How Feudal Arab Landowners who exploited their
peasantry became Nationalist Leaders
When Jewish economic success threatened to
liberate their peasantry.
The same Arab politicians
who protested that
they cared nothing for the money the Jews
brought into the country.... showed no
contempt for money when it came to the
treatment of their own peasantry.
-The Reverend James Parkes, Whose Land?
The Palestinians who are today's refugees
the neighboring countries ... know all
that their present nationalist exploiters
worthy sons of their feudal exploiters
yesterday, and that the thorns of their
life are of
Arab, not Jewish origin.
- Abdel Razak Kader, 1969
We have seen strong evidence
that the Holy Land was inhabited only sparsely in the nineteenth century.
For centuries the non-Jewish, particularly the Muslim, peoples who did
inhabit the land had been largely composed of a revolving immigrant population
of diverse ethnic origins who could not possibly have constituted a substantial
indigenous "Palestinian" population, much less a nation of inhabitants
for "a thousand" or "two thousand years." Rather, the majority of those
inhabitants were migrants and peasants originating from other lands, many
of whom had been unscrupuluously exploited by feudal or absentee landlords,
moneylenders, and corrupt officials of the Turkish government. They in
turn traditionally exploited and preyed upon the oppressed
How does the history of those relationships
mesh with the Arab claim that "displacement" and "landlessness" of Arab
"natives" was caused by the Jews? If that claim is false, it is long-perpetuated.
As such, it must be traced to its beginnings, in the Palestine of Turkish
rule, when the Arab notables' charge of "Jews displacing Arabs" was devised.
It was 1878. Harsh conditions prevailed.
Into Palestine came groups of Circassians, Algerians, Egyptians, Druses,
Turks, Kurds, Bosnians, and others. One historian deduced that of 141,000
settled Muslims living in all of Palestine (all areas) in 1882, "at least
25% of those 141,000 . . . were newcomers or descendants of those who arrived
after 1831 (Egyptian conquest)."
A prominent British official had observed
as early as 1840 that the barren Palestinian land needed the collective
political return of the Jews:
If we consider their return in
the light of a new establishment or colonization of Palestine, we shall
find it to be the cheapest and the safest mode of supplying the wastes
of these depopulated Regions.... 
Throughout the nineteenth century Palestine's
occupying government had officially settled many foreigners. The "Egyptian"
conqueror Ibrahim Pasha, son of the Turkish-speaking Albanian Muhammad
Ali, had "left behind him permanent colonies of Egyptians at Beisan, Nablus,
Irbid, Acre and Jaffa. . ." In Jaffa, some five hundred Egyptian soldiers'
families established a new quarter. Into Jaffa alone, then, "at least
two thousand people" had been imported. In 1844, "the American expedition
under Lynch" recorded fewer than 8,000 "Turks" in Jaffa in a population
of 13,000. In 1857, Elizabeth Finn, the wife of James Finn, British
Consul in Jerusalem, reported that "Greek and Latin foreigners hostile
to Turkish power are endeavoring to grasp piecemeal and occupy the Holy
Land so valuable to them both. The corrupt Pashas and Effendis [notables]
allow them for [sic] money to do so as they list." In 1858 Consul Finn
reported the "Mohammedans of Jerusalem" were "scarcely exceeding one-quarter
of the whole population."
In 1860 Algerian tribes moved from Damascus
en masse to Safed, and the Muslims there were "mostly descended from these
Moorish settlers and from Kurds who came earlier to the city."
In that same year, the British Consul wrote:
From Caiffa [Haifa] I learn the
arrival of about 6,000 of the Beni Sukhr Arabs at Tiberias (who are very
seldom seen on this side of the Jordan) .... 
A report on "Disturbances" noted that "The
Plain of Esdraelon is full of Turkoman Bedouins.. . ." The restored
Turkish government was continuously adding its own numbers in order to
replenish and guard its administration, as had the Egyptians before them,
as had dozens of conquerors over the centuries."
... I have omitted to mention the increase
of Mahometan agriculturalists and pastoral Arabs from countries of Barbary,
forming a small colony in the district north of Lake Tiberias. 
I have the honour to report to
your Lordship that the excess of the Druses in the Lebanon remaining unchecked
by The Turkish Government, the same practices are being extended southwards,
among the Metawalis.
Landlords imported workers to keep up their
great areas, but the peasants and former nomads who came were subjected
to the robbery of the usurers, until they ran off, to be replaced by new
These are a sect of Mahometans differing
from the orthodoxy of the Turks, inhabiting a hilly district south of the
Lebanon; their creed is the same as that of the Persians, and called the
... but now they are acting on their own
account. They have plundered the large village of Bassa on the verge of
the plain of Acre, and plundered the village of Kefir Beraan near Safed
Despite the constant immigration into Palestine,
the land remained largely depopulated. However observers, travelers, and
field workers may have differed in their observations -- one found
"fertility" and "the flush of green on the desert," while another found
Sharon and the Upper Galilee barren - records descriptive of Palestine
concur on the state of depopulation and of the official wholesale importing
of newly arrived emigres who continued to constitute a great part of the
populace that did exist there.
As historians have noted, "The real source
of the interest in the problem was the condition of Palestine": "empty"
 -- "silent"  -- "waste" -- "ruin." Between 1840 and 1880 "writing
travellers learnt on the spot ... to mistrust and hate the Turk and despise
the Muslim population."
The village lands belonged in
reality to the crown ... if uncultivated. The population was hopelessly
incompetent and lethargic, owing to the taxation... 
In Jerusalem, 1859, the British consul identified
part of the "thinly scattered population":
The Mohammedans of Jerusalem are
less fanatical than in many other places, owing to the circumstances of
their numbers scarcely exceeding one quarter of the whole population
and of their being surpassed in wealth (except among the Effendi class)
in trade and manufactures by both Jews and Christians.
At the same time, an official report on "Disturbances"
affirmed that "the Mahometan population is dying out, I can scarcely
say slowly," and that the government had to supply a populace to "places
formerly unknown." (Note below the reference to "not sufficient"
numbers of "Mohametans" -- Muslims -- immigrating at the
"large numbers" of Jews):
Hence, for the present we are
supplied with low-bred ignorant Turks, reigning in small towns or rural
districts, and farming taxes.... While the Jews from Russia come also in
large numbers and settle in Jerusalem and Safed ... I cannot tell whether
the recent immigration of Algerine Mohametans in the North is invited or
fostered by Turkish Governors. These bring fanaticism with them, but their
numbers are not sufficient as yet.
However distasteful he found the impoverished
Arab immigrants who were "supplied," the British Consul complained that
there were too few inhabitants of any sort in Palestine. "Palestine," he
reported, was almost "empty of inhabitants," and urgently needed a "body
of population irrespective of religious considerations." In fact, another
official British report-contradicting the alleged grounds for its own future
policy [See Chapters 14 and 15] -- attested to the abandonment of the land
when renewed Jewish development began. In one area, for example:
In 1878 Commission of Enquiry
visited Beisan, as did another Commission 50 years later, to report on
land situated there. The commission appeared to have reported that they
found the lands in disorder, exposed to raids by marauding Bedouin from
across the Jordan, abandoned by the cultivators and only scantily cultivated.
Meanwhile, the Jewish population had been
growing. They were the majority in Safed and Tiberias by 1851, and
by the late 1850s Jews formed at least half of the population of Jerusalem.
Most of them were the "class called sephardem," and the Jews "greatly
exceed the Moslems in number."
There is, then, evidence for assuming that
it is doubtful that any of the present-day cultivators can prove their
occupation before 1870.
The Turkish Sultan had enacted laws that
promised "every encouragement to the cultivation of the land." In 1856,
Sir Moses Montefiore was granted an edict by the Sultan permitting Jews
to buy land in Palestine. At mid-nineteenth century, a "considerable
number" of Jewish immigrants had come and settled in the four holy cities
of Jerusalem, Safed, Hebron, and Tiberias, largely -- but also on the land.
(They were not the first European, or Ashkenazi, Jews to join the native
Sephardim; following the 1769 earthquake at Safed, "a new influx" of Russian
Jews had refounded the town, about 1776.)
In 1860 Sir George Gawler, a non-Jewish
"Zionist," one of a group in England who had been staunchly advocating
Jewish nationalism for decades, wrote:
I should be truly rejoiced to
see in Palestine a strong guard of Jews established in flourishing agricultural
settlements and ready to hold their own upon the mountains of Israel against
By the 1870s, despite the traditional attacks
-- "sometimes to death" -- on Palestinian Jews by "their Muslim neighbors,"
the situation was reportedly more secure. Jews had "more redress."
And foreign-born Jewish pioneers were coming to join the Jewish fellahin
had clung to Palestine's soil.
I can wish for nothing more glorious in
this life than to have my share in helping them to do so.
The Jewish fellaheen -- those
who have worked the land for centuries ... are not differentiated in their
external appearance, their dress, their language or their daily life, from
their non-Jewish neighbors.
Contrary to other parts of the Ottoman Empire
of the nineteenth century, in Judah-cum-Palestine Jews had remained on
the Holy Land.
A significant characteristic of
theirs [Jews] is that, except in Palestine, they are almost all
Together they were beginning the Jewish development
of depopulated land, decades before Theodor Herzl's "Zionism" was implemented
in 1901. The newcomers' settlement of newly purchased areas would enable
many native Palestinian Jews to shed the historically persecuted, poverty-stricken
But Jews had lived principally in urban
areas of the Holy Land -- their "sacred" Jewish cities. However "preferable"
it might have been to hire Jews for land development, Jewish agricultural
labor was scarce. Furthermore, most who were available were totally inexperienced
and nearly useless. For generations in many countries Jews had not been
permitted to own land, and most Jews in the Holy Land had been relegated
to accepting religious charity as a means to survive. By 1859, however,
the British Consul could observe that
The Jews are increasing in numbers,
and the Rabbis tightening the ecclesiastical control; yet the mechanical
class among them are learning, though slowly, to work for their own living,
instead of depending solely for subsistence upon alms from Europe, distributed
by the Rabbis.
The "principle of using exclusively Jewish
labor" would take longer to introduce to some areas. One pioneer supposedly
The transformation of a "tribe
of schnorrers" [beggars, Yiddish] ... into a new breed of Spartan,
self-reliant, technically accomplished tillers and reapers could not be
In 1878, Petach Tikvah, the first modem Jewish
colony, was founded, principally by native Palestinian Jews from Jerusalem.
Jews such as Edmond Rothschild believed projects should be "carried out
with Jewish rather than Arab labour," even though "relatively few Jewish
manual labourers could be found in Jaffa or Petach Tikva," and those were
"at least twice as expensive as their Arab counterparts." As a consequence,
on the new settlement non-Jews were hired to assist for a time with the
reclamation work by which the Jews would transform the country.
Many of the Arab laborers hired were new
immigrants themselves. "After 1870," for instance, the Turks' "forward
policy . . . included the planting of Circassian colonies" in the country.
Circassians "surrounded" the Jewish settlement of Sedjera, which had been
purchased from an "absentee Arab landlord" in the late 1890s.
At Hadera, founded in 1891, Egyptian workers
were contracted because there was not enough local Arab labor, and those
few locals available were not willing to run the "risk of malaria and yellow
fever." At Zikhron Yaacov, founded in 1882, there were twenty-one Jewish
workers to six Arab workers in 1893; five years later, in 1898, there were
twenty-seven Jews to twenty-one Arabs.
And in 1889, the forty Jewish families
in the Jewish settlement Rishon I'Tsion (founded in 1882) had been followed
by more than ten times as many Arab families from Egypt and elsewhere.
The following letter from a pioneer provides a vivid illustration:
In Rishon L'tzion, there are now
forty Jewish families, and most of them are financially supported by the
noble.... Besides this forty, more than four hundred families are settled
in the areas surrounding the moshava. The Arab village of Sarafand that
stood ruined to the south of the moshava (Rishon L'tzion) is now called
Srefand Harib, and is a large, spreadout village; many Bedouin and Egyptian
families have settled within it. Those who left their villages to come
here all find work. They, along with their wives, daughters and sons have
split up into a wide variety of trades and vocations. Dozens of families
have gathered in Bet Dagon (Badazshak), in Yadzor, in Safria, in Srafand
Amar, in Agar and elsewhere (a few thousand dunam that was, and until today
is, desolate and empty and used for putting sheep and bulls out to graze).
Those who have come to the area are wretchedly poverty-stricken and destitute,
and came with nothing to plant. Grains (income) were taken by the government,
and they were left lacking of all. About one thousand Arabs work on occasion
and (during the winter in Rishon), and how many in the villages? We ourselves
are giving them plough blades that are sharpened -- into the hand of those
who someday may stand as enemies against us.
By 1897, at Petach Tikvah, one of the largest
Jewish settlements, Jews were in a "rotating work force of some thirty-two
hands" in an attempt to "avoid the need for Arab labour," and strengthen
the spirit of the settlers. Still, in 1914, Petach Tikvah's population
would number 2,600 Jewish settlers, 600 resident Arab workers, and 1,100
One condition was unique to Palestine,
however: it was solely in Judah-cum-Palestine that the traditional Jewish
only would be equal, but he or she would
1) help wrench the effendis' historical
hold over the peasant-migrants and
2) create independence for the Jews.
As a counter, the effendis would
set about inflaming the entrenched Jew-hatred of the Muslim masses by instilling
fear in the only way the masses understood: by ominous warnings that Jews
might begin to oppress Muslims as the Muslims had for so long oppressed
the Palestinian Jews. According to one account,
In all eyes the Jew is becoming
... the traitor prepared to plunder his neighbor to take possession of
It was in 1909, at the time when leading effendis
their grip over the lives and fortunes of their erstwhile prey was getting
too loose, that effendi Ruhi Bey al-Khalidi warned that the Jews would
"displace the Arab farmers from their land and their fathers' heritage....
The Jews were not here when we conquered the country."  It mattered
little that the effendi's argument was false. It served his group's
long-range economic interests, and at least some of his misstatements would
be swallowed whole by a surprisingly large part of the world for the better
part of a century.
In 1911, an Arab land official from a notable
family based in Damascus charged that the Jewish settlers in Palestine
wanted "solely to expel the poor Arab peasants from their land," while
"treacherous Arab landowners" sold lands to the Jews.  In case some
among the impoverished masses might question the sincerity of sudden concern
shown by the Arab absentee landlord in question- whose wealth and holdings
came from precisely the activities he was attributing to the Jews -- a
more emotional and basic appeal was added to ensure the desired mass reaction:
the Damascus landlord warned that the Jews were "disloyal" Ottoman soldiers
and would "later shoot the Arabs." 
As Jew had been plundered by Arab, so now
would Arab be plundered, the leaders alleged. As Arab had been stripped
of land and money by Arab, so now the Jews would be blamed. Most important,
as Jew was displaced by Arab in Palestine -- with each restriction on Jewish
immigration, Arabs were coming into the Jewish-settled areas to take places
and employment that the Jews were creating for other Jews -- so Arab would
charge Jew with the Arab's action. The implanted fear that the new, bolder
Jews would turn the tables on the Muslims fomented the desired violent
reaction. It was the same tactic that would later throw fuel on the "Palestinian
refugees" flight in 1948.
The effendis' somewhat disingenuous tactic
in 1909 may have been the first specious charge of Jews specifically "displacing"
Arabs. But the same effendi tactic had succeeded in pressuring the
Turks to halt Jewish immigration to the Holy Land nearly thirty years before
that. And the same tool would be cynically employed later by the Arabs
with British support: later, "Arabs" in "Palestine" would be seen by the
world as having been "displaced" and "excluded" from "their homeland" in
Despite the anti-Jewish solicitation inherent
in his positions, as early as 1911 Ruhi Bey al-Khalidi proclaimed he was
not an "anti-Semite, but an anti-Zionist." It was perhaps the premiere
performance of that protest of qualification that is prevalent today. One
benefit accruing from prominent effendi al-Khalidi's pronouncement could
have been that Jews might be more likely to continue to buy land surreptitiously
from one who disclaimed any support of "anti-Semitism."
But the distinction was aimed only at influencing
the Jews. As other non-Jews pointed out, the "masses were incapable of
making the distinction" between one Jew and another.  One influential
Arab writer candidly observed that there should be no distinction between
"Zionists" and "non-Zionists," since all shared common goals.
Anti-Jewish attitudes were the "daily bread
in Palestine. Sheikh Sulayman al-Taji, an "Ottomanist" patriot and
landlord who, paradoxically, himself sold land to Jews, wrote a poem called
"The Zionist Danger" about "Jews, the weakest of all peoples and the least
of them ... sons of clinking gold, stop your deceit . . ." The "poem"
was published in November 1913, and that same month, murders were committed
in Jewish kibbutzes (kibbutzim) of the Jewish-settled area of the country.
By the time of World War I, the active
Arab anti-Semitism, whether called "Ottomanism," "anti-Zionism," or "Arab
nationalism," had evolved into a kind of Muftism after Haj
Amin al-Husseini, Grand Mufti and scion of the al-Husseini notables.
As Britain's Commander in Chief and Palestine's
High Commissioner would conclude a generation later, in 1938, Arab "terrorism
was not a national movement but bands of banditti of no genuine political
significance [or] Arab peasants who are restless and anti-Jew, and who
are not averse to joining violent action" for a fee. But, said the Commissioner,
the "moderate" Arabs in Palestine who opposed terror feared they would
become the victims if they took "a lead against the terrorists." "Other
political leaders might arise," if Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini weren't
"sitting just across the border." But the terrorist leader and his
in Palestine had been "sitting" in control of the country's security for
decades. As an anti-Jewish movement, Muftism would not only cooperate
with the Nazis, but would actually succeed in efforts to cause the deaths
of additional hundreds of thousands of European Jews whom the Nazis had
earmarked for Palestine, as is documented later.
This page was produced by Joseph
Middle Eastern Political and Religious
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