The modern Israeli city of Ashkelon, 20 kilometers north of the Gaza border, presents a picturesque setting along the Mediterranean coast. Sparkling white beaches matched by white-faced apartment buildings, green lawns and several wide boulevards depict a tranquil and content city. However, Ashkelon, the city with the biblical name, is not peaceful. Grad rockets from Gaza have struck the city on several occasions. By arguments of war, the damage has not been extensive, but no damage can be ignored; one fatality and dozens wounded. With the damage repaired, nothing out of the ordinary mars the senses in the Ashkelon of June 2009.
More noticeable is that Ashkelon has an important story, relating a narrative that describes the Middle East conflict. The story begins with the Canaanites of 1800 B.C.
Ashkelon's archaeological park has a treasure; a Canaanite gate from the walled city that gave the modern city its name. The Canaanites constructed a port on the Mediterranean Sea and used the sea together with city walls to provide a unique defense against invaders. The archaeological park contains artifacts from the Canaanite and succeeding civilizations; Philistines, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Persians, Arabs, and Crusader, all of whom eventually ruled the area until the Mamluks destroyed Ashkelon in the year 1270 A.D..
Missing from the list of conquerors of Ashkelon are the Israelites. No substantiated history or archaeological finds describe Israelite administration of the coastal areas. This lack of coastal identification is surprising because, if the biblical claims of the extent of David and Solomon's realms are true, wouldn't these empires include seaports and fortifications close to the defendable Mediterranean Sea? A Canaanite gate from 1800 B.C. is still extant, but not a single identifiable structure from the reported eras of David and Solomon has been uncovered along the coast.
Which brings us to the year 1596 A.D.. In that year, the Arab village of al-Majdal in the Ottoman Empire, located close to the ruins of ancient Ashkelon, had a population of 559 inhabitants. An industrious village, known for a weaving industry that produced silk for festival dresses, Al-Majdal's population grew to 11,000 by 1948. The poetic naming of their fabrics: 'ji'nneh u nar' - 'heaven and hell', 'nasheq rohoh' - 'breath of the soul' and 'abu mitayn' - 'father of two hundred, signified the pride and originality of the Al-Majdal weavers.
Al-Majdal and its citizens suffered the fate of many Palestinian villages that hoped to escape the hostilities, but became engulfed in the 1948-1949 war in the Levant. Its residents sustained more than the usual injustices that were committed after the passage of United Nations (UN) General Assembly Resolution 181, the Partition Plan for Palestine.
Not well recognized is that the territory awarded to the Palestinians in Resolution 181 extended along the coast to present day Ashdod, 38 kilometers above Gaza. Al-Majdal had been awarded to the new Palestinian state. Also, not sufficiently explored is the reason that the Egyptian army, after its entrance into the war, refrained from entering deeply into territory awarded to the Jewish state. Egypt's army captured the Yad Mordechai kibbutz, which was eight kilometers south of Al-Majdal, and stopped at Ashdod. Its army crossed the Negev (awarded to Israel), and attacked Jewish settlements in the advance. The Egyptian military proceeded to defend Beer Sheeva, which had also been awarded to a Palestinian state, and continued through Palestinian territory to safeguard Hebron and other parts of the new Palestine state. Egyptian military attacked Tel Aviv by air and sea, but the Egyptian army did not occupy territory awarded to Ben Gurion's government. Reasons given for the Egyptian failure to seize territory awarded to Israel include: damage done to the Egyptian army in a battle at Ashdod halted its advance, four Messerschmitt aircraft delivered by Czechoslovakia to Israel alarmed Egyptian soldiers, and battles with Negev kibbutzim deterred the Egyptian army. All of these reasons are conjectural and are not convincing.