Most Palestinians also adopted Arabic and Islamic culture. Palestine benefited from the empire's trade and from its religious significance during the first Muslim dynasty, the Umayyads of Damascus. When power shifted to Baghdad with the Abbasids in 750, Palestine became neglected. It suffered unrest and successive domination by Seljuks, Fatimids, and European Crusaders. It shared, however, in the glory of Muslim civilisation, when the Muslim world enjoyed a golden age of science, art, philosophy, and literature.  Muslims preserved Greek learning and broke new ground in several fields, all of which later contributed to the Renaissance in Europe. Like the rest of the empire, however, Palestine under the Mamelukes gradually stagnated and declined.

The Ottoman Turks of Asia Minor defeated the Mamelukes in 1517, with few interruptions, ruled Palestine until the winter of 1917-18. The country was divided into several districts (sanjaks), such as that of Jerusalem. The administration of the districts was placed largely in the hands of Arab Palestinians, who were descendants of the Canaanites. The Christian and Jewish communities, however, were allowed a large measure of autonomy. Palestine shared in the glory of the Ottoman Empire during the 16th century, but declined again when the empire began to decline in the 17th century.

The decline of Palestine in trade, agriculture, and population continued until the 19th century. At that time the search by European powers for raw materials and markets, as well as their strategic interests, brought them to the Middle East, stimulating economic and social development. Between 1831 and 1840, Muhammad Ali, the modernizing viceroy of Egypt, expanded his rule to Palestine. His policies modified the feudal order, increased agriculture, and improved education. The Ottoman Empire reasserted its authority in 1840, instituting its own reforms.

German settlers and Jewish immigrants in the 1880s brought modern machinery and badly needed capital. The rise of European nationalism in the 19th century, and especially the intensification of anti-Semitism during the 1880s, encouraged European Jews to seek a haven in their "Promised Land" in Palestine.  Theodor Herzl, author of The Jewish State (1896), founded the World Zionist Organization in 1897 to solve Europe's "Jewish problem". As a result, Jewish immigration to Palestine greatly increased. In 1880, Arab Palestinians constituted about 95 percent of the total population of 450,000.  Nevertheless, Palestinian leaders, who became adamantly opposed to Zionism, reacted to Jewish immigration, land purchase, and claims with alarm.

Aided by the Arabs, the British captured Palestine from the Ottoman Turks in 1917-18.  The Arabs revolted against the Turks because the British had promised them, in correspondence (1915-16) with Shareef Husein ibn Ali of Mecca (1856-1931), the independence of their countries after the war.

Britain, however, also made other, conflicting commitments in the secret Sykes-Picot agreement with France and Russia (1916), it promised to divide and rule the region with its allies. In a third agreement, the Balfour Declaration of 1917, Britain promised the Jews a Jewish "national home"  in Palestine.

This promise was subsequently incorporated in the mandate conferred on Britain by the League of Nations in 1922. During their mandate (1922-48) the British found their contradictory promises to the Jewish and Palestinian communities difficult to reconcile.  The Zionists envisaged large-scale Jewish immigration, and some spoke of a Jewish state constituting all of Palestine. Palestinians, however, rejected Britain's right to promise their country to a third party and feared dispossession by the Zionists; anti-Zionist attacks occurred in Jerusalem (1920) and Jaffa (1921).

A 1922 statement of British policy denied Zionist claims to all of Palestine and limited Jewish immigration, but reaffirmed support for a Jewish national home. British proposed establishing a legislative council; Palestinians rejected this council as discriminatory.

After 1928, when Jewish immigration increased somewhat, British policy on the subject see-sawed under conflicting Arab-Jewish pressures. Immigration rose sharply after the installation (1933) of the Nazi regime in Germany; in 1935 nearly 62,000 Jews entered Palestine. Fear of Jewish domination was the principal cause of the Arab revolt that broke out in 1936 and continued intermittently until 1939. By that time Britain had again restricted Jewish immigration and purchases of land.

The struggle for Palestine, which abated during World War II, resumed in 1945. The horrors of the Holocaust produced world sympathy for European Jews and for Zionism, and although Britain still refused to admit 100,000 Jewish to Palestine, many Jewish found their way there illegally.

Various plans for solving the Palestine problem were rejected by one party or the other. Britain finally declared the mandate unworkable and turned the problem over to the UN in April 1947. The Jews and the Palestinians prepared for a showdown. Although the Palestinians outnumbered the Jews (1,300,000 to 600,000), the latter were better prepared. They had a semiautonomous government, led by David Ben-Gurion, and their military, the Haganah, was well trained and experienced. The Palestinians, on the other hand, had never recovered from the Arab revolt, and most of their leaders were in exile.

A Chronology Of Palestinian History

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