Tuesday, November 06, 2012

On the early Zionist settlers

"The petitioners present themselves as, "We, the residents of villages neighboring with the Jewish colonies of Daran [Rehovot] and Lun Kara (Rishon Leztion)," and complain that the Jews "wanted to strip the camel owner of their clothes, money and camels, but these men refused to give their camels and escaped from Lun Kara with their camels, protecting each other [to seek refuge with] men of the law… The above mentioned Jews attacked our villages, robbed and looted our property, killed and even damaged the family honor, all this in a manner we find hard to put in words."
The villagers continue to voice their grievances about the Jewish attitude, the amassing of forbidden arms in the Jewish colonies, and even of bribery: "By payments they do whatever they want, as if they have a small government of their own in the country."
The Zarnuka petition is but one of thousands of petitions sent from Palestine to Istanbul at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. A reading of this correspondence sheds light on the way rural Arabs viewed the first Zionist settlements, as well as irreconcilable differences between the local population and the new European immigrants. 
A huge gap is evident concerning the concept of land and property. As far as the Jews were concerned, purchasing the land from its owners – usually landowners who lived elsewhere – gave them full control of all rights concerning the land. The local Fellaheen and Bedouins saw things differently, however. They believed that the fact that they had lived and cultivated the land for centuries granted them rights on the land.  Thus, for example, in 1890, a Bedouin tribe who cultivated the lands that would later be Rehovot, wrote: "Lately, the supreme government has sold the place to certain people of the land. We did not protest since the new owners of the land clearly knew that the place was cultivated and handled by us for many centuries… but, still in this condition, the land was suddenly sold to a group of foreign Jews [Asralin] who arrived with funds… They began to expel us from the land we lived on… the farm, which was ours since the times of our fathers and grandfathers, was forcefully taken from us by the strangers who do not wish to treat us according to the accepted norms among tillers of the soil, and according to basic human norms or compassion.  In short, they will not accept us, even as their slaves." The tribe requested that the sultan issue a decree allowing them to remain on their lands, or, alternatively, allocate other land for them." (thanks Joseph)