El-Arish is a town on the Mediterranean coast of the Sinai Peninsula in modern-day Egypt.
Sinai's principal center through most historic periods, El-Arish is rich in a number of geographical assets: loess soil present in patches along Wadi al-ʿArīsh and, on other stretches, loess hidden beneath a thin cover of coarse, porous sand allowing seepage of rainwater to the subsoil; an average yearly rainfall of more than 100 mm. (4 in.) which exceeds that of the rest of Sinai; an enrichment of its water supply by underground seepage and by seasonal surface flow in Wadi al-ʿArīsh; land communications leading to the east and west along the ancient Via Maris (sea road) and to the south, southwest, and southeast along the course of the wadi; and anchoring facilities on the beach near the wadi mouth. From the first century, it was known as a trade center by the name Rhinokoroura. Josephus mentions the town as part of Judea (Ant. 13:395) and Titus prepared his march on Palestine there (Wars 4:662). Until 1895 El-Arish served as the border town between Egypt and Palestine. Rabbi
passed through El-Arish in 1218 but does not mention any Jews who might have been there.
In the early 20th century, El-Arish and its region were sparsely settled. At that time,
proposed the El-Arish project for northern Sinai as one of several alternatives for Jewish settlement in the Middle East. On the basis of
's meeting in 1902 with
, the area, including the Pelusian Plain, was designated to become an autonomous Jewish settlement sponsored by the British government. Lord Cromer, then the British consul-general in Egypt, requested that a commission of experts explore the region on the prospects of settlement and its findings were positive. Nevertheless, the Egyptian government, on Cromer's insistence, rejected the report, declaring itself unable to allocate water from the Nile for the settlement's irrigation needs. Cromer's refusal came in spite of Herzl's efforts to rescue the scheme by reducing the project's scope to the El-Arish vicinity and renouncing appropriation of Nile waters for development.
During the Israel War of Independence (1948), an Israeli army unit under Operation Ayin temporarily took up positions just south of El-Arish (December 1948). In the
, El-Arish fell to Israeli forces on Oct. 31, 1956, and was evacuated by them, according to the UN's request, in February 1957. In the
War it was taken by an Israeli column on June 6, 1967, and remained under Israeli administration. Under the terms of Israel's peace agreement with Egypt, El-Arish was returned to Egypt.
After World War I, the town expanded gradually, numbering 7,000 inhabitants in 1932 and, according to Egyptian sources, 22,000 in 1956 and 45,000 in 1967. In the census conducted by Israel in August 1967, El-Arish had a population of 29,973. The date-palm groves near the seashore continue to constitute an important economic branch. Sea fishing and trapping of quails are additional sources of income. Since the 1950s, plantations of rhicinus bushes have gained ground in the area between El-Arish and Rafiaḥ (Rafaḥ) and rhicinus oil is produced in a factory in the town. Under Egyptian rule, administrative services to the Sinai Peninsula and especially services to the Egyptian army became important in El-arish's
economy, although more recently tourism, based on new hotels and general development, seems to be its main source of income.
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T. Herzl, Complete Diaries, ed. by R. Patai, 5 (1960), index; Rabinowicz, in: JSOS, 13:1 (1951), 25–46; Press, Ereẓ, 4 (1955), 757–8; M. Medzini, Ha-Mediniyyut ha-Ẓiyyonit me-Reshitah ve-ad Moto shel Herzl (1934), 224–43, 320–32; J. Braslavsky, Hayadataet ha-Areẓ, 2 (1947), 7–12, 22–31. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: A. Bein, in: Shivat Ẓiyyon, 1 (1950), 179–220; Y. Friedman, Germania, Turkiya veha-Ẓiyyonut (1995).