Palestinian Population History1

Palestinian recent population history can very roughly be divided into three main periods, the two main watersheds being constituted by the 1947-48 and the 1967 wars. After being under Ottoman rule for centuries, Palestine became a British Mandate after the First World War. The pre-1948 Mandate was a traditional, mainly peasant society. Even though a Jewish population segment had lived continuosly in the area, particularly in Jerusalem, the new wave of Zionist immigrants represented a different challenge to traditional Palestinian life and society. Equipped with modern Western technology and organizational skills, the new immigrants gradually achieved a dominant economic position. Increasing amounts of agricultural land were aquired by Zionist organizations and settled by Jewish immigrants. Erosion of the traditional local economy made Palestinians increasingly dependent on the Jewish population for employment and infrastructure. (Most Zionist organizations, however, followed a strategy of employing Jewish workers only).

The 1947-48 war had disastrous consequences for the Palestinian society. The state of Israel was founded on approximately three quarters of the area of the former Mandate of Palestine. During and after the war, four out of five Palestinians in the area that became the state of Israel left the area as refugees2. Even if the refugees were scattered around most of the world, the majority continued to live in, or close to, the area of the Mandate.

Until 1967, the "Palestinian" population which continued to live in the area of the former British Mandate was ruled by three separate countries: The Palestinian population in the Negev, the "Triangle" and the Galilee lived under Israeli rule3; the population of the West Bank and East Jerusalem lived under Jordanian rule, while the population in the Gaza Strip was ruled by Egypt.

The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 also led to a "reunification" of all Palestinians living in the former British Mandate area, in addition to the displacement of new groups of Palestinians. Their legal status was, however, still significantly different, depending on the area of residence: Palestinians living within the pre-1967 borders of Israel had already been granted Israeli citizenship. Shortly after the occupation in 1967, the borders of East Jerusalem were extended into the West Bank, and the city unilaterally annexed by Israel4. The population of Gaza and the West Bank, however, continued to live under military rule.


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