By Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, “Second Thought”: a US-Israel Initiative”
September 10, 2020,
Are Palestinians the descendants of the original inhabitants (Canaanites) of the Land of Israel, as claimed by the Palestinian Authority, or are they descendants of recent waves of immigration?Systematic Arab migration within the Middle East
Arab migration within the Middle East – including to/from the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean – has been an intrinsic feature of the region for millennia.
Illinois University Economics Prof. Fred Gottheil wrote (The Smoking Gun: Arab Immigration into Palestine, 1922-1931): “According to the International Labor Organization, Middle East migrant workers – moving within and beyond the Middle East – make up approximately 9% of the world’s total.”

According to the Geneva-based Global Commission on International Migration, “The world’s highest share of migrant population is to be found in the Middle East.”
The scope of Egyptian emigration is highlighted by the Washington, DC-based Migration Policy Institute: “More than 6 million Egyptian emigrants lived in the Middle East North Africa region as of 2016, primarily in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.”

This busy traffic of Arab migrants was, also, prevalent during the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, when Arab/Muslim emigrants – many of them from Egypt – pursued a better standard of living in various parts of the globe, including Ottoman and British-ruled Palestine.

Arab/Muslim migration to Palestine
According to Gottheil (ibid.), “Arab Palestinians were no less responsive than were Egyptians to the migratory impulse. According to 1998 UNRAWA estimates, there were 275,000 Arab Palestinians in Saudi Arabia, 38,000 in Kuwait [following the expulsion of almost 400,000 Palestinians in retaliation to the Palestinian collaboration with Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait], 74,000 in Libya and over 100,000 in other Gulf countries.  Hundreds of thousands left the Middle East entirely….

“It would seem reasonable to suppose that for the same reasons Arab Palestinians and other Middle East populations migrated from the less to the more attractive economies, at the end of the 20th century, they would have done the same during the early decades of the 20th century [and the 19th century].

“Two events distinguished the early years of 20th-century Palestine from its Middle Eastern neighbors: 1) the European Jewish immigration into Palestine, accompanied by European capital and European technology [e.g., Baron Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild], and 2) the creation of the British Mandatory Government in Palestine whose responsibilities included the economic development of Palestine.  As a result, British capital and British technology followed the British flag. These two events generated a momentum of economic activity that produced, in Palestine, a standard of living previously unknown in the Middle East…. Real net domestic product per capita soared, doubling during 1922-1931, from 19.4 Palestine pounds to 38.2 pounds.

“The success of these beginnings of modernization could not have been lost on Arabs living in adjacent economies….

“The modernization process in the form of infrastructure development is illustrated by the growth of road construction (450 kilometers of metaled roads in 1922; 922 kilometers in 1931), electric power (2,344 KWH consumed in 1926; 9,546 KWH in 1931) and telephone communications (3,526 telephone lines in 1924; 14,557 in 1931)….

“Arab migration flows were, in the main, illegal, and therefore unreported and unrecorded…. Commenting on the growth of the Palestinian population during the decades of the 1920s and 1930s, the Royal Institute for International Affairs reports: ‘The number of Arabs who have entered Palestine illegally from Syria and Transjordan is unknown, but probably considerable.'”

Historical documentation of Arab/Muslim migration to Palestine
Hebrew University historian, Dr. Rivka Shpak-Lissak, known for her wide and highly-diversified documentation of Arab/Muslim migration to Palestine (“When and how the Arabs and Muslims immigrated to the Land of Israel“, Hebrew, 2018) notes that the Land of Israel (named Palaistine by the Greek Empire and Palaestina by the Roman Empire, as derived from the Philistines, who migrated to the coastal plain of the Land of Israel from the Aegean Sea) was ruled by the Arabs only during 640-1099, when the overall population dwindled from 2.5 million to 500,000.  The Arab rule was succeeded by the Crusaders, then the Ayyubid-Kurdish dynasty, the Mamluk Sultanate, the Ottoman Empire  (beginning in 1516, when the population shrank to a mere 123,000) and the British Mandate.

Dr. Shpak-Lisak (ibid) indicates that the substantial increase of the Arab/Muslim population of Palestine was initiated during the first half – and toward the end – of the 19th century.  It was higher than the population growth rate in Egypt, Turkey and Iran. Thus, there was an increase of 94% from the beginning of the 19th century (246,359) to 1914 (525,150).

This increase was largely due to waves of (mostly Egyptian) immigration – to a sparsely populated and infrastructure deprived Palestine – which were triggered by:

*Significant economic growth (investment, banking, commerce), especially since 1900, compared to most Middle East and North African countries;

*Enticement by the Ottoman Empire – which ruled Palestine during 1516-1918 – such as improved governance, infrastructure development, enhanced facilities at the port of Jaffa and Ottoman military requirements (including the transfer of Egyptians to Palestine’s coastal plain, in order to restrain the Bedouin tribes and coalesce the Egyptian conquest of 1830-1840);

*A considerable expansion of church activity.

According to Prof. Usiel Oskar Schmeltz, a leading demographer at the Hebrew University and Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, 53% of the Arab/Muslim population during the beginning of the 20th century were immigrants, who were driven economically and religiously. The scope of immigration [especially Bedouin from Transjordan and Sinai] was underreported by the Ottoman regime (Review of the Population of Palestine, Middle Eastern Studies #28, 1992).

Bar Ilan University geographer, Prof. David Grossman (Rural Arab Demography and Early Jewish Settlement in Palestine), determined that most of the population growth rate of Palestinian Arabs/Muslims was a derivative of immigration, rather than natural growth. Gross estimated a 50% immigrant population among Palestinian Arabs/Muslims in 1914. He highlighted the Ottoman policy of encouraged immigration to Palestine. The latter settled in the Galilee, Haifa, Acre, the Jezreel Valley, the Jordan Valley, south of Jerusalem and along the coastal plain between Jaffa and Gaza. Since the 1830s, the immigrants were Circassians, Bosnians, Turkomans, Kurds, Algerians, (mostly) Egyptians, etc. Hence, the Mughrabi (North African) quarter and gate in Jerusalem, Kurdish neighborhoods in Hebron, Gaza and Safed, Turkoman neighborhoods in Ramleh, Safed and Gaza, Mamluk neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Safed, Gaza and Ramleh, etc.

The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica recorded that “the inhabitants of Palestine are composed of a large number of elements, differing widely in ethnological affinities, language and religion…. Early in the 20th century a list of no less than fifty languages, [were] spoken in Jerusalem as vernaculars….”

Contrary to Palestinian claims, and in accordance with a litany of documentation (courtesy of Prof. Shpak-Lissak), most of the Arabs between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, are descendants of Arab/Muslim migrants, who arrived in the 19th and 20th centuries from Muslim countries in Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe.