Palestinians - History and Cultural Relations



The Palestinians are a racial amalgam of the indigenous pre-Israelite population and later groups that settled in Palestine. Even though the Canaanite and Philistine city-states were defeated by the Israelites under King David in 1,000 B . C ., their populations were not exterminated. The Muslim Arab conquest of A . D . 638 did not result in a large transfusion of Arabs, but the local inhabitants' culture became increasingly Arabized, and large numbers converted to Islam. The Peninsular Arab conquerors took great interest in Palestine because of the Prophet Mohammed's association with Jerusalem: his nocturnal journey there in A . D . 621 and his ascension to heaven from the spot where the Jewish Temple once stood bestowed a holy status on the city. When Muslims conquered Jerusalem, Caliph Omar came to receive the keys to the city from the Byzantine patriarch, Sophronius, and issued the Pledge of Omar: he vowed to protect the holy sites and freedom of worship of all religious communities. During the Umayyad dynasty ( A . D . 661-750), Caliph ʿAbd al-Malik ibn Marwān built a magnificent mosque (691-692) over the ruins of Solomon's Temple to commemorate Mohammed's ascension to heaven. Known as the Dome of the Rock, it is the oldest example of early Islamic architecture in the world. The Western Wall (the Wailing Wall), which is the only remaining portion of Solomon's Temple, was consecrated as a Muslim charitable trust in later years on the grounds that Mohammed tethered his steed, al-Buraq, at the wall. In view of its holy status, Jerusalem was never made into an Arab capital. Muslims also permitted the return of Jews to Jerusalem, from which they had been barred since the Roman period. Under the ʿAbbasīd Emperor, Harun al-Rashīd (786-809), the number of hostels for European pilgrims increased. Jerusalem's religious status attracted foreign invaders, including the Christian Crusaders, who took over the city in 1099. Frankish invaders established the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, which lasted until 1187. Disputes between the Arabized eastern Christians, who coexisted peacefully with Muslims, and the European Crusaders cemented a lasting bond between Palestine's two religious communities. During the Latin Kingdom, the Dome of the Rock was converted into a Christian site known as Templum Domini. Jerusalem was liberated by Saladin (Salāh al-Dīn) the Ayyūbid sultan of Egypt and Syria in 1187. Muslim families were restored as the guardians of the holy sites, and Jews were permitted to return in large numbers. The Crusaders repossessed the city from 1229 to 1244. The Egyptian Mamlūk dynasty liberated the city again, but in 1516 Jerusalem and Palestine fell to the Ottoman Turks. Under their rule, Palestine was divided into districts and attached to the province of Syria. In the nineteenth century European Jews began to settle in Ottoman-controlled Palestine. Jewish efforts to purchase the Wailing Wall and large areas of land with the help of foreign consuls were met with stiff resistance. With the financial support of European banking families, Jews fleeing Russian pogroms during the second half of the nineteenth century were able to establish collective farms. There was also significant Arab economic development. Following the Crimean War (1854-1856), Gaza emerged as a major grain-producing area. Cotton production expanded during the 1860s. Palestinians also became successful citrus growers, producing 33 million oranges in 1873. Jewish colonists who settled at Petach Tikva, near Jaffa, were exporting 15 percent of Palestine's total orange crop by 1913. Arab economic activity expanded around Nablus, an area specializing in olive oil and soap production. Jewish purchase of Arab land had a detrimental effect on Palestinian prosperity. Once bought, land became the perpetual property of Jews, and Arab laborers were thrown off. The land problem continued to bedevil Arab-Jewish relations after Britain took over Palestine. British interest in Palestine was the result of the strategic significance of the Suez Canal. During World War I, the British concluded several secret agreements regarding the future of Ottoman-held territories. One of these agreements, the Balfour Declaration, granted Jews the right to establish a national homeland in Palestine. In 1920, when the British acquired control over Palestine as a mandate under the League of Nations, they made the Balfour Declaration official policy, which was at variance with their responsibility under the mandate: to prepare the native population for eventual independence and majority rule. As a result, Palestinian demographics changed drastically. According to the 1922 census, the total population of Palestine was 752,000, of whom 660,000 were Arabs and 84,000 were Jews. The Arab population included 71,000 indigenous Christians who shared most of the sociocultural traits of the Muslim Palestinian population. By the end of World War II, the Palestinian population grew to two million. By 1946, there were 1,269,000 Arabs, as opposed to 608,000 Jews. Around 70,000 of the Jews were unauthorized immigrants who entered Palestine in the immediate postwar period. Throughout the mandate era (1920-1948), Arab despair over Jewish immigration fostered a policy of noncooperation with the mandate government. A proposed constitution offered in 1922 by the high commissioner, Sir Herbert Samuel, was rejected by both Muslim and Christian Palestinians. The only body that continued to represent the Palestinians was the Supreme Muslim Council, which supervised the Islamic charitable trusts and the court system. The appointed head of this institution, Amin Husseini, was the highest religious authority and emerged as the sole leader of the Palestinian community. He became the head of the Arab Higher Committee, representing both Christians and Muslims, following the 1936 Arab Revolt. The first major outbreak of Arab-Jewish violence was a result of attempts by Revisionist Zionists, led by Vladimir Jabotinsky, to expand Jewish rights over the Wailing Wall. This violence was investigated by British parliamentary commissions, which concluded that unrestricted Zionist immigration and land purchases led to the impoverishment and anger of the Palestinian peasantry. A general Arab strike and uprising in 1936 led the British to convene the Peel Commission, the first such commission to recommend the partitioning of Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state. The Peel Commission allotted 20 percent of the most fertile land to the Jews, and 80 percent to the Arabs. The Commission also recommended the internationalization of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Both the Higher Arab Committee and Arab governments rejected this plan. By 1942, Zionist lobbying efforts shifted from Britain to the United States. A Zionist conference in 1942, which was held at the Biltmore Hotel in New York City, called openly for the establishment of a Jewish commonwealth in Palestine, and efforts were made to obtain the endorsement of major U.S. political parties and members of Congress. The Nazi Holocaust against European Jews succeeded in winning powerful world leaders, including U.S. president Truman, over to the cause of Israeli statehood. Once the British Government made the decision in 1947 to end its mandate over Palestine, the latter became the responsibility of the United Nations. A special eleven-member committee, known as UNSCOP, was organized to make recommendations to the General Assembly regarding the future of Palestine. These recommendations were made in the form of majority (8 votes) and minority (3 votes) reports. The majority report, which was adopted by the General Assembly on 29 November 1947, stipulated that Palestine be partitioned into a Jewish state and an Arab state, with Jerusalem and Bethlehem brought under a UN regime as a corpus separatum. Both the United States and the Soviet Union voted for General Assembly Resolution 181, the majority plan. Palestinians were outraged over the decision by an outside agency to give away half of their land without consulting them. Arab states in the United Nations did not oppose the Vatican-sponsored resolution on Jerusalem. During the following year, a U.S. State Department report by George F. Kennan predicted that the partition resolution could not be enforced without war. Clashes between Jewish armed forces and Palestinian and other Arab armies quickly followed. Jewish forces moved not only to consolidate their UN lands but to acquire additional areas in the Galilee and Negev areas. The UN partition plan granted one-third of the population—namely, the Jewish community—one-half of the total land area of Palestine. The Jewish community at the time owned 20 percent of all cultivable areas, amounting to 6 percent of the total land area of Palestine. At the end of this conflict, the Egyptian army remained in control of the Gaza Strip and the Jordanian Arab Legion maintained control over eastern Palestine and eastern Jerusalem. The Arab states signed separate armistice agreements with newly founded Israel. Soon thereafter, Trans-jordan changed its name to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, naming the area east of the Jordan River the "East Bank" and the area west of the river the "West Bank." The 1947—1948 Arab-Jewish War produced one of the Middle East's major refugee problems. Palestinians who fled their homes or were driven out by Jewish forces numbered between 500,000 and 750,000 people. Some placed the percentage of Palestinians who became refugees at 80 percent of the total Arab population. Between 125,000 and 150,000 of the Palestinian peasantry retained their homes but lost their agricultural lands. The state of Israel continuously rejected UN resolutions calling for the return of the refugees or providing them with financial compensation. The only Arab country that granted citizenship rights to the Palestinians was Jordan. The rest of the Arab countries declined to extend citizenship rights for fear of jeopardizing the refugees1 right of return. The League of Arab States created a seat for Palestine, which was occupied by the Gaza-based government of All Palestine until 1957. The Gaza government was a rump Palestinian authority that was directed by Amin Husseini's deputy, Ahmad Hilmi Abd al-Baqi; it existed under the watchful eye of the Egyptian military governor. By 1964, a new Palestinian authority—the Palestine Liberation Organization, headed by Ahmad Shuqairy—was created at the behest of President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt. Conflicts with the Egyptians forced Shuqairy's resignation in 1968. Another PLO emerged during that year and was soon headed by Yasser Arafat, the leader of Fatah, a militant underground organization. The new PLO rejected the need to rely on Arab governments and promoted the principle of the armed struggle. After a brief stay in Jordan, armed conflict with the Jordanian army drove the PLO to Lebanon, where it established itself inside Palestinian refugee camps. The launching of attacks against Israel from Lebanon's southern borders eventually resulted in a massive retaliation by the Israeli Defense Forces in 1982. The PLO was forced to evacuate its militias out of Lebanon under U.S. protection and relocate to Tunisia. The Israeli invasion of Beirut during the latter days of that war resulted in a Lebanese-led massacre of Palestinian refugees in the Sabra and Shatilla camps. The PLO's rehabilitation by the world community was a slow process, which began in 1974. During that year, the Arab summit meeting at Rabat, Morocco, recognized the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people. Also in 1974, the United Nations confirmed this designation by granting the PLO observer status. The United Nations also recognized the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, a gesture of enormous symbolic significance because it was the United Nations that divided the Palestinian homeland in the first place. The outbreak of the intifada (uprising) in 1987, in the West Bank and Gaza, provided the PLO with another opportunity to integrate itself with the international community. The PLO declared itself a state and sought recognition by the Uniited States. This was granted upon the PLO's unilateral recognition of Israel and of Security Council Resolution 242. Following the Gulf War in 1991, the PLO agreed to participate in a U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace conference. During these talks, a secret channel to the Israelis was opened with the mediation of the Norwegian government. In 1993 Israel and the PLO signed a "declaration of principles" that provided a framework for settling all issues pertaining to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and granted the newly created Palestine National Authority autonomous rule over Gaza and Jericho. Negotiations over the future of the rest of the West Bank, as well as that of Jerusalem, were to follow.




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