National Geographic : 1992 Jun
result of the violence brought by the intifada, the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occu pation, a resistance now in its fifth year. In addition, Jews from the former Soviet Union have flooded the country, competing for jobs that once went to Palestinians. * Like millions of other Palestinians, Matar lives in a sort of limbo, a man without a coun try. For most of his life, since the State ofIsrael was established in 1948, Matar has been a ref ugee, dependent on international organiza tions and Israel for his livelihood but with none of the privileges of citizenship. Although Middle East peace talks launched late last year have raised hopes that tensions between Palestinians and Israelis will lessen, many Palestinians like Matar wonder if they will ever have a homeland. The dispute is not over ideology, money, race, or even religion. It is a feud over soil that has been a battlefield, off and on, for 37 centuries. It remains so today- with the added element of nationalism. P ALESTINE, THE REGION that once stretched from the shores of the Medi terranean eastward beyond the Jordan River, exists as a nation only in the imagination of six million Palestinians scattered throughout the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and the Americas. Nearly two million chafe under military control in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank. Another 750,000 Israeli Arabs who live inside Israel consider themselves Palestinian, but they try to walk the line between Israeli citi zenship and their Arab heritage. The ancestors of today's Palestinians appeared along the southeastern Mediterra nean coast more than five millennia ago and settled down to a life of fishing, farming, and herding. But they also endured wars with Isra elites; domination from Assyrians, Chaldeans, Persians, and Romans; and eventually 400 years of rule by the Ottoman Turks. By 1918, during World War I, Britain had conquered the region and indicated support in its Balfour Declaration-for the establish ment of a Jewish homeland within Palestine along with a provision that the rights of the region's Arabs must be respected. In May 1948, after the United Nations had voted the previous fall to partition Palestine between Jews and Arabs (the Jews accepted *See "The Great Soviet Exodus," by Tad Szulc, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, February 1992. Jews and Arabs share a common ancestor at Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs (right), where Judaism's first families-Abraham and son Isaac, their wives Sarah and Rebecca-are said to be buried. Abraham fathered another son, Arabs claim descent. Nearly all Palestin ians are Arab, and most are Muslim. A small minority are Christian, such as FatherAbdullah Sumrein, a Greek Orthodox priest, who celebrates Commu nion in an ancient Ishmael, from whom West Bank church.