The truth about Palestine

Be sure to cite this entry from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica the next time some lying Neo-Palestinian or brainwashed Judeo-Christian tries to tell you that “Palestine doesn’t exist.”

PALESTINE, a geographical name of rather loose application. Etymological strictness would require it to denote exclusively the narrow strip of coast-land once occupied by the Philistines, from whose name it is derived. It is, however, conventionally used as a name for the territory which, in the Old Testament, is claimed as the inheritance of the pre-exilic Hebrews; thus it may be said generally to denote the southern third of the province of Syria. Except in the west, where the country is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea, the limit of this territory cannot be laid down on the map as a definite line. The modern subdivisions under the jurisdiction of the Ottoman Empire are in no sense conterminous with those of antiquity, and hence do not afford a boundary by which Palestine can be separated exactly from the rest of Syria in the north, or from the Sinaitic and Arabian deserts in the south and east; nor are the records of ancient boundaries sufficiently full and definite to make possible the complete demarcation of the country. Even the convention above referred to is inexact: it includes the Philistine territory, claimed but never settled by the Hebrews, and excludes the outlying parts of the large area claimed in Num. xxxiv. as the Hebrew possession (from the “River of Egypt” to Hamath). However, the Hebrews themselves have preserved, in the proverbial expression “from Dan to Beersheba” (Judg. xx. 1, &c.), an indication of the normal north-and-south limits of their land; and in defining the area of the country under discussion it is this indication which is generally followed.

Taking as a guide the natural features most nearly corresponding to these outlying points, we may describe Palestine as the strip of land extending along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea from the mouth of the Litany or Kasimiya River (33° 20′ N.) southward to the mouth of the Wadi Ghuzza; the latter joins the sea in 31° 28′ N., a short distance south of Gaza, and runs thence in a south-easterly direction so as to include on its northern side the site of Beersheba. Eastward there is no such definite border. The River Jordan, it is true, marks a line of delimitation between Western and Eastern Palestine; but it is practically impossible to say where the latter ends and the Arabian desert begins. Perhaps the line of the pilgrim road from Damascus to Mecca is the most convenient possible boundary. The total length of the region is about 140 m.; its breadth west of the Jordan ranges from about 23 m. in the north to about 80 m. in the south. According to the English engineers who surveyed the country on behalf of the Palestine Exploration Fund, the area of this part of the country is about 6040 sq. m. East of the Jordan, owing to the want of a proper survey, no figures so definite as these are available. The limits adopted are from the south border of Hermon to the mouth of the Mojib (Arnon), a distance of about 140 m.; the whole area has been calculated to be about 3800 sq. m. The territory of Palestine, Eastern and Western, is thus equal to rather more than one-sixth the size of England.

There is no ancient geographical term that covers all this area. Till the period of the Roman occupation it was subdivided into independent provinces or kingdoms, different at different times (such as Philistia, Canaan, Judah, Israel, Bashan, &c.), but never united under one collective designation. The extension of the name of Palestine beyond the limits of Philistia proper is not older than the Byzantine Period….

Population.—The inhabitants of Palestine are composed of a large number of elements, differing widely in ethnological affinities, language and religion. It may be interesting to mention, as an illustration of their heterogeneousness, that early in the 20th century a list of no less than fifty languages, spoken in Jerusalem as vernaculars, was there drawn up by a party of men whose various official positions enabled them to possess accurate information on the subject.[2] It is therefore no easy task to write concisely and at the same time with sufficient fullness on the ethnology of Palestine.

There are two classes into which the population of Palestine can be divided—the nomadic and the sedentary. The former is especially characteristic of Eastern Palestine, though Western Palestine also contains its full share. The pure Arab origin of the Bedouins is recognized in common conversation in the country, the word “Arab” being almost restricted to denote these wanderers, and seldom applied to the dwellers in towns and villages. It should be mentioned that there is another, entirely independent, nomad race, the despised Nowar, who correspond to the gipsies or tinkers of European countries. These people live under the poorest conditions, by doing smith’s work; they speak among themselves a Romani dialect, much contaminated with Arabic in its vocabulary.

The sedentary population of the country villages—the fellahin, or agriculturists—is, on the whole, comparatively unmixed; but traces of various intrusive strains assert themselves. It is by no means unreasonable to suppose that there is a fundamental Canaanite element in this population: the “hewers of wood and drawers of water” often remain undisturbed through successive occupations of a land; and there is a remarkable correspondence of type between many of the modern fellahin and skeletons of ancient inhabitants which have been recovered in the course of excavation. New elements no doubt came in under the Assyrian, Persian and Roman dominations, and in more recent times there has been much contamination. The spread of Islam introduced a very considerable Neo-Arabian infusion. Those from southern Arabia were known as the Yaman tribe, those from northern Arabia the Kais (Qais). These two divisions absorbed the previous peasant population, and still nominally exist; down to the middle of the 19th century they were a fruitful source of quarrels and of bloodshed. The two great clans were further subdivided into families, but these minor divisions are also being gradually broken down. In the 19th century the short-lived Egyptian government introduced into the population an element from that country which still persists in the villages. These newcomers have not been completely assimilated with the villagers among whom they have found a home; the latter despise them, and discourage intermarriage.

Some of the larger villages—notably Bethlehem—which have always been leavened by Christianity, and with the development of industry have become comparatively prosperous, show tangible results of these happier circumstances in a higher standard of physique among the men and of personal appearance among the women. It is not uncommon in popular writings to attribute this superiority to a crusader strain—a theory which no one can possibly countenance who knows what miserable degenerates the half-breed descendants of the crusaders rapidly became, as a result of their immoral life and their ignorance of the sanitary precautions necessary in a trying climate.

The population of the larger towns is of a much more complex nature. In each there is primarily a large Arab element, consisting for the greater part of members of important and wealthy families. Thus, in Jerusalem, much of the local influence is in the hands of the families of El-Khalidi, El-Husseini and one or two others, who derive their descent from the heroes of the early days of Islam. The Turkish element is small, consisting exclusively of officials sent individually from Constantinople. There are very large contingents from the Mediterranean countries, especially Armenia, Greece and Italy, principally engaged in trade. The extraordinary development of Jewish colonization has since 1870 effected a revolution in the balance of population in some parts of the country, notably in Jerusalem. There are few residents in the country from the more eastern parts of Asia—if we except the Turkoman settlements in the Jaulan, a number of Persians, and a fairly large Afghan colony that since 1905 has established itself in Jaffa. The Mutāwileh (Motawila), who form the majority of the inhabitants of the villages north-west of Galilee, are probably long-settled immigrants from Persia. Some tribes of Kurds live in tents and huts near Lake Huleh. If the inmates of the countless monastic establishments be excluded, comparatively few from northern or western Europe will remain: the German “Templar” colonies being perhaps the most important. There must also be mentioned a Bosnian colony established at Caesarea Palestina, and the Circassian settlements placed in certain centres of Eastern Palestine by the Turkish government in order to keep a restraint on the Bedouin: the latter are also found in Galilee. There was formerly a large Sudanese and Algerian element in the population of some of the large towns, but these have been much reduced in numbers since the beginning of the 20th century: the Algerians however still maintain themselves in parts of Galilee.

The most interesting of all the non-Arab communities in the country, however, is without doubt the Samaritan sect in Nablus (Shechem); a gradually disappearing body, which has maintained an independent existence from the time when they were first settled by the Assyrians to occupy the land left waste by the captivity of the kingdom of Israel.

The total population of the country is roughly estimated at 650,000, but no authentic official census exists from which satisfactory information on this point is obtainable. Some two-thirds of this number are Moslems, the rest Christians of various sects, and Jews. The largest town in Palestine is Jerusalem, estimated to contain a population of about 60,000. The other towns of above 10,000 inhabitants are Jaffa (45,000), Gaza (35,000), Safed (30,000), Nablus (25,000), Kerak (20,000), Hebron (18,500), Es-Salt (15,000), Acre (11,000), Nazareth (11,000)….

3. Colonization.—Down to the time of Mehemet Ali the only foreigners permanently resident in the country were the members of various monastic orders, and a few traders, such as the French merchants of Acre. The first protestant missionaries (those under the London Society for the Promotion of Christianity among the Jews), settled in Jerusalem in 1823; to them is due the inception of the trade in olive-wood articles, invented for the support of their converts. In 1846–1848 a remarkable religious brotherhood (the Brüderhaus, founded by Spittler of Basel) settled in Jerusalem: it was originally intended to be a settlement of celibate mechanics that would form a nucleus of mission work to evangelize the world. One of this community was Dr C. Schick, who lived over 50 years in Jerusalem, and made many valuable contributions to its archaeology. In 1849 came the first of several examples that have appeared in Palestine from time to time of that curious product of American religious life—a community of dupes or visionaries led by a prophet or prophetess with claims to divine guidance. The leader in this case was one Mrs Minor, who came to prepare the land for the expected Second Advent. Her followers quarrelled and separated in 1853. This event is of importance, as it had much to do with the remarkable development of Jewish colonization which is a special feature of the latter part of the history of the 19th century in Palestine. For Mrs Minor, having an interest in the Jewish people, was befriended by Sir Moses Montefiore; after her death her property was placed in charge of a Jew, and later passed into the hands of the Alliance Israélite Universelle. This body in 1870 established an agricultural colony for Jews on the road from Jaffa to Jerusalem (“Mikweh Israel”).

Another visionary American colony, led by a certain Adams, came in 1866. They brought with them framed houses from America, which are still standing at Jaffa. But the Adamsites suffered from disease and poverty, and lost heart in a couple of years: returning to America, they sold their property to a German community, the Tempelgemeinde, a Unitarian sect led by Messrs Hoffmann and Hardegg who established themselves in Jaffa in 1868. Unlike the ill-fated American communities, these hardy Württemberg peasants have flourished in Palestine, and their three colonies—at Jaffa, Haifa, and Jerusalem—are the most important European communities now in the country.

Since 1870 there has been a steady development of Jewish immigration, consisting principally of refugees from countries where anti-Semitism is an important element in politics. Baron de Rothschild has invested large sums in Jewish colonies, but at the commencement of the present century he handed over their administration to the Jewish Colonization Association. Time alone can show how far these colonies are likely to be permanently successful, or how the subtly enervating influence of the climate will affect later generations.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *