Palestine entered the news in February, 2003, as one of the East Texas towns that received much of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster debris.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 46.3 km² (17.9 mi²). 45.8 km² (17.7 mi²) of it is land and 0.5 km² (0.2 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 1.01% water.
As of the census of 2000, there are 17,598 people, 6,641 households, and 4,582 families residing in the city. The population density is 383.9/km² (994.3/mi²). There are 7,668 housing units at an average density of 167.3/km² (433.2/mi²). The racial makeup of the city is 64.60% White, 24.77% African American, 0.49% Native American, 0.79% Asian, 0.07% Pacific Islander, 7.90% from other races, and 1.37% from two or more races. 14.88% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There are 6,641 households out of which 34.9% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 47.2% are married couples living together, 18.0% have a female householder with no husband present, and 31.0% are non-families. 28.0% of all households are made up of individuals and 13.7% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.57 and the average family size is 3.13.
In the city the population is spread out with 29.1% under the age of 18, 9.2% from 18 to 24, 25.6% from 25 to 44, 20.0% from 45 to 64, and 16.2% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 34 years. For every 100 females there are 84.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 78.2 males.
The median income for a household in the city is $30,497, and the median income for a family is $35,806. Males have a median income of $28,331 versus $20,662 for females. The per capita income for the city is $15,514. 20.7% of the population and 16.6% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total people living in poverty, 27.7% are under the age of 18 and 14.6% are 65 or older.