segunda-feira, 26 de novembro de 2012

Land Ownership in Palestine, 1880-1948 (part 2)

Land Ownership in Palestine, 1880-1948 (part 1)

Who Dispossessed the Palestinian Peasant? 

The Palestinian peasant was indeed being dispossessed, but  by his fellow-Arabs: the local sheikh and village elders, the  Government tax-collector, the merchants and money-lenders; and, when  he was a tenant-farmer (as was usually the case), by the absentee-owner.
By the time the season's crop had been distributed among all these, little if anything remained for him and his family, and new debts generally had to be incurred to pay off the old. Then the Bedouin came along and took their "cut", or drove the hapless fellah off the land altogether.

This was the "normal" course of events in 19th century Palestine. It was disrupted by the advent of the Jewish pioneering enterprise, which sounded the death-knell of this medieval feudal system. In this way the Jews played an objective revolutionary role. Small wonder that it aroused the ire and active opposition of the Arab sheikhs, absentee landowners, money-lenders and Bedouin bandits.

It is important to note that the first enduring Jewish agricultural settlement in modern Palestine was founded not by European refugees, but by a group of old-time families, leaving the overcrowded Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. (According to the Turkish census of 1875, by that time Jews already constituted a
majority of the population of Jerusalem and by 1905 comprised two-thirds of its citizens. The Encyclopaedia Britannica of 1910 gives the population figure as 60,000, of whom 40,000 were Jews.)

In 1878 they founded the village of Petah Tikva in the Sharon Plain—a village that was to become known as the "Mother of Jewish Settlements" in Palestine. Four years later a group of pioneering immigrants from Russia settled in Rishon le-Zion. Other farming villages followed in rapid succession.

When considering Jewish land purchases and settlements, four factors should be borne in mind:

(1) Most of the land purchases involved large tracts belonging to
absentee owners. (Virtually all of the Jezreel Valley, for
example, belonged in 1897 to only two persons: the eastern
portion to the Turkish Sultan, and the western part to the
richest banker in Syria, Sursuk "the Greek".)

(2) Most of the land purchased had not been cultivated previously
because it was swampy, rocky, sandy or, for some other reason,
regarded as uncultivable. This is supported by the findings of
the Peel Commission Report (p. 242): "The Arab charge 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 swamp and uncultivated when it
was purchased . . . there was at the time at least of the earlier
sales little evidence that the owners possessed either the resources or training needed to develop the land." (1937)

(3) While, for this reason, the early transactions did not involve
unduly large sums of money, the price of land began to rise
as Arab landowners took advantage of the growing demand for
rural tracts. The resulting infusion of capital into the
Palestinian economy had noticeable beneficial effects on the
standard of living of all the inhabitants.
(4) The Jewish pioneers introduced new farming methods which
improved the soil and crop cultivation and were soon emulated
by Arab farmers.

The following figures show land purchases by the three leading Jewish land-buying organizations and by individual Jews between 1880 and 1935.

"Since the J.N.F. was as concerned with conforming to socialist ideals
as with intensive economic exploitation of land, its Charter was
opposed to the use of lands purchased by it as private property. The
J.N.F. retained the freehold of the lands, while the people working
it are only life tenants. . . .
"The capital of the Jewish National Fund was essentially raised from
small regular donations from millions of Jewish craftsmen, labourers,
shop-owners and intellectuals in Central and Eastern Europe where the
shadow of genocide was already apparent, who felt concerned about
the return of Jews to Zion. . . .
"Contrary to colonialist enterprises, which were seeking  an exorbitant profit from land extorted from the colonized peoples,  Zionist
settlement discouraged private capital as its enterprise  was of a
socialist nature based on the refusal to exploit the worker." (Kurt
Niedermaler, Colonisation without Colonialism, Youth and Hechalutz
Dept., Jewish Agency, Jerusalem, 1969).

F r o m the above table it will be seen that the proportion of  land purchased from large (usually absentee) owners ranged from about 50 to 90 per cent.

"The total area of land in Jewish possession at the end of  June 1947," writes A. Granott in The Land System in Palestine (Eyre and Spottiswoode, London, 1952, p. 278), "amounted to 1,850,000 dunams, of this 181,100 dunams had been obtained through concessions from the Palestinian Government, and about 120,000 dunams had been acquired from Churches, from foreign companies, from the Government otherwise than by concessions, and so forth. It was estimated that 1,000,000 dunams and more, or 57 per cent, had been acquired from large Arab landowners, and if to this we add the lands acquired from the Government, Churches, and foreign companies, the percentage will amount to seventy-three.

From the fellaheen there had been purchased about 500,000 dunams, or 27 per cent, of the total acquired. The result of Jewish land acquisitions, at least to a considerable part, was that properties which had been in the hands of large and medium owners were converted into holding of small peasants."

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