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Substantial Immigration of Arab Migrant workers into Western Palestine from 1880-1948

.. it is very difficult to make a case out for the
misery of the Arabs if at the same time their
compatriots from adjoining states could not be
kept from going in to share that misery.
-- British Governor of the Sinai from 1922 to 1936

... So far from being persecuted, the Arabs have 
crowded into the country and multiplied till their 
population has increased more than even all world Jewry 
could lift up the Jewish population.
-- Winston Churchill [45]

Since the inception of modem Israel in 1948, that perception has been embellished. The Jewish "aliens" came as "refugees from Europe" and "stole" land from the Arab settled population, it is claimed. No doubt the Jews did suffer from the monstrosities of the Holocaust, but Jewish suffering should not be salved by inducing the suffering of the "Palestinian people," and "excluding" or "expelling" them from their land since "time immemorial," it is thought.

Immigration: Government Reports
and Their Contradictions

While the "Jewish population" of Palestine was "predominantly immigrant in character," according to the 1931 census of Palestine[7] the Muslims were assumed to be "the natural population" -- "Not quite two percent of the Moslem population are immigrants." By 1945, the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry would report that, although the Jewish population had risen from 84,000 in 1922 to 554,000, and "three-fourths of this ... [Jewish] expansion was accounted for by immigration," the Arabs had increased "by a greater number" than the Jews.

"The expansion of the Arab community by natural increase has been in fact one of the most striking features of Palestine's social history," the report stated.[8] The same sponsor, in an earlier report, has assessed that "the speed with which the Moslems have followed Western patterns in reduction of mortality has been very remarkable, probably more than could be expected by any observer twenty years ago."[9]

The Arabs allegedly were following the trends of improvements in the Jewish-settled areas and were "the gainers" from the Jews' higher health standards; [10] the death rate, which is central to determine the rate of natural population increase between 1922 and 1944, decreased proportionately, as would be expected, since standards improved as time passed. The Jews' death rate therefore was at its highest in 1922. Contradicting that logic, in the 1922-1944 period the death rate for the Arabs was reported at its lowest in 1922.[11] According to demographic experts, that phenomenon would have been incredible, considering the conditions in Palestine and the factors influencing the inhabitants at that time.[12]

Occasionally the British administration, noting "disproportions" and disparities in its data on Arab population growth, attempted to justify the conflicting assumptions in nonscientific terms, but the so-called "unprecedented"[13]. rate of "natural increase" among the non-Jews was never satisfactorily broken down or explained.

A very great disproportion is evident between the Moslem and Jewish death-rates and has been accentuated by a steady decline in the Jewish death-rate over the period under review.[14]
Nevertheless, a pivotal report during the same period concluded that
It must be observed that a smaller population may overtake a larger population in numbers as time goes on. This depends on the relative age-constitutions and potential fertilities of the two communities considered. Jewish immigration adds a yearly increment to the Jewish population which is potentially highly reproductive. The time might come some scores of years ahead when the Jewish natural increase exceeded the Arab natural increase, but it would take a very long time for the Jews to obtain a majority in Palestine by that means alone.[15]
The various reports usually acknowledge in one place or another that the Arab population of Palestine would have remained stable at the figure -- actually 300,000 to 400,000[16] -- where it had remained for the last two centuries,[17] if it were not for the better conditions introduced by the Jewish settlements and/or the British administration. "Fluctuations [were] cancelled out" by war, disease, natural disasters, and so on. An official 1937 report found that "The growth in their numbers [Arab fellahin -peasants] has been largely due to the health services, combating malaria, reducing the infant deathrate, improving water supply and sanitation," commencing with the advent of both the Jewish and the British mandatory influence. [18]

The actual thinly settled "existing" Arab population of the early 1900s -- to which the Balfour Declaration and Mandate give testimony -- would not have been "prejudiced" by immigration of Jews. But the Arabs, it is claimed, had grown "naturally" by an unprecedented number -- a number greater even than the enormous swell of Jewish immigration between 1922 and 1944 could raise the Jewish population. Even Zionist histonians[19] accepted the phenomenon of the Arabs'soaring "natural increase" without question, despite the fact that the evidence which contradicted that assumption often was noted on other pages of the same official British Government report that had made the "natural increase" assumption.

As late as the mid-1940s, the 1945-1946 Survey of Palestine stated that "It is probable that the high rate of natural increase of the population of Palestine is a phenomenon of the mandatory period. . . ."[20]

One source cited earlier -- a population expert who assumed that a populous indigenous Arab community had been in Palestine for a millennium -- noted elsewhere in the same chapter that, by the date of his book, 1936, well into that Mandatory period, "fall in the death-rate" was the "likely" cause of the Arabs' population increase. And yet, he contradicted his own explanation by stating that in fact by 1936, fourteen years into the Mandatory period, "Medical and sanitary progmss has made little headway among the Palestinian Arabs as yet, and cannot account for any considerable fall in the death-rate." After disqualifying all other excuses, that writer was left with one rather lame possibility: that perhaps the phenomenal rate of increase among Arabs in Palestine could be attributed solely to British "administrative measures" like "quarantine"![21]

In other words, the new "phenomenal" rise in the Arab population of Palestine, which had remained sparse and static for two hundred years despite constant replenishing, was attributed to a sudden, hyped natural increase of the "existing" long-settled indigenes. That phenomenon, or so went the rationalization, resulted from new conditions. Yet, it was also acknowledged that because of its recent timing, the introduction of those new conditions could not in fact have been responsible for the population increase in the period of time for which it was credited!

That same self-contradictory expert source was heavily relied upon by the Palestine Partition Commission in 1938, which tried to reconcile contradictory "facts": for example,

We thus have the Arab population reflecting simultaneously two widely different tendencies -- a birthrate characteristic of a peasant community in which the unrestricted family is normal, and a death-rate which could only bebrought about under an enlightened modem administration, with both the will and the necessary funds at its disposal to enable it to serve a population unable to help itself. It is indeed an ironic commentary on the working of the Mandate and perhaps on the science of government, that this result which so far from encouraging has almost certainly hindered close settlement by Jews on the land, could scarcely have been brought about except through the appropriation of tax-revenue contributed by the Jews."[22]
The same report referred to "a combination of circumstances unique in modem history." For the Jews, "an unusually high (though not unprecedented) rate of immigration"[23] and for the "Arabs," that is, Muslims, "an abnormally high (and possibly unprecedented) rate of natural increase in the existing indigenous population."[24]

Note the words "existing" and "indigenous. " They were not simply modifiers; their use, as we will see in following chapters, became central to our seriously uncritical acceptance of Arab propaganda's misrepresentation of migrants and immigrants as "displaced" and "landless Arabs" deprived of their homeland by the Jews.

While the Arabs were reportedly growing in number "naturally" by phenomenal leaps, the Jews were immigrating -- in all but depression times -- as heavily as the British immigration restrictions on Jews would allow. The 1937 Palestine Royal Commission Report -- often called the Peel Report -- noted that

The pace and extent of the development of the Jewish National Home must obviously depend on the rate and volume of Jewish immigration over a series of years. Having regard to their fear of being overwhelmed and therefore dominated by Jewish immigrants, the Arabs watch the immigration figures with close and anxious concern.[25]
Another practically unknown and unrecognized condition was indicated: the same report observed also that Arab immigration into Palestine might exist.
No accurate estimate can be made of the numbers of Arabs who have come into Palestine from neighboring Arab lands and settled there, but it may be reckened that roughly nine-tenths of growth has been due to natural increase, and it has been a growth of over 50 percent in 17 years. Those are remarkable figures especially in view of the general belief that the population of Palestine under the Ottoman regime was more or less stationary.[26]
Other references reported similar observations. Some examples:
Immigration has accounted in large part for the increase of the Jewish section of the population, though the Arabs have also received some reinforcement from this source .[27]

The collection and compilation of the data of migration are beginning to reach a tolerable degree of precision; but in one main repect they remain incomplete since it has not yet been possible to arrange for a reasonably complete record of the movement of people to and from Trans-Jordan.[28]

4,866 travellers who entered Palestine during the year were registered as immigrants. Of these 4,114 were Jews and 752 non-Jews.[29]

Yet the possibility of substantial Arab entry into Palestine was dismissed, despite the "remarkable" growth of the Arab population compared to the admittedly "stationary" number of the "Arab" population for centuries, before and until the "Jewish National Home" was mandated.[30]

Reported Arab Immigration

If there had not yet been sufficient time for the improved health standards to affect the Arabs' rate of natural increase, then another, artificial factor had to cause the otherwise scientifically unexplainable Arab population increase.

The only demographic possibility remaining was that Arabs, like the Jews, had immigrated to swell their numbers. Yet, no record of substantial Arab immigration was recorded in Palestine by the British government. According to all the reports of the period, Arab "recorded" immigration to Palestine was minimal, casual, and unquantifiable.[31]

Any observer at the time, however, might have found strong indications that questioned the accuracy of the government's assumptions from the beginning.

The British Department of Migration itself quite candidly acknowledged that the "records" in respect to non-Jewish immigration from neighboring countries such as "Syria" and "the Lebanon" were "defective"; that defect was deemed "of no great consequence," however, because, as the reports stated, the Department's records were intended to check only "Jewish immigration into Palestine according to the capacity of the country to absorb immigrants." The report assured, "in that aspect of the matter that the statistics may be held to have a high degree of accuracy."[32]

Thus we find that in the British immigration system there was not even a serious gauge for considering the incidence of Arab immigration into "Palestine." The verbose description of the "mandatory policy" assumed that only "Jewish immigration" must be measured.

Yet, in the 1931 census, at least twenty-three different languages were reported in use by "Moslems," and most of those plus an additional twenty-eight were in use by "Christians"-many of whom were known as, or represented as "Arabs" -- a total of at least fifty-one languages.[33]

And the non-Jews in Palestine in 1931 listed as their "birthplaces" at least twenty-four different countries, in addition to the Americas and Europe. In Jerusalem alone, twenty different places of birth (outside the Americas and Europe) were reported by the "Moslems"; those plus another four countries were listed by "Christians."[34]

The "illegal" Jewish immigration was fastidiously reported-"One case is known in which a small party of Jews endeavored to enter Palestine via Trans-Jordan"[35] -- while the Arabs who immigrated illegally were addressed only when their "detection" had become "flagrant."[36] The British Colonial officials were "thinking of Jews" in matters of immigration as we will see later in some detail.

But the British Government, which recorded comings and goings within Palestine, occasionally was forced by its prevalence to give mention to the "illegal Arab immigration."[37] The movement, however, was underestimated and minimized, deemed "casual," and was never introduced as a factor in determining the population increase in the portion of Palestine area being settled by the Jews:

In addition to this increase by recorded immigration, a number of persons are known to enter Palestine illegally from both adjacent and European countries and to remain there permanently.[38]
In fact, in some instances the conclusion that Jews were increasing through immigration while Arabs were increasing only through natural increase was alleged in the same reports which observed elsewhere in their pages that "considerable" illegal Arab immigration was indeed proceeding without restriction or record from such areas as Syria, Egypt, TransJordan, and Lebanon, among others.[39]

Most Government acknowledgments of Arab "illegal immigration" were concealed from recognition by the cryptic nonspecific heading of "Unrecorded Illegal Immigration" or were obscured by discussion of "Jews and Arabs" together.[40] When "illegal entry" of Arabs was recognized separately in that regard, invariably the report in question would note that the volume "must be insignificant."[41]

Although the Jewish "illegal" inunigration -- comparatively small until Hitler rose to power in the 1930s -- was meticulously recorded, minutely detailed, and later even estimated in advance and deducted from the government's strict Jewish quota, the references to Arab "illegal immigration" were always presented ambiguously.[42] Almost without exception, the matter was obscured, negated, and overwhelmed by preponderant concentration on Jewish immigration as the primary issue.

Hints of Substantial Unrecorded Immigration

It was while studying documents pertinent to Palestine among the Winston Churchill papers[43] that the author first noticed a statement that challenged the very foundation of the current claim that Jewish settlement in Palestine had caused the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of Arabs.[44] Churchill said in 1939,
... So far from being persecuted, the Arabs have crowded into the country and multiplied till their population has increased more than even all world Jewry could lift up the Jewish population.[45]
For the British statesman -- a veteran of the first days in Britain's administration of the Mandate -- to make that statement, surely he had to have become aware of significant evidence to back his assertion. And indeed, buried by the more recent propaganda campaign, politically targeted "fact sheets" distributed by organs of the United Nations and the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the gospel according to the British Foreign Office, substantial evidence does exist to support Churchill's challenge of the Arab propaganda.

For example, according to the Minutes of the Permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations,[46] La Syrie had published, on August 12, 1934, an interview with Tewfik Bey El-Hurani, Governor of the Hauran. Governor El-Hurani stated that "In the last few months from 30,000 to 36,000 Hauranese [Syrian] had entered Palestine and settled there."

The Mandates Commission -- which was overseer to all League of Nations Mandatory Administrations -- took special "note" in its Minutes of the fact that the Hauranese, not merely passing through, had indeed "settled." Yet no official account of that important wave of Arabs who entered illegally appears in British immigration records.

In "private" and "secret" British correspondence files, however, there were innumerable references to Syrians from the Hauran district "admitted" freely to "Palestine" "without passport or visa"[47] from the beginning of the British Mandate after World War I and consistently into the 1940s .[48] British reports were at times obliged by the prevalence of "Syrian countrymen in Palestine" to acknowledge the "illegal ... large proportion of Arab immigrants from the Hauran."[49]

But the data quoted from directly above were not included in any official report until after extensive evidence had been given in 1937 [See Chapter 14] and consequent pressure exerted by the Permanent Mandates Commission.[50] Even then, in that belated acknowledgment, the recorded "number of Hauranis illegally in the country" was grossly underestimated." Some of them had "fled" back to Syria and elsewhere to avoid prosecution for violence in the riots of 1936 -- but that factor will be examined later, along with more detailed evidence of the British policy of benign blinking.

The Permanent Mandates Commission had also addressed the incidence of illegal Arab immigrants from "Trans-Jordan." Its members had spoken of "free admission of TransJordanians into Palestine," which might "lead to abuse" since a number of them "remained in the country"; the Commission had indicated Arab illegal immigration from other countries as well, all of which is addressed in following pages.

For the moment, however, we turn back to the Syrian-Haurani influx, of "thirty to thirty-six thousand" Arab illegal immigrants from one area in just "a few months" of 1934, verified by an official international document and attested to by a Syrian leader.

That is, from spring to summer of 1934, from just one area in only one of the many depressed neighboring Arab countries from which impoverished citizens were known to be emigrating into Palestine-particularly into the Jewish-settled portion of the country-an Arab official's unequivocal report indicated that more Arabs illegally entered and remained in Palestine than the total number of Jews for twice that length of time in 1934 who were "approved" to immigrate into their designated "Jewish National Home. "[52] Yet the official British record of immigration to Palestine for the entire year of 1934[53] reports "recorded immigration" of just 1,784 "non-Jews," with only about 3,000 as "travelers remaining illegally," and those figures supposedly included Arab immigrants from all points into all of Palestine.

Although carefully categorized records were kept for age groups, occupations, amount of capital, etc. of those Jews who immigrated, there was no specific accounting of the "non-Jews" in the official reports. None except for one phenomenon -- despite the mandatory government's rigorous application of immigration laws for Jews and the official winking at the incidence of Arab illicit entry, the number of "non-Jews" recorded as having been "deported for immigration offences" was more than twice as great as the number of Jews.[54] The question arises: if there were so many illegal Arab immigrants that even an official policy which concentrated almost solely on limiting Jews was forced to identify and deport more than twice as many Arabs as Jews, then is it not possible or even likely that the number of illegal Arab immigrants had to be so much larger than recorded that it constituted a massive wave of entry?

Yet, in autumn of 1934 the Palestine High Commissioner stated that during that year "We do not consider that the numbers of those illegal immigrants exceed 100 per month."[55] In 1935, the number of deportations of non-Jews was even more significant: in a system admittedly overlooking all but the most blatant cases of illicit Arab immigration, the 1935 Annual Report stated that of 2,455 deported, 2,152 were "non-Jews. "[56]

Churchill's recognition of massive Arab immigration into Palestine was confirmed by many, including the British Governor of the Sinai from 1922 to 1936, who wryly observed that

This illegal immigration was not only going on from the Sinai, but also from Transjordan and Syria and it is very difficult to make a case out for the misery of the Arabs if at the same time their compatriots from adjoining states could not be kept from going in to share that misery.[57]
Nonetheless, Arab leaders and their British supporters attempted to make exactly that case. In order to appease the small but powerful Arab effendi community, the Mandatory power began imposing stricter limitations upon Jewish immigration.

While counting the newly arrived Arab illicit immigrants as indigenous deeply rooted Palestinians, the Biltish explained that it was the Jews who were flooding the country beyond its "absorptive capacity" and crowding out Arabs. The Hope Simpson Report of 1930 announced its seminal conclusion that Arabs were being "displaced" by Jews, even though in its own pages the report revealed that there was an uncontrolled influx of illegal Arab immigrants from Egypt, Trans-Jordan and Syria.[58]

Speaking unmistakably of "other than Jewish labour," the report states

The Chief Immigration Officer has brought to notice that illicit immigration through Syria and across the northern frontier of Palestine is material.[59]
Further, the Report speaks of "the case of the 'pseudo-traveller' who comes in with permission for a limited time and continues in Palestine after the term of his permission has expired" as being "present practice," a method that was "injustice" to the Jews.[60]

The broad implications of that seemingly casual observation within the Hope Simpson Report will become evident in the following pages. If large-scale Arab immigration was a recognized "practice," how could official reports justify a conclusion that only Jewish population was increasing through immigration and forcing out Arabs? If Arabs were incoming also, then might their increase in number be attributable not to the natural increase of natives present since time immemorial on the land, but instead, an increase swelled as importantly-perhaps even more importantly-by immigration than that of the Jews?

One British official conducted an investigation on the "displaced" and "landless" Arab situation. Despite an enormous unrecorded Arab influx-and even adding the illicit Arab immigrant community into the category of "native population" that had supposedly been displaced-the official concluded, after investigating the areas, that the allegation was largely inaccurate, as we will see later from excerpts of his testimony during an official investigation.[61]

The official would be slain shortly thereafter.[62] The land being cleared by Palestinian Jews, for Jewish victims of persecution in Europe, had been and still was being appropriated by Arabs. Yet the White Paper of 1939 was in the works. That legislation by the British at the instigation of the Arabs would so harshly restrict Jewish immigration to Palestine that hundreds of thousands of Jews would be prevented from entering what was to have been their sanctuary and thus be condemned to the fateful inferno of the Nazis. And that White Paper would be justified by the premise that the Jews were usurping the Arabs' places in "Palestine."

According to the British Government's 1937 Report to the League of Nations [63] the number of Arabs in Palestine had indeed soared higher, in Churchill's words, than "even all world Jewry could lift up the Jewish population." Yet this crucial and incompatible evidence went disregarded or unrecognized and was never figured into the political equation of Palestine.[64]

This page was produced by Joseph E. Katz
Middle Eastern Political and Religious History Analyst 
Brooklyn, New York 
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Source: "From Time Immemorial" by Joan Peters, 1984
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Portions Copyright © 1984 Joan Peters, Portions Copyright © 2001 Joseph Katz
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