Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Six Score years of Jewish Land Purchase in Zion

Map showing Jewish-owned land as of 31 December 1944, including land owned in full, shared in undivided land and State Lands under concession. This constituted 6% of the total land area, of which more than half was held by the JNFand PICA[1]

Jewish land purchase in Palestine refers to the acquisition of land in Palestine by Jews from the 1840s until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.


The Talmud mentions the religious duty of settling the Land of Israel. So significant in Judaism is the act of purchasing land in Palestine, the Talmud allows for the lifting of certain religious restrictions of Sabbathobservance to further its acquisition and settlement.

Towards the end of the 19th-century, the creation of the Zionist movement resulted in many European Jewsimmigrating to Palestine. Most land purchases between the late 1880s and the 1930s were located in thecoastal plain area, including "Acre to the North and Rehovoth to the South, the Esdraelon (Jezreel) and Jordan Valleys and to the lesser extent in Galilee". The migration affected Palestine in many ways, including economically, socially, and politically.

Land purchases

KKL collection boxes to fund land purchases in Palestine were distributed in the diaspora from 1904

In the first half of the 19th century, no foreigners were allowed to purchase land in Palestine. This was official Turkish policy until 1856 and in practice until 1867. When it came to the national aspirations of the Zionist movement, theOttoman Empire opposed the idea of Jewish self-rule in Palestine, fearing it may lose control of Palestine after recently having lost other territories to various European powers. It also took issue with the Jews, as many came from Russia which sought the empire's demise. In 1881 the Ottoman governmental administration (the Sublime Porte) decreed that foreign Jews could immigrate to and settle anywhere within the Ottoman Empire, except in Palestine and from 1882 until their defeat in 1918, the Ottomans continuously restricted Jewish immigration and land purchases in Palestine. In 1882, Jews were banned from their Four Holy Cities and in 1891, after briefly allowing some Jewish immigration three years earlier, the Turkish rulers tried to again to close the empire to Russian Jews. In 1892, the Ottoman government decided to prohibit the sale of land in Palestine to Jews, even if they were Ottoman citizens. Nevertheless, during the late 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, many successful land purchases were made through organizations such as the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association (PJCA), Palestine Land Development Companyand the Jewish National Fund.

ewish rabbis purchasing land from an Arab landowner, 1920s.

The Ottoman Land Code of 1858 "brought about the appropriation by the influential and rich families of Beirut, Damascus, and to a lesser extent Jerusalem and Jaffa and other sub-district capitals, of vast tracts of land in Syria and Palestine and their registration in the name of these families in the land registers". Many of the fellahin did not understand the importance of the registers and therefore the wealthy families took advantage of this. Jewish buyers who were looking for large tracts of land found it favorable to purchase from the wealthy owners. As well many small farmers became in debt to rich families which lead to the transfer of land to the new owners and then eventually to the Jewish buyers.

In 1918, after the British conquest of Palestine, the military administration closed the Land Register and prohibited all sale of land. The Register was reopened in 1920, but to prevent speculation and insure a livelihood for the fellahin, an edict was issued forbidding the sale of more than 300 dunams of land or the sale of land valued at more than 3000 Palestine pounds without the approval of the High Commissioner.

From the 1880s to the 1930s, most Jewish land purchases were made in the coastal plain, the Jezreel Valley, the Jordan Valley and to a lesser extent the Galilee. This was due to a preference for land that was cheap and without tenants.There were two main reasons why these areas were sparsely populated. The first reason being when the Ottoman power in the rural areas began to diminish in the seventeenth century, many people moved to more centralized areas to secure protection against the lawless Bedouin tribes. The second reason for the sparsely populated areas of the coastal plains was the soil type. The soil, covered in a layer of sand, made it impossible to grow the staple crop of Palestine, corn. As a result, this area remained uncultivated and under populated. "The sparse Arab population in the areas where the Jews usually bought their land enabled the Jews to carry out their purchase without engendering a massive displacement and eviction of Arab tenants".

In the 1930s most land was bought from small landowners. Of the land that the Jews bought, "52.6% of the lands were bought from big non-Palestinian landowners, 24.6% from Palestinian-Arab landowners and only 9.4% from the Fellahin"

On 31 December 1944, out of 1,732.63 dunums of land owned in Palestine by large Jewish Corporations and private owners, about 44% was in possession of Jewish National Fund. The table below shows the land ownership of Palestine by large Jewish Corporations (in square kilometres) on 31 December 1945.
Land ownership of Palestine by large Jewish Corporations (in square kilometres) on 31 December 1945
Palestine Land Development Co. Ltd.9.70
Hemnuta Ltd16.50
Africa Palestine Investment Co. Ltd.9.90
Bayside Land Corporation Ltd.8.50
Palestine Kupat Am. Bank Ltd.8.40
Data is from Survey of Palestine (Vol I, p245).[11][12]

By the end of the mandate, more than half the Jewish-owned land was held by the two largest Jewish funds, the Jewish National Fund and thePalestine Jewish Colonization Association.

The Palestine Jewish Colonization Association, commonly known by its Yiddish acronym PICA (Hebrew: פיק"א‎), was established in 1924 and played a major role in supporting the Yishuv in Mandatory Palestine and later the State of Israel until its disbandment in 1957.

The Jewish Colonization Association (JCA or ICA) was founded by Bavarian philanthropist Baron Maurice de Hirsch in 1891 to help Jews fromRussia and Romania to settle in Argentina. Baron de Hirsch died in 1896 and thereafter the JCA began to also assist the Palestinian colonies.At the end of 1899 Edmond James de Rothschild transferred title to his colonies in Palestine plus fifteen million francs to the JCA. In 1924 the JCA branch dealing with colonies in Palestine was reorganised by Baron de Rothschild as the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association, under the direction of his son James Armand de Rothschild.

After the 1929 Palestine riots PICA helped to rehabilitate agricultural colonies that had been damaged.

James de Rothschild, who died in 1957, instructed in his will that PICA should transfer most of its land in Israel to the Jewish National Fund. On December 31, 1958 PICA agreed to vest its right to land holdings in Syria and Lebanon in the State of Israel.

The Jewish Colonization Association (JCA or ICA, Yiddish ייִק"אַ) was created on September 11, 1891 by the Baron Maurice de Hirsch. Its aim was to facilitate the mass emigration of Jews from Russia and other Eastern European countries, by settling them in agricultural colonies on lands purchased by the committee, particularly in North and South America, especially Argentina and Brazil.


Colonies were founded within the United States in southern New Jersey, Ellington, Connecticut(Congregation Knesseth Israel), and elsewhere.A Canadian Committee of the JCA was established in November 1906 to assist in the settlement of thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing Russia, and to oversee the development of all JCA settlements in the country.

The JCA also established two agricultural colonies in the first two decades of the 20th century in what now is Turkey. In 1891, JCA bought land nearKarataş, Izmir, Turkey, and established an agricultural training centre, or Yehudah, on an area totaling 30 km² by 1902. The center was closed in 1926 owing to numerous difficulties. A group of Romanian Jews in Anatolia were assisted by JCA in the early 20th century to establish an immigration bureau in Istanbul in 1910. The JCA also bought land in the Asian part of Istanbul and founded Mesillah Hadassah agricultural colony for several hundred families. In 1928 the colonies were mostly liquidated, with only the immigration bureau remaining to assist migrants in their migration to Palestine.

Economic factors, notably the Great Depression, led to the dissolution of all western Canadian colonies by the end of World War II. Thereafter concentrating its work in the east, the Canadian chapter of the JCA purchased farms and made loans to farmers in Ontario and Quebec. The JCA Canadian Committee made no loans after 1970 and ceased all legal existence in 1978. The JCA deposited the majority of its papers at the National Archives of the Canadian Jewish Congress in 1978, and the remainder (the "S" collection) there in 1989.

Past and present activities in Israel

In 1896 the JCA started offering support to Jewish farming communities newly established in Ottoman Palestine. In 1899 Baron Edmond James de Rothschild transferred title to his colonies ("moshavot") in Palestine along with fifteen million francs to the JCA. Starting on January 1, 1900 the JCA restructured the way in which the colonies received financial and managerial support, with the effect of making them more profitable and independent. Between 1900 and 1903 it created 4 new moshavot, Kfar Tavor, Yavniel, Melahamia (Menahamia), and Bait Vegan. In addition, it established an agricultural training farm at Sejera.

The Palestine operation was restructured by Baron de Rothschild in 1924 as the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association (PICA) and placed under the directorship of his son James Armand de Rothschild. PICA transferred most of its properties to the State of Israel in 1957 and 1958. ICA resumed activities in Palestine in 1933, at first in association with another fund and from 1955 on by itself as "ICA in Israel". ICA is at present supporting projects in the fields of education, agriculture and tourism in the north (Galilee) and south (Negev) regions of Israel.

The Jewish National Fund (Hebrew: קרן קימת לישראל, Keren Kayemet LeYisrael) (abbreviated as JNF, and sometimes KKL) was founded in 1901 to buy and develop land in Ottoman Palestine (later British Mandate for Palestine, and subsequently Israel and the Palestinian territories) for Jewish settlement. The JNF is a non-profit organization. By 2007, it owned 13% of the total land in Israel. Since its inception, the JNF says it has planted over 240 million trees in Israel. It has also built 180 dams and reservoirs, developed 250,000 acres (1,000 km2) of land and established more than 1,000 parks.


Image result for jnf stamps
JNF postage stamp,  early 20th century

Planting trees in the Gilboamountains, c.1960

The JNF was founded at the Fifth Zionist Congress in Basel in 1901 with Theodor Herzl's support based on the proposal of a German Jewish mathematician, Zvi Hermann Schapira.[10] Early land purchases were completed in Judea and the Lower Galilee. In 1909, the JNF played a central role in the founding of Tel Aviv. The establishment of the “Olive Tree Fund” marked the beginning of Diaspora support of afforestation efforts. The Blue Box (known in Yiddish as a pushke) has been part of the JNF since its inception, symbolizing the partnership between Israel and the Diaspora. In the period between the two world wars, about one million of these blue and white tin collection boxes could be found in Jewish homes throughout the world. From 1902 until the late 1940s, the JNF sold JNF stamps to raise money. For a brief period in May 1948, JNF stamps were used as postage stamps during the transition from Palestine to Israel.

The first parcel of land, 200 dunams (0.20 km2) east of Hadera, was received as a gift from the Russian Zionist leader Isaac Leib Goldberg of Vilnius, in 1903. It became an olive grove. In 1904 and 1905, the JNF purchased land plots near the Sea of Galilee and at Ben Shemen. In 1921, JNF land holdings reached 25,000 acres (100 km²), rising to 50,000 acres (200 km²) by 1927. At the end of 1935, JNF held 89,500 acres (362 km²) of land housing 108 Jewish communities. In 1939, 10% of the Jewish population of the British Mandate of Palestine lived on JNF land. JNF holdings by the end of the British Mandate period amounted to 936 km². By 1948, the JNF owned 54% of the land held by Jews in the region, or a bit less than 4% of the land in what was then known as the British Madate of Palestine. By the eve of statehood, the JNF had acquired a total of 936,000 dunums of land; another 800,000 dunums had been acquired by other Jewish organizations or individuals. Most of the JNF's activities during the Mandatory period were closely associated with Yossef Weitz, the head of its settlement department.

From the beginning, JNF's policy was to lease land long-term rather than sell it. In its charter, the JNF states: "Since the first land purchase in Eretz Israel in the early 1900s for and on behalf of the Jewish People, JNF has served as the Jewish People's trustee of the land, initiating and charting development work to enable Jewish settlement from the border in the north to the edge of the desert and Arava in the south."

JNF headquarters in Jerusalem

After Israel's establishment in 1948, the government began to sell absentee lands to the JNF. On January 27, 1949, 1,000 km² of land (from a total of about 3,500 km²) was sold to the JNF for the price of I£11 million. Another 1,000 km² of land was sold to the JNF in October 1950. Over the years questions about the legitimacy of these transactions have been raised but Israeli legislation has generally supported the JNF's land claims.

In 1953, the JNF was dissolved and re-organized as an Israeli company under the name Keren Kayemet LeYisrael (JNF-KKL). In 1960, administration of the land held by the JNF-KKL, apart from forested areas, was transferred to a newly formed government agency, the Israel Land Administration (ILA). The ILA was then responsible for managing some 93% of the land of Israel. All the land managed by the ILA was defined asIsraeli lands; it included both land owned by the government (about 80%) and land owned by the JNF-KKL (about 13%). The JNF-KKL received the right to nominate 10 of the 22 directors of the ILA, lending it significant leverage within that state body.

After concentrating on the centre and northern part of the young state, the JNF-KKL started supporting Jewish settlements around the Negev border from around 1965. After the Six-Day War in 1967, the JNF-KKL started work in the newly occupied Palestinian territories as well.

Anti-Zionist demonstration at Damascus Gate, March 8th, 1920

Peel Commission

The British government appointed the Peel Commission to investigate the reasons for the civil unrest in Palestine. Lord Peel's findings on land purchase were as follows:

A summary of land legislation enacted during the Civil Administration shows the efforts made to fulfill the Mandatory obligation in this matter. The Commission point to serious difficulties in connection with the legislation proposed by the Palestine Government for the protection of small owners. The Palestine Order in Council and, if necessary, the Mandate should be amended to permit of legislation empowering the High Commissioner to prohibit the transfer of land in any stated area to Jews, so that the obligation to safeguard the right and position of the Arabs may be carried out. Until survey and settlement are complete, the Commission would welcome the prohibition of the sale of isolated and comparatively small plots of land to Jews.

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. Thus, alienation of land should only be allowed where it is possible to replace extensive by intensive cultivation. In the hill districts there can be no expectation of finding accommodation for any large increase in the rural population. At present, and for many years to come, the Mandatory Power should not attempt to facilitate the close settlement of the Jews in the hill districts generally.

The shortage of land is due less to purchase by Jews than to the increase in the Arab population. The Arab claims that the Jews have obtained too large a proportion of good land cannot be maintained. Much of the land now carrying orange groves was sand dunes or swamps and uncultivated when it was bought.

Legislation vesting surface water in the High Commissioner is essential. An increase in staff and equipment for exploratory investigations with a view to increasing irrigation is recommended.
— Report of the Palestine Royal Commission - July 1937

Economic impact

The fellahin who sold land in attempt to turn "vegetable tracts into citrus groves became dependent on world markets and on the availability of maritime transportation. A decrease in the world market demand for citrus or a lack of means of transportation severely jeopardized the economic situation of these people".

Influence on population

Director of Development Lewis French established a register of landless Arabs in 1931. Out of 3,271 applicants, only 664 were admitted and the remainder rejected. Porath suggests that the number of displaced Arabs may have been considerably larger, since French's definition of "landless Arab" excluded those who had sold their own land, those who owned land elsewhere, those who had since obtained tenancy of other land even if they were unable to cultivate it due to poverty or debt, and displaced persons who were not cultivators but had occupations such as ploughman or laborer.

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