July 31, 2014

The Ottoman Land Code and Registration Laws of 1858 and 1859 ……the Palestinian problem ……… 10

Ottoman Empire, decline

The Ottoman Land Code and Registration Laws of 1858 and 1859 contributed to the conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine and Israel.
This essay will outline the intent and provisions of the laws; then, will describe some effects of the laws; and finally, will discuss the implications for Jewish-Arab relations.

Intent and Provisions of the Land Laws

The Ottoman Land Code of 21 April 1858 defined five classes of land ownership:milk,waqf, mīrī, matrūk and mawāt.
Milk is “land in unrestricted private ownership,” land for which the raqaba (paramount ownership) is vested in the individual.  What little milk there was in Palestine was mostly “plots of land which had at the time of distribution [by Muslim conquerors] been assigned to unbelievers….”
Waqf includes land “dedicated to a religious purpose” — theoretically owned by God — and administered or held in trust by a stipulated party such as a religious council.

For mīrī, matrūk and mawāt, the raqaba is vested in the hands of the state.
Mīrī is cultivated or cultivatable land acquired for the state through conquest or through forfeiture of milk due to a failure of heirs.
An individual could gain rights over mīrī land by cultivating it and paying taxes; but the state continued to regulate its transfer and improvement.
The tenant’s rights to mīrī were forfeited by failure to cultivate the land; such forfeited land is termed maḥlūl.
In practice, neither the Ottomans nor the British ever repossessed maḥlūl.
Mīrī included “by far the largest portion of the landed property in Palestine.”
(It should be noted that subsequent laws gradually extended the rights of mīrī tenure to approach those of milk.)
Mīrī land could be converted by order of the sultan into matrūk maḥmiyya (property for general public use such as lakes or roads) or into matrūk murfaqa (property for use by a particular community such as market places and cemeteries).

Mawāt is wasteland which an individual could (until 1858) turn into milk with the permission of the sultan and (until 1921) turn into mīrī by cultivating it for a given period of time and paying for it.
According to Abraham Granott, “The object of the law of 1858, which dealt primarily with these three classes of property [viz., mīrī, matrūk and mawāt], was to maintain the rights of the State over them.”
Similarly, Robert H. Eisenman asserts that the “principle aim” of the Land Code of 1858 “was the reassertion of Government control over State Domain….”
The concept of state ownership of land was in fact an idea in Islamic law which however central was nonetheless often “ambiguous and unclear.”
In contrast, Justice Tute contends that after the abolition of the “feudal conditions” in the Ottoman land revenue system after 1839, a confiscatory and corrupt system of tax-farming emerged which harmed the tenants and reduced state revenues.  “It was…to restore the prosperity of the agriculturalists,” writes Tute, “that the Land Code of 1858 was framed. …It is clear that this legislation could only be given effect to by setting up a system of land registration.”
The Land Code of 1858 was thus soon followed by the Tapu Law of 14 December 1858 which provided for the issuance of title-deeds. “Procedures for registration, not only of old title, but also of transfers, inheritance, vivification of mewat, the auction of maḥlūl, and prior purchase…were dealt with in the Tapu Law.”
The Tapu Seneds Law, issued in 1859, provided that “No one in the future for any reason whatsoever will be able to possess mīrī without a title-deed.”

Effects of the Land Laws

The provisions requiring registration, however, were “extensively ignored.”
The peasants were semi-literate and accustomed to a traditional society in which custom and oral evidence were sufficient to support an individual’s claim to property.
Landholders saw no great need to register their claim and often did so only when they wanted to sell it to another party.

Indeed, the peasants had strong incentives to not register or to under-register their land.
One incentive was the tradition of mistrust of or opposition to government — what Granott calls the “indolence which characterizes the peasants’ attitude towards official regulations” — and the desire to avoid granting unnecessary legitimization to the government.
A second incentive was evasion of current and potential taxes on registered property.
A third incentive to avoid registration was evasion of registration fees  or penalties and fines for late registration.
A fourth incentive was evasion of military conscription based on or traced through land holdings.
Making matters worse, the land was registered piecemeal — that is, the status of a tract of land was recorded only when the owner had it registered.
There was no cadastral survey,  and “in most cases there were no measurements or maps and it was impossible to determine the boundaries of the properties.”
Claims to disputed lands brought later were therefore all the more difficult to prove.

Hence land was often not registered in the name of its “rightful owner.”
As long as the peasants were able to continue working their land, the registration did not concern them.
But the problems arose not just because the land was not registered; they arose also because the land was often registered in the name of someone other than the rightful owner.
This occurred several ways.
The widespread practice of mushā` (collective land tenure) led to misregistration.
Often a community’s lands were registered in the names of a few individuals or even in the name of just one individual.
Later, under the British Mandate, matrūk was often registered in the name of the High Commissioner.

The effect of these registration laws have been described as “catastrophic.”
The practice of registering land in the name of a fictitious or dead individual, and the inexact and incomplete nature of the records made the peasant’s claim to tenure insecure.
Worst of all perhaps was the fact that local town merchants or city magnates often filed whole villages or series of villages in their own names.
“The entrusting of the implementation of the [Ottoman Land] law [of 1858] to the local administration … made a mockery of the intentions of the legislator. Instead of strengthening the state’s rights over the mīrī land and the rights of the cultivators, the a`yān [notables] succeeded in registering large stretches of land in their own names.”
All together, the laws contributed significantly to the concentration of property titles into the hands of a few individuals and the state.
One writer observes concerning the code that “long before the Balfour Declaration, which is often seen as the fount of all contention over Palestine, the inarticulate but ancient peasantry had slipped a rung on the ladder which was to lead them down into the refugee camps in 1948.”

Implications for Jewish-Arab relations

The registration laws and the corollary concentration of land-title holdings contributed to the conflict between Jews and Arabs in several ways.
Eisenman notes that the frequent failure of individuals to gain recognition of their land rights (when eventually they discovered they needed such recognition) was an important root of “hostile sentiments and antagonisms that were later to erupt between Arabs and Jews during the Mandate.”

These “hostile sentiments and antagonisms” developed not merely as a result of the “numerous and prolonged lawsuits” fought over land ownership  but even more directly as a result of the eviction of hundreds of tenant families from lands they considered their own when large landholders sold their holdings to Jews.
Most of the two million dunams (200,000 hectares) of land owned by Jews at the end of the Mandate were acquired through purchases from large landowners.
As John Ruedy notes, “The land expert representing the Jewish Agency before the Shaw Commission of 1929 claimed that 90% of lands bought up to that time came from absentee landlords. During the 1930s the proportion fell to 80%. In the last decade of the mandate they were about 73%.”
Further, the British prohibition on land ownership by Jews in Palestine east of the Jordan River served to concentrate and thereby intensify the effect of land purchases by Jews in Palestine west of the Jordan River.

The “hostile sentiments and antagonisms” developed moreover from a general and growing awareness among Palestinian Arabs of the alienation of their homeland.
While many forces contributed to the growth of national consciousness and nationalism among Palestinian Arabs, it is sufficient to note here that the alienation of land in the scope and manner of its occurrence was one significant factor. “Prohibition of the transfer of Arab lands to Jews” was one of the three main “November Demands” put forward by the Palestinian Arabs’ “United Front” before the revolt of 1936.

In 1948 the Israeli Government took over all British Government Lands in the area of Palestine which it controlled.
These State Lands included mawāt, matrūk maḥmiyya, and abandoned mīrī, and represented about 70% of all Israeli-controlled Palestine.
The mawāt lands, which accounted for over half of the State lands, had been (as of 1931) supporting 7,869 landowners and 2,508 tenants.
Although previously reckoned as owners of the land “by the act of possession” these farmers had no title-deeds and therefore had little legal claim to the land.
As noted above, matrūk lands were sometimes registered in the name of Mandate officials; these now become State Lands as well.
Finally, “security” orders were used to “temporarily” clear certain lands of inhabitants; and after a specified time such lands were then declared uncultivated (maḥlūl), thereby transferring full legal title to the State.
In these ways antagonisms between Jews and Arabs — which continue to a great degree to center on the issue of land — were exacerbated.

The Ottoman Land Codes and Laws of 1858 and 1859, then, were issued in order to assure state control over the lands of Palestine and to increase state revenues from those lands.
For a variety of reasons much of the cultivated or occupied land was never registered or was registered in the name of someone other than the individual or collective that actually worked it.
The resulting concentration of land ownership and the confusion as to legitimate title contributed significantly to the development of antagonism and ill-will between Jews and Arabs in Palestine and Israel.


July 30, 2014

The Old Yishuv … the Palestinian problem ……… 9


The Old Yishuv is a term used to refer to the Jewish communities, with specific economic and social structure, which had lived in southern Syrian provinces(Palestine) throughout the Ottoman period, up to the onset of Zionist aliyah and the consolidation of the New Yishuv by the end of World War I.
As opposed to the later Zionist aliyah and the New Yishuv, which came into being with the First Aliyah (of 1882) and was more based on a socialist and/or secular ideology emphasizing labor and self-sufficiency, the Old Yishuv, whose members had continuously resided in or had come to Eretz Yisrael in the earlier centuries, were largely ultra-orthodox Jews dependent on external donations (Halukka) for living.

The Old Yishuv developed after a period of severe decline in Jewish communities of the Southern Levant during the early Middle Ages, and was composed of three clusters.
The oldest group consisted of Jews, the Sephardic Jewish communities in Galilee and the Musta’arabim, for example, of the early Ottoman and late Mamluk periods, who had deep ancestral roots in Palestine.
A second group was composed of Ashkenazi and Hassidic Jews who had emigrated from Europe in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
A third wave was constituted by Yishuv members who arrived in the late 19th century.
The Old Yishuv was thus generally divided into two independent communities – the Sephardim (including Musta’arabim), mainly constituting the remains of Jewish communities of Galilee and the four Jewish holy cities, which had flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries; and the Ashkenazim, who began making their return primarily since the 18th century.

The ‘Old Yishuv’ term was coined by members of the ‘New Yishuv’ in the late 19th century to distinguish themselves from the economically dependent and generally earlier Jewish communities, who mainly resided in the four holy cities of Judaism, and unlike the New Yishuv, had not embraced land ownership and agriculture.
Apart from the Old Yishuv centres in the four holy cities of Judaism, namely Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias and Safed, smaller communities also existed in Jaffa, Haifa, Peki’in, Acre, Nablus and Shfaram.
Petah Tikva, although established in 1878 by the Old Yishuv, nevertheless was also supported by the arriving Zionists.
Rishon LeZion, the first settlement founded by the Hovevei Zion in 1882, could be considered the true beginning of the New Yishuv.

July 30, 2014

The First Aliyah- the Palestinian problem …… 8


The First Aliyah (also The Farmers’ Aliyah) was the first modern widespread wave of Zionist aliyah.
Jews who migrated to Ottoman Palestine in this wave came mostly from Eastern Europe and from Yemen.
“The First Aliyah began in 1882 and continued, intermittently, until 1903″.[An estimated 25,000–35,000 Jews immigrated to Ottoman Palestine during the First Aliyah.
While all throughout history Jews immigrated to Israel (such as the Vilna Gaon’s group), these were generally smaller groups with more religious motives, and did not have a purely secular political goal in mind.

The immigration to Ottoman Palestine occurred as part of the mass emigrations from Eastern Europe of approximately 2.5 million people that occurred towards the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.
A rapid increase in population had created economic problems in Eastern Europe.
The problems affected Jewish societies in the Pale of Settlement, Galicia, and Romania.

Russian persecution of Jews was also a factor.
In 1881, the czar Alexander II of Russia was assassinated, and the ruling bodies blamed the Jews for the assassination.
Consequently, in addition to the May Laws, major anti-Jewish pogroms swept the Pale of Settlement.
A movement called Hibbat Zion (love of Zion) spread across the Pale (helped by Leon Pinsker’s pamphlet Auto-Emancipation), as well as the similar Bilu movement, which both encouraged Jews to immigrate to Ottoman Palestine.

Jews emigrated in relatively high numbers, proportionate to the Jewish population.
About 2 million of the 3.5 million went to the United States.
Only a small minority of 25,000 Jews moved to Ottoman Palestine.
Immigration took place in two primary stages 1881-2 and 1890-1.
Land of Israel, also referred as Palestine and Southern Syria, was a part of the Ottoman Empire during this period.

The first central committee for the settlement of the Land of Israel and Syria which was also under the Ottoman rule was established by a convention of “Unions for the Agricultural Settlement of Israel” (Focsani Congress) held on January 11, 1882 in Romania.
The committee was the first organization to form group aliyahs, such as the Jewish passenger ships it set sail from Galaţi.

The First Aliyah laid the cornerstone for Jewish settlement in Israel and created several settlements – Rishon LeZion, Rosh Pinna, Zikhron Ya’akov, Gedera etc.
Most settlements met with financial difficulties and most of the settlers were not proficient in farming.
Baron Edmond James de Rothschild took several of the settlements under his wing, which helped them survive until more settlers with farming experience arrived in subsequent aliyot.

Immigrants of the First Aliyah also contributed to existing towns and settlements, notably Petah Tikva.
The first neighbourhoods of Tel Aviv (Neve Tzedek and Neve Shalom) were also built by members of the aliyah, although it was not until the Second Aliyah that Tel Aviv was officially founded.

Israeli historian Benny Morris wrote:
“ But the major cause of tension and violence throughout the period 1882-1914 was not accidents, misunderstandings or the attitudes and behaviors of either side, but objective historical conditions and the conflicting interests and goals of the two populations. The Arabs sought instinctively to retain the Arab and Muslim character of the region and to maintain their position as its rightful inhabitants; the Zionists sought radically to change the status quo, buy as much land as possible, settle on it, and eventually turn an Arab-populated country into a Jewish homeland.
For decades the Zionists tried to camouflage their real aspirations, for fear of angering the authorities and the Arabs.
They were, however, certain of their aims and of the means needed to achieve them. Internal correspondence amongst the olim from the very beginning of the Zionist enterprise leaves little room for doubt.”

Jews with specific economic and social structure, had lived in southern Syrian provinces(Palestine) throughout the Ottoman period  and ‘the Old Yishuv’ is a term that was used to refer to these Jewish communities
The relationship of the members of the First Aliyah with the Old Yishuv was strained. The First Aliyah’s settlement efforts were opposed not only by the Old Yishuv’s traditionalists, but also by their own settlers.

The First Aliyah’s people, on their part, viewed the Old Yishuv as a foreign agency.
There were additional disagreements about economic and ideological issues. Only a few groups from the Old Yishuv sought to take part in the First Aliyah’s settlement effort, one such group being the Peace of Jerusalem (Shlom Yerushalayim)


July 29, 2014

al-Filasṭīniyyūn – the Palestinian problem ……… 7


The history of Palestine is the study of the past in the region of Palestine, generally defined as a geographic region in Western Asia between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and various adjoining lands.
Situated at a strategic location between Egypt, Syria and Arabia, and the birthplace of major Abrahamic religions the region has a long and tumultuous history as a crossroads for religion, culture, commerce, and politics.
Palestine has been controlled by numerous different peoples, including the Ancient Egyptians, Canaanites, Philistines, Tjekker, Ancient Israelites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, the Muslims, the Crusaders, Ayyubids, Mameluks, Ottomans, the British, The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (1948–1967, on the “West Bank”) and Egyptian Republic (in Gaza), and modern Israelis and Palestinians.
Other terms for the same area include Canaan, Zion, the Land of Israel, Southern Syria, Jund Filastin, Outremer, the Holy Land and the Southern Levant.

The Palestinian people (Arabic: ash-sha‘b al-Filasṭīnī), also referred to as Palestinians (Arabic: ‎, al-Filasṭīniyyūn,), are the modern descendants of the peoples who have lived in Palestine over the centuries, and who today are largely culturally and linguistically Arab due to Arabization of the region.
Despite various wars and exoduses, roughly one half of the world’s Palestinian population continues to reside in historic Palestine, the area encompassing the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Israel.
In this combined area, as of 2004, Palestinians constituted 49% of all inhabitants,[encompassing the entire population of the Gaza Strip (1.6 million), the majority of the population of the West Bank (approximately 2.3 million versus close to 500,000 Jewish Israeli citizens which includes about 200,000 in East Jerusalem), and 16.5% of the population of Israel proper as Arab citizens of Israel.Many are Palestinian refugees or internally displaced Palestinians, including more than a million in the Gaza Strip, three-quarters of a million in the West Bank,and about a quarter of a million in Israel proper.
Of the Palestinian population who live abroad, known as the Palestinian diaspora, more than half are stateless lacking citizenship in any country.3.24 million of the diaspora population live in neighboring Jordan where they make up approximately half the population, 1.5 million live between Syria and Lebanon, a quarter of a million in Saudi Arabia, with Chile’s half a million representing the largest concentration outside the Arab world.


Genetic analysis suggests that a majority of the Muslims of Palestine, inclusive of Arab citizens of Israel, are descendants of Christians, Jews and other earlier inhabitants of the southern Levant whose core may reach back to prehistoric times.
A study of high-resolution haplotypes demonstrated that a substantial portion of Y chromosomes of Israeli Jews (70%) and of Palestinian Muslim Arabs (82%) belonged to the same chromosome pool.
Since the time of the Muslim conquests in the 7th century, religious conversions have resulted in Palestinians being predominantly Sunni Muslim by religious affiliation, though there is a significant Palestinian Christian minority of various Christian denominations, as well as Druze and a small Samaritan community.
Though Palestinian Jews made up part of the population of Palestine prior to the creation of the State of Israel, few identify as “Palestinian” today.
Acculturation, independent from conversion to Islam, resulted in Palestinians being linguistically and culturally Arab.
The vernacular of Palestinians, irrespective of religion, is the Palestinian dialect of Arabic.
Many Arab citizens of Israel including Palestinians are bilingual and fluent in Hebrew.


July 28, 2014

Aaron Aaronsohn – the Palestinian problem ……… 6


In the midst of an answer to one of Sir Basil’s questions, Aaronsohn turned the tables. “Why do you bring water for the Army from Egypt?” Aaronsohn asked. “It slows your progress. There is water right there in the desert, 300 feet down. All you have to do is drill for it.”

“How do you know that?” Sir Basil said.
“The rocks indicate it. And Flavius Josephus corroborates it. He wrote that he could walk for a whole day south from Caesarea and never leave flourishing gardens. Today the desert sands reach to the walls of Caesarea. Where there were gardens there must have been water. Where is that water now?”

Aaronsohn knew the area around the site of the Roman city of Caesarea, on the Galilee coast, well.
It was an easy horseback ride from Zichron Ya’aqov, where he had grown up.
As a botanical and geological researcher he had surveyed much of Palestine on horseback or on foot.
From plants and rock strata he had mapped areas that had turned to desert but which almost certainly were over aquifers.
The Roman wells that had once tapped those aquifers had been lost in one thousand years of Arab subsistence agriculture.
There was enough underground water, he told Sir Basil, to turn the whole of the Sinai into flourishing fields of wheat.
“And what can you do?” Sir Basil asked. “If I were with the British Army, I could show the engineers where to drill. I guarantee that they would find enough water for the Army without having to bring a single drop from Cairo.”

If Aaronsohn was right it could change British strategy and fortunes dramatically.
The British army had been reluctant to go on the offensive against the Turks because of the elaborate logistics needed to supply water for the troops, who were dependent on the water they carried or what they could draw from shallow wells with spear-point pumps.
The increased mobility would give the British a huge advantage against the fixed Turkish defenses, and allow the British command to speed up the timetable for an assault on the Turkish strongholds.
The French, Britain’s ally, were also jockeying for position in the Middle East, specifically in Syria and Lebanon; their expectations overlapped British aspirations, and accelerating the timetable for a British advance would have the additional advantage of preempting the French.
Ultimately, progress against the Turks would let Britain focus more assets on the western front, maybe enough to win what most of the generals and the politicians thought of as the real war, the one against Germany.

But could he believe this man and his stories?
Aaronsohn had displayed dazzling erudition.
His knowledge of the terrain and conditions in Palestine and Syria and the Turkish order of battle, training, logistics, and defense plans seemed too good to be true.
How could any outsider know that much?
His story of his journey from Palestine to Britain—across hostile borders, under the noses of Turkish and German authorities, tricking even the fellow passengers on a ship to the United States—was even harder to believe.
Aaronsohn’s wasn’t the first bizarre story Sir Basil had heard.
By 1917 MI5 held dossiers on more than 38,000 individuals and Scotland Yard’s Special Branch had investigated 28,000 suspicious aliens; from the beginning of the war they had sent wild-eyed dreamers and schemers to Sir Basil’s office.
It fell to him to separate the rare kernels of useful information from the chaff of preposterous propositions and incredible stories.

Even after years of oddball cases, Aaronsohn’s story stood out.
Sir Basil concluded that Aaronsohn’s journey from Palestine to Copenhagen, then secretly on to England, thousands of miles of dangerous travel across enemy lines, was the most extraordinary and romantic tale he had yet heard.
Why did you do it?
Sir Basil asked him. Why risk everything to come to Britain?
Aaronsohn had thought about the question.
Sir Basil wasn’t the first to discover that Aaron Aaronsohn had thought about most questions.
Aaronsohn knew that crossing the battle lines to an enemy nation would make him an outcast, a man who had bet everything—family, friends, home, and career—on the outcome of the war.
Once he was safely in England he had no problem explaining his motives.
He was determined not to see the Jews of Palestine follow the destiny of the Armenians.
The only way to prevent that, Aaronsohn told Sir Basil, was for the British to win the war.
Sir Basil was no fool.
He was well aware of Britain’s wartime goals in the Middle East.
From his position at Scotland Yard he knew about the wartime organizing and propaganda efforts of the Zionists in England and elsewhere.
He knew about Chaim Weizmann, the chemist who had invented a method of producing acetone, essential for the production of explosives, in his Manchester laboratory.
In gratitude for Weizmann’s discovery the British had tolerated and even supported his continuing propaganda efforts as a leader of the international Zionist movement.
Sir Basil probably guessed that Aaronsohn shared Weizmann’s long-term goals for the Jews in Palestine.
They did not discuss Aaronsohn’s expectations and aspirations for the Jews that day, but Sir Basil had dealt with intelligence sources often enough to know that any offer of information, at least of good information, would not come for free.
In return for helping the British, Aaronsohn and his colleagues would expect support, or at least cooperation, in building a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
But that was all left unsaid in October 1916.
The two men did not talk about Zionism.
Instead, Aaron Aaronsohn told Sir Basil only that he and his colleagues and friends knew that their spying efforts were dangerous, that if they were found out by the Turks they would be hanged and their families would suffer reprisals. But after what they had heard and seen in the Jewish communities of Palestine, and what they knew about the fate of the Armenians, they were prepared to collect secret information for the British command on the Turkish military preparations and plans.
It was for that, Aaronsohn said—to work for a British victory—that he had come to England to offer his services as a spy.

Only a few months after Aaronsohn’s arrival in London and Lawrence’s meeting with Faisal at his desert camp, the two men met in a hallway at the British GHQ in the Savoy Hotel in Cairo.
By then their separate plans to reshape the Middle East were already  in motion, and the two ambitious and strong-willed men would discover that the futures they had planned for Palestine were on a collision course.

July 27, 2014

Aaron Aaronsohn – the Palestinian problem ……… 5


Aaronsohn explained to Sir Basil that Djemal fed and equipped the Turkish army with requisitioned crops and supplies, and that the army levies fell especially hard on the Jewish settlers in Palestine, who had the most productive farms.
The Turks had demanded baksheesh from the Jewish settlers to avoid conscription, and under special wartime regulations had seized the crops from productive cropland and orchards.
They had also taken draft animals, carts, wagons, farm tools, and irrigation pumps, crippling the farms.
As if those woes had not been enough, the spring of 1915 had brought the worst infestation of locusts anyone in the Holy Land could remember.
The locusts devoured the meager crops that had survived the lack of irrigation and the Turkish requisitions, until many Jewish settlers were on the verge of starvation, awaiting the next pitiful harvest with dread.
Because of his reputation as an agronomist, Aaronsohn explained, Djemal Pasha had recruited him to lead a campaign against the locusts.
He could not refuse the pasha, and had hoped that his official position would enable him to ameliorate the conditions of the Jewish settlers.
With his travel privileges as a member of the pasha’s staff he was able to observe much of the country under wartime conditions, and had found the food and fuel supplies even more meager than he had supposed; the impact of the requisitions on the settlers had been aggravated by the needless cruelty of the Turkish authorities and their German allies.

Aaronsohn told Thomson that he and his colleagues at his research institute at Athlit, on the coast south of Haifa, were able to divert enough foodstuffs and contributions to the institute to keep a few settlers from starvation, but that they were increasingly convinced that if the war continued there was little hope for the Jews of Palestine as a minority under Turkish rule.
As Aaronsohn spoke, Sir Basil realized that along with an encyclopedic knowledge of the terrain, climate, and economic situation in Palestine, Aaronsohn was exceedingly well informed on the disposition, equipment, and preparations of the Turkish army.
The British had little recent intelligence on Palestine.
Aaronsohn had surveyed so much of the countryside, both in his scientific studies and through his efforts at locust eradication, that he could describe the placement of Turkish positions, their equipment shortages and training deficiencies, and the Turkish defense plans for Palestine and Gaza.
Aaronsohn explained that he had investigated the Turkish defenses because he represented a secret group in Palestine, men and women, mostly young, all trustworthy, and all committed to opposing the Turks.
Some of them had originally organized themselves to defend the Jewish settlements from Arab bandits and marauding youth who harassed the settlers.
Later the group had been recruited to the staff of Aaronsohn’s agricultural experimental station to work on the locust eradication program.
As part of their work they had traveled throughout Palestine, visiting Turkish military sites to train soldiers in locust eradication procedures and supervise the battle against the locusts.
They had made detailed observations of the roads, railways, and supply depots, the armaments and supplies available to the troops, and the training levels of the Turkish army.
Many in Aaronsohn’s group knew Turkish or German, and spent enough time with the Turkish soldiers and the officers at various military facilities to overhear and elicit information on the Turkish order of battle, logistic plans, and defenses.

Aaronsohn told Sir Basil that the group had previously sent someone to Cairo to offer their information to British intelligence, but for reasons they didn’t understand the offer had been rejected.
They had later briefly established a connection and had waited for ships to land swimmers who would pick up the information they had gathered, but the ships had never come.
By late 1915 they had confirmed an even more terrifying threat to the very existence of the Jewish communities in Palestine.
Although wartime communications in the Ottoman Empire were poor, and people in one province often could not verify the rumors they heard from other provinces, reports of massacres of Armenians and the destruction of Armenian villages in Anatolia had begun to filter into Palestine.
Aaronsohn said that they had firsthand reports of the massacres, eyewitness accounts of orphans scavenging in the ruins of smoldering villages, dogs gnawing on unburied corpses, and women who had been raped wandering around dazed. It was impossible to escape the stench of death.
Aaronsohn said that Djemal Pasha had the same fate in mind for the Jews of Palestine. The only difference was that Djemal seemed to prefer to deal with what he called the “undesirable minorities” of “Christian dogs, Jewish dogs and unfaithful Arabs” through deliberate starvation rather than open massacre.
Whenever the forces under his command suffered a setback against the British or the Russians, he would evict the Jews from a city like Jaffa or Haifa, as if they had somehow been responsible for his battlefield losses.
The homeless urban Jews suffered even more than the farmers.



July 26, 2014

Aaron Aaronsohn – the Palestinian problem – part 4



Aaron Aaronsohn was already an experienced traveler.
He was self-educated as an agronomist and geologist, except for two years at a French institute, and had been exploring the flora and geology of the slopes of Mount Hermon in 1906 when he discovered wild emmer (Triticum dicoccoides), a primitive form of wheat that appeared to be unchanged from biblical times.
Aaronson’s identification of what seemed to be the mother of all wheats, a varietal unchanged for thousands of years, earned him sudden worldwide recognition.
He gave talks and seminars in Europe, and spent two years in the United States as a guest of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
When he traveled in those heady days, hosts had met him at the docks and train stations, and pre-booked accommodations and fine dinners awaited him.
Now he was traveling as an enemy alien, with a military escort.

They arrived at King’s Cross Station on a dark, foggy night, the lights of automobiles shining through the mist and their horns making an “extremely sad impression.”
There were posted warnings about the danger of bombings from zeppelins, and more soldiers on the streets than Aaronsohn had seen even in Berlin.
Captain Brims took Aaronsohn to Scotland Yard, where he was told to come back the next day “at twelve sharp” to appear before Assistant Commissioner Basil Thomson.
Captain Brims was eager to return to Scotland, and left Aaronsohn on his own for the night.

The next day, Sir Basil Thomson, the head of the Criminal Investigation Division, was waiting for him at Scotland Yard.
Papers Thomson had received in advance from the consulate in Copenhagen identified Aaronsohn as a special assistant to Djemal Pasha, commander of the Turkish Fourth Army in Syria and Palestine.
That was enough to guarantee Sir Basil’s attention.
Djemal Pasha was Britain’s chief foe in the Palestine theater: his unpredictable and inscrutable strategy and tactics had resulted in one disaster after another for the British forces. British intelligence in Cairo and London knew little about Djemal, except that he was one of the three powerful men at the top of the Young Turk government, and he had been head of the Ottoman navy before being given command of the Fourth Army and a virtual dictatorship over Palestine and Syria. In photographs Djemal was short, almost hunchbacked, with a forbidding black beard and darting black eyes.

July 26, 2014

Jerusalem – the Palestinian problem – part 3




Areej—the Scent of Youth and Death
Your name still wafts through
Alleys and centuries of stone with
Which old Hebron—Khalil the Compassionate—
Wraps itself.

No mercy there
Only settlers strutting
Gloating in the knowledge that the siege,
Barbed wire and curfew,
Encircle only you
And yours

For theirs is the space
Erased from the law
A blank page stained with
Spilled blood and scribbles of insanity
While yours is the youth and blood spilled—what
Wanton abandon—seeping
Almost, almost unnoticed, into crevices
Where memory almost sleeps.

- Hanan Ashrawi

July 26, 2014

Jerusalem – the Palestinian problem – part 2



On a roof in the Old City
laundry hanging in the late afternoon sunlight
the white sheet of a woman who is my enemy,
the towel of a man who is my enemy,
to wipe off the sweat of his brow.
In the sky of the Old City
a kite
At the other end of the string,
a child
I can’t see
because of the wall.
We have put up many flags,
they have put up many flags.
To make us think that they’re happy
To make them think that we’re happy.


Visits of condolence is all we get from them.
They squat at the Holocaust Memorial,
They put on grave faces at the Wailing Wall
And they laugh behind the heavy curtains
In their hotels.
They have their pictures taken
Together with our famous dead
At Rachel’s Tomb and Herzl’s Tomb
And on the top of Ammunition Hill.
They weep over our sweet boys
And lust over our tough girls
And hang up their underwear
To dry quickly
In cool, blue bathrooms.
Once I sat on the steps by a gate at David’s Tower. I placed my two heavy baskets at my side.
A group of tourists was standing around their guide and I became their target marker.
“You see that man with the baskets? Just right of his head there’s an arch from the Roman period. Just right of his head.”
“But he’s moving, he’s moving!” I said to myself: “redemption will come only if their guide tells them,
‘You see that arch from the Roman period? It’s not important: but next to it, left down and a bit, there sits a man who’s bought fruit and vegetables for his family.’”

July 26, 2014

‘Triticum dicoccoides’ and the Palestinian problem – part 1


Aaron Aaronsohn (1876 – 15 May 1919) was a Romanian Jewish agronomist, botanist, and Zionist activist.

Aaron Aaronsohn was born in Bacău, Romania, and brought to Palestine, then part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, at the age of six, when his parents were among the founders of Zikhron Ya’akov, one of the pioneer Jewish agricultural settlements of the First Aliyah.

After studying agriculture in France, sponsored by Baron Edmond de Rothschild, Aaron Aaronsohn botanically mapped Palestine and its surroundings and became a leading expert on the subject.
On his 1906 field trip to Mount Hermon, he discovered Triticum dicoccoides (known as the “mother of wheat”), an important find for agronomists and historians of human civilization.
It made him world-famous and, on a trip to the United States, he was able to secure financial backing for a research station established in Atlit in 1909. Aaronsohn built up a large collection of geological and botanical samples there and established a library.
Aaronsohn served as a scientific consultant to Djemal Pasha during a crop-destroying desert locust invasion in 1915.
In March–October 1915, a plague of locusts stripped the country of almost all vegetation.
Aaronsohn and the team fighting the locust invasion was given permission to move around the area known as Southern Syria (including modern day Israel) and made detailed maps of the areas they surveyed.
They also collected strategic information about Ottoman camps and troop deployment.

At the time of World War I, the Ottomans had joined sides with the Germans, and Aaronsohn feared the Jews would suffer the same fate as the Armenians under the Turks.
Together with his assistant, Avshalom Feinberg, his sister and a few others, Aaronsohn organized, and was the head of, Nili, a ring of Jewish residents of Palestine who spied for Britain during World War I.
He recommended the plan of attack through Beersheva that General Allenby ultimately used to take Jerusalem in December 1917.
Owing to information supplied by Nili to the British Army concerning the locations of oases in the desert, General Edmund Allenby was able to mount a surprise attack on Beersheba, unexpectedly bypassing strong Ottoman defenses in Gaza.

In 1917, Chaim Weizman sent Aaronsohn on a political campaign in the USA. While there, he learned that the Ottoman authorities had intercepted a NILI carrier pigeon, which led to the arrest and torture of his sister Sarah and other NILI members.
After the war, Weizmann called on Aaronsohn to work on the Versailles Peace Conference.
On 15 May 1919, Aaronsohn was killed in an airplane crash over the English Channel in unclear circumstances.
Some blamed the British government.
Aaronsohn died without being married and had no children.
His research on Palestine and Transjordan flora, as well as part of his exploration diaries, were published posthumously.

Aaronsohn was the discoverer of wild emmer (Triticum dicoccoides), believed to be “the mother of wheat.”
He also inadvertently sowed the seeds of the present day Palestinian problem.
but we are  going ahead of the story !
let me start at the very beginning …………


sources – many thanks to Ronald Florence, TE Lawrence, Ronald Storrs, David Vital, Ran Aaronsohn, Robert Graves, Ania Engle, Jeremy Wilson, Phillip Knightley, Jimmy Wales , Larry Sanger and many others ……

Wonder, silence, gratitude

one who is going upstream ......

SS 24 - random thoughts

one who is going upstream ......

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