Palestinian immigration

2011-02-24 10:32:15

Palestinians are Arabs and generally were counted as part of Ottoman or Arab immigration figures prior to World War II (1939–45). Political events since then have made it impossible to accurately count the number of Palestinians arriving in North America. According to the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 72,112 Americans and 14,675 Canadians claimed Palestinian descent, but the actual number of Palestinians in the United States and Canada was much higher. Palestinians have been resettled widely throughout the United States, with Detroit, Michigan; New York City; Chicago, Illinois; Houston, Texas; and Jacksonville, Florida, all having large Palestinian communities. Canadian Palestinians have favored settlement in most of the metropolitan areas of Ontario, and there is a large community in Montreal.
There is no independent Palestinian state. Most of the 6 million Palestinians live in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon (2.5 million total); the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the autonomous portions of Palestinian settlement within Israel (2 million); Israel itself (750,000); and the United States (200,000). Ancient Palestine was located on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea at the crossroads between the great civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Asia Minor. For a brief period, Palestine was unified as a powerful state under a series of Israelite kings, around 1000 B.C. The region was successively conquered by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and finally Romans. During the first and second centuries A.D., most of Palestine’s Jews were driven out of the region by the Romans, leading to their dispersal throughout Europe and the Mediterranean world. Most of the inhabitants of Palestine were converted to Islam during the early phases of the Muslim expansion in the seventh century, and in 638, a mosque was built on the site of the old Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, a bone of contention thereafter among Jews, Christians, and Muslims. In the 16th century, Palestine was conquered by the Ottoman Empire, divided, and ruled from Constantinople. Around 1880, some European Jews, driven by continued persecution and convinced that they would never be accepted in European societies, began to purchase land in Palestine, reestablishing a presence in the ancient homeland and marginalizing the poorer Palestinian inhabitants. In 1920, administration of the region was handed over to Great Britain as part of the post–World War I mandate system, designed by the League of Nations to lead former colonial territories to self-government. About that time, the population of Palestine was about 82 percent Muslim, 10 percent Christian, and 8 percent Jewish. By 1948, when a state of Israel was carved out of the Palestinian mandate, less than two-thirds of the total population of Palestine was Muslim. As a result, the predominantly Palestinian areas were granted Arab control, and the principally Jewish regions became the new state of Israel. Palestinian and other Arab leaders refused to accept the partition and immediately attacked Israel. During the 1948 war, 750,000 Palestinian Arabs sought what they believed would be temporary refuge in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria. After the Six-Day War of 1967, hundreds of thousands of refugees fled from the Jordanian West Bank and the Egyptian Gaza Strip, raising the total number of refugees to about 1.4 million. Although a concerted effort to create the conditions for peace in the Middle East began in the 1970s, centering on Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territories in return for Arab recognition of Israel’s right to exist in peace, only limited progress had been made by 2004. During the 1980s and 1990s, militant nationalists largely controlled Palestinian politics, appealing to anti-Western Arab sentiment in support of their cause.
The actual number of Palestinians in the United States and Canada is much higher than official numbers suggest. Many researchers put the number in the United States at 200,000 and in Canada at more than 30,000. Because Palestinians were technically stateless, they often held passports from Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, or Jordan. A significant number of immigrants listed in immigration documents as Lebanese and Jordanian were almost certainly Palestinian. A large number would also have entered from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, and Qatar, where some 3 million worked prior to the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Although most Arab immigrants prior to the JOHNSONREED ACT of 1924 were Lebanese Christians, there was a small number of Muslim Palestinians as well. It is known that some from the West Bank town of Ramallah established small businesses in the Midwest around 1900. With passage of the McCarran-Walter Act in 1952, relaxed quotas enabled a small number to immigrate during the 1950s and early 1960s. Most of these were well educated academics and professionals.
The greatest period of Palestinian immigration to the United States came between the Six-Day War in 1967 and 1990, after which numbers began to decline. Although official figures indicate that more than 11,000 Palestinians immigrated during the 1980s, some scholars have suggested that the number may be seven or eight times that high, driven by the rising tide of violence within Israel.
During the 1980s a small number of Palestinians entered Canada, mostly on humanitarian grounds or as refugees. With changes in immigration law in the late 1980s that allowed prospective business investors to enter Canada, a substantial number of relatively prosperous Palestinians were enticed to emigrate from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other Middle Eastern countries where they had been living. Most Palestinian immigrants to Canada are well educated; as a group, they have the highest literacy rate in the Arab world and one of the highest rates of doctorates per capita of any nationality in the world. Of the 5,455 Palestinian immigrants officially indicated by the Canadian census of 2001, 3,610 came after 1981. Many community experts suggest that there were more than 30,000 Palestinians in Canada in the 1990s.
See also Jewish immigration.