Religion in the Holy Land
The conflict in the Middle East is not a religious conflict.
Palestine/Israel, or the Holy Land, is important for all three major monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Members of all three religions as well as several others (including the Druze) have lived primarily harmoniously in this land for generations. For centuries, the majority of the indigenous people of historic Palestine were Muslim. Christians, Jews, and others, who together made up around ten percent of the population, were accorded treatment superior to that accorded religious minorities (e.g. Jews and Muslims) in Europe at the time.
With the rise of a political ideology, Zionism, calling for the creation of a Jewish state, among some European Jews in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, and the coinciding increasing persecution of Jews in Europe, European Jews began to immigrate in large numbers to Palestine.
The first wave of Jewish immigrants (the first Aliyah) was not made up of Zionists, but rather consisted of Jews fleeing European persecution. Later immigrants went with the specific plan of creating a Jewish homeland in this largely Muslim land.
Thus, in 1881, Muslims made up about 86.6% of the population, Christians were about 9.1% of the population, and 2.8-4.3% of the population were indigenous, non-Zionist Jews [see Righteous Victims by Israeli historian Benny Morris].
By 1947, The huge number of Jewish immigrants to Palestine brought the percentage of Jewish inhabitants of the Holy Land to almost 33%, while Muslims now only made up 58% of the population and Christians only 7.9%. [see www.mideastweb.org/PalPop.htm] Still, in 1948, the Jewish population only owned approximately 5.6% of the land.
In 1947, the United Nations partitioned Palestine into two states, giving the Jewish population 55% of the land. Fighting broke out, and by 1949, 804,767 Palestinian Muslims and Christians had been expelled or had fled from their homes [see Abu Sitta, Salman, The Palestinian Nakba: 1948, The Register of Depopulated Localities in Palestine]. Israel had taken over an additional 23% of Palestine, leaving the indigenous Arabs with only 22% of their historic homeland.
Today, the state of Israel is 80.1% Jewish, including Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and Golan Heights (only 20.8% of this Jewish population is Israel-born), 14.6% Muslim, 2.1% Christian, and 3.2% are of other religions (excluding the indigenous inhabitants of the above-mentioned occupied lands) [see the CIA Israel Factbook]. The birthrate of non-Jews is higher than that of Jews, leading some Zionists to look for solutions to the so-called “demographic threat” posed by Arab citizens to the Jewish state.
In the West Bank (under military occupation since 1967), 75% of the population is Muslim, 17% is Jewish (84% of whom are citizens of Israel living in Israeli Settlements), and 8% are Christian and other religions [see the CIA West Bank Factbook]. In the Gaza Strip, 98.7% are Muslim, 0.7% are Christian, and 0.6% are Jewish (virtually all of whom are citizens of Israel living in Jewish-only settlements) [see the CIA Gaza Factbook].
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