THE RURAL LANDSCAPE AND ITS PEOPLE
On the eve of the Crimean War, about half a million people lived in the land of Palestine. They were Arabic-speaking. Most were Muslims, but about 60,000 were Christians of various denominations, and around 20,000 were Jews. In addition, they had to tolerate the presence of 50,000 Ottoman soldiers and officials as well as 10,000 Europeans. Their administrative life revolved around the sanjaq, the Ottoman sub-province, of which Ottoman Palestine had three: Nablus, Acre and Jerusalem. To some extent these administrative divisions corresponded to the topography. Palestine had four hilly regions: the Jerusalem mountains, the Nablus mountains, and two other areas: Hebron in the Jerusalem district, and Galilee in the Acre sub-province. Each geographical and administrative area had a major town as its capital, so that some of Palestine's most famous cities were foci of social and cultural life. Acre, Jerusalem, Hebron and Nablus were among these important towns, as were the smaller coastal towns of Haifa, Jaffa and Gaza.
Outside the official activities of the sanjaq, people lived an autonomous, pastoral life, with relative homogeneity of style and purpose. About 400,000 people inhabited the rural areas in small villages scattered mainly on the slopes of the mountains or at the entrances to the small valleys between them. Visitors were rare, although not unheard of. Intruders and thieves were also infrequent, but that they were an integral part of life was recognized by the authorities, who allowed the village men to possess arms.