The term Palestine, or similar variation, has historically been used to refer to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. But perhaps it is less significant what the land was called, and more significant to understand the interactions of the people who have lived in it together for centuries.
The first moving picture, captured in Palestine by the Lumière Brothers in 1896, shows businesses, a bustling train station, and residents, with Jews, Christians, and Muslims living and praying in the same community (a link to the video is provided below at the end of this exhibit).
Before 1917 residents of multiple faiths lived together in peace in Palestine, which had been under the control of Muslim Ottoman Turks since the 1800s. Far different from the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict, violence between faith groups was rare. In his book Righteous Victims, Israeli-Jewish historian Benny Morris documents that in the 27 years ending in 1908 there had been 13 Jews killed by Arabs, of which all but 4 were in the course of robberies or other crimes. Even the distinction “Jew” and “Arab” would be difficult to make, as Palestinian Jews were Arabs, too.
Latin maps from 1759 and 1782 outline the land that is known as Palestina. These maps demonstrate an acknowledgement of this land and its villages, towns, cities, and borders.
A 1922 League of Nations report on Palestine provides census data and concludes: “A census was taken in the month of October. It showed a total population of 757,182, of whom 78% were Moslems, 11% Jews and 9.6% Christians. This was probably the first census ever taken in Palestine on a scientific basis.”
Who are Palestinians?
The 1931 Almanac includes a section titled Palestine and recognizes it as a territory with an estimated area of 9,000 square miles. Its capital, Jerusalem, is noted as having a population of 62,678 based on the 1922 census. The Almanac also notes the policy of Great Britain, who held authority of the land at the time, was to “provide a national home for the Jews, permitting them to return to Palestine only as the development of that country guarantees the normal absorption of immigrants for rising industries and reclaimed agricultural lands.
The Almanac goes into aspects of Palestine’s economy, noting “600 miles of new roads built, 200 village schools opened, and that Palestine then had nearly 150 industries with an investment of £E1,200,000, of which all but £E100,000 is Jewish.” Well before the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state, an influx of the Jewish population is recognized as between “Sept. 1, 1920 and March 1, 1925 the total number of immigrants into Palestine were 46,225 Jews and 2,027 non-Jews…In 1925, 35,641 immigrants, of whom 33,801 were Jews, were admitted compared with 13,553 (12,856) Jews in 1924. 90% came from Europe; 47% from Poland alone; 594 came from the United States.” The next few years from 1926-1929 include a number of Jews that arrive as well as a number of Jews that leave. Outside of largely new Jewish immigrants, others coming to Palestine included tourists with over 63,000 tourists in 1927, with 75% of tourists traveling from the United States.
Library of Congress Photos
Historic photos from the Library of Congress show images of Palestine in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Black and white pictures show the idyllic villages and farms of Palestine with people going about their day-to-day activities, tending to the land, playing music, attending school, and picking olives—in peace.
More historic images
This YouTube clip is part of the first moving picture in Palestine captured in 1896 by the Lumière Brothers. It describes Palestine as a population of 500,000 with a majority of Sunni Muslims. Yet, in the video, you are able to see a coming together of religions with people living and praying together in peace, whether it be a Jew at the Western Wall or an Armenian pope walking in the holy streets. It is also noted that while Jews made up half the population of Jerusalem at the time, they made up 5% of the population of Palestine as whole while Christians accounted for 10% and Muslims for 85 percent.