Origin of the Palestinians

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The study of the origins of the Palestinians, a population encompassing the Arab inhabitants of the former Mandatory Palestine and their descendants,[1] is a subject approached through an interdisciplinary lens, drawing from fields such as population genetics, demographic history, folklore, including oral traditions, linguistics, and other disciplines.

The demographic history of Palestine has been shaped by various historical events and migrations. Over time, it shifted from a Jewish majority in the early Roman period to a Christian majority in Late Roman and Byzantine times.[2] The Muslim conquest of the Levant in the 7th century initiated a process of Arabization and Islamization through the conversion and acculturation of locals, accompanied by Arab settlement. This led to a Muslim-majority population, though significantly smaller, in the Middle Ages.[3][4] The Muslim dominance persisted up until the 20th century, influenced by Muslim immigration from surrounding regions, including Egypt,[5][6] Transjordan,[7] Arabian Peninsula,[7] Kurdistan,[8] Syria,[9][10] and the Maghreb.[6] These demographic shifts are also reflected in local traditions of ancestry. Many Palestinian villagers claim ancestral ties to Arab tribes from the Arabian Peninsula that settled in Palestine during or after the Arab conquest,[11] while others trace their roots to Turkish, North African, Kurdish, Egyptian, and Turkman origins. Some Palestinian families, notably in the Hebron and Nablus regions, claim Jewish and Samaritan ancestry respectively, preserving associated cultural customs and traditions.[12][13][14]

Genetic studies indicate a genetic affinity between Palestinians and other Levantine populations, as well as other Arab and Semitic groups in the Middle East and North Africa.[15][16] Genetic studies have also shown a close genetic relationship between Palestinians and Jews,[17][18][19] suggesting a shared ancestral heritage.[17] Recent research suggests a genetic continuity between several modern Levantine groups, including Palestinians, and ancient Levantine populations, evidenced by their clustering with the Bronze-Age population of Canaan.[20] Variations have been noted between Muslim and Christian Palestinians.[21] Additionally, there are indications within Palestinian populations of maternal gene flow from Sub-Saharan Africa, possibly linked to historical migrations or the Arab slave trade.[22]

The historical discourse regarding the origin of the Palestinians has been influenced by the ongoing effort of nation-building, including the attempt to solidify Palestinian national consciousness as the primary framework of identity, as opposed to other identities dominant among Palestinians, including primordial clannish, tribal, local, and Islamist identities.[23]


As recently as 2001, genetic research was incomplete enough that genetic scientists still cited theories about the roots of today's Palestinians' in present-day Israel/Palestine dating back only 1200 BC — in one theory, from Egyptian garrisons that were abandoned to their own fate in Canaan, in another, from immigrants from Crete or the Aegean, conflating Palestinians with "Philistines", from which the word "Palestine" is derived.[24] A 2010 study by Behar et al. found Palestinians tested clustered genetically close to Bedouins, Jordanians and Saudi Arabians, which was described as "consistent with a common origin in the Arabian Peninsula".[16] More recent studies since 2017[25][26] have found that Palestinians, and other Levantine people, are primarily descended from ancient Levantines present in what is today Israel and Palestine, dating back at least 3700 years.[27][better source needed]

Levantine origins

Principal Component Analysis of ancient and modern populations Palestinians, Jews and others showing Palestinians clustering with Bronze-Age Levant
A Palestinian girl in Qalqilya.

A 2015 study by Verónica Fernandes and others concluded that Palestinians have a "primarily indigenous origin".[28]

According to a study published in June 2017 by Ranajit Das, Paul Wexler, Mehdi Pirooznia, and Eran Elhaik in Frontiers in Genetics, in a principal component analysis, Natufians, together with a Neolithic Levantine sample, "clustered predominantly with modern-day Palestinians and Bedouins" and that Palestinians have a "predominant" ancient Levantine origin (58%) and residual Iranian origin (18%), with some Eastern Hunter-Gatherer and smaller amounts of Anatolian admixture.[25] In a study published in August 2017 by Marc Haber et al. in The American Journal of Human Genetics, the authors concluded that: "The overlap between the Bronze Age and present-day Levantines suggests a degree of genetic continuity in the region."[29]

A 2020 study on human remains from Middle Bronze Age Palestinian (2100–1550 BC) populations suggests a significant degree of genetic continuity in Arabic-speaking Levantine populations (such as Palestinians, Druze, Lebanese, Jordanians, Bedouins, and Syrians), as well as several Jewish groups (such as Ashkenazi, Iranian, and Moroccan Jews).[20] Palestinians, among other Levantine groups, were found to derive 81–87% of their ancestry from Bronze age Levantines, relating to Canaanites as well as Kura–Araxes culture impact from before 2400 BCE (4400 years before present); 8–12% from an East African source and 5–10% from Bronze age Europeans. Results show that a significant European component was added to the region since the Bronze Age (on average ~8.7%), seemingly related to the Sea Peoples, excluding Ashkenazi and Moroccan Jews who harbour ~31–42% European-related ancestry, both populations having a history in Europe.[20]: 1146–1157 

A 2021 study by the New York Genome Center found that the predominant component of the DNA of modern Palestinians matches that of Bronze Age Palestinian Canaanites who lived around 2500–1700 BCE.[27]

Between Muslim and Christian Palestinians

In a genetic study of Y-chromosomal STRs in two populations from Israel and the Palestinian Authority Area: Christian and Muslim Palestinians showed genetic differences. The majority of Palestinian Christians (31.82%) were a subclade of E1b1b, followed by G2a (11.36%), and J1 (9.09%). The majority of Palestinian Muslims were haplogroup J1 (37.82%) followed by E1b1b (19.33%), and T (5.88%). The study sample consisted of 44 Palestinian Christians and 119 Palestinian Muslims.[21]

Relation to other Semitic and Arab peoples

In a 2003 genetic study, Bedouins showed the highest rates (62.5%) of the subclade Haplogroup J-M267 among all populations tested, followed by Palestinian Arabs (38.4%), Iraqis (28.2%), Ashkenazi Jews (14.6%) and Sephardic Jews (11.9%), according to Semino et al.[30] Semitic-speaking populations usually possess an excess of J1 Y chromosomes compared to other populations harboring Y-haplogroup J.[30][31][32][33] The haplogroup J1, the ancestor of subclade M267, originates south of the Levant and was first disseminated from there into Ethiopia and Europe in Neolithic times. J1 is most common in Palestine, as well as Syria, Iraq, Algeria, and Arabia, and drops sharply at the border of non-semitic areas like Turkey and Iran. A second diffusion of the J1 marker took place in the 7th century CE when Arabians brought it from Arabia to North Africa.[30]

According to a 2010 study by Behar et al. titled "The genome-wide structure of the Jewish people", in one analysis, Palestinians tested clustered genetically close to Bedouins, Jordanians and Saudi Arabians which was described as "consistent with a common origin in the Arabian Peninsula". In another analysis of West Eurasians only, Palestinians fell between Saudis (and more distantly, Bedouins) on one side and Jordanians and Syrians on the other. Admixture analysis in the same study inferred that the Palestinian and Jordanian DNA largely resembled the mixture of Syrians, Lebanese, Druze and Samaritans. They differed from the Saudi profile, which almost completely lacked a European-like component and had a smaller proportion of the component typical of more northerly West Asian populations, both of which were more prominently present in Palestinians and other Levantine populations. Palestinians differed from Druze and Samaritans in having more sub-Saharan African-related admixture.[16]

A 2013 study by Haber et al. found that "The predominantly Muslim populations of Syrians, Palestinians and Jordanians cluster on branches with other Muslim populations as distant as Morocco and Yemen." The authors explained that "religious affiliation had a strong impact on the genomes of the Levantines. In particular, conversion of the region's populations to Islam appears to have introduced major rearrangements in populations' relations through admixture with culturally similar but geographically remote populations leading to genetic similarities between remarkably distant populations." The study found that Christians and Druze became genetically isolated following the arrival of Islam. The authors reconstructed the genetic structure of pre-Islamic Levant and found that "it was more genetically similar to Europeans than to Middle Easterners."[15]

Comparison of Jews and Palestinians

In recent years, genetic studies have demonstrated that, at least paternally, Jewish ethnic divisions and the Palestinians are related to each other.[17] Genetic studies on Jews have shown that Jews and Palestinians are closer to each other than the Jews are to their host countries.[18][19] At the haplogroup level, defined by the binary polymorphisms only, the Y chromosome distribution in Arabs and Jews was similar but not identical.[34]

A 2010 study by Atzmon and Harry Ostrer concluded that the Palestinians were, together with Bedouins, Druze and southern European groups, the closest genetic neighbors to most Jewish populations.[35]

Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim in Sevilla, 2002

One DNA study by Nebel found substantial genetic overlap among Israeli/Palestinian Arabs and Jews.[36] Nebel proposed that "part, or perhaps the majority" of Muslim Palestinians descend from "local inhabitants, mainly Christians and Jews, who had converted after the Islamic conquest in the seventh century AD".[17]

As noted previously a 2020 study found common ancestry for modern Levantine Arabic-speaking peoples and Ashkenazi populations, but with the latter harbouring a much higher (41%) European-related component.[20]

Sub-Saharan Africa

A study found that the Palestinians, like Jordanians, Lebanese, and Syrians, have what appears to be female-mediated gene flow in the form of maternal DNA haplogroups from Sub-Saharan Africa. 15% of the 117 Palestinian individuals tested carried maternal haplogroups that originated in Sub-Saharan Africa. These results are consistent with female migration from eastern Africa into Near Eastern communities within the last few thousand years. There have been many opportunities for such migrations during this period. However, the most likely explanation for the presence of predominantly female lineages of African origin in these areas is that they may trace back to women brought from Africa as part of the Arab slave trade, assimilated into the areas under Arab rule.[22]

Historical analysis

The complex demographic history of Palestine has been influenced by several historical occurrences and migrations. The region was home to diverse ethnic groups and populations over centuries. During the Bronze Age, the region of Palestine was mainly inhabited by Canaanites, who mainly established themselves in fortified cities, as well as various Semitic nomadic groups such as the Shasu.[37][38][39][40][41] Following the Late Bronze Age collapse c. 1200–1150 BC, and the consequent advent of the Iron Age, the Israelites emerged in the central highlands establishing settlements throughout the country, founding the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, while the Philistines settled along the coastal strip of what became known as the Philistine pentapolis.[42][43] The Israelite kingdoms came to an abrupt end under the Assyrians and the Babylonians, and the period of Babylonian exile set in until the exilic return during the Persian period.

Following the Maccabean Revolt, the consequent Hasmonean conquests in Palestine prompted Jewish settlement outside of Judea in Galilee,[44][45] Samaria,[46][47] and Idumaea,[45] establishing a preponderance of Jewish elements throughout Palestine by the 1st century BC, where pagans and Samaritans also lived.[48][49][50] However, the Jewish–Roman wars between 66 and 135 significantly diminished Jewish numbers, especially with the destruction of the Jerusalem metropolis and its environs. Nevertheless, Jewish communities continued to thrive along the eastern, southern and western edges of Judah, in the Galilee, Golan and the Scythopolis region.[51]

In the centuries that followed, the region experienced political and economic unrest and the division of the Roman empire into two western and eastern empires. With the conversion of Constantine in the 4th century, the situation for the Jewish majority in Palestine "became more difficult".[52] A series of laws were passed that discriminated against Jews and Judaism, and Jews were persecuted by both the church and the authorities.[53] Many Jews had emigrated to flourishing Diaspora communities,[54] while locally there was both Christian immigration and local conversion. By the middle of the 5th century, there was a Christian majority.[55][56] By the 6th century, much of the community churches in Judea, western Galilee, the Naqab and other places had been built.[57]

In the period prior to the Muslim conquest of Palestine (635–640), Palaestina Prima had a population of 700 thousand, of which around 100 thousand were Jews and 30 to 80 thousand were Samaritans,[58] with the remainder being Chalcedonian and Miaphysite Christians.[59][60][61]

Demographic changes during the Islamic period

The Muslim conquest of the Levant in the 7th century which brought the region under the rule of the Muslim Arabs from the west-central Arabian Peninsula. In the following centuries, several Arabic-speaking Muslim dynasties such as the Umayyads, Abbasids, and Fatimids came to rule the region.[61] This era witnessed a gradual process of Arabization and Islamization, accompanied by significant emigration and immigration. Frequent plague recurrences between 688 and 744 and devastating earthquakes (in 749, 881 and 1033) caused a steady decline of the population, falling from an estimated 1 million in the 5th century to a lowest estimate of 560,000–400,000 by the onset of the First Crusade.[62][63][64][65]

It is unknown whether Palestine's population shifted toward Islam before or after the Crusader period (1099–1291). Some academics suggest that much of Palestine was already predominately Muslim at the time the Crusaders arrived.[66][67][68] Alternatively, it has been argued that the process of Islamization occurred much later, perhaps during the Mamluk period.[3][69][61]

A loom at work making a traditional Palestinian keffiyeh in Hebron, Palestine. The keffiyeh is a traditional headdress with origins in Arabia

Unlike other regions, the Levant and Palestine experienced minor Arabian tribal settlement, which mostly included Kinana, Khath'am, Khuza'a, and Azd Sarat newcomers, and instead the prominent pre-Islamic Arab tribes of Palestine were incorporated into military and governance, namely Lakhm, Amilah, Ghassan and Judham.[70][59] Some of these local Arab tribes and Bedouin fought as allies of Byzantium in resisting the invasion, which the archaeological evidence indicates was a 'peaceful conquest',[dubious ] and the newcomers were allowed to settle in the old urban areas. Theories of population decline compensated by the importation of foreign populations are not confirmed by the archaeological record.[71] In contrast to other regions where Muslim soldiers established garrison cities (amsar), in the Levant, Muslim troops settled in pre-existing cities where they lived off of jizya and the kharaj taxes paid by the majority non-Muslim population, and had little interest in making converts to Islam.[72][73][74]

During the early Islamic period, there was a significant movement of local populations, particularly Christians, from coastal areas to inland settlements and destinations across the Mediterranean. Arabs and other Muslims established themselves in fortified towns and fortresses along the coast. Historical accounts from Muslim writers confirm the presence of Muslims, including military personnel and individuals in administrative or religious roles, originating from regions such as Syria, Iraq, Persia, Egypt, and the Maghreb residing in Palestine, particularly in large towns.[9]

The pace of Islamization among the Christian, Jewish, and Samaritan communities in Palestine varied during the early period (661–861).[75] After the 630s most of the urban centers declined, which caused local ecclesiastical administrations to weaken or disappear altogether, leaving Christians most susceptible to conversion.[75][61] Nevertheless, Christians managed to survive in larger numbers than Jews and Samaritans, possibly due to their superior numbers or better organization.[75] Jewish communities, which were almost on the brink of extinction, only recovered following the arrival of Jews from various diaspora communities.[75] Following the 749 Galilee earthquake, northern Palestine foestered movement from the devastated cities in the Transjordan, such as Hippos.[75][61]

The Christians appear to have maintained a majority in much of both Palestine and Syria under Muslim rule until the Crusades. The original conquest in the 630s had guaranteed religious freedom, improving that of the Jews and the Samaritans, who were classified with the former.[76][77][78] However, as dhimmi, adult males had to pay the jizya or "protection tax". The economic burden inflicted on some dhimmi communities (especially that of the Samaritans) sometimes promoted mass conversions.[79] Among the cultural survivals from pre-Islamic times are the significant Palestinian Christian community, roughly 10% of the overall population in late Ottoman times and 45% of Jerusalem's citizens,[80] and smaller Jewish and Samaritan ones, as well as an Aramaic substratum in some local Palestinian Arabic dialects.[81][page needed]

In the Crusader, Ayyubid and Mamluk periods

When the Crusaders arrived in Palestine during the 11th century, they made no distinction between Christians who for the Latin rite were considered heretics, Jews and Muslims, slaughtering all indiscriminately.[82][83] The Crusaders, in wresting holy sites such as the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem from the Orthodox church were among several factors that deeply alienated the traditional Christian community, which sought relief in the Muslims. When Saladin overthrew the Crusaders, he restored these sites to Orthodox Christian control.[84]

Together with the alienating policies of the Crusaders, the Mongol Invasion and the rise of the Mamluks were turning points in the fate of Christianity in this region, and their congregations – many Christians having sided with the Mongols – were noticeably reduced under the Mamluks. Stricter regulations to control Christian communities ensued, theological enmities grew, and the process of Arabization and Islamicization strengthened, abetted with the inflow of nomadic Bedouin tribes in the 13th and 14th centuries.[85]

The Zengid offensive in Kurdistan circa 1130 resulted in the migration of numerous Kurds to settle in Palestine and Syria. Additionally, the Mongol invasions during the thirteenth century triggered a large-scale movement of Kurds into Palestine and Syria, not all of it permanent.[8]

Beit Sahour was first settled in the 14th century by a handful of Christian and Muslim clans (hamula) from Wadi Musa in Jordan, the Christian Jaraisa and the Muslim Shaybat and Jubran, who came to work as shepherds for Bethlehem's Christian landowners, and they were subsequently joined by other Greek Orthodox immigrants from Egypt in the 17th–18th centuries.[86]

Under Ottoman rule (1516–1918)

A veiled Arab woman in Bersheeba, Palestine c.1940

By the start of the Ottoman period in 1516, it is commonly thought that the Muslim majority in the country was more-or-less like that of the mid-19th century.[87] During the first century of the Ottoman rule, i.e., 1550, Bernard Lewis in a study of Ottoman registers of the early Ottoman Rule of Palestine reports a population of an estimated 300,000, who were mainly fellahin (peasants).[88][4] According to Justin McCarthy, the sedentary population of Palestine during the 17th and 18th centuries was likely not much different than it was in 1850 (~350,000).[89]

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Egypt experienced significant waves of emigration to Palestine. One notable influx occurred in the 1780s due to a severe famine in Egypt. According to one estimate, approximately one-sixth of the Egyptian population migrated during this period, with many settling in Palestine.[5]

Between 1831 and 1840, during Muhammad Ali's conquests and later under his son, Ibrahim Pasha, Egyptian settlers and army dropouts settled in Palestine. These immigrants primarily settled in well-established cities such as Jaffa and Gaza, where they founded sakināt (residential districts). Some dispersed into villages. Historically, there were 19 villages in the southern coastal plain and near Ramla with families of Egyptian descent. Today, remnants of this migration can still be seen in the northern parts of the Samaria region, particularly in the 'Ara Valley, where a significant population of Egyptian descent resides.[6]

Algerian refugees ("Maghrebis") started arriving in Palestine as early as the 1850s following Abdelkader's rebellion.[90][91] They were in a destitute state when they were transferred through northern Palestine to Syria and other areas. Many eventually settled in abandoned villages in the eastern part of the Lower Galilee.[90] During the Mandatory period, twelve settlements in the Galilee were inhabited by Algerians.[91] The village of Kafr Sabt, for example, was entirely inhabited by Algerians.[90] Small numbers of Algerian Berber refugees also settled in Safed after the exile of Abdelkader to Damascus in 1855.[6]

Some rural and urban Palestinians have Albanian, Bosnian, Circassian, or other non-Arab ancestry due to the legacy of the Ottoman period, which brought non-Arab communities to the region in the 19th century.[6][92][93]

Under Mandatory rule (1918–1948)

During the Mandatory era, Haifa became a hub for migration, drawing thousands from the Hauran, Galilee, and Golan regions. This influx was driven by employment prospects generated by the construction of a deep-water port and the expansion of maritime economic activities under British auspices.[94] The Sharon plain also attracted Arab migration during the Mandatory period, driven by Jewish settlement and government development initiatives that eradicated malaria, enhanced healthcare services, extended life expectancy, and generated job opportunities in the area.[95]

Pre-Islamic influence on Palestinian identity

While Palestinian culture is today primarily Arab and Islamic, many Palestinians identify themselves with earlier civilizations that inhabited the land of Palestine,[96] including Natufians and Canaanites.[97][98] According to Walid Khalidi, in Ottoman times "the Palestinians considered themselves to be descended not only from Arab conquerors of the seventh century but also from indigenous peoples who had lived in the country since time immemorial."[99] Early Jewish advocates of Canaanism in the 1940s, including founder Yonatan Ratosh, claimed Palestinians were the descendants of Canaanites and encouraged Israeli irredentism.[100]

According to Claude R. Conder of the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF) in 1876: "It is well known to those familiar to the country that whatever else they may be, the Fellahin, or native peasantry of Palestine, are not Arabs; and if we judge from the names of the topographical features their language can scarcely be called Arabic."[101] Modern linguists contend that Palestinian Arabic, like other Levantine Arabic dialects, is a mixture of Hejazi Arabic and ancient northern Arabic dialects spoken in the Levant before Islam, with heavy Aramaic and Hebrew substrates.[102][103][104][105][106][107]

Palestinians anthropologist Ali Qleibo and sociologist Samih Farsoun both argue:

Throughout history a great diversity of peoples has moved into the region and made Palestine their homeland: Canaanites, Jebusites, Philistines from Crete, Anatolian and Hellenic Greeks, Hebrews, Amorites, Edomites, Nabataeans, Arameans, Romans, Arabs, and Western European Crusaders, to name a few. Each of them appropriated different regions that overlapped in time and competed for sovereignty and land. Others, such as Ancient Egyptians, Hittites, Persians, Babylonians, and the Mongol raids of the late 1200s, were historical 'events' whose successive occupations were as ravaging as the effects of major earthquakes ... Like shooting stars, the various cultures shine for a brief moment before they fade out of official historical and cultural records of Palestine. The people, however, survive. In their customs and manners, fossils of these ancient civilizations survived until modernity—albeit modernity camouflaged under the veneer of Islam and Arabic culture.[96][99]

George Antonius, founder of modern Arab nationalist history, wrote in his seminal 1938 book The Arab Awakening:

The Arabs' connection with Palestine goes back uninterruptedly to the earliest historic times, for the term 'Arab' [in Palestine] denotes nowadays not merely the incomers from the Arabian Peninsula who occupied the country in the seventh century, but also the older populations who intermarried with their conquerors, acquired their speech, customs and ways of thought and became permanently arabised.[108]

American historian Bernard Lewis writes:

Clearly, in Palestine as elsewhere in the Middle East, the modern inhabitants include among their ancestors those who lived in the country in antiquity. Equally obviously, the demographic mix was greatly modified over the centuries by migration, deportation, immigration, and settlement. This was particularly true in Palestine, where the population was transformed by such events as the Jewish rebellion against Rome and its suppression, the Arab conquest, the coming and going of the Crusaders, the devastation and resettlement of the coastlands by the Mamluk and Turkish regimes, and, from the nineteenth century, by extensive migrations from both within and from outside the region. Through invasion and deportation, and successive changes of rule and of culture, the face of the Palestinian population changed several times. No doubt, the original inhabitants were never entirely obliterated, but in the course of time they were successively Judaized, Christianized, and Islamized. Their language was transformed to Hebrew, then to Aramaic, then to Arabic.[109]

In oral traditions

Traditions of Arabian, Transjordanian and Syrian ancestry

Many Muslim Palestinian villagers avow oral traditions of descent from nomadic Arab tribes that migrated to Palestine during or shortly after the Muslim conquest of the Levant.[11][110][7] Other Muslim Palestinians have linked their ancestors' entry into Palestine to their participation in Saladin's army;[11][7] Saladin is revered not only as a hero of Islam but also as a national hero, downplaying his Kurdish roots.[11]

Traditions of Arabian ancestry are noted among some Palestinian families of the notable class (a'yan),[110] including the Nusaybah family of Jerusalem,[111] the Tamimi family of Nabi Salih, and the Barghouti family of Bani Zeid.[112][113] The Shawish, al-Husayni, and Al-Zayadina[114][115] clans trace their heritage to Muhammad through his grandsons, Husayn ibn Ali and Hassan ibn Ali.[116][unreliable source?]

Despite these traditions, many families migrated to Palestine in later periods, often as Bedouins or semi-nomadic herders who crossed the Jordan River after residing in Transjordan. This migration pattern complicates efforts to differentiate between Transjordanian and Arabian ancestry, as Transjordan served as a pathway for migrants and nomads from the Arabian Peninsula. Some Palestinian families still retain strong ties with relatives across the Jordan.[7]

Bedouins have drifted in waves into Palestine since at least the 7th century, after the Muslim conquest. Some of them, like the Arab al-Sakhr south of Lake Kinneret trace their origins to the Hejaz or Najd in the Arabian Peninsula, while the Ghazawiyya's ancestry is said to go back to the Hauran's Misl al-Jizel tribes.[117] They speak distinct dialects of Arabic in the Galilee and the Negev.[118]

Arabs in Palestine, both Christian and Muslim, settled and Bedouin were historically split between the Qays and Yaman factions.[119] These divisions had their origins in pre-Islamic tribal feuds between Northern Arabians (Qaysis) and Southern Arabians (Yamanis). The strife between the two tribal confederacies spread throughout the Arab world with their conquests, subsuming even uninvolved families so that the population of Palestine identified with one or the other.[119][120] Their conflicts continued after the 8th century Civil war in Palestine until the early 20th century[121][unreliable source?] and gave rise to differences in customs, tradition, and dialect which remain to this day.[119]

Families like the Nimrs, originally serving as local governors of Homs and Hama's rural sub-districts (both in modern-day Syria), and other officer families including the Akhrami, Asqalan, Bayram, Jawhari, Khammash, Mir'i, Shafi, Sultan and Tamimi, arrived in Palestine as part of a 1657 Ottoman campaign to reassert their rule over the Nablus area. Joining them were families such as the Jarrar family from Balqa (now in Jordan), and the Tuqan family, from either northern Syria or Transjordan.[10] The valleys surrounding Nablus are also predominantly inhabited by migrants from Transjordan.[7]

Samaritan and Jewish ancestry

Some Palestinian families follow oral traditions that trace their roots to Jewish and Samaritan origins. Traditions of Jewish ancestry are especially prevalent in the southern Hebron Hills, a region with documented Jewish presence until the Islamic conquest. One notable example is of the Makhamra family of Yatta, who according to several reports, traces its own ancestry to a Jewish tribe in Khaybar.[12][122] Traditions of Jewish ancestry were also recorded in Dura, Halhul and Beit Ummar.[5]

Much of the local Palestinian population in the area of Nablus is believed to be descended from Samaritans who converted to Islam, a process that continued well into the 19th century.[123] Traditions of Samaritan origins were recorded in the city of Nablus as well as villages in its vicinity, including Hajjah.[13][14][123][124] Several Palestinian Muslim families, including the Al-Amad, Al-Samri, Buwarda, and Kasem families, who defended Samaritans from Muslim persecution in the 1850s, were named by Yitzhak Ben Zvi as having Samaritan ancestry.[14] He further asserted that these families elders and priests had kept written records attesting to their Samaritan lineage.[14]

Many Palestinians referred to their Jewish neighbors as their awlâd 'ammnâ or paternal cousins.[125] Under Ottoman rule, Palestinian Arabs distinguished between their compatriot Jews, whom they referred to as abna al-balad, 'natives', or yahūd awlâd 'arab, 'Arab-born Jews', and recent Zionist immigrants.[126][127]

Mughrabi ancestry

Muslims of Moroccan descent settled in Jerusalem following the Reconquista in Spain in 1492; these Muslims were granted land by the Ottoman Empire, that became the Moroccan Quarter. Its people were called "Mughrabi" which means "Moroccan" in Arabic till the 20th Century. Many Palestinians carry the surname "Mughrabi" to this day.[citation needed]

Turkmen, Turkish and Kurdish ancestry

Turks in Palestine are a known group amongst Palestinians to this day, many of them pride on their Ottoman roots and are openly discussing their arrival to the Southern Levant. In 2014, many of the modern inhabitants of the Shujaya and A-Turkmen neighborhoods in Gaza stated that they were of Turkmen and Kurds in Palestine descents. The A-Turkmen neighborhood bears this name because of its people's origin.[128]

Kurdish-descended Palestinians inhabit various locales, among them Ar-Rihiya (originally founded by Kurdish shepherds), Beit Hanoun, and the now depopulated Bayt Nuba.[5] Palestinians of Turkmen ancestry used to inhabit now depopulated villages such as Al-Ghubayya al-Fawqa, Al-Ghubayya al-Tahta, Al-Mansi and Abu Shusha.[5]


Al-Sudania neighborhood in Gaza City, was inhabited by Sudanese migrants in the 20th Century, leading to its name. Some Gaza Strip residents are thus of Sudanese descent due to intermarriages, they live in Deir El-Balah, Al-Shati and Jabalia. Even the granddaughter of the former Sudanese sultan, Ali Dinar, is among them.[129][unreliable source?]

Families of Bosniak ancestry reside in Yanun, Nablus, and Tulkarm, and previously in Qisarya.[5]

The Ajami, Jaffa neighborhood was founded by Maronites who migrated there from Lebanon in the middle of the 19th Century,[130] to serve as a Christian enclave in the Sanjak of Jaffa.[citation needed]


Throughout the Roman and Byzantine eras, Aramaic emerged as the dominant language in Palestine, supplanting Hebrew, which ceased to be spoken around the 2nd century. Various dialects of Aramaic were spoken by communities such as Christians, Jews, Samaritans and pagans.[102] Following the Muslim conquest of the Levant by the Arab Muslim Rashiduns, the formerly dominant languages of the area, Aramaic and Greek, were gradually replaced by the Arabic language introduced by the new conquering administrative minority.[131] A steady language shift from Aramaic vernaculars to Arabic took place over a long period of time, with an extended period of bilingualism which lasted until the 12th century.[102][132][133] Arab tribes in Palestine, of both Yaman and Qays tribes, contributed to the acceleration of the shift to Arabic.[59]

Palestinian Arabic, like other Levantine Arabic dialects, is a mixture of Hejazi Arabic and ancient northern Arabic dialects spoken in the Levant before Islam, with a heavy Aramaic and Hebrew substrate.[102][134][104][135][136][137][60][138][139][71]

According to Bassal, Palestinian Arabic dialects contain layers of languages spoken in earlier times in the region, including Canaanite, Hebrew (Biblical and Mishnaic), Aramaic (particularly Western Aramaic), Persian, Greek, and Latin, indicating the impact of former peoples and civilizations on the linguistic profile on the region. As a result of the early modern period, Palestinian dialects came to be influenced by Turkish and European languages. Since the founding of Israel in 1948, Palestinian dialects have been significantly influenced by Modern Hebrew.[104] Over time, linguistics have identified a few substrate terms derived from Canaanite, Hebrew, and Aramaic that have persisted in contemporary vocabulary.[140][104]

In Palestinian historical discourse

The ongoing effort of nation-building and the effort to solidify Palestinian national consciousness as the primary framework of identity, as opposed to other identities dominant among Palestinians, including primordial clannish, tribal, local, and Islamist identities, have an impact on internal Palestinian historical discourse regarding the origins of Palestinians. In order to strengthen Palestinian historical claims to the territory and counter Israeli-Zionist arguments, the Palestinian discourse attempts to employ origin ideas as a weapon in the ongoing conflict with Israel. Academic standards for the use of historical evidence are rarely followed in the Palestinian historical discourse, and evidence that is antagonistic to the national cause is either disregarded or dismissed as false or hostile.[23]


Tawfiq Canaan (1882–1964) was a pioneering Palestinian ethnographer and Palestinian nationalist. Deeply interested in Palestinian folklore (principally Canaanite, Philistine, Hebraic, Nabatean, Syrio-Aramaic and Arab),[141] Canaan wrote several books and more than 50 articles on the matter

During the 20th century, claims that Palestinians have direct genealogical connections to the ancient Canaanites, without an intermediary Israelite relationship, began to emerge from certain sections within Palestinian society and their followers. The Canaanites are often portrayed as Arabs, allowing the Palestinians to assert that they had lived in the region for a very long period, predating Israelite settlement. Aref al-Aref, in an effort to undermine Jerusalem's Jewish history and emphasize its Arab identity, linked the founding of the city to the "Arab" Jebusites, despite Hebrew Bible being the only extant ancient document that uses the name "Jebusite" to describe the pre-Israelite residents of Jerusalem[142][143] The claim of kinship with the Israelites, according to Bernard Lewis, allows to "assert a historical claim antedating the biblical promise and possession put forward by the Jews."[109]

Following the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, Palestinian writer Mustafa Dabbagh published his book "Our Country Palestine" in which he attributed the first settled civilization in Palestine to the Banu-Can'an tribe, which he claimed was closely linked to the Amorites and Phoenicians, and asserted that all of them emigrated to the region from the Arabian Peninsula around 2500 BCE. In his book he claimed that the blend of the Canaanites and the Philistines, who migrated from the Greek islands around 1500 BCE, eventually formed the nucleus of the current Palestinian Arab population.[143]

Some Palestinian scholars, like Zakariyya Muhammad, have criticized arguments based on Canaanite lineage, or what he calls "Canaanite ideology". He states that it is an "intellectual fad, divorced from the concerns of ordinary people."[144] By assigning its pursuit to the desire to predate Jewish national claims, he describes Canaanism as a "losing ideology", whether or not it is factual, "when used to manage our conflict with the Zionist movement" since Canaanism "concedes a priori the central thesis of Zionism. Namely that we have been engaged in a perennial conflict with Zionism—and hence with the Jewish presence in Palestine—since the Kingdom of Solomon and before ... thus in one stroke Canaanism cancels the assumption that Zionism is a European movement, propelled by modern European contingencies..."[144]

Commenting on the implications of Canaanite ideology, Eric M. Meyers, a Duke University historian of religion, writes:

What is the significance of the Palestinians really being descended from the Canaanites? In the early and more conservative reconstruction of history, it might be said that this merely confirms the historic enmity between Israel and its enemies. However, some scholars believe that Israel actually emerged from within the Canaanite community itself (Northwest Semites) and allied itself with Canaanite elements against the city-states and elites of Canaan. Once they were disenfranchised by these city-states and elites, the Israelites and some disenfranchised Canaanites joined to challenge the hegemony of the heads of the city-states and forged a new identity in the hill country based on egalitarian principles and a common threat from without. This is another irony in modern politics: the Palestinians in truth are blood brothers or cousins of the modern Israelis — they are all descendants of Abraham and Ishmael, so to speak.[145]

Hamas leader Fathi Hamad, then serving as Gaza Minister of Interior and National Security, stated in a 2012 interview with Al-Hekma TV that all Palestinians have Arab origins. According to Hamad, half of Gaza's population has Egyptian roots, while the other half originates from Saudi Arabia and Yemen.[146][147][148]

According to Meir Litvak, the historical discourse regarding the origins of Palestinians has been significantly impacted by the attempt of Palestinian nationalism to establish itself as the dominant framework of identity among Palestinians, and to use origin ideas to counter Zionist arguments. Litvak notes that Palestinians felt compelled to engage in historiography to counter Jewish claims, aiming to demonstrate Palestine's enduring Arab identity throughout history, from ancient times to the present day. Litvak suggests that Palestinian historiography, particularly in Arabic, is uncritical and lacks reflection, accepting only narratives that align with the national cause. He claims that established truths are rarely questioned, and evidence contradicting the national narrative is often disregarded or labeled as false or hostile. Academic standards regarding the use of historical evidence are seldom upheld in this context.[23]

In Zionist thinking

A number of pre-Mandatory Zionists, from Ahad Ha'am and Ber Borochov to David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Ben Zvi believed that the Palestinian peasant population as descended from the ancient biblical Hebrews, but this belief was disowned when its ideological implications became problematic.[144] Ahad Ha'am believed that, "the Moslems [of Palestine] are the ancient residents of the land ... who became Christians on the rise of Christianity and became Moslems on the arrival of Islam."[144] Israel Belkind, the founder of the Bilu movement also asserted that the Palestinian Arabs were the blood brothers of the Jews.[149] Ber Borochov, one of the key ideological architects of Marxist Zionism, claimed as early as 1905 that "[t]he Fellahin in Eretz-Israel are the descendants of remnants of the Hebrew agricultural community",[150] believing them to be descendants of the ancient Hebrew residents "together with a small admixture of Arab blood".[144] He further believed that the Palestinian peasantry would embrace Zionism and that the lack of a crystallized national consciousness among Palestinian Arabs would result in their likely assimilation into the new Hebrew nationalism, and that Arabs and Jews would unite in class struggle.[144][151][unreliable source?]

Fellahin women crushing olives in order to make olive oil, early 20th century

David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Ben Zvi, later becoming Israel's first Prime Minister and second President, respectively, suggested in a 1918 book written in Yiddish that the fellahin are descended from ancient Jewish and Samaritan farmers, "Am ha'aretz" (People of the Land), who continued farming the land after the Jewish-Roman Wars and despite the ensuing persecution for their faith. While the wealthier, more educated, and more religious Jews departed and joined centers of religious freedom in the diaspora, many of those who remained converted their religions, first to Christianity, then to Islam.[152] They also claimed that these peasants and their mode of life were living historical testimonies to ancient Israelite practices described in the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud.[153] Ben Zvi stated in a later writing that "Obviously, it would be incorrect to claim that all fellahin are descended from the ancient Jews; rather, we are discussing their majority or their foundation", and that "The vast majority of the fellahin are not descended from Arab conquerors but rather from the Jewish peasants who made up the majority in the region before the Islamic conquest".[154] Tamari notes that "the ideological implications of this claim became very problematic and were soon withdrawn from circulation."[144] Salim Tamari notes the paradoxes produced by the search for "nativist" roots among these Zionist figures, particularly the Canaanist followers of Yonatan Ratosh,[144] who sought to replace the "old" diasporic Jewish identity with a nationalism that embraced the existing residents of Palestine.[155]

In his book on the Palestinians, The Arabs in Eretz-Israel, Belkind advanced the idea that the dispersion of Jews out of the Land of Israel after the destruction of the Second Temple by the Roman emperor Titus is a "historic error" that must be corrected. While it dispersed much of the land's Jewish community around the world, those "workers of the land that remained attached to their land," stayed behind and were eventually converted to Christianity and then Islam.[149] He therefore, proposed that this historical wrong be corrected, by embracing the Palestinians as their own and proposed the opening of Hebrew schools for Palestinian Arab Muslims to teach them Arabic, Hebrew and universal culture.[149]

Tsvi Misinai, an Israeli researcher, entrepreneur and proponent of a controversial alternative solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, asserts that nearly 90% of all Palestinians living within Israel and the occupied territories (including Israel's Arab citizens and Negev Bedouin)[156] are descended from the Jewish Israelite peasantry that remained on the land, after the others, mostly city dwellers, were exiled or left.[157] Irish theologian Michael Prior had a similar perspective on the Palestinians' ancestry.[158]

According to Israeli historian Moshe Gil, in order to accept the theory of the Jewish origin of the Palestinians, it must be assumed that there was a mass conversion of Jews to Islam at some time, but according to him "there is no information in the sources - Jewish, Christian or Muslim - about a mass conversion of Jews to Islam in any place and at any time, unless it is a case of a forced conversion," and in any case "there is no such information about the Land of Israel" and therefore "there is no reason to think that the Arabs of the Land of Israel were descendants of Jews".[153]

Israeli statements that Palestinians are not indigenous

Statements that today's Palestinians are genetically not indigenous to Palestine are spread by Israeli leaders and interest groups.

According to Palestinian poet Samih al-Qasim, Zionist arguments portray Palestinians as broadly Arab, de-emphasizing their specificity to Palestine.[23]

For example, in July 2019, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated: “A new study of DNA recovered from an ancient Philistine site in the Israeli city of Ashkelon confirms what we know from the Bible – that the origin of the Philistines is in southern Europe. ... The Palestinians’ connection to the Land of Israel is nothing compared to the 4,000 year connection that the Jewish people have with the land.” Apparently unaware that the words Philistine and Palestinian share etymology but not meaning.[159] He later changed his implication from Palestinians being descended from southern Europeans to being descended from Peninsular Arabians: "There’s no connection between the ancient Philistines & the modern Palestinians, whose ancestors came from the Arabian Peninsula to the Land of Israel thousands of years later. The Palestinians’ connection to the Land of Israel is nothing compared to the 4,000 year connection that the Jewish people have with the land".[160]

Individual authors have also argued that Palestinians are mostly descended from relatively recent Arab immigrants to Palestine. Notable among them was Joan Peters, who in 1984 published From Time Immemorial, in which she argued through the flawed use of statistics,[161] that Palestinians were largely descended from economic migrants from other Arabic-speaking countries who arrived in Palestine the late 19th and 20th centuries.[162][163]

Palestinian identity

Meaning of the word "Palestinian"

The term Palestinian has had two different meanings.[164][165]

Prior to 1948, the term "Palestinian" applied to people from Palestine, including Jews.[166]

In contemporary usage,[167] particularly since the creation of Israel on most of the territory of Mandatory Palestine in 1948 and the expulsion or flight of most Muslim and Christian Palestinians from that land, the terms "Palestinians" and "Palestinian people" are usually used to refer to the Levantine Arab (i.e. native Arabic- and historically Aramaic-speaking) people descended from the people who have lived in historic Palestine over the millennia with admixture of immigrants over that period.[168][169] This contemporary usage thus often implicitly excludes Palestinian Jews when describing ethnoreligious groups before 1948.


The emergence of Palestinian identity is relatively recent, coming in the first decades of the 20th century, according to legal historian Assaf Likhovski,[170] though several scholars have traced it to as early as the mid-18th century.[171]


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  52. ^ Edward Kessler (2010). An Introduction to Jewish-Christian Relations. Cambridge University Press. p. 72. ISBN 978-0-521-70562-2. Jews probably remained in the majority in Palestine until some time after the conversion of Constantine in the fourth century. [...] In Babylonia, there had been for many centuries a Jewish community which would have been further strengthened by those fleeing the aftermath of the Roman revolts.
  53. ^ הר, משה דוד (2022). "היהודים בארץ-ישראל בימי האימפריה הרומית הנוצרית" [The Jews in the Land of Israel in the Days of the Christian Roman Empire]. ארץ-ישראל בשלהי העת העתיקה: מבואות ומחקרים [Eretz Israel in Late Antiquity: Introductions and Studies] (in Hebrew). Vol. 1. ירושלים: יד יצחק בן-צבי. pp. 210–212. ISBN 978-965-217-444-4.
  54. ^ Ehrlich, Michael (2022). The Islamization of the Holy Land, 634–1800. Arc Humanities Press. pp. 3–4. ISBN 978-1-64189-222-3. OCLC 1302180905. The Jewish community strove to recover from the catastrophic results of the Bar Kokhva revolt (132–135 CE). Although some of these attempts were relatively successful, the Jews never fully recovered. During the Late Roman and Byzantine periods, many Jews emigrated to thriving centres in the diaspora, especially Iraq, whereas some converted to Christianity and others continued to live in the Holy Land, especially in Galilee and the coastal plain. During the Byzantine period, the three provinces of Palestine included more than thirty cities, namely, settlements with a bishop see. After the Muslim conquest in the 630s, most of these cities declined and eventually disappeared. As a result, in many cases the local ecclesiastical administration weakened, while in others it simply ceased to exist. Consequently, many local Christians converted to Islam. Thus, almost twelve centuries later, when the army led by Napoleon Bonaparte arrived in the Holy Land, most of the local population was Muslim.
  55. ^ David Goodblatt (2006). "The Political and Social History of the Jewish Community in the Land of Israel, c. 235–638". In Steven Katz (ed.). The Cambridge History of Judaism. Vol. IV. Cambridge University Press. pp. 404–430. ISBN 978-0-521-77248-8. Few would disagree that, in the century and a half before our period begins, the Jewish population of Judah () suffered a serious blow from which it never recovered. The destruction of the Jewish metropolis of Jerusalem and its environs and the eventual refounding of the city... had lasting repercussions. [...] However, in other parts of Palestine the Jewish population remained strong [...] What does seem clear is a different kind of change. Immigration of Christians and the conversion of pagans, Samaritans and Jews eventually produced a Christian majority
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