Did European Jews displace the indigenous Palestinians?

So there are two national groups which claim national self-determination. One group is the indigenous population, or what’s left of it—a lot of it’s been expelled or driven out or fled. The other group is the Jewish settlers who came in, originally from Europe, later from other parts of the Middle East and some other places. So there are two groups, the indigenous population and the immigrants and their descendants.

– Noam Chomsky, Chronicles of Dissent, 1992

Overview of the truth

Although there was mass migration of Jews to the British Mandate of Palestine from the end of the 19th century – the accusation that European Jews displaced an indigenous population is a calculated deception.

  • Many of today’s Palestinians are not the descendants of an indigenous population, but of Arabs that flocked to the British Mandate attracted by economic opportunities the fledgling Jewish community created.
  • There had always been a continuous Jewish presence in the region.
  • Preceding and following the creation of Israel, Jews living in Muslim lands faced horrific persecution. Around 1.2 million Jews fled or were expelled, including virtually every Jew residing in an Arab state (Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Turkey are not Arab). Nearly 1 million of these refugees sought sanctuary in Israel. The accusation that Israel is a state composed of European Jews is an outright lie.

Mass Arab migration to Mandatory Palestine


Under Ottoman rule Israel/Palestine was not an autonomous country but a region within a much larger empire. The area that became the British Mandate of Palestine (excluding Jordan) was divided into three districts:

  • The sanjak (district) of Jerusalem – part of the mutasarrifate (region) of Syria.
  • The sanjak of Acre and sanjak of Nablus, both part of the vilayet (region) of Beirut.

At the dawn of the Zionist movement few people lived in these districts. In 1882 the area was vastly underpopulated with just 300,000 (1) people inhabiting the land (or 10 people every square mile) – put simply, it was as sparsely populated as Canada is today. The population has now swelled to 12.7 million people in Israel and the territories – which is around 450 people every square mile (not quite as populated as Lebanon).

In just over a century the region was transformed from one of the most sparsely populated territories in the world to a thriving a built up region. It would be a mistake to think this was from Jewish migration alone, in 1882 there were 276,000 (1) Arabs living in the region and by 1946 this had risen to 1,267,037 (ballooning by 359%). Arab migration to Israel/Palestine dwarfed Arab migration to any other state in the Middle East.


So what was causing the Arabs to flock to this region in such large numbers? Prior to Jewish migration the region “2,500-3,000 Arabs, or 1 out of every 200-250 inhabitants, emigrated from the area every year, this rate was slashed to about 800 per annum between 1920 and 1936”. (2) Efforts to establish the Jewish National Home created a considerable improvement in the socio-economic conditions for not just Jews, but also Arabs, who were now benefiting from a standard of living well above their neighbouring states. The British government, who were ruling power, commented in their 1937 commission of enquiry:

The general beneficent effect of Jewish immigration on Arab welfare is illustrated by the fact that the increase in the Arab population is most marked in urban areas affected by Jewish development. A comparison of the Census returns in 1922 and 1931 shows that, six years ago, the increase percent in Haifa was 86, in Jaffa 62, in Jerusalem 37, while in purely Arab towns such as Nablus and Hebron it was only 7, and at Gaza there was a decrease of 2 percent

– Peel Commission Report, British Government, 1937

The legacy of mass migration is everywhere, many of the most common Palestinian surnames confirm where these families originate from:

  • al-Afghani – the Afghan
  • al-Ajami – the Iranian
  • al-Djazair – the Algerian
  • al-Hindi – the Indian
  • al-Kurdi – the Kurd
  • Bushnak – Bosnia
  • Khamis – Bahrain
  • Egypt
    • al-Masri – literally, the Egyptian
    • Bardawil – named after a lake in Egypt
    • Metzarwah
    • Nashashibi
    • al-Tamimi (although the Tamim Tribe originate from Arabia)
    • Arab Abu-Kishk
    • Arab al-Shakirat
    • Arab al-Zabidat
    • Arab al-Aramsha
    • Abu Sitta
  • Iraq
    • Iraqi – literally, the Iraqi
    • al-Baghdadi – literally, the Baghdadi
    • al-Tikriti – literally, the Tikriti
    • al-Faruqi
    • Zubeidi
    • Zoabi
  • Lebanon
    • al-Lubnani – literally, the Lebanese
    • Tarabulsi – literally, from Tripoli (Tarabulus)
  • Morocco
    • al-Mughrabi – literally, the Moroccan
    • al-Araj
  • Morocco
    • al-Turki – the Turk
    • Othman – Turkey
  • Saudi Arabia
    • al-Saud / Saudi –  literally, the Saudi
    • al-Hijazi – literally, from Saudi Arabian
    • al-Qurashi (Arabian tribe)
    • al-Husayni
    • Darjani
    • Omaya
  • Syria
    • al-Shami –  literally, the Syrian
    • Halabi – literally, the Aleppan (Aleppo / Halab)
    • Alawi – literally, the Alawite (a Syrian religious group)
    • al-Hourani – the Hauranite (from southern Syria)
  • Yemen
    • al-Yamani – the Yemeni
    • al-Azd – literally, the Azd (a Yemenite tribe)
    • Mattar
    • Murad
    • Haddadins (descended from Ghassanid Christian Arabs)
  • al-Ubayyidi – from al-Ubayyid, Sudan

In addition to the tell tale names, we only need to look at the birthplaces of the most infamous early Palestinian leaders to realise many of the Palestinians are not indigenous:

  • Yasser Arafat, PLO Chairman, PNA president, Leader of Fatah and the Palestinian people – born 1929 in Cairo, Egypt
  • Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, national hero and founder of The Black Hand – born 1882 in Jableh, Syria
  • Ahmad Shukeiri, chairman of PLO – born 1908 in Tebnine, Lebanon
  • Ahmed Hilmi Pasha, Prime-Minister All-Palestine Government – born in 1883, Sidon, Lebanon
  • Abu Abbas, founder of the PLF – born 1948 in Damascus, Syria
  • Fawzi al-Qawuqji, Palestine Field Commander of Arab Liberation Army – born 1890 in Tripoli, Lebanon
  • Faisal Abdel Qader Al-Husseiniborn 1948 in Baghdad, Iraq
  • Nayef Hawatmeh, General Secretary of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine – born 1938 in Salt, Jordan
  • Mahmoud al-Zahar, co-founder of Hamas – born 1945 in Cairo, Egypt.

The mass migration of Arabs to the British Mandate of Palestine has been well documented and the evidence is omnipresent, from statistics, to surnames, right down to the birthplaces of many Palestinian leaders.

One of the most surprising twists to this period occurred when the United Nations, conscious of such large scale migration, “defined a Palestinian refugee – unlike any other refugee in history – as anyone who had lived in what became Israel for only two years prior to leaving”. (3) When pro-Palestinian activists talk of the right-to-return for the Palestinian refugees, what they tend not to explain is that many of these economic migrants had absolutely no ancestral or legitimate claim to the land.

A continuous Jewish presence in Israel for 3,000 years

Jews are the oldest indigenous population in the land and have maintained a continuous presence for over 3,000 years according to both archeological and historical evidence.

  • When the Romans expelled the Jews from Jerusalem, Jewish civilization in Israel was already over 1,000 years old. Rome exiled only a portion of the population. The remaining Jews, banned from Jerusalem, flourished for centuries in other Jewish towns such as Yavne, Rafah, Gaza, Ashkelon, Jaffa and Caesarea.
  • 400 years later the Jews from Galilee optimistically declared, “the end of the exile of our people” when the Empress Eudocia permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem.
  • In 1165, Benjamin of Tudela, the renowned Spanish traveler, reported that although the Crusaders had almost “wiped out” the Jewish communities of Jerusalem, Acre, Caesarea and Haifa. Some Jews survived, and whole “village communities of Galilee survived.”
  • Over the next few centuries the population rebounded and grew as Jews returned in waves of immigration settling in Safed, Jerusalem, Tiberius and Hebron.
  • Under Ottoman rule Sultan Suleiman I allowed many Jews “to return to the Holy Land”. In 1561, “Suleiman gave Tiberias, one of the four Jewish holy cities, to the Jew, Don Joseph Nasi, who rebuilt the city and the villages around it”. Nasi’s efforts attracted Jewish settlement from many areas of the Mediterranean.
  • After 1850, the Jewish population grew further and by the 1870s, Jews once again were the majority religious group in Jerusalem.

During the first two decades of Israel’s existence half of the new immigrants were Jewish refugees fleeing Muslim lands

Although much is heard about the plight of the Palestinian refugees who left Israel between the years of 1947 and 1967, what most people aren’t aware of is that almost twice as many Jewish refugees were forced to flee Muslim states during this period. Efraim Karsh places the Palestinian refugee figure at around 600,000, over 1.1 million Jews were either expelled or forced to flee Muslim lands as persecution levels increased.

Read more about Jewish refugees from Muslim and Arab lands


Many of today’s Palestinians were not indigenous to land, they were the descendants of migrants attracted by the economic fruits of Zionism. On the contrary, many of the indigenous population were Jews who’d dwelled in the land continuously since the biblical era. The accusation that a foreign European entity pushed out an ancient indigenous people is simply untrue. It also ignores the reality that many of the Jewish immigrants, 680,000 to be precise, were refugees from neighbouring states – not Europe.

More refugee myths debunked here:


1. Israel in the Middle East: Documents and Readings on Society, Politics, and Foreign Relations, Pre-1948 to the Present, Ed. by Itamar Rabinovich and Jehuda Reinharz, p.571-572
2. Efraim Karsh, Palestine Betrayed, p12
3. Alan Dershowitz, The Case For Israel, p5