These maps show the progression of land transfer in historic Palestine over the last 60+ years. The green areas indicate Palestinian land; the white areas indicate the progression of land controlled by the Zionist movement. By 1946, Jewish immigrants had purchased about 6-8% of the land. These were Jews migrating mostly from Europe either because they were Zionists working towards the creation of a Jewish state, or because they had nowhere else to go.
These mostly-Zionist European Jews were distinct from the indigenous Jewish population—Palestinian Jews—some of whom had been in the area for thousands of years. They had lived in relative harmony with the Muslim and Christians in the area until widespread Zionist immigration began. It was not perfect, but prior to the Zionist project, Jews lived better in the Muslim world than just about anywhere in the Christian world.
In 1947, in the wake of the Nazi Holocaust, the United Nations proposed to give Jewish people 54% of the land so that they could create a Jewish state, leaving Palestinian Christians and Muslims with about 46% of the land—about half of what they previously had. Understandably, Muslim and Christian Palestinians didn’t find it terribly fair that the United Nations—which didn’t own their land—was offering them half of what they thought was already theirs, and they formally rejected the proposal.
Zionist leaders agreed to accept the proposal with the intention to “abolish partition and expand to the whole of Palestine” following “the formation of a large army in the wake of the establishment of the state” (David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding father and first prime minister, 1937). But they had a problem: they wanted to create a Jewish state, but there were hundreds of thousands of non-Jews living there. In the areas they envisioned to become a Jewish state, the majority of the population was Muslim and Christian.
Realizing that you cannot have a Jewish state with a non-Jewish majority, Zionist leaders organized the mass expulsion of the majority of the non-Jewish population from the area in what became known to Israelis as “The War of Independence” and to Palestinians as “Al-Nakba,” meaning in Arabic, “The Catastrophe,” in which the majority of Christians and Muslims in the area were, in the words of Zionist leader, “cleansed” from the land.
Zionist forces continued beyond the 54% (proposed for the Zionist state by the UN) into 78% of historic Palestine, depopulating and destroying more than 500 villages, committing more than 50 massacres, and dispossessing more than 750,000 Christians and Muslims. In May of 1948, after several months of these expulsions, Zionist forces declared the state of Israel and surrounding Arab countries entered the area. It’s notable that they entered areas proposed to be an Arab state—which Zionist forces had claimed as their own—and not even those proposed to be a Jewish state.
This narrative is very different from the one many of us grew up with—that Jewish refugees innocently arrived, minding their own business wishing only to live in peace with their neighbors… and then all of the Arab countries invaded because they hated Jews. In this common narrative there is no mention of the fact that hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Christians and Muslims had been—oftentimes—violently expelled from their homes and lands before a single Arab soldier set foot in the area.
The Arab countries were utterly unsuccessful at stopping Zionist forces, and the expulsions continued until early 1949 by which time there was finally a Jewish majority in the 78% of the area known as present-day Israel. Still today, there is a Jewish majority in Israel, but it is not an organic one. It is an artificial majority, intentionally created and maintained by preventing the Christian and Muslim people who have rights to that land from returning or from having equal rights.
(It’s within this context that one can understand what it means to have a Jewish state in historic Palestine: The existence of a Jewish state demographically requires discrimination against non-Jews. This is something that I—and many other Jews around the world—cannot accept, that in order to create safe space for one people, we must deny safe space to others. This is unethical and it is an illusion—ultimately the Zionist project puts everyone in more danger.)
In 1967, Israel occupied all remaining Palestinian lands: the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem (they annexed the latter). Over the past 40+ years, through a complex system of settlements, outposts, checkpoints, roadblocks, the Wall, and military bases, Israel has continued the expropriation. The colonial expansion didn’t end in 1949 and it didn’t begin in 1967; it has continued throughout Israel’s existence. Occupation is only the most recent step in this ongoing process, not unlike the European colonial conquest of the Americas [Parallel map of Indian Lands].