[the Muslim Brotherhood will] continue to view the Jews and Zionists as their first and foremost enemies … Jihad means making sacrifices in order to restore what has been stolen [Palestine]. Mohamed Badie, Supreme Leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, January 2010
From the beginning of World War I, Arabs began claiming that Jews had stolen Arab land and displaced its inhabitants. In reality, 80% of the land in the region was considered “state land,” owned by the Ottoman Empire (subsequently the British). The next largest landholders were absentee landlords like the Lebanese Sursuck family, who owned most of the Jezreel Valley. In contrast, 80 % of Palestinian Arabs were impoverished peasants, semi-nomads, and Bedouins — not wealthy landowners.1
The region was severely underpopulated, which meant the Jews could avoid buying land in areas where Arabs might be displaced, which they did. They sought land that was largely uncultivated, swampy, sandy, and most importantly, without tenants, like much of the Jezreel Valley. In 1920, David Ben-Gurion expressed his concern about the Arab fellaheen (peasants), whom he viewed as “the most important asset of the native population” he said, “under no circumstances must we touch land belonging to fellahs or worked by them.” He advocated helping liberate them from their oppressors. “Only if a fellah leaves his place of settlement should we offer to buy his land, at an appropriate price.” 2
The Jews overpaid for the land they purchased
When British MP John Hope Simpson arrived in Palestine in May 1930 to report on Arab-Jewish violence and discovered the Jews were purchasing land at exorbitant rates: “They [Jews] paid high prices for the land, and in addition, they paid to certain of the occupants of those lands a considerable amount of money which they were not legally bound to pay.” 3
In 1937, the British Government published the “Peel Commission,” which found Arab complaints about Jewish land acquisition were baseless. It pointed out that “much of the land now carrying orange groves was dunes or swamp and uncultivated when purchased. There was, at the time of the earlier sales, little evidence that the owners possessed either the resources or training needed to develop the land.” Moreover, the Commission found the shortage was “due less to the amount of land acquired by Jews than to the increase in the Arab population.” The report concluded that the presence of Jews in Palestine, along with the work of the British Administration, had resulted in higher wages, an improved standard of living, and ample employment opportunities. 4
It is made quite clear to all, both by the map drawn up by the “Simpson Commission” and by another compiled by the “Peel Commission,” that the Arabs are as prodigal in selling their land as they are in useless wailing and weeping.
Transjordan’s King Abdullah, My Memoirs Completed, p88-89
Violence escalated, and Arabs continued to sell land to Jews at outrageous prices, usually for tiny tracts of arid land. “In 1944, Jews paid between $1,000 and $1,100 per acre in Palestine, mostly for arid or semi-arid land; in the same year, rich black soil in Iowa was selling for about $110 per acre.” 5
Land ownership from 1945-1947
In 1945, the British commissioned a land ownership survey in Mandatory Palestine for the “Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine.” This survey was the research that the United Nations relied upon when suggesting how the region could be partitioned. The UN’s suggested the Jewish state would be in the area with heavy Jewish or state ownership (such as the barren Negev Desert). At the same time, the proposed Arab state was in the regions with heavy Arab ownership. The claim that Jews stole Palestinian land is factually incorrect.6
By 1947, Jewish holdings in Palestine amounted to about 463,000 acres. Approximately 45,000 of these acres were acquired from the Mandatory Government; 30,000 were bought from various churches, and 387,500 were purchased from Arabs. Analysis of land purchases from 1880 to 1948 shows that 73 percent of Jewish plots were purchased from large landowners, not poor fellahin. 7 Those who sold land included the mayors of Gaza, Jerusalem, and Jaffa. As’ad el–Shuqeiri, a Muslim religious scholar and father of PLO chairman Ahmed Shuqeiri, took Jewish money for his land. Even King Abdullah leased land to the Jews. In fact, many leaders of the Arab nationalist movement, including members of the Muslim Supreme Council, sold land to Jews. 8
Fact or fiction: Israel stole Palestinian land in the 1948 war?
As soon as Israel declared independence, eight Arab nations invaded. With the battle cry of the Grand Mufti ringing in their ears, “I declare a holy war, my Muslim brothers! Murder the Jews! Murder them all,”9 The Arab armies, with the help of Palestinian militias, attempted their genocide against the Jews.
By some miracle, the Jews repelled the invaders and, in defeating the Arab armies, and captured more land than that allotted in the UN partition. Much of this land had sizable Jewish populations and more defensible borders. Israel decided to retain this land to assure the safety of its citizens. It is this new border that most people refer to when they speak of the “Pre-67 Lines” (or the “49 Armistice Lines”).
The Arabs also captured land. The Egyptians conquered Gaza, while the Jordanians usurped the West Bank. Unlike Israel, this was not for the safety of their citizens but to increase their own territory. According to Benny Morris, the “Arab war plan changed into a multinational land grab focusing on the Arab areas of the country by the end of the war. The evolving Arab ‘plans’ failed to assign any of these whatsoever to the Palestinians or to consider their political aspirations.”10
Fact or fiction: Israel stole Palestinian Land after 1948?
While Arab leaders instructed to “strike the enemy’s settlements, turn them into dust, pave the Arab roads with the skulls of Jews,”11 their genocidal intentions were repeatedly crushed, often leaving Israel with even greater territory. Despite these gains, Israel had no intention of keeping the land — it always intended to return the land in exchange for peace.
In 1974, Israel returned territories to Syria that it had captured in 1967 and 1973. Again in 1979, they returned the entire Sinai Peninsula, a mass of land rich in oil, with Jewish settlements and three times the size of pre-67 Israel.
In September 1983, Israel withdrew from large areas of Lebanon to positions south of the Awali River. In 1985, it completed its withdrawal from Lebanon, except for a narrow security zone just north of the Israeli border. That too was abandoned, unilaterally, in 2000.
After signing peace agreements with the Palestinians and a treaty with Jordan, Israel agreed to withdraw from most of the territory in the West Bank captured from Jordan in 1967. A small area was returned to Jordan, and more than 40% was ceded to the Palestinian Authority.
Finally, in 2005, all Israeli troops and civilians were evacuated from the Gaza Strip, and the territory was turned over to the control of the Palestinian Authority. In addition, four communities in the West Bank covering an area larger than the entire Gaza Strip were also evacuated as part of the disengagement plan. As a result, Israel has now withdrawn from approximately 94% of the territory it captured in 1967.
Israel has captured territory from those that wage war against the tiny state, but each time it returns the land in a heartbeat in exchange for peace.
Fact or fiction: Israel stole Palestinian land to build settlements?
From ancient times, Jews have lived in the West Bank. The only time they did not was in recent decades when Jordan ethnically cleansed Jews from the region between 1948 to 1967. When Israel captured the territory from the Jordanians following Jordan’s attack on Israel in the combined Arab attack of 67, Israel allowed Jews to move back to some select locations.
Numerous experts in international law believe that these settlements are not illegal. Stephen Schwebel, formerly President of the “International Court of Justice,” notes that a country acting in self-defense may seize and occupy territory when necessary to protect itself. Schwebel also observes that a state may require, as a condition for its withdrawal, security measures designed to ensure its citizens are not menaced again from that territory. 12 In the seventies, Israel made thousands of its citizens homeless when it returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. It did so on Egypt’s condition to make peace with the Jewish State — just as Schwebel described.
When Israel constructs its settlements, it does not requisition private land for its establishment. Housing construction is only permitted on private land where the rights of others have not been violated. The vast majority of settlements have been built in uninhabited areas, and even the handful established in or near Arab towns did not displace or steal land. In instances that settlements had been built on stolen land, the previous Arab owners took their case to the Supreme Israeli Court, which ruled the settlements needed to be dismantled.
- The claim that Jews stole Palestinian land is a lie.
- The UN proposal awarded Israel the land where Jewish ownership was high.
- Jews massively overpaid for the land they acquired.
- Israel has captured land in defensive battles but has always exchanged it for peace.
For even more information about the establishment of the nation of Israel, here are sources to reference:
- Did Israel get all of the good land?
- Did America create Israel?
- Is it true that Israel stole Palestinian land?
- Was there ever a Palestinian people?
- Was there ever a country called Palestine?
- Was the Zionist movement a plot to colonize the Middle East?
- Were the Jews unwilling to share Palestine?
- Was the UN Partition Plan unfair to the Palestinian majority?
- Are Israel’s borders expanding?
- Is it true that Britain created Israel?
- Why should the Palestinians pay for Europe’s wrongs during the Holocaust?
- Moshe Aumann, Land Ownership in Palestine 1880–1948, (Jerusalem: Academic Committee on the Middle East, 1976), pp. 8–9
- Shabtai Teveth, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs: From Peace to War, (London: Oxford University Press, 1985), p. 32.
- Hope Simpson Report, p. 51
- Palestine Royal Commission Report (1937)
- Moshe Aumann, Land Ownership in Palestine 1880–1948, (Jerusalem: Academic Committee on the Middle East, 1976), p13
- Spreadsheet which contains village statistic
- Abraham Granott, The Land System in Palestine, (London, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1952), p. 278
- Avneri, pp. 179–180, 224–225, 232–234; Porath (77), pp. 72–73; See also Hillel Cohen, Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917–1948, (Berkeley, University of California Press, 2008).
- Quoted in “Myths and facts 1982; a Concise Record of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Leonard J. Davis and M. Decter, p199″
- Righteous Victims, Benny Morris, p221
- Hafez al-Assad, Prime Minister of Syria, Quoted in “Six Days of War, Michael B. Oren, p293″
- American Journal of International Law, (April 1970), pp. 345–46.