Below are quotes made by historians and other writers, journalists about the notable laid waste of “Palestine” which leads logically to the question, where were all those “palestinian arabs”?
De Haas: “The real source of the interest in the problem was the condition of Palestine; empty, silent, waste, ruin between 1840 and 1880″ (De Haas, History, p. 407). (citing De Haas, Jacob, History of Palestine: The Last Two Thousand Years, New York: Macmillan, 1934 )
Carl Herman Voss: “In the twelve and a half centuries between the Arab conquest in the seventh centuries and the beginning of the Jewish return in the 1880′s, Palestine was laid waste. It’s ancient canal and irrigation system were destroyed and the wondrous fertility of which the Bible spoke vanished into desert and desolation… Under the Ottoman Empire of the Turks, the policy of disfoilation continued; the hillsides were denuded of trees and the valleys robbed of their topsoil” (The Palestine Problem Today, Israel and It’s Neighbors, Boston, 1953, p. 13).
Ernst Frankenstine: “It was in 1878, Harsh conditions forced many groups to immigrate into Palestine; Circassian, Algerians, Egyptians, Druses, Turks, Kurds, Bosnians, and others. 141,000 settled Muslims living in all of Palestine (all areas) in 1882, at least 25% of those 141,000 were new comers who arrived after 1831 from the Egyptian conquest.” (Ernst Frankenstine, Justice for my people, London, Nicholson and Watson, 1943 p. 127).
Mark Twain: “We traversed some miles of desolate country whose soil is rich enough but given wholly to weeds – a silent mournful expanse… A desolation is here that not even the imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action. We reached Tabor safely… We never saw another human being on the whole route. We pressed on to the goal of our crusade, renowned Jerusalem. The further we went the hotter the sun got and the more rocky and bare, repulsive and dreary the landscape became… There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country. No landscape exists that is more tiresome to the eye than that which bounds the approaches to Jerusalem… Jerusalem is mournful, dreary and lifeless. I would not desire to live there. It is a hopeless, dreary, heartbroken land… Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes. Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered it fields and fettered its energies… Palestine is desolate and unlovely. And why should it be otherwise? Can the curse of the Deity beautify a land? Palestine is no more of this work-day world.”
(Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad, pp. 349)
Jerusalem Commerce reports: “1840, Jerusalem’s population of 15,000 of whom 8,000 Jews, 4,500 Muslims, and the rest Christians” (No. 238, report of Commerce of Jerusalem during the year 1863, F.O. 195/808, May 1864). (Please note, that the population of Jerusalem was always majority Jews.)
Alfons de Lamartine, in his “Recollections of the East,” Volume 1, page 238 (London 1845), writes; “Outside of the walls of Jerusalem, however, we saw no living being, heard no human voice. We encountered that desolation and that deadly silence which we would have expected to find at the ruined gates of Pompeii… A total eternal dread envelopes the cities, the highways and the villages…a burial ground of an entire people.”
Professor Sir John William Dosson, in his “Modern Science in Bible Lands,” pages 449-450 (London 1888), writes; Until today, no people has succeeded in establishing national dominion in the land of Israel…No national unity, or spirit of nationalism has acquired any hold there. The mixed multitude of itinerant tribes that managed to settle there did so on lease, as temporary residents. It seems that they await the return of the permanent residents of the land.”
In 1738, the land was described by the English archeologist Thomas Shaw as “lacking in people to till its fertile soil” (Travels and Observations Relating to Several Parts of Barbary and the Levant).
The French historian Conte Constantine Francois Volney writes:
“The peasants are incessantly making inroads on each other’s lands, destroying their corn, durra, sesame and olive-trees, and carrying off their sheep, goats and camels. The Turks, who are everywhere negligent in repressing similar disorders, are attentive to them here, since their authority is very precarious. The Bedouin, whose camps occupy the level country, are continually at open hostilities with them, of which the peasants avail themselves to resist their authority or do mischief to each other, according to the blind caprice of their ignorance or the interest of the moment. Hence arises an anarchy which is still more dreadful than the despotism that prevails elsewhere, while the mutual the contending parties renders the appearance of devastation of this part of Syria more wretched than that of any other.” (Travels Through Syria and Egypt in the Years 1783, 1784, and 1785)
There were, in addition to the local disputes, actual wars. In the beginning of the nineteenth century Napoleon’s armies invaded the land; in 1831 it was conquered by the Egyptians, and nine years later again by the Turks. All these – in addition to the internal fighting – created in the country a climate of insecurity, which led to a sharp decline in its physical state and to the emigration of its inhabitants, who left in search of better living conditions elsewhere. Many of those who nevertheless stayed and continued to work their land were forced to relinquish ownership of it and find refuge with people of means or with the Muslim religious endowment fund (“the wakf”). A situation was created, then, in which the true owners of the lands did not reside on them, but leased them to others while they themselves spent their lives in such distant places as Damascus, Beirut, and Cairo.
H. B. Tristram, who wrote of his travels in the Holy Land in his 1865 book The Land of Israel.- A Journal of Travels in Palestine, presents a revealing description of the living conditions in the Land of Israel as he found them in the middle of the nineteenth century:
“A few years ago, the whole Ghor (Jordan Valley) was in the hands of the fellahin and much of it cultivated for corn. Now the whole of it is in the hands of the Bedouin, who eschew all agriculture except in a few spots cultivated here and there by their slaves; and with the Bedouin come lawlessness and the uprooting of all Turkish authority. No government is now acknowledged on the east side; and unless the Porte acts with greater firmness and caution than is his wont… Palestine will be desolated and given up to the nomads.”
Alexander Keith, recalling Volney’s 1785 description (quoted above) fifty years later, commented:
“In his day [Volney's] the land had not fully reached its last degree of desolation and depopulation.” (The Land of Israel).
Other travelers and pilgrims recorded similar reports of the dreary state of the Land around the middle of the nineteenth century. Here are just a few examples:
Alphonse de Lamartine, in 1835:
“…a complete eternal silence reigns in the town, on the highways, in the country … the tomb of a whole people” (Recollections of the East, Vol. I, p. 308).
A contemporary German encyclopedia (Brockhaus, “Allegmeine deutsche Real- Encyklopaidie”, Vol. VIII, p. 206, Leipzig, 1827) calls Palestine “desolate and roamed through by Arab robber-bands.”
In 1849, the American W. F. Lynch described the desertion of Palestinian villages “caused by the frequent forays of the wandering Bedouin” (Narrative of the United States Expedition to the River Jordan and the Dead Sea, p. 489).
And again H. B. Tristram, in 1865: “… both in the north and south (of the Sharon plain), land is going out of cultivation, and whole villages are rapidly disappearing from the face of the earth. Since the year 1838, no less than 20 villages have been thus erased from the map (by the Bedouin) and the stationary population extirpated” (p. 490).
Referring to the same time that Mark Twain visited, the Christian historian James Parkes writes in Whose Land?: “Peasant and Bedouin alike have contributed to the ruin of the countryside on which both depend for a livelihood… In spite of the immense fertility of the soil, it is probable that in the first half of the nineteenth century the population sank to the lowest level it had ever known in historic times.”
As late as 1880, the American consul in Jerusalem reported the area was continuing its historic decline.
“The population and wealth of Palestine has not increased during the last forty years,” he said.
The Report of the Palestine Royal Commission quotes an account of the Maritime Plain in 1913:
The road leading from Gaza to the north was only a summer track suitable for transport by camels and carts…no orange groves, orchards or vineyards were to be seen until one reached [the Jewish village of] Yabna [Yavne]….Houses were all of mud. No windows were anywhere to be seen….The ploughs used were of wood….The yields were very poor….The sanitary conditions in the village were horrible. Schools did not exist….The western part, towards the sea, was almost a desert….The villages in this area were few and thinly populated. Many ruins of villages were scattered over the area, as owing to the prevalence of malaria, many villages were deserted by their inhabitants.
Lewis French, the British Director of Development wrote of Palestine:
We found it inhabited by fellahin who lived in mud hovels and suffered severely from the prevalent malaria….Large areas…were uncultivated….The fellahin, if not themselves cattle thieves, were always ready to harbor these and other criminals. The individual plots…changed hands annually. There was little public security, and the fellahin’s lot was an alternation of pillage and blackmail by their neighbors, the Bedouin.
Surprisingly, many people who were not sympathetic to the Zionist cause believed the Jews would improve the condition of Palestinian Arabs. For example, Dawood Barakat, editor of the Egyptian paper AlAhram, wrote: “It is absolutely necessary that an entente be made between the Zionists and Arabs, because the war of words can only do evil. The Zionists are necessary for the country: The money which they will bring, their knowledge and intelligence, and the industriousness which characterizes them will contribute without doubt to the regeneration of the country.”
Even a leading Arab nationalist believed the return of the Jews to their homeland would help resuscitate the country. According to Sherif Hussein, the guardian of the Islamic Holy Places in Arabia:
The resources of the country are still virgin soil and will be developed by the Jewish immigrants. One of the most amazing things until recent times was that the Palestinian used to leave his country, wandering over the high seas in every direction. His native soil could not retain a hold on him, though his ancestors had lived on it for 1000 years. At the same time we have seen the Jews from foreign countries streaming to Palestine from Russia,
Germany, Austria, Spain, America. The cause of causes could not escape those who had a gift of deeper insight. They knew that the country was for its original sons (abna’ihilasliyin), for all their differences, a sacred and beloved homeland. The return of these exiles (jaliya) to their homeland will prove materially and spiritually [to be] an experimental school for their brethren who are with them in the fields, factories, trades and in all things
connected with toil and labor.
A Population Boom
As Hussein foresaw, the regeneration of Palestine, and the growth of its population, came only after Jews returned in massive numbers. The Jewish population increased by 470,000 between World War I and World War II while the nonJewish population rose by 588,000. In fact, the permanent Arab population increased 120 percent between 1922 and 1947.
This rapid growth was a result of several factors. One was immigration from neighboring states-constituting 37 percent of the total immigration to prestate Israel-by Arabs who wanted to take advantage of the higher standard of living the Jews had made possible. The Arab population also grew because of the improved living conditions created by the Jews as they drained malarial swamps and brought improved sanitation and health care to the region.
Thus, for example, the Muslim infant mortality rate fell from 201 per thousand in 1925 to 94 per thousand in 1945 and life expectancy rose from 37 years in 1926 to 49 in 1943.
The Arab population increased the most in cities with large Jewish populations that had created new economic opportunities. From 19221947, the nonJewish population increased 290 percent in Haifa, 131 percent in Jerusalem and 158 percent in Jaffa. The growth in Arab towns was more modest: 42 percent in Nablus, 78 percent in Jenin and 37 percent in Bethlehem.
Jewish Land Purchases
Despite the growth in their population, the Arabs continued to assert they were being displaced. The truth is from the beginning of World War I, part of Palestine’s land was owned by absentee landlords who lived in Cairo, Damascus and Beirut. About 80 percent of the Palestinian Arabs were debtridden peasants, seminomads and Bedouins.
Jews actually went out of their way to avoid purchasing land in areas where Arabs might be displaced. They sought land that was largely uncultivated, swampy, cheap and, most important, without tenants. In 1920, Labor Zionist leader David BenGurion expressed his concern about the Arab fellahin, whom he viewed as “the most important asset of the native population.” BenGurion said “under no circumstances must we touch land belonging to fellahs or
worked by them.” He advocated helping liberate them from their oppressors. “Only if a fellah leaves his place of settlement,” BenGurion added, “should we offer to buy his land, at an appropriate price.”
It was only after the Jews had bought all of this available land that they began to purchase cultivated land. Many Arabs were willing to sell because of the migration to coastal towns and because they needed money to invest in the citrus industry.
When John Hope Simpson arrived in Palestine in May 1930, he observed: “They [Jews] paid high prices for the land, and in addition they paid to certain of the occupants of those lands a considerable amount of money which they were not legally bound to pay.”
In 1931, Lewis French conducted a survey of landlessness and eventually offered new plots to any Arabs who had been “dispossessed.” British officials received more than 3,000 applications, of which 80 percent were ruled invalid by the Government’s legal adviser because the applicants were not landless Arabs. This left only about 600 landless Arabs, 100 of whom accepted the Government land offer.
In April 1936, a new outbreak of Arab attacks on Jews was instigated by a Syrian guerrilla named Fawzi alQawukji, the commander of the Arab Liberation Army. By November, when the British finally sent a new commission headed by Lord Peel to investigate, 89 Jews had been killed and more than 300 wounded.
The Peel Commission’s report found that Arab complaints about Jewish land acquisition were baseless. It pointed out that “much of the land now carrying orange groves was sand dunes or swamp and uncultivated when it was purchased….there was at the time of the earlier sales little evidence that the owners possessed either the resources or training needed to develop the land.” Moreover, the Commission found the shortage was “due less to the amount of
land acquired by Jews than to the increase in the Arab population.” The report concluded that the presence of Jews in Palestine, along with the work of the British Administration, had resulted in higher wages, an improved standard of living and ample employment opportunities.
In his memoirs, Transjordan’s King Abdullah wrote:
It is made quite clear to all, both by the map drawn up by the Simpson Commission and by another compiled by the Peel Commission, that the Arabs are as prodigal in selling their land as they are in useless wailing and weeping (author’s emphasis).
Even at the height of the Arab revolt in 1938, the British High Commissioner to Palestine believed the Arab landowners were complaining about sales to Jews to drive up prices for lands they wished to sell. Many Arab landowners had been so terrorized by Arab rebels they decided to leave Palestine and sell their property to the Jews.
The Jews were paying exorbitant prices to wealthy landowners for small tracts of arid land. “In 1944, Jews paid between $1,000 and $1,100 per acre in Palestine, mostly for arid or semiarid land; in the same year, rich black soil in Iowa was selling for about $110 per acre.”
By 1947, Jewish holdings in Palestine amounted to about 463,000 acres. Approximately 45,000 of these acres were acquired from the Mandatory Government; 30,000 were bought from various churches and 387,500 were purchased from Arabs. Analyses of land purchases from 1880 to 1948 show that 73 percent of Jewish plots were purchased from large landowners, not poor fellahin. Those who sold land included the mayors of Gaza, Jerusalem and Jaffa. As’ad elShuqeiri, a Muslim religious scholar and father of PLO chairman Ahmed Shuqeiri, took Jewish money for his land. Even King Abdullah leased land to the Jews. In fact, many leaders of the Arab nationalist movement, including members of the Muslim Supreme Council, sold land to Jews.