Busting The Myth of Israel’s ‘Indigenous’ Arabs
Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas promotes an egregious historical fabrication, claiming that the Palestinians are descendants of the original Canaanite people.
Moreover, Abbas’ school curriculum — which glorifies suicide bombers — reiterates this falsified history. It claims that the multitude of archaeological findings of 3,000-year-old Jewish roots in the Land of Israel “constitute an attempt to liquidate the Palestinian heritage… especially in Jerusalem… misrepresenting the city as a Zionist entity….” (PA Official Textbook Grade 6 Social Studies, vol. 1, pp. 24; Grade 7 Social Studies, vol. 1, pp. 61-62).
However, the name “Palestine” is not related to the Arab/Muslim culture. It is a derivative of the Philistine people, known in Hebrew as plishtim, polshim (invaders), who were expelled from the Greek Aegean Islands in 1300 B.C. and invaded the southern coast of Judea in the Land of Israel in 1200 B.C. Upon crushing the Jewish Bar Kochba rebellion in 136 C.E., the Roman Emperor Hadrian renamed Judea as Palestina, naming it after the Philistines who were an aggressive enemy of the Jewish people, thus aiming to erase the Jewish Homeland, Judaism and the Jewish people from human memory.
Contrary to Abbas’ claim, most Arabs in British Mandate Palestine were migrant workers and descendants of the 1832-1947 wave of Arab/Muslim immigration from Egypt, the Sudan, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, North Africa, Bosnia, India, Afghanistan, etc. While the British during the Mandate Period encouraged Arab immigration, they blocked Jewish immigration.
The fact that most Palestinians are descendants of Arab migrants was exposed in 2012 by a former Hamas Minister of the Interior, Gaza-based Fathi Hammad, in an interview with Al Hikmat TV: “We all have Arab roots. Every Palestinian in Gaza and throughout Palestine can prove his Arab roots, whether from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, or anywhere…. Half of my family is Egyptian…. More than 30 clans in the Gaza Strip are called Al-Masri (the Egyptian). Half of the Palestinians are Egyptians….”
Mark Twain described the state of the sparsely-inhabited Palestine in his 1869 Innocents Abroad: “The hills are barren…. It is a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land…. Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes…. The hills are barren.... The valleys are unsightly deserts…. Palestine is desolate and unlovely.”
Professor Moshe Brawer of the Hebrew University, a leading global authority on Israel’s geography, documented the impact of the waves of Arab immigration on the exceptional expansion of Arab villages in the Land of Israel in the 1920s and 1930s in his Merhavim journal article, “Immigration as a factor in the growth of the Arab village in the Land of Israel.”
This followed the sustained Arab immigration during the years from 1832-1840 when the Egyptian ruler Muhammad Ali Pasha conquered the area. Following World War I, waves of immigration were triggered by major British Mandate infrastructure construction projects, such as military bases, roads, railroad and warehouses, in addition to the expansion of Jewish commercial agriculture (especially citrus) and residential construction, which created growing demand for labor force.
According to Brawer, the Arab population growth rate — especially along the coastal plain, which attracted most of the immigrants — was dramatically higher than the natural growth rate (births minus deaths). His findings were consistent with those of the U.S. Biblical geographer, Edward Robinson, the British Palestine Exploration Fund and official documents of the British Mandate.
Thus, between 1880 and 1919, Haifa’s Arab population surged from 6,000 to 80,000, mostly due to migrant workers. The eruption of World War II accelerated the demand for Arab manpower by the British Mandate’s military and civilian authorities. Beginning in 1882, legal and illegal Arab migrants were also attracted by economic growth, generated by the Jewish community.
According to a 1937 report by the British Peel Commission, as featured in Professor Efraim Karsh’s Palestine Betrayed, “...during 1922 through 1931, the increase of Arab population in the mixed-towns (including many Arab immigrants) of Haifa, Yafo and Jerusalem was 86%, 62% and 37% respectively, while in purely Arab towns (very few Arab migrants) such as Nablus and Hebron it was only 7% and a decrease of 2% in Gaza.” The 1831-1947 wave of Arab immigration triggered dramatic growth of the Arab population of Yafo (17 times), Haifa (12 times) and Ramla (5 times).
In 1917, the Arabs of Yafo represented at least 25 nationalities, mostly Egyptians, but also Syrians, Yemenites, Persians, Afghanis, Hindus and Baluchis. The British Palestine Exploration Fund documented a proliferation of Egyptian neighborhoods in the Yafo area: Abu Kebir, Sumail, Sheikh Munis, Salameh, Fajja, etc. Hundreds of Egyptian families settled in the inland, in Ara’ Arara’, Kfar Qasim, Tayiba and Qalansawe.
In 1865, the British traveler, H.B. Tristram, documented Egyptian migrants in the Beit-Shean Valley, Acre, Hadera, Netanya and Yafo in The Land of Israel: a journal of travels in Palestine.
Arieh Avneri, a ground-breaking historian of Arab and Jewish migration, documented that 205,000 Muslims, Christian and Jews lived in the area in 1554, remaining almost constant over the next 250 years at 275,000 people (1800), but then nearly doubling in just 90 years to 532,000 (1890) as a result of accelerated Arab immigration (The Claim of Dispossession, 1980).
In conclusion, Arabs have not been in the Land of Israel from ‘time immemorial.’ Palestine’s strategic location has attracted waves of Arab immigrants who have no Arab roots in the Land. No Palestinian people was ever robbed of its land and there is no basis for an Arab claim of “the right to return.” The pursuit of peace must dwell on reality, while rejecting misrepresentations, falsifications, hate-education and wishful-thinking.
Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger is the director of The Ettinger Report: Second Thought: a US-Israel Initiative Click here to read more of this writer’s work in The Jerusalem Herald.