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From Time Immemorial – The Joan Peters Project

Summary of Chapter 12: A Hidden Factor in Western Palestine: Arab In-Migration

By Bev Michaels

March 14, 2018


From my own point of view, Chapter 12 contains more than enough statistical evidence accumulated in years of study by many researchers whose work attests to disproportionate Arab immigration into a tiny portion, the Jewish part, of Western Palestine. From the outset, the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement (1921) represented the intent to share expertise in the mutual development of Palestine, by Arab and Jew, even as three quarters of the British mandated Jewish Homeland had been excluded from Jewish immigration.

Now, the state of Israel remains a tiny segment of Western Palestine, and continues to be the focus of Arab allegation that Jewish settlement displaced “indigenous Arabs”. In fact, the opposite is true; Western Palestine was mandated as the Jewish Homeland by treaty at the end of WW1 with the majority of the Arab population in-migrating after Jewish industry made employment available. Now, on the basis of the “displacement” canard the world expects the Jewish Homeland to be restricted to a tiny area repeatedly targeted by unjust attack; at worst, its very right to exist is denied.

Joan Peters’ work, From Time Immemorial, completed in1984 needs to be updated, to become the focus of further research to strengthen Israel’s position and counter the “time immemorial” Arab denial of the Jewish right to self-determination.

When the Balfour Declaration (1917) established western Palestine as “a Jewish National Home,” the prevalent perception among Middle East observers was that Jewish immigration infringed upon a crowded, “millennia-settled” Arab population.


Contrary to that view (also reflected in more candid Arab writing around 1918), “Palestine” was more accurately populated by “multi-ethnic transient, landless” workers and not indigenous Arab Palestinians, descended over thousands of years.

“Palestinian” land claims and identity are issues further confused by what is considered to be the territory of “Palestine” itself. As cited (map, p. 236), the Palestine Mandate, was granted to Britain (1920) and was to have extended “east and west of the Jordan River from the Mediterranean to Arabia to Iraq, and south and north from Egypt to Lebanon and Syria”.

Lord Balfour, in a memorandum to Prime Minister Lloyd George (Paris Peace Conference, 1919) declared:

“Palestine should extend into the lands lying east of the Jordan…the main thing is to make a Zionist policy possible by giving fullest scope to economic development: the northern frontier should give full command ….of the water power geographically part of Palestine… the eastern boundary should give fullest scope to agricultural development on the left bank of the Jordan….”


As well, at the Peace Conference (1919), the United States made the recommendation:

“that there be established a separate state of Palestine, placed under Britain as a mandatory of the League of Nations…that the Jews be invited to return to Palestine and settle there…and being further assured that the League of Nations is to recognize Palestine as a Jewish state as soon as it is a Jewish state in fact.”


However, in response to Arab complaints that the Allies had not fully rewarded Arab support against the Turks during WW1, Britain installed King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia as ruler of eastern Palestine, an area comprising seventy-five per cent of the mandated “Jewish Homeland”. Winston Churchill’s plan for this area called Transjordan (March,1921) was to treat it “as an Arab province, preserving Arab character of area and administration”, under the British mandate.

Thereby, in this unilateral move, Britain “set aside” Transjordan from the rest of Palestine. Initially, there was no intention of creating an independent Arab state. However, to avoid further Arab demands, Palestine High Commissioner Samuel suggested to Churchill that an article be inserted in the League of Nations mandate which stated “Jewish National Home provisions do not apply east of Jordan” (July,1921). When Jewish immigration into Eastern Palestine was officially stopped, Arab claims to Western Palestine were relinquished.

The Feisal-Weizmann agreement regarding “The Arab State and Palestine” (1919) delineated Arab/Jewish intentions: to establish a Commission to set the boundaries; guarantee British mandated constitution and administration; encourage Jewish immigration; guarantee religious freedoms; and the Zionist Organization to send a Commission to survey and report on the development of natural resources in Palestine as well as in the Arab State.

Unfortunately, the British government acceded to Arab concerns, and agreed to cut off Jewish immigration. It established a “double standard” which excluded Jewish immigrants from moving into the mandated area of a Jewish National Home throughout Eastern Palestine. On the other hand, Transjordan Arabs from Eastern Palestine and elsewhere could emigrate into Western Palestine at will.


Although population estimates at the time of the Ottoman census 1893 were approximate, a pattern cited in the research of Dr. Carl Hermann Voss (1953) was explained as follows:

“…the Arab population of Palestine (as being) small and limited until Jewish resettlement restored the barren lands and drew to it Arabs from neighbouring countries.”

What this research suggests is that: the diminished “existing” Arab population already there was massively supplemented by an Arab “in-migrant” population from Western Palestine which moved to the Jewish-settled areas with and mostly after the Jews. The tiny fraction of Western Palestine, where Jews were permitted to settle, became the focus of Arab allegations that Jews had “displaced” indigenous Arabs. However, Jews could not be said to have “displaced” those people who only came after them.

A comparison of Arab population in 1893 (Ottoman census) with the number of Non-Jews in 1947 in areas of heaviest Jewish settlement, Arab population had grown from an estimated maximum of 92,000 in 1893 to 463,000 in 1947. These figures indicated an increase of five times the 1893 number, 400 percent. Moreover, when areas of only Arab settlement – no Jewish settlement in 1893 (233,500) were compared with the same areas in 1947 (517,000), the increase was little more than two times as many. These demographic studies indicated that Arab numbers were expanded by landless in-migrants who came to Jewish-settled Palestine in search of better economic opportunity.

According to the census taken by British Mandatory Government, there were 483,000 Arabs in Israel in 1947-48, as “settled” population just before statehood; of that number, 343,000 fled in 1948. The number that fled in 1948 had presumably been living in Israel since 1893, after Jewish settlement had begun, drawn there by improved conditions. This number is less than half the number of refugees claimed by Arabs after leaving Israel. Furthermore, British population studies did not account for the number of illegal Arab immigrants to Western Palestine.

Other geographers, especially Moshe Braver, of Tel Aviv University (1975), and German, British, as well as those doing studies in Jordan at the time discovered two to three hundred cases of “refugees” from Western Palestine who did not return to their villages in 1948, but had chosen subsistence on the benefits of “refugee status” in Palestine.

Moreover, Braver cites numbers of immigrants from Egypt Transjordan, Syria and Lebanon who settled in Arab villages from 1922 until 1947. They had come for the work on neighbouring citrus farms, or in urban construction, or to survive natural disaster such as drought. When economic growth slowed, there was a corresponding drop in immigration. This pattern reflected the trend of Arab immigration into Western Palestine to benefit from Jewish settlement, at the same time denying Jewish rights to the land, alleging Arab displacement by Jews.


[Ms. Peters’ heading for the chapter includes the following quotation; it’s a fitting encapsulation of Chapter 12:


The Arabs cannot say that the Jews are driving them out of their country. If not a single Jew had come to Palestine after 1918, I believe that the Arab population of (Western) Palestine today (over a million in 1938) would still have been about the…figure at which it had been stable under the Turkish rule. –Malcolm MacDonald, British Secretary of State, 1938 – Editor]

September 25, 2016

- Bev Michaels

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