Posts Tagged ‘Tulkarm’

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.

2. Egyptian Population Migrations into Palestine

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Palestinian Arabs have long argued that they have been indigenous to the area for generations- indeed some claim from time immemorial. This may be true for a segment of the population living in the hill country but in the remainder of Palestine, the reality is otherwise: there were considerable Egyptian and other Arab population movements into and out of Palestine taking place.

The indigenous population of the plains, such as it was, was migratory in character. In addition to the insecurity created by marauders, the environmental, physical economic conditions of the area were hard. Fellahin would come, settle for a short time and move on when living conditions became intolerable. In particular, other than in the hills, rural settlement was threatened by Turkoman devastation. However the Arab population increased beyond its natural birth rate due to significant migration into Palestine from Egypt fleeing from compulsory military service 1839 – 1849 or forced labour on the Suez Canal construction 1858-1869.

a.   Inward Arab Settlement of Palestine pre 1918

Inward migratory settlement came from both Ottoman (Turkish) and Egyptian sources:

i.    Ottoman Grant of Asylum to Muslim Refugees

The Ottomans granted asylum to Moslem refugees fleeing from their homelands for political and religious reasons:

  • After the French conquest of Algeria in 1830, many Algerians settled in Lower and Upper Galilee.  This region also attracted other immigrant Moslem Arabs from Damascus, and Kurds from Syria;
  • In 1878, the Ottomans permitted Circassian refugees fleeing from Christian-Russian rule in the Caucasus to settle in cis- and trans-Jordan;
  • Turkoman tribes from the mountains of Iraq were allowed ultimately to settle on the slopes of Mount Carmel;
  • In 1908, Arabs from Yemen settled in Jaffa.

ii.      Egyptian Émigrés

One of the most important Arab migrations into Palestine came from Egypt during the early and min-nineteenth century.

  • Egyptian Army Conscription
  • Muhammad Ali, (aka Mehemet Ali) the Ottoman viceroy of Egypt between 1805-1849, instituted a number of administrative reforms within his territory. Most significantly he established a standing army by means of conscription in 1829. As a consequence, many Egyptian peasants fled to Palestine to avoid such service. This was to be of little avail, because Ali’s son, Ibrahim Pasha, invaded and occupied Palestine between 1831-1841 and they again came under his control. During this period he ‘imported’ more Egyptian labourers into Palestine in addition to those who were already there.
  • Ultimately, Ottoman forces supported by the European powers – especially Britain – forced Ibrahim Pasha to withdraw. In the process, however, his army suffered considerable desertion from its ranks, and those who escaped remained in Palestine, hiding in small settlements. British intelligence estimated that the number of troops reaching Cairo in the withdrawal approximated some 33,000, compared with 125,000 before the retreat, leaving 92,000 unaccounted for.
  • In the 1860’s over 1.5 million Egyptian labourers were conscripted for the construction of the Suez Canal, of whom 120,000 died in the process. This, too, may also have created an impetus to flee Egypt and to settle in Palestine. (Arieh L. Avneri, The Claim of Dispossession Jewish Land- Settlement and the Arabs 1878-1948, Yad Tabenkin, Efal, Israel, Herzl Press, New York 1982 (hereinafter  ‘Avneri’);  Interview Prof. David Grossman 28.07.08)
  • Employment Opportunities on Public Works Projects

Inward migration to Palestine was also stimulated by new employment opportunities. The Ottoman government commenced railway, road and port construction projects in Palestine, most of which was financed from Europe. These works created increased commercial traffic through the ports of Jaffa and Haifa and the general economic boom that attracted Arab labour from Egypt, Syria and Trans-Jordan, as well as the indigenous Palestinian fellah.

Egyptian settlers particularly were scattered among many urban and rural points, appropriating large tracts of land and lending variety and numbers to the existing population. The Ghawarna and Arab ez-Zubeid Bedouin tribes and other Egyptian immigrants settled in the Hula (near the Sea of Galilee) and Beit-Sheaan Valleys; members of the Arab el-Ufi and ed-Damair tribes settled respectively in Wadi Hawarith (near Tulkarm) and in the vicinity of Hadera;  while other Egyptian migrants settled in and around Jaffa.

The assimilation of the Egyptians with the indigenous Arab population was a drawn-out process. After his visit to Palestine in 1917, Philip Baldensperger relates that the existing population of Jaffa, although essentially Arab, contained at least twenty five different nationalities, most of them Palestinian and Egyptian Arabs (Avneri p.14).

b.   Outward Arab Migration Caused  by Personal and Property Insecurity Within Palestine

Although Arab migration into Palestine increased, the total Arab population in the nineteenth century rose only slightly, because of internecine strife leading to internal instability which caused significant emigration:

i.  numerous and incessant village and factional internal wars:

  • between “Quais” and the “Yaman” villages located near Jerusalem (see Ruth Kark and Michal Oren-Nordheim, Jerusalem and its Environs, Quarters Neighbourhoods Villages , 1800 -1948, Wayne State University Press, 2001, pp 232-234)
  • in Nablus, between the pro-Egyptian Abd el-Hadi faction and pro-Turkish Tuqan faction;
  • along the ridge of Mount Carmel seventeen Druse villages were destroyed in the chaos which followed in the wake of the Egyptian retreat from Palestine;
  • during the late 1830’s, 1860’s and 1870’s, Bedouins ousted  fellahin from  the Jordan Valley, the Sharon Plain, Beit Shean and the Jezreel Valley, leaving the land desolate and uncultivated; (Avneri, pp 20-22)
  • in the Hebron region during the late 1890’s, between the Bedouin ed-Dulam and fellahin of Yatta village.

ii.  Marauding Bedouins uprooted settled fellahin, stimulating their emigration.

The nature and extent of Bedouin attacks have been discussed earlier and they were a prime factor in creating outward migration

iii  Arab emigration to North and South America
Palestine experienced significant Arab emigration by those who perceived  a better life in the New World.  Avneri quotes Arthur Ruppin, a contemporary sociologist, as stating:

There is emigration from the Christian districts, such as Bethlehem, Beit-Jala and Ramallah to North and South America, even though in smaller numbers than in Lebanon…. The American Consul in Jerusalem (Daily Consular Trade Reports 6-6-14) estimates the emigration from the Jerusalem District at 3000 annually, of whom 30% are Christians, 35% Moslems and 35% Jews. Thus from the Jerusalem District alone, 2000 Arabs emigrated annually (pp. 25-26)

A similar population exodus occurred from the north of Palestine in the area of Safed.

iv. Escapees from Turkish Army Conscription

During World War I many young Arab men fled from Palestine in order to evade Turkish military conscription.

In addition to those fleeing from conscription, the Ottoman central military authorities concluded that the presence of Arabs and Jews in coastal plains constituted a security threat. However the regional military commander applied a discriminatory policy of expulsion. Arabs were left undisturbed. Jews on the other hand were expelled from the port areas of Jaffa and Haifa. But for the intervention of the German government, they would also have been expelled from the coastal lands which they had developed agriculturally.
(see Isaiah Friedman, Germany, Turkey and Zionism 1897-1918, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1977,pp.—)

Thus, in summary and contrary to contemporary Palestinian claims, a very large percentage of Arab settlers in Palestine were neither indigenous nor had they worked the land from time immemorial. Like the Jews, they too, were immigrants who settled only a generation or two prior to the start of significant Jewish immigration.

4. Changes in the Loci of Arab Elite Power Bases: From the Land to the Towns and the Metropolis

Friday, September 26th, 2008

Traditionally internal power and patronage of the Arab elites was traditionally centred in the local village and relied upon land ownership. External factors – particularly the financial predicament in which the Porte’s found itself in the latter half of the nineteenth century were to change this.

To manage its heavy public debt burden more efficiently, the Porte attempted to centralise and assert greater administrative control over the population and territory under its jurisdiction. The Young Turks, after their revolution against the rule of Sultan Abdulhamit II in 1908, propelled this movement and tendency towards the centralisation of power with greater enthusiasm.

Prior to World War I The Ottoman administrative structure placed Palestine in the regional Wilayet (Wali) of Beirut and the independent Sajak of Jerusalem. The wilayet themselves were subdivided into administrative subunits- sanjaq – which were further subdivided into local qaza . The local qaza of Palestine consisted of Acre, Haifa, Nazareth, Sefad, Tiberius, Jenin, Tulkarm, Beersheba, Gaza, Hebron, Jaffa and Jerusalem. As will become apparent in Chapter V, the appellation of administrative wilayet within which Palestine lay became a central issue in the Hussein-McMahon correspondence over the alleged conflicting promises Britain gave to the Jews and to the Arabs over the disposition of Palestine following World War I.

Kenneth.W. Stein, The Land Question in Palestine 1917-1939, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1984, (hereinafter Stein) p 9

If the Ottomans were to extract themselves from their economic plight and dependency on external influences, their government re-organisation now demanded a more highly trained and centralised bureaucracy. However, since it was hard to recruit qualified candidates, the reforms which the Porte wanted to institute failed to be realised for the most part. Instead, the bureaucratic structure which they established created many new official positions. These presented elites with opportunities to serve on local councils, committees, boards and commissions, often holding more than one administrative position at the same time and over an extended period, as exemplified in sanjaqs of Acre and Nablus.

The administrative reorganisation coupled the exploitation of the land reform legislation – discussed earlier in Section 3.c.ii – permitted the elites to accumulate both property and power and enabled them to place their tribal kinsmen at pivotal points in the administrative structure. The qaza level of administration required numerous civil servants to support the local councils, tax and finance commissions, courts of first instance, agricultural and commercial committees, chambers of commerce, education committees, land registry, military transportation commissions, telegraph and postal services and the local police. The appointed incumbents of the official positions and their supportive staff, each in his own sphere and in the exercise of his authority, were thus enabled to generate considerable ‘emoluments,” and advancement in social status. (see Stein pp 7-8)

As a consequence, small town patrons who previously had wielded power and garnered their wealth based on land holdings, now saw the larger urban centres as the arenas in which to operate for their own advancement and that of their kinsmen. Accordingly, Arab elites migrated from the villages to the larger towns and from the latter to Istanbul, Damascus and Beirut directing their attentions and efforts to wider horizons.

This shift in the locus and system of patronage from that based on local land ownership left the fellah under the control of a lower status kinsman or at the mercy of an indifferent agent, and bereft of his traditional patron to whom he could turn in times of trouble. Consequently, when Jewish settlements began to appear, it naturally created tension between Jews and Arabs, as one group intentionally or otherwise interfered with the land resources claimed by the other. Cultural and language barriers between the two probably exacerbated the issues of contention.

Furthermore the middle-ranking official and bureaucratic supportive Arab staff employed at all levels of public administration later provided Arab-Palestinian nationalists with unexpected political and administrative leverage in their subsequent dealings with the local British military and civil governments in Palestine after 1919.
(see Donna Robinson Divine, Politics and Society in Ottoman Palestine: The Arab Struggle for Survival and Power, Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder, CO, 1994