Posts Tagged ‘Ottoman Empire’

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.

3. Increasing Foreign Diplomatic, Political and Military Involvement in Domestic Ottoman Matters: Consular Protection Extended to Non Ottoman Residents

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

In the wider arena of international power politics a new dimension emerged, in the form of European political, economic and commercial penetration into the Ottoman domain. This arose from three sources:(a) the Capitulations, (b) Ottoman debt burden following the Crimean War, (c) Legislative reforms necessitated by the debt burden and (d) European ‘aid’ extended to support, maintain and modernise the Ottoman Government.

a.   The ‘Capitulations’

  • Origin

Although Christian-European interface with the Arabs in relation to Palestine found its nemesis in the Crusades, and Arab military expansion into Europe reached its watershed with the Ottoman defeat in the Battle of Vienna in 1683, the Ottoman Empire never presented itself as monolithic and impenetrable to European influence.  However, after the European victory, the Ottomans found it expedient to enter into agreements with various European states (France leading the way), granting them preferential trading privileges, and exemptions in respect of excise and customs duties expressed in the various Capitulations.

  • Personal Jurisdiction of Non-Ottoman Subjects

Today, sovereignty is primarily linked to territory but a connection also exists between the sovereign or state on the one hand, and the subject on the other, whereby the latter, if found to be within the jurisdiction of a foreign sovereign or state, could then and still can today, claim in times of danger or personal distress, the extraterritorial protection of his own sovereign or state. The Capitulations therefore also included provisions in which the Ottoman government conceded power to the foreign states to safeguard the interests of their respective subjects. Such protection enabled foreign diplomats, consular officials and non-Muslim merchants to reside in the Ottoman Empire indefinitely without becoming either subjects of the Sultan and/or falling under his jurisdiction.

  • Foreign Subjects Exempted from Ottoman Local Laws

The Capitulations also contained exemptions from the application of considerable Ottoman legislation to foreign subjects engaged in trade who resided within the Ottoman jurisdiction. Such exemptions included liability to pay Ottoman poll taxes, bearing the cost and inconvenience of billeting Ottoman troops, and conscription from serving in the Ottoman armed forces as well as other financial impositions.

The European powers pressured the Ottomans into extending these privileges to non-Muslim middlemen (dragomans) and many others who could in any way be associated with foreign trade, such as currency changers, European-Arabic translators, warehousemen, artisans and even shopkeepers.

  • European Extension of the Scope and Exploitation of the Capitulations

In the course of the nineteenth century the abuse of the Capitulations became so rampant that European protection could even be bought as a commodity, and Ottoman deeds of appointment (berati) as dragoman virtually became transferable. The privileges acquired by non-Islamic non-Ottoman subjects were extended to the establishment of foreign banks, post offices and commercial houses, which took full advantage of Turkish weakness. In contrast, the foreign consuls became more powerful, each vying with the other in trying to advance the interests of their respective States.

  • Foreign Dhimmis (Non Muslims) Also Benefited

The foreign consular exploitation of the capitulations also enabled foreign dhimmis to avoid the indignities which they would otherwise have had to suffer had they been Ottoman subjects. Although non-Muslim Christians and Jews were in Islamic eyes treated as inferior persons, they could nevertheless acquire, if they were non-Ottoman subjects, a degree of consular protection against Ottoman autocracy greater than the Sultan’s own Islamic subjects could achieve for themselves. This could not but engender disaffection between the newly arrived foreign immigrant Jews on the one hand, and the Arab effendis and fellahin on the other hand, with whom they were in contact.

b.  Ottoman Foreign Debt Burden and the Costs of Ethnic Uprising in the Empire

During the Crimean War (1853-1856) and for the nineteen years following, the Ottomans incurred heavy foreign indebtedness, which enabled the European states and their consular representatives to exert greater political pressure in favour of the non-Ottoman nationals under their protection. The first foreign loan, contracted in 1854, created a degree of indebtedness which enabled the Western powers to exercise only a limited influence on Ottoman internal affairs. However, from 1863 onwards, debts accumulated and snowballed, so that by 1875 the Empire was bankrupt.  In 1876 financial matters were made worse by the uprising of ethnic Bulgarians against Ottoman sovereignty and the involvement of Russia in the process (Russo-Turkish War 1977-78).

Although the uprising was ultimately suppressed with heavy loss of life, ethnic opposition to Ottoman rule was to make the Ottoman government very sensitive to the concentration of ethnic minority groups within the Empire generally and was to influence its future policy regarding the settlement in Palestine of individual Jews and their supportive political and financial organisations.

This notwithstanding, the Ottoman need to repay its European-owed debts still demanded a restructuring of its governmental and financial administration. The latter was achieved by the establishment of the Ottoman Public Debt Administration in 1881 which took control over state revenues which benefited, to some degree, by the sale of public lands to sectarian interests, both Christian and Jewish.

The Ottomans found themselves in a cleft stick however. On the one hand, the reorganisation of the public debt management brought them some financial stability but, on the other, the process of reform allowed the European states and their diplomatic and consular representatives to exercise a degree of influence and pressure on Ottoman internal policy that would have been unthinkable a decade or two earlier.

(see Stanford Jay Shaw, Ezel Kural Shaw,  History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey: Reform, Revolution, and Republic: The Rise of Modern Turkey 1808-1975, Cambridge University Press, 1977; Birdal, M. “Cooperation, Commitment and Enforcement: Understanding the Ottoman Public debt Administration” , 2005-03-05 http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p71340_index.html

Thus European foreign consuls acquired further leverage to extend legal protection and privileges which hitherto had not been available to their foreign protégés resident in the Ottoman Empire. Unsurprisingly, Jewish and other non-Muslim immigrants arriving in Palestine preferred to retain their original foreign nationalities and claimed protection from the various foreign consuls against the arbitrary treatment meted out by Ottoman officialdom.

Such preference could not have created anything but resentment among the Islamic urban poor and middle class and among the rural fellahin. The exploitation of the 1858 Ottoman land legislation (subsection c.ii. below) by non-Ottoman nationals in their moves to acquire land in Palestine could only have added to this resentment.

c.  Ottoman Legislative Reforms Necessitated by Debt

i.  Non-Ottoman Subjects Gain Equality with Ottomans

The Capitulations, coupled with the financial consequences of the Crimean War coerced the Ottoman government into introducing important reforms designed to gain the support of its European Allies. Published on the eve of the 1856 Paris Peace Conference, the Hatt-i Humayun (Imperial Rescript) granted to foreign Christians and other non-Muslims rights equal to those of its Muslims subjects in respect of protection of their persons and property, freedom of worship, and provision of education for children of all religious communities.

Also included in the 1856 legislation was permission, at least theoretically, for foreigners to acquire land in their own names without their having to obtain a special firman from the Sultan. For Jewish would-be purchasers, however, there were still other problems to be overcome, as will be shown below.

The point being made at this juncture is the fact that Jewish non-Ottoman subjects resident within the Ottoman Empire generally and Palestine in particular, received extensive diplomatic protection from the vagaries of local Ottoman officialdom, a fact which impacted on an expanding Jewish land acquisition policy. To mitigate the effects of foreign interference in internal Ottoman Affairs and to ‘encourage’ permanent settlers to renounce their foreign protective status, the Ottoman Nationality Law was enacted in 1869, which created a common Ottoman citizenship, irrespective of religious or ethnic divides.

(see Kark, p.359;   Maurits H. van den Boogert,  Capitulations and the Ottoman Legal System: Qadis, Consuls and Beraths In The 18th Century, (Studies in Islamic Law and Society) Martinus Nijhoff, Leiden 2005

(http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/9004140352/ref=sib_dp_pop_fc?ie=UTF8&p=S001#reader-link Isaiah Friedman, Germany, Turkey and Zionism, 1897-1918, Clarendon Press, Oxford, UK 1977 especially Chap 3. hereinafter “Friedman, 1977” )

ii.  Ottoman Land Reform Legislation, 1865

Motivated by the need to open up the Empire to foreign investment in order to overcome its financial crisis, the Ottoman government introduced significant reforms in relation to land, its registration, title holding, disposition, benefits and burdens, the totality of which had a major influence upon the redistribution, ownership and occupancy of rural land.

  • Customary Rights in Land

Prior to the introduction of the Ottoman Land reform legislation, ownership of land evidenced by registration of legal title in government records or written agreements was less important than its physical occupation and cultivation.

  • Peasants – fellahin – could acquire ‘ownership’ to uncultivated land, nominally owned by the State, if they planted and took its produce for two consecutive years.
  • They could also acquire rights of pasturage on communally controlled ‘musha’ land located close to the village land and used in common.

From the peasant’s perspective, musha tenure gave him neither incentive to work the land to the best of his ability nor to invest in it. While the system may have encouraged village independence, it also contributed to village disharmony.

“It was common practice for the urban landowning agent, who often functioned as the intermediary between the landowner and the peasantry, to move tenants or other agricultural labourers from plot to plot within a larger area of land so to prevent the fellah from claiming legal title on any particular parcel of land….
Not surprisingly, moving a peasant from one plot to another after every growing season disadvantaged him: it did little to engender a sense of economic security; it created harsh local jealousies over who received the most of often meagre amounts of good and mediocre land; it caused the peasant to extract what he could from his land and, antithetically, dissuaded him from upgrading a land area with physical (weeding, terracing, manuring) investment because the land would become someone else’s during the next growing season. …
Already strained by hamula or clan conflicts, a village regularly withstood periods of uneasiness each time unequal village lands were redistributed. Land disputes, encroachment on another’s land, and uprooting of trees were not uncommon where cultivable lands were sparse and the local village population increased over time.”

Kenneth W. Stein, “One Hundred Years of Social Change: The Creation of the Palestinian Refugee Problem” in Laurence J. Silberstein (ed) “New Perspectives on Israeli History: The Early years of the State” New York University Press, 1991 pp. 57-81 (hereinafter “Stein”)

http://www.ismi.emory.edu/BookChapters/Hundred%20Years%20Social%20Change.html

  • Land Reform 1858

In 1858, the Ottoman Government introduced significant land reform legislation in order to help discharge its foreign debts and to finance an ever growing bureaucratic government. This was to be achieved by (i) attracting foreign investment in land development, (ii) increasing central government income from land transfer fees and (iii) imposing higher taxation on both existing worked arable land and from bringing waste land into cultivation. Failure to pay the tax assessed on the land could result in its being forfeited and resold by public auction.

The legislation provided, inter alia, for:

  • dissolution of the communal musha ‘ownership’ of village lands and its redistribution among villagers into registered plots in accordance with a cadastral survey;
  • holding of kushans, or title deeds as evidence of ownership or title to the land – independently and distinct from its rights of occupation;
  • the acquisition of land – other than by purchase or inheritance -  by adverse possession (i.e. possession without objection from any other owner claiming valid title) for a period of ten years;
  • ownership to the land lapsed if it was not worked for three consecutive years (mahlul);
  • Government forfeiture of land remaining uncultivated for three years (without a legally acceptable reason), which would then be offered for re-sale by public auction;
  • Non-Ottoman subjects were permitted to purchase land in their own names which, prior to the legislation, could only be done through an Ottoman nominee or with special permission of the Sultan.
  • Effect of the Legislation on the Fellah

The implementation of the legislation had serious consequences for the Arab fellahin.

  • It put the fellahin under economic pressure to sell their land holdings, especially the now distributed musha shares, to urban interests or non-resident effendi landlords in order to discharge their pre-existing indebtedness and to reduce the risk of uncertainties in agricultural yields. The landlords in question, after consolidating their holdings into larger parcels, would subsequently sell them at highly inflated prices to Jewish development companies and individuals at considerable profit. Such was the situation that, by 1859, British born Lawrence Oliphant was able to report that almost every acre of the Plain of Esdraelon was under intense cultivation and the nomadic Bedouin presence all but eliminated, owing to the commercial activities of the new landlords, who charged exorbitant rents, payable in hard cash under penalty of instant eviction;
  • Although land title registration enabled there to be a clear separation between the ownership of land from its occupancy, the registration itself was accompanied by the payment high fees and additional tax valuations. Fellahin therefore preferred to have the ownership of their lands (including the newly redistributed musha) registered formally in the name of urban notables while they continued to cultivate the land in a share-cropping arrangement as previously.
  • Land registration also enabled the Ottoman officials to identify those eligible for compulsory military service. Fellahin, forcibly taken into the Ottoman army and away from their lands for more than three years, often found on their return that their land was now “owned” by another.
  • The separation of legal title from the rights of occupancy enabled absentee effendi landlords to threaten with eviction the Arab fellah who worked the land if he failed to pay his rent, and enabled the landlord to sell the property over his head to would be Jewish purchasers. The Arab fellah naturally felt resentment against the Jew rather than against the effendi because, prior to the legislation, there was hardly any market for land, and if a fellah failed to pay his rent, the landlord really had no option but to permit the fellah to remain in occupation and allow the latter’s indebtedness to increase.

As a consequence of these reforms, the Arab fellah in Palestine became inexorably dependent upon those who would provide him with temporary relief from economic hardship, and yet were, at the same time, the main cause of his situation. Ultimately, by necessity, he forfeited individual control over his own life and livelihood to others:

The Ottoman reform movement strengthened and benefited a relatively small, urban, landowning elite of no more than several thousand out of a population of more than half a million. Through the dependency of the patron-client relationships that evolved, landowning interests accrued local political prestige and influence, ensured themselves access to the accumulation and disposal of land, and used land as a commodity to obtain capital for maintaining their comfortable lifestyle. (Stein)

  • Government Sales of State Lands Ultimately Purchased by Jews

Registration of land ownership, as distinct from its occupancy, also encouraged the sale of government owned land to large scale Arab land speculators such as Alfred Sursoq of Beirut who purchased some 200,000 dunams at a suspiciously low price. The speculators were prepared subsequently to re-sell their interests at greatly inflated prices to Jewish land development companies. Such was the situation that by the end of the Ottoman period only 144 extensive landowners owned 3.1 million dunams (1 acre = 4.047 dunams). (Kark)

iii. Socio-Economic Consequences of the Land Reform

Thus, what started as an attempt by the Ottomans to bring about land reform as one of the means to ease their debt burden, ended with the abandonment by many Palestinian peasants of their agricultural occupations and their gravitation to nearby urban centres. While not yet ‘political refugees,’ because they still remained in their patrimony, nevertheless in the decades before the 1947 UN partition resolution, many Palestinians were already disenfranchised by their own leadership and then displaced from villages and from lands which they had either regularly or periodically worked.

The sale of land and the movement of the peasant population to the towns resulted in the fellah’s loss of his traditional livelihood. It created economic friction and an ever widening cultural gap between himself and the urban Palestinian population. To this was added social and economic unrest felt from an increasing non-Muslim presence in the Land.

Although the legislation had the effect of enabling Jews to purchase land directly and occupy legally in their own names, the implementation of the law encountered regional opposition, forcing its suspension by the Ottoman central government.

This notwithstanding, continual foreign consular pressure coerced the Porte to remove the suspension and to permit Jewish purchasers to take advantage of the legislation when the occasion arose – as it did later in the 1880’s.

(see Raphael Patai, Musha’a Tenure and Co-Operation in Palestine, American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 51, No. 3 (Jul. – Sep., 1949), pp. 436-445; Gerber,  especially Chapter 5; also Islam, Land & Property, Research Series, paper 2, Islamic Land Tenures and Reform, UN-Habitat 2005, http://www.unhabitat.org/downloads/docs/3546_86904_ILP%202.doc ; N. Forni, Land tenure policies in the Near East Land tenure policies in the Near East, UN Food and Cultural Organisation, http://www.fao.org/docrep/005/Y8999T/y8999t0f.htm ; David Hurwitz, Agrarian Problem of the Fellahin, in Enzo Serini and R.E. Ashrey (eds), Jews and Arabs in Palestine, Hechalutz Press, New York, 1936 p.49

d. German ‘aid’ extended to support, maintain and modernise the Ottoman Government

As part of the Porte’s efforts in extracting itself from its weak financial and political situation, it turned to Germany for assistance. She responded by making investment in transportation – communication infrastructure and transferring military and civilian administrative know-how to the Ottoman government. It naturally brought with it an extension of Germanic hegemony, trade links in the Middle East and military dependence on and strategic subordination to Germany’s political interests.

In particular, Germany financed and constructed a railway intended to run from Berlin to Baghdad, with an extension of the Hejaz branch from Damascus to Ma’an and thence to Medina – deep into the heart of the Arabian Peninsula. The new railway links were to be used to develop Ottoman internal communications, the transportation of grain, collection of taxes, military conscription and troop movement.

This last purpose was to become of crucial strategic value to Germany in the coming 1914-1918 World War. It converted the Hejaz into a strategic military asset; the numerous inlets along the peninsula provided German submarines with safe havens and opportunities to attack and sink Allied shipping en route to the Gulf and to India. Any German expansion eastwards towards would endanger British oil interests in the region, as well as undermine British commercial and strategic interests in the Suez Canal and unhindered access to Indian subcontinent and the Far East.

The German supplied organisational know-how for the restructuring and training of the Ottoman military machine also was to raise British fears. These brought repercussions in World War I when the indigenous Hashemites of the peninsula were faced with the choice of supporting the Central Powers (Germany,Austro-Hungary and the Ottomans) against the Western Allies. As will be shown later, Hussein, King of Hejaz succeeded in extracting from Britain  the latter’s recognition of a Hashemite sphere of influence extending well beyond the Hejaz: establishing the Hashemite kingdoms of Iraq and Transjordan, as well as asserting a claim to the territory west of the Jordan River. This was, of course, to have a direct impact on Jewish aspirations to establish a homeland in Palestine.

In civilian matters, the Porte attempted to restructure its governmental organisation in accordance with Weberian concepts of industrial specialisation and governmental bureaucratic organisation; abandoning government traditionally based of nepotism and the sale of offices to the highest bidder and to replace it with one founded on meritocracy and specialisation as the bedrock for hierarchical authority.

As will be shown in Section 4 next following, this impacted on the loci of Arab centres of political power in Palestine. Ultimately, Chapters V and VI will show how these changes influenced in turn both the effendi and the fellah in their respective relationship with the Jewish immigrants and their supporting organisations as well as with the British military and civilian governments after World War I.

Also not to be overlooked was Germany’s political support of Theodore Herzl in his attempts to obtain a Charter from the Sultan for the establishment of a Jewish Homeland in Palestine. Far from being altruistic, such support was intended to achieve two objectives: (i) to establish in the eastern Mediterranean the potential for a political entity friendly to German interests and (ii) as a means for ridding Germany of its Jews.   This subject is also examined more closely in Chapter V.

3. Jewish-Israeli Narrative

Friday, September 12th, 2008

Israel’s frame of reference and perception of the conflict is different from that presented by the Palestinians. She claims that the Jewish people, whom she represents in part, has had an unbroken connection with ‘Eretz Yisrael’ – the Land of Israel from before the rise of Christianity and Islam, notwithstanding their exile by the Romans in the first century.

“Judea capta est,”  inscribed on the arch of Titus (“Judea has been captured”)  memorialises the Roman victory over the Jews, their majority forced into exile, taken into slavery and later dispersed throughout the Roman Empire for over two millennia. Throughout this period, they were denied both freedom of national self-expression and the claim of their “right of return” to re-establish a patrimonial sovereignty in their homeland.  For the remnant in Palestine, there followed subjugation and suffering under the oppressive yoke of successive conquerors: Byzantine, Arab, Crusader, Mameluke and Ottoman. The Jewish remnant was a spent force, militarily and politically, but it nevertheless maintained a physical and spiritual continuity in and with the Land.  Acting as caretakers, Jews maintained a vigorous religious presence, mainly in urban centres throughout the country (see Chapter II below), praying for the “return unto Zion”, a day on which Jewish national sovereignty would be, prophetically, restored as it had been under the previous Babylonian exile. That day was to come on November 29, 1947 when the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 181.


Until the eighteenth century, the Jewish people in the Diaspora were seen both as a religion and as a nation.

  • As a nation they made attempts to return to the Land but were frustrated by conflicts from emanating from without.
  • As a religious group, they were compared to Christians and Muslims and as a nation, they could be compared to Turks or Frenchmen.

However, civic unity in Christianity and in Islam especially, was based on uniformity of belief, within neither of which could Jewish destiny be fulfilled. This made it absolutely impossible for a Jewish group to be anything other than second-class subjects.

It needed the sixteenth century reformation in Christianity and the rise of the nation state in the eighteenth, for Jewish religious imperatives to be redirected and asserted towards the possibility of reviving the notion of a Jewish State in Palestine. However, religious motivation from within was insufficient to meet the economic and political challenge. It required the addition of European anti-Semitism later in the nineteenth century to motivate secular and emancipated Jews to organise politically – in a decentralised movement, meeting centrally at its annual congresses – to advance their political objective for matters.

The emergence of the possibility of the establishment of Israel as a Jewish State came to materialise as a consequence of World War I which saw the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and World War II which saw the decline of the British Empire. As central power became less effective, so burgeoned the demand for self-determination and the illegitimacy of colonialism backed by American democratic ideals.

In the political restructuring of Europe and the Middle East following the conclusion of WWI, the articulated voice of the Jewish people made itself heard among the nations as did the voices of the Arabs. Although both Zionists and some Arab leaders saw the possibility of working together in regional co-operation, the Great Powers had their own interests in the Middle East to consider:

  • America wanted political stability in the region, secure access to oil and to replace Britain as the Great Power;
  • France sought to protect what was left of her commercial and cultural interests despite the fact that she played no significant part in the war for control of the Middle East;
  • Britain maintained her belief in a continuing need to be able to control – a little or no cost to herself – the Suez Canal to ensure a secure passage to India, access to the Iranian and Syrian oil fields and her commercial interests in the Far East.
    Co-incidentally she also had an interest in containing the expansion of French influence in the region.

For the Allies, an independent and unified Arab Middle East did not bode well if they were to achieve these diverse and conflicting objectives.  To the extent that Jewish interests coincided with those of the Great Powers generally, and of Great Britain in particular, they were accommodated, but in so doing they were played off against Arab tribal sensibilities and Islamic religious principles.

Israel’s contemporary claim to legitimacy is premised on:

  • an uninterrupted physical, spiritual and cultural connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel since before the second century – as expanded in Chapter II;
  • involuntary dislocation and dispersion  of the majority the Jewish people from the land since the second century;
  • the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire after World War I which gave the impetus to the rise of both Jewish and Arab nationalism;
  • the victory of the Allies over the Central  powers and the disposition of the conquered territory in accordance with a new regime introduced into international law – mandate or trustee territory;
  • the Balfour Declaration expressing its support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
  • The Treaty of Sevres 1920, under which Turkey ceded its sovereignty over Palestine and accepted the Balfour declaration with its incorporation into the Mandate as an international agreement. This formed a constituent part of the Middle East post war settlement between the Allied and Central Powers in which Turkey, Britain and the United States participated and in which both Jews and Arab expressed their interests.

Notwithstanding attempts by the British mandatory power to frustrate the clear objectives of the Mandate, and despite the fomentation of Islamic religious opposition against the establishment of a Jewish homeland, the Jewish people succeeded in creating a viable political and economic entity.


British financial investment and a colonial style of government coupled with an infusion of Jewish capital, migration and labour brought a higher standard of living to the Palestinian population – both Arab and Jewish
-  than that enjoyed in the neighbouring states.


However, the economic advances in Palestine attracted Arab immigration from outside of its borders.  Rather that regulating such Arab
migration, the British Administration, contrary to the terms of the Mandate, placed restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine which prevented the creation of a Jewish majority in cis-Jordan – Palestine;

  • Arab violence fomented by anti-Zionist elements in the British Administration, and the continued demographic Jewish imbalance made more favourable to the Arabs by British immigration policy ultimately led to violence between Arab and Jew.
  • The Mandatory found its solution in a proposal to partition the territory lying to the west of the Jordan River between Arab and Jew while retaining certain strategic locations to itself.
  • The Jews accepted the Mandatory’s partition proposal but the Arabs rejected it.


World War II intervened, creating the Holocaust.

Although this tragedy gave a big impetus towards partition, British policy remained steadfastly against any change in its Palestinian immigration policy, with the result that Jews became actively obstructive to continued British rule, both civilly and militarily:

  • Britain, unable to control the violence directed against her Administration, referred the matter to the United Nations General Assembly;
  • The Assembly recommended in Resolution 181, passed on November 29, 1947, the partition of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab.
  • Again the Jews accepted the proposal, but the Arabs rejected it.

Britain decided to surrender its mandate. In the process of the British military withdrawal, armed conflict broke out between Jews and Arabs with the British Administration publicly taking a more or less neutral stand while surreptitiously assisting the Arabs.

On the day following the final British withdrawal on May 14, 1948:

  • The Jewish population of Palestine declared themselves as the self governing state of Israel in accordance with the UNGA Resolution and the major powers (excluding Britain) accorded her international recognition.
  • The Arab Palestine failed to follow the same course.


Instead,

  • contrary to international law, five Arab armies invaded the nascent Jewish State but failed to eliminate her;
  • Jordan became an occupying power of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria including Jerusalem) and Egypt took control of the Gaza strip.

In the process,

  • between 600,000 and 800,000 Arab Palestinians left or abandoned their homes on the advice of the Arab leadership, or for fear of Jewish brutality which failed to emerge, while a number Palestinians were driven out in the military confrontation between Jewish forces and the Arab armies;
  • the Jewish population living in East Jerusalem, the West Bank (Etzion Block) and Gaza were killed or evicted; and
  • the surrounding Arab states evicted, without compensation, their Jewish population which numbered over 800,000 in consequence of the establishment of the Jewish state.

A humanitarian problem was thus created:

  • the majority of Palestinian Arab refugees found themselves languishing in camps located in the Jordanian controlled West Bank and Egyptian controlled Gaza or in camps located in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
  • Apart from Jordan, Palestinian Arab refugees were neither offered citizenship nor otherwise absorbed by their host states.
  • The new State of Israel absorbed all the Jewish refugees driven out from the Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza, and those Jews evicted from the Arab states.

The United Nations ultimately arranged a cease fire between the belligerents:

  • Israel organised itself as a civic society within the cease fire-lines as determined in Armistice Agreements made between herself and the invading states- Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt respectively, while reserving her claims over the territory held by Jordan and Egypt.

However:

  • the Armistice Agreements were constantly breached by Arab terrorist infiltration emanating out of Jordan and Egypt; and
  • Egypt breached international law and the Armistice Agreement with Israel by blockading the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping intermittently from 1948 until 1956, thereby prevented free access to the Israeli southern port of Eilat, as well as closing the Suez Canal to all shipping bound for other Israeli ports. http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Foreign+Relations/Israels+Foreign+Relations+since+1947/1947-1974/FREEDOM+OF+NAVIGATION-+INTRODUCTION.htm ;
  • The blockade was broken by a joint British, French and Israeli attack on the Suez Canal in 1956 in response to Egypt’s nationalisation of the international waterway. As part of the withdrawal arrangements, UN peace-keeping troops were stationed along the Egyptian border with Israel while the maritime nations gave their undertaking to support Israel should Egypt seek to re-impose its blockade.

In 1967,

  • Egypt re-imposed its maritime blockade in the Straits of Tiran and closed the Canal to Israel shipping;
  • the maritime nations failed to implement their guarantee,
  • the UN removed its peace-keeping force; and
  • the armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan were poised in offensive mode against Israel which was threatened with annihilation.

Israel’s appeals to the Security Council were in vain and on June 5, 1967 she executed pre-emptive self defensive strikes against Egypt, and Syria and retaliated against Jordanian attack, in what later became known as the “Six Day War.”

  • Israel overcame the immediate threats facing her and gained control and occupation of
    • the previously held Jordanian positions on the West side of the Jordan River including Jerusalem;
    • Egyptian occupied Gaza Strip and Egyptian sovereign territory in Sinai;
    • Syrian sovereign territory in  the Golan Heights
  • The Arabs rejected Israeli offers of peace at the Khartoum: “no negotiation; no recognition and no peace.”
  • The United Nations Security Council passed UNSC Resolution 242 which was accepted by both Jews and Arabs. Unfortunately the terms of the Resolution have been interpreted differently by the parties.

With intensive American support, extended peace negotiations took place between Israel and her adversaries in the 1980’s and a cold peace reigns between Israel and Egypt which regained all of  the territory it lost in 1967.
A slightly warmer peace pertains with Jordan which relinquished in favour of the Palestinians all its claims to the territory lying to the west of the Jordan River.

In taking military control of the West Bank and Gaza, over which no state has exercised legitimate sovereignty since the Ottoman defeat in 1920, Israel has the best claim to title based on the Treaty of Sevres 1920, Article 95; Palestine Mandate 1922, Article 8 and on the UN Charter, Article 80.

  • Based on the above international agreements and also consistent with the laws of belligerent occupation Israel, has also erected a number of military outposts in the West Bank territory to maintain the peace as well as establishing a number of civilian settlement blocks in the West Bank. Some of these have been erected on land owned by Jews prior to 1948 and others on undeveloped and unoccupied public or waste land owned by the Ottoman government in 1918.
  • While not illegal, a significant number of settlements have created a political obstacle to peace.

Following secret direct negotiations between Israel, led by Yitzhak Rabin, and the PLO, headed by Yassir Arafat, the parties succeeded – with Norwegian and American assistance – to agree the Oslo Accords in 1993 which included

  • mutual recognition of the opposing party;
  • an undertaking by Israel for a transfer of civilian powers to a Palestinian Authority, the members of which were to be chosen by Palestinians within the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza in free and democratic elections;
  • an interim arrangement on Palestinian self government by the Palestinian Authority for a period of five years; and
  • an undertaking to commence negotiations on a number of “Final Status” issues within three years of the commencement of the interim agreement- from which such issues had specifically been excluded.
    The Accords provided for and resulted in:
  • recognition by Israel of Palestinian aspirations and of the PLO as representing the Palestinian population in negotiations;
  • PLO recognition of Israel as having a legitimate existence;
  • An undertaking by the PLO to cease violence and to resolve its conflict with Israel by negotiation;
  • the admission into Gaza and the West Bank from their exile in Tunis, of the PLO political leadership and military of elements of  its organisation in the form of a “strong police force” to maintain the peace and suppress terrorism in Palestinian self governing territory;
  • a withdrawal and redeployment of Israeli forces from a large proportion of the Palestinian urban territory it captured in 1967; and
  • Palestinian self rule exercised over approximately 95% of the Palestinian population;

Unfortunately the parties have been able to resolve the political issues which appear to remain outstanding between them- sovereignty over Jerusalem, the extent of territorial; adjustments secure borders and the “Right of Return” of Palestinians refugees. Neither has there been a cessation of Palestinian violence.  In 2000, final status negotiations between Israel and the PLO broke down and the Palestinians resorted to armed attack on Israel’s civilian population waged by suicide bombers recruited, trained, armed and operationally directed by Hamas, an organisation linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and Fatah, one of the militant wings of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation.

To counteract these attacks Israel has:

  • initiated targeted killings against the Palestinian terrorist leadership;
  • temporarily re-entered a number of  Palestinian cities in 2002 to eliminate  terrorist nests and destroy bomb building factories;
  • attempted to prevent the smuggling of weapons and armaments through subterranean tunnels between the Gaza Strip with Egypt; and
  • commenced the erection of a terrorist security barrier situated mainly on  previously held Arab land on the West Bank beyond the 1948 Israeli-Jordanian cease fire lines, the route of which has been adjusted many times to minimise the personal and economic hardship to Palestinians.
    The barrier has dramatically reduced Israeli civilian casualties but its erection has brought international condemnation and an adverse advisory non-binding opinion issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The opinion has, however, been subjected to serious professional criticism as being politically motivated and based on incorrect factual information. The ICJ opinion is inconsistent with a number of rulings made by the Israel Supreme Court based on detailed and actual facts on the ground.

International intervention in the search for a resolution to the conflict has been renewed as part of a global concern over continuing instability in the Middle East generally which has given rise to fears of an interruption or even a cessation in oil supplies to the West and the bringing into question by certain Middle Eastern powers of Israel’s very legitimacy.

The United States, under its own auspices and those of the United Nations, the European Union and Russia initiated a new peace proposal – “A Performance-Based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” (Road Map) in 2003. Thus far, the initiative has failed to produce any concrete results towards a rapprochement between Israel and the Palestinians.


In order to reduce continuing military confrontation between Israel and Palestinian militants, Israel took unilateral action and withdrew her military occupation and civilian settlements completely from the Gaza Strip in 2005, leaving the physical infrastructure and economic assets in the form of extensive greenhouses available for Palestinian use.

Palestinian elections held in 2005 brought victory to the Hamas party, whose declared political and military objectives are the elimination of Israel as an independent Jewish State. Since then an internecine conflict has been carried on between Hamas and Fatah for control over the Palestinian Authority, its assets and political largesse funded from abroad.

The Gaza Strip, now completely controlled by Hamas, is currently (2008) being employed both for smuggling weapons and ammunition from Egypt contrary to the Oslo Accords and as a staging area for the launching of short and medium ranged rockets directed against Israel civilian targets located inside Israel ‘proper’ i.e. well within the ‘green’ 1948 cease fire line.