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Emet m'Tsiyon

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Arab Invaders Practiced Population Transfer

Tripoli in Lebanon has been in the news lately as the nearest city to the battles going on at the Nahr al-Barad refugee settlement between the Lebanese army and jihadist fanatics, calling themselves Fatah al-Islam [Islamic Conquest]. When the Arab-Muslims originally captured Tripoli --which they now call Trablus-- around the year 640 CE, its previous population abandoned it or may have been forced to leave by the commander of the conquering army, Mu`awiya. Some may have fled before the actual conquest, apparently fearing the terror meted out to other cities that had been captured by or had surrendered to the Arab conquerors. This previous population was predominantly Greek Orthodox in religion, probably spoke both Greek and Aramaic [Greek for the upper classes and Aramaic for the poorer, most probably bilingual to some extent], and were loyal to the Byzantine Empire. Since this empire actually called itself Roman and was a continuation of the Roman Empire in the East, the Arabs called these people Rumis, that is, Romans.

Milka Levy-Rubin points out that the people of Tripoli fled or abandoned or were driven out of the city and went to territory that was securely Byzantine at that time. Then, she points out, Jews were brought in to take the place of the previous population. Her article [Cathedra (September 2006), see here] is largely based on a book by the early Arab historian, Al-Baladhdhuri. He wrote:

Mu`awiyah made it [Tripoli] a dwelling place for a large body of Jews
[Al-Baladhuri, The Origins of the Islamic State (New York 1924), p 195]
Note that whereas the original Byzantine Christian population of Tripoli had fled before the conquerors, the Jews were transferred into the city from their previous homes. We are not told how the Jews felt about being forced to move in this manner. However, it is likely that the Arab conquerors preferred Jews in a coastal city like Tripoli since the Jews were unlikely to make common cause with the Byzantine Empire for which Jews felt a great antagonism in those times. And the feeling was mutual. Hence, the Arab conquerors seem to have viewed Jews as suitable for repopulating abandoned localities. Note that the Arabic title of al-Baladhdhuri's book is: Kitab Futuh al-Buldan, which means The Book of the Conquests of Cities [or "countries"]. The Arabs in those days were frank about having conquered many cities and frankly took pride in these invasions, conquests, and occupations.

Levy-Rubin argues that the conquerors were concerned to rid the Levantine coast from Gaza north to Antioch of population that might be loyal and/or sympathetic to the Byzantine Emperor. Whereas the people of some coastal towns fled, the people of others were driven out. In the case of Tripoli and other places, a new population was brought in. In some places that surrendered, much of the earlier population remained, but houses and real estate had to be given up to accomodate new settlers, usually Arabs in places where much or most of the previous population remained. For instance, Jews in Tiberias had to surrender some of their homes to Arab invaders. Speaking of Tripoli today, it is not likely that the present population is descended from either the Christians who fled to safer Byzantine territory or from the Jews who were brought in to take their place.

It is of interest that al-Baladhdhuri's book was translated into English precisely by Prof. Philip Khoury Hitti as early as 1924. Hitti testified for the Arab side before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on "palestine" in 1946. That is, Hitti was an Arab nationalist at that time, although the 1924 edition is dedicated to Prof. Richard Gottheil, also a specialist in Middle Eastern history and languages, a Jew and a Zionist. [Hitti's version spells the author's name al-Baladhuri].

Ira Lapidus writes about that early period of the Arab-Muslim conquests:

the Arab Conquerors [were transformed] into an elite military caste
[A History of Islamic Societies (Cambridge: CUP 1988), p 44]
This observation by Lapidus fits in with al-Baladhdhuri's account of the conquests and is amply confirmed by Joseph Schumpeter's acount of Arab imperialism in his work Imperialism [see earlier posts on this blog; search for Schumpeter].
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Coming: love & admiration in the UK for the walt-mearsheimer propaganda tract, Jews in Jerusalem, etc.

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