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There's no such place as 'Palestine'.

It is a common assertion by pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian propaganda that there has never really been a place called ‘Palestine’.  It is not a view held by non-biased historians – those who take a detached view of the situation in the Middle East.  The pro-Israel view is undermined by their appeal to history.  Ancient history, outside the scripture, knows nothing of Israel, whereas Palestine was known of early in the 1st millennium BC.  Herodotus refers to ‘Palestina’ around the year 470 BC, and Sargon II, (721-705BC) conqueror of Israel-Samaria in 722 BC,  knew of both Judah, (Ia-u-di) and Palestine (Pi-lis-te). Note: we must be cautious drawing conclusions from limited evidence, nevertheless these details together with common usage over hundreds of years shows the assertion to be baseless.

Part of the problem is in failing to recognise that modern ideas of nation and nationalism are precisely that; modern. The concept is relatively recent, dating from the 18th century at the earliest.  So, when we read about a ‘nation’ in the Bible we must not apply to it the idea of fixed borders with a commonly accepted governance and a common identity.  A glance at a map of Europe in the year 1810 will also show how much has changed even in 200 years.  One pro-zionist writing of the period at the end of the 19th century compared the absence of a ‘nation’ of Palestine with Britain and Germany, apparently unaware that Germany had only been a unified country (nation?) since 1872, a mere 27 or 28 years!

Palestine was empty before the Jews came

The view, common among Israel’s supporters that Palestine was ‘a land without people for a people without land’  is one that has no historical basis. Whilst historians differ as to the precise numbers most agree that the population at the end WW1 (1918/9) was something over half a million, some estimate as many as 650,000. According to Chaim Weizmann  the figure of Jews at the time of the Balfour Declaration (Nov. 1917) was 55,000, a figure which may be generous.

Even 650,000 doesn’t sound many when we think of the population today; approxiately 8.5 million, of whom about 6.5 million are Jewish.  However, it is estimated that world population circa 1920 was under 2 billion and is now (2018) at 7.6 billion.  It is worth noting that during the period 1920 to 1939 when there was significant immigration in to Palestiine, there was a period during the early 1930’s where there was net Jewish migration (i.e. leaving Palestine) because the economy could not sustain them.

Most Arab Palestinians were themselves immigrants

The claim that most of the Arab population of Palestine was immigrant (from Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon) is another piece of misinformation that is widely believed.  It derives, in part, from the suggestion that the population was largely nomadic which simply was not the case. There were, and there remain, populations of Bedouin, but these were a relatively small proportion of the whole population, most of whom were settled in towns and villages.  Made popular by Joan Peters in her book ‘From Time Immemorial’, her use of data and application of statistics has been widely dismissed, even by some Zionist historians who approve her polemic.

By modern standards (see other items) the region was sparsely populated similarly to e.g. Egypt, Persia/Iran and Turkey. Actual figures are difficult because administrative areas under Ottoman Turkish rule don’t coincide easily with the modern national boundaries, see i.e. ‘The Middle East – a Brief History’

The land was a wasteland until the Jews came

This is another claim that lacks a factual basis. As much as anything it is ignorant of the historical and social context of the period from mid 19th century to the end of World War One. Early settlers from a very different climate and culture needed the expertise of the local indigenous Palestinians in order to survive.  Many didn’t and depended on the generosity of European Jews such as Moses Montefiore.

In UK and US today fewer than 2% are employed on the land (agriculture). That contrasts with over 22% in UK less than 200 years ago.  During the Islamic period Palestine was a major producer and exporter of e.g. Barley and cotton.  By mid 19th century some 38 million ‘Jaffa’ oranges were being exported, mainly to Europe.  That there were areas difficult to cultivate is not in question, there still are. Nor is it denied that there were malarial swamps.  But, as in every other part of the world, the easiest areas are developed first, the difficult ones only when needed.

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