Posts Tagged ‘Judea and Samaria’

Introduction

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Behind the Arab-Israel conflict a yawning ideological dichotomy separates Zionists and Arab Palestinian nationalists, each adopting a divergent historical interpretation of the socio-political landscape in pre-1918 Palestine.

Zionists assert that prior to their immigration, Palestine was desolate and under-populated and that much of the arable land in the plains remained untilled while other areas were malarial swamp. With backbreaking labour and overcoming malarial disease they started to drain the swamps and convert abandoned land to being highly productive.

In contrast Arab Palestinian nationalists assert:

  • Palestine was not desolate and without population;
  • Indigenous Arabs occupied and worked the land from time immemorial;
  • Jewish immigration and land purchases pushed Arab fellahin off the land and forced them to move to the towns where they were compelled to change their lifestyles and find alternative employment if they were so able.

Neither scenario is devoid of some element of truth.

Geography, politics and demographics of the region all undoubtedly shaped the outcome of the struggle being played out between the opposing Jewish and Arab interests but other influences operating internationally influenced the local scene.

In addition, cultural differences between Jews and Arabs began to play a highly significant role in generating the animus and hostility which characterised the emerging political landscape.

To enable readers to weigh and evaluate the respective claims and counterclaims, a clearer understanding of the various factors which bear on their validity is an essential prerequisite, and they are here summarised:

Settled Population Affected by Topography and Marauders

The coastal plains being ipso facto vulnerable to marauding Bedouin tribes were more or less desolate and unproductive:

  • The Northern coastal plain  – was swamp-like and malaria-ridden as was the land around the Hula lake and the Lake of Galilee;
  • The Southern coastal plains – were inundated with sand dunes
  • To the extent that such land was capable of being cultivated, wild marauding Bedouin tribes present in the area discouraged any permanent rural settlement or agricultural development.

As a consequence:

  • Arab urban and rural settlements were to be found mainly in the hill country west of the Jordan River in Judea and Samaria and parts of the Galilee, avoiding the coastal plain.
  • Jews, prior to acquiring and developing the barren coastal plains, had a significant urban presence in and around Jerusalem, Tiberias, Safad and Jaffa and in other smaller towns.

This subject is examined in greater detail in Section 1 below

Aside from these conditions there were a number of other factors external to Palestine which also contributed to the complex dynamics of the region.

Egyptian Population Migrations into Palestine – increased the indigenous Arab population beyond its natural birth rate.

The migrants included:

  • those fleeing from compulsory military service 1839 – 1849 in the Egyptian army;
  • deserters from the Egyptian army following its the withdrawal from Palestine after a ten year military occupation; and
  • those seeking to avoid forced labour in the construction of the Suez Canal 1861-1871.

Section 2 below expands this point

Foreign Diplomatic Political and Economic Pressure on Ottoman Independence

The Ottoman government, (seated at the ‘Sublime Porte’ or entry to the Sultan’s Palace in Constantinople – now Istanbul) referred to by Europeans as the ‘Porte’, was subject to strong European pressure and influence. This was exerted through:

  • exploitation of the ‘Capitulations’ – provisions in international agreements between European states and the Ottoman government granting trade preferences and customs concessions – extended well beyond their originally intended scope. The term ‘Capitulations’ is derived from the Italian ‘capitula’ meaning a chapter or paragraph in the agreement

(see Section 3.a below); and

  • restructuring the financial loan arrangements for the repayment of the enormous Ottoman debts owed  to the Europeans incurred by the former in fighting the Crimean War and the suppressing of ethnic uprisings in the Empire. (Section 3.b)

European Political and Financial Pressure Induced Changes in Ottoman Internal Policy

These changes included

  • the opening of its domestic markets to foreign investment in general;
  • reform of its land ownership, registration and land taxation systems. (Section 3.c.ii); and
  • modernisation of its civilian administrative structure and military organisation (Section 3.d).

all of which caused changes in the loci centres of power of the Palestinian Arab elites’ and brought social and economic consequences in the welfare of the fellah (See Section 4. below)

Internal Changes within the Ottoman Empire  Created Further Opportunities for European Intrusion.

These changes resulted in Non-Ottoman citizens being permitted to acquire land freely without obtaining a special permit. This stimulated Christian religious institutions to acquire property in the Holy Land (see Section 5.a). Religious European and Yemenite Jews were also drawn to return to Eretz Yisrael by their ethnic, cultural and religious roots and their belief of an immanent messianic appearance (see Section 5.b).

However, the most powerful force leading to a Jewish return to Eretz Yisrael lay in European anti-Semitism. In Rumania and Russia, this was overtly violent (pogroms) and in Western Europe, notwithstanding the removal of legal obstacles to Jewish assimilation in France and Germany, was covert and discriminatory; in the Dreyfus affair there was even a conspiracy.

These latter events and Jewish attempts to convert them into a positive force supporting Jewish nationalism in the Zionist movement are examined in Chapter V.

1. General Topography and Population

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Several adverse characteristics prevailing in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries shaped the economic and social conditions in the Eastern Mediterranean region: under-population, marauding Bedouin clans, poverty, malarial sickness and lack of investment in efficient and scientific land utilisation.

The many descriptions of the region provided by travellers and foreign consuls at the time were generally not grounded on hard data or academic research. They failed to take into consideration that conditions which prevailed in some parts of Palestine did not pertain in others. In examining its economic and political development, Palestine must be divided into

  • four longitudinal regions paralleling the Mediterranean Sea: (i) the coastal plain, (ii) the hilly region (the Negev and the south) (iii) Judea and Samaria in the central region and (iv) the Galilee in the north;
  • the Jordan Valley which lies to the east of the Galilee and includes the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee (Tiberias) which forms part of the Great Rift Valley;
  • the hills of Transjordan.

(see Y. Karmon, Israel: A Regional Geography, John Wiley & Sons London, 1981)

These regions differed from one another in respect of the ethnic origin, population growth and decline, agricultural development and economic vitality.

  • To the extent that land in the coastal and other plains was capable of being cultivated, wild marauding Bedouin tribes present in these areas discouraged any permanent rural settlement or agricultural development. Consequently the lower flat lying areas were more or less desolate and unproductive. In addition:
  • the Northern and central coastal plains were swamp-like and malaria-ridden as was the land around the Hula lake and the Lake of Galilee;
  • the Southern coastal plains were inundated with sand dunes;
  • Consequently, Arab urban and rural settlements tended to avoid the coastal plains and were to be found mainly in the hill country west of the Jordan River in Judea and Samaria and parts of the Galilee,
  • Jews, prior to acquiring and developing the barren coastal plains, had a significant urban presence in and around Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias, Safad and Jaffa and in other smaller towns.

a.  The Land and Its Indigenous Rural Population

For many centuries, travellers to Palestine described it as sparsely populated, poorly cultivated and widely neglected – an expanse of eroded hills, sandy deserts and malarial marshes. European consuls located in Jerusalem and Cairo during the 18th and 19th centuries confirmed these opinions.

Mark Twain, who had visited the Holy land in 1867, described it as

“[a] desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds – a silent mournful expanse… Desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action… We never saw a human being on the whole route…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” (Twain “Innocents Abroad” cited in Bard Myths and Facts AICE 2001, p. 30)

The Report of the 1937 Palestine Royal Commission quotes what it believed to be a truthful and unbiased description of the Maritime Plain as it existed in 1913:

”The road leading from Gaza to the north was only a summer track suitable for transport by camels and carts…no orange groves, orchards or vineyards were to be seen until one reached [the Jewish village of] Yabna [Yavne]….Houses were all of mud. No windows were anywhere to be seen….The ploughs used were of wood….The yields were very poor….The sanitary conditions in the village were horrible. Schools did not exist….The western part, towards the sea, was almost a desert. . . . The villages in this area were few and thinly populated. Many ruins of villages were scattered over the area, as owing to the prevalence of malaria, many villages were deserted by their inhabitants”. (Cmd. 5479  p. 233)

The Report also drew on contemporary descriptions of the economic situation in Palestine, written in the 1830s and supplied to the Commission by Lewis French, the British Director of Development:

We found it inhabited by fellahin who lived in mud hovels and suffered severely from the prevalent malaria…. Large areas…were uncultivated… The fellahin, if not themselves cattle thieves, were always ready to harbour these and other criminals. The individual plots…changed hands annually. There was little public security, and the fellahin’s lot was an alternation of pillage and blackmail by their neighbours, the Bedouin”. (Cmd. 5479  pp. 259-260)

Meyer Levin, the American writer (1905 -1981) recounts in “My Search” that it was impossible to travel directly northwards from Tel Aviv to Netanya, some 25 km away without deviating a considerable distance inland because of the intervening marshland. The present-day route of the “old” Tel Aviv – Haifa road still reflects this.

Derived from the reports of foreign travellers and early settlers (Oliphant), cartographers (Van de Velde), and foreign exploratory expeditions (Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF)), Arie Avneri, in a detailed study provides a description of the topographical and demographic conditions prevailing in the various regions of Palestine immediately prior to Jewish settlement.

(Arie L. Avnieri, The Claim of Dispossession- Jewish Land-Settlement and the Arabs 1878-1948, Yad Tabenkin, Efal, Israel 1982 “Avnieri”)

For example, he notes the fertility of the soil but the sparseness of population and lack of agricultural development in the valleys of the Hula, Kinorot, and the Kishon, owing to their marshy and malarial conditions.

In the valleys of Beit-Shean, Jezreel, and Zevulun, located on the trade routes and where permanent human habitation was possible, Bedouin raids on the settlements – especially in drought years – discouraged any permanent Arab settlement.

Mount Carmel was also waste land. Development was ruined by foreign and local wars and its western slope was malaria ridden, all of which contributed to the abandonment of seventeen villages before Jewish settlers arrived in 1882
(Avnieri pp 49-50).

The coastal area of Samaria (Shomron) starting at the foot of Mount Carmel and stretching south to the Sharon Plain was in a state of desolation and completely ravaged after the military campaigns of Napoleon and Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt (see Section 2 below).

The coastal Sharon Plain was poorly cultivated owing to the sandy nature of the soil and marshlands created by the Alexandra River and further south by sand dunes. Those villages which did exist, described in 1874 by C.R.Condor, were miserable and half in ruins, the villagers downtrodden and browbeaten by money–thirsty absentee landlords (Avneiri p.53).

The Mountain Regions were varied in their population. Parts around Tulkarm were relatively well populated, providing a refuge from malaria and protection against Bedouin raiders. Nevertheless, internal feuds between village clans caused many villages to be destroyed, although their inhabitants tended to remain in the area. The lack of security, however, inhibited the fellahin from investing much effort in improving the soil conditions.

Villages lower down the mountain and closer to the sea, such as Auja, Sidna Ali, Ramadan, Kabani and Hadera, were scattered and thinly populated, because of the sandy soil, punctuated by swampy stretches.

Southern Judea and the Negev, although not plagued by malaria, were no better for agricultural use or permanent settlement. These regions lacked rain and were frequently drought ridden, and the soil was sandy, being often invaded by sand dunes.

By way of contrast, Gaza in 1886 was a town with a population of some 20,000 inhabitants (but see section 2 as to their place of origin). Its people were poor and lived mostly from trade with the Egyptians. In the narrow strip between the coastal sands and desert interior, some fellahin were found to be growing fruit, watermelons and vegetables.

b.  Lack of Security for Persons and Property

During the first three decades of the 19th century, Palestine, like the remainder of the Ottoman Empire, was in a general state of decline and stagnation. Despite the ten years of Egyptian military occupation of Palestine between 1831-1841 which brought in its wake significant Egyptian migration (see section 2 below), the total indigenous population of the area did not exceed 250,000.

Under Ottoman rule the Arab male fellahin were extremely insecure both in their person and economically, being eligible both for military conscription while at the same time suffering Egyptian and Bedouin incursions into their homesteads.

Bedouin terror prevented any significant permanent settlement in the principal plains of Palestine – the coastal plain and the Plain of Esdraelon – and compelled the Arab fellahin to retreat to the hill country of Judea and Samaria, which was more secure but less productive.

“According to Turkish registration books from 1596, it seems that the [coastal plain] served as home to Bedouins (Arab nomads) and Turkish and Kurdish nomads. In the eighteenth century, according to tradition, the amir (chief) of the Hawara Bedouins, who hailed from Bilad Hareth …in Eastern trans-Jordan, occupied part of the coastal plain by force. Hawara Bedouins did not cultivate the land; rather they occupied themselves with brigandage and inter-tribal wars. The outcome of their predatory activities was that Wadi Hawarith was described in the nineteenth century as abandoned, swampy, and malaria-ridden and that its passage was dangerous. The lands of the Wadi were described by the Ottoman governor of the Jerusalem region (1906-7) as abandoned lands that were sparsely inhabited by Bedouins”…

“Thus only a small part of the country was being used for agriculture.  The towns of Palestine at the beginning of the last [19th] century are best defined as large villages each built on a small area and possessing a limited economic base and a small population of up to 10,000”

(Ruth Kark, Changing Patterns of Land Ownership in Nineteenth-Century Palestine, (1984) 10 J of Historical Geography, 357, 374 ; ‘Landownership and Spatial Change in Nineteenth Century Palestine in Transition from Spontaneous to Regulated Spatial Organisation’ Inst. of Geography and Spatial Organisation, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, 1983 (“Kark 1983”) pp 185-187

Even by 1895, after the rural population had descended from part of the hilly areas and had begun to settle in plains, only ten per cent of the total area of Palestine was under cultivation, (Kark 1983 p. 189) notwithstanding that Arab urban entrepreneurs and absentee landlords had begun to assemble large tracts of land for resale, following the Ottoman land reform legislation (see section 3.c.ii. below).

c.    Fellah’s Economic Situation

Economically, the fellah was generally in a state of chronic poverty and indebtedness to his absentee landlord, seed suppliers and money lenders, owing to a number of interrelated causes: poor soil, lack of water, poor means of communication with the towns, unsuitable marketing arrangements, frequent crop season failures, and an antiquated land system. Even before the first modern Jewish settlement, established in 1855, Palestinian Arab society was already socially fragmented between the peasantry and landowning interests. This became exacerbated after the Ottoman land reform in 1858.

(Haim Gerber, The Social Origins of the Modern Middle East, Lynne Rienner, London, 1987, p.75  (‘Gerber).

Thus, while Palestine as a whole cannot be said to have been desolate and without population as claimed by the Zionists, its people were certainly not thriving. In the hilly areas, the Arab population, while not poverty stricken, was barely self-sustaining. In the plains and the valleys the travellers’ descriptions were a true reflection of the situation – vast desolate expanses devoid of permanent population, malaria infested and subject to the uncontrolled power of the nomadic Bedouin.

Aside from these environmental conditions there were a number of other factors that also contributed to the complex dynamics of the region.

4. Emerging Issues flowing from Arab Cultural Characteristics

Friday, September 12th, 2008

The above brief introductory discussion on Arab cultural characteristics, tribal spirit and loyalties, the unifying force of Islam and that of Palestinian identity raises a number of important issues which will emerge with greater prominence as the historical, political and legal aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict develop.

  • Palestinian Identity and Interest Differentiated from other Arabs
    Under Ottoman, British and Jordanian rule, the Palestinians had not displayed any characteristics significantly different from those of the Arab population in Jordan and Syria. It was only after the Six Days War that a significant Arab population came under Jewish-Israeli control and Arabs living in Judea and Samaria directly confronted the “other”- the Jews. The issue is whether without destroying the territorial integrity of the State of Israel, the Palestinians are a sufficiently differentiated people not only from the Israelis but also from the populations of the other neighbouring Arab states to justify and sustain a claim in international law for self determination as an independent viable state politically and economically.
  • Concentration of Power
    As been shown above, in Arab society honour and power are intertwined and the exercise of power is decentralised. In the West, by way of contrast, the exercise of power is not only the exclusive preserve of state governments but in international conflicts, there are political moves towards extending the centralisation of the exercise of power in the hands of the United Nations or under the auspices. Such tendency appears to be at odds with Arab–Islamic values as seen recently in Afghanistan, Chechnia and Iraq.
  • Arab Customs in the Initiation and Conduct of War Diverge from those Pertaining in the West
    Even if the resolution of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is unattainable by negotiation, and the parties continue to resort to violence, given their cultural and religious differences, it is necessary to review afresh whether contemporary rules and customs of international law in relation to war and the pacific settlement of international disputes can be truly applied to a clash between Islam and the West.
    As will be shown in Chapter VI and subsequent Chapters, the movement to establish the League of Nations and its successor, the United Nations, as new international institutions dedicated to pacific resolution of international disputes were led by Western statesmen. Although the customs and norms in relation to the initiation and conduct of war may now be seen as secular they nonetheless developed out of Christian western values, namely,
    • maintaining a distinction between combatants and non-involved ‘civilians’
    • military necessity, and
    • proportionality.

These values form the bedrock of western military culture but they have no express parallel in Arab tribal ‘military’ culture and tradition. There, the bearing of arms is considered a sign of masculinity in the protection of personal, family and tribal honour, as are their women and children.

However, in confronting a non-Muslim enemy, war -  Jihad – expresses a religious rather than a nationalist objective. Persons who do not submit to the dominance of Islam may become legitimate targets: combatants do not appear to be differentiated from non-combatants; males are slain while females are taken into captivity for purposes of reproduction to maintain the strength of the tribe or clan.

A recent Arab declaration on the subject of Jihad declares

“the sanctity of the blood of women, young children, and elderly infidels is not absolute. There are cases under which it is permitted to kill them, if they are part of a nation of war….[I]f only one of these circumstances holds true, then he must permit the operations because the circumstances are not conditional upon fulfilling all of them, but only one will suffice. …
Muslims are permitted to kill infidel innocents reciprocally; if the infidels are targeting the women, the young children and the elderly Muslims, then it is permissible for the Muslims to act reciprocally, and kill just as they were killed. in Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, and other places”
(
Communique from Qu’idat al- Jihad Concerning the Testaments of the Heroes and the Legality of the Washington and New York Operations, April 24, 2002, in David Cook, Understanding Jihad, U of California Press, 2004, pp 175 et seq.)

  • The objectives of fundamentalist Islam are in conflict with the Western notion of the illegality of resorting to war except in self defence or in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions. For Islam, a higher value is the submission of all peoples to the will of Allah which is to be achieved by jihad if necessary.
    (
    Muhammad And The Treaty Of Hudaybiyya, http://www.answering-islam.org/Silas/hudaybiyya.htm; Holy Prophet’s Life, Joint Conspiracy of Qoraish and Jews and Ghazwah Ahzab http://www.anwary-islam.com/prophet-life/holly-p-13.htm ;see also http://www.historyofjihad.com/ )
    See particularly David Cook, Understanding Jihad, University of California Press, Berkley
  • Even the accepted Western principle that agreements and international pacts are to be observed by all parties is in conflict with Islamic tradition and values. Islamists who, for the time being, may be unable to overcome stronger infidel opponents and decide therefore, for strategic reasons, to enter into a truce or even a peace agreement with such opponents, are permitted by Arab cultural and religious tenets to breach that agreement if at some later date the earlier Islamists’ position of weakness is reversed to one of superiority. See Treaty of Hudabeya http://www.witnesspioneer.org/vil/Articles/companion/19_ali_bin_talib.htm;
    Denis MacEoin, Tatical Hudna and Islamic Intolerance, Middle East Quarterly, Summer pp.39-84 http://www.meforum.org/article/1925 )

Thus, to what extent should Israel rely on Arab promises and solemn undertakings?

Assuming that the European and Western powers see themselves as possessing a unified western-orientated cultural system and identity and wish to differentiate themselves from other peoples in the Middle and Far East – a questionable assumption today – they view Israel as a Western oriented nation and expect her act as such. In so doing she in direct confrontation with the cultural norms of the Arab peoples and is the European vanguard against Islamic expansion. In a regional and local military confrontation with Arab states and with the Palestinian population in the Territories, she is expected to abide by Western international customary and conventional laws of war even if her enemies do not.

Given the above factors it is difficult to fathom why Israel encounters so much opposition from a number of Western states. It may be due to an unfounded naïve belief and myth that all the conflict between the West and the Arabs is due Israel’s illegitimate birth and her continued existence. Perhaps most of the answer can be found in the West’s voracious need for Arab controlled oil the necessity for securing untrammelled access to its sources.

Israel, as a small and western-oriented Jewish state lying within dar Islam but dependant to a large extent for her continued security on the support of the United States, seems to constitute an impediment to the realisation of Western interests and can therefore be sacrificed in the arena of public opinion

In contrast to Arab society, public opinion in Western democratic societies exercises a powerful influence in governmental and non-government organisational decision-making. Public opinion is moulded by public relations, information and propaganda campaigns operating overtly and covertly in Western civil society. “Acting contrary to international law” has become a mantra in media communications employed by one antagonist to advance its political platform or objectives and to malign or destroy those of its opponents. Initially dominated by the ‘fourth estate’ comprising newspapers, radio and television, this arena is slowly being eclipsed by emergent interactive internet websites and linkages. They have the potential to exert a major influence on national decision-making not only in western democratic states but have even more potential in promoting the free flow of information in non-democratic states.  On the other hand both news media and cyberspace activists are not accountable to any institution or constituency for the veracity of their communications.

In evaluating an assertion that a State, such as Israel, is “acting contrary to international law,” the addressee must be in a position to know not only the factual background on which the accusations are based but also what provisions of international law are allegedly being violated. It is often the case that the specific international legal proposition in question is inapplicable in the territory where an apparent violation has occurred or that the State alleged to be in violation has not acceded to the treaty or Convention in which the norm or principle was formulated; thus opening the way for uninformed and unjustified condemnation.

With the foregoing considerations in mind, Chapter VI is designed to assist and hopefully enable the reader to assess the validity of what is alleged to be in accordance with or contrary to international law or, if this is impossible, it is hoped that the material presented may place the reader at least in a better position to question the assertion being advanced.

However in order to assess the legality of subsequent Israeli actions, it is still necessary to examine in a little more detail the political, demographic and economic conditions which prevailed in Palestine prior to the end World War I and to assess their effect upon Palestinian Arab claims of the being dispossessed of their land by early Jewish land acquisition and immigration. These claims are examined in the Chapter IV following next.