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Israel and Palestine:
A Common Historical Narrative
©2015, The Israel Palestine Project
All rights reserved
Note: Although A Common Historical Narrative is complete, the document undergoes continuous refinement through ongoing stylistic and scholarly review. Text on this page may be changed from time to time as a result of this process.
Chapter 1 - Claims of Palestinians* and Israelis to the Holy Land
At the beginning of the 20th Century, most of the inhabitants of the “Holy Land”, the land we now know as Israel and Palestine, were Muslims, with a large minority of Christians and a smaller minority of Jews. Christians and Jews were considered by Muslims to be “People of the Book” (The Bible, Torah and the Quran-al-Kitab).** These peoples are the origins of the Palestinians. In the Palestinian narrative, the Palestinians consider themselves as the “the sons of the soil” living on this land for millennia and this gave them prior rights of ownership and occupation.
By comparison, the majority of Jews in the world lived (and still live) in “Diaspora”, an existential state of exile from their historic homeland. In the 1880’s, Jews of the fledging Zionist movement made a claim to Palestine as their homeland and later, in conjunction with Great Britain through the Balfour Declaration (1917), asserted their ownership of the land as an act of reclaiming what was taken from them by the forces of history. In the Jewish/Israeli narrative, the destruction of the Jewish Kingdoms of antiquity through Roman persecution and conquest, followed by the epic sufferings of the Diaspora, were justifications for a new Jewish homeland in the place where it all began, the Holy Land.
The earliest Jewish immigrants from the Diaspora came to Palestine in small numbers during Ottoman rule. The early Jewish settlements were highly individualistic and there was no emergence of nationalistic thinking. Later, however, in the period of 1903 to 1914 (the second phase of Jewish immigration), leading Zionist thought was to establish a national economy and autonomy within the Ottoman Empire. The rise of Arab nationalism began during this period. After 1918, with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Jewish immigration accelerated in cooperation between the British Empire and the Zionist movement, and large numbers of immigrants came to Palestine under the protection of the British Mandate.
The Jewish immigrants bought land from Palestinians with large landholdings (mostly absentee owners) and from other resident Arab land owners. The cultural alienation between the conservative Muslim Palestinian population and the modern Jewish-Zionist-European immigrants, who spoke European languages and wore European clothing, was the beginning of what became the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. By 1948, 7% of the land of Palestine had been purchased by Jewish-Zionist organizations, 54% of that through the Jewish National Fund, an organization established for this purpose in 1901. 70% of the land purchased had been from large landowners.
* Throughout this work, “Palestinians” refers to the indigenous inhabitants of Mandate Palestine.
* * In the latter half of the 18th Century, an estimated 5,000 Jews lived in what was to become Mandate Palestine – out of a total population of approximately 250,000-300,000 of which 25,000 were Christians, several thousand were Druze, and the remaining majority Sunni Muslims. In the period just before the First Aliyah in 1882, the estimated number of Jews had reached 24,000. This first wave of immigration raised the estimated number of Jews to 50,000. (From Mark Tessler’s A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.)
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