Monday, April 15, 2024 -
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How many indigenous Palestinians?

I read the other day that Israel expelled 775,000 indigenous Palestinians during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948.

Were there 775,000 indigenous Palestinians expelled by Israel? This statement is inextricably tied to a host of issues that I do not address in order to focus on whether, in fact, 775,000 indigenous Palestinians in 1948 lived in what the British called Palestine.

I put aside these related issues:

• the anachronistic use of the term “Palestinian” for the Arabs in the area, given that they did not call themselves “Palestinians” until after the 1967 war;

• whether some of the Arabs in the area were expelled by Israel, or were told by their leaders to leave their homes for an envisioned short war destroying the Jewish state;

• the root cause of the Arab displacement being the invasion of the new Jewish state by five Arab armies who rejected the UN’s partition of the area into a Jewish and an Arab state (note: it was called an “Arab state,” not a “Palestinian state”);

• the hypocrisy of Arab politicians during the British Mandate (1922-1948) who, according to Kenneth Stein, sold land to Jews even as they publicly opposed Zionism and even led agitation against land acquisitor by Jews.

Were there “775,000 indigenous Palestinians” in 1948? Open source data, available on Wikipedia, reveals a dramatic growth in the Arab population coinciding with the founding of the Zionist movement and the immigration of Jews from Europe to the land of Israel.

The economic progress brought by the Zionists to the land served to attract and increase Arab immigration into the area. These Arab immigrants were not indigenous Palestinians. Look at the data.

The Jewish immigration began in earnest in 1881. The Wikipedia figures do not dovetail exactly with 1881, but they are close enough. From 1800 to 1890, the Arab population grew by some 54%, as follows:

The Muslim population of the area in 1800 was 246,000 and the Christian population, 22,000. I assume the Christians were Arabs, for a total Arab population in 1800 of 268,000.

In 1890, the Muslim Arab population stood at 432,000 and the Christian Arabs at 57,000, for a total of 489,000.

That’s roughly a 54% growth rate over 90 years.

Compare that to the Arab population growth rate from 1890 to 1947.

That period was when Zionism emerged with the return of the Jewish indigenous dwellers to their historic homeland. The year 1947 is when the UN partitioned the land into two states, one Jewish, one Arab, and the year that Israel’s War of Independence began.

In 1947, the Muslim Arab population was 1,181,000 and the Christian Arab was 143,000.

That’s roughly a 270% growth rate over 57 years, since 1890.

Zionism was great for Arab population growth! Do the math. With the arrival of Zionism, the Arab population jumped dramatically from a 54% rate over 90 years to a 270% rate over 57 years.

Demography is complicated and other factors besides Zionism may have been involved. But the sheer dimension of the Arab growth rate — again, open source Wikipedia figures; again, 270% in the 57 years of Zionism as over against 54% in the 90 years of pre-Zionism — shows that a major chunk of the Arabs in Palestine at the time of Israel’s War of independence were newcomers or their children, not “indigenous.”

What the population figures show statistically, Mark Twain saw impressionistically. He visited Greece, Lebanon, Syria and the Holy Land in 1867.

In the land of Israel he discerned patches of fertility. He wrote, for example, “The narrow canyon in which Nablous, or Shechem, is situated, is under high cultivation, and the soil is exceedingly black and fertile. It is well watered, and its affluent vegetation gains effect by contrast with the barren hills that tower on either side.”

It was those barren hills and similar terrain that overwhelmed Twain. Having traversed the Jezreel Valley on horseback, he wrote:

“There is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent — not for 30 miles in either direction. There are two or three small clusters of Bedouin tents, but not a single permanent habitation. One may ride 10 miles, hereabouts, and not see 10 human beings.”

Other excerpts from Twain’s Palestine travelogue:

“ . . . A desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds — a silent mournful expanse . . . A degree of desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with pomp of life and action. . . . . We never saw a human being on the whole route . . . hardly a tree or shrub anywhere. Even the olive tree and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country. Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes. Over it broods the spell of a curse . . . ”

His impression of parts of Greece and Syria was much the same. But of Palestine he wrote, “Of all the lands for dismal scenery, I think Palestine must be the prince . . . ”

No sizable population here, Palestinian or otherwise.

Even the brevity of Twain’s visit, in the hot summer to boot, cannot obscure the miserable condition of the land that the Zionist pioneers found and then, patiently, dunam by dunam, transformed. It is only with the coming of Zionism that the “curse” over the land began to lift and the land began to bloom.

It became attractive to others, including non-indigenous Arabs.

What is now pejoratively called “colonization” was, in fact, the return of the Jews to their ancient homeland, a pattern that Arabs in surrounding areas were happy to benefit from economically, medically and agriculturally.

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