Christians, Jews and Samaritans. The Arabs ravaged the whole region.''

 

However, after Jerusalem was taken by the Arabs, Jews were permitted again to worship and settle in and around the city. This was confirmed by many Jewish authorities who reflected their joyous sentiment on the matter in several writings. This increased the anti-Jewish rhetoric from the side of the Church, as can be seen in the example of Maximus the Confessor who was originally from Tiberias, and later moved to North Africa. He wrote a letter to Peter the Governor of Numidia which reads:

 

''...To see the Jewish people, who have long delighted in seeing flow the blood of men, who know no other means of pleasing God than destroying His creation ... who deem themselves to be serving God well by doing precisely what He detests, who are the most deprived of faith in the world and so the most ready to welcome hostile forces ... this people who are the master of falsehood, the agent of crime, the enemy of truth, the savage persecutor of the faith …''

 

This is a reflection of the frustration that arose after the alleged welcoming of Arabs by the Jewish people. Sebeos, Bishop of the Bagratunis wrote in the 660s a story about "the rebellious Jews who, finding support from the Hagarenes for a time, conceived the plan of rebuilding the Temple of Solomon'':

 

''Having located the spot called the Holy of Holies, they constructed there a place of prayer for themselves with the foundations and superstructure. But the Ishmaelites, envious of them, expelled them from that spot and called the same building their own place of prayer. They (the Jews) erected elsewhere another place for their worship..''

 

Like the Romans and the Persians, Arabs soon began to envy the Jewish people. Despite being permitted to live and worship in the cities that fell under Arab control, Jews were still limited and heavily taxed by the Arabs. With Islam slowly becoming an established religion, the anti-Jewish rhetoric leveled up, as it did when Christianity became an established religion. History also records several mass killings of Jews throughout history by the Arabs who were always strictly opposed to any form of Jewish autonomy in the Holy Land.

 

REMEMBER
 

Centuries went by, the Arabs lost their rule over the land of Israel. Another nation came promising relief to the people of Israel, the British, with the Balfour Declaration. A promise that prompted the Arabs to increase their anti-Jewish propaganda. The tragedy continues, with Arab pogroms and murder of Jews everywhere. Haj Amin Al Hussaini would later welcome the Nazi persecution of Jews, and stand behind the suffering of Jews in the British Mandate of Palestine.
 

After the declaration of independence of the State of Israel, Arabs murdered and expelled Jews from many other cities in which they have lived for centuries. One can say that expelling Jews from Damascus or Baghdad is the same as expelling them from Jerusalem, given that they have lived in these cities for thousands of years. Not to mention the wars the Arab states waged with the aim of wiping out Israel and throwing the Jews into the sea.

 

Today the situation isn't much different, Israel is still surrounded by great numbers of hostile Arabs, who seek to unjustly retake Jerusalem from its people. Jews are forbidden from worshiping on the Temple Mount, where the two Jewish Temples once stood, and Jewish blood is constantly spilled in vicious acts of terrorism.
 

Since its independence, Israel has relied on strong French support during its first years, however, the French chose to bend the knee to the Arabs forsaking Israel's back. Since then the United States became Israel's biggest ally and supporter.

 

As the hope, relief and support found by the Jewish people in the Persians and later the Arabs have faded through the time, so the American support might one day fade. For that we should always go back to the depths of history, to remind ourselves of the lessons we should never forget. Especially with the raising anti-Jewish sentiments in the US, we remember this history to conclude that the Jewish people must never again allow for our survival and security to depend on anyone else's support.
 

The Jewish people must ensure that Israel is always strong militarily, economically and politically to defend itself by itself from any threat with or without the support of others. Jerusalem must not be given away to any foreign rule, one should remember and not betray the sacrifices of our people throughout the centuries and their blood that was shed when attempting to retake our capital and holy city.


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