Friday 2 December 2022 \


'Zionist Land Broker Memoirs'. Palestinian land owners before the 'Nakba'

Palestinians forced into exile in 1948

Al-Hassad, the Syrian publishing house has released an historical diary entitled “Zionist Land-Broker Memoirs, based on the diaries of Yousef Nahmani, a Jew who excelled in buying Palestinian land for the “Jewish National Fund,” when he was its director in Tiberius.

According to Nahmani, among the original owners whom he bought the lands from for the Zionists, was Elias Kotaite who sold the area of Sobh, which included six thousand dunums {one dunum is 1000 sq metres) The settlements of Hanita and Ayalon were built on this land.

Nahmani also named the family of al-Farahat, whom he bought lands from in al-Zawiya, Qadas and Hunin in 1944, together with other names including Ahmed al-Asaad, Mahmoud al-Asaad and Soleib Sobh from Safed. The list also mentioned Kamel al-Hussein, Ahmed Mardini and Zaki al-Rikabi who sold the land in Khiyam al-Walid.

“Zionist Land Broker Memoirs” is a translation of Yousef Nahmani’s diaries. Although the original title of the book is “Yousef Nahmani: The Man of Galilee,” it was translated into Arabic as “Zionist Land Broker Memoirs.” It would have been appropriate if the Hebrew title had been left as it was, as it is more precise, for it is a diary and not a memoir, or an autobiography.
The original translated texts of Yousef Nahmani were not written in full in the book which was translated into Arabic, as his friend Yousef Vietz only selected certain diary entries. The diaries span the period from 1935 to 1949, while the entries extend to include a number of incidents which took place from 1912 through to 1964.The book, like other diaries, suffers from the problem that details which were of importance at the time they occured, became, as time passes, of no importance.

The strength of Yousef Nahmani's diaries lies in its disclosure of the multiple methods that early Zionists used in the acquisition of Palestinian lands and in uprooting peasants from their lands. It is an invulnerable document that reveals what was done by absent landlords who did not hesitate to sell their properties to the Zionists, and to leave the Arab peasants to their unknown destinies.

The book cites primary information about the beginnings of the “defence” of the settlement in 1920, when the Mounted Police first appeared at the settlement of Mishmar Hayarden in Galilee wich was exposed to Arab peasant attacks. However the book reveals that the first clashes did not start with the Arab peasants as was initially thought, but with the Bedouin who were getting help from the Horan tribes to raid the settlements in Tiberius and its neighbouring areas.

The translation of the word “Arabs” in the book is interchangeable with “Bedouins” and “Arab citizens.”

The book talks about the beginnings of the arms industry and how the Zionists tried to fit Turkish ammunition with German guns they possessed, portraying a pragmatic image, and not a bright one, of the Zionist work in Palestine that contradicts with the ideological talk about the first pioneers, saying: “The life of the comrades is poisoned. They cannot stand one another, and the work is not well-organised.”

According to the book Yousef Nahmani was born in Russia in 1891, and emigrated to Palestine in 1907. He worked in the settlement of Zikhron Ya'akov. Nahmani joined the party of Poale Zion (Workers of Zion). In 1911, he became a member of the Hashomer (The Watchman) organisation in Galilee, and remained a member until 1920, when he joined the Zionist Mounted Police. According to the book, Nahmani excelled in the acquisition of lands for the benefit of the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet Leyisrael), and was appointed its director at the fund’s office in Tiberius, where his area of responsibility was the eastern part of Galilee, includingHula, and the Jordan Valley, known as Ghor, and from Beit She'an to Tiberius and Samakh up to the outskirts of Safed.

Despite his preoccupation in this sensitive field, he had little political knowledge, hence he did not understand why David Ben-Gurion was not enthusiastic about the purchase of land. The answer is very simple; Ben-Gurion had started his plan to occupy the land by military force, after the report of the Peel Commission in 1937, not the “decree of Peel Commission”.
This report recommended the partition of Palestine, and did not want to waste money on acquisition operations that would be out of date and limited.

The book says that Nahmani established many friendships with Palestinians, which he used for his land purchase operations including Khalil Francis, Bishop Akil - the Maronite Patriarch at the time, Elias Nemoor from Beirut, and Abdel-Hussein Bazzi from Bint Jbeil.

However, what Nahmani reveals is according to some. disgraceful, particularly the story of his purchase of Jebel Harawi and the lands of al-Adisa village (600 dunums), Jahula and Al-Buwayziyya in 1938, as well as the lands of the villages of Meiss al-Jabal, Al Matallah, al-Manara, Qadas, al-Malkiyya and Awlam in 1945.

Nahmani lists the names of the sellers in the area he worked in, such as Elias Kotaite who sold the plot of Sobh. Moreover, in 1939 he bought lands from al-Khisas village, on which a famous massacre was committed by the Haganah on December 12, 1947.

In his diaries, Nahmani leaves no doubt that there was cooperation from the chief of the Ghawarneh Arabs in Hula, Kamel Hussein, in major sale operations. It was also surprising to learn from the diaries that prince Khaled Chehab was cooperating with Nahmani, was sympathetic to the Jews, and that he visited Nahmani in person in Beirut on May 31, 1946 and received some advice from him.

However, what is commonly said about prince Khaled Chehab -- that he was in need but did not sell his properties in Palestine to the Jews – has proven not to be accurate. The book claims that the mediator Elias Bchuti, negotiated with Nahmani about the sale of lands belonged to prince Khaled Chehab of an area of four thousand dunums in al-Ghabisiyya for 19 liras per dunum.

The amount of land that the Zionists owned in Palestine by the eve of World War I, amounted to 418 thousand dunums, and the lands owned by the Jews in 1948 totalled about 1734 dunums. In all cases, the ownership of the Jewish lands in Palestine did not exceed 5.7 percent at the time the partition decree was issued on November 29, 1947.
The question is: “Where did the Jews get all their land from in some of the most fertile areas of Palestine?

The answer claimed in the book is that the land came from members of the following families, not including the Palestinian sellers:

The Sursock family of Lebanon who sold Afula, Nuris and Ma’alul in 1910, the diaries claim, then Jezreel Valley in the period between 1921 and 1925. The total space sold by this family was 400 thousand dunums.

The al-Salam family of Lebanon, who received in 1914 from the Ottoman Empire, the privilege of draining the Hula swamps, and investment of the reclaimed land, but gave them up to the “Jewish Agency.” The space they sold amounted to 165 thousand dunums.

The al-Tiyan family of Lebanon sold Wadi al-Hawarith, an area of 308 thousand dunums in 1929.

The al-Tueni family of Lebanon sold property in Jezreel and villages between Akka and Haifa, such as Nahariya. The sale was undertaken by Alfred Tueni.

The al-Khouri family of Lebanon, who sold land on Mount Carmel which was about 3850 dunums. The land was sold by Yousf Khouri.

The al-Qabbani family of Lebanon, who sold Wadi Qabbani, near Tulkarm in 1929, described as four thousand dunums.

Madame Imran, from Lebanon, who sold 3500 dunums worth of land land in 1931 The Al Sabbagh family of Lebanon, who sold lands in the coastal plain.

Mohamed Beyhum of Beirut, who sold lands in Hula.

The al-Yousef family of Syria, who sold their lands in al-Butayha, al-Zawiya and Golan.

The al-Mardini family of Syria, who sold their property in Safed.

The Syrian families of al-Quwatli, al-Jazaerli, al-Shamaa, and al-Omari who sold their properties.

The British Mandate also gave the Zionists land, including the concession of the Dead Sea Potash Company, which amounted to 75 thousand dunums.. In addition, the Zionists received the concession of the Palestinian Electricity Corporation, or the project of “Rothenberg,” as well as receiving lands from the Ottoman Empire, estimated at around 650 thousand dunums.
As for the poor Palestinian peasants, they were circumvented in various ways, so what little land they owned, was taken. The figures range from between 78 thousand and 150 thousand dunums.

During the 1936 revolution, some of the land vendors were assassinated in revenge attacks and as a result, many were afraid of selling their lands to the Zionists. However, taking revenge on the absentee owners was impossible, as they had already sold their lands which were not theirs to sell, but belonged to them thorough "the right to use."

By the end of April 1997, the Fasl al-Maqal newspaper which was published in Nazareth, named several renowned Palestinians who had sold off their land to the Jews between 1918 and 1945. This list was based on a British document issued during the British Mandate period. The title the newspaper chose for the list was “The Paid Fathers,” which included the following names: Mohammed Tahir al-Husayni, Musa Kazim al-Husayni, Musa Alami, Raghib al-Nashashibi, Ibrahim al-Fahoum, Yousef al-Fahoum, Tawfiq al-Fahoum, and Yacoub al-Ghussein.

These were the most prominent Palestinian figures in politics before what the Palestinians call the Nakba, or "Day of Catastrophe" referring to the forced exodus of Palestinians in 1948.
Despite all this, the story of selling Palestinian lands until now, has been talked and written about without any insight or scrutiny. It has become an outrageous charge that stigmatised the refugees everywhere. Although 64 years have passed since the Nakba, it has become a matter of certainty that no Arab knew precisely the details of this issue.

Perhaps the reason behind this is that sources were not available or few, and some were just heresay. Very little until now has been available for the Arab reader except some primary sources such as the book of Saleh Masud Abu Yaseer “Jihad Sha’b Falasteen” (Palestine People’s Struggle).

Other books include those of Hind Amin al-Bediry “Aradi Falasteen” (Palestine Lands), Yakoub al-Khouri's “Amlak al-Arab wa Amwalahom al-Mogammada fe Falasteen” Frozen Property and Money in Palestine), along with the writings of Sami Hadawi, mainly in English, as the few testimonies left. As for Zionist sources that are available in Arabic, they are virtually non-existent except for Jack Cano's "The Question of Land in the National Conflict between Jews and Arabs)" and "The Development of Capitalism in Palestine" by Tamar Gozansky.
The statistical information about the sale of Palestinian lands is inconsistent; there are sources that say that Zionists owned more than two million dunums in1948, while others say they owned 1734 thousand dunums.



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