Unknown to most of the world population, the origin of the “Palestinian” Arabs’ claim to the Holy Land spans a period of a meager 30 years – a drop in the bucket compared to the thousands of years of the region’s rich history.
Before the beginning of the 20th century, there were practically no Muslim Arabs in the Holy Land. In 1695 there was not a single Muslim Arab in Gaza, Nazareth, and Um-El-Phachem. All Arabs there were Christians. By contrast, the Jews, despite 2000 years of persecution and forced conversions by various conquerors, have throughout most of history been the majority population in the Holy Land. In Jerusalem Jews were always the largest demographic group , except for periods when conquerors specifically threw them out and prevented them from returning.
When General Allenby, the commander of the British military forces, conquered Palestine in 1917/1918, only a few thousand Muslim Arabs resided in the Holy Land. Most of the Arabs were Christians, and most of the Muslims in the area either came from Turkey under the Ottoman Empire, or were the descendants of Jews and Christians who were forcefully converted to Islam by the Muslim conquerors. These Muslims were not of Arab origin. Most references to Arabs in Palestine before 1917 refer to the Christian Arabs, not to the Muslims.
It is important to note that estimates and censuses conducted by the Muslim conquerors were biased. Therefore, the only reliable data is provided by non-Muslim sources. Tourists and politicians, Arabs and non-Arabs alike, have documented their observations of the population in the Holy Land beginning more that a thousand years ago.
Let’s start at the early days and continue into the Ottoman period: