Well before their expulsion from the Holy Land by the Romans in 70AD, Jews lived in Hebron, Jerusalem, Tiberias and Safed.

So did local Arabs, most of whom came to the area when Muhammad’s successors took Jerusalem and settled there from 636 forward. For centuries, tax farmers and later urban notables controlled most of the scarce cultivable land in the coastal plain and valley regions. The majority Arab population engaged in subsistence agriculture and lived mostly in the central mountain range, stretching from the Galilee in the north through what is present day Nablus, Ramallah, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Hebron into the south.

Over time a distinct social hierarchy evolved, where a small number of families, clans, landowners, grain merchants, rural shakyhs, money-lenders, and urban notables controlled most local politics. Landowners more often than not lived far from their holdings, managing them through intermediaries who collected the yields, rents, taxes, and usually exorbitant debts. Well before Zionism, Arab landlord—peasant relationships in the area of Palestine were reliably tense.

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Early immigrating Zionists settled in coastal and valley areas that were usually sparsely populated.  Jewish writers and immigrants recognized that some local Arabs emphatically opposed their recent presence.  In the first two decades of the 20th century, Arabs in Palestine gradually evolved a national consciousness, stimulated in part by the issuance of the 1917 Balfour Declaration—the establishment of the British Mandate which supported the Jewish national home through Jewish immigration, land purchase, and institution building. Arab leaders in Palestine regularly boycotted participation or recognition of the promise to build a Jewish national home. Their fervor was demonstrated episodically in violent acts against Jewish presence culminating in the 1936-1939 “Arab Revolt.”

The “Revolt” had a major impact upon the Arab community itself.  The British cracked down harshly on Arab rioters, expelled many Arab leaders from Palestine, and suspended Jewish growth in favor of the Palestinian Arabs. Having taken place mostly in the countryside, the “Arab Revolt” had the disastrous unintended consequence of devastating the Arab agricultural economy for the next decade.  Furthermore, the British effort to fully stop Jewish land acquisition did not succeed, as one British official said in 1940,   “we need not have too much sympathy with the Arabs who make a practice of selling their lands to Jews…the Arab landowner [needs] to be protected against himself.” Zionists saw their vulnerability to attack and upgraded their own self-defense organizations, taking  stridently more aggressive actions against the Arabs for the remainder of the decade.

When the British civilian administration began in 1920, the Arab population constituted 90% of the total.  By 1948, when Israel was established, Arabs constituted two-thirds of the population that was living west of the Jordan River, or what was designated as the Palestine Mandate.  After the 1948 Independence War, which the Arabs termed the ‘nakbah’ or disaster, 700,000 Arabs fled Palestine leaving an Arab minority of 20% in the new Jewish state.  Only Jordan of surrounding Arab states ultimately provided Palestinians with citizenship, with many participating in Jordanian political life and governance under the King.  At the end of 2014, 23% of the inhabitants of Israel (Christian, Druze and Moslems) constitute about 23% of Israel’s population of 8.1 million. There is an approximate total of 3.8 million total Arabs, living in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and in parts of Jerusalem. In all the land west of the Jordan River, including all of Israel and these territories Israel secured in the June 1967 War.  Arabs constitute about 45% of the total population, variously defined as ‘Arab citizens of Israel’, the Arab minority in Israel, the 1948 Arabs, or Palestinian Arabs living in Israel.  Most of the Arab inhabitants of Israel have Israeli citizenship, and struggle with a sharp identity crisis of being torn between distinct allegiance to Palestinian Arab nationalism and being loyal to the state of Israel and a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Already in the 1940s, Palestinian Arab politics was dysfunctional.  Physical and geographic displacement of the Palestinians to the West Bank, Gaza Strip and surrounding Arab states in the 1947-49 period further divided an already sociologically and politically splintered Palestinian Arab population.  For their own selfish purposes, Egypt, Iraq and Syria as well as the Soviet Union either created or supported small Palestinian organizations in hopes that each would be able to influence Palestinian Arab policies during the second half of the 20th century. In 1964, a small number of Palestinians living in Kuwait established the secular oriented PLO. Itself an ‘umbrella’ organization, it was made up of half a dozen small Palestinian groups whose operative objective was Israel’s destruction through armed struggle. In 1988, Hamas, an Islamically based Palestinian organization, originating in Gaza, published its charter; it also called for the liberation of Palestine, the destruction of Israel through Jihad, and for essentially ethnically cleansing the Jewish population from Israel.  The PLO and Israel mutually recognized each other 1993, but no Palestinian state emerged.  For two decades since, the two sides are apart on matters that related to the prerogatives of a Palestinian state, its borders, the future of Jewish settlements, refugees, the status of Jerusalem, economic and water issues, and whether the conflict between Arabs and Israelis can finally be concluded diplomatically. Hamas refuses to recognize any diplomatic action or agreement that accepts Israel as a reality. And at the end of 2014, PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas emphatically said that he would not end the conflict with Israel.

Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence called for peaceful coexistence between Jews and Arabs. Though 150,000 Arabs remained in Israel as Israeli citizens after the Independence War, these Arabs had residential and economic restrictions imposed upon them until 1966.  Arabs in Israel feel discriminated against by the majority Israel Jewish population because the state has periodically confiscated their lands and because tax revenues are not equitably distributed to Jewish and Arab municipalities. While Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza rioted against Israeli control of those areas twice, (intifadahs) 1987-1991, and 2000-2004, Israeli Arabs protested for better treatment from Israeli government ministries and are passionate in support of the Palestinian cause.  Israeli Druze who are Arabic speaking, and less than 150,000 in numbers  are citizens, but unlike Israeli Arabs, the Druze serve in the Israeli Army and in high political and diplomatic positions.

Over the last century, while Palestinian Arab leaders have regularly maintained rigid autocratic control over their rank and file, (Hajj Amin al-Husayni and Yasser Arafat), since its first elections in 1949, Israeli Arabs have been elected to Israel’s parliament. Ten percent of seats in all of Israel’s 33 parliaments have been held by Israeli Arabs, with Israeli Arabs holding positions on the Supreme Court, in the diplomatic corps, but rarely as cabinet members in Israel’s ruling coalition governments. To the present, the Israeli Supreme Court has consistently ruled in favor of equal citizenship and opportunity rights for Israeli Arabs.

 

Documents

1939 Mufti Hajj Amin Al Husayni, Decision to Reject a Majority Palestinian Arab State
1947 Abdulrahman ‘Azzam Pasha Rejects Any Compromise with Zionists
1948 UN General Assembly Resolution 194 Concerning Palestinian Refugees
1964 PLO National Covenant
1988 Hamas Charter, Islamic Resistance Movement of Palestine
1993 Israel-PLO Mutual Recognition Letters
1993 Oslo Accords: Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Agreements