The State of Israel was born In 1948, a new state established on Jewish ancestral lands, renamed by the British as the “British Mandate for Palestine”. So, what exactly was the British Mandate for Palestine? Who were the inhabitants of this land, and what is the historical identity of the Palestinian people?
From a Palestinian perspective, we are considered the rightful inheritors of the land, tracing our lineage to the ancient Philistines and Canaanites. Having conquered Jerusalem and introduced Islam to this region, we see ourselves as its true custodians.
In school, we were taught that prior to 1948, Muslims and Jews coexisted harmoniously in the land, united under a peaceful life during Muslim governance. History, however, tells a different story, a more complex narrative, one that can’t be altered or obfuscated. The truth of these historical interactions remains intact, irrespective of attempts to obscure or modify it. It’s essential to actively seek out this truth to gain a comprehensive understanding of the past.
I was raised with the typical Palestinian perspective, harboring deep-seated resentment towards the Jews for seizing our land, a land that was once serene and flourishing. They uprooted us from our land, demolished our homes, and rendered us a people without a homeland (though one might question if we were ever truly a unified nation or people). We became scattered across the globe, with a history often narrated in a way that obscures the harsh realities we refused to accept. But what were these painful truths? The answer to that is a complex tale of displacement, identity, and the struggle for self-determination, often overlooked or simplified in mainstream narratives.
I have come to a pivotal realization late in my life, prompting me to actively seek the truth for myself. To truly grasp the intricate nature of this conflict, its origins, and the points at which it escalated, I recognize the need to delve deeply into history, tracing events as far back as 3,000 years. This journey into the past is essential to understand the present complexities and nuances of the situation.
Religious texts, be they from Judaism or Islam, offer narratives about the inhabitants of ancient times and claims to the land. However, I intend to approach this from a different viewpoint, one grounded in archaeology and anthropology. Let’s allow scientific inquiry to illuminate the history of this land and its people. Who exactly were the Philistines and Canaanites? More importantly, who can be historically identified as the true Palestinians?
While the religious dimension of this conflict is undeniably significant and will be addressed, my approach aims to encompass both religious and scientific perspectives to present a holistic view. However, it’s important to note that this won’t be an academic research paper replete with detailed citations and in-depth analysis. Instead, my goal is to lay out fundamental scientific, historical, and religious facts in a manner accessible to the average person. I hope this serves as a foundation for further exploration, providing you an opportunity to independently seek the truth and form your own opinions, free from indoctrination and bias.
The Philistines, often associated with ancient Greeks, were more than just a Greek people. They originated from various parts of Southern Europe, including regions like Spain, Italy, and Greece, and migrated to the land of Canaan around 1200 BC. Their presence in the region continued until around 604 BC when Nebuchadnezzar II invaded, leading to the destruction of multiple cities, including Ashkelon. Following this invasion, the Philistines vanished from historical records. Those who remained were assimilated into the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Based on archaeological, anthropological, and genetic research, it is understood that the Philistine population eventually became extinct.
This evidence allows us to confidently conclude that the Palestinians are not descendants of the Philistines. This leads to the next pertinent question: Can the Canaanites be considered the ancestors of the modern Palestinians?
The Canaanites were a Semitic-speaking civilization inhabiting what is now modern-day Palestine/Israel, and parts of Jordan around 1,600 BC. While it is commonly believed that they were displaced or annihilated by the Israelites, becoming an extinct civilization, recent genetic studies challenge this narrative. A 2020 genetic analysis revealed that the DNA of the Canaanites has contributed significantly to the genetic makeup of present-day Jewish and Levantine Arabic-speaking populations, extending beyond just Lebanon. In addition, according to the Tanakh, the Canaanites were not made extinct by the Israelites. In fact, the Israelites were just an outgrowth of Canaanite culture, since Canaanite was an all-encompassing name for locals of the area (at least until 1200 BCE or so).
This finding suggests that the current Palestinian population is neither descended from the Philistines nor the Canaanites, raising questions about their indigenous status to the land. This leads to an intriguing question: “What is the origin of the name ‘Palestine’, and who exactly are the contemporary Palestinian people?”
I had initially intended to delve into more comprehensive scientific evidence, but realized that such an extensive and technical exploration might become tedious for the general reader. Additionally, I considered including the Jewish religious perspective in this discussion. However, as a Palestinian Muslim addressing my community, I recognized that this perspective might be met with skepticism or rejection, making it less relevant for this article. Intriguingly, certain passages from the Qur’an and Hadith that could be interpreted as supporting a Zionist state have often been overlooked. For instance, Yasser Arafat, a prominent Palestinian leader, chose to ignore these aspects in his narratives.
Throughout history, supported by archaeological and anthropological evidence, Jews have maintained a continuous though mostly exiled presence in the Holy Land. The Israelites created at least three kingdoms: The Kingdom of Israel, the Kingdom of Judah and the Hashmonite kingdom. There was also a very short lived one during the Roman Rebellion which minted its own coins. with the last being destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian King, who razed the First Temple of Solomon in 586 BCE, a significant event commemorated on Tisha B’Av.
In the 5th century BCE, Herodotus, the ancient historian, referred to the coastal area around Gaza as “Syrian Palestine”. This term, however, was challenged by Titus Flavius Josephus, who suggested Herodotus only named part of the land, as he did not travel extensively into its interiors. Some historians contend that Herodotus actually named the entire region “Palaistis,” which means “wrestler” in Greek, implying that this was the “land of wrestlers,” a reference to the biblical story of Jacob wrestling with an angel and being renamed “Yisrael” (“He who wrestles with God”). Herodotus also noted the residents’ Jewish practice of circumcision, and later writers like Publius Ovidius Naso (Ovid) mentioned the natives’ seventh-day feast, which suggests they honored the Sabbath like the Jews.
The Roman Emperor Hadrian renamed the Holy Land “Syria-Palaestina” after the Bar Kochva Revolt which is generally interpreted as an attempt to sever Jewish ties to the land after they took many Jews to Rome as slaves. He also renamed Jerusalem to “Aelia Capitolina”. This renaming had two possible motivations: it might have been simply the distinct Roman reverence for Greek terminology and tradition, or it may have been an attempt to sever the Jewish connection to the land, symbolically aligning it with their ancient enemies, the Philistines.
From an Islamic perspective, the name “Palestine” does not appear in foundational texts like Qur’an, or the Hadiths. Instead, these texts frequently mention Jews as being “the Children of Israel,” and the Holy Land belonging to the Jews, and Bayt al-Maqdis which is the Holy Temple of Solomon, from the Hebrew name “Beit Ha’mikdash”.
In the Qur’an, Allah references the blessings bestowed upon the Children of Israel, as seen in Al-A’raf 7:137, “And ˹so˺ We made the oppressed people successors of the eastern and western lands, which We had showered with blessings. In this way the noble Word of your Lord was fulfilled for the Children of Israel for what they had endured. And We destroyed what Pharaoh and his people constructed and what they established.”
The Jewish People’s favored status is mentioned in Al-Jathiyah 45:16, “Indeed, We gave the Children of Israel the Scripture, wisdom, and prophethood; granted them good, lawful provisions; and favored them above the others.”
Another verse, Al-Ma’idah 5:21, speaks of the land being destined for them: “O my people! Enter the Holy Land which Allah has destined for you. And do not turn back or else you will become losers.”
Yasser Arafat’s rejection of the peace offer made at the Camp David Accords in 2000, based on denying the existence of Solomon’s Temple, contradicts these Islamic traditions. His words were: “Archaeologists have not found a single stone proving that the Temple of Solomon was there because historically the Temple was not in Palestine.”
Even if we look at the Hadith, there are references to Prophet Solomon, peace be upon him, building the Temple. One Hadith in Sunan Ibn Majah, considered authentic, recounts Prophet Muhammad’s words, peace be upon him, about Solomon’s prayer to Allah after completing the construction of Bayt al-Maqdis.
The Hadith says: “It was narrated by Abdullah bin ‘Amr that the Prophet said: “When Sulaiman bin Dawud finished building Bayt al-Maqdis, he asked Allah for three things: judgment that was in harmony with His judgment, a dominion that no one after him would have, and that no one should come to this mosque, intending only to pray there, but he would emerge free of sin as the day his mother bore him.” The Prophet said: “Two prayers were granted, and I hope that the third was also granted.”
Every Muslim, in accordance with the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, is obliged to acknowledge the existence of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. This is evident in the Qur’an, specifically in Surah Al-Isra known also by Bani Isra’il (the Chapter of the Children of Israel), verses 1-7, which describe Solomon’s Temple and detail its destruction on two occasions.
Additionally, contrary to Arafat’s claims, the Qur’an clearly mentions the Jews’ return to the Land of Israel prior to the Final Judgment. This is stated in Surah Al-Isra 17:104, “And We said to the Children of Israel after Pharaoh, ‘Reside in the land, but when the promise of the Hereafter comes to pass, We will bring you all together.’”
So far, we have gained insight into how the land came to be known as “Palestine,” affirming the continuous Jewish presence and their indigenous roots in the Holy Land. We’ve seen how the Qur’an highlights that Allah favors the Jews, and has granted the Holy Land to the Jews. However, the question remains: “Who are the modern-day Palestinian people, how did they come to be in this land, and why are they called ‘Palestinians’?”
Following the death of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, the Islamic Caliphate was established in Madinah, initially under the leadership of Abu Bakr, the first Caliph. It was during his reign in 633 that the first Muslim conquest of the Levant commenced, while the land was under the Eastern Roman Empire. This campaign continued under the second Caliph, Omar ibn al-Khattab.
This military campaign culminated in the siege of Jerusalem in 636, leading to its fall six months later and the Roman surrender in 637. I highlight this period in our history to mark the beginning of Arab Muslim presence in the region, a time when we were the true colonizers of the Holy Land. This period dispels the lie of Jewish colonization, instead underlining a different historical dynamic in which the Jews were indigenous to the land, and the Arab Muslims were the colonizing conquerors.
During this era, some of the local Jewish and Christian populations converted to Islam and chose to remain, while other Arab Muslims settled in Jerusalem and its surrounding areas. Notably, even during this period of Islamic expansion, the Jewish community maintained a significant presence in Jerusalem and its vicinity. It’s also worth mentioning that Jewish conversion to Islam (and Muslim men taking Jewish wives) may have been the reason why the original Arabs, who are indigenous to the Arabian Peninsula (not the Levant) obtained Canaanite DNA from the Jews, who were the original inhabitants of the Holy Land.
Throughout subsequent history, Jerusalem witnessed numerous changes in sovereignty to various empires. It fell to the Crusaders, was reclaimed by Salahuddin, and eventually became part of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled until the end of World War I. During the 400-year Ottoman rule, there was no distinct recognition of a land called “Palestine” or a people known as “Palestinians”. Ottoman maps did not label any region as “Palestine”; they were divided into sanjaks, such as the “Jerusalem Sanjak” or “Nablus Sanjak”. The term “Palestine” emerged when the League of Nations established the British Mandate over this territory, and the British named it the “British Mandate of Palestine”. It’s worth noting that the British referred to the Jewish inhabitants as “Palestinians” in their official communications. Arabs, on the other hand, initially resisted this label, preferring to identify with their Arab heritage and rejecting the name “Palestinians” due to its association with the Jews.
Regarding the demographic composition in the 1800s, the Jews were actually the majority population in Jerusalem. In 1844 Cesar Famin (who became French Consul) recorded 8000 Jews, 4000 Muslims and 4000 Christians in Jerusalem.
The Ottoman Census of 1882 recorded 276,000 Muslims and 24,000 Jews. However the land was underpopulated.
Mark Twain observed that, ““[The Holy Land was] desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds – a silent mournful expanse…A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action…We never saw a human being on the whole route…There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.”
In 1867, he also said, “Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes. Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies…Palestine is desolate and unlovely…It is a hopeless, dreary, heartbroken land.”
In 1913, the British Royal Commission made the following report: “The road leading from Gaza to the north was only a summer track suitable for transport by camels and carts…Houses were all of mud. No windows were anywhere to be seen…The plows used were of wood…The yields were very poor…The sanitary conditions in the village [Yabna] were horrible…Schools did not exist…The rate of infant mortality was very high…The western part, toward the sea, was almost a desert…The villages in this area were few and thinly populated. Many ruins of villages were scattered over the area, as owing to the prevalence of malaria, many villages were deserted by their inhabitants.”
In 1857, the British Consul, James Finn said, “The country is in a considerable degree empty of inhabitants and therefore its greatest need is that of a body of population.”
It must be stated that of today’s Palestinian population, only a small percentage are descendants of the original 276,000 Arab Muslims inhabitants of 1882 (predominantly fellaheen and Bedouins) who lived in poverty and often clashed over land and resources. The rest of today’s modern-day Palestinians are from various regions of the Ottoman Empire, including at least 50% from Egypt (like Yasser Arafat), and the rest coming from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, the Hejaz, and other Middle Eastern countries, with smaller groups arriving from places as far as Bosnia, Albania, Kurdistan, and Sudan.
In the late 19th century, there was significant migration of Muslims into Israel, attracted by trade and agricultural opportunities created by Jewish businesses and settlements. Initially, these newcomers identified primarily as Arabs, while the Jewish population was referred to as Palestinians. The notion of Palestinian identity only began to crystallize in the late 1960s, almost two decades after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.
In the 1920s and 30s, this identity was not embraced, however a nationalistic movement was starting to emerge and was more accurately reflected in the broader Pan-Arab aspirations of the region. Haj Amin al-Husseini, a key figure in the anti-Zionist movement, was influenced by Colonel Bertie Harry Waters Taylor to pursue a strategy of violence against the concept of a Jewish homeland. Al-Husseini envisioned a “Greater Syria” with Damascus as its capital and showed interest in Jerusalem only as a means to promote the cause of an Arab state within the “British Mandate of Palestine,” opposing the creation of a Jewish State.
As we have seen, there has never been a sovereign Palestinian state historically; the concept of a distinct Palestinian nation is a modern invention. The population predominantly comprised Arabs who migrated to the region and later embraced the Palestinian identity. While there are discussions about external influences, such as the KGB and Egypt in the 1960s, in shaping this identity, these factors do not undermine the legitimacy or claims of the Palestinian people. Our history in the land may be comparatively short, ranging from 300 to 1,300 years, but we have become an integral part of it. However, our claim must not be achieved by the spilling of Jewish blood, or at the expense of the indigenous population, the Jews, who are the true historical inheritors of the land.
It is imperative that we, as Palestinians, renounce and abandon our ways of evil and terror. We must strive for coexistence and peace. The path we choose now is crucial: we can either seek prosperity and peace alongside Israel or face our downfall through continued conflict and terror. The decision to reject hatred, to put an end to the bloodshed and terrorism, lies in our hands. This choice is not just about survival; it’s about choosing a future where we can thrive together in harmony. We must do this, or perish.