The Zionist Crusaders

Yossi Schwartz ISL the RCIT section in Israel/Occupied Palestine, 01.06.2023

Introduction: The Long View

The early decades of the seventh century were one of the most eventful periods in the history of the Land of Palestine. Within 24 years, between 614 and 638, the country changed hands three times. The four-centuries long conflict between Rome and Persia ended in a final collision of the Byzantine and Sassanid armies. Both these powers gave way to the rise of a new power, the Islamic forces, which would drive them both out of the region.

The Crusade started in Europe at the end of the eleventh century in 1095. Thirty crusades were launched with the aim of capturing Bayt al-Maqdis and “liberating” its Churches and Christians. The first crusade was successful in creating the first European colonial society by 1099, that ended within a century by Salah al-Din.

Saladin, to whom Arafat and Gamal Nasser were compared, was born around 532/1138 to a Kurdish family, Salah ad-Din served under ‘Imad ad-Din Zangi and then Zangi’s son, Nur ad-Din, Turkish governors of northern Syria. In 1171, after two years as vizier in Egypt, Salah ad-Din deposed the last Fatimid Shi’i caliph and returned Egypt to Sunni orthodoxy and, nominally, Abbasid control. With the 1174 death of Nur ad-Din, Salah ad-Din ended his vassalage and seized control of Syria, establishing himself as independent ruler over the lands of his late lord, with Egypt and northern Syria united under Salah Al-Din’s command. At the head of a large and efficient army, Salah ad-Din exacted his 1187 victories against the Frankish Crusaders at Hattin and Jerusalem: this constituted both a great blow to the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem—the impetus for gathering the Third Crusade—as well as the reclamation of a city holy to Islam from the rule of European Christians. He died in 1193 and immortalized in accounts by contemporaneous authors. [1]

The complete eradication of their presence was by the Mamluk a century later. With the threat of the Ottomans into Europe, no longer was crusading to take Jerusalem feasible. Apocalyptic scenarios and the idea of restoring the Jews to Palestine marked a major shift for the prospects of the Holy Land. Napoleon issued the first official call to establish a Jewish colony, although never materialized. The British imperialists took it upon themselves to see this project through. The British managed to occupy Palestine, plans for a new colonial settler state were already in motion and after thirty years of British occupation, the reigns were handed over to the Zionists as the heirs of the Crusaders.

Both the Crusades and the Zionist projects although centuries apart resemble one another in more than one aspect. It may even be argued that Zionism is the continuation of the crusades or a new form of it and that Zionism is the heir of the Crusade. Many authors have looked at the parallels between these two historical movements, both foreign invaders coming from the west committing heinous crimes, establishing a colony in the heart of the Muslim World surviving for a period of time before their inevitable fall.

Britain, in order to prepare a Zionist state, chose the first High Commissioner for Palestine Herbert Samuel, a British Jewish Zionist. Over the thirty years of its occupation or so-called mandate over Palestine, Britain laid the foundations for the establishment of the Zionist state. A state that would act as the front line of Western imperialism and would become an imperialist state by itself due to the support of western imperialists. (Britain, Germany, France, USA). As many Zionists proclaimed that Israel is a strategic asset of Western influence in Southwest Asia for decades. However, with the decline of the USA and its power in the region the Zionist crusade begins to sink as well.

The First Crusades

“Due to the fragmentation of the Muslim World between two Caliphates in Baghdad and Cairo and the further disintegration into city states made it easier for the first crusade to take large parts of the Bilad al-Sham (Historical Syria). Due to the alleged support of the Shiite Fatimids in trying to forge an alliance with the crusaders against the Sunni Seljuks accelerated the process of the occupation of Palestine and Jerusalem” [2].

“The Fatimids occupied Jerusalem in 1098. The crusaders succeeded in occupying Jerusalem on 15 July 1099, through massacring tens of thousands of Muslims in the holy site of al-Aqsa Mosque, and the burning of Jews in their synagogue, with the Fatimid garrison being spared as they were fortified in the citadel and were allowed to leave the city unharmed.” [3]

“The third crusade which lasted for five years ended with the signing of al-Ramlah peace treaty in September 1192 between Sultan Salah al-Din and King Richard stipulating a truce for three years and eight months.” [4]

“The crusaders in Palestine lost hope of the arrival of the fourth crusade and in 1204 they signed a truce with Salah al-Din’s brother al-Adil. Rather than reinforcements arriving, the opposite happened with many of the crusader knights in Palestine leaving for Constantinople to claim territory and fiefs and this deprived the Kingdom of Jerusalem of potential helpers.

The sixth crusade, or the Crusade of Emperor Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and king of Sicily succeeded in taking Jerusalem through diplomacy, the emperor signed a ten-year deal with Sultan al-Kamil the son of al-Adil. in 1229. He was the first Christian monarch to re-establish Christian rule in Jerusalem after Salah al-Din liberated the city. Al-Kamil agreed to a ten-year truce in February 1229, giving up Jerusalem and other places in Palestine to the crusades, however retaining al-Aqsa Mosque in Muslim hands and the aiding of Frederick to al-Kamil against all his enemies including Christians. Frederick entered the holy city in March 1229 and crowned himself King of Jerusalem.” [5] However ten years later the Muslims liberated Jerusalem.

The Templars

Knights of the Temple were founded in Jerusalem at some time between January 14 and September 13, 1120 – two decades after the Christian armies of the First Crusade seized Jerusalem from Muslim rule. They were able-bodied warrior-pilgrims who could fight and who had promised to live a quasi-monastic life of penitence, poverty, obedience and duty beyond the normal vows of a crusader.

They were forbidden to swear, get drunk or overeat. Every Thursday before Easter, each Templar had to wash a pauper’s feet before giving them new shoes and a loaf of bread. (A Templar official would check the pauper’s feet for diseases before they began.)

“The king of Jerusalem granted them a home in al-Aqsa Mosque, which was regarded as the most important and most beautiful mosque outside Arabia, more magnificent even than the Great Mosque of Damascus. When a Persian traveler visited al-Aqsa in its heyday, he described seeing “two hundred and eighty marble columns, supporting arches that are fashioned of stone, and both the shafts and the capitals of the columns are sculptured…the mosque is everywhere flagged with colored marble, with the joints riveted in lead…Above rises a mighty dome that is ornamented with enamel work.” [6]

“The Templars identified al-Aqsa with the Temple once built by the Biblical king Solomon and under crusader rule the mosque had been repurposed as a palace for the king of Jerusalem. Later the Templars shared it. The 12th-century archbishop and chronicler William of Tyre explained that “because…they live next to the Temple of the Lord in the king’s palace they are called the brothers of the Knighthood of the Temple.” [7]

The Jewish Christian Crusade

A joint Christian-Jewish initiative for the occupation of Palestine was presented by David Reubeni to Pope Clement VII in the early sixteenth century in March 1524.[8] The Pope who saw this as an opportunity to mobilize Jews who were in need for arms to occupy Palestine under European auspices wrote letters to some European monarchs to support such an endeavor, such as the King of Portugal. [9] This may be the first time such an initiative was put forward for a colonialist settler Jewish state through relocating Jews to settle with European support. Although this did not materialize, it was the template that was followed a few centuries later by Theodore Herzl and succeeded with European support.

Herzl is everywhere in Israel. It would be difficult to find a town without a street named after him. He is memorized in the names of boulevards, parks, squares, a city (Herzliya), a forest, a sprinkling of restaurants, a museum and even a national cemetery — Mount Herzl. His portrait hangs in the plenum hall of the Knesset. His birthday — Herzl Day — is observed as a national holiday. This is to be expected. After all, was he not the founder of the Zionist project and the Jewish state?

Not many know that his first solution to ‘the Jewish problem’ was a mass conversion of Austrian Jews to Catholicism? ‘It should be done on a Sunday, in St. Stephen’s Cathedral, in the middle of the day, with music and pride, publicly,’ he wrote.

There’s an amusing youth tube video in which a journalist presents a number of Israeli students with a quote from Herzl and asks who they thought wrote it. Every one of them says Hitler. They are shocked to discover the truth; the Herzl they’d learned about in school could not have written such an antisemitic statement. This is the quote: “an excellent idea enters my mind — to attract outright antisemites and make them destroyers of Jewish wealth” [10]

In an article Herzl wrote in the Deutsche Zeitung newspaper:

“The wealthy Jews rule the world. In their hands lies the fate of governments and nations. They start wars between countries and, when they wish, governments make peace. When the wealthy Jews sing, the nations and their leaders dance along and meanwhile the Jews get richer.”  [11]

He also wrote: ‘I think a democratic monarchy and an aristocratic republic are the finest forms of a State’ but the Jewish state will be an improvement because ‘we shall learn from the historic mistakes of others … for we are a modern nation and wish to be the most modern in the world’ [12]

In 1895, he wrote in his diary:

“We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it employment in our country. But the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.’ [13]

Like our days Zionists he thought that the views of the Palestinian population could be discounted and that they had no political rights and should have no say in the matter. For him like the Belgium king Leopold who declared that Kongo was an empty land, Palestine was an empty country.

In his book The Jewish State he wrote: “We should form a part of a wall of defense for Europe in Asia, an outpost of civilization against barbarism. We should as a neutral state remain in contact with all Europe, which would have to guarantee our existence”

The Zionist parties that fought for and in 1948 succeeded in creating a state were Jewish nationalists. Their state would be not only of the Jews but for the Jews: the nation state of the Jewish people — all of them. They were clear that the state could only survive in that form by, as Herzl had explained, driving out the majority of the non-Jews who lived there. Maximum land, minimum Arabs was the political imperative. [14]

The Zionist Crusaders

A historical analogy likening and linking Zionists to Frankish Crusaders or the State of Israel to the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, appears frequently in contemporary dialogue on the Israel-Palestine conflict from a diverse range of sources and for a variety of political ends. [15]

The history of Palestine under the Franks, made immediately relevant to twentieth and twenty-first century Israel-Palestine via the Zionist-Crusader analogy, is researched, cited, and employed in political arguments by Israeli, Palestinian, and other Arab scholars and medievalists, politicians, authors, and lay contributors to popular culture. [16]

Viewing the Crusader states as a “prototype” of Israel, take the analogy as inspiration for historical research. Israeli historian Meron Benvenisti falls into this category, as well as his fellow Israeli scholars Meir Ben-Dov, Benjamin Kedar, and the famous Crusade historian Joshua Prawer.

Joshua Prawer, who left Poland for Jerusalem in 1936, authored The Crusaders’ Kingdom: European Colonialism in the Middle Ages, a seminal text in Israeli Crusade history. This book directly labels the Crusades as colonialist endeavors and, via an analogy accepting a parallel between the Crusader states and the State of Israel. Although Prawer is careful not to explicitly address the analogy in the bodies of his works, his acceptance of the validity of the comparison is documented in interviews and other sources. He states that the analogy is “worthy of respect, but not without some problems.”

Benjamin Kedar is another Israeli academic who engages, like Prawer, with the analogical discursive framework, however he, has fewer reservations than Prawer. With an article entitled “Crusader Lessons”, Kedar throws himself into the discursive arena and presents his stance on the analogy as one who accepts its validity and seemingly speaks to an audience of like-minded individuals. In this article, Kedar responds to Prawer’s formulation of a medieval colonial state without a metropole and he notes, much in the vein of the analogic discourse, that Prawer’s thesis undercuts the argument that Israel is not a colonial state because Israel lacks a metropole. Formulations of Israel as a colonial state, used as a critique of Israel or an invalidation of its right to exist, usually emphasize the Disputed Territories as evidence of a space colonized by Israel. The main approach to neutralizing this threat, therefore, is to argue for additional or other criteria for status as a colonial state. The structure of a metropole and colonies is frequently cited as a counter-argument, precisely because Israel’s lack of a clear metropole may prove it is not a colonial state, and therefore has a legitimate claim to existence. Prawer, however, strips this argument of its force by providing its opponents a rebuttal: a metropole is not a necessary criterion for a colonial state. In other words, he provides the argument that Israel is settler colonialist society like the Crusade kingdom of Jerusalem.

The linking of Israel to the Kingdom of Jerusalem is even stronger when we compare Israel with the Templars and their Temple of King Solomon. Large part of the Israelis want to change the Al Aqsa mosque to the third Jewish Temple.



[2] Abu-Munshar, Maher. (2010). “Fātimids, Crusaders and the Fall of Islamic Jerusalem: Foes or Allies?”, Al-Masāq, Vol.22. 45-56.

[3] Runciman, Steven. (1995). A History of the Crusades. 3 volumes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

[4] Runciman, 1995, vol.3: 76, 104.

[5] Runciman, 1995, vol.3: 184-190


[7] Ibid

[8] Mustafa, Mustafa W. (2021). Yawmiyat David Reubeni 1520-1525: Awal Muhawalat Tahaluf bayn al-Jamat al-Yahudiyah wal-Gharb li-Ihtilal Filistin. Istanbul: Dar al-Usool Al-Elmiyah.

[9] Ibid 105-106

[10] Leon Rosselson, Medium 25 October 2018

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid

[13] Ibid

[14] Ibid


[16] Ibid

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