Invading Arabs conquered the land from the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantines) in A.D. 638 and attracted Arab settlers. Within a few centuries, the Arab language and Islam prevailed, but a Jewish minority remained. After a brief period of prosperity, waves of invasions and changes of control followed, including rule by the non-Arab empires of the Seljuks, Mamelukes and European crusaders, before becoming part of the Ottoman Empire from 1517 until 1918.
The crusaders massacred thousands of Jews, along with Muslims, in the 11th century. But soon thereafter, European Jews established centers of Jewish learning and commerce. By the time the Ottoman Turks occupied Palestine in the 16th century, according to British reports, as many as 15,000 Jews lived in Safed, which was a center of rabbinical learning. Many more Jews lived in Jerusalem, Hebron, Acre and other locations. By the middle of the 19th century, Jews constituted a significant presence -- often a majority -- in many towns.
Still, in the 19th century, the Holy Land looked mostly like a vast wasteland. When Jews began to return to their "promised land" early in the 20th century, the desert literally began to bloom under their industry. Arabs followed, coming in large numbers for the jobs and prosperity.
After four centuries of Ottoman rule, Britain took the land in 1917 and pledged in the Balfour Declaration to support a Jewish national homeland there. In 1920, the British Palestine Mandate was recognized. A declaration passed by the League of Nations in 1922 effectively divided the mandated territory into two parts. The eastern portion, called Transjordan, would later become the Arab Kingdom of Jordan in 1946. The other portion, comprising the territory west of the Jordan River, was administered as Palestine under provisions that called for the establishment of a Jewish homeland.
The United Nations, in 1947, partitioned the area into separate Jewish and Arab states along meandering and indefensible boundaries. The Arab world, insisting that any Jewish claim to Palestine was invalid, staunchly refused to compromise or even discuss the subject.
When Israel's independence was declared in 1948, Arab forces from Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq combined to crush the 1-day-old country. They lost. Still, Egypt occupied most of the Gaza Strip, and Transjordan (calling itself "Jordan") held most of the West Bank and half of Jerusalem. Neither Arab country gave the "Palestinians" a state.
The word "Palestinian," as employed today, is a relatively recent term. Until the end of the British mandate over Palestine, in 1948, all inhabitants of the area west of the Jordan River were known as "Palestinians." A Jewish person living in what is now Israel was a "Palestinian Jew." An Arab living in the area was a "Palestinian Arab." Likewise, a Christian was known as a "Palestinian Christian."
Israel won more land after a series of wars, land since returned or offered for return in exchange for peace. The Jews "stole" nothing.
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