Today's Palestinians-the Arab people native to the land of Palestine between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea-are descended from the original peoples of that land and from every people who has conquered and inhabited the land through the centuries. They are the original Christians, from Christ's time, and they have been Muslim in overwhelming numbers since the 7th century, when Islam spread across the Middle East and North Africa.
Palestinians never left Palestine until 1948, when massive numbers were forcibly exiled as a result of the creation of the state of Israel.
Jews also have a continuous, millennia-long history in Palestine. But after Jews were exiled by Palestine's Roman rulers in the 1st century A.D., the Jews remaining in Palestine lived peacefully as a religious minority alongside the majority populations, until Zionism began to make inroads in Palestine in the 20th century.
Political Zionism was founded in Europe in the late 19th century for the purpose of establishing a state in Palestine with a permanent Jewish majority. In 1917, Britain strengthened Zionist aims by issuing the Balfour Declaration promising to support the establishment in Palestine of a "national home for the Jewish people." At the time, the population of Palestine was 89% Palestinian Arab and 11% Jewish.
During the British Mandate (1918-1948), the Zionists encouraged, and Britain supported, immigration of European Jews on a large scale. This immigration, which began to change the population balance-so that by 1939, 30% of the population was Jewish-came to a halt as the Nazi regime rose in Europe and the Holocaust against the Jews began. Following World War II, British authorities limited Jewish immigration to 15,000 per year.
In November 1947, after the British had decided to withdraw from Palestine and end the Mandate, the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state, with an international enclave encompassing Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Although at this point Jews made up slightly less than one-third of the population and owned only 7% of the land, the partition plan allotted 56% of Palestine to the Jewish state. The Arab state was allotted only 42%, despite the 2-1 Palestinian population advantage, and the international enclave was to cover 2%.
In fighting that followed partition in 1948, Israel captured additional territory, including the western half of Jerusalem, giving it control over 78% of Palestine. Jordan captured and annexed the remaining 22%, including East Jerusalem. This territory, the West Bank, covers an area of 2,200 square miles, approximately the size of Delaware. Egypt took control of the tiny 140-square-mile Gaza Strip.
750,000 Palestinians, over half the Palestinian population, fled fighting in their towns, expecting to return, or were forcibly expelled by Jewish/Israeli forces. Israeli historians who have examined Israel's own archives have clearly demonstrated that Israel ethnically cleansed the Palestinian population.
While Zionist officials brought millions of Jews from around the world to populate Israel, exiled Palestinians became refugees in camps in neighboring Arab countries and in the West Bank and Gaza. Today, this refugee population has grown to over 4 million.
This expulsion and the failure to resolve it constitute the root of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The refugees have never been allowed to return to their homes and land, and their dispossession remains the major grievance in the conflict. In 1967 Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan and Gaza from Egypt, giving it control over 100% of the land of Palestine and over additional millions of Palestinians.
Palestinians living in Palestine today include 1.3 million who are citizens of Israel; 2.4 million in the West Bank; 1.5 million in Gaza; and 200,000 in Jerusalem.
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