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.
- “[Musa] Alami agreed with Ben-Gurion that the condition of the Arab fellah and worker was better in Palestine than in Transjordan and the neighboring Arab countries, but the fact was that the Arabs had lost many of their economic strongholds.”1
- “Up till now the Arab cultivator has benefited on the whole both from the work of the British Administration and the presence of Jews in the country, but the greatest care must now be exercised to see that in the event of further sales of land by Arabs to Jews the rights of any Arab tenants or cultivators are preserved.”2
- “The Peel Commission took the view that the enterprise of the Jews in agriculture and industry had brought large, if indirect, benefits to the Arabs in raising their standard of living. Though a very large part of the Jewish purchases of land has been made from absentee landlords, many of them living outside Palestine, it is probable that many Arab farmers who have sold part of their land to the Jews have been able to make use of the money to improve the cultivation of their remaining holdings. The improvement of health conditions in many parts of the country, while due in part to the activities of Government and in part to the efforts of the Arabs themselves, has undoubtedly been assisted by the work of the Jewish settlers. It is also argued that the Jewish population has conferred substantial indirect benefits on the Arabs through its contribution to the public revenue.”3
- “On the average, the economic situation of the Arab population of Palestine improved substantially during the Mandatory period, despite enormous demographic growth, and was probably considerably better, on the average, than that of other countries in the Middle East.”4
- "The Arab cultivator of Palestine is a man similar in temperament, standard of life and agricultural practices to many of the Muslim cultivators with whose conditions I have been familiar in the north-west of India. He appears, however, to enjoy a slightly higher percentage of literacy and a very acute intelligence. He may be compared favourably in the latter respect with certain of the peasant classes in Southern Europe."5
- “It is quite true that within the Jewish economy the Jewish labour movement advocated the hiring of Jewish, and not Arab, workers. But simultaneously it embarked on a propaganda campaign in the Arab community aimed at assisting the development and organization of an Arab working class. Providing the toiling Arab masses with a strong and organized labour movement was in its direct interest, as this would help to bring about the ‘Europeanization of the Oriental economy’ and thus eliminate the competition of cheap Arab labour. Arabs and Jews – especially in the mandatory’s public sector – could then unite in a common struggle for European levels of wages and working conditions.”6
- “It appears that by his intention to organize the Arab worker, Ben-Gurion wished, in time, to raise his wage level and improve his social conditions, thereby benefiting the Jewish worker too.”7
- "Government expenditure on health went to hospitals, village clinics and the quarantine service, amongst other things. The low level of government participation in the social service sector was typical of colonial administrations. Few countries, the O'Donnell Commission reported, and certainly none in the Near and Far East, had so many privately owned hospitals and clinics in proportion to population as Palestine did."8
- "In the sphere of education, expenditure increased by 21 per cent between 1933-34 and 1936-37. The government gave grants-in-aid to the autonomous Jewish sector but was more directly active in Arab education. The Jews received the financial help on the basis of a formula worked out by the government and the Jewish Agency in 1934. A grant was given to the Jews in the same proportion as the number of Arab children in the government schools to the total Arab school-age population.76 Large sums were also given towards school buildings under the `Public Works Extraordinary' allocations. A sum of P121,337 [pounds sterling] was spent in anticipation of the loan. Although the Royal Commission set up to investigate the disturbances of 1936 was very critical about the paucity of educational facilities, especially for the Arabs, intentions to increase real expenditure on this sector never materialized because of the Arab Rebellion."9
- "The large influx of Jewish immigrants into Palestine in the 1930s led to a proliferation of banks in the country which necessitated government legal action to bring them under control. The Arabs for the most part remained dependent on the moneylenders who, as noted above, exacted high interest rates on their loans. As part of the development policy for Palestine begun, resulting from the events of 1929, the British set up an agricultural mortgage bank and cooperative societies to help the Arabs break the vicious circle of debt and poverty.
Numerous reports, private journals and travellers' notes bear witness to the vicious circle of debt and poverty which made up the lives of the Palestinian fellaheen. With 45 per cent of the country's population dependent on agriculture for its livelihood, and 90 per cent of total exports being made up of agricultural produce, rural indebtedness was a crucial problem which the British Administration tried to alleviate. Up until 1929, it had concentrated on issuing loans for immediate needs: the aftermath of the First World War, drought, etc. It was more of a stop-gap policy.
Following on the 1929 riots and the findings of the Shaw Report, and the separate inquiries by the Johnson-Crosbie Committee, which looked into the problem of rural debt; the Strickland Report, which discussed ways of introducing co-operative societies for debt alleviation; the Hope-Simpson Report, on immigration, land settlement and development; and the two French reports, the British made it part of their policy to help the fellah financially. In addition to supporting the system of rural credit cooperatives, the government continued to seek ways to increase the availability of credit through loans and the establishment of an agricultural mortgage company.
c) Co-operative Credit Societies: The Jews were instrumental in introducing the co-operative systems in Palestine, when, prior to World War I, they set up associations for collective marketing, processing, purchasing and borrowing. On the basis of their experience of co-operative societies in India, the British provided a legal framework for the societies in Palestine to function. Little was done, however, to encourage the formation of societies amongst the Arab peasantry until 1930.
A committee was appointed in 1930 to examine the economic conditions of the fellaheen and make recommendations on how they can be helped. The committee's report, the Johnson-Crosbie Report, based on a survey of 104 Arab villages, showed how the fellah could settle his debts with the moneylender, since on average, each fellah family owed P27 [pounds sterling] in debts but earned a net income of only P25 [pounds sterling] per year. The average interest rates charged of 30-50 per cent ensured the perpetuation of the fellah's indebtedness. The committee made strong recommendations to establish village co-operative bodies, arguing that although the Palestinian `mentality' was not favourable to co-operation, there did exist the kafalet mutasalsileh (mutual guarantee system) in villages. The British then duly sent out C.F. Strickland of the Indian Civil Service to investigate further the economy of the fellah and make recommendations on the introduction of co-operative credit societies."10
- "There is certainly no incompatibility between the economic interests of the local Arab population and the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine, open to the influx of Jewish repatriates. Even the most ardent opponents of Jewish statehood have ceased to use the argument that Jewish mass immigration leads to impoverishment and dispossession of Palestine’s present Arab inhabitants or prejudice to their eventual progeny."11
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
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."13
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.