OTTOMAN PALESTINE, 1878
The population of Ottoman Palestine in 1878, totaling 440,850, was made up of several ethnic groups and
members of various denominations of the three monotheistic faiths. Each of these had maintained a
presence of varying size in the area for well over ten centuries.
Some 386,320 Muslim Palestinian Arabs represented the overwhelming majority (88%) in a land, which had
been under uninterrupted Muslim rule since 1187. This population included both Sunni (the vast majority)
and Shi’ite communities, as well as members of the Druze sect. The overwhelming majority of the population
was rural, with agriculture as the principal source of income and the center of traditional life.
There were 40,588 (9%) Christian Palestinian Arabs, belonging to the Greek Orthodox (63%) and Roman
Catholic (24%), as well as the Armenian, Greek Catholic and Protestant denominations. Communities -
many of which had roots going back to the dawn of Christianity - were generally, though not exclusively,
urban, residing in Nazareth, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Haifa and Jaffa in significant numbers.
Some 13,942 Jews (3%) lived in predominantly urban communities, with centers in Safed and Jerusalem as
well as Hebron and Tiberias. Their economy was almost entirely dependent on remittances from Jewish
In addition to these three principle sectors, there were approximately 200 members of the ancient
Samaritan community living on the edge of Nablus and a small number of Gypsies, who were a mixture of
Christian and Muslim converts.
The existing Jewish population, prior to the advent of political Zionism, consisted primarily of Orthodox Jews
without a nationalist agenda. Nonetheless, by 1878 pre-Zionist trends were already evincing a changed
attitude towards the land of Palestine. Various European financiers, notably Moses Montefiore of London,
were quietly negotiating with Ottoman officials in an effort to purchase land and establish settlements.
Additionally, members of the established community sought a more ‘production’ oriented lifestyle, removed
from their dependency on the community leaders’ distribution of foreign remittances. Thus, in 1878, led by
Joel Salomon (who had, in 1869, established the first Jewish settlement outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls),
26 Jerusalem families purchased a tract of land some 9 km from Jaffa, on the banks of Al-Aujah River (now
Naming the site “Petah Tikva” (Portal of Hope) the colonists set about cultivating the plot, which was part of
the grazing land of the Arab village of Al-Abbasiyya, causing friction not due to their presence on the land so
much as their lack of familiarity with established rural ways - particularly with regard to boundaries and the
custom of loose-grazing. However, the initial colonists at “Petah Tikva” were to fail and return to Jerusalem
in their second year, defeated by malaria, their lack of agricultural knowledge and, eventually, a flood. A
second, more successful settlement was established near the site in 1882 and is now a large town.