Palestinian americans

by Ken Kurson


Historical Palestine stretched from the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea to lands east of the Jordan River, according to commentators, and was bordered by Syria on the north and Egypt on the south. Most of this land is now controlled by or part of the State of Israel. The majority of the six million people of Palestinian descent live in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon (a total of two and a half million), the autonomous territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip (two million), Israel proper (approximately 750,000), or the United States (approximately 200,000).

The Middle East has long been the crossroads of major trade routes between East and West. The economic and political significance of these lands has made them the object of continual conquest by various armies since Biblical times. This has been particularly true for Palestine; the various peoples who inhabit the region today remain mired in a bitter and deadly conflict that is the direct legacy of the war and terror that proceeded almost without interruption during the first half of the twentieth century.


In addition to the region's significance in terms of trade and political conquest, ancient Palestine was the "Holy Land" and birthplace for two major world religions—Judaism and Christianity—and later became very significant for Islam as well. Thus, Palestine has played a tremendous role in the world's religious and cultural history.

By 1500 b.c. the culture in ancient Palestine had developed to the point where the first known alphabetic writing system was invented. During the late Bronze Age (1500-1200 b.c.) Palestine was controlled by Egypt, and many of the major cities were used by the Egyptians as administrative centers for their rule. This was also a period of great religious activity, when many temples were built and the mythology of the Canaanite gods and goddesses was inscribed in tablets.

The ancient name for Palestine was "Canaan," and the people living there before the arrival of the Israelites were known as "Canaanites." The name "Palestine" resulted from the influx of a number of so-called sea peoples, who traveled east across the Aegean sea to settle in the lands of the eastern Mediterranean in about 1200 b.c. One of these groups, the Philistines, ended up in Palestine after Ramses III refused their entrance into Egypt, and by the eleventh century b.c. they dominated Palestine's Mediterranean coast. Also during this period, the Israelites, who were nomads and farmers from Egypt, moved to the more remote highlands of the central hilly region of Palestine where they settled small villages; the ruins of approximately 250 such villages have been discovered by modern archaeologists. By 1000 b.c. the size and strength of the Israelite tribes was sufficient for them to present a challenge to the Philistines. They wrested control from the Philistines and established a kingdom led by King Saul and his successors David and Solomon, who reigned from approximately 1020 b.c. to 920 b.c. Solomon's reign represented the zenith of this period, when the capital of Jerusalem was established and the Temple constructed. Historians claim that most of the Hebrew scriptures, or Old Testament of the Bible, were composed during this time in ancient Israel.

After Solomon's death the kingdom was divided into two Hebrew states—Israel in the north and Judah (from which the name "Jew" derives) in the south—which were at war for much of the next 400 years. Judah was defeated by the Babylonians in 586 b.c., and this period saw the ascendancy of the Kings Hezekiah and Josiah (who tried to use the teachings of the Deuteronomic writers to rule according to the laws of Moses) and the Hebrew prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Micah. However, the Babylonians were soon conquered by the Persians, and the whole of Palestine came under the Persian Empire.

The conquest of the Persian Empire by Alexander the Great in 332 b.c. ushered in the Hellenistic, or Greek, period in which Hebrew was supplanted by Greek and Aramaic as the dominant language. This influence remained even after Alexander's death (323 b.c.) during a period of Egyptian rule and subsequently under the Seleucid kings from Syria, who took actions to undermine Jewish customs and enforce the worship of Greek gods. The Jews rebelled under the leadership of the Maccabees in 167 b.c. and established a Jewish state, which, by the time of the Roman conquest in 63 b.c., controlled much of Palestine and had converted many to Judaism. Yet a revolt in 132 a.d. led the Romans to evict the Jews from Jerusalem and to establish the city of Aelia Capitolina on its ruins.

In 638 Muslim invaders built a mosque on the site of the ruins of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Some Christians remained in isolated towns on the Mediterranean coast (such as Ramla, Jaffa, and Lydda), and in 1099 Christian Crusaders from western Europe took Jerusalem and imposed a kingdom for nearly a century. For the most part, however, the inhabitants of Palestine became Arabized, converting to Islam and speaking Arabic.

Palestine was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1517, whose empire dominated the region for 400 years until its demise in World War I, after-which the British controlled the region. There was a period of modernization in Palestine in the 1830s when Ibrahim Pasha established secular schooling and civil rights so that Christians and Jews could exist somewhat on a par with the Muslims. When the rural people rebelled against this secularism, the European powers forced Ibrahim out in 1840, and the Ottoman Empire regained control.


In 1919 Jews represented ten percent of Palestine's population; by 1944 the number of Jews in Palestine had risen to 32 percent of the total population. Many of the Jewish immigrants came following Hitler's rise to power in 1933 and especially thereafter as refugees of the Holocaust. Their land acquisition during the mandate was aided by financial support from the Jewish National Fund, which allowed them to purchase land from Syrian absentee landholders as well as from Palestinian Arabs. The Arab farmers who had worked the land without owning it were suddenly dispossessed and forced to seek a living in the cities.

This spurred an Arab revolt, which led the British to explore the possibility of a partition of Palestine between a Jewish state and an Arab state. Two commissions attempted fruitlessly to settle on a map that could be agreed upon, and fears that the Arabs would side with the Germans in the incipient war led the colonial government to issue a "white paper" in 1939 limiting Jewish migration to 75,000 over the next five years and guaranteeing an "independent Palestine state" within ten years. The Arabs rejected the delayed independence, and the Jews found the immigration quota unconscionable owing to the plight of the Jews in Europe. Paramilitary groups, the Irgun and the Stern Gang, carried out attacks against British installations and assassinated the British minister of state, Lord Moyne, in order to further Jewish interests.

In 1947 the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for the partition of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem to exist under international administration. Jewish leaders accepted the plan, though they hoped to expand the borders of their state; but the Arabs rejected it on the grounds that the Jewish minority did not deserve a state at their expense, notwithstanding the atrocities committed in Europe.

Jewish leaders declared the establishment of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948, setting the scene for the first of a series of Arab-Israeli wars and military conflicts. While the Palestinian Arabs were still suffering the effects of the British suppression of their revolts a decade earlier, the surrounding Arab countries of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq attempted a supporting invasion of Israel on May 15.

When armistices were signed between Israel and the surrounding Arab countries of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria in early 1949, Israel had less than a third of the population of Palestine but controlled three-quarters of its territory. The prospect of further violence spurred a mass exodus of Arabs from their homes. More than half of the 1,300,000 Arabs were living in refugee camps at the end of the war, including about 400,000 from lands designated for the Jewish state by the U.N. partition plan.


By 1967 the process of urbanization had begun in Palestine, thus undermining the traditional social institutions that had been grounded in the village and clan. An increase in literacy (owing to six years of compulsory education provided by U.N. schools) and in higher education, and a shift from an agrarian economy to one of industrial, artisan, and white-collar jobs, also led to a change in the character of the Palestinian leadership. Where until 1948 the Palestinians were generally represented by political and religious officials from the upper classes, the new movements were more populist.

Tensions over Israeli diversion of water from the Jordan River to the south of Israel led to the Arab formation of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which carried out attacks against the diversion project, prompting Israeli military reprisals against Jordan and Syria. Incidents of this kind escalated to the Six Day War in 1967, in which Israel defeated the Arab military forces and conquered the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt; East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan; and the Golan Heights from Syria. The U.N. issued Resolution 242, calling for Israeli withdrawal from these territories in exchange for peace, and this document remained central to the question of peace in Palestine for decades.

In the ensuing decades, the Israelis were generally willing to negotiate on the basis of 242 without any preconditions, though they insisted that Jordan represent the Palestinian people. Many of the more conservative Israelis argued that the lands in question were essential to the security and even existence of Israel as a buffer against the Arab's continued aggression. The Arabs refused to acknowledge Israel's right to exist and objected to the resolution's reference to the Palestinians as refugees rather than as a people with a right to a state of their own. They repeatedly called for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories before negotiations could begin.

The 1970s saw continued violence in Palestine, with the PLO committing terrorist acts against Israeli targets, and more radical factions targeting civilians worldwide in an effort to implicate and thus discredit the PLO. After being expelled from Jordan in 1970, the PLO established a base of operations in Lebanon from which to attack northern Israel, as well as a small state within a state, which provided various social welfare services to the Palestinians as well as the Lebanese before it was destroyed by Israeli invasions in 1982 and 1987.

In December of 1987 Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation, which had for some time expressed itself in demonstrations, strikes, and boycotts, coalesced into a popular uprising that has come to be known as the intifada, which literally means "shaking off" in Arabic. All sectors of society in the West Bank and Gaza Strip joined the acts of resistance, the most visible being the youths in the streets taking up rocks and gasoline bombs against Israeli forces. Though it was met with a brutal response, the intifada seemed to strengthen the Palestinian sense of resilience and self-reliance, as groups were formed in each locality to organize the resistance activities and provide medical services, food, and education to those who were in need. As it continued into the early 1990s this uprising also seemed to increase world awareness of and sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians and their call for self-determination.

The United States pressured Israel to give up its insistence on recognizing only Jordan as the Palestinians' representative, and after much diplomacy Israel finally began negotiations with the PLO as well as with individual Arab countries. In September of 1993 Prime Minister Rabin of Israel and Yasser Arafat, representing the Palestinians, signed a peace agreement that called for a five-year period of limited autonomy for the occupied territories and further negotiations on a permanent solution after three years.

The limited autonomy commenced in July of 1994 as Arafat began his administration of Gaza and the West Bank town of Jericho without an effective state apparatus or infrastructure. He also suffered from opposition by radical groups, such as the Hamas and the Islamic Holy War, which took the form of violent provocations that called into question the viability of Palestinian self-rule under present conditions. These serious questions were looming in the fall of 1994 when the Swedish Nobel committee awarded the prestigious peace prize jointly to Arafat, Prime Minister Rabin, and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in an effort to bolster the fledgling struggle for peaceful coexistence between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East.


Estimates of the number of Palestinian Americans range from 100,000 to 400,000, with a number of researchers settling on 200,000 as a reasonable guess. The difficulty in determining a more precise number results in part from the fact that there has never been an actual state of Palestine that immigrants could call their country of origin. In U.S. immigration and census records up to 1920 all Arabs, Turks, Armenians, and more were classified as coming from "Turkey in Asia," and not until recently did the Immigration and Naturalization Service recognize "Palestinian" as a nationality. Palestinian immigrants may have come from within Israel or the occupied territories; one of the Arab countries that received refugees from the Arab-Israeli wars, especially Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria; or a country to which Palestinians immigrated in search of economic opportunity.

Palestine's unique political history makes it difficult to determine exactly when the first Palestinians immigrated to the United States and how many came. Most sources refer to Arab immigrants generally and indicate that while a small number of Palestinians, mainly Christian, came to the United States before 1948, the vast majority have arrived since that year.

Some Middle Eastern Arabs immigrated to the United States after 1908, the year the Ottoman Empire began requiring military service of its subjects in certain areas. The majority of these individuals were Christians, because Muslims feared losing their Islamic culture in a Western, Christian society. Increased tensions during the British Mandate and continuing Jewish migration to Palestine from Europe, however, induced Muslim Palestinian migration. The pioneers were primarily young men, although married men and some families followed when positive reports were received or when individuals returned home and displayed their success. Unlike the Christian Palestinians who preceded them, many of these immigrants sought to make money in the United States in order to return and live a more comfortable life, and often a family pooled its resources to send a member over. Though they had not been peddlers in their homeland, the vast majority of the earliest immigrants (both Christian and Muslim) took up the occupation, with some traveling across the country selling jewelry and other small items. As their numbers grew, a network of services to bring new immigrants over as well as to organize and supply the peddlers added a new level of jobs for the more experienced.

The restrictive Immigration Act of 1924 reflected the isolationism prevalent in America between the World Wars. This, in addition to the Depression in the 1930s and World War II, served to reduce immigration greatly during the second quarter of the century. But the aftermath of World War II and the Arab-Israeli war following the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 brought greater numbers of Palestinian immigrants, most of whom were refugees.

The greatest wave of Palestinian immigration began after the Six Day War in 1967 and has continued to the present, although it peaked in the 1980s. By 1985 the Palestinian American community was estimated at approximately 90,000; by the end of the decade, the community had nearly doubled. While some Palestinian immigrants came to the United States for political reasons, the vast majority immigrated for economic and educational opportunity. Unlike early immigrants from Palestine, those who came after 1967 were much better educated as a result of the U.N.-sponsored schools and increased attendance at universities in the Middle

John (left) and Jacob Rantisi pose inside their Kenosha, Wisconsin, restaurant.
John (left) and Jacob Rantisi pose inside their Kenosha, Wisconsin, restaurant.
East and abroad. Thus, many in this third wave of immigrants were professionals who met the requirements of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which contributed to a "brain drain" of many of the most educated in Palestine specifically and the Middle East in general.


A majority of Palestinian immigrants initially settled on the East Coast, but industrial jobs before and especially after World War II drew the Palestinian immigrants, among many others, to urban industrial centers in the Midwest and later throughout the country. Today, the largest concentrations of Palestinian Americans are in New York and parts of New Jersey, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Cleveland, Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Jacksonville, Florida.

Acculturation and Assimilation

One of the few studies of the Palestinian experience in the United States was published by Kathleen Christison in the Journal of Palestine Studies in 1989. It details how Palestinian Americans for the most part have adapted quickly and successfully to American society while retaining a remarkable level of awareness of and involvement in the culture and politics of the land from which they or their predecessors came. She argues that there is no correlation between the extent of assimilation and the level of Palestinian nationalism: those who identify most strongly with their Palestinian roots are not necessarily the least American of the group.

Alienation seems to be rare among Palestinian Americans, though it does exist for certain segments of the population. Older Palestinians who come to the United States with grown children who support them tend to be the most alienated because they do not need to learn English to survive, they tend to socialize within the group, and they generally have the least amount of contact with the rest of American culture. Women more than men are more prone to feel alienated from American society because, in many cases, they are kept from the mainstream culture so that they may perform the primary role in imparting the Palestinian culture to their children.

Others are simply more tradition-bound and guard against the effects of the more open and liberal Western society. They oppose much that is common in the dominant culture, such as open sexuality, divorce, and drugs and alcohol, for religious and cultural reasons. They worry about raising their children here, especially girls, and some even resort to sending their children back to the Middle East for education during crucial teenage years.

Many Palestinian Americans, however, retain a Palestinian identity while identifying themselves as Americans first and foremost. Christison profiles an owner of a jewelry store in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who came to America from the West Bank when he was seven and is active in local business and politics. He married a woman from his home village and is active in promoting the Palestinian cause through the American political system. He is on the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee's executive committee and was one of eight Palestinian American delegates at the 1988 Democratic convention.

Though Palestinian Americans have generally had a smooth transition to a new culture, many still feel unsettled because of tensions in their homeland and specifically the lack of a Palestinian state. Studies of Palestinian Americans report that few say they have been the subject of overt discrimination based on their ethnicity. However, many say that they are often made to feel foreign, or not fully American. Certain people they encounter want to classify them as "Arab," as if this were incompatible with being an American. Some Palestinian Americans also find that they are accepted personally but that a distinction is drawn between them and their people in the Middle East. Many Americans apparently identify Palestinians with the few extremists who commit terrorist acts to publicize the plight of Palestine or to discredit by association the moderate factions they oppose. The Palestinians in the United States resent this characterization, and they often fault the media coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which, in their view, does not do enough to educate the public about their history and the injustices they continue to suffer. On the other hand, the consensus is that seven years of the intifada and Israeli reaction to it has done a lot to dramatize the Palestinians' plight and turn public opinion toward a solution that includes a Palestinian state alongside Israel.


Traditional clothing for men was fairly uniform throughout the Middle East because they did far more traveling than the women. There were various styles that characterized the villagers, townspeople, and Bedouins, but within each group the rich and poor were distinguished primarily by the quality of the fabrics. The male wardrobe generally consisted of pants, a tunic, an overgarment secured with a belt, and sometimes a vest. Both sexes covered their head as a sign of modesty and respect. Men wore a skullcap covered by a simple cloth wrapped around the head, a more elaborate turban, or a kafiyyeh, the scarf secured by a cord. In the United States most Palistenian men wear Western dress, although they may sometimes wear the traditional kafiyyeh during special occasions.

In Palestine, women traditionally wore an outfit comprising of pants, a dress, an overgarment, a jacket or vest, and a shoulder mantle. They often wore a bonnet-like hat trimmed with coins on their head. In certain areas this was replaced by a kafiyyeh held in place by a folded scarf. The dresses were very elaborate, at times having as many as 21 individual pieces sewn together. The colors and embroidered patterns differed from one locality to the next and evolved over time. Fine embroidered dress panels were considered works of art and as such were handed down from mother to daughter. Jewelry was also a very important part of costume in traditional Palestine, and its function went beyond that of adornment and display of wealth. Amulets were worn to ward off the dangers of the Evil Eye, which was believed to take the lives of half of the population. Usually, what the upper classes wore in gold, the lower classes reproduced with baser metals or with less elaboration, such as necklaces whose pendants did not completely encircle the neck. Many women continue to wear traditional clothing in the United States, although their most ornate garments are generally reserved for special occasions.


As in most Arab cultures, beans, chickpeas, lentils, and rice are the staple ingredients in a variety of Palestinian dishes. Water, oil, vegetables, and seasonings are often added to these to produce different kinds of pastes, which are usually scooped up with pita bread—a round, flat, bread with a pocket in it. Sesame seed paste or oil may be used to embellish a meal. Stews are very popular and may be made with a variety of different meats, especially lamb. Fish is also commonly eaten. Various kinds of salads and cooked vegetables complement these dishes, and one of a number of different kinds of yogurt often accompanies a meal. Desserts include such sweet pastries as baklava, which is made with honey and chopped nuts, as well as fresh and dried fruits. Coffee and tea are the most common beverages.


Though many Palestinians living and/or working in Israel speak Hebrew as a necessary second language, Arabic has been the language of the Palestinians since the seventh century. Arabic is the youngest of the Semitic languages. It developed a sophisticated oral tradition through the poetry of the nomadic Bedouins before it became the language of the Islamic religion and its holy text, the Koran, in the seventh century. As the Arab Empire grew, Arabic replaced the Aramaic, Coptic, Greek, and Latin languages and became the main instrument of Arab culture. The Koran, the Arabian Nights, and the Muqaddama, a fourteenth-century history of the rise and fall of civilizations, are the great masterpieces of Arabic literature.

Arabic is the native language of virtually all Arabs, from northern Africa to the Arabian Peninsula. The dialects vary widely, though a common form of Arabic called Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), which is a simplified version of the language in the Koran, facilitates communication. MSA is the main form of written Arabic throughout the Arab world, as well as the language used in radio and TV broadcasts and in most schools. Arabic has an alphabet with 28 letters.


Common Arabic greetings include the following (in transliteration): issálamu alékum —peace be upon you; wi alékuma salám —and upon you; nahárik saíd —good day; saíd mubárak —may your day be pleasant; sabáh ilxér —good morning; sabáh innúr —good morning of light; misá ilxér —good evening; saída —good-bye; maássalama —(go) with safety; izzáy issíha —how are you? (how is the health?); alláh yisallímak —may God keep you.

Family and Community Dynamics

As with many other immigrant groups coming from a more traditional society to a modern Western one, the Palestinian immigrants in the first half of this century experienced a breakdown in the nature of the hierarchical and patriarchal extended family. Whether the father was away from home as an itinerant peddler or just working long hours, his authority decreased, especially in families where the mother was also involved with the family business. The influence of education and economic opportunities and American culture generally led to more nuclear families with fewer children. Women's participation in the economic sphere of the family in time reduced the number of restrictive customs. Except for some families that remained highly traditional, most Muslim women shed their veils when they emigrated, and both Christian and Muslim women generally ceased to cover their heads as they had been required to do in their former culture.

By the time of World War II, women had become increasingly independent. They were more often allowed to remain single and there was much less family control over their choices. The segregation of the sexes was mostly limited to mosques, and marriages occurred later and were usually not arranged. Many saw marriage as the opportunity to be liberated from parental control and to establish their own identity closer to that of the mainstream culture that they had grown up with through school and the media.

Evidence suggests that in the 1990s many families encourage marriage to other Palestinians either through community organizations that foster social contacts with others in the group or even by traveling to hometowns in the Middle East to find potential spouses. Despite these efforts some inter-ethnic and inter-religious marriages take place, and in most cases this does not put insurmountable strain on relations between the generations. However, in the families that remain the most traditional, prohibitions on dating, limits on friendships with non-Palestinians, and even extensive restrictions on the style of dress are all used to limit the influence of American culture. When they exist, though, these conditions are much more likely to be applied, or more severely applied, to girls than to boys.


In Palestine, marriage required a gift to the bride's family, usually money but sometimes real estate. Weddings lasted from three days to a week, beginning with celebrations on Tuesday and followed by a procession to the groom's house on Thursday, which was accompanied by singing, drums, and the firing of guns. Islamic law permitted a man to have as many as four wives, but a second wife was usually only taken in cases where the first wife was ill or where male children were not forthcoming. In the United States, many Palestinian marriage traditions have changed somewhat in order to conform to American law. Palestinians are encouraged to marry within their ethnic community and are expected to respect their parents wishes when choosing a spouse. The ceremony itself remains a festive event and celebrations may last several days.


Upon death, ceremonies are performed within 24 hours. In Palestine, professional mourners were sometimes hired. A meal for the family is prepared after the funeral, and family members and friends bring food and give condolences in the days that follow. Mourning periods last up to a year, and women sometimes cover their dresses with dark cloth.


Along with the Lebanese, Palestinians have the highest education rate in the Middle East. In the United States approximately 35 percent of Palestinian men and 11 percent of women have at least a college degree. This compares with a rate of just over 20 percent for the American adult population in general. Though they have always been aware of the politics and history of their homeland, Palestinian American students are increasingly taking an interest in studying Arab language and culture more formally in college and graduate school. A number of Palestinian or Arab organizations are also making an effort to monitor and improve the teaching of Arab history and culture in the nation's schools.


Although most Arab Americans are Christian—representing Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant churches—the vast majority of Palestinian Americans are Muslim, i.e., followers of Islam. Islam is a religion based on the teachings of Mohammed (c. 570-632), who called on Arabs to surrender to the will of God (Allah) and to commit themselves anew each day. Muslims have five basic religious duties, which are known as the five pillars of Islam.

First, Muslims must repeat their creed, the shahada: "There is no God but the one God, and Mohammed is his prophet." The second pillar, salat, consists of ritual prayers said five times each day while facing toward Mecca, Mohammed's birthplace. On Fridays Muslims attend a service at a mosque in which an imam leads the prayer and usually gives a sermon. Zakat, the giving of alms, is the third pillar. The fourth pillar requires the adherent to fast during the month of Ramadan, which means refraining from food, drink and sex during daylight hours. It is also customary to pray and recite the Koran at night during Ramadan. The final pillar entails a pilgrimage, or hajj, to the Kaaba, the holy shrine in Mecca, that is to be made at least once in one's lifetime.

The primary Muslim holiday commemorates Mohammed's birthday and involves speeches, meetings, and prayers. The sacred book of the Islamic religion is the Koran. It is believed to be the words of Allah as revealed to Mohammed at different times by the angel Gabriel. The words of previous, lesser prophets, including Moses and Jesus, were also given by Allah, but they were corrupted, and so the Koran was sent to purify the message. This message is known as the sharia, which provides guidance for all specific situations in life. Included are proscriptions against drinking wine, eating pork, usury, and gambling.

Employment and Economic Traditions

Many of the Palestinian immigrants early in the century became itinerant peddlers in the United States, selling jewelry and trinkets that could be carried easily in a suitcase. They quickly learned enough English to emphasize that their wares were authentic items from the Holy Land. As more Palestinians came over, new opportunities opened up for the more experienced to provide services related to bringing immigrants over and setting them up in business as peddlers.

The large percentage of Palestinian immigrants since the 1967 war who are educated is reflected in the increased numbers of professionals among their ranks. A study of Palestinian Arab immigrants from Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, published in 1994, used the 1980 census to look at socioeconomic characteristics. Among the 90 percent of Palestinian American men and 40 percent of women who are in the labor force, 40 percent and 31 percent, respectively, have either professional, technical, or managerial positions. There are also large numbers in sales: 26 percent of men, and 23 percent of women. The self-employment rate for men is a significant 36 percent (only 13 percent for women), compared to 11 percent for non-immigrant men. Of the self-employed, 64 percent are in retail trade, with half owning grocery stores. In terms of income, the mean for Palestinian families in 1979 was $25,400, with 24 percent earning over $35,000 and 20 percent earning less than $10,000.

Politics and Government

Christison's study found that while Palestinian Americans are typically not more politically active than the population at large they are very politically aware of their history and the issues facing their homeland. They are more active in social organizations, such as mosques, churches and local associations, than in political ones, though the former have strong political implications. In the absence of a Palestinian state, the unity and preservation of communities in the diaspora serve to maintain Palestinian identity.

For example, Jacksonville, Florida, has a large contingent of immigrants from the Christian town of Ramallah, in the West Bank just north of Jerusalem. This community was long a close-knit Palestinian social unit, and it was strengthened by the formation in 1958 of the American Federation of Ramallah, Palestine, which now has over 25,000

Palestinian American Faras Warde of Boston marches carrying leaflets and a poster with hundreds of Palestinian supporters.
Palestinian American Faras Warde of Boston marches carrying leaflets and a poster with hundreds of Palestinian supporters.
members nationwide. Until the mid-1960s the community identified primarily with its roots in Ramallah, rather than Palestine generally. George Salem, who grew up in the community, says that in the 1950s and early 1960s, "We knew we were from Ramallah; we didn't really know whether it was Jordan or Palestine or what." But this changed after the PLO was formed and especially since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. These events, culminating in the intifada, have heightened Palestinian American solidarity with those in their homeland and added a sense of urgency to finding a lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Individual and Group Contributions

In part owing to their small numbers, and perhaps also because of their tendency, as described above, to work more quietly behind the scenes, few Palestinian Americans are widely known. However, based on their educational and professional status there are undoubtedly many Palestinian Americans in positions of prominence in various fields, such as the business leaders and Democratic National Convention delegates mentioned above.


Edward Said is professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University in New York City; author of numerous scholarly and general interest books, including The Question of Palestine ; he is a member of the Palestine National Council. Born in Jerusalem in 1935, the son of Arab Christians who were Anglican, he was educated in Cairo after the family fled to that city in 1947. Regarding the politics of his homeland he has said, "My endless beef with the Palestinian leadership is that they've never grasped the importance of America as clearly and as early as the Jews. Most Palestinian leaders, like Arafat, grew up in tyrannical countries like Syria or Jordan, where there's no democracy at all. They don't understand the institutions of civil society, and that's the most important thing!"

Mohamed Rabie is another of many Palestinian Americans in academia. He has a Ph.D. in economics and taught at Kuwait University and Georgetown University before moving to the University of Houston. He has authored many books on Middle East Affairs, including The Other Side of the Arab Defeat, The Politics of Foreign Aid, and The Making of American Foreign Policy. Rabie is the president of the Center for Educational Development and a member of various social and professional associations, including the Middle East Economics Association and the Middle East Studies Association.


George Salem served as solicitor of labor in the Reagan administration. He grew up in the Jacksonville, Florida, Ramallah community described above. Even though the community had a strong identity and there were 13 Ramallah families within a three-block radius of his house, his parents discouraged him, unsuccessfully, from running for president of the student council at his high school because they feared his becoming too Americanized. He credits youth clubs and other social organizations with upholding a distinct Ramallan identity long before the turbulent events of the 1960s forged a larger Palestinian one.



The American-Arab Message.

A weekly Arabic and English language paper published on Friday with a circulation of 8,700. Founded in 1937.

Contact: Rev. Imam M.A. Hussein, Publisher.

Address: 17514 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, Michigan 48203.

Telephone: (313) 868-2266.

Fax: (313) 868-2267.


Journal of Palestine Studies.

A publication of the Institute for Palestine Studies and the University of California Press, it was founded in 1971 and appears quarterly with information exclusively devoted to Palestinian affairs and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Contact: Philip Mattar, Editor.

Address: 3501 M Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007.

Telephone: (800) 874-3614; or (202) 342-3990.

Fax: (202) 342-3927.


Middle East Monitor.

Monthly newsletter that focuses on political events in the Middle East and North Africa, paying particular attention to current political changes and economic development.

Contact: Amir N. Ghazaii, Editor.

Address: 402 Godwin, P.O. Box 236, Ridgewood, New Jersey 07450.

Telephone: (201) 670-9623.

The Other Israel.

Founded in 1983 and published four or five times per year, it seeks to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Contact: Adam Keller, Editor.

Address: 405 Davis Court, Apartment 2106, San Francisco, California 94111.

Telephone: (415) 956-6377.



WGPR-FM (107.5).

Weekly programming targeting Detroit's large Arab American population.

Address: 3140 East Jefferson, Detroit, Michigan.

Telephone: (313) 259-8862.

Fax: (313) 259-6662.

WKCR-FM (89.9).

A Sunday night program "In All Languages" periodically features Arabic and addresses concerns of New York's Arabic-speaking community.

Address: Columbia University, 490 Riverside Drive, New York, New York 10027.

Telephone: (212) 854-9297.

Fax: (212) 854-9296.


WSOU-FM (89.5).

Approximately one hour per week of programming catering to Arab Americans.

Address: 400 South Orange Avenue, South Orange, New Jersey 07079.

Telephone: (800) 895-9768; or (201) 761-9768.

Fax: (201) 761-7593.


Online: .

Organizations and Associations

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). The committee, founded in 1980, provides legal counseling and general assistance to victims of anti-Arab discrimination, and works to fight stereotypes of Arab Americans by educating the public, particularly through schools.

Contact: Albert Mokhiber, President.

Address: 4201 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., Suite 300, Washington, D.C. 20008.

Telephone: (202) 244-2990.

Fax: (202) 244-3196.


Online: .

American Arabic Association (AMARA).

Individuals interested in promoting a better understanding among Americans and Arabs through involvement in charitable and humanitarian causes; supports Palestinian and Lebanese charities that aid orphans, hospitals, and schools.

Contact: Dr. Said Abu Zahra, President.

Address: 29 Mackenzie Lane, Wakefield, Massachusetts 01880.

Arab American Institute (AAI).

This organization was founded in 1985 to promote the interests of the Arab American community through the political system, as well as educate the public about the community's contributions to American society.

Contact: Dr. James Zogby, President.

Address: 918 16th Street, N.W., Suite 601, Washington, D.C. 20006.

Telephone: (202) 429-9210.

Fax: (202) 429-9214.


Bethlehem Association.

Promotes understanding by the American public of the Arab people, and especially the Palestinian culture.

Contact: Dr. Hanna Canawati, President.

Address: 4115 Wilkens Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland 21229-4725.

Palestine Aid Society of America (PAS).

Founded in 1978, the PAS works to raise American awareness of the Palestinian point of view on issues regarding the Middle East. It also provides financial aid to educational and community empowerment projects in the occupied territories.

Contact: Taleb Salhab, Executive Director.

Address: P.O. Box 130572, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48113-0572.

Palestine Arab Delegation (PAD).

Presents the views of Palestinian Arabs in the special political committee of the United Nations during the U.N. General Assembly.

Contact: Issa Nakhleh, Chair.

Address: P.O. Box 608, New York, New York 10163.

Telephone: (212) 758-7411.

Fax: (212) 319-7663.

Union of Palestinian Women's Associations in North America (UPWA).

Promotes national and social self-determination and independence for Palestine; strives toward emancipation and empowerment of Palestinian and Arab women.

Contact: Maha Jarad.

Address: 3148 West 63rd Street, Chicago, Illinois 60629-2750.

Telephone: (312) 436-6060.

Museums and Research Centers

Institute for Palestine Studies.

The institute was founded in 1963 to study the Arab-Israeli conflict, as well as the Palestinian cultural and economic life in the occupied territories, particularly in Gaza.

Contact: Dr. Philip Mattar, Executive Director.

Address: 3501 M Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007.

Telephone: (202) 342-3990.

Fax: (202) 342-3927.

E-mail: Online: .

Museum of the University of Chicago Oriental Institute.

Founded in 1919 in conjunction with university archaeological work in the ancient Near East, the institute's collection contains art from Palestine.

Address: 1155 East 58th Street, Chicago, Illinois 60637.

Telephone: (773) 702-9521.

Fax: (773) 702-9853.


University of Pennsylvania Museum.

Founded in 1889, this museum contains materials regarding Syro-Palestinian anthropology and ethnology.

Address: 33rd and Spruce Streets, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104.

Telephone: (215) 898-4001.

Fax: (215) 898-0657.

Online: .

Sources for Additional Study

Christison, Kathleen. "The American Experience: Palestinians in the U.S.," Journal of Palestine Studies, Autumn 1989; pp. 18-36.

Clines, Francis X. "A West Bank Village's Sons Return," New York Times, February 15, 1988; p. A6.

Cohen, Yinon and Andrea Tyree. "Palestinian and Jewish Israeli-born Immigrants in the United States," International Migration Review, 28, No. 2; pp. 243-254.

Dimbleby, Jonathan. The Palestinians. New York: Quartet Books, 1979.

Kifner, John. "New Pride for Palestinian Americans," New York Times, December 12, 1988; p. A3.

Palestinian Teenage Refugees and Immigrants Speak Out, compiled by Nabil Marshood. New York: Rosen Pub. Group, 1997.

Sacco, Joe. Palestine: A Nation Occupied. Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 1994.

Said, Edward. The Question of Palestine. New York: Times Books, 1979.

Wilkerson, Isabel. "Among Arabs in the U.S.: New Dreams," New York Times, March 13, 1988; p. A12.

User Contributions:

hii im jessica. So im full palestinian and i am totally confused to what i am and where exactly i came from. I have been researching it for so long but can't figure it out. Am i a philistine (philistine is how you say palestinian in arabic) so i was guessing i am or am i just an arab?? and from what i have researched arabs are like jordan syria and all that. so am i one of those?? whe i researched everything it said philistines went to did they go to palestine if there philistines and philistines are palestinian?? who was there first the jews or arabs? and are arabs the same as philistines. im soooo confused
am i and arab, caanite , israelite, philistine or what? help
Jessica Jarrous
Hey, this site is amazing! Not only did it help me on my paper on Palesitinian immigration, it taught me a lot about my culture. I would like to know how I can site this page for my work cited? Thanks
Great article, I am doing a research on Palestinian Immigrants and i would like to know how to cite this article in my works cited?
Thank you
Hello, I found this very informative for my research paper. My question is how would I cite this article in my paper?
I would also hasten to add Edward Said's memoir "Out of Place," a very interesting account of the question of Palestinian identity.
How can I cite this article in my paper, it is very useful.
amer al assi
it is great article ,useful and give us the sight of Palestinian Immigrants.thanks
Being a Palestinian, how is that possible that Palestinian-American are majority Muslims? Do you have any sources?
Classic pro Nazi liar pinning racism label on others: ISSA NAKHLEH radical Arab, "author" of fraudulent propaganda, of so called "Palestine encyclopedia." He wrote to Canadian Fuhrer A. Arcand in 1963; in Nov.14.1972, less than 3 decades of the Holocaust this vile hater said Hitler didn't kill... that the millions are supposedly "alive." Repeated it at 1978 to disrupt Israel-Egypt peace summit at Camp David; worked with/wrote for Neo-Nazis; in 1981 lectured at infamous IHR on behalf of Muslim Congress; defended holocaust denier Ditlieb.

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