Peters prefaces this chapter with two quotations. The first is from a remarkable Anglican clergyman, James Parkes, born on Guernsey, he fought in WW 1, and spent substantial time on the Continent. There, he witnessed virulent anti-Semitism that he attributed to certain Christian teachings. He wrote several books concerning this and campaigned for re-thinking those elements of Christianity. The quotation is from his book “Whose Land?” (1949):
The same Arab politicians who protested that they cared nothing for the money that the Jews brought into the country…showed no such contempt when it came to the treatment of their own peasantry.
There were many such witnesses in England and in Palestine to the same Arab cynicism during the Turkish period, many of them sympathetic to Jewish settlement of the Holy Land. There were enough that by 1917 the British government gave its imprimatur to the landmark policy document authored by Foreign Secretary James Arthur Balfour, known as the Balfour Declaration, and whose centenary we celebrate this year:
His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
This chapter explores the period just prior to Balfour in the mostly barren Turkish province later known as the Palestine mandate. There we shall become acquainted with the ideological/political forces, especially the “replacement“ canard, that were ultimately to frustrate implementation of the good intentions of the Balfour Declaration even to our day. [Editor]
Peters traces the Arab claim of “displacement” from the Holy Land under Turkish rule to 1878, when Circassians, Algerians, Druse, Turks, and others settled there. An historian estimated that as of 1882, 35,000 of the 141,000 settled Arabs in all of Palestine were these newcomers or descendants of those who arrived after 1831. Among the many foreigners who settled under Turkish rule in Jaffa, at least 2,000 had been imported. In 1860 Algerian tribes moved en masse to Safed and 6000 Beni Sukhr Arabs came to Jerusalem. The Turkish occupying government guarded its administration with continual additions of Muslims.
In 1859, British Consul Finn remarked on “a thinly scattered population”, even of “Mohommedans” and that the Muslims in Jerusalem “…are less fanatical than in other places”, owing to the fact that they comprised only a quarter of the population there; most of the rest were Jews and Christians. And overall, he reported the Holy Land…,”almost empty of inhabitants”. Likewise, a British Commission of Enquiry visited Beisan [Beit She’an—Editor] in1878 and 1928 and was struck by the desolation of the land. Quoting a later summary of the reports Peters writes that the area was, “…exposed to raids by marauding Bedouin from Jordan, abandoned by the cultivator, scarcely cultivated”.
Meanwhile, the Sephardic Jewish population grew since the Turkish Sultan passed laws encouraging settlerment. At mid-19th century, a “considerable number” of Jewish immigrants settled in Jerusalem, Safed, Hebron, and Tiberias. At the time they comprised about 50% of Jerusalem’s inhabitants.
By the 1870’s, despite attacks from Muslim neighbours, foreign born Jewish pioneers came to join the indigenous Jewish fellahin [Arab sing. Falaah, an agricultural worker, peasant—Editor] to cultivate the land – decades before Herzl’s Zionism, and this helped them shed their dhimmi status elsewhere in Palestine.
Jewish development benefited three Arab groups: the landless Arabs who sought work wherever it was; former landed peasants rendered destitute by Arab moneylenders, feudal landlords, and Turkish taxes; effendis (notables) who sold land to Jews at astronomical prices. Even as Arabs sold land, they also incited violence against Jews, Meanwhile, Arabs from Egypt, Syria, Sudan and Libya sought out Jewish employers for better pay and working conditions. Agricultural development preceded that of other industries in Palestine.
From the 1870’s, the Turkish ruler of Jerusalem curtailed Jewish immigration and land transactions, until the Turks’ defeat by Britain in 1918 at the end of World War One.
Jews came in 1914 from Eastern Europe and Asia, many to escape pogroms. Hundreds of Yemeni, Persian, Kurdish, Syrian and other Jews entered Palestine in 1881. They too were attacked by Muslims, and no Jewish settlement was established without violent deaths at the hands of marauding bedouin. And in 1892 a Presbyterian minister reported that in Jerusalem “Police hunted Persian Jews… like wild beasts, driving them by blows into that extemporised store-prison… and shipped off”.
In 1893, before “displacement” arose as a propaganda technique, bolder Jews filed grievances, for example, for being disallowed from defending themselves against insult. A letter from Jewish leaders to the British Consul plead for rights, which were “unjustly withheld for no other reason than we are Jews”. An extensive Yale study put the molestation of Jews down to “deeply-rooted religious tolerance”.
Later, the founding of the Zionist movement only in 1897 followed the publication a year earlier of Herzl’s Der Judenstaat. Despite an eminent French study of 1895 concluding, “No more than one tenth of Palestine has been tilled by anyone,” the First Zionist Congress of 1897 heralded trouble for Jewish settlers. Jews from other Turkish areas were already prohibited; now, foreign Israelites were prohibited.
Many Arab-Christians joined in the Muslim contempt for Jews. Others, possibly mindful that Jews and Christians were both considered dhimmi in Muslim eyes, supported the Jews in the hope that together they could comprise a majority and curtail Muslim predation.
Arab notables were torn regarding the Jewish presence. They benefited from Jewish purchase of land while demanding such purchase be banned. Neville Mandel noted that an Arab in Haifa, “…spent 18 hours a day” thinking of “benefits” brought by Jews and the other, “….six hours suspected them of wanting to establish a Jewish state in Palestine”.
Arabs continued to immigrate from Egypt and Transjordan, including sections that lay outside of what would one day be Israel. These Arab migrants, who unceasingly flooded these areas of opportunity under the British mandate (1919-1948), would later ironically be called “displaced Arabs”. In reality, it was the Jews who lost their rightful places, replaced by itinerant Arabs.
The reaction of Arabs to Jewish settlement was schizoid. Thus they hastened to fill openings for workers in Jewish settlements – places bought for Jewish refugees – as effendis [from the Turkish term for “Lord” or “Master”—Editor] coveted land-sale profits, yet received rents from the Arabs who displaced them. Indeed, statistics from 1913 showed no advance in Jewish acreage since 1897.
Rather than being “displaced” by Jews, Arabs set out to instill fear of Jews, raising the spectre of Jew as oppressor. “…The Jew is becoming a traitor prepared to plunder his neighbour to take possession of his goods”. Effendi Ruhi Bey in 1909, “Jews would displace the Arab farmers from their lands and their fathers’ heritage”. The mantra would be swallowed whole by much of the world for most of the century. In 1911 an Arab land official claimed Jews were disloyal Ottoman soldiers, and “would later shoot the Arabs”. Through taxation, as Arab had stripped Arab of land and money, so now Jews would be blamed.
The same tactic of accusing Jews of displacing Arabs would be used in 1948. The poetry, in November, 1913, of Sheikh Sulayman al Taji, described Jews as “sons of clinking gold… Stop your deceit”. That same month, Jews were murdered in kibbutzim.
By World War I, antisemitism, whether called “Ottomanism”, “anti-Zionism”, or “Arab nationalism”, had evolved into Muftism, after the Grand Mufti, Haj alAmin alHusseini, had melded his Islamic anti-Semitism with Hitler’s Nazism. As Britain’s Commander in Chief and Palestine’s High Commissioner would conclude in 1938, Arabs in Palestine who opposed terror feared that if they opposed terrorism, they would be targeted. So the British allowed the Mufti to cooperate with the Nazis and murder hundreds of thousands of European Jews whom the Nazis had earmarked for Palestine. [For more on Muftism, see Chapt. 17, “’Muftism’ and Britain’s Contribution to the Final Solution”–Editor]
On December 17, 1914, the Turkish officer Baha-ud Din [after seeing to the mass slaughter of Armenians—Editor] boasted of doing likewise to the Jews. He ordered all Jews who were not Ottoman subjects deported, and had whole families thrown in jail as an example. Hebrew, which had been used for generations was banned – in newspapers, signs, postage stamps – also banning stamps with Herzl’s picture, as well as local currency used in the larger Jewish settlements. Jewish settlers were cut off from funds from abroad, and from exporting goods. Jewish males who couldn’t pay crippling “patriotic contributions” were put in labour battalions as punishment. Ravages of war, and epidemics such as locusts, typhus and cholera, diminished the population from 85,000 to 58,000 by war’s end.
By 1917, the British were advancing towards Jerusalem. Many in Britain made proposals for what was to be the “liberation” of the Jews in Palestine. The British press stated, “A British Palestine must be a Jewish Palestine”. A Turkish-German proposition for Jewish self-governance and immigration was written, but before Constantinople could officially accept the proposal, Palestine was, “in General Allenby’s hands”.
On November 2, 1917, the British government published a “statement of policy” that became known as the “Balfour Declaration”. It reads:
His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish People, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any country.
If it were not for Turkish restrictions on Jews entering and buying land, hundreds of thousands more Jews may have settled in Palestine before the turn of the century. As it was, the proportion of Jews living in the Jewish-settled areas of Palestine was far greater than has ever been recognized.