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The Land Question in Palestine, 1917-39 Paperback – 1 Mar 1987

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The first comprehensive, amply documented analysis of the land question in Palestine between the two world wars."New York Times"

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Palestine in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was a predominantly agricultural region. Read the first page
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15 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Not entirely accurate 31 Oct. 2006
By Seth J. Frantzman - Published on
Format: Paperback
The central theme here is Arab land sales to Jews. The central contention is that the British didnt do enough to regulate such sales, the Arabs were poor and duplicitous and the Jews used their lobby to get around the laws. But this book doesnt dare to ask some more probing questions. It doesnt bother to ask why there should have been land laws in the first place that forbid Jews from buying land. Such laws in England or a law in the United States barring, say Mexicans, from acquireing land would be racist, but somehow if it is in Palestine regulated by the English that is acceptable.

Then there is the question of how poor the Arabs really were. The leading Arab families were typical aristocrats, bourgouise, who owned all the land and had serfs(Fellahin) working for them. Many of these Arabs lived abroad in Lebanon and Syria(such as the Sursoks). They were fabulously wealthy and they over-charged Jews for fallow land, that Jews then turned into productive land. They were not poor or particularly fragmented, they simply got more money than their land was worth.

Since British racist policies failed in Palestine and rich aristocratic Arabs sold their land, it was left to the Arab nationalists in Jerusalem and Haifa to 'defend' Arab land from the immigrant Jews. But even these wealthy men, such as Hajj Amin al Husayni and the Christian Arabs of Haifa were unscucessful and many sold land anyway to Jews while murdering those Arabs accused of doing the very same thing.

Lastly the book doesnt discuss the role of the Greek-Orthodox Church which had exteinsive dealings with the Zionists and sold much land. To credit the all encompassing 'Zionist Lobby' for mysteriously getting around British laws, which were themselves racist, is both anti-semitic and reminds one of the Protocols.

Therefore this book has many problems, it doesn't understand the scope of the problem, it paints all Jews as part of a larger conspiracy to take away land from 'poor' Arabs, when in fact it was the Jews who were refugees buying from wealthy Arabs and being prevented from doing so by european racists. Lastly it doesnt question the logic of the laws or the role of the church.

Seth J. Frantzman
A Political and Cultural Problem Appearing to be Economic 5 Oct. 2014
By Edward Brynes - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is "The Land Question in Palestine": "In Mandatory Palestine from 1917 to 1939, were land purchases by Zionists the cause of Arab fellaheen having to give up their land?" In answering, the author admits that to some degree they were. "But the principal factor influencing Arab landlessness was the fellaheen's deteriorating economic condition." (p. 143) The typical fellah, owning or renting a small plot of land just about large enough for his family to survive, often heavily in debt due to bad harvest years and fluctuating commodity prices, did not have the capital to invest in more advanced equipment which in any case he did not understand. Typically he became landless because he was heavily in debt.His economic condition often worsened because ever since Ottoman times, large landowners, both Zionist and Arab, had been buying up land in large blocks. Those purchased by Zionists often included large areas of swampy or otherwise uncultivable land that they cleared and then made highly cultivable.

You can imagine a solution to the fellah's problem -- say, a combination of land reform, low-cost loans, and training in advanced agricultural methods -- but it would cost a lot of money which Britain did not want to spend. There was a conflict between people who wanted to build a new way of life and those who wanted to hang onto tradition. The Zionists with their strident sense of mission rubbed on many people the wrong way. The resentment among the Arabs, and also the British, grew as more and more Zionists immigrated during the 1920's and Jewish landholdings increased. "The Land Question in Palestine" is the history of a conflict among Zionists, the Palestinians, and the Mandatory government over a bad economic theory.

Even the military government preceding the Mandate was concerned over land sales, but only with the intention of discouraging speculation. Then in 1920, under the Mandate, a Land Transfer Ordinance was enacted with the intention of preventing speculation, affording the small owner and tenant protection against eviction, and provide access to a minimum amount of capital. The Arab elite opposed it as a damper on land sales, which they engaged in eagerly with both Jews and non-Jews. (Zionists did not like the size limitations it imposed on transactions.) Later amendments provided that a tenant evicted because of a sale be provided a "maintenance area" of land as substitute for the land from which he was evicted, or at least a cash payment, but even before the amendments, these practices were common in land purchases anyway. The author's account is not very clear but in any case the important issue in Zionist- Arab conflicts in the 1920's was immigration, not land sales.

The Shaw Report implied that the disturbances at the Western Wall and Hebron were mainly the fault of the Zionists even if most of the violence was Arab. The appointments of Lord Passfield as Colonial Secretary and John Chancellor as High Commissioner marked a change in the Mandate's attitude toward Zionists. The author observes "The land question became as politically sensitive as the immigration issue had been in the 1920s." Chancellor believed in curbing land sales, thereby protecting the rights of the Arab agricultural population. He proposed measures which "included the potentially explosive and politically sensitive issue of codifying legal discrimination between Arab and Jew." The Colonial Office in London was dubious. One potential problem was that if land transfer regulations or more restrictive rules on immigration were instituted, tax revenue from the Jews would be lost. The Jews were 17 percent of the population but contributed 44 percent of Palestine's revenue. The Colonial Office issued a White Paper postponing any statement of future policy pending a thorough investigation of immigration, land settlement, and development. The task was entrusted to Sir John Hope-Simpson.

The author states that Hope-Simpson did not have the time to make judgments independently of Chancellor or Passfield, and adds that he wanted to succed Chancellor as High Commissioner, so Chancellor's influence over Hope-Simpson's findings is clear. The inquiry concluded that (1) the extent of remaining cultivable land in Palestine was essentially nil; and (2) a large portion of Arabs were landless. The Zionists considered the extent of cultivable land much greater than Hope-Simpson's estimate because they considered most land at least potentially cultivable even if it included swamps, sand dunes, or the like. (Much of the land they purchased was like this.) Hope-Simpson's estimate of the proportion of landless Arabs implied that their status was was the result of Jewish land purchases when in fact their loss of land was a process that had been going on before any Zionists even arrived. He wanted to create a Development Department to control all land development and settlement, with the right to expropriate land on which landless Arabs would be resettled. This was apparently part of a personal scheme to succeed Chancellor and at the same time direct the proposed Department, which he privately expected to head as well, and which would "act as a landholding company for the Arab population." In addition, the Department would "be given the right to expropriate land as required for public purposes ... the resettlement of landless Arabs." (p. 112) But "... the perceived magnitude of of the landless Arab problem, derived from Hope-Simpson's estimates, sent [His Majesty's Government] scurrying for a way out of a large financial commitment." (p. 116) Passfield issued a White Paper embodying the Hope-Simpson proposals, but it was defeated apparently on these financial grounds. Chancellor was succeeded by Arthur Wauchope; Hope-Simpson was not re-employed, and only the land-transfer controls were considered. A "MacDonald Letter" was issued that disavowed most of the Passfield White Paper.

Hope-Simpson's report gained wide fame, even if the Zionists were able to refute it. A second consultant, Lewis French, took on the task of drafting a new plan. He issued two reports dealing with Arab land issues and a list on Arabs who had become landless through Jewish land purchases. His method was to distribute questionnaires to villages; most villagers were illiterate so the actual task of completing them must have fallen to others. A number of definitions of "landless" were possible but a restrictive one was used; the author considers it too restrictive. The upshot was that only about 900 properly landless families were found and only 74 successfully resettled.

By 1933, the resettlement issue had been dropped. Jewish land purchases continued at a rapid pace, but the great majority were for small parcels of land (100 dunam or less) from sellers usually within Palestine and who typically were either merchants or moneylenders. The author comments "If anything, the Jewish leadership realized just how insincere and inconsistent Arab nationalist sentiment was." (p.179). Also, purchases reflected a greater desire to create continuous settlement areas -- an anticipation of the future State.

This complex book is sometimes confusing. The author sometimes refers to things (the Development Department, for example) before explaining them. But it's clear that the British should have begun by conducting an impartial study of landlessness, which would have shown that the real problem was a culturally based resentment of the Zionists.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Excellent Research 24 Nov. 2010
By Mikeber - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
That is the best work I read so far on this topic. Prof. Stein took time to investigate all evidences in regard to land purchases in the 1917-39 time period (British Mandate) in Palestine, without getting into general assumptions and cliches. One of his conclusions, is that rich Arab landowners collaborated with the Zionist buyers while disregarding the poor Muslim "falaheen" who worked the land.
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