Descriptions of Palestine - Population and Landscape
As can be easily guessed, Palestinian Arabs portray a pre-Zionist Palestine with as high a count of locals as possible. To sustain the highly politicized claims coming from Palestinian Arabs today such as high numbers of Palestinian Arab refugees created from the 1948 War (upwards of 900,000 some claim), as well as complaints that they were dispossessed from their land due to Jewish land purchases (because there were so many Arabs and so little land), the higher the population they can get credit for, the better. Were it to be shown that Palestine was, in fact, underpopulated, such high numbers would prove to be nonsense. These claims would unravel and along with them much of the justification for war and terrorism today also.
The simple fact of the matter is, the data available for estimating the population of Palestine during the reign of the Ottoman Empire as well as in the early days of the British mandate is largely incomplete and unreliable. 'The nature of the data do not permit precise conclusions about the Arab population of Palestine in Ottoman and British times'. Anyone who pretends otherwise is deliberately misleading you."1 Though we don't have sufficient documentation to provide exact numbers, we do have estimates and descriptions of Palestine through the centuries that support such conclusions as Palestine was thinly populated. With this data, I am not making an argument that because Palestine was underpopulated, then the rights of the legitimate land owners should suffer. It is after all, their land, and they have a right to cultivate it or not, lease it or not, and otherwise do with it what they want. I am also not justifying the expropriation by foreign populations of land because it is thinly populated. The legal and political arguments for how a nation should go about acquiring territory are well beyond the scope of this page.
Since the information on this page is concerned with comparative terms such as underpopulated, sparse, thin, etc, it is necessary to have a frame of reference for these terms to have any meaning. Establishing this frame of reference will be the number of people Palestine supported both near the time of Christ and how many are there today:
"When Jewish independence came to an end in the year 70, the population numbered, at a conservative estimate, some five million people. (By Josephus’ figures, there were nearer seven million.) Even sixty years after the destruction of the Temple, at the outbreak of the revolt led by Bar Kochba in 132, when large numbers had fled or been deported, the Jewish population of the country must have numbered at least three million, according to Dio Cassius’ figures."18 Another citation I make use of below states that the province of Galilee alone during the time of Christ had many more than 700,000 people living there. Today, there are 7.1 million people in Israel proper, over 1.4 million in Gaza, and 2.5 million in the West Bank, leading to a total population west of the Jordan River of about 11 million. Keep these figures in mind while reading the rest of the page.
Frederick Hasselquist, M.D.
In the mid-1700s, Hasselquist traveled throughout Palestine. In his book Voyages and Travels in the Levant38, Hasselquist makes the following observations of the land and people:
- “Amongst those who visited me, during my stay in Jaffa, was a clerk of the customs, who on the third day came to receive the twenty-two piastres, which every Frank is obliged to pay to the custom-house of Jaffa, for the privilege of coming on shore and traveling in the country. The inhabitants of the country, Armenians, Greeks, &c. pay only half the sum. But as 4000 persons arrive yearly, besides as many Jews, who come from all quarters of the world, this may be esteemed a considerable revenue for the Turks; and indeed they receive no other from this uncultivated and almost uninhabited country.” (Pp. 117-118)
- “The whole country from Jaffa to Rama consists of little hills; between these are level and handsome vales, which extend in large plains. A part is turned into corn fields, but most of it lies waste.” (Pg. 120)
- “Cranes, the inhabitants of uncultivated countries, were here to be found in great numbers." (Pp. 120-121)
- In Bethany, “We were shewn the place where Lazarus’s Sepulchre had been; over which was erected a little stone hut, and the ruins of an old house, but no other signs of a town or building, which formerly must have been there.” (Pg. 126)
- Traveling to Jericho, “The vales, like the hills, are not fruitful, but deserted and uncultivated, being full of pebbles, and without vegetables; nevertheless, the earth consists of a good red mould, and would amply reward the husbandman’s toil.” (Pg. 127)
- “We continued our journey over a vale of this plain, in which the Arabians had sown barley for their horses; and this was the only cultivated spot of ground I had seen between Jerusalem and Jericho, a country of a good day’s journey in extent.” (Pg. 129)
- “We came towards noon to Jericho … At this time there is not the least building, except the walls of an old house … The Sycamore does not grow near this place at present, but is to be found in other parts of Judea nearer the sea; and might have been planted here when the country was inhabited and cultivated.” (Pp. 129-130)
- In the area of the Dead Sea, “The whole surface of the earth was covered with salt, in the same manner as in Egypt. The soil therefore was Egyptian, and might be as fruitful if it were tilled; and, without doubt, it was so in the time of the Israelites.” (Pg. 130)
- To Bethlehem, “The other half of the way, the country was stony and uncultivated, and produced little else besides some olive-trees; and the best o these were destroyed some years ago, n a tumult the Bethlehemites had amongst themselves. After a journey of two hours, we came to Bethlehem at nine o’clock: this is a large village, situated on a high ground, the houses ruined, and the inhabitants lawless; partly Christian Catholics, partly Mahometans, and all Arabian peasants.” (Pp. 143-144)
- “From these groves we came into the fine plains of Zebulon, above three miles long and three-quarters broad, yet quite uninhabited, but not uncultivated, as the greatest part is planted with cotton.” (Pg. 153)
James Silk Buckingham
Buckingham travelled through Palestine on both sides of the Jordan river in the early-mid 1800s as recorded in his book Travels in Palestine42. He takes note of the land, whether it was barren or cultivated. Several areas of the land Buckingham describes as highly cultivated as they corresponded to villages on good land with water sources. For the majority of the country, however, he notes the general desolation and barren landscapes he had to cross through:
- "The scenery all around us was grand and awful, notwithstanding the forbidding aspect of the barren rocks that every where met our view; but it was that sort of grandeur which excited fear and terror, rather than admiration. … The effect of this was heightened by the shouts which they sent forth from hill to hill, and which were re-echoed through all the valleys, which the bold projecting crags of rock, the dark shadows in which every thing lay buried below, the towering height of the cliffs above, and the forbidding desolation which every where reigned around, presented a picture that was quite in harmony throughout all its parts.” (Pp. 55-56)
- "At the present moment, even such channels as were evidently those of streams and torrents, were destitute of water, from the long-continued drought that had prevailed; so that we could say nothing regarding the peculiar qualities of any of the fountains in this neighbourhood; and, probably from the same cause, the plain here, at the foot of the hills, was parched and barren.” (Pg. 61)
- “In the history of the Jewish war ... the historian thus describes the position of the city. ‘It is situate in a plain; but a naked and barren mountain, of a very great length, hangs over it, which extends itself to the land about Scythopolis northward, but as far as the country of Sodom, and the utmost limit of the lake Asphaltites southward. This mountain is all of it very uneven and uninhabited by reason of its barrenness.’ In another place, when speaking of the city of Jericho, he adds, ‘This place is 150 furlongs from Jerusalem, and sixty from Jordan. The country, as far as Jerusalem, is desert and stony. But that as far as the lake Asphaltites lies low, though it be equally desert and barren.’ Nothing can more accurately apply, in all its particulars, than this description does to the site of the present ruins, assumed here to be those of ancient Jericho, whether it be in its local position, its boundaries, or in its distance from Jerusalem on the one hand, and from the Jordan on the other. The spot lies at the very foot of the barren hills of Judea, which may be said literally to overhang it on the west; and these mountains are still as barren, as rugged, and as destitute of inhabitants as formerly, throughout their whole range, from the lake of Tiberias to the Dead Sea." (Pp. 62-63)
- “At the present time there is not a tree of any description, either of palm or balsam, and scarcely any verdure or bushes to be seen about the site of this abandoned city; but the complete desolation with which its ruins are surrounded, is undoubtedly rather to be attributed to the cessation of the usual agricultural labours on the soil, and to the want of a distribution of water over it by the aqueducts, the remains of which evince that they were constructed chiefly for that purpose, than to any radical change in the climate or the soil. On leaving these ruins, we thought that, in their greatest extent, they did not cover less than a square mile; but its remains were not sufficiently marked to enable us to form a plan of it. As we continued our way across the plain to the eastward, the same parched soil appeared over every part of it, until after about an hour’s ride at a moderate pace, going over a distance of perhaps four miles, in nearly an easterly direction, we reached the village of Rihhah.” (Pg. 70)
- “The grottoes were all formerly inhabited, and one of the uppermost of them … has still its decorations of Greek saints painted on the walls, with the colours perfectly fresh. All are, however, now deserted, and the enthusiasm which, in past ages, filled these cells with hermits, is now scarcely sufficient to induce Christian pilgrims even to visit them.” (Pg. 80)
- “… we came to the summit of the second range of hills on the east of Jordan. … It is probable, therefore, that this is the range which is called by Josephus the Iron Mountain … for he describes this as being only one of the ridges of the eastern hills which bounds the Jordan on that side, and runs in length as far as Moab. Both of these ranges are barren throughout, excepting only in some little dells near their feet …” (Pg. 103)
- "So complete is the general desolation of this once proud city [ancient Geraza], that Bedouin Arabs now encamp in the valley for the sake of the spring there, as they would do near the wells of their native deserts. Such portions of the soil as are cultivated among the ruins, both in the valley within the walls, and in the naumachia without them, are ploughed by men who claim no property in the land; and the same spot is thus occupied by different persons in every succeeding year, as time and chance may happen to direct.” (Pp. 223-224)
- “Leaving the village of Aidoone, we passed again by some good cisterns, excavated out of the rocks, and saw, near them, several fragments of ancient masonry; when, continuing S.W. over a barren tract, we passed in about an hour under the village of Erbeed.” … About an hour and half before sunset, still continuing through a stoney and barren tract of land, with patches of cultivation here and there only, we reached the village of Bahrahah …” (Pg. 247)
- “On descending over the western side of these hills, we had the Mount of Tabor immediately before us, and a waving ground, partly barren and partly cultivated, between us and its foot extending perhaps from six to nine miles in length. … we passed the village of Sereen, consisting of about thirty or forty dwellings, and near it saw half a dozen Bedouins’ tents pitched. Further on, we passed a second village, somewhat larger, called Cafr Sabt ... At length we approached Mount Tabor, the eastern foot of which was highly cultivated, and its steep sides were richly clothed with woods, while on its summit some portions of the ruined buildings there were visible from below. ... From this valley, where several coveys of partridges were sprung, and where the wooded scenery was an agreeable relief to the barrenness of that which we had passed over in our morning ride, we entered the great plain of Esdraelon.” (Pp. 309 - 310)
- “The appearance of the lake [Galilee], as seen from this point of view at Capernaum, is still grand; its greatest length runs nearly north and south from twelve to fifteen miles, and its breadth seems to be, in general, from six to nine miles. The barren aspect of the mountains on each side, and the total absence of wood, give, however, a cast of dullness to the picture; and this is increased to melancholy by the dead calm of its waters, and the silence which reigns throughout its whole extent, where not a boat or vessel of any kind is to be found.” (Pg. 345)
- Continuing in a southerly direction across the plain, we reached at noon the small village of Mezra. This, from its being enclosed by walls with loop-holes in them, and having only one gate of entrance, appears to have been once a fortified post, though of the weakest kind. It is at present destitute of any other inhabitants than the herds of cattle which are drivein within the enclosure for shelter during the night.” (Pg. 379)
- “The whole of this extensive space is covered with a fine red soil, and had once several considerable settlements on it, as may be inferred from the sepulchers and sarcophagi at Eksall, at Mezra, at Fooli, and at Makhaebly, all seated on small eminences admirably suited for the situation of agricultural towns. It is now, however, lying waste, excepting only a few patches ploughed for cultivation towards its southern edge.” (Pg. 384)
- “To go by what our guide thought a shorter route, we kept to the westward, leaving Jeneen on our right; and in about two hours more, over uneven and generally barren ground, we came to the village of Birreheen. … Going nearly in a northern direction over the plain, we came at two o’clock to Makheably … where we observed the scattered fragments of buildings, pottery, sarcophagi, and other proofs of former consequence. The rest of our way back was precisely that by which we had come from Nazareth. In the course of it we observed, that what is called the Great Plain of Esdraelon … It is in contrast to the more rugged parts of the hill-country only that it can be called so, or from the circumstance of those ridges in it not interrupting the general surface of corn-land to which it is mostly appropriated, since all the elevated parts are cultivable even to their summits. The Hermon of this place, as compared with Tabor, is a small range of hills standing nearly in the middle of the Great Plain, and isolated on all sides round. … The length of the Great Plain of Esdraelon, within the limits prescribed to it on the east and west by geographers and travelers, is estimated at about eight hours’ journey, or at least thirty miles. Its breadth from north to south, in the way we came over it, is about five hours travel, or nearly twenty miles … Nearly the whole extent of this land now lies waste, though its fine soil is every where capable of cultivation.” (Pp. 472-474)
Alphonse De Lamartine
Alphonse De Lamartine spent the better part of a year and a half travelling all over the Middle East in the 1830s and recorded his trip in detail in what is now a two-volume book by the name of De Lamartine's Visit to the Holy Land or Recollections of the East21. Though his vivid descriptions of Palestine do acknowledge a certain degree of cultivation (mostly in Lebanon and the Galilee), the primary theme is underpopulation and desolation:
- "A country such as this, if repeopled by a fresh nation of Jews, cultivated and irrigated by skillful hands ... such a country, I say, would even yet, at this very time, be the Land of Promise, should Providence restore to it a population, and political circumstances of peace and liberty." (Vol. I, Pp. 218-219)
- "Caesarea, Herod's ancient and splendid capital, has now only one inhabitant; its walls, which were rebuilt by St. Louis during his crusade, are, nevertheless, uninjured, and would still serve at the present time for excellent fortifications to a modern town." (Vol. I, Pg. 275)
- Just outside the walls of Jerusalem: "At every step we met with Turkish cemeteries ... whose solitudes are every night repeopled by the plague ... A few tents were pitched among the tombs, and seven or eight women ... were uttering, at intervals, measured lamentations ... whose religious, melancholy sound agreed wondrously well with the desolate scene that lay beneath our eyes. ... These groups of women and children, thus sitting to weep there all day long, were the only signs of life or of human inhabitants, that we perceived in our whole circuit around the walls. In all the other parts, no sound, no smoke arose; and a few pigeons, flying from the fig trees to the battlements, and from the battlements to the banks of the sacret pools, made the only movement and the only noise we met with in this silent and empty area." (Vol. I, Pg. 307)
- From the Mt. of Olives looking at Jerusalem: "This is the most splendid apparition that can be seen of a city that is no more; for it appears to be still in existence, and to shine like a city full of youth and life; and yet, if it is looked at with a closer attention, it is easily seen that it is in reality no more than a beauteous vision of the city of David and Solomon. No sound arose from its squares and streets; no roads now lead from its gates to the east or the west, to the north or the south; there is nothing more than a few paths winding at hazard among the rocks, where are only to be met with a few half naked Arabs mounted on their asses, some camel drivers from Damascus, or a few women from Bethlehem or Jericho, bearing on their heads baskets of grapes from Engedi, or a cage of doves to be sold in the morning beneath the turpentine trees outside the city gates. We sat the whole day opposite the principal gates of Jerusalem; we made a tour around the walls, passing by the other portals of the city. Not an individual was going in or out; even the beggar was not seated at the entrance, the sentinel appeared not at the threshold; we saw nothing, we heard nothing: the same desolation, the same silence prevailed at the gates of a city containing a population of thirty thousand souls, during twelve daylight hours, as if we had passed the time before the deathly portals of Pompeii and Herculaneum. We only saw four funeral processions, issuing in silence from the Damascus gate, and passing along the walls towards the Turkish cemeteries ... The soil around the city was newly stirred by several similar graves, which were, every day, multiplied by the plague; and the only audible sound outside the walls of Jerusalem, was the monotonous wail of the Turkish women weeping for the dead. I know not whether the plague was the sole cause of the deserted state of the roads and of the profound silence that reigned around and within Jerusalem. I should rather think not; for the Turks and Arabs never avoid the divine scourges, convinced that they may be reached by them in every place, and that no road offers a way of escape from them." (Vol. I, Pp. 314-315)
- Inside Jerusalem: "After having traversed the different quarters of the city, all as bare, wretched, and desolate as those through which we had entered, we descended beside the famous mosque that occupies the site of Solmon's Temple." (Vol. I, Pg. 329)
- Travelling between Jericho and Jerusalem: "We met with no one during all these fourteen hours, except an Arab shepherd who was feeding an innumerable flock of black goats on the brow of a hill." (Vol. I, Pg. 356)
- "The typhus fever, which had for several months been ravaging Acre, had finished the remains that had been spared by conflict; there scarcely remained twelve or fifteen hundred persons in a city which before contained as many thousand; and, every day, there were thrown outside the walls or into the sea, additional carcasses which were cast up again by the sea at the bottom of the bay, or disinterred by the jackals in the fields." (Vol. I, Pg. 387)
In 1838, Robinson toured Palestine as well as several other near east countries, recorded in Biblical Researches in Palestine43. Desolation, barren countryside, and signs of previous inhabitants characterized his experience:
- On the way to Jerusalem from 'Akabah "The scenery around was wild, desolate, and gloomy; though less grand than we had seen already.” (Pg. 174)
- “After crossing the water-course, we came upon a broad tract of tolerably fertile soil, capable of tillage, and apparently once tilled. Across the whole tract the remains of long ranges of low stone walls were visible, which probably once served as the divisions of cultivated fields. … We afterwards saw many such walls, which obviously were not constructed by the present race of Arab inhabitants; but must be referred back to an earlier period. … The country through which we had passed to-day, though in itself barren and desolate in the extreme, yet in consequence of the recent rains presented the appearance of a less frightful desert.” (Pp 190-191)
- In the village of Dhoheriyeh near Jerusalem “The country around looks barren … no trees were visible; nor any fields of grain, except in the bottoms of the narrow valleys. Indeed the aspect of the whole region was stern and dreary. … Towards evening we went to the top of a hill just east of our tent but could see nothing all around save rocky hills and swells.” (Pg. 211)
- “The glory of Jerusalem has indeed departed. From her ancient high estate, as the splendid metropolis of the Jewish commonwealth and of the whole Christian world, the beloved of nations and ‘the joy of the whole earth,’ she has sunk into the neglected capital of a petty Turkish province; and where of old many hundreds of thousands thronged her streets and temple, we now find a population of scarcely as many single thousands dwelling sparsely within her walls. The cup of wrath and desolation from the Almighty has been poured out upon her to the dregs; and she sits sad and solitary in darkness and in the dust. (Pg. 418)
- Robinson estimates the total population of Jerusalem at no more than 11,500 inhabitants after padding the number for possible omissions. (Pg. 421)
- On the way to Bethel “The rocks here by the side of the path were cut away in several places. We reached the village at 12 o’clock. It was even more desolate than Anathoth; but bears marks of having been a much larger and stronger place than any of the others we had passed.” (Pg. 442)
- On the way to 'Ain Jidy “Crossing another small Wady running down southeast to the Urtas, we had at 4.50 the foundations of a ruined village on our left, called el-Munettisheh. The hills around, though now desolate and arid, had once been built up in terraces and cultivated. … Leaving here our horses, a stepp ascent of ten minutes brought us to the top of the mountain, which constitutes a circle of about seven hundred and fifty feet in circumference. .. This mountain commands, of course, a very extensive view towards the north; less so the south and west; while on the east, the prospect is bounded by the mountains of Moab beyond the Dead Sea. … The mountain is too far from the sea to command a view over it; and other mountains intervene, which, though rugged and desolate, are low; so that while they serve to shut out the prospect, they present among themselves no better point of view.” (Pp. 478-479)
- Between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea “The whole slope towards the Dead Sea on this side of Jerusalem, resembles in its general features the same slope on the north of that city. But it has even less of fertility; the desert region extending further up from the Dead Sea towards the water-summit. Still, even in those parts where all is now desolate, there are everywhere traces of the hand of the men of other days, as we saw both yesterday and to-day; terraces, walls, stones gathered along the paths, frequent cisterns, and the like. Most of the hills indeed exhibit the remains of terraces built up around them, the undoubted signs of former cultivation.” (Pg. 489)
- “So too in the southern part, where similar rivulets or fountains exist, as around Jericho, there is an exuberant fertility; but these seldom reach the Jordan, and have no effect upon the middle of the Ghor. Nor are the mountains upon each side less rugged and desolate than they have been described along the Dead Sea.” (Pp. 542-543)
- From Jericho to Bethel “On our right the Wady Nawaimeh occupied the bottom of a broad sunket tract, composed of chalky mountains rising on each side, presenting only the aspect of a terrific desert. All around we could see nought but waves of naked desolate pyramidal and conical mountains, with deep Wadys between, marked only by the narrow tracks of goats, which climb along their sides to crop the few herbs thinly sprinkled over them. It was one of the most truly desert spots we had yet visited.” (Pg. 572)
- “The lists of names thus made out, were in some respects more complete than any which the government could have furnished; inasmuch as the latter has to do only with inhabited towns and villages, while our attention was directed, in at least as great a degree, to the deserted sites and ruined places of which the country is so full.” (Pp. 435-436)
- “The village [Hizmeh] is about as large as ‘Anata and was now deserted; the inhabitants having about two months before all fled across the Jordan to escape the conscription, leaving their fields of wheat and their olive and fig trees with none to attend them.” (Pg. 439)
After visiting Palestine in the mid-1800's, Keith detailed in his book The Land of Israel37 one view of desolation after the next. One can only refer the interested reader to his book where he concludes, "The astonishment is, not that a land now desolate should once have teemed with population and produce, but that, rich as it is, and able as ever to sustain many myriads throughout all is borders, regions of the highest fertility should remain fallow; that continuous leagues of the richest soil should be wholly unproductive to man; that corn should be imported for the few men that are left, while surrounded by the richest land capable of furnishing food for hundreds of thousands of inhabitants. Well may a stranger from a far land, and the enemies that dwell within it, be astonished at it; even at the desolation of so fertile a country in so fine a clime." (Italics in the original, Pg. 372)
Sir Frederick Treves
Treves visited Palestine in the early 1900s and recorded his experience in the book, The Land That is Desolate36. By this time, the population of Palestine was already on the upswing. Treves notes the modernization of cities such as Jaffa and Haifa, the relatively high numbers of people inhabiting Jerusalem, and large areas of cultivated fields. But despite the fact Treves visited after Jewish immigration began increasing the inhabitants of Palestine, he was still able to make the following observations:
- Regarding Wadi-es-Sarar or valley of Sorek, "... it is a bleached, cheerless gulley full of stones, almost bare of trees and frowned upon by barren, uninviting hills. There are a few flocks and herds to be seen, but it is hard to understand what the sheep and the goats and the cattle live upon, since the whole valley is as grey and sapless as the lichen on a gravestone. Here indeed are both 'the cattle' and 'the thousand hills,' but the landscape that embraces them is ungenerous, niggardly, and mean." (Pp 30-31)
- On the approach to Jerusalem, "The hills are bare save for some hectic grass and starveling scrub. ... For some sixteen miles there is scarcely a bush to be seen and never a tree. ... A few goats may be come upon here and there, but seldom a sign of the habitations of men." (Pp. 33-34)
- "So harsh, bleached, and colourless is the country round about that the city itself is as the shadow of a rock in a weary land. With the exception of a few pallid olive trees, a patch here and there of indefinite green, and a melancholy cypress, the environs of Jerusalem are a dusty, ungenial limestone waste." (Pg. 40)
- "Beyond the city, across the Valley of Jehosaphat are the Mount of Olives and the country that leads to Bethany and the Jordan ... It is a poor, cheerless, unlovely country, dun-coloured like a beggar's cloak, barren and littered with stones. There is, at the moment, not a sign of a human being on the sorry roads, and a vision of such a land as this must have filled the eyes of the prophet when he wrote: 'Thus the land was desolate after them, that no man passed through nor returned: for they laid the pleasant land desolate.'" (Pp 85-86)
- "After escaping from the poisonous gloom of the cotton merchants' bazaar one comes suddenly upon a great level square ... open to the heavens and to all that wide country which stretches to the east from the Mount of Olives to the far-away mountains of Moab. The immense area is empty; there is not a living creature to be seen. The only thing that moves upon it is the shadow of a cloud creeping across the broad expanse. The silence of the spot is absolute." (Pg. 92)
- "Outside the wall [of Jerusalem] is the open country, severely simple, and deserted save for a few wandering goats." (Pg. 103)
- Speaking of the surrounding country from a ridge just beyond the outskirts of Bethlehem, "Looking across this featureless country, so poverty-stricken, so miserly, and so threadbare, one cannot but ask: Is this the 'glorious land,' the land 'that floweth with milk and honey,' 'the good land, the land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills'? Is this the land that is sung about in the 'Song of songs, which is Solomon's'? Is there a single spot in the whole wide country to which the conceit would apply - 'thine eyes are like the fishpools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bath-rabbim'? ... The country, as the old script words it, is the country of the scourge, the pit, and the snare. ... the Promised Land has been for centuries ravaged by war and torn by internal dissensions. It has been plundered and laid waste. Its inhabitants have been blotted out, and, as a final calamity, the country, sick unto death, has fallen into the baneful care of Turkey. Forests have been recklessly cut down and woods rooted up. ... Vineyard terraces have fallen into ruin and water channels into decay. Obsolete processes of cultivation have been maintained, the people have been harassed and oppressed until there is little joy left in them. Progress has become unthinkable and enterprise a crime. ... One can imagine that over the dumb, lethargic country, with its bare pastures and empty sheep-folds, there comes this cry from out of the mighty past: 'Thy shepherds slumber, O king of Assyria.'" (Pp 128-129)
- Bethany "is now represented by a few wretched hovels, grey, filthy, and ruinous - a slum detached from a city, a pitiless man-hating spot. The houses piled up on the hill would seem to be as empty as a heap of skulls, their staring windows sightless as the eye sockets of the dead. ... The hamlet stands, in all the effrontery of shameless squalor, at the head of a dejected valley. Being on the verge of the desert of Judea the view southward from poor Bethany is very grievous." (Pg. 130)
- On the way to Jericho "the country traversed ... is a weary desert, grey with melancholy, bare to pitifulness, and silent as a land of the dead. ... This desert of Judea is a mean country, a waste of innumerable hills ... They are hills that are dead. Their bones, in the form of grey rocks, show through the tattered covering of threadbare grass and wiry scrub. The whole place is treeless. With the exception of a few goats and a goatherd there is not a sign of life by the wayside; with the exception of two humble khans there is not a sign of a dwelling. We would seem to pass 'through a land of deserts and of pits, through a land of drought, and of the shadow of death, through a land that no man passed through, and where no man dwelt.'" (Pg. 133)
- "About half-way between the two ports there is to be seen by the water's edge a grey spectre of a town. ... It is found on a closer view to be made up of miscellaneous ruins of some pretence, humbled by the company of coarse huts and a few modern dwellings of pitiable meanness. This place, that is little more than a grey shadow on the beach, is the imperial city of Caesarea .. It is now a mere wraith, a formless drift of stones and dust tenanted by slum dwellers, and, as Dean Stanley says, the most desolate site in the Holy Land." (Pp 155-156)
- "Nearer to Haifa is another ruined town - the town of Athlit. It forms a picturesque and romantic pile of ruins, interspersed with the miserable dwellings of a colony of Arabs." (Pg. 157)
- "Among these hills Nazareth is hidden. It is a sorry country, for the land is bare, harsh, and treeless. The slopes are grey with stones, while the misery of the place is deepened by the starving scrub which struggles to live among the rocks. Here is assuredly to be seen the poverty of the earth." (Pg. 177)
- "This home of Joseph and Mary is a hill town that calls to mind some remote village in the barrenest part of Derbyshire. The valley of fig trees is pleasant enough, but the whole of the high land that surrounds the place is lamentable in its leanness and destitution. The hills about Nazareth are naked ... The modern name of the town is en-Nasirah, which is by interpretation 'The Victorious.' It is an unexpected title which may be assumed to indicate the victory of man in planting an outpost of the living in this territory of the dead. ... The villages around Nazareth are among the most abject and the most filthy I have any recollection of, being composed of little more than a few pitiable huts clustering around a heap of manure as around a thing of joy." (Pp 179-182)
- "The country around the lake [Galilee] is characterless, monotonous, and bare. It is a treeless country, grey with stone rather than green with grass. There is over all a sense of solitude and desolation. ... The shores of the Sea of Gennesaret are now abandoned. It is possible to follow the coast for miles without detecting a sign of life. Only one town remains out of them all - the half-ruinous and wholly dirty town of Tiberias. ... In full view from the hilltop is the Plain of Gennesaret, still fertile and even luxuriant, but neglected and forsaken like the rest of the land that surrounds the sea. At the edge of the plain a few miserable hovels indicate the village of Mejdel ... Nothing, indeed, serves to keep green the memory of bygone times but the flowers which still, on the return of spring, people the land. ... they now bloom in a solitude, with none to 'consider' them." (Pp 192-194)
- In the valley of the Yarmuk, "The hills are lofty, grey-green, wild, and very bare. There are few signs of human occupation to be seen. On one pale slope may be dotted a number of black goats, like flies on a sunny wall." (Pg. 201)
- In the Hauran "The tableland is a dead brown flat, boundless, treeless, and featureless. It extends all the way to Damascus, a monotonous desert of chocolate mud. ... The traveller, after gazing out of the window at ten square miles of level mud on one side and the same amount on the other, sleeps for an hour, or reads for an hour, and then looks forth again to see still the desert of mud stretching away to the horizon. ... During the present journey we passed, at very rare intervals, a dejected village ... It can hardly be supposed that anyone would wish to enter one of these cities of the plain, or still less to take it by assault. It was a curious fact that these settlements of men were placed, for the most part, far from the railway - as if the inhabitants wished to enjoy the mud in selfish peace - and that very few specimens of the mud-dwellers themselves were ever to be seen. We stopped at certain stations ... the majority of them no trace of human habitation could be perceived." (Pp 202-203)
Jacob De Haas
De Haas was not writing a first-hand account of his travels, but he consolidates numerous first-hand descriptions of Palestine through the ages in his book History of Palestine23.
- "... in 1348, the disastrous world epidemic, known as the Black Death, overwhelmed the East. Syria and Palestine were covered with dead bodies. In Caesarea none were left alive." (Pg. 306)
- "Between the horrors of endless civil war, Timur's invasion and destruction, Syrian revolutions, famine, the outbreak of plague, and the attacks of pirates, who raided the coast, the population was in 1411 reduced to one-third its former size." (Pg. 312)
- Starting in the 1420s, "Jerusalem lost all political significance ... it is occasionally mentioned as a place of banishment for the milder type of rebel ... in 1421 Jaffa was wholly uninhabited - there were no houses of any kind." (Pg. 300)
- In 1437, "Egypt controlled the eastern while the Turk held the western and northern part of Asia Minor. But Palestine was a desert." (Pg. 314)
- "Except for the embellishment of the Haram Area, and the water supply of Jerusalem, the Circassians did little to restore the ruined cities, or make the country habitable." (Pp. 320-321)
- In the late 1400's, "The cities were mostly ruins. The pilgrims were pleased at beholding a devastation they regarded as expressing 'the just wrath of God.' ... the misery of the country ... merely added to the after-glow of Terra Sancta. Fabri dwells in excruciating detail on the discomfort of landing at Jaffa, and the ruins he saw there in 1484: 'I have hardly anywhere seen such great ruin as here ...' There were nothing but caves there. Caesarea was utterly destroyed. Sidon had been partly rebuilt. A corner of Acre had been fenced in, and amid the ruins there were three hundred houses. ... Lyda was a poor village, mostly ruins. Bethlehem, wholly Muslim, was little better, and Jericho a collection of huts. Ramleh, larger than Jerusalem, was well populated, being the chief meeting place and trading station ... In 1422 the north side of Jerusalem was a mass of ruins. Though by 1484 it had 'many Saracen mosques, Jewish synagogues, and Samartian tabernacles, ... a great part of the city is laid waste, and the houses stand in ruins without any habitants." (Pg. 321)
- Referring to Palestine, "Selim was not deeply interested in what had been reported to him of a waste land, hemmed in between the Syrian and Sinaitic deserts ..." (Pg. 327)
- "Plague again swept the country in 1533-34 and carried off seven to eight hundred persons a day. Jerusalem was then leading Gaza in population, but most of the smaller cities were in ruins. The condition continued in Ramleh in 1547, and though by 1558 that town was occupied by Moors, Turks, Jews, Christians, and Greek orthodox and circumcised Christians, it was mostly ruins." (Pg. 336)
- In the 1560s, "It is a lamentable thing to see thus such a town. We saw nothing more stony, full of thorns and desert." (Pg. 337)
- "A simple English visitor writes of Jerusalem in 1590: 'Nothing there to be scene but a little of the old walls, which is yet Remayning and all the rest is grasse, mosse and Weedes much like to a piece of Rank or moist Grounde.'" (Pg. 338)
- Describing Acre in the 1600s, "Though only a petty port, where among the ruins some two or three hundred people lived, Acre was a center for the export of the cotton raised in the Sahil and the valley of Jezreel." (Pg. 340)
- "To the end of the sixteenth century that town [Nazareth] was nothing but a mass of ruins with two or three Christian inhabitants." (Pg. 341)
- In the mid-1600s, Palestine "presented a bedraggled appearance. Most villages were contemptible, and except for the forest in the Sharon, from Lydda northwards, and some fruit orchards and flowery lawns that extended to the Carmel, the land was bare of trees. ... Misrule brought about the increasing ruin of the cities. ... In 1630, owing to the renewal of the Red and White feuds, Bethlehem was almost destroyed. In 1644-45 Nazareth, which contained some sixty ruined houses, was captured by the Pasha of Safet and the population fled." (Pg. 342)
- Maundrell ... drew in 1697 a painstaking but depressing picture of the effects of nearly two centuries of Turkish rule. Sidon, at which the French had their most considerable factory in the Levant, was 'well stocked with inhabitants' but shrunk in area. Tyre was a 'mere babel of broken walls ... not so much as one entire house left ... Acre a few poor cottages ... nothing here but a vast and spacious ruine.' Sebaste 'wholly converted into gardens,' Nablus chiefly two streets, but full of people, Jericho a 'poor nasty village.' (Pg. 345)
- "Neither the plague of 1742, which ravaged Safed, and which reappeared in Acre and Sidon in 1760, nor the great earthquake of 1759 seriously affected Zaher's policies. ... Tiberias was destroyed, and in Safed two thousand houses were laid in ruins. When forty years later Volney visited the two Galilean towns, he found one hundred families among the ruins of Tiberias, and Safed a mere village cumbered with broken masonry." (Pg. 353)
- "The botanist [Frederik Hasselquist] viewed the pilgrim tolls as the best resource of an uncultivated and uninhabited country. ... How large a sum this was, comparatively, is illustrated by the fact that the taxes of Lydda - 'one vast heap of rubbish and ruins' - were sold for thirty-five purses ..." (Pg. 358)
- "In the last decades of the eighteenth century, Gaza, 'notwithstanding its proud title of the capital of Palestine,' had been reduced to a 'defenseless village peopled by most two thousand inhabitants' ..." (Pg. 359)
- In the late 1700s, "... the towns were not populous. Jerusalem with its excess of non-Muslims ... numbered perhaps twenty thousand inhabitants. Bethlehem had six hundred arms-bearing males ... around three thousand persons all told. Hebron ... had about five thousand inhabitants. Nablus may have been a trifle larger. ... Ramleh was a ruin." (Pg. 360)
- "Volney estimated the population of Palestine, south of the line of Caesarea to Tiberias, at fifty thousand, in 1875 and credited the Pashalic of Acre, which ran to Nahr el Kelb, north of Beirut and east to the Anti-Lebanon, at three hundred thousand souls, less than half of whom occupied the terrain between Caesarea and the present northern political boundary of Palestine." (Pg. 363)
- In the late 1700s, "In some few places the people resisted his [Djezzar's] exactions, but the population had fallen to so low and supine a condition that there is almost no record of real resistance ..." (Pg. 368)
- "The overland routes to the Far East were gradually abandoned. The Levantine ports ... lost prestige ... Palestine, Syria and Egypt were more remote in the eighteenth than in the thirteenth century." (Pg. 371)
- In the 1840s, "The real source of the interest in the problem was the condition of Palestine. The land was empty - its wastes cried for population. Its silences and its desolation and its ruins made visitors vocal." (Pg. 407)
- In the mid-1800s, improvements to Palestine "were impressive only to the discerning and to those familiar with the country. Newcomers saw squalor, poverty, hundreds of deserted villages, and uninhabited places." (Pg. 419)
- "By this time [1890s] it was estimated that 'out of a total population in Palestine of some 200,000 souls, about 40,000 were Jews, as against 14,000 twenty years ago.'" (Pg. 442)
- "Excluding nomads, and these in small numbers, the southland, except Gaza and a few villages, had been empty during the whole of the nineteenth century. To 1900 Beersheba had no permanent inhabitants ... In 1909 Beersheba was a 'straggling little town ... for eight hundred people.' In the fifteen-mile ride from Debir to Beersheba there was 'no sign of any village, merely three ruins, and the tents of some Bedouins.'" (Pg. 445)
The Claim of Dispossession11, in what is probably one of the best books written on the subject, compiles a wide montage of the desolation in Palestine and reasons for the sparse population.
- "The few Arabs who lived in Palestine a hundred years ago, when Jewish settlement began, were a tiny remnant of a volatile population, which had been in constant flux, as a result of unending conflicts between local tribes and local despots." (Pg. 11)
- "The internal wars had a harmful influence on the growth of the population, on the cultivation of the land, and on the degree of rootedness of the fellaheen in their villages. Very often villages passed from hand to hand. There really was not much difference between the fellah who regarded his land as his property and the Bedouin who pitched his tent on it for a brief stay and then moved on to another plot of land." (Pg. 20)
- “The entire area bordering on the lake was not suitable for settlement. No village was in sight, and only to the west could be seen a few isolated Bedouins, who would take out their livestock – goats and camels – to pasture for a few days, as long as they were not hit by the fever, and would hurriedly depart as soon as they succumbed to malaria.” (Pp. 40-41)
- “Members of the P.E.F. [British Palestine Exploration Fund] delegation who mapped the area in 1877 found three permanent settlements: Zemah, Umm-Juni, and Ubeidiya. Zemah was a small and wretched town, Ubeidiya had been recently established by immigrants from Egypt, and Umm-Juni was the home of tenant farmers on land owned by a Persian effendi. The Jordan Valley … was almost totally uninhabited. … Most of the land lay fallow and was considered unsuitable for cultivation.” (Pg. 42)
- “The Beit-Shean Valley, stretching south from the Kinrot Valley along the Jordan River, was in a state of desolation. It was covered with swamps and wild, deep-rooted vegetation. The P.E.F. map shows only one permanent settlement in the entire area – small and sparsely populated Beit-Shean. … This neglected valley was populated even less densely than the Hula Valley …” (Pg. 43)
- “Lewis French, the first director of the Mandatory Government’s Department of Development … wrote, they found the tracts ‘inhabited by fellaheen who lived in mud hovels, suffered severely from the prevalent malaria … Large areas of their lands were uncultivated and covered with weeds.’” (Pg. 44)
- “Sir Herbert Samuel, the first High Commissioner for Palestine under the British Mandate … relates that when he first saw the Jezreel Valley in 1921 it was all parched waste land. There were some four or five small and poor Arab villages on the hilltops around, but outside of that there was nothing.” (Pg. 45)
- “The P.E.F. map of the Valley of Zebulun shows empty spaces up to 15 km. from the seashore to the east and 15 km. from the city of Haifa to the south-east, along the banks of the Kishon River. Not that this area was inaccessible to the mapmakers, and so they had to leave it blank: there was simply no human habitation in the area covered by swamps and shifting sands.” (Pg. 47)
- “In 1922, Dr. M. Sagarodski described the villages Jelil and el-Harem in the Sharon Plain: ‘All the way there is sandy soil … The hills are covered here and there by high grass. The sand is infertile … The southern part of the Jelil … consists of nothing but bare hills and sand dunes. … The population on this whole terrain is very sparse – in Jelil some thirty families and in Sidna ali (el-Harem) about fifty.” (Pg. 53)
The British Mandatory Government
And finally we come to the British reports and observations starting after WWI and onward that concur with the picture of a sparsely populated Palestine:
- “When General Allenby's army swept over Palestine, in a campaign as brilliant and decisive as any recorded in history, it occupied a country exhausted by war. The population had been depleted; the people of the towns were in severe distress; much cultivated land was left untilled; the stocks of cattle and horses had fallen to a low ebb; the woodlands, always scanty, had almost disappeared; orange groves had been ruined by lack of irrigation; commerce had long been at a standstill.”14
- "It is obvious to every passing traveller, and well-known to every European resident, that the country was before the War, and is now, undeveloped and under-populated.”15
- “When I first saw it in 1920 it was a desolation. Four or five small and squalid Arab villages, long distances apart from one another, could be seen on the summits of low hills here and there. For the rest, the country was uninhabited. There was not a house, not a tree… about 51 square miles of the valley have now been purchased by the Jewish National Fund … Twenty schools have been opened. There is an Agricultural Training College for Women in one village and a hospital in another. All the swamps and marshes within the area that has been colonized have been drained … The whole aspect of the valley has been changed … in the spring the fields of vegetables or of cereals cover many miles of the land, and what five years ago was little better than a wilderness is being transformed before our eyes into smiling countryside.”46
- "Lord Samuel wrote, “Its [Palestine’s] frontiers to the north and east are open at almost any point. The country as a whole is thinly populated …”12
- “The difficult terrain in the north of the country, the uninhabited regions in the Jordan Valley forming the eastern boundary, the open desert frontier to the south and long stretches of desolate coast to the west, coupled with the fact that arms may legally be carried in Trans-Jordan and certain defined areas in southern Palestine, have all added to the difficulty of the task of preventing arms smuggling.”13
- As late as the 1930s, a British report observed that "Malaria decimates the population, or so enfeebles it, as to completely nullify nature’s rich gifts.40
- "In 1848, Navy commander William Francis Lynch and crew of 14 seamen set out to be the first Westerners to navigate the full length of the Jordan river. "Exiting the coastal city of Acre, the peculiar train trudged thirty miles through a countryside that the Americans found depressingly barren and uninhabited."41
- "Yet the fantasy of Palestine, like that of Egypt or Lebanon before it, swiftly evaporated. Entering Nazareth and Tiberias, Jaffa and Bethlehem, the Americans were crestfallen to find not the idealized settings of the Bible but rather a backwater of thistles, ruins, and dust. ‘How deplorable is [the Holy Land’s] condition now!’ the same Sarah Haight bewailed. She was especially shocked by the sparseness of the population and its extreme poverty, even by Middle Eastern standards. ‘The very face of the earth is reduced to a … howling wilderness.’ Jericho, Dorr determined, ‘is not worth mentioning,’ a boring wasteland ‘covered with broken bricks and stones.’ Most disappointing were Bethlehem and Jerusalem, their holy sites dominated, Stephens roared, by minarets and decorated with ‘parti-colored marble and … gaudy ornaments. Dorr spent over two weeks in Jerusalem and departed ‘wishing never to return again.’"45
- "Sad cogitations would arise while traversing, hour after hour, the neglected soil, or passing by desolated villages which bear names of immense antiquity, and which stand as memorials of miraculous events which took place for our instruction and for that of all succeeding ages; and then, even while looking forward to a better time to come, the heart would sigh as the expression was uttered, 'How long?' These notices will show that the land is one of remarkable fertility wherever cultivated, even in a slight degree--witness the vast wheat-plains of the south; and is one of extreme beauty--witness the green hill-country of the north; although such qualities are by no means confined to those districts. Thus it is not necessary, it is not just, that believers in the Bible, in order to hold fast their confidence in its predictions for the future, should rush into the extreme of pronouncing the Holy Land to be cursed in its present capabilities. It is verily and indeed cursed in its government and in its want of population; but still the soil is that of "a land which the Lord thy God careth for."47
An Objection to Mark Twain
Our friends at Palestine Remembered put together a page taking issue with the often repeated Mark Twain quotes from his book The Innocents Abroad where he describes Palestine as underpopulated and desolate.20 Among their complaints, they say people using these quotes ignore the facts that:
- Palestine's arable land is under 17% of its total area
- Twain's visit occurred in the middle of hot summer
- his visit came directly after hostilities
- his visit was brief
- he provided no statistical data
- his comparisons of the fertility of the land in Palestine to that of America was unfair
Presumably, this fairly shallow rebuttal was put together because Palestine Remembered does not believe Palestine fit Twain's description. Yet, while the accuracy of Twain's descriptions of Palestine are questioned, another American writer by the name of Herman Melville goes on to declare that "No country will more quickly dissipate romantic expectations than Palestine … Is the desolation of the land the result of the fatal embrace of the Deity? ... Whitish mildew pervading whole tracts of landscape – bleached – leprosy – encrustation of curses – old cheese – bones of rocks, - crunched, knawed, & mummbled - … You see the anatomy – compares with ordinary regions as skeleton with living & rosy man."44
This is one of the problems that comes with emphatically declaring one man's description to be misleading while ignoring the deluge of identical descriptions from dozens of other travelers. Even more telling, however, is how content Palestine Remembered is with only raising objections to Twain while not actually providing evidence of the alleged multitudes in Palestine. Wouldn't providing evidence for a large population of locals be more effective than creating a list of reasons why few of them might have been seen? Why are they silent about the descriptions coming from Volney, Shaw, De Lamartine, De Haas, Hasselquist, Blount, Robinson, Buckingham, Gabashvili, Ebanoidze, Wilkinson, the Palestine Exploration Fund, and the British Mandatory government?
"Ben-Gurion opened his remarks with the claim that 'we bring a blessing to the Arabs of Palestine, and they have no good cause to oppose us.' Musa Alami dispatched this standard argument with one quick blow: 'I would prefer that the country remain impoverished and barren for another hundred years, until we ourselves are able to develop it on our own.'"39
Querying the Experts
This next section takes population estimates from demographic studies and population censuses. It should be reiterated that many of these figures are rough and lacking in quality for various reasons, but we have nothing else to go by. Most of the earlier estimates do not distinguish between Arabs and non-Arabs so the overall total includes non-Arab minority groups.
- In 1348 (before the Black Plague) a rough population "of some 225,000 for Palestine may be suggested".19
- Nearer to 1400 (after the Black Plague) "we might roughly assume a population of 150,000 ..."24
- In 1515, taking the higher of two estimates, a "figure of some 140,000 - 150,000 was the lowest ever reached by the population of Palestine over 30 centuries."25
- For the years 1553-1557, "a little over 200,000" people are accounted for.26
- For the period around 1800, Bachi provides "a rough estimate of 275,000" based on several estimates fluctuating between 250,000 and 300,000.27
- "Palestine was gradually emptied of people between 1512 and 1800. The low point was probably reached in 1850, when estimates varied between fifty and one hundred thousand.”2
- “In July of 1853 … districts in lands that are now part of Transjordan and Lebanon probably did not exceed 300,000.”3 Note that this figure includes additional populations from Jordan and Lebanon which is why it is significantly higher than the estimate of "between fifty and one hundred thousand" from the citation above.
- "An estimate quoted by H.Z. Hirschberg for 1880 (totaling 450,000, of whom 45,000 were Christians and 25,000, Jews)."28
- "An estimate for 1895 (totaling 600,000, of whom 479,000 were Moslems, 71,000, Christians and 50,000, Jews) ..."29
- "Before the First World War the area today identified as Palestine ... consisted of some 689,000 persons, of whom about 85,000 were Jews.”4
- "During the British administration, which lasted about 30 years (1919-1948), the population of Palestine almost trebled itself, passing from some 676,000 at the beginning of 1919 to about 1,970,000 at the end of 1947."17
- The British report in 1921 that "The country is under-populated because of this lack of development. There are now in the whole of Palestine hardly 700,000 people, a population much less than that of the province of Galilee alone in the time of Christ.”5 Further down in this same report, it is said that "... there are half-a-million people in Palestine ..."
- “The population [of Palestine], which in 1922 stood at 757,000 persons, of whom slightly more than 11 per cent were Jews, increased by 1929 to 960,000, of whom more than 16 per cent were Jews."6
- The census of 1922 showed a total population of 757,182 people; 590,890 of whom were "Mohammedans".7.
- The census of 1930 showed a total population of 945,991 people; 692,195 of whom were "Mohammedans".8.
- "In the years from 1931 to 1936 ... the population had grown to 1,366,000 persons, of whom almost 28 per cent were Jews."9
- "According to official estimates, the population of Palestine grew from 750,000 at the census of 1922 to 1,765,000 at the end of 1944."10
So what does it all Mean?
In a nutshell, it means that we can, with a high degree of confidence, make a historically sound judgment that Palestine was for centuries on end drastically underpopulated. There are two major trends manifested in the data above. The first is the fact the population estimates have very little growth for a very long time. This region that supported close to 7 million near the time of Christ and today supports close to 11 million scarcely approached a meager 300,000 inhabitants over the course of at least 500 years (14th to 19th centuries). Several factors explain the constant diminished population of Palestine over the centuries, some of which have already been detailed above. Palestine was the host of incessant warfare on large and small scales. In the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, Bedouin raids were a common occurrence. Palestine also hosted several epidemic diseases. The Black Plague starting with its debut in the 1300s made appearances all the way up to the mid-1800s. Typhus fever made its rounds. Dysentery was rampant.
Malaria took over where plague left off. Malaria alone was the cause of abandoned land in other parts of the world as De Lamartine makes reference to: "A dead silence over all the country, and that aspect of solitude and desolation which is presented by all the malarious regions in Romania, Calabria, and among the Pontine marshes ..."22 Why would it have any other effect in Palestine? These diseases drastically cut down the population and chased off many of the survivors. Palestine was also never the seat of any political or economic significance. The result of Turkish rule was said to have "afflicted the country with a kind of social and political malaria."34 Gaining control of the Holy sites in Palestine was of mild concern to the warring parties, but mostly so they could tax foreign pilgrims making the trek to see these sites. I'm still searching for a plausible explanation as to why the elusively high numbers of locals we are constantly assured of would stick it out in the face of such harsh living conditions.
The second trend is that the Arab (as well as overall) population began increasing above its historic plateau, at first gradually in the mid to late 1800s, and then again sharply starting around 1920:
- "The resettlement of Jews in Palestine became a noticeable factor in the increase of the population, after 1830."35
- "The Arab population shows a remarkable increase since 1920, and it has had some share in the increased prosperity of Palestine."30
- "In his report of this meeting Brandeis pointed out how Roosevelt appreciated the significance of Palestine, “the need of keeping it whole and of making it Jewish. He was tremendously interested - and wholly surprised - on learning of the great increase in Arab population since the War"31
- "On 25th of that month, Roosevelt had a meeting with the British Ambassador to the U.S., Sir Ronald Lindsay. Reporting on this meeting, Lindsay wrote that the President was 'impressed by the fact that the Arab population [of Palestine] had increased by 400,000 since the establishment of the Mandate.'"32
- "There has been a very considerable increase of the population since that census  was taken."33
The two events corresponding to these population increases are the beginnings of Jewish immigration en masse to Israel and the British Mandatory government taking control of the region, respectively. Jewish immigration started becoming a factor in the population counts in the mid-1800s while the British civilian administration began governing Palestine in 1920. The influx of money and technology, along with improved living conditions and health care drastically lowered the mortality rate which accounts for the population boom in addition to immigration.
A Land Without a People for a People Without a Land
Norman Finkelstein Mishandles Zionist Conquest and Palestine's Population Estimates
1 Population of Ottoman and Mandate Palestine: Statistical and Demographic Considerations
2 De Haas, Jacob. History of Palestine: The Last Two Thousand Years. New York: Macmillan Co, 1934. 39.
3 British Zionism: Support for Jewish Restoration in Britain
4 Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Jewish Problems in Palestine and Europe. Report to the United States Government and His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, Lausanne, Switzerland, April 20, 1946. Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off, 1946.
5 An Interim Report on the Civil Administration of Palestine During the Period 1st July, 1920-30th June, 1921. Cmd. (Great Britain. Parliament), 1499. London: H.M.S.O., 1921.
6 Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Jewish Problems in Palestine and Europe. Report to the United States Government and His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, Lausanne, Switzerland, April 20, 1946. Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off, 1946.
7 Great Britain, and John Hope Simpson. Palestine: Report on Immigration, Land Settlement, and Development. London: H.M.S.O., 1930.
8 Great Britain, and John Hope Simpson. Palestine: Report on Immigration, Land Settlement, and Development. London: H.M.S.O., 1930.
9 Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Jewish Problems in Palestine and Europe. Report to the United States Government and His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, Lausanne, Switzerland, April 20, 1946. Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off, 1946.
10 Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Jewish Problems in Palestine and Europe. Report to the United States Government and His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, Lausanne, Switzerland, April 20, 1946. Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off, 1946.
11 Avneri, Aryeh L. The Claim of Dispossession: Jewish Land-Settlement and the Arabs 1878-1948. Efal, Israel: Yad Tabenkin, 1982.
12 Palestine. A Survey of Palestine Prepared in December 1948 and January 1946 for the Information of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry. Vol. 2. 1946. 581.
13 Palestine. A Survey of Palestine Prepared in December 1948 and January 1946 for the Information of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry. Vol. 2. 1946. 592.
14 An Interim Report on the Civil Administration of Palestine During the Period 1st July, 1920-30th June, 1921. Cmd. (Great Britain. Parliament), 1499. London: H.M.S.O., 1921.
15 An Interim Report on the Civil Administration of Palestine During the Period 1st July, 1920-30th June, 1921. Cmd. (Great Britain. Parliament), 1499. London: H.M.S.O., 1921.
17 Bachi, Roberto. The Population of Israel. Jewish population studies. [Jerusalem]: Institute of Contemporary Jewry, Hebrew University of Jerusalem [and] Demographic Center, Prime Minister's Office, 1974. 40.
18 Katz, Shmuel. Battleground: Fact and Fantasy in Palestine. Toronto: Bantam Books, 1973. 105-107.
19 Bachi, Roberto. The Population of Israel. Jewish population studies. [Jerusalem]: Institute of Contemporary Jewry, Hebrew University of Jerusalem [and] Demographic Center, Prime Minister's Office, 1974. Appendix. 3.
20 Quoting Mark Twain out of Context on Palestine (Site accessed Nov 2, 2007)
21 Lamartine, Alphonse de. De Lamartine's Visit to the Holy Land; Or, Recollections of the East, Accompanied with Interesting Descriptions and Engravings of the Principal Scenes of Our Savior's Ministry. London: G. Virtue.
22 Lamartine, Alphonse de. De Lamartine's Visit to the Holy Land; Or, Recollections of the East, Accompanied with Interesting Descriptions and Engravings of the Principal Scenes of Our Savior's Ministry. London: G. Virtue. 34.
23 De Haas, Jacob. History of Palestine: The Last Two Thousand Years. New York: Macmillan Co, 1934.
24 Bachi, Roberto. The Population of Israel. Jewish population studies. [Jerusalem]: Institute of Contemporary Jewry, Hebrew University of Jerusalem [and] Demographic Center, Prime Minister's Office, 1974. Appendix. 3.
25 Bachi, Roberto. The Population of Israel. Jewish population studies. [Jerusalem]: Institute of Contemporary Jewry, Hebrew University of Jerusalem [and] Demographic Center, Prime Minister's Office, 1974. Appendix. 3.
26 Bachi, Roberto. The Population of Israel. Jewish population studies. [Jerusalem]: Institute of Contemporary Jewry, Hebrew University of Jerusalem [and] Demographic Center, Prime Minister's Office, 1974. Appendix. 3.
27 Bachi, Roberto. The Population of Israel. Jewish population studies. [Jerusalem]: Institute of Contemporary Jewry, Hebrew University of Jerusalem [and] Demographic Center, Prime Minister's Office, 1974. Appendix. 4.
28 Bachi, Roberto. The Population of Israel. Jewish population studies. [Jerusalem]: Institute of Contemporary Jewry, Hebrew University of Jerusalem [and] Demographic Center, Prime Minister's Office, 1974. Appendix. 4.
29 Bachi, Roberto. The Population of Israel. Jewish population studies. [Jerusalem]: Institute of Contemporary Jewry, Hebrew University of Jerusalem [and] Demographic Center, Prime Minister's Office, 1974. Appendix. 4.
30 Great Britain, and William Robert Wellesley Peel Peel. Palestine Royal Commission Report. London: H.M. Stationery Office, 1937.
31 Simons, Chaim. A Historical Survey of Proposals to Transfer Arabs from Palestine, 1895-1947. (Site accessed Nov. 2, 2007)
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