T. Cliff

The Problem of the Middle East

Part III
The Economic Structure of the Arab East

<p. 98>

Chapter XI
The Agrarian Question in Palestine

I. Feudalism and Capitalism in Agriculture

The feudal land property relations prevailing in Palestine are partly the heritage of the distant past, and partly the fruits of the nineteenth century. The musha’a – communal peasant landownership – which will be discussed fully later, is the heritage of the middle ages. The existing feudal estate, however, has had no longer history than since the last century.

As we have said, the fixed and permanent proprietorship of the feudal lord over a particular landed estate was unknown to Moslem feudalism. The feudal lord had once been the fax farmer. During the nineteenth century he became an estate owner, i.e. an owner of fixed property. Using the persuasion of the whip and exploiting the indebtedness, poverty and illiteracy of the peasants, he turned more and more of them into tenants. This process was greatly accelerated after 1858, in which year a special law forced every man to register his property with the government. The fellaheen either had no proof of their ownership of the land, or thought its registration involved an increase in the burden of tax payments and conscription to the army, and so attempted to escape this registration. This opened wide the door for the machinations of tax farmers, government officials and rich townsmen. Thus, for instance, the banker Sursuk in 1872 bought two hundred thousand dunams [1] of land in Marj ibn Amir (the Valley of Jezreel) containing more than twenty villages with a total population of four thousand, for a ridiculously low price. He paid £6,000 to the government and £12,000 as a bribe to the Turkish politician who arranged the matter. Before ten years had passed, Sursuk’s annual income from this estate had already risen to £20–40,000. Another example of the creation of a very large estate on excellent land is that of Sultan Abd al-Hamid’s estate in Beisan, comprising 382,206 dunams, of which 112,552 are irrigated. The Sultan acquired this land in a very simple manner. In 1870 the Turkish government nominated a committee to investigate the causes of the accumulation of large arrears in tax payments. The result of the investigation was that the government ordered the whole area to be sold by public auction. Some villages were bought by the Sultan for a paltry sum, while others were registered under his name for no payment at all. Other large estates in the country were formed in not dissimilar ways.

An important factor in the creation of large estates was the encroachment of the landowners on the communal land – the musha’a. From 1860–1 the Turkish government began to enforce the abolition of communal village lands. Obviously the notables of the village appropriated a disproportionately large percentage of the lands when these were apportioned. The settlement of fellaheen on new but until now barren areas was also a cause of the extension of the large estates. Seeing that the Arab population of Palestine at the beginning of the 19th century reached no more than 100,000 (according to Dr A. Ruppin, Syrien als Wirtschaftsgebiet, Berlin 1920) or 300,000 (according to A.N. Poliak, On the History of Feudalism in Palestine, Hameshek Hashitufi, no. 12–13, 1936, Hebrew) and at its end half a million, while the number employed in handicrafts not only was negligible and did not rise but even decreased owing to the flooding of the local market with cheap European goods, the increase in the population was directed towards land settlement mainly on the coastal plain, in the South (the Beer Sheba of today being formed then) and in Transjordan. Receiving no aid from the government, the settlers had to get aid from the rich under difficult conditions, the latter generally registering the land of these areas under their own names. The large estates existing in Palestine today were formed mostly in this way.

It is very difficult to establish the area of land belonging to large landowners in the whole country, as government statistics give very little data on the system of land appropriation in Palestine, and the figures that are available are very incomplete.

<p. 99> According to one investigator, in 1906, on the completion of the registration of most agricultural areas, the fellaheen owned only 15 percent of the land in Hauran, 20 percent in Gallilee and Marj ibn Amir, and 50 percent in Judaea. The rest of the land was in the hands of big landowners, the Waqf, the government, and to a small extent European settlers – Zionists and German Christians. In 1930 the government nominated a committee to investigate the conditions of the agricultural population. Its report is named after its two heads, Johnson and Crosbie. This committee investigated about a quarter of the agriculturists of Palestine. It states that in the villages it investigated, about a third (31.8 percent) of all the cultivated land belonged not to the villagers who tilled it, but was rented by them from people living outside the village. If we keep in mind the fact that a number of landowners do not let part of their lands, but till it themselves with the help of hired labourers, and that a number, particularly the small landowners live in the village itself, and let their land to tenants of that same village, we may say without hesitation that half the land cultivated by Arabs belongs to landowners. The area of land cultivated by Arabs was 7.1 million dunams, which means that about 3.5 million dunams was owned by landowners. And if we take into account the 400,000 dunams government lands cultivated by Arabs and the 100,000 dunams Waqf lands (which do not include the 900,000 dunams belonging to the Waqf on which the peasants pay in taxes) we find that the area cultivated and owned by fellaheen amounts only to 3 million dunams. The number of Arab agricultural families is 110 thousands (this includes fellaheen, agricultural workers and landless peasants.)

If we take the number of large landowning families as 250, as it has been estimated, we find that the large landowners have an average of more than 10,000 dunams each. Some have much more even than this. The Shawa family for instance has 120,000 dunams of land, Abd al-Hadi 60,000, Russeini 50,000, Abu-Khadra 50,000, etc. In comparison with this the fellah’s household has on an average 30 dunams of its own.

Besides the landowners and the fellaheen, the Supreme Moslem Council also has rights over land to the extent of a million dunams – these are the Waqf lands. Of this area, as we have said, 100,000 dunams are leased to tenants who pay rent at the rates paid by other tenants to their land-owners, and from the other 900,000 the Council takes only a sum equal to the government taxes. A description of land relations is incomplete without a description of land ownership amongst the cultivators themselves. The Johnson-Crosbie report gives us a clear picture of the class differentiation along the Arab peasantry. In the villages investigated by the Committee there were cultivators with holdings of:–





More than 2 feddans [2]



1–2 feddans



Less than 1 feddan



Owners of trees only (without land)



Totally landless






If these numbers showed how much of this land was privately owned, and how much rented, we should without doubt get a more varied picture of the conditions of the land cultivators. They do not form a homogeneous <p. 100> group, some having much of their own land, others little, and yet others none at all; besides which there are some who have their own but rent other land also, in order to increase their holdings; others who have to rent land because they have hardly any of their own or at least very little of it; and yet others who let the little land they do possess. In general a household which owns less than one feddan is considered poor, a household owning 1–2 feddans middle, and a household owning 2 or more well-to-do. According to the above table therefore, of all the Arab land cultivators, 69.7 percent belongs to the rural poor, 13.9 percent are middle peasants and 16.4 percent make up the village bourgeoisie.

Agricultural capitalism is in a process of development. In this sector of agriculture, which is not extensive in area, but important as regards the capital invested in it, citrus groves take prime place. The area of citrus groves belonging to Arabs is as follows:–


  20,000 dunams













The area of the groves occupied less than 2 percent of the land cultivated by Arabs, but its capital is greater than that in all other agricultural holdings together. In a dunam of a citrus grove, not counting the land, an average of £60 is invested, so that in all Arab citrus groves about eight million pounds are invested. In comparison, the total inventory of a middle peasant does not exceed £60 (all figures are at pre-war prices). Thus landowning peasants own no more property (besides land) than a total of five million pounds.

Of the total agricultural population which before the war amounted to 600,000, 120,000 made their living directly or indirectly from citrus groves (owners of groves, workers therein, fruit merchants etc.) i.e. only a fifth.

Just as the major portion of land is concentrated in the hands of a few feudal lords, so the majority of citrus groves are concentrated in the hands of very few capitalists.

Capitalist development has begun in other branches of agriculture, besides citrus groves, this especially during the war ‘prosperity’. To a major extent, however, the agricultural economy has not yet become capitalist. It is still based in the main on most primitive implements, and the accumulation of capital is still very slow. (Jewish capitalist economy will be discussed later.)

The impress of feudal relations is not confined to the feudal estate alone. It depresses the standard of living of the agricultural worker, restrains the development of agricultural economy in general, and thus is the cause of a very low standard of living for the worker in the capitalist sector too. Feudal exploitation becomes the basis of capitalist super-exploitation. Furthermore feudal property relations keep the purchasing power of the fellaheen low, both as regards means of consumption and means of production, and thus impair the development of industry. The capitalist sector of Arab economy is developing slowly and is under the influence of feudal property relations.

II. The Musha’a

The musha’a constitutes one of the basic forms of land tenure in Palestine, Syria and Transjordan (but not Egypt and the Lebanon). Until a few decades ago, most of the land was not in the hands of separate households, but in those of the whole village, and it was re-divided from time to time according to lot, among all the households of the village. This system of land tenure is called musha’a. It prevailed also in the Slav countries (opschtschina in Russia, Zadruga in Yugoslavia) and India. This is not the place to enter into a discussion on the origin of communal peasant landownership which was such a bone of contention dividing the Narodniki and the Marxists, the former following Belyaev and the Slavophils in considering the opschtschina an unbroken continuation of primitive <p. 101> communism, while the latter considered that primitive communism had been extinct for already a long period, and the opschtschina was the fruit of a much later period. The Narodniki idealised the village commune as a remnant of the communism of the past and a cornerstone of the communism of the future. The Marxists uncovered the real class roots of communal village property, proving that it was the feudal government’s imposing of collective responsibility on the village for the payment of taxes of each one of its inhabitants which made the village, in order to bear this burden, see to it that each household had a properly worked portion of land. Thus arose communal peasant landownership. Most modern investigators incline to this view.

During the nineteenth century the musha’a was the typical system of land tenure in Palestine. Towards the end of the century and during the twentieth the process of division of the musha’a lands among individual peasants began, yet in 1923 a special government commission found that 56 percent of the village lands it investigated (which comprised nearly the total land of the country) was still musha’a. Seven years later the Johnson-Crosbie Committee put the total at 44 percent. L. French in his report put the total at 40 percent of the cultivated land in 1931 and 25 percent in 1933.

Under the musha’a system the land belongs to the village. It is divided into three fields; each of these three fields is divided into portions equal as regards their quality and conditions, and these portions are then divided into strips which are distributed to each village household according to lot. This division into smaller and smaller parts leads sometimes to such unwieldy results as some strips being, for instance, only one or two meters wide and as much as two kilometres long. Formerly the allotment was made according to the number of working animals each household had; those having many received more land than those with less. Households without animals received ground unsuitable for the plough, such as stony ground which could only be dug. The land was given for temporary use – over a period of a few years – after which all the land was re-allotted anew. The villager who had had no working animals and so had taken no part in the former allotment, could, if he had since acquired animals, take part in the next allotment, thus becoming an equal member of the village community. On the other hand, nobody was allowed to transfer this portion to a stranger for a period extending beyond the next allotment. Thus the musha’a preserved a large of equality among the fellaheen.

The musha’a system generally suited the requirements of medieval economy. It suited the rotator three-field system i.e. one field for winter crops, one for summer crops and one to lie fallow. This allowed the villagers to send their herds out to the fields after harvest to graze there and fertilise them. The musha’a also did away with the necessity for leaving an empty space between the strips. Socially the musha’a ensured the peasants against expropriation. Often, however, it increased their subjugation to the feudal lord when the latter took a part of the communal village lands, usually the best (such is the custom, for instance, in Jebel Druze in Syria.)

In places where the three-field system did not exist and the single peasant had to put in a large amount of work and assume much responsibility the musha’a disappeared. In Egypt village communal property had already begun to break up in the sixteenth century (till at the beginning of the nineteenth it existed only in Upper Egypt) under the influence of the duty put upon the fellaheen to be responsible for keeping the small irrigation canals in order. This meant that each peasant had to be personally responsible for a particular canal or portion of it and also the ground dependant on the canal. Furthermore the fields generally were not left to lie fallow, and if this did occur in some cases only a very small area was left. Better systems of fertilisation were used, viz. green manure and a more advanced system of crop rotation. These factors caused the break-up of the musha’a. A similar process took place in the Lebanon, where agriculture was based on orchards (mulberry trees and vines).

With the growth of towns and consequent development of markets for agricultural products, the necessity for an improved system of agriculture arose. Instead of the three-field system came superior systems mostly based on the rotation of crops. The musha’a now became a fetter on agricultural progress. First of all, no peasant is ready to invest much work <p. 102> and means in a plot of land if it does not remain in his possession. Secondly, the musha’a hinders the peasant from taking credit, as only when the plot is registered under his private name can he mortgage it. With the peasants enmeshed in debts, and the ceasing of the allotment of the musha’a lands according to the number of animals owned, and instead its division according to far from egalitarian measures, the poor peasant without animals was entirely ousted from the village community without the right to return. Furthermore it began to be customary towards the end of the nineteenth century to sell the right of participation in the village lottery. The musha’a thus ceased to be an institution preserving a certain equality in the village. Conversely the increase of inequality in the village, the accumulation of means in the hands of the rich peasants and their desire to invest them in irrigation, orchards etc. brought them into ever-increasing conflict with the musha’a.

The break-up of the musha’a in Palestine and Syria is testimony to the process of class differentiation amongst the peasantry and the capitalisation of agriculture. It is not in the main, however, a result of the advance of Arab agricultural economy, but simply the outcome of government administrative pressure. Its abolition was precipitated during the second half of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century under Turkish rule by the law forcing land to be registered with the government under private owners, this law serving well the interests of the landowners, government officials and rich men of the town. It led also to peasant uprising, which, however, were suppressed. The British administration followed the same policy for the same, and an added, reason, this being that the musha’a is a hindrance to the buying and selling of land, and thus to the expansion of Zionist colonialism. Very often the arbitrary method of abolishing the musha’a results in the appearance, not of the positive aspects connected with its disintegration, i.e. the facilitation of the transition to intensive culture, improved rotation of crops etc., but of the negative aspects – firstly the necessity to allot a special field for grazing, as the common field rotation formerly practised by the village disappears, thus preventing natural fertilisation by the grazing herds; secondly, the necessity to leave a margin between plots or to fence them off, and what, finally, is of the greatest consequence, the facilitation of Zionist colonisation which buys the land from Arabs and develops it, but entirely boycotts the Arab labourer.

The process of the decline of feudal forms of land tenure is thus distorted and instead of stimulating the forces of production of Arab economy, it brings to the fore mainly negative aspects which hinder economic progress while destroying the social equality which formerly prevailed in the village, and facilitating the rise of a foreign economic body which takes for itself the main fruits of the decline of feudal property relations.

III. The Backwardness of the Fellah’s Farm

The fellah’s farm is extremely poor, not only in land, but also in other means of production. His tools are poor and primitive. He has a wooden plough to which is attached an iron nail which scratches the earth’s surface to a depth of 10 to 15 centimetres, and which cost before the war 8/− (ed.: eight shillings). One investigator said of it: ‘The Arab plough is like the ancient Hebrew plough, the latter, however, seems to have been more complicated.’ (I. Elazari-Volcani, The Fellah’s Farm, Tel Aviv 1930, p. 18). His threshing sledge (moraj) is a wooden board to which hard and sharp stones are attached underneath. For days on end a horse turns this sledge round the cereal harvest while the fellah or his son sits on it to weight it down: this is the ‘threshing machine’ of the fellah which costs in all 12/−. His ‘harvesting machine’ a sickle, costs 2/−. The inventory of his livestock is worth slightly more, but it is nevertheless most miserable, quantitatively and qualitatively. An Arab cow gives about a seventh of the milk that a Holland cow gives. His hen lays about a quarter of the eggs that a leghorn does.

The poverty of the inventory naturally influences the harvest, which is very small, but which, in the light of modern agricultural technique, demands an immense amount of time and energy. An Arab fellah spends on an average 55.9 working days to produce one ton of wheat, i.e. nearly two months, while on a modern farm, for instance among the Jews of Palestine, not more than 5.2 working days are spent, i.e. less than one-tenth of what the Arab spends. An <p. 103> Arab holding of 80–100 dunams takes 46 days in the year for harvesting, and 129 for threshing. Both jobs take the modern combine a few hours to perform.

From the foregoing it is clear that even if the fellah did not have the landlord, moneylender, tax collector and merchant constantly knocking at his door, and even if his plot of land was not as tiny as it is, so long as his implements remain primitive as they are, his standard of living must remain very low. On the production of a ton of wheat, as we have said, 55.5 days of man and beast are spent, besides which, other expenses come to £1.4.0d. Before the war the price of a ton of wheat was £8. If we subtract £1.4.0.d, we find that there remained to the fellah £6.16.0d. If we divide this sum by 55.9 we get 12 piasters (2/5d) a day for both man and animal. Thus, without a change in agriculture technique, without a technical revolution, not even considering the prevalent social parasitism, the fellah’s standard of living must remain very low – (of course the backwardness of the existing technique is itself the fruit of this social parasitism.)

IV. Rent, Interest on Loans and Taxes

We shall now discuss the main burdens weighing upon the peasant and tenant.

We have seen that an agricultural household has on an average thirty dunams of cultivated land of its own. Excluding the agricultural proletariat, we find that it is about 50 dunams per household. The Johnson-Crosbie Report comes to the same conclusion, putting the average in the villages investigated at 51 dunams. It further states, ‘To provide the minimum cost of living for a family, a holding of 75 dunams seems to be necessary for an owner cultivator, while a tenant requires 150 dunams.’ (Johnson-Crosbie Report, p. 22) J.H. Simpson in Report on Immigration, Land Settlement and Development, London 1930, gives even higher figures; for a fellah who is not a tenant he says 150 dunams are necessary. But even if we accept the figures of the Johnson-Crosbie Report, we see that the masses of land cultivators are urgently in need of renting land from the landowners. The average land cultivator, including the agricultural proletariat, does not possess half of what is necessary for existence according even to his low standard of living of today. The land hunger is extreme, it being primarily the result of the unequal distribution. An added cause is the fact that industry did not develop to any appreciable extent for reasons already dwelt on, and therefore did not absorb the surplus agricultural population.

Land hunger is an effective whip in the hands of the landowners to raise land rents. Generally rent amounts to a third of the harvest. Sometimes, in cases where the tenant has no working animals and seeds and he must get these from his landlord, the rent amounts to half the harvest. Sometimes the conditions are even harder, especially when both feudal and capitalist forms of exploitation work hand in hand. For example, in Zara’in, a village in Marj Ibn Amer the landlord supplies half the seeds, and his representative who looks after the tenants, the other half. The ploughing is done by wage labourers with a tractor. The tenants are responsible for all the rest of the work. At the end of the year payment for the seeds, the labour of the ploughmen, taxes and other expenses are subtracted from the harvest. The rest is divided into four parts, two going to the landlord, one to his representative in the village, and one to all the scores of tenants.

Debts constitute a second burden, not less cumbersome. According to the Johnson-Crosbie Report, the average debt of a fellah’s family is £27, and interest £8 a year, i.e. interest at 30 per cent. Actually, often the interest is much higher. It is customary to pay at harvest time £15 for every £10 borrowed at the time of the sowing. The loan that the Arab fellah takes is used to cover a deficit in his minimum budget, in order to ease his hunger, and somehow maintain himself in years of drought. His loan is not only unproductive, but on the contrary, this loan is one of the main stumbling blocks to economic progress.

A picture of the rule of the usurers in Palestinian Arab villages is given by a high British official:

‘In one Area Officer’s charge extending over three subdistricts there are fourteen Government tax collectors; one money lender alone in one of those subdistricts was said to employ twenty-six mounted debt collectors.’ (L. French, Reports of Agricultural Development and Land Settlement in Palestine, Jerusalem, 1931/32, London, p. 77)

<p. 104> The only investigation made of the portions deducted from the agricultural income for taxes, rent and interest on debts, is that of the Johnson-Crosbie Committee. Although many changes have since taken place, there is no doubt that the portion of the toilers in the income did not rise, but even fell. The value of agricultural produce in the villages investigated by the Committee is as follows:–





Cost of production







Rent [3]



Interest on debt



Communal expenses



Net income







Thus less than a quarter of the value of the produce produced remains in the hands of the fellah while more than double this, 48.8 goes into the hands of the moneylenders, letters of land, tax collectors and the heads of the villages.

V. The Fellah’s Standard of Living

In the villages investigated by the Johnson-Crosbie Committee, the average net income after payment of taxes, interest, rent etc., of an agriculturalist who owns a plot (and not a worker without anything), is £12.3 a year. The Report says that a household spends £26 a year on living. What it lacks after harvest it makes up by working outside (wage labourer, transport work etc.), in any case £26 is a very small income for maintaining a family of six.

If we compare the diet of a fellah with that which the government is supposed to give to convicts (in actuality a large amount of this goes into the pockets of the prison officials) we find that the fellah’s food is worse than that of a convict. Let us suppose that a fellah and his wife are sitting in prison, and that four of his children are in a ‘Boys’ Reformatory School’, and compare the amount spent by the government on their food and that spent by the fellaheen:–


Family Sitting
In Prison



Wheat and millet



Olives and olive oil



Vegetables, lentils and dairy produce



Rice, sugar and other products bought
                  by the fellah outside his plot





Almost nothing




Although this calculation is by no means exact, it nevertheless shows in generally correct outline how terrible are the conditions endured by the mass of fellaheen in Palestine.

VI. The Arab Village Proletariat

The Johnson-Crosbie shows that for 76.8 per cent of the village population, wage labour is the only, or one of the main sources of income.

The population of the agricultural worker is even worse than that of the fellah. An official report says that the wage of an Arab male worker before the war lay between 70 and 120 mils a day, that of a female worker between 50 and 80 mils and that of a child between 40 and 80 mils. Actually the position was even worse than official figures show. <p. 105> In addition there is widespread unemployment, both revealed and hidden.

The employment situation was greatly changed, temporarily by the war, work in camps, on the roads, etc. absorbing masses of workers. We should not be wandering far from the mark if we say that the number of Arab wage workers nearly doubled itself during the war, rising from 80–90 thousand to 150–180 thousand.

The state of the Arab workers who have left their villages today, is very different from that of the Arabs who found their way to the towns before the war.

When the prices of agricultural products were low, and the Arab proletarian or semi-proletarian still owned a plot – no matter how small it may have been – in the village, he could manage to get agricultural produce for next to nothing or at least very cheaply. Today, however, the ties of the Arab worker with his village are getting weaker and weaker.

On the other hand the fact that the places of work of most of the Arab workers are not fixed or relatively secure, but have been created by the abnormal times, causes any shrinkage in these temporary works to cast thousands into unemployment, when a return to the village is connected with much suffering and in some cases is impossible.

VII. Zionist Colonisation

The area of land owned by Jews at the end of 1943 was 1.6 million dunams, which is 12 percent of the total area of Palestine besides Beer Sheba region which today is mostly uncultivated. Of the 1.6 million dunams owned by Jews, the rural area comprises 1.4 million dunams, and of this area, only 665 thousand, or 47 per cent, is cultivated. (Incidentally, from these figures alone it is clearly seen that the Zionists buy land to an extent far exceeding the actual need of Jewish colonizers).

But the weight of the Zionist agricultural economy is much greater than the numbers of the relative Jewish agricultural population, or percentage of cultivated land (8.5 per cent of the cultivated land of the whole country), appear to show. It is sufficient to show what the share of the Jews in the different crop areas is, to see this (1941/2):–



Almonds and olives


Deciduous fruit






Citrus fruits


Citrus fruit trees


Cereals, legumes, oil crops




We find from this table, that in the main capitalist sector of agriculture – citrus groves – the Jewish percentage is nearly half, while in the main sector of feudal economy – cereals – the Jewish percentage is very small.

Jewish agriculture is divided into three main categories: communal settlements, privately owned mixed farms and citrus groves. Seeing that most of the private holdings are on the lands of Zionist institutions, and were built with the capital of these institutions, we shall deal separately with agriculture based on Zionist funds, and that based on private capital.

a) Farms on Jewish National Fund Land

The capital investment of the Zionist institutions streamed into those sectors which are of great importance for the upbuilding and expansion of Zionism, and to which private capital did not incline as they promised no great profits. On a great part of the land acquired by Zionist funds, communal settlements were established, which suit the task of land conquest, and are also inexpensive. This colonization is carried out by people with no means of their own, who receive land mainly from the Jewish National Fund, and whose capital comes mainly from Zionist institutions, such as the Foundation Fund, Nir, etc.

<p. 106> The population of these holdings was 34,440 at the end of 1941, and the area cultivated 368,000 dunams, i.e. 10.7 dunams per person. If we remember that an Arab land cultivating family of 6 people owns on an average 30–35 dunams of its own land, and together with land rented, 50–60 dunams, we can see that the people of the ‘labour settlement’ – settlements on National Fund Land – have more land than the average fellah owns, and very much more than the poor fellah.

The inventory of ‘Zionist labour agriculture’ is relatively very rich.

In 1941 there were 251 tractors on these ‘labour holdings’, 95 combines, and numbers of lorries, threshing machines, etc. In order to see how high these figures really are, we shall compare the area per tractor of the ‘labour settlement’ in Palestine with that of other countries:–


Year of

Amount of cultivated
area per tractor











Zionist labour settlement



The ‘labour settlement’ is therefore very highly mechanized, it is not, however, rich only in machinery, but also in buildings. Just as we cannot compare the Arab plough, which costs 40 piasters, to the tractor, so can we not compare the concrete buildings of the Zionist settlements to the mud houses of the fellah, which are used not only for human dwelling, but also as a pen for sheep and goats, and as a run for fowls.

In 1936 the dwelling for a household on a smallholders labour settlement (moshav) cost £P 262, and the farm buildings £P 176. In the communal settlements (kibbutzim) they cost £P 103 and £P 66 respectively.

A comparison between the livestock on the Jewish farm and that of an Arab fellah gives the same picture.

A general survey of the ‘labour settlement’ shows that at the end of 1936 a sum of £P 154 per person was invested in the inventory, while the fellah’s investment came to £P 8–10 per person.

From where does the relatively large capital of the ‘labour settlement’ come? At the end of 1936, of the total capital of the farms, 66 per cent had come from Zionist institutions, 11.7 per cent were loans from other institution, and only 22.3 per cent was the capital of the settlement itself, and this excluding land given entirely by the Zionist institutions. If we include this, it turns out that after many years of saving, the settlement’s own capital does not even make up 10 per cent of all the property at its disposal.

Nevertheless it is true that after receiving this great amount of public money, the ‘labour settlement’ does enter a process of uninterrupted enrichment. The development of the five communal settlements Ein Harod, Tel Yosef, Geva, Nefziba, Beth Alpha, shown by the following figures will illustrate this (1924 = 100):–



No. of


Value of


Annual Income









It is interesting to note not only that, despite the support given by the Zionist institutions, agriculture employs a very small number of Jews, but also, that those Jews who are employed in agriculture are turning more and more to non-agricultural occupations. For instance, in the communal settlements the gross income from industry and handicrafts as compared with that from agriculture was:–













<p. 107> We shall now examine the standard of living in the ‘labour settlement’.

While the fellah’s family of 6 people expended on an average £P 26 before the war, the family unit in a communal settlement whose number does not reach four persons, in 1936 spent for food alone £P 83.6, for increasing invested capital £P 37.5, and further sums for other items.

The disbursement on education per child before the war was more than £P 6 per annum. If four children of the fellah received much an education it would cost him more than his whole net annual income:

There is, therefore, a great distance in amount of land, capital and standard of living, separating the ‘labour Zionist settlement’ from the toiling Arab fellah.

How does the Jewish agriculturist achieve this standard of living?

The mechanization and intensification of Zionist agriculture, the tractor and the combine, the excellent cowshed and orchard, are not sufficient to bridge the gap between the standard of living of the fellah and that of the ‘labour settlement’. These economic advantages, the support of the Zionist funds, and even the freedom of the ‘labour settlement’ from the burden of rent and usurer’s interest, alone cannot bridge the gap between the fine concrete houses, the radios and the automobiles, and the dung heap which is the playground of the Arab child.

To do so the members of the ‘labour settlement’ have to use yet another means: the selling of their products at higher prices than the Arab producer sells his. Before the war, when a fellah’s egg sold at 3 mils, that from the Jewish farm sold at 5–6 mils. A rotl of tomatoes from an Arab farm sold at 19 mils while that from a Jewish farm sold at 44 mils. In order to establish such a difference in prices, the ‘labour settlement’ was compelled to organise the boycotts of the fellah’s product.

The Zionist ‘labour settlement’, therefore, not only leans upon the money of the American Jewish capitalist, but is also active on its own account, boycotting Arab products, throwing kerosene on their produce, driving them out of the Jewish markets etc. It was only the war which made this ‘superfluous’.

b) Jewish Citrus Culture

The market for citrus fruits is almost entirely outside the borders of Palestine, in the main, England. Citrus culture, therefore, is not dependent on the expansion of the inner Jewish market. Moreover Zionist expansion would be liable to bring with it an increase in the plantation area, which would not be at all profitable to the present citrus grove owners, as it might cause a flooding of the overseas markets, which would affect the existing high prices. It is not surprising, therefore, that Jewish citrus grove owners, and especially those who own groves which already give fruit and so are generally not in need of credit from Zionist funds, are not over-enthusiastic Zionists. Two decisive questions occupied Palestine citrus grove owners for years before the war; the lowering of the customs tariff on oranges in England, and the limiting of new plantations. Over these two matters a united front of Jewish and Arab citrus growers was created. Hence also the collaboration that has from time to time taken place between Jewish and Arab citrus growers’ organizations in other spheres too. As the Arab worker’s wage is lower than that of the Jew, Jewish citrus growers, unlike other capitalists who are dependent on the internal market, very often employ Arab workers. Thus in the five main citrus growing colonies, the number of Jews employed in the working season of the winter of 1935 was 2,834, while more than twice that number, 5,812 Arabs, were employed. During the riots of 1936–38, the number of Arab workers greatly diminished, but came back to its former strength with their cessation (in the Winter of 1938 there were already 5,540 Arab workers in the five main citrus growing colonies).

Seeing that the citrus growers are the main breakers of the boycott on Arab labour, the fight for the Zionist conquest of labour was mainly fought about the citrus groves. The majority of the pickets of Jewish labour were stationed at the gates of the citrus groves, and thousands of Arab grove workers were there beaten for daring to work on Jewish farms. It was the citrus growers who applied to the government asking that pickets against <p. 108> the workers of another nation be banned (1934).

In any event, the relations between the Jewish citrus grower and his Arab workers do not differ from those between the Arab citrus grower and his workers. But the correspondence of national and social antagonisms is likely to cause a rapid development of the struggle between exploited and exploiters which is both a national struggle and a class struggle.

VIII. The Influences of Zionist Colonization of the Arab Villages

Zionist colonization influences the Arab village go directly in three spheres: the buying of the land, the buying of Arab agricultural produce, and the employment of Arab labour.

From 1878–1936, 1,231,846 dunams of land were acquired by Jews. Of all the land about which there are any details, 9.4 per cent were acquired from fellaheen 77.2 per cent from landowners, and 13.4 per cent from others (government, merchants, missionaries etc.) Thus the Zionist land purchases, while directly increasing the land hunger in the Arab villages, and indirectly causing the land rents to be raised, put nearly all the money from the transactions into the hands of the Arab landowners.

And what was the lot of the tenants working the landowners’ lands?

Dr. Weizmann, President of the World Zionist Organization, in a speech in 1929 said: ‘There has not been one instance of direct or indirect expropriation of an Arab from his land.’ Some months later, however, the Zionist leaders were forced to admit to a government commission the expropriation of 688 Arab agricultural families by Zionist colonization. Under mass pressure the government was compelled to investigate the number of tenants expropriated by Zionist colonization, and to promise their resettlement.

Many not included were:

  1. People who had owned land other than that sold, and had worked it as tenants,
  2. People who found other land and worked it now as tenants,
  3. People who got other land after selling that from which they were expropriated, but through poverty or for other reasons since ceased to cultivate it,
  4. People who were not tenants at the time of the sale, although they were cultivating the land, such as workers or ploughmen,
  5. People who sold their land of their own accord to the Jews,
  6. People who were actually landless but earned their living in some other way which brought them in an income of the same value as their land formerly had.

But in reality nearly all those belonging to the above categories were actually expropriated. Is a tenant who has been forced off his land and has found some other land or employment not expropriated? Is a tenant who was evicted and with great difficulty and expense found a new plot of land from which poverty drove him once more, not expropriated? Is a labourer or ploughman who lost his job through the land being purchased by Zionists who refused to employ him, not expropriated?

Until Dec. 1936, 3,280 applications were received from landless Arabs saying that they were expropriated by Zionist settlement and did not belong to one of the above categories. The government cancelled 2,607 of these, considering only the remaining 664.

But one can presume without fear of exaggeration, that at least 3–4 thousand Arab cultivating families were expropriated by Zionist colonization.

What was the compensation that the tenant received? Dr. A. Granovsky of the Board of Directors of the Jewish National Fund, announced that every expropriated tenant received an average of £P 39.9. Assuming that this is so, if the tenant owed (according to the Johnson-Crosbie Report) an average of £P 27, after the payment of the debt he was left with the grand sum of about £P 13.

Actually even the sum of £P 39.9 is exaggerated. Even if the Zionist Federation did expend such a sum in compensation, it did not go entirely as compensation to the tenants, but largely to line the pockets of the mukhtar (the head of the village) who was handsomely paid to cheat the poor and illiterate tenant.

<p. 109> At the same time not one Arab worker is employed in Jewish industry and building, and hardly any in Jewish mixed farming. The fact that some thousands come to work in Jewish citrus groves, is not thanks to Zionism but in spite of its opposition. And there is not doubt that if Zionism succeeded in strengthening itself, if Zionist agricultural colonization noticeably increased, the boycott of the Arab worker and fellah would be much harsher.

IX. Zionism and the Agrarian Question

Zionist propaganda is based on double dealing: on the one hand propaganda inside the Zionist camp for boycotting the fellaheen’s and Arab workers’ produce, and on the other propaganda which attempts to prove that the Arab masses benefit from Zionist colonization.

In a memorandum to the Royal Commission, the Jewish Agency said:

‘Apart from more general considerations of a moral order, it is essential in the interests of the Jewish National Home that the fellaheen should be raised to a higher standard of life. On a long view, the Jewish village cannot prosper unless the Arab village prospers with it.’ (Palestine Royal Commission Report, London 1937, p. 242)

As against this, in a speech intended for internal consumption, Mr Ussishkin, late President of the Jewish National Fund, said:

‘We may perhaps have time on our hands for labour and for the Country, for what we do not complete today we can complete tomorrow or the day after, but with regard to the Redemption of the Land (buying land from Arabs – that is Redemption of the Land! – T.C.) we can on no account relinquish our efforts for even one day, for even one hour. The land which is for sale today, may not be purchasable tomorrow for any money, and as for the day after – I certainly have grave doubts [4] … In this country there is a certain organization taking care of the sale of chemical fertilisers. It employs a whole staff of agronomists who travel from village to village and teach the fellah to fertilize his soil; furthermore, they give him the fertilizer on credit with easy terms of payment. This surely is a good and civilizing activity, and the Arab who yesterday drew almost no profit from his land, has now adopted methods of amelioration and manure, and his income rises year after year. It is obvious that, as agricultural conditions improve, the conditions for the purchase of land deteriorate. Besides, considerable propaganda is being made among the Arabs for the foundation of an agricultural bank, to serve the fellah as well as the big landowner, and if this is realized, it will be more difficult to buy land.’ (Koh ha-adama, Jerusalem 1929, Hebrew)

No doubt Ussishkin exaggerates the ‘danger’ following the possibility of this improvement of agricultural conditions, for while the fellah owes high rents, interest on debts and taxes, even fertilizer given him free would not give a great push forward to Arab agricultural economy. But Ussishkin acknowledges one important thing: Zionism is not interested in the improvement of the fellah’s conditions, but in the retrogression.

There is an Arabic proverb expressing the fellah’s bond to the soil which says, ‘The fellah dies in his furrow.’ It is not he in the main who sells his land to the Zionists, but the large landowners. All the time that the large landowners rule over tremendous tracts of land, and also hold the tenant and the fellah in the vice of usury, nothing need stop them from evicting the cultivators from the land they cultivated if they so desire. Hence the laws prohibiting land sales to the Zionists do not prevent Zionist expansion. [5] The abolition of feudalism and the freedom of the tenants and fellaheen from dependence on the large landowner and usurer is the radical and only way to end Zionist aggression.


1. 1 Dunam = 0.247 acres

2. The Palestine feddan is different to the Egyptian. Originally it was an area which could be cultivated with the help of one plough and a pair of oxen. It differs much in different regions of Palestine itself. According to our calculation, by dividing the minimum number of feddans in the villages into the cultivated area of the villages investigated by the Johnson-Crosbie Committee, we find that the average feddan is at most 70 dunams (but in actuality less than that). Seeing that the feddan varies in different areas, it would appear that the table is worthless. This is not so, however, as in every region the Palestine feddan is approximately equivalent to the area of land considered necessary to support one average peasant household.

3. This is only the rent paid to letters of land who do not live in the village itself, but as we have pointed out, here are others who live in the village and the rent total is therefore certainly greater.

4. Probably for this reason the Zionists buy much land, as we have seen without working it. The main thing is ‘Land Redemption’!

5. In 1940 a law was enacted restricting the sale of land to Jews, but this by no means stopped Zionist expansion. Dr. Granovsky could write with regard to the first year after the enactment of the law, ‘In the history of the Jewish National Fund, you can find only two years in which more land was redeemed than this year.’ (The First Year of the War, A. Granovsky, 1941, Hebrew).

Last updated on 28.5.2011