The Hasmonean Period
The Patriarchal Period – 10th Century, in the year 1250.  Jewish Roots in Biblical Times
The Jewish history of Gaza begins – in the beginning.  According to some interpretations, the nation’s patriarchs inhabited the present day Gush Katif region.  It is told of our Father Abraham (Genesis 20:1) “Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar.”  Of Isaac, it is said (Genesis 26:1) “…and Isaac went to Abimelek king of the Philistines in Gerar.”  In the opinion of most bible students, the city of Gerar was located in the Western Negev, not far from Gaza, as explained in the chapter on Noah: “Later the Canaanite clans scattered and the borders of Canaan reached from Sidon toward Gerar as far as Gaza” (Genesis 10:19).  The Arab Regional Council of Villages in the Dir-el-Balach region, east of Gush Katif is, to this very day, known as the Gerar Regional Council.  It is well-known that the Arab names kept the ancient biblical names.
The history of the City of Gaza also abounds with Jewish events and characteristics throughout the generations – the patriarchal period, the era of settlement in Canaan by the tribes, Samson the hero, the bearers of the Tabernacle of the Holy Covenant from Gaza in the period of Eli and Samuel, during the era of the Mishnah and the Talmud, the Middle Ages and up until the present century.  It is possible that one of the reasons for the sense of alienation of Gaza results from the very fact that only relatively seldom mention of the city is made in the bible. The Book of Books, which is packed with events that occurred in so many places throughout the Land of Israel, only mentions one incident that occurred in Gaza – the one associated with Samson.  As we may recall, Samson uprooted the gates of Gaza and moved them to the Hebron Mountain.  Later, shackled in chains, he was taken back down to Gaza, where he met his death together with the Philistines, as recounted in the Book of Judges (16.)
The Jewish history of the City of Gaza begins in the year 145 BCE, when Jonathan of the Hasmoneans, brother of Judah the Maccabi, conquered Gaza, and his brother, Shimon, brought Jews to settle there. (Yitzchak Ben Zvi, “Sha'ar Yeshuv” Part B, p. 137)
During the period of the Mishnah and the Talmud, there was a rather large Jewish community in Gaza.  On one of the pillars of the Great Mosque in Gaza, the name of Hanania Ben Ya’acov is engraved in Greek and Hebrew, and above it, a Menorah with a Shofar on one side and a citron (Etrog) on the other.  This important archeological finding was discovered in 1870 and was damaged a short time after the outbreak of the Intifada in 1987, by Arab nationalists.
Most of the Northern Negev was inhabited by Jews during the period of the Talmud and it was called “Gerartika” – The Land of Gerar.  The Talmud describes Kfar Darom as a point in the southwest of the region. The Sota Tractate (p. 30, 72), tells of the appearance of the wise man Eliezer Ben Yitzchak of Kfar Darom.  “Darom” was the name of the city that stood here during the period of the Crusaders – a period when the region flourished.  The investigator, Ashtori Hafarchi, who immigrated to the Land of Israel from France at the beginning of the 14th Century, studied the country’s sites and antiquities, and in his book, ‘Kaftor Va Ferach’, recalls the city of Darom among the Land of Israel’s ancient settlements, because it is located approximately two hours away from Gaza and some call it Daron.  The name Darom also appears in medieval literature, especially among the Arab geographers, who mention that the name is a word combination of Dir-a-Rom (a Roman monastery.)  The name Dira-a-Rom was shortened to La-Dir.  Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azoulai, for example, in describing his travels in the Land of Israel in 1753, writes “At first light on the morning after the Holy Sabbath, we departed and during the day we stopped at a place called Dir…”  (Abraham Ya'ari, ‘Travels in the Land of Israel’, p. 372).  Much later – apparently only in the 19th Century, the word “Balach,” meaning the date fruit, was added to the name “Dir”, probably because of the groves of date palms cultivated in the region.

One of the reminders of the Jewish community in that period is the remnants of ancient synagogues of the Jewish community at Gaza-Miomas, in which a large and fine mosaic floor was discovered on the shore, close to the Port of Gaza pier. The mosaic depicts animals from Africa, all of which are adorned with medallions bearing the image of a harp player above which the Hebrew letters of the name “David” appear.  The central inscription in the mosaic is in Greek:  “We, Menahem and Yehoshua, the sons of the late Yeshai and timber merchants, contributed this mosaic in admiration of the most Holy Site, in the month of Leos (August) in the year 569”.  According to the special Gaza calendar, the year 569 is 508 or 509 CE – in other words, during the Roman-Byzantine conquest.
Today the mosaic floor is exhibited at the ‘Good Samaritan’ near Ma’aleh Adumim.
We have evidence of the importance of Gaza during Byzantine rule as an alternative to Jerusalem, from a biblical source from which we learn that Jews at that time would set out on pilgrimage to Gaza because of the prohibition of going to Jerusalem, which remained from the time of the Romans.  (Abraham Yaari, ‘Travels in the Land of Israel’, p.62)

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