The Gaza Hotspot has housed hotheads for millennia although its old-time thugs made do without Kassam rockets and suicide bombers. The place’s hot climate seems to breed an inordinate obstinacy, a refusal to succumb to reason or force. Ancient Gaza City, somewhere north of its modern counterpart, was the only city of Eretz Yisroel to oppose Alexander the Great’s incursion, and Gaza was the last place on the east Mediterranean seaboard to succumb when the Byzantine Christians foisted their new religion onto the Middle East.
Last year, months before the Gaza pullout, Jewish residents sent out information packages trying to prove Israel’s historical link to this land. Strangely, the package included a frightening quote from the Radak (Rav Dovid Kimchi).
THE RADAK’S WARNING
Commenting on how the Plishtim plugged up Yitzchak’s wells the Radak writes, “All these episodes about digging the wells and giving them names are to tell us that, in the part of Eretz Yisroel that he had a hold on, he dug wells as he pleased without objections. All this was a forewarning concerning what Hashem had set aside for his descendants.
“But the land of the Plishtim, even though it is part of Eretz Yisroel, was not held in the hands [of the Patriarchs] and therefore [the Plishtim] quarreled with them about the border, and all this was to inform [the Patriarchs’ descendants] that not all [of Eretz Yisroel] would be held in their hands. Even though it was apportioned, it would not be held until the end, in the days of Moshiach, like the land of the three nations – the Keini, the Knizi and the Kadmoni” (Bereishis 26:23).
This comment of the Radak is puzzling because, the Plishtim are not particularly renowned for good deeds. What special zechus made them invulnerable to Jewish occupation?
A medrash (Bereishis Rabba 54:5) seems to indicate that the resilience of the Plishtim was on account of an act of Avraham Avinu that wreaked harm upon his descendants. Of course, we must try to understand this according to Avraham’s unfathomable madreigah.
“The Holy One said to him (Avraham), ‘You gave him seven sheep; by your life, I will delay the joy of your sons for seven generations (in Egypt). You gave him seven sheep; corresponding to that, they will kill seven tzaddikim among your offspring, and they are: Shimshon, Chofni and Pinchas, Shaul and his three sons. You gave him seven sheep; corresponding to that, they will destroy seven sanctuaries of your sons, and these are: the [original] Ohel Moed, [the mishkan at] Nov, Gilgal, Givon and Shiloh, and the two Batei Mikdash. You gave him seven sheep; corresponding to that, my aron will circle the fi elds of the Plishtim for seven months.”
In a similar vein, Rashi (Shoftim 1:21) states that Avraham’s treaty with Avimelech prevented Klal Yisroel from gaining possession of Yerushalayim until Dovid HaMelech’s reign.
Commenting on the verse, “The sons of Binyamin did not disinherit the Yevusi who dwelled in Yerushalayim” (Shoftim 1:21), Rashi writes, “[The Yevusi] were descendants of Avimelech and [the Jewish people] did not disinherit [the Yevusi] because of the oath [Avraham had made] until Dovid [HaMelech] came, because [Avimelech’s] grandson was still alive and [Avraham] had sworn [a peace treaty also with Avimelech’s] great-grandson and his grandson.”
Rashi’s statement seems puzzling: why should there be a connection between Yerushalayim in the middle of Eretz Yisroel and Eretz Plishtim in Gaza towards the southwest?
Actually, this question is a geographical misconception. Although the southern border of Gaza lies on Egypt’s border, its northern tip is about thirty miles south of Yerushalayim. As the crow flies, Yerushalayim is only 48 miles northeast of modern Gaza City and, in olden times, when Gaza stretched north to Ashdod, it was even closer. In fact, Gaza was part of shevet Yehuda – if the Jews could only get their hands on it.
Extrapolating from the medrashim and Rashi, one could argue that the tenacity of the Plishtim and Gaza’s subsequent residents also stems from Avraham’s covenant with Avimelech. However, there is an inconvenient fact that implodes this theory. When Nevuchadnezzar dispersed all the nations, he also dispersed the original Plishtim, and the newcomers had nothing to do with, Avraham’s peace covenant.
Whatever his rationale, the Radak’s statement has historical credence as Jews have always had a tough time retaining parts of Gaza under their sovereignty and the Jewish presence there has waxed and waned like the phases of the moon. On three such occasions, Gaza changed hands because of treachery and civil war. Incidentally, it is worth noting that although Gaza was a vital transition point between Egypt and Eretz Yisroel, many early reports speak not of Gaza but of ancient Gaza City.
The Plishtim plagued Klal Yisroel for generations until Dovid HaMelech captured the entire territory including its five city kingdoms, Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron and Gat. However, after Eretz Yisroel split into the kingdoms of Yehuda and Yisroel, the local non-Jews of Gaza recaptured its territory and we find King Chizkiyahu of Yehuda attacking it in later years, as the verse states: “He smote the Plishtim as far as Gaza and all its borders, from the tower of the watchmen to the fenced city” (Melachim II 18:8).
The second Beis HaMikdash stood for about two hundred years before the next reports of Jewish attacks on Gaza. This was when non- J e w i s h Gazans refused t o s u p p o r t a Syrian ruler in a civil war and the Chashmonai King Yonasan attacked Gaza on his behalf.
The following citations from Josephus are abridged:
“Yonasan besieged them and harassed them. He overran their land and spoiled and burnt it. They (the people of Gaza) changed their minds, and Yonasan made a pact with them and took hostages” (Antiquities 13:5).
Gaza became Jewish territory decades later after a hair-raising war between King Alexander Yannai of Yehuda and King Ptolemy. The story began when Alexander Yannai tried to expand Jewish control from the Judean hills down the coast. Josephus reports:
“Alexander mounted an expedition against Ptolemais (near Acre) and besieged it. Ptolemais appealed for help to Ptolemy who ruled Cyprus after his mother, Queen Cleopatra, chased him from Egypt. Ptolemy landed an army of about 30,000 men on shore and King Alexander fl ed. Ptolemy then overran Yehuda.”
At this critical juncture, Queen Cleopatra stepped in to protect her own interests. “Queen Cleopatra was afraid that Ptolemy might now take over Egypt and sent armies and fleets against him, appointing two Jews, Chelcias and Ananias, as generals of her whole army. Ptolemy fled back to Cyprus and Alexander attacked Gaza in revenge for helping him.”
The non-Jewish people of Gaza fought back and Alexander was only saved by a conflict of interests among Gaza’s ruling clique.
“The people of Gaza were resisting fiercely when the Gazan leader, Apollodotus, was assassinated by his brother, Lysimachus, who was envious of his brother’s popularity. Lysimachus then surrendered the city” (Antiquities 13:13).
JEWISH CIVIL WAR
The Jews controlled Gaza for almost forty years until two Chashmonai brothers, Hyrcanus and Aristobolus, invited t h e Roman general, Pompey, to intervene in their civil war, an idea that was more ridiculous than inviting a cat to referee a mouse wrestling tournament.
Pompey promptly placed Eretz Yisroel under Roman control and stripped away many of its territories. As Josephus reports:
“Pompey made Yerushalayim tributary to the Romans, and took away cities which Yehuda had subdued, and put them under Roman dominion. He also took away other cities including the maritime cities of Gaza and Yaffo, and annexed them to Syria.
“The cause of this misery were Hyrcanus and Aristobulus by raising a war against each other. We lost our freedom and are subject to the Romans” (Jewish Antiquities, Chapter 14:4).
Finally, the Jews attacked Gaza during the Jewish revolt that led to the Churban.
Gaza still had a busy history ahead. Time after time, Jewish attempts to populate its sandy plains would end in failure.