Palestinians - Orientation

Identification. Palestinians inhabit an area east of the Mediterranean Sea and south of Lebanon. The Jordan River, Lakes Huleh and Tiberias, and the Dead Sea separate Palestine from Jordan. Palestinian territory stretches as far south as the Gulf of ʿAqaba. Palestinians refer to their land as "Filastin," the name of an Aegean population (Philistines) who inhabited coastal Palestine before the Israelites. Christians refer to Palestine as "the Holy Land." Today Palestine is divided among Israel and the Palestine National Authority. Palestinian territory falls into two major geographic zones: the coastal area, and the northern extension of the Great Rift Valley.


Palestine is located between 30° and 33° N and 34° and 36° E. Its total land area is 27,128 square kilometers, divided between Israel and the two towns (Gaza and Jericho) administered by the Palestine National Authority. The total area under direct Palestinian control since 1993 is 135 square kilometers. Palestine lies at the southern tip of the fertile eastern Mediterranean region, and almost half of its total area is arid or semiarid. Only parts of the narrow coastal plain, the Jordan Valley, and the Galilee region in the north receive adequate rainfall. Palestine, on the whole, enjoys typical Mediterranean weather. The Great Rift Valley, or the Jordan Valley, has a semitropical climate. The main city in the Jordan valley, Jericho, is the lowest spot on earth—250 meters below sea level. The arid and semiarid areas to the south enjoy a desertlike dry and hot climate.

Demography. Between 5.8 million and 6 million Palestinians live in Israel, on the West Bank, in the Gaza Strip, and dispersed all over the world. As of 1989, there were 900,000 living in the West Bank, 550,000 to 770,000 in the Gaza Strip, and 800,000 in Israel proper. East Jerusalem, annexed to Israel since 1967, is the home of 155,000 Palestinians. Those living under the Palestine National Authority since 1993 number 775,000 in Gaza and 20,000 in Jericho. There are also 1.7 million Palestinians living in Jordan, 350,000 in Lebanon, 225,000 in Syria, 70,000 in Iraq, 60,000 in Egypt, 25,000 in Libya, and 250,000 in Saudi Arabia. Until the Gulf War, there were 400,000 in Kuwait. There are other, smaller Palestinian communities in the Persian Gulf area, amounting to 113,543 people. It is estimated that 104,856 Palestinians live in the United States and another 140,000 around the globe. The highest ratio people to land is in Gaza, where there are 3,577 people per square kilometer. Many Palestinians live as refugees in camps: 248,000 in the Gaza Strip, 100,000 on the West Bank, 187,000 in Jordan, 143,300 in Lebanon, and 67,000 in Syria. Palestinians speak Arabic, but most are bilingual, their second language depending on their place of residence.

Linguistic Affiliation. Arabic is a member of the Hamito-Semitic Family of languages. Modern Arabic is a South Semitic language. Palestinians speak a distinct dialect of Arabic but write classical Arabic, like the rest of the Arab world.

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