IsraPundit

WE'VE MOVED! IsraPundit has relocated to www.israpundit.com. Click here to go there now.
News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

March 31, 2003

MYTHS AND FACTS
MYTH
The 'traditional position' of the Arabs in Palestine was jeopardized by Jewish settlement.”

FACT
For many centuries, Palestine was a sparsely populated, poorly cultivated and widely-neglected expanse of eroded hills, sandy deserts and malarial marshes. 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 (Ben Halpern, The Idea of a Jewish State, MA: Harvard University Press, 1969, p. 108).

Mark Twain, who visited Palestine in 1867, described it as: "...[a] desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds-a silent mournful expanse....A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action....We never saw a human being on the whole route....There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of the worthless soil, had almost deserted the country" (The Innocents Abroad).

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 Al-Ahram, 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" (Neville Mandel, "Attempts at an Arab-Zionist Entente: 1913-1914," Middle Eastern Studies, April 1965, p. 243).

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 (Al-Qibla, March 23, 1918, quoted in Samuel Katz, Battleground-Fact and Fantasy in Palestine, NY: Bantam Books, 1977, p. 128).

As Hussein foresaw, the regeneration of Palestine, and the growth of its population, came only after Jews returned in massive numbers.

Source: Myths & Facts Online -- A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict by Mitchell G. Bard