- Christian attempts to maintain their hold the Holy Land against the Islamic Ayyubid dynasty failed. Its founder, Salah al-Din al-Ayubbi, a Kurdish warrior, born in 1138 in Tikrit, ultimately became the Sultan of Egypt and a known champion of Islam. In 1174, he conquered Damascus, Alleppo, and Iraq and preached Jihad to the Muslim world in a counter crusade against the Christians. Gathering a large force of Muslims of various groups, Saladin attacked the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1187 and defeated the Crusaders in the Battle of the Horns of Hittin near the Lake of Galilee. After a further three months of fighting, Saladin gained control of Jerusalem. The Christian attempt at retaliation with the third crusade led by the English King Richard the “Lionheart” in 1189 failed to recover Jerusalem. Richard conceded defeat and settled for a peace treaty – Peace of Ramla- that guaranteed Christian pilgrims access to the Holy Places and a Christian presence on the Mediterranean coast. In their fight against Islam, the Christians neither regained control of interior of the Holy Land nor of Jerusalem.
Under Salah al Din (aka Saladdin) and his successors, Jews again enjoyed a certain measure of freedom were permitted to resettle in Jerusalem. Many who had fled earlier to Ashkelon returned and in 1211, some three hundred rabbis from England and France immigrated in a group, some settling in Acre and others in Jerusalem.
- The 13th century saw the Mamluks (originally slave soldiers in Egypt who rebelled against the former Ayyubid sultans) gain power in Egypt and Syria in 1250. This notwithstanding, Jews continued to immigrate to the Holy Land, particularly from France, and settled in Haifa, Caesarea, Tyre and Acre.
- In 1257 Rabbi Yehiel of Paris settled in Acre and established the Yeshiva (Religious Seminary) of Paris;
- Nahmanides, a famous Jewish physician and talmudic scholar (1194-1270) migrated from Spain and after settling initially in Jerusalem he later moved to Acre. There, in the growing Jewish community, he became involved in local religious education.
- Unfortunately the Jewish communities in Acre and the other towns along the Mediterranean coast – Tyre, Haifa, and Caesarea – did not survive for very long. The Mameluk Sultan, Al Ashraf Khalil, employed a scorched earth policy along the coast to prevent the possibility of a new Christian invasion. He attacked and destroyed Acre in 1291 in an effort to dislodge the remaining Crusaders who had holed up there in retreat. The Jews were therefore forced to abandon their coastal settlements and move inland. (Bahat pp.41-43)
- Thus by the end of the 13th century, although Islam succeeded in regaining control of the Holy Land, many Jews who had tried to settle there were killed in the course of Islamic confrontations with Christians.
- Although the Mamluk rule brought stability to the Holy Land in the early 14th century and permitted the revival of Jewish settlement, which augmented the existing Jewish communities in Safad, Ramla and Gaza, nevertheless a Jewish renaissance was retarded by natural disasters such as epidemics and earthquakes. This notwithstanding, during the middle and through to the end of the century, travellers such as Jacques of Verona, and Ogier D’Anglure reporting on their visits to Jerusalem in 1335 and 1395 respectively, refer to the existence there of Jewish communities, as did Giorgio Gucci in 1350 who described the Jews coming to pray in Hebron at the shrine of the Jewish forefathers. (Bahat pp.44-45)
- The writings of the visiting Dominican priest, Felix Fabri, towards the end of the fifteenth century (1482) also disclose a reference to the presence of Jews in Jerusalem at the time. He described the city as “a collection of all manner of abominations” amongst whom were the Jews whom he referred to “as the most cursed of all.” On the other hand, a Christian pilgrim from Bohemia visiting Jerusalem in 1491 – 1492 wrote in his book ‘Journey to Jerusalem’
“Christians and Jews alike in Jerusalem lived in great poverty and in conditions of great deprivation, there are not many Christians but there are many Jews, and these the Muslims persecute in various ways. Christians and Jews go about in Jerusalem in clothes considered fit only for wandering beggars. The Muslims know that the Jews think and even say that this is the Holy Land which has been promised to them and that those Jews who dwell there are regarded as holy by Jews elsewhere, because, in spite of all the troubles and sorrows inflicted on them by the Muslims, they refuse to leave the Land.” (cited in Bahat, p.49)
- Shortly afterwards, Palestine was to experience a further influx of Jews following their expulsion from Spain in 1492 by Ferdinand and Isabella.