Guillaume Moscovitz – some remarks

Version française >

21 December 2023

I don’t think it is accurate that, as you write, “The process of Israeli Jewish national formation included settler colonisation that saw large numbers of existing inhabitants displaced, including via war crimes and expulsions.”

The expulsions and war crimes in 1949 were not, in my view, the result of the formation of Israel as a Jewish national home, but the consequences of a war of state powers between Israel and the Arab states united against it. A war that had begun 10 years earlier as a civil war between Jewish Palestinians and Arab Palestinians, and which dramatically escalated after 1945 with massacres and bomb attacks on civilian populations on both sides.

And then there’s something we don’t talk about, or talk about very little: Arab immigration to Palestine in the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth, i.e. Arab immigration at the same time as Zionism.

There is a lack of figures, because there were no borders between the different provinces of the Ottoman Empire, and later the British did not impose quotas on Arab immigration (as they did upon Jewish immigration).

There were 300,000 Arabs in Palestine in 1870 and 30,000 Jews (most of them in Jerusalem, where a population census carried out by the Ottomans in 1850 shows that they were in the majority in the Holy City at that time, i.e. before the start of Zionism). 70 years later, in 1940, there were 1,300,000 Arabs and 650,000 Jews. We know that the world’s population doubled between these two dates, yet the Arab population in Palestine multiplied by 4. And this was not only due to a reduction in infant mortality linked to improved living conditions.

Arab and Muslim immigration to Palestine (from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan, Iraq and the Maghreb, as well as Bosnia and Albania) began with the start of the modernisation of Palestine under the Ottoman Empire, and continued and even intensified with the continuation of this modernisation linked to Jewish immigration.

These Arab immigrants were attracted to Palestine by work opportunities and the hope of a better life. Many of them were, and still are, poor workers, most of them agricultural labourers.

Their exact number is not known, but they constitute a significant number of the direct ancestors of today’s Palestinians. The Palestinian people are a mixed people, an Arab people of diverse origins, the majority of whom have lived in Palestine for a long time, but many are also descendants of Arabs who immigrated at the same time as the Zionist Jews.

And deep down, and this is the main point of my comment, I see in this fact a hope, the hope that one day these two peoples, the Israelis and the Palestinians, will be reconciled on the basis that they are both peoples who partly immigrated to this region, Palestine, which the Ottomans called southern Syria, even if the percentage of Jewish immigrants is considerably higher than the percentage of Arab immigrants. In short, two peoples who invented themselves together in modern times, at the same time and on the same land.

We are all children of immigrants!

References (non-exhaustive) :

– The Syrian Land: Processes of Integration and Fragmentation : Bilād Al-Shām from the 18th to the 20th Century, Thomas Philipp, Birgit Schäbler, 1998

– Haifa in the Late Ottoman Period, 1864-1914: A Muslim Town in Transition, Mahmoud Yazbak, 1988

– Histoire économique et sociale de l’Empire ottoman et de la Turquie (1326-1960), Panzac Daniel, 1995,

– David Grossman, Rural Arab Demography and Early Jewish Settlement in Palestine : Distribution and Population Density During the Late Ottoman and Early Mandate Periods, 2017, « Migrations and settlement of various ethnic groups in the 19 century »

– The Partition of Palestine: Decision Crossroads in the Zionist Movement By Itzhak Galnoor

– History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples, Ilan Pappé

– Public Record Office, Kew Gardens, UK Foreign Office