Australian Light Horse camp beside the seaside at Arish, 1915–18
The city grew around a
Bedouin settlement near the ancient
Ptolemaic outpost of
Rhinocorura. In the
Middle Ages, pilgrims misidentified the site as the
Sukkot of the
Bible. ʻArīsh means "palm huts" in
Modern Standard Arabic.
New fortifications were constructed at the original site by the
Ottoman Empire in 1560. During the
Napoleonic Wars, the French laid siege to the fort, which fell after 11 days on February 19, 1799. During
World War I, the fort was destroyed by British bombers. It was later the location of the 45th Stationary Hospital which treated casualties of the Palestine campaign. The remains of those who died there were later moved to Kantara Cemetery.
Theodor Herzl, the founder of
Zionism, proposed Arish as
a Jewish homeland since neither the
Sultan nor the
Kaiser supported settlement in
Palestine. In 1903,
Joseph Chamberlain, the British colonial secretary, agreed to consider Arish, and Herzl commissioned the lawyer
David Lloyd George a charter draft, but his application was turned down once an expedition, led by Leopold Kessler had returned and submitted a detailed report to Herzl, which outlined a proposal to divert some of the Nile waters to the area for the purpose of settlement.
On December 8, 1958, an air battle occurred between Egyptian and Israeli air forces over Arish.
Arish was under military occupation by Israel briefly in 1956 and again from 1967 to 1979. It was returned to Egypt in 1979 after the signing of the
Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty.