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Monday, 5 September 2011

A long history of Jew-hatred in Palestine (2)

The land of Palestine

Whilst it is true that many Arabs fought alongside the British, under the legendary T.E. Lawrence (‘Lawrence of Arabia’), so did many Jews, as Mitchell G Bard states: “Jews also fought against the Ottomans to liberate Palestine during the First World War, as did the Arabs.” (‘Middle East Conflict’, page 76.) The Arabs were far more numerous and so they formed the bulk of the forces against the Ottomans.
Palestinian leaders often claim today that the bond between Palestinians and their homeland is unbreakable and demand the right of all Palestinians to return to the homes they fled during the 1948 War of Independence and the Six day war in 1967. Yet here are some very revealing quotes about this so-called ‘unbreakable bond’.

“The British consul general, James Finn, wrote in 1857 that ‘the country is in a considerable degree empty of inhabitants’ and that its ‘greatest need is that of a body of population.’ Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, the great British cartographer, reached similar conclusions in 1881: ‘In Judea it is hardly an exaggeration to say that for miles there was no appearance of life or habitation.’ The Palestine Royal Commission quoted an account from 1913 saying that on the road from Gaza to the north, ‘no orange groves, orchards or vineyards were to be seen until one reached Yabna [a Jewish village]... [T]he western part towards the sea was almost a desert... The villages in this area were few and thinly populated.’” (Quoted from ‘The world turned upside down’ by Melanie Phillips, pages 57-8.)

Meanwhile in his book ‘Middle East Conflict’ Mitchell G Bard describes Palestine as it was for many centuries as a “sparsely populated, poorly cultivated, and widely expanse of eroded hills, sandy deserts, and malarial marshes” (page 61). And he quotes Mark Twain, who visited Palestine in 1867 and described it as

“a desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds... A desolation is here and not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action... There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of the worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.” (‘Middle East Conflict’ by Mitchell G Bard, page 61.)

Here is another quote from the memoirs of one early Jewish settler, Rachel Yannait Ben-Zvi, describing her arrival in Palestine in 1908 and the train journey she took from Jaffa to Jerusalem:

“Desolate stretches of uncultivated fields spread all the way to the horizon, up to the far off Samarian hills visible through a bluish haze. The sight of all the barren ground filled me with a kind of joy – joy that fate had kept the soil of Judea uninhabited and un-worked…. In my mind’s eye I saw it brought back to life by the hands of Jews returning from far away.” (Quoted by Ronald Sanders, replying to Yehoshua Porath’s criticisms of ‘From time immemorial’ by Joan Peters. My emphasis added.)

In 1918 Hussein bin Ali, sherif of Mecca, who led the Arabs during the fight against Ottoman rule alongside the British, stated that

“The resources of the country are still virgin soil and will be developed by the Jewish immigrants. One of the most amazing things until recent times was that the Palestinian used to leave his country, wandering over the high seas in every direction. His native soil could not retain a hold on him, though his ancestors had lived on it for 1,000 years. At the same time, we have seen the Jews from foreign countries streaming into Palestine from Russia, Germany, Spain and America... The return of these exiles to their homeland will prove materially and spiritually an experimental school for their brethren who are with them in the fields, factories, trades, and in all things connected with toil and labour.” (‘Middle East Conflict’, pages 81. My emphasis above.)

Furthermore: “A British government handbook from 1920 noted, ‘The people west of Jordon are not Arabs, but only Arab-speaking. The bulk of the population are fellahin... In the Gaza district they are mostly of Egyptian origin; elsewhere they are of mixed race.’... Very few had been in Palestine before the Jews arrived; many Arabs moved into the area on the back of the prosperity brought by the returning Jews during the first half of the twentieth century.

Between 1922 and 1946, the Arab population of Palestine increased by 118 per cent. Franklin D Roosevelt said in 1939 that ‘Arab immigration into Palestine since 1921 has vastly exceeded the total Jewish immigration during the whole period.’”
(‘The world turned upside down’ by Melanie Phillips, page 59)

The fact is it was only after Jews migrated to Palestine in the early 20th century and through their hard work began to create farming and agricultural jobs that Arabs began to move to the area to take advantage of the employment prospects and the wages they could earn. Indeed the 1936 Peel Commission noted that the presence of Jews in Palestine had “resulted in higher wages, an improved standard of living, and ample employment opportunities.” (‘Middle East Conflict’, page 94.)

And on the so-called ‘dispossession’ of the Palestinian Arabs we read,

“Far from appropriating Arab property, the Jews bought most of the land from the Arabs – mainly absentee landlords – as many Arab sources have testified, such as King Abdullah of Transjordon, who wrote that the Arabs were ‘as prodigal in selling their land as they were in useless wailing and weeping.’” (‘The world turned upside down’, page 61.)

And Mitchell G Bard adds:

“More than 90 per cent of the land Jews had purchased by 1936 had been bought from landowners, nearly 40 per cent whom lived in Egypt and Syria. Less than 8.7 per cent of the Jews’ land was purchased from the fellaheen (peasant farmers)... The Jews were paying outrageous prices to wealthy Arab landowners for small tracts of arid land... The Arabs who became ‘dispossessed’ were those who had willingly sold their land at exorbitant prices to Jewish buyers.” (‘Middle East Conflict’, page 93)

As can be seen the above quotes from completely separate and independent sources, spanning 1857 to 1936, the land of Palestine, a province of the Ottoman Empire since the early 16th century, had been badly neglected and remained a desert wasteland with the sparse population living in peasant-like conditions similar to those of medieval times. And as Arab leader Sherif Hussein pointedly remarked in 1918,

“One of the most amazing things until recent times was that the Palestinian used to leave his country, wandering over the high seas in every direction. His native soil could not retain a hold on him, though his ancestors had lived on it for 1,000 years.” (‘Middle East Conflict’ by Mitchell G Bard, pages 81.)

Moreover, it was only when the Jews began migrating to Palestine from the late 19th century onwards, fleeing the terrible pogroms of Eastern Europe, and started to develop the economy, irrigating the desert soil to develop farming and agriculture, that the Arabs began to flock to Palestine to take advantage of Jewish ingenuity and enterprise.

We’ve already seen the quote from Mitchell G Bard stating that “When Jews began to migrate to Palestine in large numbers in 1882, fewer than 250,000 Arabs lived there...” (‘Middle East Conflict’, page 70), and “estimates suggest the total population at the turn of the century was around 400,000” (see ‘Nazi Palestine’ by Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin Cuppers, page 3). Now compare the figure of 250,000 Arabs with those from official sources for 1922 and 1931 given below.

When the British Mandate began in 1922 Census details were recorded, held firstly in 1922 and again in 1931. The 1922 figures are as follows:

Muslims: 589,177
Christians: 71,464
Jews: 83,790

And the total population is given at 752, 048.

While by the 1931 they were:

Muslims: 759,700
Christians: 88,907
Jews: 174,606

The total population of Palestine for 1931 is given at 1,033,314

Meanwhile by 1936 estimated figures are given thus:

Muslims: 883,446
Jews: 395,836

Total Population: 1,401, 794

The increase in the “Muslim”/Arab population between 1882 and 1942 can’t be put down to high birthrate alone and it seems clear that many were migrating to Palestine.

The latest, 2010 population figures for Israel is 7,746,000. Thus the land of Palestine was hardly ‘overpopulated’ in 1922, 1931 or 1936 or at any time during the British Mandate period (1922-48). The fact is there was plenty of land space for Palestinian Arabs, Christians and Jews alike. The only thing lacking was a willingness on the part of the Arabs to allow Jews to develop the land and make it a place worthy of the 20th century instead of a land that had changed little since the middle ages. As Husseini said himself: “We want no progress, no prosperity in Palestine”.

- By Spero Meliora

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