Posts Tagged ‘Safad’

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.

6. Jewish Presence in Palestine Under the Ottomans

Monday, September 8th, 2008

The early sixteenth century saw the Ottoman capture of Palestine by Sultan Selim. The Ottoman regime was to last 400 years until its defeat at the hands of the British at the end of World War I in 1918. Throughout this period, Jewish life was maintained in four main urban centres: Jerusalem, Safad, Tiberias and Hebron. Bahat notes:

    The largest community, numbering about 10,000 Jews was situated in and around Safad,; most of them were refugees from Spain, from which they were expelled in 1492. The Jews of Safad were reported as trading in spices, cheese oils, vegetables and fruits. Many Jews Jews were engaged in weaving.  Amongst the prominent leaders of the community in the 16th century was…R. Joseph Karo, compiler of the ‘Shulhan Arukh’  [and] the Cabbalist R. Isaac Luria.  During this century Safad was the centre of Jewish mysticism” (p.50)

According to official censuses, in the second quarter of the 16th century the number of Jews in Jerusalem varied between 1,000 and 1,500, living in three quarters coextensive with the present Jewish Quarter of the city, while William Biddulph, an English priest who visited Palestine in 1600 commented in his book “The Travels of Four Englishmen and a Preacher ” that Tiberias is entirely occupied by Jews.

In 1631, the Christian writer Eugene Roger records that there were approximately 15,000 Jews were living in various parts of the country, including Jerusalem, Hebron, Gaza, Haifa, Ramla, Nablus, Safad, Acre and Sidon.

They were subject to the whims of the local rulers who in many cases had purchased their posts at great cost [from the Ottoman Government] and attempted to recoup this money during their period of rule. (Bahat p.54)

Bahat’s research provides information regarding the visit of George Sandys, son of the Archbishop of York who visited the Holy Land in 1611. He states in his Travailes,

    “And in their Land they (the Jews)live as strangers, hated by those amongst whom they dwell, open to all oppression and deprivation, which they bear with patience beyond all belief, despised and beaten. In spite of all this, I never saw a Jew with an angry face.”

The writings of a Dutch scholar, Olf Dapper who collected data mostly from travellers to the Holy Land in this period summed up his findings in 1677 with the statement:

    “There are Jews all over Syria and the Holy Land, especially in Acre, Sidon, Damascus, Jerusalem, Hebron and Gaza. No transactions take place without the knowledge of the Jews and even the smallest dealings pass through their hands.”  (Bahat p.54)

Despite the economic and cultural decay of the Ottoman Empire during the 18th and 19th centuries, Jewish immigration to the Land continued even though life became increasingly difficult. Jewish communities began to organise themselves and agricultural settlements such as Kfar Yasif were established in the Galilee. On the other hand, with the increasing impoverishment of the Ottoman Empire, the non-muslim inhabitants of Palestine bore an increasing burden of taxation. Such were the human and natural disasters that it is estimated that during the first half of the 19th century the total population of the country did not exceed 250,000. In Jerusalem, however, travellers Richardson, Carne and Scholte reported in 1820-21 that Jews constituted the largest religious group in the city. This is confirmed by the first official census for Jerusalem held in 1844, which showed the population to be composed of: 7120 Jews, 5760 Muslims and 3390 Christians

By 1874, the American consul in Jerusalem, de Haas, reported that the city’s population numbered 30,000 of whom, 20,000 (two thirds) were Jews. (Eliyahu Tal, Whose Jerusalem? p.274)

In concluding this brief survey of the evidence of the uninterrupted presence of Jews in the Holy Land from the year 70 C.E. it is worth while presenting Behat’s extensive references to the official and institutional reports. These attest to the increasing significance of the Jews in the urban centres of Palestine, particularly in Jerusalem, as well as the first Jewish agricultural institutions and settlements, culminating in the waves of European immigrants who arrived on the shores of the Holy Land at the turn of the 20th Century.

“During the 19th century, immigration increased, as the English missionary, W.H. Bartlett, records in his book, Jerusalem Revisited, London 1855, that the Jewish community in Jerusalem numbered over 11,000. This is confirmed by the second British consul in Jerusalem, James Finn, in his book Stirring Times, London 1878. Mary Elisa Rogers writes in her book, Domestic Life in Palestine, London 1862, that there was an active Jewish community in Haifa. She lived there with her brother, the British vice-consul, from 1850 to 1859. The English missionary, Andrew Bonar, who visited the Holy Land in 1839, mentioned the synagogue of the Jews in Nablus besides that of the Samaritans (Narrative of a Mission of Enquiry to the Jews … Edinburgh 1846). The American officer W.F. Lynch who arrived in the country in 1848 describes the Jewish community in Jaffa in his Narrative of the U.S.’s expedition to the River Jordan and the Dead Sea, London 1852. All these communities were urban in nature and attempts by Jewish philanthropists abroad to establish rural villages

In 1870, the Mikveh Israel Agricultural School was founded near Jaffa. This was followed almost immediately by the establishment of villages in Motza (Jerusalem) and, in 1878, in Petah Tikvah.

The rise of nationalism in Europe and the Russian pogroms of the 1880′s led to a new wave of immigration. The names given by these immigrants to the villages which they founded reflect the vision and ideals represented by them – Rishon LeZion (the First in Zion), Nes Ziona (the Banner of Zion), Yesud HaMa’ala (the Start of the Ascent) and Rosh Pina (Cornerstone). The deterioration in economic conditions in the Land of Israel adversely affected settlement and threatened the total collapse of agricultural enterprises! The Jews of the Diaspora and the Jewish philanthropists, particularly Baron Edmond de Rothschild, came to the rescue.

In 1904, the second great wave of immigration, known as the Second Aliyah, began. This, too, was ideologically motivated, being based on the principles of Jewish labour, independent agricultural settlement and the brotherhood and equality of men. Subsequently the revolutionary forms of settlement we know today – the kibbutz (collective settlement) and the moshav (cooperative small-holders’ village) – were established. The Hebrew language, long relegated to liturgical or literary usage, was revived as a spoken tongue.

The World Zionist Organisation began to create the necessary tools for consolidating Jewish settlement, such as the Workers’ Bank, the Jewish National Fund, whose task was to purchase land for the nation, and many other institutions dedicated to the mission of national revival.

As will be discussed later, the Balfour Declaration, issued by the British in 1917 recognising the right of the Jews to a national home in Palestine, and the subsequent Mandate for Palestine, in which the League of Nations incorporated this aim, served as the international recognition of what was to become the State of Israel in 1948.” (Behat pp 64-65)

One must also bear in mind that Zionism is not a modern phenomenon imitating other nationalistic movements prevalent in the 19th century. While a spiritual longing to return to Zion has long existed ever since Jewish expulsion by the Romans in the first century, there has been a constant physical Jewish aliya -“going up” – or return to Israel driven by the age old messianic dream of medieval times which started well before the early Zionist aliyot (plural  of aliya) in the 1880’s. The relationship between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel is a basic element in Jewish consciousness. For some historians, notably Benzion Dinur, Israel’s Minister of Education from 1951-1955, the driving force behind the aliyot of the medieval and early modern periods was the “Messianic ferment” that cropped up in Jewish communities which, together with the appearance of charismatic leaders heralding the end of days, precipitated the organisation of groups to return to Israel in order to hasten the Redemption.

(see Arie Morgenstern, Dispersion and the Longing for Zion 1240-1840, Vol 12 Azure, Winter 2002; Joseph Farah “The Jews took no one’s land” www.WorldNetDaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=27338 )

“First Photographs of the Holy Land” http://www.eretzyisroel.org/~dhershkowitz/index2.html ; also Photographs of Early Zionist  in Palestine http://www.zionism-israel.com/photos/Historicphotos1.htm ;

The purpose of this Section has been to refute any argument that the Jewish connection with Palestine is one of relatively recent origin. It also serves to bring to the readers’ attention the factual basis upon which the Palestine Mandate document was able to declare in no uncertain terms in the third paragraph of its Preamble as follows:


“Whereas recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country”