The More Significant Impact of Zionism in Palestine

*This article is part of a series*

       For centuries before Zionism brought Jews to Palestine or before WWI brought the British, the Ottoman Empire with its Arab population had opportunity to better the lives of the peasantry. No attempt was made. Both the government and the moneyed class of Arab land owners incessantly victimized the poor and dispossessed them of land ownership as has already been covered. Jewish land purchase played its part in dispossession and displacement, though by that time an unprecedented number of laws and ordinances to protect these Arabs from severe injustice were enacted. Taking this dispossession into consideration, it remains a fact that the net impact on the Arabs of Palestine due to the Jewish and British presence was positive in almost every measurable category.

Economic Performance and Standards of Living in Middle East Economies: 1932-193612
  Per Capita Income Industrial Daily Wages Per Capita Consumption of Foodstuff Net Productivity Per Agricultural Worker
Egypt 12 NA 16.0 90.1
Syria 13 50-310 19.0 97.6
Iraq 10 40-60 13.8 93.2
Transjordan NA NA NA 90.1
Arab Palestinians 19 70-500 22.9 186.3

Thanks, but No Thanks

       No conflict erupted between Arabs as extortion, economic oppression, Bedouin land theft, and urban trickery stripped away ownership from among Palestine's rural population. The Ottoman government was complicit in the dispossession, not guarding against it. There was no compensation paid to Arabs kicked off land they had lived on and worked for generations by effendi Arabs accumulating it to boost their socio-economic stature. By all accounts, the conflict should have been in full swing by the time Jews arrived in Palestine if it truly derived from injustice.

       Zionism came to Palestine and paid top dollar for land. Zionist purchasers dealt directly with Arab tenant farmers on the land and reached mutually beneficial agreements for them to evacuate it. An overwhelming majority of the Arab peasants willfully abandoned the land for money and were not forcibly uprooted and expelled. An unprecedented number of laws and ordinances were passed to assist the dispossessed or landless Arabs in every imaginable way. An extensive government safety net hung underneath the dispossessed in Palestine preventing much beyond inconvenience from afflicting the poor. At the zenith of government protection the Arab tenants' and squatters' rights surpassed those of the legal owner, and the net effect of Zionism in Palestine was a drastic improvement to the standard of living for the Arab community.

       However, none of this means the Arabs weren't free to choose nationalism and racial purity in Palestine to their own detriment. If nationalist-ethnic concerns trumped those for a better economy, better health care, better education, better productivity, and all around better standards of living, they were well within their rights to prioritize the former over the latter.

       "The [Royal] Commission pointed out that all politically articulate groups among the Palestinian Arabs refused to become an ethnic minority in a country ruled by a Jewish majority and that they would continue to do so even if it could be mathematically proved that they had nothing to fear and much to gain as to their future economic, religious, cultural and civic status. Fully endorsing the Commission’s view, the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava told the House of Lords on behalf of the British Government that the Arab-Jewish conflict in Palestine was fundamentally 'the result of conflicting ideals and not of conflicting interests;' he exposed 'the fallacy … on which Jewish elements have based many of their arguments … imagining that this matter can be solved on economic lines. It is no good to tell the Arab that his birth-rate has gone up by so many thousands, or that he is able to obtain goods at a lower price.' Five months later the then Secretary of State for the Colonies, Malcolm MacDonald, also stressed that 'the Arabs were not free to consider dispassionately the benefits which their country was getting from Jewish capital and activity. The material improvement was overlaid by a more serious consideration … They (the Arabs) were afraid that if Jewish immigration continued indefinitely, this energetic, wealthy incoming people would dominate them numerically, economically, politically and in every way in the land of their birth.'
       On July 20, 1939, in the House of Commons, Lt. Col. Sir Arnold Wilson, presenting the Arab case, made no attempt to deny 'the material benefit which has accrued to the inhabitants of Palestine' as a result of Jewish immigration. But,' he added, 'I lived long enough among Persians and Arabs to know that they are not exclusively concerned with material benefits … Nationalism is a growing force, with its good as well as bad sides. There is no possibility whatever of the Arabs accepting, as consolation for the loss of their homeland, a few more cinemas and a few more dentists, and two pairs of shoes where before they had one pair or none. There is no solution by that road here or elsewhere."

       It was this incipient nationalism brewing among Palestinian Arabs that best explains the reason conflict broke out. It was not that Zionists brought injustice to Palestine but that a non-Arab nationalism was taking root. The outrage by the political class of Palestinian Arabs about dispossession and landless Arabs was not at all because they cared for the peasantry; it was simply a political rallying cry to generate opposition. Had the most vocal critics of Zionist land purchase been at all sincere in their concerns, they would not have participated in selling land to Zionists. So let us not continue to parrot the tired, generic claim that Zionism disrupted Palestine and dispossessed its Arabs knowing full well this was nothing more than a political maneuver designed to damage the realization of a non-Arab nation.

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Navigate this series:

Part 1 - Introduction to Dispossession in Palestine
Part 2 - Arab Dispossession Methods
Part 3 - Jewish Dispossession Methods
Part 4 - How Many were Disposessed?
Part 5 - Arab Land Sales
Part 6 - Preventing Dispossession
Part 7 - Improvements for the Fellahin

1  Teveth, Shabtai. Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs: From Peace to War. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press, 1985. 133.
2  Great Britain, and William Robert Wellesley Peel Peel. Palestine Royal Commission Report. London: H.M. Stationery Office, 1937.
3  Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry. April 20, 1946.
4  Bachi, Roberto. The Population of Israel. Jewish population studies. [Jerusalem]: Institute of Contemporary Jewry, Hebrew University of Jerusalem [and] Demographic Center, Prime Minister's Office, 1974. 46.
5  Strickland, C. F. Report on the Possibility of Introducing a System of Agricultural Cooperation in Palestine. [Jerusalem]: Government of Palestine, 1930.
6  Caplan, Neil. "Arab-Jewish Contacts in Palestine After the First World War", Journal of Contemporary History, 12:4 (1977:Oct), Pg. 647
7  Shapiro, Anita. "The Ideology and Practice of the Joint Jewish-Arab Labour Union in Palestine, 1920-39". Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 12, No. 4 (Oct., 1977) 672.
8  El-Eini, R. I. M. "Government Fiscal Policy in Mandatory Palestine in the 1930s." Middle Eastern Studies. 33. 3 (1997): 570-596.
9  El-Eini, R. I. M. "Government Fiscal Policy in Mandatory Palestine in the 1930s." Middle Eastern Studies. 33. 3 (1997): 570-596.
10  El-Eini, R. I. M. "Government Fiscal Policy in Mandatory Palestine in the 1930s." Middle Eastern Studies. 33. 3 (1997): 570-596.
11  Schechtman, Joseph B. Population Transfers in Asia. New York: Hallsby Press, 1949. 92-93.
12  Gottheil, Fred M. "The Smoking Gun: Arab Immigration into Palestine, 1922-1931". The Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2003, Volume X: Number 1.
13  Schechtman, Joseph B. Population Transfers in Asia. New York: Hallsby Press, 1949. 93-94.