CJPME Factsheet 7, published July, 2004: This Factsheet Provides demographic information of Historical Palestine prior to 1948 in an effort to tell the often erased story of Palestine's idigenous people. The Zionist Movement has long called Palestine “A land without a people, for a people without a land,” a slogan that galvanised Jews to move to Palestine and eventually led to the large-scale displacement of indigenous Palestinians.

pre-1948.jpgDemographics of Historic Palestine prior to 1948

Factsheet Series No. 7, created: July 2004, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East
 
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Ever since the founding of the Zionist movement, supporters of Zionism have downplayed the fact that historic Palestine had always had a healthy indigenous population.  Zionists trumpeted the falsehood widely: “A land without a people, for a people without a land.”  While this slogan encouraged Jewish emigration to historic Palestine, it also paved the way for one of the largest dispossessions in modern history.  Both the demographic statistics themselves, as well as the history of Jewish emigration to Palestine in the 1930s tell an important story.   

 

Demographics of Palestine under the Ottomans

 The Ottoman Empire reigned over the land of Palestine during the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Modern Zionism was a movement born in Europe in the 19th century.  At this time, a number of disparate Jewish groups in Europe had begun cooperating to begin modest agricultural settlement in historic Palestine.  These groups first came together formally in 1897 for the first Zionist Conference in Basel, Switzerland. 

 

The population of Ottoman “Palestine” is difficult to estimate because:

1) There was no administrative district of Palestine. Ottoman census figures were for various districts, e.g. the Jerusalem, Acco and Nablus districts. The Acre district included areas in Lebanon, outside the borders of historic Palestine;

2) Both Arabs and Jews avoided the Turkish census for three reasons: a) to avoid taxes, b) to avoid military conscription, and c) to avoid questions of illegal residence;

3) The census figures didn’t include Bedouins and foreign subjects (i.e. individuals with foreign citizenship, without Ottoman residency status) of which there were about 10,000 Jews.

 

Nevertheless, the Ottoman census of 1878 indicated the following demographics for the Jerusalem, Nablus, and Acre districts:

 

Census Group

Population

Percentage

 

Muslim

403,795

85.5

 

Christian

43,659

9.2

 

Jewish

15,001

3.2

 

Jewish (Foreign-born)

Est. 10,000

2.1

 

Total:

472,455

100.0

 

Palestinian Demographics under the British Mandate Government

Jewish emigration to historic Palestine grew over the first decades of the 20th century, especially during the 1930s.  The Arab population also grew during this period, due to a combination of high birthrates, British recruitment of workers from Syria, and workers from the Trans-Jordan lured by higher wages.

As the Jewish population in Palestine increased, the Arab population put pressure on the British government to control the immigration.  Thus, in the 1920s, the British restricted Jewish immigration by fixing quotas and authorizing certain Jewish organizations to distribute immigration certificates as they saw fit.  Nevertheless, with increased persecution of Jews in Europe, many Jews were not willing to wait years for immigration certificates.  Thus, in 1934, the Vallos became the first chartered immigration ship to arrive in Palestine, carrying 350 Jews.  By the time WWII had begun, tens of thousands of Jewish immigrants had arrived illegally in Palestine by ship.  This illegal shipping of immigrants continued well into the 1940s.  While the British intercepted some of the ships, almost all of the immigrants were eventually able to settle in Palestine.

The Jewish community found other ways to emigrate to Palestine, exploiting loopholes in the Mandatory government’s immigration regulations.  Students were not required to have immigration certificates to study in Palestine, so many enrolled at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and then remained in the country.  Young women entered the country claiming fictitious marriages to Palestinian residents.  Others arrived as tourists, and never returned to their former countries.  In 1935 alone, almost 5,000 Jews entered the county illegally through these various means. 

 In 1939, concerned with the rising tensions in Palestine due to the massive Jewish immigration – both legal and illegal – the British government issued Parliamentary Document 6019, slated to limit the Jewish population in Palestine to no more than one third the total.  If economic capacity permitted, 75,000 Jews would be allowed to come to Palestine, after which “no further Jewish immigration will be permitted unless the Arabs are prepared to acquiesce to it.”   

  

Emigration and Population Statistics of Palestine  

The below estimates are based primarily on the reports of the British Mandate for Palestine and the Mandatory censuses, conducted only in 1922 and 1931. All figures following 1931 are estimates; most figures as of Dec. 31 of each year.  A British-American commission of inquiry in 1945 and 1946 reported that, at the end of 1946, 1,269,000 Arabs (67.6 percent) and 608,000 Jews (32.4 percent) resided within the borders of Mandate Palestine.  Source: Esco Foundation (1947.) 

  

Net Emigration to Palestine

Year

Jews

Non-Jews

Total

Total

Percent

Total

Percent

1930

3,265

95.2

165

4.8

3,430

1931

3,409

81.4

778

18.6

4,187

1932

9,553

84.6

1,736

15.4

11,289

1933

30,327

94.8

1,650

5.2

31,977

1934

42,359

96.0

1,784

4.0

44,143

1935

61,458

97.0

1,906

3.0

63,364

1936

28,954

95.0

1,539

5.0

30,493

1937

9,647

88.1

1,300

11.9

10,947

1938

11,773

87.5

1,679

12.5

13,452

1939

15,386

93.6

1,051

6.4

16,437

Total

216,131

94.1

13,588

5.9

229,719

  

Total Population in Palestine

Year

Total

Muslims

Jews

Christians

Others

Total

Percent

Total

Percent

Total

Percent

Total

Percent

1922

752,048

589,177

78.34

83,790

11.14

71,464

9.50

7,617

1.01

1931

1,033,314

759,700

73.52

174,606

16.90

88,907

8.60

10,101

0.98

1931

1,036,339

761,922

73.52

175,138

16.90

89,134

8 60

10,145

0.98

1932

1,073,827

778,803

72.52

192,137

17.90

92,520

8.61

10,367

0.97

1933

1,140,941

798,506

69.99

234,967

20.59

96,791

8.48

10,677

0.94

1934

1,210,554

814,379

67.27

282,975

23.38

102,407

8.46

10,793

0.89

1935

1,308,112

836,688

63.96

355,157

27.15

105,236

8.04

11,031

0.85

1936

1,366,692

862,730

63.13

384,078

28.10

108,506

7.94

11,378

0.83

1937

1,401,794

883,446

63.02

395,836

28.24

110,869

7.91

11,643

0.83

1938

1,435,285

900,250

62.72

411,222

28.65

111,974

7.80

11,839

0.83

1939

1,501,698

927,133

61.74

445,457

29.66

116,958

7.79

12,150

0.81

1940

1,544,530

947,846

61.37

463,535

30.01

120,587

7.81

12,562

0.81

1941

1,585,500

973,104

61.38

474,102

29.90

125,413

7.91

12,881

0.81

1942

1,620,005

995,292

61.44

484,408

29.90

127,184

7.85

13,121

0.81

 

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