As the Jews took possession of the land, they faced the responsibility of what to do with poor Arab farmers residing there. Often times, the previous owner who sold to the Jews lived outside the region and the existence of these farmers was of little concern. If the landlord could collect rent from them, he would. If not, their presence was tolerated in so far as prosecuting them for trespassing did not top the landlord's priorities. The problem arose when the new Jewish landlords desired not only ownership of the land, but to live and work there, to cultivate with their own hands. A British report describes this troublesome scenario:
“An Arab of the effendi class acquires ... a large tract in return for a comparatively trivial outlay: and is content to collect such rents as he can from some occupiers. Others, being illiterate and cut off from common sources of information, do not recognise the existence of an alleged owner who himself is certainly quite unable to identify the boundaries of his own supposed property. These limits are described in his title deeds only in such vague terms as are possible in an unsurveyed area with few distinctive topographical features, and so may be today, practically, unidentifiable. A Jewish Organisation buys this land from the owner, and, as entitled under law, proceeds to take possession for development of its prosperity. That proceeding involves eviction of a number of men who have possibly heard of the late owner merely as a neighbouring effendi, and who have grazed a more or less indeterminate local area for generations without paying the alleged owner any rent. The eviction displaces them from land of which, to all intents and purposes, they are, and have been for generations hereditary occupiers ...
Monetary compensation is no solace for such men as these who can find no other pied-a-terre: and who can recognize no reason for the change of circumstances which deprives them of the only form of livelihood known to them. And the offers by organizations to provide money for the purchase of land elsewhere for the re-settlement of evicted tenants represent simply the familiar device of transferring a nuisance from oneself to one’s neighbour.”1
Knowing this was the case, and not wanting to become entangled in legal disputes that could last for years, the Jewish organizations preferred to buy land free of any such landless tenants:
It was only after property completely free of tenant farmers could not be found that Jewish organizations began purchasing land used by them. This inspired "apprehensions concerning the fate of Palestine's Arabs in a Jewish state. Most of the Arabs were farmers; what would become of them once the country passed to the Jews? They would be dispossessed, 'and without land, the Arabs will have nothing to do.'"6
How Many Landless Arabs?
As defined in the introduction, these were Arabs who were dispossessed and never secured any alternate land to live and work on. How many Arabs were rendered landless directly because of Zionist land purchase? The quick answer is approximately 3,300. How I arrived there is detailed below.
"The ultimate official but inaccurate estimates of landless Arabs displaced by Jewish land purchase were achieved through the efforts of the Development Department... That estimate, based upon the narrowest of definitions of what constituted a landless Arab, found that less than 900 Arabs were displaced because of Jewish land purchase. There is little doubt that Jewish land purchase and Arab land sales forced a greater number of fellaheen from land they had traditionally cultivated and used for grazing. But in the absence of accurate information on the former status of cultivators, or of the intermediary activities of Arab landlords, merchants, lawyers, and other individuals who acted as land brokers, no true assessment of landless or displaced Arabs could then, or now, objectively be made."7
It seems a more accurate estimate can be made using data from Lewis French's in-depth investigations into Arab landlessness. French was Britain's Director of Development for Palestine and using data from his reports, it appears closer to 3,300 Arabs were displaced by Jewish land purchases. French's methods for counting landless Arabs are explained in detail:
"The tribunal which was appointed to investigate claims decided to admit as entitled to resettlement Arabs who have been displaced from the land which they occupied in consequence of those lands having passed into Jewish hands, and who have failed to obtain other holdings on which to establish themselves or equally satisfactory occupation, subject to the following exceptions:--
1. Persons who have themselves sold their land, that is, owners who of their own free will have sold their lands;
2. Persons who own land elsewhere;
3. Persons who have found and are now cultivating as tenants land other than that from which they were displaced;
4. Persons who obtained land after the sale of the land from which they were displaced, but have since ceased to cultivate it on account of poverty or other reasons;
5. Persons who were not cultivators at the time of the sale, for example, ploughmen and labourers."8
With the definition of who qualified to be considered a landless Arab established along with the mechanism for validating the claims, French thought “It was obvious that, whether this extensive area has been bought from large Arab proprietors or from small land holders, the acquisitions for permanent settlement by immigrants could not have been effected without considerable displacement of existing cultivators.”10.
But the reality did not meet French's expectations. In fact, after investigating Arab landless claims for over a year with his opinion on the outcome already formed, "by March 1932 it was clear that the number of landless Arab families did not reach the figure of thousands, as expected; there were only 664 families to be dealt with.'"11 "... although 3,271 applications for re-settlement had been received from landless Arabs, only 664 had been admitted to the register, while 2,607 had been disallowed."12
There were on average 5 members to a Palestinian Arab family.13 14 27 28 29 This means that 3,300+ Arabs were relegated to a landless class out of a total of roughly 700,000 Arabs in Palestine which is not quite one half of one percent of the Arab population. This is why the widely held conclusion is that Palestinian Arabs, largely, were not dispossessed by immigrating Jews:
Is roughly one half of one percent of a population ending up landless enough to serve as a major contribution to such a grand struggle? It doesn't seem to add up. Even if every single case of a landless Arab served as an example of harsh and unjust Zionist treatment, half a percent of the population being evicted from land they often times didn't own just doesn't sound like a mobilizing factor in itself.
As it turns out, there wasn't much harsh or unjust treatment going on. These landless Arabs were not left to roam Palestine without regard for their well-being or future livelihoods. Many of them reached agreements with the Jewish purchasers to evacuate the land willingly:
In addition to favorable agreements being privately reached between Jewish buyer and Arab tenant, a slew of laws and ordinances were passed with these landless Arabs in mind, whether to keep them from becoming landless in the first place, or to assist them in the event they ended up that way. The next page will look at this in depth.
1 French, Lewis. "Supplementary Report on Agricultural Development and Land Settlement in Palestine," Director of Development, Jerusalem, April 20, 1932
2 Shabtai Teveth, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs - From Peace to War, Pp. 31-32
3 Shabtai Teveth, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs - From Peace to War, Pg. 43
4 Avneri, Aryeh L. The Claim of Dispossession: Jewish Land-Settlement and the Arabs 1878-1948. Efal, Israel: Yad Tabenkin, 1982. 178-179.
5 Stein, Kenneth W. "The Jewish National Fund: Land Purchase Methods and Priorities, 1924-1939". Middle Eastern Studies, Volume 20, Number 2, April 1984.
6 Shabtai Teveth, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs - From Peace to War, Pg. 139
7 Stein, Kenneth W. The Land Question in Palestine, 1917-1939. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984. 110
8 League of Nations. Report by His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the Council of the League of Nations on the Administration of Palestine and Trans-Jordan For the Year 1933. 31 December 1933.
9 French, Lewis. Supplementary Report on Agricultural Development and Land Settlement in Palestine. 1932.
10 French, Lewis. "First Report on Agricultural Development and Land Settlement in Palestine," Director of Development, Jerusalem, December 23,1931
11 "The Tenants of Wadi Hawarith: Another View of the Land Question in Palestine" by Raya Adler, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2. (May, 1988), pg. 208. (Referencing Cunliffe-Lister Memorandum to HMG, March 1932, P.R.O., C07331215/97050/9)
12 A Survey of Palestine, Vol. I, Pg. 296
13 French, Lewis. "First Report on Agricultural Development and Land Settlement in Palestine," Director of Development, Jerusalem, December 23,1931.
14 Demograhpic data coming from the Johnson-Crosbie report reinforces the estimate of 5 members per family where 23,573 families represent 136,044 rural Arabs, totalling 5.3 persons per family. Stein, Kenneth W. The Land Question in Palestine, 1917-1939. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984. 109
15 New York Times, June 25, 1922. (Quoting Bernard Rosenblatt on May 23, 1922) http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=990DE4DD1E3FE432A25756C2A9609C946395D6CF
16 Palestine Royal Commission, Chapter IX
17 Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, Chapter VIII
18 http://www.mideastweb.org/palpop.htm (Internet Archive confirms quote as of June 27, 2007)
19 Stein, Kenneth W. One Hundred Years of Social Change: The Creation of the Palestinian Refugee Problem. 1991.
21 Stein, Kenneth W. The Land Question in Palestine, 1917-1939, Pg. 142
22 Stein, Kenneth W. Legal Protection and Circumvention of Rights for Cultivators in Mandatory Palestine
23 Stein, Kenneth W. Legal Protection and Circumvention of Rights for Cultivators in Mandatory Palestine
24 Stein, Kenneth W. Legal Protection and Circumvention of Rights for Cultivators in Mandatory Palestine
25 Stein, Kenneth W. Legal Protection and Circumvention of Rights for Cultivators in Mandatory Palestine
26 Stein, Kenneth W. One Hundred Years of Social Change: The Creation of the Palestinian Refugee Problem. 1991.
27 According to the Encyclopedia Britannica of 1885, there were an average of 5 persons per Palestinian family. Blumberg, Arnold. Zion Before Zionism, 1838-1880. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1985. 170
28 Pinner, Walter. The Legend of the Arab Refugees; A Critical Study of UNRWA's Reports and Statistics. Tel Aviv: Economic and Social Research Institute, 1967. 52-53.
29 A Bedouin camp was recorded as having "113 families, or 563 souls" which gives us 4.98 persons per family. - Avneri, Aryeh L. The Claim of Dispossession: Jewish Land-Settlement and the Arabs 1878-1948. Efal, Israel: Yad Tabenkin, 1982. 147.