Who are the Palestinian-Arabs?
by Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger
Most Palestinians are Muslim-Arabs who originated in the Arabian Peninsula. However, the source of the name “Palestine” was Pleshet, the region of the Philistines (Pleshtim in Hebrew), who originated in Greece’s Aegean Islands. They were expelled from Greece in 1300 BC and settled the coastal plain of the Land of Israel in 1200 BC. The Roman Empire introduced the name “Palestina’” in order to erase the memory of the Jewish People and the Jewish Homeland, Judea, from history.
Contrary to political correctness, Palestine was never an Arab entity with a unique national, geographic, cultural, identity. It was part of a larger entity, and its Arab inhabitants considered themselves as part of the Arab, Moslem, Ottoman or the Greater-Syria entities. George Habib Antonius, the leading historian of Arab nationalism, considered Palestine to be part of Greater Syria.
On the other hand, John Haynes Holmes, the pacifist, Left-oriented Unitarian priest, co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union and the author of Palestine Today and Tomorrow – a Gentile’s Survey of Zionism (McMillan, 1929) wrote: “This is the country to which the Jews have come to rebuild their ancient homeland…. On all the surface of this earth there is no home for the Jew save in the mountains and the well-springs of his ancient kingdom…. Everywhere else the Jew is in exile…. But, Palestine is his…. Scratch Palestine anywhere and you’ll find Israel…. There is not a spot which is not stamped with the footprint of some ancient [Jewish] tribesman…. Not a road, a spring, a mountain, a village, which does not awaken the name of some great [Jewish] king, or echo with the voice of some great [Jewish] prophet…. [The Jew] has a higher, nobler motive in Palestine than the economic…. This mission is to restore Zion; and Zion is Palestine.”
History documents that the Land of Israel was the cradle of Jewish identity 2000 years before the appearance of Islam, and that the tangible connection between the Jewish People and the Jewish Homeland has been sustained since then. On the other hand, Palestinian Arabs have not been in the area west of the Jordan River from time immemorial; no Palestinian state has ever existed, no Palestinian People was ever robbed of its land, and there is no basis for the Palestinian “claim of return.”
Most Palestinian Arabs are descendants of the 1845-1947 Muslim migrants from the Sudan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, as well as from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, Morocco, Bosnia, the Caucasus, Turkmenistan, Kurdistan, India, Afghanistan and Balochistan.
Arab migrant workers were imported by the Ottoman Empire and by the British Mandate (which defeated the Ottomans in 1917) to work on infrastructure projects: The port of Haifa, the Haifa-Qantara (1918), Haifa-Edrei (1905), Haifa-Nablus (1914) and Jerusalem-Jaffa (1892) railroads, military installations, roads, quarries, reclamation of wetlands, etc. Legal and illegal Arab laborers were also attracted by the relative economic boom, stimulated by the annual Jewish immigration beginning in 1882.
The Arab population of Haifa surged from 6,000 in 1880 to 80,000 in 1919, as a result of workforce migration, modernization introduced by the British occupation, and the establishment and expansion of Jewish settlements, which enhanced the infrastructure and employment base. The eruption of World War II accelerated the demand for manpower and the flow of migrants to the area west of the Jordan River.
According to a 1937 report by the British Peel Commission (Palestine Betrayed, Prof. Efraim Karsh, Yale University Press, 2010, p. 12), “The increase in the Arab population is most marked in urban areas, affected by Jewish development. A comparison of the census returns in 1922 and 1931 shows that, six years ago, the increase percent in Haifa was 86, in Jaffa 62, in Jerusalem 37, while in purely Arab towns such as Nablus and Hebron it was only 7, and at Gaza there was a decrease of 2 percent.”
As a result of the substantial 1880-1947Arab immigration – and despite Arab emigration caused by domestic chaos and intra-Arab violence – the Arab population of Jaffa, Haifa and Ramla grew 17, 12 and 5 times respectively.
The (1831-1840) conquest, by Egypt’s Mohammed Ali, was solidified by a flow of Egyptian and Sudanese migrants settling empty spaces between Gaza and Tul-Karem up to the Hula Valley. They followed in the footsteps of thousands of Egyptian draft dodgers, who fled Egypt before 1831 and settled in Acre. The British traveler, H.B. Tristram, identified, in his 1865 The Land of Israel: a journal of travels in Palestine (p. 495), Egyptian migrants in the Beit-Shean Valley, Acre, Hadera, Netanya and Jaffa.
The British Palestine Exploration Fund documented that Egyptian neighborhoods proliferated in the Jaffa area: Saknet el-Mussariya, Abu Kebir, Abu Derwish, Sumeil, Sheikh Muwanis, Salame’, Fejja, etc. In 1917, the Arabs of Jaffa represented at least 25 nationalities, including Persians, Afghanis, Hindus and Balochis. Hundreds of Egyptian families settled in Ara’ Arara’, Kafer Qassem, Taiyiba and Qalansawa. In 1908, Yemenite Arab migrants settled in Jaffa, and Arabs from Syria’s Huran proliferated in the ports of Haifa and Jaffa.
“30,000-36,000 Syrian migrants (Huranis) entered Palestine during the last few months alone” reported “La Syrie” daily on August 12, 1934. Az-ed-Din el-Qassam, the role-model of Hamas terrorism, which terrorized Jews in British Mandate Palestine, was Syrian, as were Said el-A’az, a leader of the 1936-38 anti-Jewish pogroms and Kaukji, the commander-in-chief of the Arab mercenaries terrorizing Jews in the 1930s and 1940s.
Libyan migrants settled in Gedera, south of Tel Aviv. Algerian refugees (Mugrabis) escaped the French conquest of 1830 and settled in Safed (alongside Syrians and Jordanian Bedouins), Tiberias and other parts of the Galilee. Circassian refugees, fleeing Russian oppression (1878) and Moslems from Bosnia, Turkmenistan, and Yemen (1908) diversified the Arab demography west of the Jordan River.
Many of the Arabs who fled in 1948, reunited with their families in Egypt and other neighboring countries.
Mark Twain wrote in Innocents Abroad (American Publishing Company, 1869): “Of all the lands there are for dismal scenery, Palestine must be the prince…. The hills are barren…. The valleys are unsightly deserts…. The Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee sleep in the midst of a vast stretch of hill and plain wherein the eye rests upon no pleasant tint…. It is a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land…. I would like much to see the fringes of the Jordan in spring-time, and Shechem, Esdraelon, Ajalon and the borders of Galilee — but even then these spots would seem mere toy gardens set at wide intervals in the waste of a limitless desolation…. Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes. Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies…. Nothing grows but weeds, and scattering tufts of cane…. Nazareth is forlorn; about that ford of Jordan where the hosts of Israel entered the Promised Land with songs of rejoicing, one finds only a squalid camp of fantastic Bedouins of the desert; Jericho the accursed, lies a moldering ruin, to-day, even as Joshua’s miracle left it more than three thousand years ago; Bethlehem and Bethany, in their poverty and their humiliation…. Renowned Jerusalem itself, the stateliest name in history, has lost all its ancient grandeur, and has become a pauper village…. The noted Sea of Galilee…a silent wilderness. Capernaum is a shapeless ruin; Magdala is the home of beggared Arabs…. Palestine is desolate and unlovely. And why should it be otherwise? Can the curse of the Deity beautify a land?…. The advertised title of the expedition–“The Grand Holy Land Pleasure Excursion”– was a misnomer. “The Grand Holy Land Funeral Procession” would have been better–much better.”
Joan Peters echoes Mark Twain’s observations in her book, From Time Immemorial (Harper & Row, 1984), which is top heavy on historical documentation and footnotes, and was written in consultation with the three icons of Middle East history and politics, Prof. Bernard Lewis, Prof. Elie Kedourie and Prof. P.J. Vatikiotis, as well as Prof. Fred Gottheil, Prof. Walter Laqueur and Martin Gilbert. Peters quotes Dr. Carl Hermann Voss, then Chairman of the “American Christian Palestine Committee:” “The Arab population of Palestine was small and limited until Jewish resettlement restored the barren lands and drew to it Arabs from neighboring countries (p. 245).” In 1939, President Roosevelt noted that “Arab immigration into Palestine since 1921 has vastly exceeded the total Jewish immigration during this whole period (p.395).”
“Ibrahim Pasha, Palestine’s Egyptian conqueror, had left behind him permanent colonies of Egyptian immigrants at Beisan, Nablus, Irbid, Acre and Jaffa. Some 500 Egyptian soldiers’ families established a new quarter [in Jaffa], and that was only one among countless similar situations. With this aid and the resettlement of Jews, which dates from 1830, Jaffa began to grow. In another area, the Muslims of Safed are mostly descended from Moorish settlers and from Kurds…. Much of the Muslim population that remained in the country was transient, as observed in 1918 by the Arab leader, Sharif Hussein (pp. 169-70).” “In 1878, groups of Circassians, Algerians, Egyptians, Druses, Turks, Kurds, Bosnians and others came into Palestine…. At least 25% of the 141,000 Muslims [in the whole of Palestine in 1882] were newcomers or descendants of those who arrived after the 1831 Egyptian conquest…. In 1858, James Finn, the British Consul General in Jerusalem, reported that ‘Mohammedans of Jerusalem’ were scarcely exceeding one quarter of the whole population (pp. 196-97)….”
“According to the 1931 census, at least 23 different languages were reported in use by Muslims, and most of those plus an additional 28 were in use by Christians, many of whom were known as Arabs – a total of 51 languages. The non-Jews in Palestine listed as their birthplaces at least 24 different countries (p. 226)….”
Peters documents the British war against Aliyah (Jewish immigration), while encouraging Arab immigration. For example, “On January 3, 1926, the British Controller of Permits indicated that ‘it is agreed that refugees who would appear to be Syrian, Lebanese or Palestinian by nationality may be admitted into Palestine without passport or visa (p. 270)….’” The 1930 White Paper enabled Arabs – but not Jews – to purchase land. It constrained Jewish immigration until Arab demography was sufficiently enhanced (pp. 300-301).
Arieh Avneri (The Claim of Dispossession, 1980), a ground-breaking researcher of Palestinian history, wrote: “Throughout history there are many instances of conquests which led, through a process of absorption and assimilation, to the formation of new national entities. Had the Arab conquest led to the formation of a crystallized Arab nation – no matter how small in number – it would have been difficult to contradict the claim of Arab historical continuity in Palestine. But such was not the case. The few Arabs who lived in Palestine a hundred years ago, when Jewish settlement began, were a tiny remnant of a volatile population, which had been in constant flux, as a result of unending conflicts between local tribes and local despots….” In 1554, there were 205,000 Moslems Christian and Jews in Palestine. In 1800, the total population was 275,000. In 1890, there were 532,000 people in Palestine, as a result of accelerated immigration, impacted by Jewish-built trade, employment, health and cultural infrastructures. “The population in Palestine underwent radical changes in the wake of two destructive wars that swept the country – Napoleon’s campaign of 1799 and the invasion by the Egyptian army and the subsequent rule of Ibrahim Pasha between 1831 and 1840…. It caused many old inhabitants to flee and new elements to settle in the land (pp. 11-13)….”
The baseless claim of an Arab presence in the Land of Israel from time immemorial, and the attempt to dismiss the moral, historical and geographic Jewish right to sovereignty over the Land of Israel, have fueled Arab hatred and terrorism, have constituted the chief obstacle to peace, have perpetuated war and terrorism.