The southern parts of Palestine, as an intercontinental transit region for various kingdoms throughout the history of the Ancient Near East, constituted an open space through which migrants, armies and merchants moved along the international route between Egypt and Greater Syria. Two-way population movements between the southern parts of Palestine’s coastal plain and Egypt are documented since the dawn of history. Towards the end of the Ottoman period, new waves of emigration from the Delta region in Egypt to the south of the country occurred due to wars, famines, epidemics, poverty and evasion from forced conscription.
The present article examines the influence of Egyptian rule in Palestine from 1831 to 1840 on settlement patterns around the town of Majdal ‘Asqalān. The article first explores the Egyptian government’s attempts to establish a garrison town called ‘Asqalān al-Jadīda. Subsequently, using the villages of al-Majdal, Ḥamāma, al-Jōra and Isdūd as local case studies, the article discusses the question ‘to what extent, if any, Egyptian rule in this region had a long-term influence on the demographic, economic and social levels?’
In answer to the abovementioned question, it is suggested that the Egyptian rule had mixed effects on the social structures in the area. While the period of Egyptian rule is associated with the most significant of the many Egyptian (maṣrī) waves of emigration to Palestine, the Egyptian emigration to the south of the country was a long and protracted process that occurred in a number of independent waves, all influenced by differing economic, political and social factors. Furthermore, Ethnographic sources point to the existence of a long-established Egyptian population based in the area for hundreds of years. Lastly, the assimilation and integration patterns of Egyptian emigrants at the village level reflects high levels of much heterogeneity on the spectrum from full integration into the existing social system, the establishment of separate, independent, ‘Egyptian’ clans or the division of newly-arrived ‘Egyptian’ families between existing village clans.