Palestine, with its fertile lands, strategic location, and historical significance due to its diverse faiths, has been one of the main regions throughout history that various tribes, states, and communities have sought to dominate. In this article, we will attempt to get to know Palestine with its various characteristics.
A Brief History of Palestine
Palestine is a land where many prophets have lived. The Quran also declares these lands as sacred. The fact that these lands are the land of prophets has led to their being considered sacred and given special value in all religions based on revelation. Due to the value and sanctity that Jerusalem and the lands of Palestine hold in Islam, Muslims directed their attention towards the Canaan region as the Islamic state in Medina expanded its borders to the north.
The capture of Jerusalem took place in 638 during the time of the second Caliph, Omar (pbuh). After this conquest, Jerusalem and its surroundings remained under the constant rule of Muslims until 1099. In 1099, after 40 days of intense sieges by crusader armies, this holy city fell into the hands of Christians. The crusader occupation lasted for 88 years. Saladin al-Ayyubi ended this occupation in 1187. Following the reign of the Fatimids and Mamluks, the region of Palestine came under Ottoman rule as a result of Yavuz Sultan Selim’s expedition to Egypt in 1516. The area remained under Ottoman administration until the British occupation in 1917.
Political Structure in Palestine
The current administration on Palestinian lands is a Zionist occupation regime. The autonomous administration established in parts of Gaza and the West Bank is a local government affiliated with the occupation regime. We can generally divide the regions in Palestine into three main areas. One of these regions is Gaza, and the other is the West Bank. The administration of Gaza is led by Hamas, established in 1987 under the leadership of Sheikh Ahmed Yasin. The administration of the West Bank is led by Fatah, which was established under the leadership of Yasser Arafat.
The remaining and largest part of the land is the territory occupied by Israel, which is recognized as a state. These lands are referred to as the 1948 territories. Palestine gained its independence on November 15, 1988, and on November 29, 2012, it acquired the status of a non-member observer state in the United Nations. Jerusalem is the capital in the view of Palestine, but the UN, with its Resolution 181 adopted on November 29, 1947, envisaged Jerusalem having an international status under the protection of the UN Trusteeship Council. Other major cities include Gaza, Nablus, Jericho, Ramallah, Hebron, and Acre.
Religious Life in Palestine
In the lands within the 1948 borders, 82% of the population is Jewish, 5% is Christian, and 11% is Muslim. In the regions of Jerusalem and the West Bank, which were occupied in 1967, 76% of the population is Muslim, 17.5% is Jewish, approximately 5.5% is Christian, and the rest belong to other religions. The majority of Muslims follow the Sunni and Shafi’i schools. In besieged Gaza, there are around 5,000 to 6,000 Jews, while the remaining population is Muslim. Generally, 75% of the population is Muslim, 17% is Jewish, and 8% is Christian.
Population and Language in Palestine
According to the most recent data, the population of Palestinians is 4.7 million. The number of Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem is 2.88 million, while the number of Palestinians living in the besieged Gaza Strip is 1.899 million. The official languages spoken in Palestine are Arabic, Hebrew, and English.
Economy in Palestine
The Palestinian economy faces extremely challenging conditions due to Israeli occupation. Because of Israel’s occupation and genocide policies, Palestine is one of the countries in the world with the highest rates of unemployment and poverty. Since 2008, Palestine has been experiencing single-digit economic growth rates. According to recent estimates, the gross domestic product (GDP) of Palestine reaches up to $12.7 billion, with an inflation rate of around 1.4%. In the West Bank, the unemployment rate is 27%, while in Gaza, it has reached 43%. Data published by the World Bank revealed that poverty rates in Gaza, which Israel has under blockade, reach 60%. In internationally recognized Jerusalem, the poverty line has exceeded 86%.
Education in Palestine
Despite Israel’s political violence, education takes precedence in the daily lives of Palestinians. According to a survey conducted by the World Bank in 2013, 60% of young Palestinians aged 10 to 24 prioritize education in their lives. However, the practices of the occupying state limit educational opportunities for students. For example:
When considering the West Bank and Jerusalem specifically, students are subjected to the physical and verbal violence of Israeli soldiers and settlers while going to school.
After the 1948 war, Gaza came under administrative control of Egypt, and the West Bank became linked with Jordan. In Gaza and the West Bank, schools can be categorized into three different groups: government schools, UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) schools, and private schools. However, Israel has constantly created obstacles for Palestinians, such as closing schools. In response to these interventions in education, Palestinian families have initiated a “home education” system supported by teachers, parents, and university students in homes and mosques to minimize their children’s losses. Yet, Israel has turned this issue into a security problem and declared that education outside of school is a crime as of August 1988. Raids have been conducted in places where these educations are provided, and teachers and students have been arrested, facing heavy fines and imprisonment.
Universities began to be established in the 1970s. The real development in higher education took place after the agreements signed in Oslo in 1994. Concerning higher education, there are three types of institutions: official institutions, public institutions established by NGOs, and private institutions. Today, there are a total of 49 institutions of higher education in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. These institutions have 221,000 registered students, with an average age ranging from 18 to 24. Of these institutions, 11 are state-run, 17 are public, 17 are private, and 4 are established by UNRWA.
Palestinian cuisine consists of dishes that are unique to Arabs in the Palestinian region or dishes commonly consumed by Arabs. Particularly, the influence of Turkish cuisine that began with the Umayyad conquest and was later influenced by the Abbasids, who were influenced by the Persians, and then by the Ottoman culture still persists in Palestine. Of course, Palestinian flavors differ according to the settlement.
In Galilee, meals mainly consist of appetizer platters and delicious meatballs made from minced meat. The West Bank has been influenced by the dry Bedouin culture, and the meals here are generally hearty stews and taboon bread called “taboon.” In Gaza, dishes are served with dill, hot peppers, and garlic. Gaza’s cuisine is as intense and spicy as its political climate. Some of the most important dishes include Maqluba, Hummus, Eggplant and White Cheese Kebabs, Meatless Chickpea Kebabs (Falafel), Fattoush, Tabbouleh, and Jerusalem Bread.