Sunday, December 6, 2009

Who are the Palestinians?

So, I was getting ready to make my next post (about my trip to the United State Holocaust Memorial Museum yesterday), and I realized that I need to set the stage a little bit more before I can jump to the relationship of the Holocaust to the history of the region. It's difficult to know how to piece this all together, but I know that I need to add a little bit more in terms of geography and demographics.

Once again, let's look at a map of Palestine/Israel. Even just calling it Palestine/Israel suggests that we are dealing with something very complicated, so let's get into it.

If you look at the map, or the maps from the last post, you should notice something strange. Within the political borders of the state of Israel, there are two places that aren't quite part of Israel but are inside of it. What are those places? How did that happen?

First, those two places are called the West Bank (of the Jordan River) and the Gaza Strip. You've already been directed to Gaza, now I'll circle both it and the West Bank.

These two sites are the current homeland of Palestinian Arabs. The population of Palestinian Arabs in the world is roughly 9-10 million, according to Wikipedia. The following chart is pretty helpful in terms of understanding where this population lives.


Regions with significant populations
Palestinian territories Palestinian territories 3,761,000 [1]
West Bank 2,345,000 [1]
Gaza Strip 1,416,000 [1]
Jordan 2,700,000 [2]
Israel 1,318,000
Syria 573,000 [3]
Chile 500,000 [4]
Lebanon 405,425
Saudi Arabia 250,245
Egypt 70,245
USA 67,842 [5]
Honduras 54,000 [6]
Kuwait 50,000
Brazil 50,000 [7]
Iraq 34,000 [8]
Yemen 25,000 [6]
Canada 23,975 [9]
Australia 15,000
Colombia 12,000 [6]
Guatemala 1,400 [6]

As you can see, roughly half of the population of Palestinian people in the world do not live in Palestinian territory. This should also give us a clue that something strange has happened.

There is a lot that you could read about who Palestinians are (as always, Wikipedia is a good place to start, and it will help you find other sources), but I'll try to add a few points here to provide some context.
  • Of the roughly half of Palestinians that are living outside of Gaza and the West Bank, most are "stateless refugees," which means that they don't have legal citizenship in the places that they are living.
  • People who today consider themselves Palestinian identify both with the indigenous groups of people who have lived there as far back as prehistoric times and the Arab conquerors who came in the 7th Century
  • The timing of when people began to identify as "Palestinian" is up for debate, but the factors that that have helped to forge a Palestinian national identity include: a response to the conditions of Arab people living in the region under the control of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th and early 20th Centuries and a response to Zionism (which I'll take up later) and British control after World War I.
  • Palestinians are considered Arab ethnically, and the major language group spoken by most is Arabic.
  • While the majority of Palestinians are Muslim, there is a significant Christian population (Jerusalem, of course, being the birthplace of Christianity) with some indigenous Druze and Samaritan folks in the mix. Most Palestinian Jews identify as Israelis.
  • Like all people in the world, Palestinians have their own culture, complete with unique foods, art, music, stories, dances, architecture, and clothes, including the keffiyah, which has cultural significance for Palestinians long before it became the Hip-Hop/hipster-chic thing to have in the U.S. in the last few years

That's one set of folks that live there. The other is Israelis, and I'll take them up next time.

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