Central to the discussion regarding the Land and who are its original inhabitants is the origin of those that call themselves ‘Palestinians’. This article tackles where they came from and when, with documentation.
Where is Palestine – a brief history
There has never been an Arab state called “Palestine”. The term “Palestine” is a geographical term used to designate the region at specific points in history; (1) under the Romans (Syria Palaestina, 135-390 AD), (2) a province of the Byzantine Empire (Palestina Secunda or Palestina II – 390 AD ) and (3) a region under British administration (British Mandate for Palestine, 1920-1948).
The land of Israel changed hands three times between 614 and 638 CE; first to the Persians (614 CE), then the Christian Byzantines (629 CE) and finally to the Arab Muslims in 638 CE.
The Arabs first came to the Land in the 6th century CE, after the Jews had already been ruled for almost 100 years by a Jewish Dynasty (the Hasmodian Dynasty, aka as the Maccabees). This was prior to Romans overthrowing the Hasmodian Dynasty during the Jewish-Roman Wars. Prior to the rule of the Hasmonean Dynasty, the Jews had been in the Land for ~ 1500 years.
[UPDATE: In March 2016, a 2500 year old Jewish seal was found in Jerusalem, dating from the first Jewish Temple Period, clearly establishing that there was an established Jewish presence at that time.
The Arabs arrived substantially later, when they first invaded the land and besieged Gaza in 634 CE, and defeated the Byzantines (636 CE) and two years later, conquered Jerusalem.
The Western half of the Byzantine Empire fell in 476 CE, but the Eastern half survived for 1,000 more years and fell to the Ottoman Turks when their Muslim army stormed Constantinople in 1453.
The Ottoman Turks (converted to Islam in the 8th and 9th centuries) began traveling westward from the area now known as Turkey, into Europe and then through the Middle East, conquering lands as they went. In 1453, the Ottoman Turks stormed Constantinople, renaming it Istanbul and destroyed the last remains of the Byzantine Empire. Under the Ottoman Empire (1517-1917 CE) the geographic area of southern Syria was referred to as ‘Palestine’ but wasn’t a state or province and was indistinguishable from southern Syria.
(3) At the end of WWI (1921), the former Ottoman Turkish Empire was carved up, with the British becoming responsible for administering the Holy Land, a region which became known as the British Mandate of Palestine.
Changing Demographics of Jerusalem – under Arab and Christian Occupation (638 CE – 1917 CE)
Arab Rule – part one
When the Arabs conquered Jerusalem in 638 C.E, the majority of the population was Christian. Umar, the first Caliph (Islamic representative) lifted the almost 500 year ban against Jewish residence imposed by the Christians under the Byzantine Empire and invited the Jews to return, live and worship once again in Jerusalem.
The Umayyads oversaw the construction of the Dome of the Rock mosque in 691 CE (almost 700 years after the time of Jesus), built near the area formerly occupied by Herod’s Temple (the Second Temple) and close by the Kotel (Western Wall) — the last remnant of Solomon’s temple (the first Temple*). The Dome of the Rock was constructed over the outcropping of limestone rock which Jewish tradition held to be the place of Abraham’s intended sacrifice of Isaac and which Islamic tradition points to the sacred rock as the place from which Muhammad began his Ascent to Heaven to receive Allah’s final revelation. They also built the al-Asqa mosque in 705 CE. Under the Umayyad empire, Damascus (Syria) was their capital.
[*As mentioned above, the seal that was found in March 2016, and an earlier one found in 2007, both originated from the First Temple Period.]
For four centuries (691 – 1099 CE) the Jews and Christians lived peacefully along side the Muslims before the beginning of centuries of ‘holy wars’.
In 1099 CE, the Crusaders stormed Jerusalem and massacred its Muslim and Jewish populations. Residence by non-Christians was banned and Jerusalem became the capital of the Latin Kingdom. Throughout the Crusader Period, neither Muslims nor Jews were allowed to live in Jerusalem.
The Temple Mount (known to the Arabs as the “Haram al-Sharif”) was desecrated and the Dome of the Rock was converted into a church. The al-Aqsa mosque became the residence of the king.
The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem lasted only eighty-eight years.
Arab Rule – part two
In 1187, the Abbasids recaptured Jerusalem and for the next seven centuries, except for a very short period, Jerusalem remained under Muslim rule. Civilians were spared and churches were largely left untouched but the Dome of the Rock and al-Asqa mosque reverted back to their original use.
After the Abbasids took control, the capital was moved from Damascus (Syria) to Baghdad (Iraq) and Jerusalem began to decline.
In 1219, under threat of another Crusade, the walls of Jerusalem were originally reconstructed then later dismantle with most of the population of Jerusalem finally leaving the un-walled, ill-defended city. Battles took place between the Mongols and Muslims but for the most part, Jerusalem remained uninhabited and in decline.
Jerusalem fell to the Ottomans in 1517 but the Sultan did not make the city a district capital. During the first part of their rule, Jews were allowed to practice their religion and the Holy Land became a refuge for Jews fleeing persecution under the Christian Crusaders in Europe.
With the decentralization of Ottoman rule in the mid 16th century, the lives of the Jews declined. Much of the land was in the hands of absentee landlords, fell into disrepair and arable land returned to desert.
In the last two decades of Ottoman rule, the first waves of Jewish immigrants mainly from Russia arrived in the Holy Land; coming to build a better life for themselves and fulfill their dreams of living in the Holy Land.
The Armenian Christians initially prospered during Ottoman rule and gained control over their own quarter in Jerusalem, comprising over 20% of the Christian population in Jerusalem by the late 17th century. Over the following two hundred years and during and just after WWI however, the Ottomans massacred between 1 – 1.5 million Armenians worldwide.
At the end of WWI (1921), the former Ottoman Turkish Empire was divided up, with the British becoming responsible for administering the Holy Land, a region which became known as the British Mandate for Palestine. It is very telling to see photos of what this area looked like just prior to them taking it over from the Ottomans — an arid, un-farmed land which was very sparsely populated. More on that below (with actual photos from the late 1800’s.
Southern Syria largely uninhabited under the Ottoman Turks
The region of southern Syria which included the Holy Land had fallen into disrepair largely due to the absence of Ottomans in the region, as the center of rule was Istambul (in present-day Turkey) — formerly Constantanople.
Félix Bonfils (1831-1885) was a French photographer and writer who was active in the Middle East and traveled to the region several times in the late 1800’s, while the region was still under Ottoman rule. Below are some of his photographs taken from late 1800’s.
Of the 9,000 photos taken by Bonfils, none show any evidence of any large-scale settlements — Arab or otherwise.
Here are a few other photos that are part of a collection from Harvard that were taken and collected by the Austrian chemist Dr. Rudolph Avraham Seiden.
Grave of Maimonides (Rambam) in Tiberias (circa 1920).
British Mandated Palestine
When the British took control of the region in 1921, after WWI and the collapse of the Ottoman empire, the Holy Land was undeveloped and the population small. The British census of October 23, 1922 reported there were only 757,182 individuals including military and “persons of foreign nationality“.
Broken down according to religion, there were 590 794 Muslims (“Mohammedans”), 83 794 Jews , 73 024 Christians and 9 474 “others” — Baha’i, Samaritans, etc.
The survey also notes that it included “persons of foreign nationality” in the census including those that came “from Syria and Asia Minor (Turkey)…since the British occupation, which presumably would be Muslims.
So where did the so-called ‘Palestinians’ come from?
Remember, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem? Yes, the same Haj Amin al-Husseini who later went on to collaborate with Hitler and Himmler? See his role in this, below.
During Ottoman rule
During the Ottoman Empire, Arab migrant workers began to come to work in the Land, beginning around 1831-1947 and towns such as Haifa, Jaffa and Jerusalem saw an increase in their population under Ottoman rule between 1880 and 1919. For example, Haifa’s Arab population surged from 6,000 to 80,000, mostly due to migrant workers.
Influx of Muslim Arabs Into Palestine
Importation of Arab migrant workers that began under the Ottoman Empire, continued under the British Mandate, and Arabs were enticed to come to work on major civilian and military infrastructure projects. Legal and illegal Arab migrants were also attracted by economic growth generated by the Jewish community that began, starting in 1882.
After the creation of the first Arab Palestinian state (Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan, renamed Jordan) in 1921, the newly appointed Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini began a intentional campaign to populate the British Mandate for Palestine (which was largely uninhabited) with Muslim Arabs.
Al-Husseini knew that just prior to the creation of the Mandate for Palestine (1920), the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour signed the Balfour Declaration of 1917 (dated 2 November 1917) which committed the British government to ‘the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people‘. The Balfour Declaration was intended and understood by British officials to mean that Palestine would ultimately become a ‘Jewish Commonwealth’ or a ‘Jewish State’; provided Jews came and settled there in sufficient numbers (i.e when a Jewish majority was achieved) — the wording of which was later incorporated into the British Mandate for Palestine.
Al-Husseini’s goal was to prevent a Jewish majority in the tiny piece of remaining land earmarked for the Jewish national homeland and to this end, the Grand Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini encouraged the mass influx of Arab Muslims from neighbouring countries. He used the noble concept of Muslims moving to non-Muslim lands in order to claim them for Islam to motivate Arab Muslims to move there. The largest influx of Muslims was in the mid 1920’s to late 1930’s.
[Great Britain and Palestine, 1915-1945, Information Paper no. 20, 3d ed. (London: Royal Institute for International Affairs, 1946), p. 64. C.S. Jarvis, “Palestine,” United Empire (London), 28 (1937): 633. Census of Palestine 1922, Census of Palestine 1931, Also see quote from Zahir Muhsein, Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), March 1977, below.]
British Census Date – 1922 and 1931
British Census data supports this significant increase in Muslims.
As mentioned above, just after the British began administering Palestine, census data (October 23, 1922) reported only 757,182 individuals including military and “persons of foreign nationality” and those that had recently arrived from Syria and Asia Minor (Turkey), presumably Muslim.
The 1922 data were broken down by religion, indicating that there were 590 890 Muslims (“Mohammedans”), 83 694 Jews and 73 024 Christians.
In 1931 the British took a second population census which reported 1,035,821 individuals. The population broken down by religion was as follows: 759 712 Muslims (total) / 693159 (settled)*, 174 610 Jews, 91 398 Christians, 9 148 Druze — with the rest Baha’i, Samaritan, etc.
*Note: for the purpose of the census, “houses” were defined as “an enclosure or residence of one or more families having a separate entrance from the common way” and could be either “attached” or “semi-detached“. In 1931, a total of 66,553 Muslims lived in a dwelling other than a “house” but none of the Jews, Christians, Druze, Bahai’s or Samaritans did.
Comparing the 1931 census data with the 1922 census data indicates that;
- Muslims (“Mohammedans”) increased by 168822 individuals (102269 living in “houses” and 66553 in another kind of dwelling),
- Jews increased by 90 916 individuals
- Christians increased by 18 374 individuals
The Muslim population of mandated Palestine increased by 169,000 Muslims between 1922 and 1931, but during the same time period, the Jewish population only increased by 91, 000 Jews. The most notable increase in Muslim population was in Southern Palestine, Be’ersheva and the Jerusalem area.
Keep in mind, the data above is only up to 1931.
In order to claim the land for Islam and ensure there wasn’t a Jewish majority, the Grand Mufti, Haj Amin Al-Husseini continued to recruit Muslims to move to mandated Palestine until the late 1930’s.
According to a 1937 report by the British Peel Commission and published in the book, Palestine Betrayed
“during 1922 through 1931, the increase of Arab population in the mixed-towns of Haifa, Jaffa and Jerusalem was 86%, 62% and 37% respectively
Professor Efraim Karsh, “Palestine Betrayed”
It is these Arabs; ones who were enticed under the Ottoman Empire, the British Mandate for Palestine and directly by Haj Amin al-Husseini who are the so-called “Palestinians” of today — Muslim Arabs whose parents and grandparents emigrated to the British Mandate for Palestine from the late 1800’s to the late 1930’s.
These Arabs were not born in Palestine (under the Ottomans or the British). They did not originate from Palestine. They moved there .
But from where?
The Royal Institute for International Affairs sheds some light on the origin of the increased Arab Muslim population during the 1920s and 1930s when it reports:
“The number of Arabs who have entered Palestine illegally from Syria and Transjordan is unknown but is probably considerable.”
[source: Great Britain and Palestine, 1915-1945, Information Paper no. 20, 3d ed. (London: Royal Institute for International Affairs, 1946), p. 64.]
The governor of the Sinai from 1923-36 C.S. Jarvis also indicated where these Arab Muslims came from, when he said that:
“illegal immigration was not only going on from the Sinai, but also from Trans-Jordan and Syria”
[source: C.S. Jarvis, “Palestine,” United Empire (London), 28 (1937): 633.]
“The Sinai” is Egypt.
These newly arrived Muslim Arabs came from; (1) Egypt and (2) Transjordan and (3) Syria; Hashemite Arabs.
It is the descendants of these that call themselves “Palestinians“.
Footnote: Al-Husseini further added to the population imbalance of Muslim Arabs over Jews in the land by writing to Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill in 1921, demanding that restrictions be placed on Jewish immigration. As tensions between the Jews and the increasing Arab population rose, the British government, then under the leadership of Churchill issued a White Paper (1939) restricting Jewish immigration certificates issued by the mandatory power to a maximum of 75,000. This was just as thousands of Jews were trying to flee the escalating Nazi violence in Europe and emigrate to the Holy Land and re-establish the Jewish homeland. This left the Jews few options for escape the Nazis.
Al-Husseini did not stop there…
As you can read about it previous articles, al-Husseini then left the Middle East for Berlin where after meeting with Adolf Hitler, went onto to become the “Arab Fuhrer” — working closely with head of the Gestapo and SS Henrich Himmler (architect of the concentration camps) to carry out their shared goal to eradicate the Jews.