Tuesday, July 2, 2013

How Green Was Their Valley 2

"Indeed, the central problem for the Zionists was that all the fertile land was already being cultivated, by people who were not prepared to part with it. Like all native people the land for them was an integral part of the cycle of life. That was the way it had always been and not until the Zionists arrived had they had to face life without it. It was the latifundistas living outside Palestine and the middlemen who negotiated the deals who gave the Zionists their foothold. Once the contracts were signed they drove the tenant cultivators away.* There was no remorse: where these uprooted people went was none of their business. The British, in charge of this supposedly 'sacred trust of civilisation', as the mandate was described in article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, were complicit in this ruthless process, providing an umbrella of armed and pseudo-legal protection. [*See my22/4/10 post Perennial Terrorism.]

"Through legal purchase the Zionists were never going to get what they wanted. By 1945 they had acquired less than 6% of Palestine and remained a one-third minority of the population despite the massive immigration of the 1930s. David Ben-Gurion and other Zionist leaders knew that only war would give them what they wanted. They played a crafty game, dumping the British when they were no longer of any use and turning to the United States. Partition was a complete violation of the natural rights of the indigenous people but was welcomed by the Zionists, naturally, as they were being given what they did not possess and had no right to possess. At the same time as pretending to be satisfied with partition, they regarded it only as the first step. It was not just that the Americans had concluded by early 1948 that Palestine could not be partitioned peacefully. The Zionists would never allow it to be partitioned peacefully as this would leave the Palestinians on their land. There could be no Jewish state as long as they stayed, and if there is a regret in the Benny Morris school of historical reflection it is only that the opportunity was lost to get rid of them all.

"In the meantime land hunger focused settler eyes on possibilities in the rich, fertile and well-watered Huleh valley. Draining what were called the swamps of Huleh would create more room for colonization but for the time being remained beyond their technical and financial means. When it happened it was inscribed as one of the founding myths of Zionists: the redemption of the land, making the desert bloom, and all the rest of it, when in fact the settlers ruined in the Huleh valley what was an ecologically rich wetland with few parallels in the Middle East.

"From the beginning control of water was essential to the Zionist project. Weizmann fought hard at the Paris peace conference in 1919 for the Syrian headlands of Palestine's water to be included in the British mandate and therefore within the borders of the Zionist state Lloyd-George, Balfour and Churchill wanted to establish in the heart of the Middle East while talking endlessly about nothing more than a 'national home' for the Jewish people. Weizmann's scheming and lobbying broke against the rock of French strategic interest but seizing and controlling water resources in and around Palestine remained a prime target of the Zionist leadership, with their diversion of these waters creating one of the many crises that preceded the 1967 war.

"The Huleh valley stood out from the beginning of Zionist settlement. The first colony in the valley was established in the 1880s but because of the ravages of malaria no further settlements were established for half a century. In the 1930s, Steimatzky's Palestine Guide noted the drainage of 'swamps and marshes' since the First World War, ending the scourge of malaria and restoring 'fertile tracts of land to cultivation thus increasing the tillable area of Palestine'. Unique amongst Palestine's network of rivers, lakes and subterranean aquifers, the Huleh wetlands 'which are now marshy tracts offer untold opportunities for agricultural development. Thorough drainage is the first need, to be followed by systematic irrigation. This land has been granted for use under a concession to a group which did not avail itself of the concession. The concession has now passed to a Jewish group which will soon start on the preliminary work'. (p xii)

"In his collection of essays on land acquisition in Palestine, Arthur Ruppin, a German lawyer who settled in Jaffa as the chief land purchasing and development officer for the Palestine Office of the World Zionist Organization (WZO), lists the Huleh wetland as land which might be uncultivable for the Palestinian settled and nomad population but which would be cultivable for incoming Jewish colons, given their access to credit and use of modern farm machinery.* The fertile land around the lake was either state land from Ottoman times or already owned and cultivated, with only one Zionist settlement having been established up to the outbreak of the Second World War. Ruppin wanted to open up land for settlement by draining the wetlands, which were for him no more than marsh and swamp waiting to be reclaimed.  (*Three Decades of Palestine, 1936, pp 207-208)

"In a memorandum handed to Sir John Hope-Simpson, sent to Palestine in 1930 to investigate immigration, land development and settlement, three major causes of rising distress amongst the Palestinians, Ruppin attempted to show that 'if the farming of the fellaheen were to be a little bit intensified - in the coastal zone, Beisan, Huleh and the lower Jordan Valley - the Jews would be able to buy 1,300,000 dunums without displacing the people who have so far [sic] worked the land. Fifty-five thousand [Jewish] families could be settled on this land.'* Hope-Simpson demurred on various grounds, one of them being that the Jewish National Fund (JNF) would not let 'Arabs' work on its land and that and that 'increasing land purchases will displace the Arabs from many parts of Palestine.' This in fact is what happened as part of a process Hope-Simpson described as the 'extra-territorialisation' of land once purchased by the JNF and put beyond purchase or rental by non-Jews forever. Zionist colonists who still used the Palestinians on the land or in workshops and factories were violating the Jewish-only labor 'principles' that were the corollary of the 'princples' governing land purchase.  (*Alex Bein, ed, Arthur Ruppin: Memoirs, Diaries, Letters, 1971)

"At the age of 50 Ruppin and others founded the Brit Shalom movement. It was committed to 'Jewish-Arab' friendship but the refusal of the Palestinians to give up their rights and their land eventually forced him to conclude that negotiations would achieve nothing and that if the Zionist project was to succeed, 'we must increase our strength and our numbers until we reach parity with the Arabs. The life or death of the Zionist movement will depend on this... Perhaps a bitter truth but it is the truth with a capital T.' Writing in 1936 he expected this point to be reached in 5-10 years.* Ruppin died in 1943 so was not around when not just parity but numerical superiority was achieved by expelling the bulk of the indigenous Palestinian population in 1948. In the language of the occupier, there were 12 'Jewish' and 23 'Arab' 'settlements' in the Huleh valley by 1948. 'Following the establishment of the State of Israel and during the 1948 War of Independence the Arab inhabitants left the valley, moving to neighboring Arab countries'.**" (*Arthur Ruppin: Memoirs... p 320; **Lake Hula-Lake Agmon, Zohary & Hambright, jewishvirtuallibrary.org)

To be continued...

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