Jewish land purchase in Palestine
The Talmud mentions the religious duty of settling 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 immigrating 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.
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.
In 1918, after the British conquest of Palestine, the military administration closed the Land Register and prohibited all sale of land. The Register was reopened in 1920, but to prevent speculation and insure a livelihood for the fellahin, an edict was issued forbidding the sale of more than 300 dunams of land or the sale of land valued at more than 3000 Palestine pounds without the approval of the High Commissioner.
From the 1880s to the 1930s, most Jewish land purchases were made in the coastal plain, the Jezreel Valley, the Jordan Valley and to a lesser extent the Galilee. This was due to a preference for land that was cheap and without tenants. 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. The second reason for the sparsely populated areas of the 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".
In the 1930s most land was 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".
The British government appointed the Peel Commission to investigate the reasons for the civil unrest in Palestine. Lord Peel's findings on land purchase were as follows:
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 fellahin who sold 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 jeopardized the economic situation of these people".
Influence on population
Director of Development Lewis French established a register of landless Arabs in 1931. Out of 3,271 applicants, only 664 were admitted and the remainder rejected. Porath suggests that the number of displaced Arabs may have been considerably larger, since French's definition of "landless Arab" excluded those who had sold their own land, those who owned land elsewhere, those who had since obtained tenancy of other land even if they were unable to cultivate it due to poverty or debt, and displaced persons who were not cultivators but had occupations such as ploughman or laborer.
- 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
- Ruth Kark (1984). "Changing patterns of landownership in nineteenth-century Palestine: the European influence". Journal of Historical Geography 10 (4): 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
- The Claim of Dispossession: Jewish Land-Settlement and the Arabs, 1878-1948, Aryeh L. Avneri
- Porath (1977), p. 84
- "Report of the Palestine Royal Commission — July 1937". Retrieved 2010-12-03.
- Porath, pp. 87–88
- 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.