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Friday, June 29, 2012

How Jews Acquired Land in Palestine

Nadene Goldfoot
World War I started in July 1914.  At this time the Arab leaders of the Ottoman Empire  joined hands with the Germans against the English, Americans and Western Europeans.  Part of the land in Palestine, which was part of the Ottoman Empire, was owned by Arabs living in Cairo, Damascus, Beirut and even in France.  There was really nothing to attract them to this malaria infested swamp and desert.  Of the sparse migrant population living there, 80% were deb-ridden peasants, semi-nomads and Bedouin Arabs.

Many Jews returned to their land to join Jewish towns and cities and start new ones in droves in the 1880's and avoided buying land in places where Arabs might be displaced.  Many were interested in agriculture as this was something that they had been denied living in Russia's Pale of Settlement.  They bought land that was uncultivated, swampy, cheap and without anyone living on it.  From 1880 to 1948, 73% of Jewish plots were bought from large landowners, not poor fellahin.   People who sold land to Jews included the mayors of Gaza, Jerusalem and Jaffa.  As'ad el-Shuqeiri, a Muslim religious scholar and father of PLO chairman Ahmed Shuqeiri, took Jewish money for his land.  King Abdullah leased land to the Jews.  Many leaders of the Arab nationalist movement, like members of the Muslim supreme Council, sold land to Jews.  In those days, they were just trying to make a living.      

In 1920, David Ben-Gurion, then a Labor Zionist, said he was "concerned about the Arab fellahin, who he felt was the most important asset of te native population."  He said that under no circumstances must we touch land belonging to fellas or worked by them.  He even advocated helping to liberate them from their oppressors.  Only if a fellah leaves his place of settlement should we offer to buy his land, at an appropriate price, he advocated."  

Jews bought all of the available empty unwanted land.  Then they had no other choice but to buy cultivated land.  They found Arabs willing to sell because of migrating to coastal towns and because they needed money to invest in the citrus industry.

John Hope Simpson, liberal Parliament member,  came to Palestine in May 1930 and saw that Jews had paid very high prices for the land and also paid people living on the land a lot a money which they were legally not bound to pay.  So in fact they had overpaid to people not holding title to the land.  He authored the Hope Simpson Report in 1930, following the widespread 1929 Palestine riots.  Arabs had slaughtered 133 Jews, and the British security forces wound up killing about 116 Arabs to stop them  Many on both sides were injured.  

Lewis French, the British Director of Development for Palestine, conducted a survey in 1931 of landlessness and finally offered new plots to Arab who had been dispossessed.  3,000 applicants were received by the British, of which 80% were found to be invalid because they were not filed by landless Arabs.  It was a racket.  They found only about 600 landless Arabs, of which 100 accepted the Government land offer.  

Now the German affect on Arab's attitude towards Jews was really taking effect and by April 1936, Arabs were attacking Jews.  They were instigated by Fawzi al Qawukji, a Syrian guerrilla who was close to the Mufti of Jerusalem.  The British sent out a new commission led by Lord Peel to investigate in November.  89 Jews had been killed and more than 300 wounded.  The Peel Commission found that the Arab complaints were baseless.

Original land owners who had remained on the land and had sold it  had been without resources or training needed to develop the land.  They saw a good deal and sold it.    Land now turned into orange groves was uncultivated swamp and sand dunes when it was bought by the Jews, but they were prepared to deal with it.  They also found that the Arab population had increased, making available land scarce for anyone to buy.

1938 was the height of the Arab revolt and Arabs were attacking Arabs and Jews.  The British High Commissioner to Palestine believed the Arab landowners were complaining about sales to Jews just to jack up the prices.  However, there were Arab landowners who had been terrorized by their own people and decided to leave and sell their property to the Jews.

In  1944 Jews paid between $1,000 and $1,100 per acre in Palestine for arid or semi-arid land.  That same year, rich black soil in Iowa was selling for about $110 per acre.  It was exorbitant and the Jews had been taken, but to them it was worth it.

Come 1947 and Jews owned about 463,000 acres in Palestine.  About 45,000 of these acres were acquired from the Mandatory Government.  30,000 were bought from the many churches and 387,500 were bought from Arabs.

King Abdullah of Transjordan had written in his memoirs that "Arabs are as prodigal (reckless, extravagant) in selling their land as they are in useless wailing and weeping."  He was assassinated in 1951 at age 69.

Resource:  Myths and Facts:  a concise record of the Arab-Israeli conflict by Mitchell G. Bard and Joel Himelfarb

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