Here are two videos portraying life and society in Palestine from 1896 to 1948. This is great history.
The first video is 2.5 minutes long and features footage from 1896 when there were about 500,000 inhabitants in Palestine, including about 30,000 people in Jerusalem. Jews made up roughly 50% of Jerusalem’s population, but less than 5% of the population elsewhere. Outside of Jerusalem, where more than 90% of Palestine’s population lived, Muslims made up about 85% of the population and Christians made up about 10% of the population.
The second video is 10 minutes long, and features quite a number of still photos spanning the decades prior to Israel becoming a nation in 1948. There are universities and colleges, sports matches, and other evidences of a vibrant society. The music that this video is set to is pretty neat too. This video footage was included in a French documentary called “Palestine, Story of a Land.”
This footage might bring to mind the expression that has been attributed to early Zionists, that Palestine was “a land without a people for a people without a land.” Within the last couple of years I’ve learned some things about the origins and development of this expression. As Diana Muir points out in a well-written 2008 article, it appears to have its roots in a statement made
“by Church of Scotland clergyman Alexander Keith in his 1843 book The Land of Israel According to the Covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. Keith was an influential evangelical thinker whose most popular work, Evidence of the Truth of the Christian Religion Derived from the Literal Fulfillment of Prophecy, remains in print almost two centuries after it was first published. As an advocate of the idea that Christians should work to encourage the biblical prophecy of a Jewish return to the land of Israel, he wrote that the Jews are “a people without a country; even as their own land, as subsequently to be shown, is in a great measure a country without a people.”
Muir goes on to give examples of other Christian writers and leaders adopting this phrase in some form before Israel Zangwill in 1901 apparently became the first Zionist to use it, saying, “Palestine is a country without a people; the Jews are a people without a country.”
In any case, as these videos show, Palestine had much more of a thriving society before 1948 than many people have been willing to acknowledge. By numerous accounts, Palestinian Jews and Palestinian Arabs also got along quite fine during that time period. For example, Elias Chacour, a Christian Palestinian Arab who was nine years old when Israel became a nation, wrote about a childhood experience he often witnessed in the village of Biram:
“Many of these Jewish neighbors came to Biram to trade as well. When they stopped by our house for figs, father welcomed them with the customary hospitality and a cup of tar-like, bittersweet coffee—the cup of friendship” (Elias Chacour, Blood Brothers, 2005, p. 24).
If one looks past the awful headlines that are currently dominating the news concerning this part of the world, one can find examples of Palestinians, Jews, and others actively working for peace there. Elias is one of them. May the people of this region soon experience the healing and the restoration that they need.
A reader, PJ Miller, pointed out another interesting video depicting life in Palestine, this one being nearly 180 years old: