Palestine: An Impasse?

"The two enemies of peace in the Holy Land are fanaticism and fear."
II.

Zionism is no ordinary national movement. For many Jews it embodies in one concrete programme the entire social and religious idealism of this people. Zion, the ultimate symbol of Jewish vision, concentrates into itself the intense longing of the intensest of human races. The Jews are not now a nation so much as a people pregnant with nationality. Zionism is to be the birth of this latent nation, and every Jew is to know the reanimating influence of what a part of Jewry thus realizes.

Why should Jews, international in fact and spirit, wish to add one more to the number of national boundaries and rivalries in the world? The answer is, they do not. They wish only to incorporate a distinction which exists, and to give it a regular status in which it can work for human understanding rather than for prejudice and dislike. No one who is not a Jew could venture to say how strong to-day is that conviction of a separate historic mission implied in the Biblical idea of the chosen people. But wholly apart from this, the international Jew knows, as few know, the value of a 'national home.' It is no mere place of refuge; it is not merely a satisfaction for an obscure homing instinct on the part of a homeless people. It is at once a religious goal and a profound psychological promise. For it means that through well-rounded occupational activity the Jew will find, and will show himself to the world, a complete personality. It is Jewish self-consciousness that speaks through Zionism: 'At present we are not, as a people, farmers, mechanics, soldiers, engineers, statesmen, sportsmen. We have been obliged by our anomalous situation as permanent strangers to specialize in a few directions. Henceforth we shall be everything, develop every human aptitude and power in our own measure, and so meet the calumny that we are in our souls part-men, cunning and parasitic. On the soil of our fathers we shall become what we are, renew our cultural fertility, and repay mankind blessing for persecution.' This is a programme whose conception compels admiration. Further, its significance is unique: there are no near parallels in law or in history.

What would he necessary to realize this idea?

For the religious side of it, Palestine. Palestine, restored as a centre of Jewish culture and worship. If Zion is to be a geographical fact, and not merely an ideal condition, no other place on earth will serve. Sophisticated religion tends to turn its primitive concepts into allegories, and Zion might be thought of as a Jewish counterpart of the Kingdom of Heaven, a poetic symbol for the final state of social evolution without specific locus. But orthodoxy is concrete in its imagination, and gives Zion a body as well as a soul. Medieval Jewish mystics, renewing the ancient splendor of rabbinical learning, tried to transplant their schools to Tiberias and Safed. And to this day that element of realism is faithfully continued. In a current textbook of Jewish religion one reads:

By the Messianic time or 'the Days of the Anointed,' the chief of our national hopes, we mean (1) the days of the restoration of Israel to the Holy Land, the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, the resumption of the Divine service therein, and the return of the Divine Glory to Zion; (2) the days of the universal cessation of warfare and the highest development of all human virtues and happiness.  The universal human hope is there, but the distinctive hope of Israel requires the physical and historic Jerusalem. For the material and social sides of the programme various conditions are necessary, some of which unhappily do not exist in Palestine. We have to reckon with an inexhaustible moral enthusiasm; we have also to reckon with the facts.

A great community must have its economic rootage. Nothing qualifies Palestine for this role except the courage with which Zionists have faced the uphill struggle with a meager and thirsty land. Palestinian soil will support a close settlement having European standards of living only with the application of a maximum of capital, a maximum of labor, and the science of the twentieth century, added to agricultural talent, skill, and experience. Zionism is resolutely prepared to supply the capital, the labor, and the science, and to acquire the rest. Its spirit is magnificent, many of its results remarkable; it is not for any outside observer to cry impossible. But it is necessary to consider the costs of success. Some of these we can discern by the aid of figures now available. Author's Note: 'Palestine has not yet been adequately surveyed. The official survey now going forward may require eight years to complete. The hasty 'once-over' of lots, made under Lloyd George's government, is no longer of value except for the purposes of a shifty politician. In what follows I shall rely chiefly on a Jewish source, the report (1928) of the Joint Palestine Survey Commission, using round numbers and making my own inferences from its careful data.

The Jews in Palestine are now about one sixth of the entire population, 150,000 in 900,000 in round numbers. Their holdings of land, individual and corporate, amount to a quarter of a million acres more or less—not a vast estate among so many. What fraction is this of the entire area of Palestine? In literal truth, hardly a twentieth; for Palestine has five and a half million acres all told; and one might unwarily conclude that the Jews in Palestine have far less than their proportionate share of the land. Figures could hardly tell a more misleading tale.

About half of the total area of Palestine is reckoned as cultivable. And of this half barely more than a third—that is, one sixth of the whole area—with irrigation and drainage, can be considered fairly good valley land, including both light and heavy soils. The Joint Palestine Survey Commission estimates a million acres (4,144,800 dunums) in this class of good valley land, including in this category the coastal plains. Noting that the major Jewish land holdings are of the best valley and coastal land, it appears that Jews now hold nearly one fourth of that scanty fraction of the soil of Palestine which can be considered as fairly good for agriculture.

But we must again consider: it is not 150,000 Jews who are engaged in agriculture, but only some 30,000; the rest are urban. It is one thirtieth of the population that are holding that quarter of the best land, and it is not enough for them—by far not enough.

For the average farm of 100 dunums (say, twenty-three acres) in the Emek or Plain of Esdraelon—probably as good land as Palestine can show—is proving insufficient for a Jewish family, with its relatively high standard of living. The Joint Survey Commission proposes sixty acres for a minimum dry farm. This would more than double the demand on land for the present group of farmers. But, again, that group is obviously too small a proportion of the total Jewish community, especially in a land which sustains no important industries. If the present community were divided evenly between farm and town, we should need once more to double our land requirement. And thus, without any further immigration into Palestine, all of the best land would be requisitioned!  This is a rude estimate. But no correction can alter the essential truth it intends to convey—the extraordinary pressure for more land which Zionism even now creates; the disproportionate draft on the best soil—for the Jew, as new to agriculture, would feel himself too much handicapped with any other than the best soil. How can this draft be met?

Article six of the mandate was written, without adequate survey, in a spirit of hopeful vagueness. This article speaks of 'state lands and waste lands' which may be made available for settlement. This sanguine phrase has become a current myth. State lands there are, and waste lands in plenty; but by far the greatest part of the waste is unreclaimable, and the state lands are not, as a rule, vacant. They are, generally speaking, fields or pastures whose use was paid for as a tax to the Ottoman treasury rather than as a rental to private landlords. The occupants hold them, under the shiftless methods of Turkish registry (chifilik happens to be their word for it), without recorded title, but with a customary tenure which cannot be disregarded. No doubt many shaky claims have been trumped up by unsettled Arabs making capital of British scruples for precise justice. But when all this is discounted, the amount of usable vacancy in Palestine is but a crumb for a hungry man. Zionist land at present grows chiefly as it has grown—by purchase from private owners. Picture the situation, in one or two actual cases:

'The most important single irrigable area in the Jordan Valley is to be found in and around the marshes of Lake Huleh. This land is of exceptional fertility. Two obstacles stand in the way of this reclamation. One is the heavy cost [of engineering the drainage] . . . the other is the acquiring of title to the land.' Estimate suggests that $468 per acre will overcome both obstacles.

Or again. 'The coastal plain from Haifa to Gaza is probably the finest citrus-growing area in the world. This area is comparatively densely populated.' In other words, Arabs are here and have been raising fine oranges on this soil for years. But further irrigation is possible; and note: 'The only perennial stream of any importance is the Audja . . . the right of irrigating from which has been conceded to the Palestine Electric Corporation.'

Under such circumstances it must be excessively hard for the Zionist to refrain from coveting his neighbor's land. Collectively speaking, he has the money. The Arab on the land is commonly poor: he is either a tenant cultivator whose livelihood may be sold over his head by an absentee landlord (a process now happily checked) or he is an owner to whom a mounting price may become an irresistible temptation. At first it could be assumed that at some figure or other land could be bought. But now the corporate apprehension of the Arabs crosses private transactions: campaigns for ostracism are occasionally started in the press against the would-be seller. And apart from this, the process has an evident limit.

For while in twelve years the Jewish population has increased through immigration and natural growth by one hundred thousand, the non-Jewish population has increased through natural growth alone by roughly one hundred and twenty thousand. The Arabs are not melting away before the Jewish influx—they are merely moving from the better land to the poorer. They see thirty thousand Jews, one thirtieth of the population, holding one fourth of the fertile land and requiring much more. They see a large share of the wealth of the world, backed by British power, abetting this growing acquisition. They reasonably foresee and fear that it would not be too much for a successful Zion if all the exploitable land of Palestine were to become Jewish property, leaving to the growing Arab majority the two million acres of rocky waste.

Presented by

The Man Who Owns 40,000 Video Games

A short documentary about an Austrian gamer with an uncommon obsession

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The 86-Year-Old Farmer Who Won't Quit

A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile the patriarch of a family farm

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

Video

An Ingenious 360-Degree Time-Lapse

Watch the world become a cartoonishly small playground

Video

The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain

"You really have to love solitary time by yourself."

More in Global

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In