Whilst it is true that many Arabs fought alongside the British, under the legendary T.E. Lawrence (‘Lawrence of Arabia’), so did many Jews, as Mitchell G Bard states: “Jews also fought against the Ottomans to liberate Palestine during the First World War, as did the Arabs.” (‘Middle East Conflict’, page 76.) The Arabs were far more numerous and so they formed the bulk of the forces against the Ottomans.
Palestinian leaders often claim today that the bond between Palestinians and their homeland is unbreakable and demand the right of all Palestinians to return to the homes they fled during the 1948 War of Independence and the Six day war in 1967. Yet here are some very revealing quotes about this so-called ‘unbreakable bond’.
“The British consul general, James Finn, wrote in 1857 that ‘the country is in a considerable degree empty of inhabitants’ and that its ‘greatest need is that of a body of population.’ Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, the great British cartographer, reached similar conclusions in 1881: ‘In Judea it is hardly an exaggeration to say that for miles there was no appearance of life or habitation.’ The Palestine Royal Commission quoted an account from 1913 saying that on the road from Gaza to the north, ‘no orange groves, orchards or vineyards were to be seen until one reached Yabna [a Jewish village]... [T]he western part towards the sea was almost a desert... The villages in this area were few and thinly populated.’” (Quoted from ‘The world turned upside down’ by Melanie Phillips, pages 57-8.)
Meanwhile in his book ‘Middle East Conflict’ Mitchell G Bard describes Palestine as it was for many centuries as a “sparsely populated, poorly cultivated, and widely expanse of eroded hills, sandy deserts, and malarial marshes” (page 61). And he quotes Mark Twain, who visited Palestine in 1867 and described it as
Here is another quote from the memoirs of one early Jewish settler, Rachel Yannait Ben-Zvi, describing her arrival in Palestine in 1908 and the train journey she took from Jaffa to Jerusalem:
In 1918 Hussein bin Ali, sherif of Mecca, who led the Arabs during the fight against Ottoman rule alongside the British, stated that
Furthermore: “A British government handbook from 1920 noted, ‘The people west of Jordon are not Arabs, but only Arab-speaking. The bulk of the population are fellahin... In the Gaza district they are mostly of Egyptian origin; elsewhere they are of mixed race.’... Very few had been in Palestine before the Jews arrived; many Arabs moved into the area on the back of the prosperity brought by the returning Jews during the first half of the twentieth century.
Between 1922 and 1946, the Arab population of Palestine increased by 118 per cent. Franklin D Roosevelt said in 1939 that ‘Arab immigration into Palestine since 1921 has vastly exceeded the total Jewish immigration during the whole period.’” (‘The world turned upside down’ by Melanie Phillips, page 59)
The fact is it was only after Jews migrated to Palestine in the early 20th century and through their hard work began to create farming and agricultural jobs that Arabs began to move to the area to take advantage of the employment prospects and the wages they could earn. Indeed the 1936 Peel Commission noted that the presence of Jews in Palestine had “resulted in higher wages, an improved standard of living, and ample employment opportunities.” (‘Middle East Conflict’, page 94.)
And on the so-called ‘dispossession’ of the Palestinian Arabs we read,
And Mitchell G Bard adds:
As can be seen the above quotes from completely separate and independent sources, spanning 1857 to 1936, the land of Palestine, a province of the Ottoman Empire since the early 16th century, had been badly neglected and remained a desert wasteland with the sparse population living in peasant-like conditions similar to those of medieval times. And as Arab leader Sherif Hussein pointedly remarked in 1918,
We’ve already seen the quote from Mitchell G Bard stating that “When Jews began to migrate to Palestine in large numbers in 1882, fewer than 250,000 Arabs lived there...” (‘Middle East Conflict’, page 70), and “estimates suggest the total population at the turn of the century was around 400,000” (see ‘Nazi Palestine’ by Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin Cuppers, page 3). Now compare the figure of 250,000 Arabs with those from official sources for 1922 and 1931 given below.
When the British Mandate began in 1922 Census details were recorded, held firstly in 1922 and again in 1931. The 1922 figures are as follows:
And the total population is given at 752, 048.
While by the 1931 they were:
The total population of Palestine for 1931 is given at 1,033,314
Meanwhile by 1936 estimated figures are given thus:
Total Population: 1,401, 794
The increase in the “Muslim”/Arab population between 1882 and 1942 can’t be put down to high birthrate alone and it seems clear that many were migrating to Palestine.
The latest, 2010 population figures for Israel is 7,746,000. Thus the land of Palestine was hardly ‘overpopulated’ in 1922, 1931 or 1936 or at any time during the British Mandate period (1922-48). The fact is there was plenty of land space for Palestinian Arabs, Christians and Jews alike. The only thing lacking was a willingness on the part of the Arabs to allow Jews to develop the land and make it a place worthy of the 20th century instead of a land that had changed little since the middle ages. As Husseini said himself: “We want no progress, no prosperity in Palestine”.