Dec 2005 Journal

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Point of view

Land purchase in Palestine-Israel

Shortly after Israel's pull-out from Gaza, a truck which was carrying mortar bombs towards the new frontier for lobbing into Israel as a thank-you for the pull-out exploded, causing deaths and injuries. Hamas promptly blamed Israel for this. This episode characterises the Palestinians' attitude towards Israel: they bomb innocents, even when things are going their way. But, in one respect, they are unable to apportion blame, and that is with regard to the purchase of land.

Under Turkish protectorate, Palestine was a virtual desert. Nomads and Druses roamed the country wherever their goats found greenery and then moved on. Under the British mandate, Jews who managed to settle bought patches of land from whichever landlord they could find: no land was simply acquired. Landlords were only too pleased to receive payment. Difficulties arose when a landlord could not be found. When I was driving through Haifa some years ago, a derelict house in our path caused us to make a small detour. As its owner could not be located, the house could not be bought and pulled down.

The difficulties were compounded when, on the establishment of the State of Israel, many Palestinians, landlords or not, left, encouraged to do so by radio broadcasts from neighbouring Arab countries, thus creating the largest and most long-living mass of refugees ever. They should have been helped in their self-imposed, tragic circumstances by the oil-rich Arab states, but were not.

In 1967 Israel, having pushed back the invaders, pursued them and was left with Arab territories on her hands. Israeli requests to begin peace talks were met by a deafening silence. The question now was what to do with the conquered territories. Purchase from either refugees who now had no papers as to ownership would be extremely difficult, and eventually the settlements were created. It was a logical step to cultivate barren land, though settlers should have been warned that the unlikely event of peace talks might involve the issue of their leaving those lands and losing any assets. Most recently, that is exactly what happened and the settlers withdrew, reluctantly but eventually with good grace.

Proof that the original intention had always been to purchase land legitimately recently came to light in an unusual manner. As I was looking through old family papers, I came across a set of variations for violin and piano on the Chanukah hymn by a composer by the name of Waxmann, published in Berlin presumably in the 1930s (no date could be found). On the back page was an appeal by Arnold Zweig, the famous author, exhorting people to buy land for emigrating Jews. Excerpts from the 1930s appeal are given below:

There is in Palestine a Jewish awareness. It is growing under normal difficulties, but growing. The Jews in Germany are watching this reconstruction with a deep bond and burning interest. Growth in Palestine means unlocking the land through Jewish work. Jewish work is qualified through Jewish soil. We must purchase this ground. We cannot, as [is the case] elsewhere, colonise by means of territorial annexation.

Keren Kayemet Leisrael has the task of bringing land into the possession of the Jewish community. This it has done hitherto with success: over 150,000 dunam are now eternal Jewish property. Thirty Jewish villages have sprouted in which, in the words of two well-known authors, '20,000 happy people' are working. The existing ground is occupied; our co-operative settlements and towns are growing. We must provide new land for the new settlers. ' We' means every Jew. We therefore turn to all of you to build this homeland, where Jews can develop their own way of life without being slandered, despised and hated. We turn to you to give generously together with many thousands at the forthcoming festival of Chanukah to Keren Kayemet Leisrael (Jewish National Fund) ...
Rudi Leavor

previous article:How I came to believe in miracles
next article:Making a New Life: Educational opportunities