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  • Henry Worcman Schmiliver

Hanukkah and the Historical Occupations of Jerusalem

Henry Worcman Schmiliver // São Paulo, Brazil

Hanukkah, just like other Jewish festivities, represents the perseverance of the Hebrews among thousands of years of dominance under tyrannical empires dedicated to dissolving such traditional minorities. Starting on the 25th of Kislev and lasting for the following eight days, it celebrates the miracle of Hanukkah, the miraculous victory of the Maccabees upon the Greek-Syrian empire, and the fight against assimilation.

The story bases itself on 2,000 years ago when Israel was dominated by the Greek-Syrian empire, ruled by Antiochus III, which granted freedom of faith and privileges to the Jews. Such freedom ends, however, with his death. The throne was passed to Seleucus IV followed by Antiochus IV, both sons of Antiochus III, who exerted dominance upon Israel and punished the practicing of Judaism. A new wave of assimilation began, causing a wide range of Jews to follow Hellenistic traditions and engage in idolatrous activities. The people of Israel were once again threatened to no longer exist, but the resistance of Mattityahu gathered fearless Jews on the hills of Judea who would fight for the sake of Israel’s survival. After his death, the Maccabees, commanded by Judah, defeated the Greek-Syrian empire in a series of heroic battles, who then returned to Jerusalem and rededicated the Beit Hamikdash. At the time of finally lighting the temple’s Menorah, it was noticed that the oil equivalent for only one day remained when the equivalent for eight days was necessary. The oil, however, miraculously lasted for all eight days, a miraculous event remembered as the miracle of Hanukkah up until the present day.

The Greek-Syrian dominance of the Jews is only one of countless periods of subjugation faced by the Hebrews during ancient times. This period of dominance is more widely known since it is remembered annually during the celebrations of Hanukkah. It is important, however, in memory of the suffering our ancestors have overcome, to remember the other historical dominations of Jerusalem, and there is no better time to do it than during the Hanukkah season.

The diaspora and the Byzantine Period

The holy land of Israel remained under dominance for all 2000 years of diaspora. This includes the period between 73 BCE, when Jews were expelled by the Romans, and 1948 when the UN finally voted for establishing the modern State of Israel. During that time, Jewish history mainly focuses on the happenings in Europe, the north of Africa, and Asia, where the majority of Jews became refugees. In Israel and especially Jerusalem, the Holy Land was being serially disputed by every great empire in history.

Following the parish of the Roman empire in 476 CE — responsible for naming the land of Israel as ‘Palestine’ — the authority upon the land was dedicated to the Byzantine empire, also known as the “Eastern Roman Empire,” with capital in Constantinople which is now Istanbul, Turkey. During the Byzantine hegemony lasting 314 years, interrupted by the Persian domination and resumed on a reconquest, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was built, becoming a famous tourist and religious spot in Jerusalem.

The First Muslim Period

Responsible for ending the Byzantine period, Caliph Omar, in 636 CE, promotes a Muslim invasion on then Palestine. The invasion beginning with the hegemony of the Umayyad Caliphate — capitals in both Damascus, Syria, and Haran, Turkey — marked the principle of the long Muslim occupation of Israel. It is widely remembered for the establishment of the Dome of the Rock, also in Jerusalem, becoming the holiest Islamic sanctuary in history which until the present time composes the landscape of Jerusalem’s Old City. The end of the First Muslim Period took place during the throne of the Abbasid Caliphate, also known as the third Muslim Caliphate, with its capital in Baghdad, Iraq, after being defeated by the European Christians during the Crusades.

Middle Age

After the end of the historical Crusades, the Holy Land was conquered and occupied by the European Christians, responsible for defeating the Muslims and slaughtering the majority of its people. The named “Crusade Period” lasted for surprising 88 years, when it was finally finished, starting a cycle of inconsistent occupations in Israel. Power passed from hand to hand into distinct empires, dynasties, and caliphates, ending up in the cares of the Ayyubid Empire from 1099 to 1187, which got it from the hands of the Egyptian Fatimid Caliphate. During the years of Ayyubid domination, ruled by the Egyptian Sultan “Saladin,” the European Crusades reconquered the land twice, but on both tries, it was quickly recuperated. It was finally in 1250 that Saladin fell for the "Mamelukes," Turkish-Egyptian militia, who destroyed Jerusalem’s ramparts that would be furtherly rebuilt by the following rulers.

The Ottoman Period, the British Mandate, and Yom Hatzmahut.

The long time of dominance from the Ottoman Empire makes up the Ottoman Period. As a long-lived and one of the best-known empires — with its capital in Istambul, Turkey — it took Jerusalem from the Mamelukes and rebuilt its ramparts. Suleiman, an Islamic caliph and sultan, was the man responsible for the reconstruction. Ottoman dominance over Israel was the longest one, lasting from 1516 — around the time of the discovery of the Americas — until 1917 when the empire became extinct as a result of WWI. After the war, the land was captured by the famous British Mandate commanded by Edmund Allenby. Great Britain maintained dominance until post-WWII, when Theodor Herzl, David Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, and Chaim Weizmann established the Zionist Movement and called Resolution 194 of the United Nations. Presented by then UN president Oswaldo Aranha, the resolution took place on November 11, 1948, when the majority of the United Nations voted in favor of the creation of a modern State of Israel. After almost 2,000 years of diaspora and dominance, the Holy Land finally returned to its original stewards, becoming Eretz Israel, the Jewish homeland we all know and love. There, a safe environment for every kind of jew, secular or orthodox, was constructed with extreme effort and commitment, guaranteeing the continuity of our people.


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