Jewish History in Gaza

Contrary to current antisemitic belief, Gaza is not part of ‘Palestine’ nor is it Arab land. The Jewish history of Gaza spans millennia to 145 BC when the Maccabees won the area in a military battle, and then the Hasmoneans secured it firmly for the Kingdom of Judah in 100 BC, working with Queen Cleopatra III of Egypt, against her own son.

  • This is what the Book of Maccabees (1:15) has to say about Gaza:


“Not a strange land have we conquered, and not over the possessions of strangers have we ruled, but of the inheritance of our Fathers that was in the hands of the enemy and conquered by them unlawfully. And as for us, when we had the chance, we returned to ourselves the inheritance of our Fathers.”

Before long the Egyptians recaptured the city. When Hasmonean King Alexander Janneus invaded the coastal plain in 100 BCE in order to expand the Judean territory, Gaza’s pagan population invited Ptolemy IX of Egypt to come to their defense.

To counter this threat, Alexander Janneus formed an alliance with Ptolemy’s mother, Queen Cleopatra III, who sent an army (with two Jewish generals) to oppose Ptolemy.

This archeological find was discovered in 1870 and was preserved on-site for more than 100 years. It was destroyed by the Arabs during the First Intifada in 1987.

Photo source: Click here

After numerous battles and a year-long siege, Alexander Janneus was able to defeat the Gazan garrison and to capture the city. Gaza remained under Judean control for almost forty years.

Then, in 63 BCE, Jerusalem fell to the Roman army –  Gaza, together with many other Judean cities, was freed and made a part of the Roman province of Syria.

But in 36 BCE the coastal cities, including Gaza were “transferred” to Queen Cleopatra of Egypt. Six years later, after her death, Emperor Octavius Caesar restored Gaza to King Herod, the Judean Roman puppet king of Jerusalem, as a reward for his pledge of allegiance.

Jewish forces again liberated the city and its surroundings in the Great War against Roman occupation of Judea, between 67 and 70 AD, but soon afterwards suffered defeat at the hands of the Roman legions who responded by recapturing all of Judea in a bitter and often brutal campaign.

Thus Gaza again became a part of Judea and remained so for the next thirty years, until Herod’s death in 4 BCE, when it was attached to Syria.

Byzantine Times:

Byzantine Times – time period (330 CE - 1453 CE)

Synagogue in the Rimal neighborhood built in 508 C.E., during the Byzantine period. A mosaic featuring King David with a lyre and his name inscribed in Hebrew was transferred to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem for restoration after Israel captured the Gaza Strip during the 1967 Six-Day War. For the first time in decades, Israeli soldiers prayed inside the synagogue while in Gaza during the current war, Operation Swords of Iron.

Photo source: Click here

While Gaza was considered “a hostile town” during the Second Temple period, things changed radically in the time of the Mishna. A large and important Jewish community was found in this flourishing Roman city.

On one of the pillars in the Great Mosque of Gaza City appears the name (in Hebrew and Greek characters) of “Hananya bar Yaakov”; a picture of a menorah is caved above this inscription, while pictures of a shofar and an etrog appear on the sides of the name.

Sahl ben Mazli’ah (910-990), a 10th century Karaite philosopher, wrote that during the Byzantine period Gaza was one of the three holy cities visited by Jewish pilgrims to Eretz Yisrael (land of Israel), the other two being Tiberias and Zoar, an area near the Dead Sea today.

Even under the harsh Byzantine rule, Gaza’s Jewish community managed to flourish.

For many centuries Gaza served as the primary port of entrance for Jewish pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem; they came by ship from Europe and by land from Egypt.

When Arabs Arrived in the 7th Century:

  • At this time Gaza had become the most important Jewish community in Judea.
  • Several documents found in the Cairo Geniza give evidence of the existence of an important and vital Jewish community in Gaza during the early Muslim period.
  • The Cairo Geniza also provides some information about Jewish life in Gaza in the 11th century. One letter written in the name of the Gaza Jewish community bears the signatures fifteen elders.

From a letter dated 1030 we learn that the Jews of southern Palestine found refuge in Gaza.

Under Arab rule of that time all Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria flourished.

In March 1052 a group of Karaite Jews from Jerusalem visited the fields near Gaza to examine whether the growing corn had ripened sufficiently to proclaim Passover. This account indicates that at this time Gaza, in addition to a Rabbinate Jewish community, also had a Karaite Jewish community. In another letter a Jew from Gaza complained that the local leaders had incited “the boys of the congregation” against him.

Letter 1030
From a letter dated 1030 we learn that the Jews of southern Palestine found refuge in Gaza.

Photo source: Click here

Jews in Gaza During the Middle Ages:

The city’s rabbi was a Rabbi Moses from Prague who had fled there from Jerusalem.

Travelers reported that many Jews lived in the city. A wealthy Jewish Italian Jeweler who visited Gaza in 1481 found 50 (or 60) Jewish householders there. He added that these families had a small but pretty synagogue.

Several Greek inscriptions found in the church support this hypothesis. One reads: “for the welfare of Jacob ben Elazar and his sons with thanks to God for this holy place.”

  • All wine used in Gaza was produced by local Jews. Rabbi Obadaiah of Bentinoro visited Gaza a few years later in 1488 and also noted that the rabbi was a certain Moses of Prague who had come from Jerusalem.
  • At this time the Jews lived in a Jewish Quarter that was located on the highest elevation of Gaza. Even today, this neighborhood is still called “charat al-yahud” (= Jewish Quarter) by the local Arabs.
Margolin flour mill in Gaza; owned by a Jewish family
Margolin flour mill in Gaza; owned by a Jewish family

Photo source: Click here

Period of Prosperity for Jews in Gaza under Ottoman Rule:

The Gaza Jewish community at this time had a bet din (rabbinical court) and a yeshiva. It became known as a center of Torah study and Talmudic learning. Some of its rabbis wrote well known scholarly works.

Rabbi David ben Solomon ibn Zimra (1479-1573), known as the Radbaz, while still serving in rabbinical posts in Egypt, received several halakhic questions (she’elot) from Gaza farmers concerning the requirements of observing the laws of terumah, ma’asrot, and the sabbatical year in Gaza. His published responses leave no doubt that he considered the city to be an integral part of Eretz Yisrael.

Rabbi Israel Najara (1555-1628), a native of Damascus, spent most of his life in Safed where he was one of the prominent members of the Kabbalistic school. Forced to leave that city because of a deadly plague, he fled to Gaza where he became the Chief Rabbi and president of the Rabbinical Court.

The great medieval kabbalist Rabbi Avraham Azoulai (1569-1643) fled from Hebron to Gaza because of an epidemic and lived the last twelve years of his life in Gaza. He is best remembered as the pious scholar who received Heavenly permission to unearth Rabbi Chaim Vital’s buried writings. While in Gaza, he wrote two of his best known books – Chesed l’Avraham, an important compendium on mystical topics and Baal Brit Avraham, a commentary on the Tanach.

Rabbi Najara passed away in 1628 and is buried in the ancient Jewish cemetery of Gaza. He is said to have composed 650 hymns, the best known of which is Ya Ribon Olam. His son Moshe Najara was elected Rabbi of Gaza in 1664. When Israel disengaged from Gaza in 2005, not only were living Jews forcibly removed, but they also dug up Jewish graves and removed Jewish bones.

  • Gaza flourished under Ottoman rule and the Jewish community experienced a period of prosperity.
  • Evidence of rabbis outside of Israel fielding Hallachic questions from farmers in Gaza
  • Many Jews fled to Gaza from Spain and Portugal to escape the ravages of the Catholic Inquisition. Others escaped to Gaza from near-by places.
  • Jews moved to Gaza from Jerusalem to escape plague conditions

Decline of the Jewish community in Gaza

  • In early 1799, Napoleon led an army – Their (the Jewish) flight marked the temporary end of a Jewish presence in the area.
  • It is not entirely clear when Jews returned to Gaza in the 19th century.

Reports that Jews were living there already in 1870-72.  Most of the Jews engaged in the very profitable barley trade which they purchased from the Bedouins and exported to the beer breweries of Europe.

  • In 1908 Eliezer Ben Yehuda was invited by some (but not all) of the Jewish residents to open a Hebrew-speaking school in Gaza.  He brought two teachers to Gaza and opened the school in 1910.
  • However, few Jews prospered in the early years of WWI-era. Lack of employment and trade caused many to leave.
Gush Katif communities (21 communities with over 1700 families) in Gaza. When Jews left forcibly in 2005, they left numerous greenhouses as gifts to the Arabs to continue the prosperous flower industry. Gazans burned all the greenhouses.

After some years new Jewish families moved to Gaza because later reports indicate that the city was again an important Jewish center.

Napoleon captured Gaza and found that most of the Jews, fearing the worst, had fled to Hebron before his arrival. The remaining Jews abandoned the city when they discovered that Napoleon had failed to restrain the French soldiers and local Arabs from abusing the few Jewish residents that had remained in Gaza.

In 1835 the Egyptian governor of Gaza dismantled the large synagogue because all Jews had abandoned the city. He used the stones to build an Egyptian fortress in Ashkelon. When the remnants of the Gaza Jewish community who were living in Hebron heard about this, they rushed to Gaza and rescued the adorned doors of the synagogue, took them to Hebron and installed them in the Avraham Avinu synagogue – where they served as doors for the sanctuary until the synagogue destroyed during the 1929 Arab riots.

Yehiel Brill, the editor of Halevanon, the first Hebrew newspaper in Palestine, visited Gaza in 1883 and found four Jewish families. Others report that a group of ninety families settled in the city in the 1870s.

The community had a rabbi-teacher, two slaughterers, a mikva and a cemetery. By the end of the 19th century the Gaza Jewish community counted fifty Jewish families who, according to all reports, established good relations with the local Arab population.

So many Jews left Gaza that the Jewish school was forced to close already in 1913.

At the outbreak of World War I the Turks, fearing an attack by the British army which was stationed in Egypt, expelled all Gaza residents, including the Jews.

During the 1921 Arab riots the small population of Jews was forced to leave the city because they feared for their lives. After half a year of exile some returned but Gaza City never again became a major Jewish center. A 1922 census showed fifty-four Jews living in Gaza. In the 1920s the Jewish community’s school never had more than fourteen students. In 1927 there were fifty adults in the city.

However in March 1957, after the United States threatened to cancel its foreign aid to Israel and to support Israel’s expulsion from the UN, Israel was forced to withdraw its forces.

Constant Return of Jews to Gaza:


  • A small number of Jews returned to Gaza in 1920 – Jewish-Arab relations were never again what they had been in the past.


  • The Arab anti-Jewish disturbances and massacres that took place all over British-occupied Palestine in 1929 also impacted on the Gaza Jewish community.


  • In November 1956 during the Sinai Campaign Israel conquered Gaza Strip from Egypt. Ben Gurion supported the permanent retention of the Strip to prevent fedayeen terrorist raids and to shore up Israel’s defenses.

Ten years later, during the 1967 Six Day War, Israeli forces reentered Gaza and captured it, but at the time the government had no idea what it would do with the territory.

  • Starting in 1970 twenty-one Jewish communities were established in that part of the Gaza Strip that became known as Gush Katif.
  • In August 2005 Israel unilaterally evacuated all Jews (about 1,700 families) from the Gaza Strip, in the hopes of peace with the mostly Egyptian settlers, who were settled in Gaza by Egypt starting in 1948.

PM Sharon disengaged in 2005

  • People wore orange who disagreed with his decision
  • People wore blue who agreed with his decision
  • Statistically about 2/3 of the country wore “blue” but now – almost 2 decades later – the “disengagement” was considered a huge mistake, especially after the Oct. 7th genocide
  • Sign in photo says “shalom akshav” – peace now

Who are the Arabs Who Live in Gaza?

The current Arab settler population, since 1948, consists mostly of Egyptian settlers; some Saudis, and some former Israeli Arabs who moved to Gaza once Gaza fell to Egypt in 1948. It is a fabrication that ‘most Gazans’ are ‘refugees.’ There are also Africans in Gaza, who came as slaves of the aforementioned Egyptians and Saudis in the 1950s and 1960s, as slavery was still legal in many parts of the Arab world that late into the 20th century; and still is legal in certain Islamic countries currently.