(EOZ) This article is, hands down, the best attempt by anyone to nail down the facts about how many people lived in Palestine before 1948. The group that wrote this has no political agenda I could detect on either side – many articles on the site are clearly not pro-Israel.
The major conclusions were:
1. The nature of the data do not permit precise conclusions about the Arab population of Palestine in Ottoman and British times,
2. Palestine was not an empty land when Zionist immigration began.
3. Zionist settlement between 1880 and 1948 did not displace or dispossess Palestinians.
4. Historic population data in Palestine during Ottoman times and during Mandatory times show significant discrepancies.
5. It is not possible to estimate illegal Arab immigration directly, but apparently there was some immigration.
5. There are large discrepancies between official population figures and the number of Palestinian refugees
6. There are serious discrepancies in reporting of the number of refugees by UNRWA.
7. The city of Jerusalem has had a Jewish majority since about 1896
I found this article while trying to find out the facts about land ownership before 1948. So many times, anti-Zionists point out that Jews only owned 6-8% of the land in Palestine, implying that Arabs owned 92-94%. I was wondering how much of the land was privately owned by Arabs, how much by the British (and Ottomans beforehand), and what other categories there were.
Here is what I found out from this article:
Population and Land Ownership prior to the UN Partition Resolution
An Anglo-American commission of inquiry in 1945 and 1946 examined the status of Palestine. No official census figures were available, as no census had been conducted in Palestine in 1940, so all their surmises and figures are based on extrapolations and surmises. According to the report, at the end of 1946, About 1,220,000 Arabs and 608,000 Jews resided within the borders of Mandate Palestine. Jews had purchased 6 to 8 percent of the total land area of Palestine. This was about 20% of the land that could be settled and cultivated. About 46% of the land was registered in the tax registers to Arab villages, to Arabs living on the land, or absentee owners, and about the same amount was government land. However, most of this land was not privately owned. The Arabs of Palestine had received much of their land in leases conditional upon cultivation or used land that was part of village commons.
So based on this, it appears that Arabs privately owned somewhere between 1% and 22% of the land in Palestine before 1948, depending on the meaning of the word “most” in the sentence above. The other “Arab” land was not owned by them, but was leased conditionally from the British.
In other worlds, it is even possible that Jews owned more land than Arabs did before the 1948 war!
This discounts the fact that the British tried very hard to stop Jews from buying and privatizing land – if it wasn’t for that, Jews would undoubtably have come to privately own much more. Even so, it is an illuminating fact amongst the rhetoric.