Think-Israel features essays and commentaries that provide a context for current events in Israel. The…
By Dr. Harry Mandelbaum
At the beginning of the 20th century, there were practically no Arabs in the Holy Land. Historically, a “Palestinian” people never existed. The English name “Palestinian”, to describe the local Arab population, was invented AFTER the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. These Arabs do not even have a native name to describe themselves in their own Arabic language. The Arabs who now claim to be natives of the Holy Land have migrated to Palestine and invaded the land after 1917, from neighboring Arab countries. There is only one possible solution to the “Palestinians” desire for a homeland – let them return to where they came from – to where they lived earlier for hundreds or thousands of years – to their real homeland in their original Arab countries.
Unknown to most of the world population, the origin of the “Palestinian” Arabs’ claim to the Holy Land spans a period of a meager 30 years – a drop in the bucket compared to the thousands of years of the region’s rich history.
At the beginning of the 20th century, there were practically no Muslim Arabs in the Holy Land. By contrast, the Jews, despite 2000 years of persecution and forced conversions by various conquerors, have throughout most of history been the majority population there. In Jerusalem Jews were always the largest demographic group , except for periods when conquerors specifically threw them out and prevented them from returning.
When General Allenby, the commander of the British military forces, conquered Palestine in 1917/1918, only a few thousand Muslim Arabs resided in the Holy Land. Most of the Arabs were Christians, and most of the Muslims in the area either came from Turkey under the Ottoman Empire, or were the descendants of Jews and Christians who were forcefully converted to Islam by the Muslim conquerors. These Muslims were not of Arab origin.
It is important to note that estimates and censuses conducted by the Muslim conquerors were heavily biased to exaggerate the number of Muslims and to minimize the number of Jews and Christians. Therefore, the only reliable data is provided by non-Muslim neutral sources. Tourists and politicians, Arabs and non-Arabs alike, have documented their observations of the population in the Holy Land beginning more that a thousand years ago. Let’s start at the early days and continue into the Ottoman period:
- The historian James Parkes wrote: “During the first century after the Arab conquest [670-740 CE], the caliph and governors of Syria and the Holy Land ruled entirely over Christian and Jewish subjects. Apart from the Bedouin in the earliest days, the only Arabs west of the Jordan were the garrisons.”
- In year 985 the Arab writer Muqaddasi complained: “the mosque is empty of worshipers… The Jews constitute the majority of Jerusalem’s population” (The entire city of Jerusalem had only one mosque?). 
- In 1377, Ibn Khaldun, one of the most creditable Arab historians, wrote: “Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel extended over 1400 years… It was the Jews who implanted the culture and customs of the permanent settlement”.
- In 1695, the Dutch scholar, philologist and cartographer, Adriaan Reland, visited the Holy Land. He documented his visits to many locations. He writes: The names of settlements were mostly Hebrew, some Greek, and some Latin-Roman. No settlement had an original Muslim-Arab name with a historical root in its location. Most of the inhabitants of the cities were Jews, the others were Christians. The Arabs were predominantly Christians with a tiny minority of Muslims. In Nazareth there were approximately 700 people – all Christians. In Gaza there were approximately 550 people – half of them Jews, the rest Christians. Um-El-Phachem was a village of 10 families – all Christians. Reland mentions all the Muslim Arabs as nomadic Bedouin tribes who arrived in the area as seasonal workers.
- In 1835 Alphonse de Lamartine wrote: “Outside the city of Jerusalem, we saw no living object, heard no living sound. . .a complete eternal silence reigns in the town, in the highways, in the country.”
- In 1844, William Thackeray writes about the road from Jaffa to Jerusalem: “Now the district is quite deserted, and you ride among what seem to be so many petrified waterfalls. We saw no animals moving among the stony brakes; scarcely even a dozen little birds in the whole course of the ride.”
- In 1857, the British consul in Palestine, James Finn, reported: “The country is in a considerable degree empty of inhabitants and therefore its greatest need is that of a body of population.”
- In 1866, W.M. Thomson writes: “How melancholy is this utter desolation. Not a house, not a trace of inhabitants, not even shepherds, to relieve the dull monotony … Much of the country through which we have been rambling for a week appears never to have been inhabited, or even cultivated; and there are other parts, you say, still more barren.”
- In 1867, Mark Twain – Samuel Clemens, the famous author of “Huckleberry Finn” and “Tom Sawyer”, toured the Holy Land. This is how he described the land: “There is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent; not for thirty miles in either direction… One may ride ten miles hereabouts and not see ten human beings … Nazareth is forlorn… Jericho lies a mouldering ruin… Bethlehem and Bethany, in their poverty and humiliation… untenanted by any living creature… A desolate country whose soil is rich enough but is given over wholly to weeds. A silent, mournful expanse. We never saw a human being on the whole route. There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.”
- In 1874, Reverend Samuel Manning wrote: “But where were the inhabitants? This fertile plain, which might support an immense population, is almost a solitude…. Day by day we were to learn afresh the lesson now forced upon us, that the denunciations of ancient prophecy have been fulfilled to the very letter — “the land is left void and desolate and without inhabitants.” (Jeremiah, ch.44 v.22)
- In 1892, B. W. Johnson writes: “In the portion of the plain between Mount Carmel and Jaffa one sees but rarely a village or other sights of human life… A ride of half an hour more brought us to the ruins of the ancient city of CÃ¦sarea, once a city of two hundred thousand inhabitants, and the Roman capital of Palestine, but now entirely deserted… I laid upon my couch at night, to listen to the moaning of the waves and to think of the desolation around us.”
- In 1913, a British report, by the Palestinian Royal Commission, quotes an account of the conditions on the coastal plain along the Mediterranean Sea: “The road leading from Gaza to the north was only a summer track, suitable for transport by camels or carts. No orange groves, orchards or vineyards were to be seen until one reached the [Jewish] Yabna village. Houses were mud. Schools did not exist. The western part toward the sea was almost a desert. The villages in this area were few and thinly populated. Many villages were deserted by their inhabitants.”
As we can see, throughout history, as documented by Arab historians and by foreign observers before 1917, the land was desolate; there were no Muslim Arabs in the cities outside of Jerusalem; and the number of Muslim Arabs (other than Ottoman Muslims or Christian Arabs) was minuscule, most of them nomadic Bedouins. A huge difference exists between these authentic accounts and the falsified Muslim-Arab propaganda.