Sursock family

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The Sursock Museum in Beirut, Lebanon
Sursock Villa

The Sursock family (also spelled Sursuq) is a Greek Orthodox Christian family from Lebanon, and one of the most important “Seven Families” of Beirut. Having originated in Constantinople during the Byzantine Empire, the family has lived in Beirut since 1714, when they began to establish significant positions of power within the flourishing Ottoman Empire. The family, through lucrative business ventures, savvy political maneuvering, and strategic marriages, embarked on what Leila Fawaz called "the most spectacular social climb of the nineteenth century," and, by their peak, had built a close network of relations to the families of Egyptian, French, Irish, Russian, Italian and German aristocracies, alongside a manufacturing and distribution empire spanning the Mediterranean.[1][2][3]

Overview[edit]

The Sursocks are one of Beirut's aristocratic Christian families, and they were readily admitted into Ottoman, Egyptian and European high societies. The Sursocks became an integral part of an international bourgeoisie that constantly moved between the cities of Alexandria, Beirut, Cairo, Istanbul, Paris and Rome, and they are effectively one of the "Seven Families" which define Beirut's aristocratic nobility.[4][5][self-published source?] Their wealth and sophistication are also reflected in their stunning residences, which, equal in elegance to any Italian palazzo, remain largely unscathed despite fifteen years of unrelenting mortar fire and violence.[6][7]

In the 17th century, members of the Sursock family served as tax collectors and held other key positions on behalf of the Ottoman Empire, allowing them to benefit greatly from the 1858 Ottoman land reforms, during which they acquired large tracts of fertile land in Palestine and Syria, in addition to their already extensive holdings ranging from Egypt to Beirut.[8] The means by which this Greek-Orthodox Ottoman family came into possession of such particularly palatial real estate were multiple. As a long line of land owners and tax collectors, the Sursocks were able to leverage their finances and capital using their connections to American, Russian, German and French consuls over the decades to establish extensive economic and political connections.[9] The family developed wide social ties and was close to key Ottoman and European figures, frequently playing host to a wide range of royals and diplomats, including King Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia, William I, Sultan Abdul Hamid II and Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, amongst other monarchs.[10][11]

The Sursocks built their fortune in the beginning of the 17th century through their successful manufacturing and transportation empire, which extended from Turkey to Egypt and ultimately to the United Kingdom.[12] Based in Beirut, the family owned many properties along the Mediterranean region, and, for over one hundred years, the Sursocks owned a significant amount of real estate in the heart of Mersin, Turkey, including many shops and properties in the eponymous Sursock Quarter of the city.[13] Dimitri Sursock was the original founder of the "Sursock and Brothers," a prominent firm in nineteenth century Beirut which acted as an agent for Lascaridi and Company in the 1850s and 1860s and shipped grain to London, Cyprus and throughout Europe. The firm and its assets were subsequently taken over by his sons after his death: Nicolas, Moussa, Loutfallah, Khalil, Ibrahim and Joseph.[14]

In addition to their manufacturing and export activities, the family increased its fortune as landowners in the Ottoman Levant, amassing profits from both rent and tax collection, as well as from the sale of their many properties.[15][16][17] Their financial activities were wide-ranging, and included shipping and the production of silk and other goods built for transport to London and throughout the region. The Sursocks also became heavily involved in banking in Egypt and Lebanon, where they helped finance major projects including the Suez Canal, the Beirut-Damascus highway, and the Beirut Harbour Company.[18] The family also served as direct creditors to Ismail Pasha and other members of Egyptian royalty, who soon found themselves heavily involved with and indebted to the family.[19] As a result of their extensive financial activities, the family was branded "the Rothschilds of the East," and indeed engaged the Rothschild banking family during their sale of the Jezreel Valley to the Jewish National Fund in 1906.[20] The Sursocks are recorded as having been deeply intertwined in freemasonry at the time, under the Grand Orient of France, with many speculating on the reasons behind the family's rise. George Dimitri Sursock, Worshipful Master of the Grand Orient lodge, recorded his extensive dealings with, and on behalf of, the masonry.[21]

However, members of the family also gained notoriety for taking advantage of the famine in Lebanon during the First World War by selling overpriced basic food supplies,[22] and for selling large swaths of Arab land in Palestine to Jewish settlers, who demanded the oftentimes forceful eviction of the peasant residents.[23][24]

Though in the wake of the Lebanese Civil War many members of this old Greek-Orthodox aristocratic dynasty chose to relocate throughout various European and Asian capitals, Lady Cochrane Sursock remains in Beirut as the family matriarch. Despite the vast damage done to Beirut during the conflict's most brutal years, the main Sursock residence lies untouched alongside buildings whose outer walls bear to this day scars caused by years of violence.[25]

History[edit]

For many decades, the Sursocks were Lebanon's leading business family. As business partners of the Otis Elevator Company, they were successful industrialists and played a key role in the development and manufacturing of elevators.[26]

The Sursocks have shaped Lebanon's history from the late Ottoman period to present; indeed, the selection of Beirut, which would come to be known as the 'Pearl of the Orient,' as the provincial capital was in no small part the result of their entreaties to the Porte.[27]

According to Lady Cochrane Sursock, daughter of Alfred Bey Sursock and Donna Maria Theresa Serra di Cassano, the name is a corruption of Κυριε Ισαακ ("Kyrie Isaac", meaning Lord Isaac).[28] The family left Constantinople at its fall in 1453, settling near Jbail.[29] Other sources list the name as having been derived from the Arabic phrases for "secrets" and "market." Towards the close of the 18th century the Sursock family then moved to Beirut where they subsequently became successful traders, exporting grain from the east Mediterranean to the United Kingdom, whilst also engaging in the import of textiles from Europe to be sold throughout the Middle East. Nicolas Sursock founded the Banque Sursock et Frères in 1858 and purchased extensive properties throughout different parts of the Ottoman Empire.[5]

The Sursocks soon became protégés and dragomen to numerous European and American consul-generals and were afforded political privileges and protection by the various countries with whom they had ties, including Russia, Germany, Greece, Ireland and the United States of America. Moussa Sursock, the 8th Duke of Cassano, his brothers and his father Alfred are reported to have travelled on Greek and Russian passports as well as to have gained protégé status with other European consulates in Beirut as a result of their wide-ranging activities.[4] Furthermore, the Sursocks' heavy involvement in Egyptian affairs allowed the family to form close relations with members of the monarchy including Khedive Sa'id of Egypt, who reigned from 1854 to 1863, and his nephew Isma'il Pasha (1863-1879), affording them preferential deals on large infrastructural projects and extravagant public works.[4]

Alfred Sursock's Pine Residence

The Sursocks′ success was measured by their admission to the highest circles of both the Ottoman and European elite political spheres. They formed close connections with officials in Istanbul, while aristocrats often approached them to intercede on their behalf with the Ottoman government. One sign of their intimacy with the sources of Ottoman power was the appointment of Alfred Sursock to the post of secretary at the Ottoman embassy in Paris in 1905, who then joined Moussa, Michel and Yusuf Sursock in taking seats within the Ottoman power structure.[6] In addition to connections with Paris, a French report written the following year listed Moussa Sursock as dragoman of the German Consul,[19] and a year later, Mathilde Sursock married Alberto Theodoli, the Italian president of the League of Nations Permanent Mandates Commission, in Paris, thereby extending the family's reach around the Mediterranean.[30][31] Further evidence of the Sursocks' influence can be found in the court accounts recorded under Russian Grand Duke Nicolai Nikolaevich, identifying Nicolas Sursock, who had long maintained a strong relationship with the court, as an "Honorary Dragoman" of Russia.

Alfred, meanwhile, moved throughout the titled circles of Europe and married Donna Maria Serra di Cassano, daughter of Francesco Serra, 7th Duke of Cassano, who came from an old Italian princely family.[32] Their daughter Yvonne would be known as Lady Cochrane after marrying Sir Desmond Cochrane, 3rd Baronet, bearing four children.

Michel Sursock, a deputy to the Ottoman parliament, became infamous during the great famine in the First World War for hoarding grain and speculating on the supply. He would not sell the grain, which cost 40 piastres in peacetime, for less than 250 piastres.[8][22]

Assets[edit]

Beirut

When Moussa Sursock died in 1890, his grand share of the Sursock family assets was divided amongst his brothers, nephews, wife, three sons and five daughters. The assets left to the family included a wide range of real estate in and around Beirut, Mersin (Adana, Turkey), Tartus (Syria) and Alexandria (Egypt) which afforded the heirs significant influence over the region. Moussa also passed on extensive rural holdings, including entire villages in Egypt and Palestine, land situated on Mount Lebanon and, notably, a chateau that would become the fashionable resort of Sofar on Mount Lebanon.[4]

The Sursock villa in Sofar, constructed in the early twentieth century by Alfred Sursock for his wife Donna Maria di Cassano, bears original foundation inscriptions that proclaim the wealth of these merchants-turned-aristocrats. Though this Greek Orthodox family of foreign proteges often adopted the style and manners of French and other European elite, the Arabic inscriptions indicate deep traces of an Ottoman alliance stretching back centuries.[1]

Nicolas Sursock built himself a spectacular private villa in 1912 and decreed in his will that the villa be transformed into a museum after his death. Thus, when he died in 1952 the villa was bequeathed to the city of Beirut. The Sursock mansion, built in 1912, is an exceptional, pearl white structure at the top of a hill in Beirut's luxurious Achrafieh neighbourhood. Bringing out the best of both Venetian and Ottoman architecture, the building is a pool of influences, not dissimilar to the capital itself. Originally the residence of aristocratic art-lover Nicolas Sursock, it was bequeathed to the city on his death in 1952.[33] The Sursock Museum collection consists of 5,000 pieces, including paintings, sculptures, ceramics, glassware, and iconography, all of which date back to the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.[34] The Sursock Museum building embodies Lebanese architecture with its Italianate, specifically Venetian, and Ottoman architectural influences.[35][35] The museum is currently undergoing an extensive US$12 million renovation led by French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte and Lebanese architect Jacques Aboukhaled.[36]

Rue Sursock, in the Achrafieh district of Beirut, is named after the family, which owned and continues to own palatial homes on the street, such as Sursock House. Lady Cochrane Sursock, who in 1946 married Sir Desmond Cochrane, is the owner of the Sursock House, as well as a vast amount of property along Rue Sursock, up to the fashionable Rue Gouraud.[37] Nicolas Sursock transformed the house into a museum of art and amassed a large collection of art and glass. But it was Lady Cochrane's father, Alfred Bey Sursock, who initially expanded the size of the Sursock palace gardens and contributed most to the collections of art, carpets and other exquisite items, which are amongst the finest and best preserved in the Middle East. The palace is also home to a large collection of Italian artwork from the 16th and 17th centuries, many contemporary Lebanese pieces and antique Lebanese jewelry.[12]

In 1918, the Sursock family financed the building of the Beirut Hippodrome.[38] Alfred Sursock, who funded the endeavor, agreed to a deal with the city of Beirut regarding the development of 600,000 square meters in Beirut's pine forest. The Hippodrome project was to include a public causeway, a movie theater and a casino in addition to the hippodrome itself. The hippodrome complex was ultimately built in 1921, with the casino eventually becoming the seat of the French Mandate Authorities in Lebanon.[38][39] The Sursocks had also previously built Lebanon's first casino, the Sawfar Grand Hotel, in the late 1880s.[40]

In 1882, a consortium headed by the Sursock family won an Ottoman concession for the construction of a railway across the Jezreel Valley. The family sought to build a railway there both to raise land value around the line, which was mostly family-owned, and to enjoy economies of scale in the transport of goods from the Hauran, also owned by the family, to the Mediterranean Sea for export. In 1883, Sir Laurence Oliphant founded a company along with Gottlieb Schumacher, one of the founders of the German Colony of Haifa, to find investors for attaining a construction permit for the Sursock family, and capital for the construction itself.[41] On June 13, 1883, early surveying work was completed and Oliphant began to look for investors, both in Britain and Germany. In a letter he wrote to the Duke of Sutherland, Oliphant claimed that the construction of the line was extremely important both politically and economically, that it would eventually serve as the connection between Asia Minor, the Fertile Crescent, and Egypt, and expressed fear that the line would be under sole German ownership. Oliphant and his peers advertised the line as extremely profitable for investors, estimating the gain at 34%, and promising additional permits to construct additional extensions, a modern port in Haifa or Acre, and a shipping company. For that purpose, Oliphant purchased additional lands on Haifa's coast, and in the Megiddo area. Despite these efforts, the plans failed — the British government, the only one interested in the project, sent the Duke of Sutherland to inspect it, who refused to help sponsor the project. The Lebanese families headed by Mr. Sursock, who wished to build the railway for their personal needs, instead saw their permit and subsequent deposit with Sultan Abdul Hamid II expire two years later.

Land Sale Records

Notable members[edit]

Sursock lineage since 1712

Michel Sursock was a high-ranking member of Ottoman parliament and a senior dragoman to the Persian Empire, having been granted the title "Senator of the Empire." [42] Similarly, Moussa, Michel-Ibrahim and Yusuf Sursock all served as members of Ottoman parliament for a number of years, beginning in 1912.[42]

George Moussa Sursock had developed close ties with a wide variety of rulers and members of Europe's monarchy, from Franz Joseph of Austria to William of Germany and Louis Prince of Battenberg. Moussa was also involved in Freemasonry, as is evidenced in archives and letters addressed to the Grand Orient in Paris, dated April 1906, as well as in other sources such as "Les Grandes Families." [43]

Alfred Bey Sursock married Donna Maria Teresa Serra, daughter of Francesco Serra, 7th Duke of Cassano. His first cousin Nicolas married Alfred′s sister-in-law Donna Vittoria Serra of the Dukes di Cassano, also a daughter of the Duke. Nicolas′ eldest sister married Marchese Alberto Theodoli, and his youngest, Isabelle, married the head of the Colonna family, an ancient Roman family whose history spans nine hundred years.[44][45]

Catherine Aleya Beriketti Sursock, who was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1938 and was formerly the wife of Lebanese aristocrat Cyril Sursock (son of Nicolas Sursock and Donna Vittoria Serra of the Dukes di Cassano), married Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan in November 1972 in the British West Indies.[46] (His father, Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, Aga Khan III is said to have traced his bloodline to the Prophet Muhammad and was the leader of the Ismailis, who form the second largest branch of Shia Islam). The Prince's marriage to Catherine brought with it three sons: Alexandre Sursock, who married Thai Mom Rajawongse Charuvan Rangsit Prayurasakdi, Marc Sursock and Nicolas Sursock.[47]

Alexandre Sursock, son of Cyril Sursock, married Princess Mom Rajawongse Charuvan Rangsit of Thailand (by Mom Nalini) on 9 September 1978.[48]

Michail (Michael) Sursock is a leading figure in Asia's Private Equity and financial sphere, where he continues to serve as an adviser to numerous companies, having built his name as a leader of several multinational businesses across Europe, America and Asia. Michail has spent time as CEO of KKR Capstone for Asia Pacific, as a Managing Director at Motorola Inc, and as a President with Mars across three continents.[49] Additionally Mr. Sursock is an Advisor and Speaker at the Tuck School of Leadership Dartmouth and a member of its Asia Advisory Board. He is also a member of the Marshall Goldsmith Leadership 100.

Robert Sursock, over many decades, established himself as a premier banker in Paris and beyond, having built and grown such institutions as PrimeCorp Finance, Gazprombank Invest Mena and Banque Arabe et Internationale d'Invessement.[50]

Cairo's most famous restaurant entrepreneur, Nicha Sursock, the co-owner of world-renowned restaurant and bar "L'aubergine", is also a member of the prominent Greek Orthodox family,[51] while Cici Tommaseo Sursock was a renowned artist having hosted exhibitions throughout the world, including in Lausanne, Beirut, Cairo, New York, Rome.[52]

Isabelle Hèlene Sursock fell in love with Prince Marcantonio VII Colonna [it], who brought her to Italy, where she was able to integrate successfully into Roman high society at a time when it was up against the rise of Mussolini. After the fall of the monarchy, Isabelle effectively replaced Jose Maria as the substitute queen of Italy, hosting regal receptions where royalty and, among the bourgeoisie, only financiers and bankers were allowed.[53][54] Donna Isabelle, as she then became known, occupied a prime position amongst the élite of Roman society throughout her long life up to the 1980s, and was a lady of great intelligence and power who intensely guarded the artistic collection of the family throughout the darkest periods of both world wars, shielding persecuted Jews and resisting the fascist powers wherever possible. She and her husband were immensely loyal to the Holy See, so much so that she was given the rare honor of Vatican citizenship.[55]

The "alternate queen," as she was known in Italy's elite circles, never abandoned her palace (Palazzo Colonna), which she so profoundly loved, and continued to weave her diplomatic skills at the highest level, receiving heads of state and royalty from half the world. Narrowly escaping arrest by the Neofascists, Isabelle dedicated her life to preserving the uppermost interests and image of the family.[56]

Sursock Archives[edit]

The halls of the Sursock Palace contain the historical archives of the Sursock family empire. The archives, which are divided into three categories (public, private, and commercial-accounting), primarily span from the years 1876 to 1978 and record the activities of Alfred, Moussa, Nicolas, Princess Isabelle, Lady Cochrane and other particularly prominent members of this small Greek-Orthodox family.[42][57]

An extensive study on the archives and the family itself can be found in Lorenzo Trombetta's 'The Private Archive of the Sursocks (Sursuqs), A Beirut Family of Christian Notables: An Early Investigation.'

Land Sales to the Rothschild Family and the Foundations of Early Israel[edit]

Jezreel Valley

The family owned more than 90,000 acres, or 400,000 dunams, (364 km²) in the Jezreel Valley in Palestine, having purchased it from Ottoman authorities in their dealings with the empire.[58][59] Evidence of the remarkable concentration of wealth accumulated by the Sursocks, who already owned tens of thousands of acres of the finest land in the region, can be found in records detailing their sustained purchases of numerous new villages every year.[60] In 1906, the Sursock family sold land in Palestine to the Jewish National Fund, with documents revealing that in 1929, under the British Mandate, the Sursocks sold the valley to the wealthy European Jewish investor, Baron Rothschild.[61][62] The buyers demanded the existing settlers be relocated and as a result, the Arab tenant farmers were evicted, with some receiving compensation the buyers were not required by law to pay.[63] Because the villagers paid tithes to the Sursock family in Beirut for the right to work the agricultural lands in the villages, they were deemed tenant farmers by the British Mandate authorities in Palestine, and the right of the Sursock family to sell the land to the JNF was upheld by the authorities.

The fateful story of the Jezreel Valley began when the Ottoman Government sold Marj ibn Amir in 1872 to the Sursock family of Beirut. The Zionists began to show interest in buying the Jezreel Valley in 1891, but the Palestine Land Development Company (PLDC), a Zionist land purchasing agency, only made its first purchases in 1910. The PLDC acquired land for the Jewish National Fund (JNF). Yehoshua Hankin of the KKL transacted the final settlement of purchase in 1921 for those parts under discussion here. Hankin originally worked for the PLDC and then became the main land speculator for both agencies.

In ancient times Esdraelon was the granary, and by the Arabs is still regarded as the most fertile tract of Palestine. The soreness felt owing to the sale of large areas by the absentee Sursock family to the Jews and the displacement of the Arab tenants is still acute. It was evident on every occasion of discussion with the Arabs, both effendi and fellahin.

Recent documents have revealed that the Sursocks were absentee landlords in the vast Marj Ibn `Amer (Jezreel Valley) in Northern Palestine. In 1929, under the British Mandate, the Sursocks sold the valley to the Baron Rothschild. The European dynasty of German Jewish origin that established European banking and finance houses from the late eighteenth century had established a fund to buy land in Palestine and encourage the immigration of Jews to Palestine.The Palestine Jewish Colonisation Association – PICA- was founded in 1924 by Edmond to administer the settlements he had created in Palestine and took over the role of the Jewish Colonisation Association of 1900. PICA was the largest Jewish landowner in Palestine. Edmond’s involvement with Jewish settlements began in 1882 when he funded Rishon Le-Zion (‘The First in Zion’) He quickly began to establish more settlements including Zikhron Y aacov and Maskereth Batya (named after his parents) which were provided with social and religious institutions. Edmond also stimulated the economic development of the settlements by investing in new crops, such as wine, grapefruit and avocado, and industrial enterprises such as silk production. After Edmond’s death in 1934 his son James de Rothschild (1878-1957) presided over the affairs of PICA until in 1957, the year of his death, he decided to transfer all PICA holdings to national institutions. His determination to continue to support Israeli institutions was carried out after his death by his wife, Dorothy (1895-1988), who founded Yad Hanadiv.


The sale of the Sursock lands and other Jewish land purchases in districts where the soil is most productive were regarded as showing that the immigrants would not be content to occupy undeveloped areas and that economic pressure upon the Arab population was likely to increase. When Edmond died in Paris in 1934, he left a legacy which included the reclamation of nearly 500,000 dunams of land and almost 30 settlements.

Official purchasing organizations such as the Palestine Land Development Company focused on consummating the transfer of some 65,000 dunams of land in the Jezreel Valley owned by the Sursocks of Beirut. On 18 December 1918, the PDLC concluded an egreement with Nagib and Albert Sursock for the purchase of 71,356 dunams in the Jezreel Valley, including Tel Adas.

For their part, the Ottomans tried to limit mass land acquisition and immigration, but had their hands tied by European pressure and also corruption and greed of officials and large landowners. Vast estates were thus purchased by Zionists from absentee landlords in Beirut above the heads of Palestinian tenants and sharecroppers. The sale of the land by the Sursock family in Marj ibn Amer is a noted case.[64]

Edmond de Rothschild began investing in Palestine at the age of 37, in 1882. Baron Edmond de Rothschild in 1923 founded the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association (PICA), which carried on his work under his son, James Armand de Rothschild (1878-1957). By 1930, PICA had amassed 5,200 hectares in various parts of the country, on which it established 50 settlements that reflected the diverse models that had evolved by this time: villages (such as Pardess Hanna, Binyamina and Givat Ada, all named for members of the Rothschild family), kibbutzim, moshavim and urban localities such as Bnei Brak and Herzliya. PICA continued to assist rural settlements as well as developing or financing economic enterprises, including some of lasting importance in the Israeli economy – wineries, the Potash Company, the Electric Company and Nesher Cement, to name only a few. By the end of the Mandate (1948), the PICA possessed a large proportion of the Jewish-owned land in Palestine.[65]

In the next 17 years, the Baron spent $100 million in purchasing lands, building factories, schools and hospitals and disseminating Jewish settlements to produce what he needed on these new lands. In 1912, the PLDC contracted to purchase a large tract in the Jezreel Valley from the Sursock family of Beirut and Alexandria in 1912, but was unable to complete the transaction due to the World War, much to the dismay of the Baron.[66]

The initial purchased lands were owned by the Sursocks and many other feudal lords who became leaders in Lebanon political system due to the money they got from selling their lands in Palestine

The agreement concluded between the owners – the Sursocks and the PLDC – stipulated that the Sursocks would have to pay a $50,000 penalty if they did not sell the tract to the PLDC.

The Jewish National Fund was founded in 1901 by funding from the Baron to buy and develop land in Ottoman Palestine for Jewish settlement. The Palestine Jewish Colonisation Association (PICA) was created in 1924, under the Presidency of Mr. James de Rothschild, M.P., the Baron’s eldest son, in order to administer the Palestine colonies. [67]

In 1953, the JNF was dissolved and re-organized as an Israeli company under the name Keren Kayemet LeYisrael (JNF-KKL). In 1912, the PLDC contracted to purchase a large tract in the Jezreel Valley from the Sursock family of Beirut and Alexandria in 1912, but was unable to complete the transaction due to the World War.

There could hardly be a better illustration of the merits of this approach than that offered by this new study of the role of the great Baron Edmond de Rothschild (1845-1934) in the early development of what has become the state of Israel. The work of his son James and the institution—the Palestine Jewish Colonial Association (PICA)—into which the Rothschild projects were ultimately absorbed cannot be understated; but “the Baron” is the true focus, not only for the detailed story of what he accomplished at this primitive stage when almost everything trembled on the edge of collapse, but even more for the chance it gives us to see the mysterious appeal of Zion transforming a man’s life to his own surprise and even, it might be said, against his will. [68]

The period 1925-28 was to be the quietest time of the mandate. The year 1925 had witnessed a relatively large increase in Jewish immigration, and land purchases were far more than in any other year of the mandate (31 March 1938, Gurevich, JA Statistician to JA Political Dept., CZA S25/6563). These purchases, transacted mainly with the Greek Orthodox Sursock family resident in Beirut and Alexandria, effectively allowed the Yishuv to dominate the great interior Valley of Israel (Esdraelon, Jezreel).

Ideological and practical considerations compelled the KKL to buy this large tract of land from the Sursock family. Urgency for large colonization, quick purchase, and rapid self-sufficiency by means of general agriculture made the jezreel valley the focus of the Zionist Organization’s land purchasing plans. The Zionist Organization thought the Jezreel Valley to be more desirable, for instance, than even the coastal region where smaller parcels of land were available for purchase. Buying parcels in the coastal region involved more complicated purchasing negotiations. The coastal region was also the center of orange cultivation, a type of agriculture that would not yield a profit for several years, thus potentially impeding the Labor Zionist idea of self reliant settlement.[69]

Jews purchased 200,000 dunams (more than 49,000 acres) from the wealthy family of Christian Arabs from Beirut (the Sursock family). Included in the purchase were 22 villages, “the tenants of which, with the exception of a single village, were displaced: 1,746 families or 8,730 people.

Baron Edmond James de Rothschild, youngest son of James Jacob de Rothschild, was a patron of the first settlement in Palestine at Rishon-LeZion, and bought from Ottoman landlords parts of the land which now makes up present-day Israel. In 1924, he established the Palestine Jewish Colonisation Association (PICA),

Not only did Baron Edmond buy from the rich Arab family insalubrious swampy lands, but also he sponsored very expensive, and for a long time unsuccessful, sinking of wells to find what was indispensable for the daily life of populations – water.

In ancient times Esdraelon was the granary, and by the Arabs is still regarded as the most fertile tract of Palestine. The soreness felt owing to the sale of large areas by the absentee Sursock family to the Jews and the displacement of the Arab tenants is still acute. It was evident on every occasion of discussion with the Arabs, both effendi and fellahin.

On 18 December 1918, the PDLC concluded an egreement with Nagib and Albert Sursock for the purchase of 71,356 dunams in the Jezreel Valley, including Tel Adas.

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