Jewish land purchase in Palestine
||This article contains too many or too-lengthy quotations for an encyclopedic entry. (January 2011)|
The Talmud mentions the religious duty of colonising the Land of Israel. So significant in Judaism is the act of purchasing land in Palestine, the Talmud allows for the lifting of certain religious restrictions of Sabbath observance to further its acquisition and settlement.
Towards the end of the 19th-century, the creation of the Zionist movement resulted in many European Jews emigrating to Palestine. Most land purchases between the late 1880s and the 1930s were located in the coastal plain area, including "Acre to the North and Rehovoth to the South, the Esdraelon (Jezreel) and Jordan Valleys and to the lesser extent in Galilee". The migration affected Palestine in many ways, including economically, socially, and politically.
In the first half of the 19th century, no foreigners were allowed to purchase land in Palestine. This was official Turkish policy until 1856 and in practice until 1867. When it came to the national aspirations of the Zionist movement, the Ottoman Empire opposed the idea of Jewish self-rule in Palestine, fearing it may lose control of Palestine after recently having lost other territories to various European powers. It also took issue with the Jews, as many came from Russia which sought the empire's demise. In 1881 the Porte decreed that Jews could settle anywhere except in Palestine and from 1882 until their defeat in 1918, the Ottomans continuously restricted Jewish immigration and land purchases in Palestine. In 1882, Jews were banned from their Four Holy Cities and in 1891, after briefly allowing some Jewish immigration three years earlier, the Turkish rulers tried to again to close the empire to Russian Jews. In 1892, the Ottoman government decided to prohibit the sale of land in Palestine to Jews, even if they were Ottoman citizens. Nevertheless, during the late 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, many successful land purchases were made through organizations such as the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association (PJCA), Palestine Land Development Company and the Jewish National Fund.
When purchasing land, Jewish migrants were concerned with the displacement of fellahin, agricultural laborers who cultivated the land. "In 1920, Labor Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion expressed his concern about the Arab fellahin, whom he viewed as 'the most important asset of the native population'. Ben-Gurion said 'under no circumstances must we touch land belonging to the fellahs or worked by them'". Because of the desire to displace the fewest number of people possible, large tracts of land were purchased in the coastal plain the valley areas since most of the area was uncultivated and swampy. There were two main reasons why these areas were sparsely populated. The first reason being when the Ottoman power in the rural areas began to diminish in the seventeenth century, many people moved to more centralized areas to secure protection against the lawless Bedouin tribes. This resulted in huge migration to the cities leaving the rural area drastically under populated. The second reason for the sparsely populated areas of the valleys and coastal plains was the soil type. The soil, covered in a layer of sand, made it impossible to grow the staple crop of Palestine, corn. As a result this area remained uncultivated and under populated. "The sparse Arab population in the areas where the Jews usually bought their land enabled the Jews to carry out their purchase without engendering a massive displacement and eviction of Arab tenants".
The Ottoman Land Code of 1858 "brought about the appropriation by the influential and rich families of Beirut, Damascus, and to a lesser extent Jerusalem and Jaffa and other sub-district capitals, of vast tracts of land in Syria and Palestine and their registration in the name of these families in the land registers". Many of the fellahin did not understand the importance of the registers and therefore the wealthy families took advantage of this. Jewish buyers who were looking for large tracts of land found it favorable to purchase from the wealthy owners. As well many small farmers became in debt to rich families which lead to the transfer of land to the new owners and then eventually to the Jewish buyers.
Jewish organizations often offered to purchase the land from the wealthy owners for more than the actual value of the area. The Jews and Rothschild Zionists paid extraordinarily high prices for the uncultivated and marsh land. During a visit to Palestine in 1930, John Hope Simpson, a British politician, noticed: "They paid high prices for the land, and in addition they paid to certain of the occupants of those lands a considerable amount of money which they were not legally bound to pay". It was believed that Jews were paying as much as $1,000 to $1,100 per acre in Palestine for non arable land in 1944. At that same time, one could buy rich arable land in Iowa for a mere $110 per acre.
Huge tracts of land were purchasedin the 1920s but in the next decade large tracts of uncultivated land were simply not available. Therefore in the 1930s most of the land were bought from small landowners. Of the land that the Jews bought, "52.6% of the lands were bought from big non-Palestinian landowners, 24.6% from Palestinian-Arab landowners and only 9.4% from the Fellahin".
By 1943, $560,000,000 was paid for nearly 400,000 acres, amounting to around 6% of the land.
Effects of purchases in Palestine
1929 Palestine Riots
During the time of this increased Jewish migration to the area, riots and massacres began to become more frequent among the people. During the Ottoman times there were conflicts between Jewish land owners and Arab tenants but in the 1920s and 1930s, the riots increased. In 1929 there were a series of violent attacks that resulted in the deaths of many innocent people.
The British government who were controlling the area during these times organized the Peel Commission to investigate the reasons for the civil unrest. Lord Peel's report found that:
A summary of land legislation enacted during the Civil Administration shows the efforts made to fulfill the Mandatory obligation in this matter. The Commission point to serious difficulties in connection with the legislation proposed by the Palestine Government for the protection of small owners. The Palestine Order in Council and, if necessary, the Mandate should be amended to permit of legislation empowering the High Commissioner to prohibit the transfer of land in any stated area to Jews, so that the obligation to safeguard the right and position of the Arabs may be carried out. Until survey and settlement are complete, the Commission would welcome the prohibition of the sale of isolated and comparatively small plots of land to Jews.
Up till now the Arab cultivator has benefited on the whole both from the work of the British Administration and the presence of Jews in the country, but the greatest care must now be exercised to see that in the event of further sales of land by Arabs to Jews the rights of any Arab tenants or cultivators are preserved. Thus, alienation of land should only be allowed where it is possible to replace extensive by intensive cultivation. In the hill districts there can be no expectation of finding accommodation for any large increase in the rural population. At present, and for many years to come, the Mandatory Power should not attempt to facilitate the close settlement of the Jews in the hill districts generally.
The shortage of land is due less to purchase by Jews than to the increase in the Arab population. The Arab claims that the Jews have obtained too large a proportion of good land cannot be maintained. Much of the land now carrying orange groves was sand dunes or swamps and uncultivated when it was bought.Legislation vesting surface water in the High Commissioner is essential. An increase in staff and equipment for exploratory investigations with a view to increasing irrigation is recommended.—Report of the Palestine Royal Commission - July 1937
The land purchases did not have all positive effects on the people of Palestine. After the large tracts of land owned by the absentee landlords were bought by Jewish immigrants, parcels of land were bought from small farm owners including fellahin. One of the growing profitable commodities in the area was citrus. Citrus cultivation can be very expensive so many fellahin sold all or parts of their land to pay for the investment into citrus cultivation. There were negative effects to the transactions made between the Jews and the small farm owners. After the land was sold, many of the fellahin fell into financial problems. Some farmers sold their land during the hype over the high land prices but did not consider the future after the money was spent. Others sold their land believing they would be able to find work in the cities but instead they began to depend on unstable incomes which led to a number of other economic problems. The fellahin who sold parts of land in attempt to turn "vegetable tracts into citrus groves became dependent on world markets and on the availability of maritime transportation. A decrease in the world market demand for citrus or a lack of means of transportation severely jeopardize the economic situation of these people".
Influence on population
The population of Palestine increased dramatically by the end of World War II. ... "By 1947, Jewish holdings in Palestine amounted to about 463,000 acres. Approximately 45,000 of these acres were acquired from the Mandatory Government; 30,000 were bought from various churches and 387,500 were purchased from Arabs. Analyses of land purchases from 1880 to 1948 show that 73 percent of Jewish plots were purchased from large landowners, not poor fellahin. Those who sold land 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. Even King Abdullah leased land to the Jews. In fact, many leaders of the Arab nationalist movement, including members of the Muslim Supreme Council, sold land to Jews".
Over the years Arabs have argued that they have been displaced due to the increase in Jewish immigration to the area presently known as Israel. "In 1931, Lewis French conducted a survey of landlessness and eventually offered new plots to any Arabs who had been 'dispossessed'. British officials received more than 3,000 applications, of which 80 percent were ruled invalid by the Government's legal adviser because the applicants were not landless Arabs. This left only about 600 landless Arabs, 100 of whom accepted the Government land offer". French's definition of a 'landless' Arab was often thought as too uncertain for it did not include Arabs who sold their land willingly, people who owned land elsewhere and people who became tenants of land elsewhere. French's survey describes landlessness Arabs as: "Those who can be shown to have been displaced from the lands which they occupied in consequence of the lands falling into Jewish hands, and who have not obtained other holdings on which they can establish themselves or other equally satisfactory occupation".
Also over the time period between World War I and World War II, both Jewish and Arab populations increased (470,000 Jewish; 588,000 not-Jewish). From 1922 and 1947, the non Jewish population increased dramatically in many cities over the region. In Haifa, Jerusalem and Jaffa the population increased by 290 per cent, 131 per cent and 158 per cent respectively.
Not all Arabs believe the Jewish land purchases were harmful to the Arab culture and people. According to the editor of the Egyptian newspaper, Al-Ahram, "[it]is absolutely necessary that an entente be made between the Zionists and Arabs, because the war of words can only do evil. The Zionists are necessary for the country: The money which they will bring, their knowledge and intelligence, and the industriousness which characterized them will contribute without doubt to the regeneration of the country".
- Jewish National Fund
- Palestine Jewish Colonization Association
- Peel Commission
- Palestinian Land Laws
- A Survey of Palestine, Table 2 showing Holdings of Large Jewish Lands Owners as of December 31st, 1945, British Mandate: A Survey of Palestine: Volume I - Page 245. Chapter VIII: Land: Section 3.
- Isaac Herzog (1967). The Main Institutions of Jewish Law: The law of obligations. Soncino Press. p. 51. Retrieved 27 June 2011.
- Yosef Zahavi (1962). Eretz Israel in rabbinic lore (Midreshei Eretz Israel): an anthology. Tehilla Institute. p. 28. Retrieved 19 June 2011. "If one buys a house from a non-Jew in Eretz Israel, the title deed may be written for him even on the Sabbath. On the Sabbath!? Is that possible? But as Rava explained, he may order a non-Jew to write it, even though instructing a non-Jew to do a work prohibited to Jews on the Sabbath is forbidden by rabbinic ordination, the rabbis waived their decree on account of the settlement of Eretz Israel."
- Porath (1977), p. 80
- Kark, JHG 10 (1984), pp. 357-384.
- Jonathan R. Adelman (2008). The rise of Israel: a history of a revolutionary state. Taylor & Francis. p. 58. ISBN 978-0-415-77509-0. Retrieved 19 June 2011.
- Murat Ocak (2002). The Turks: Ottomans (2 v. ). Yeni Türkiye. Retrieved 19 June 2011. "Even though the Ottoman government was disturbed by this decision, it was compelled to take it, in order to close all doors to the Jews in 1891, and to prohibit the sale of Palestinian land to Jews, even if they were Ottoman citizens, in 1892."
- Porath (1977), p. 81
- Porath (1977), p. 84
- Time Inc (11 October 1943). LIFE. Time Inc. p. 93. ISSN 0024-3019. Retrieved 19 June 2011.
- "Report of the Palestine Royal Commission — July 1937". Retrieved 2010-12-03.
- Porath (1977), p. 87
- Dershowitz, Alan (2003). The Case for Israel. New jersey, USA: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
- Porath, Y. (1977). The Palestinian Arab National Movement: From Riots to Rebellion. London, UK: Frank Cass and Company Ltd.