New Palestine Law Gives High Commissioner Sole Discretion over Eviction of Land Tenants

The first fruits of the land policy initiated by the Shaw Commission Report, and endorsed by the Passfield White Paper, are visible in the new “Protection of Cultivators (Amendment) Ordinance of 1931″ which has received immediate promulgation in a special number of the Official Gazette of May 29.

The principal effect of this Ordinance is to transfer to the High Commissioner himself at his absolute discretion the decision as to whether tenants may be evicted, excepting in those cases where the tenant has failed to pay his rent or failed to cultivate the land properly. His action in such cases is to be adjudicated by a board of representatives of landlord and tenant under the chairmanship of a district officer. In other cases the High Commissioner has to be satisfied that equivalent provision has been secured towards the livelihood of the tenant before such tenant may be evicted by the landowner.

The second new feature of the Ordinance is that which lays down that provision must be made for the livelihood even of persons who may have grazed or watered their animals for five years or even cut wood or reeds or engaged in “other beneficial occupation” on the land, whether they have done so by right, custom, usage or even sufferance.

The transfer of discretion to the High Commissioner rather than to the courts, which would be guided by law on the subject, prevents any appeal and permits the administrative officers of the Government to decide as they please, whether or not they are satisfied that the tenant or woodcutter has been adequately compensated. This opens the door to political pressure and even to blackmail on the part of genuine and false trespassers. The widening of the category of persons able to claim compensation to include those who have used the land “on suferance,” that is, without the knowledge or authority of the owner, is a particularly significant innovation.

There can be little doubt that the effect of the new law, particularly in the hands of an unfriendly administration such as the present, will be to render more difficult the already burdensome procedure involved in land purchase on the part of Jews. No references are yet made asto the prohibition of land sales, consequently the Jews may continue their operations. But Jewish activity will be rendered more difficult and, in particular, more costly.

The new Ordinance is to remain it force for twelve months, no doubt on the understanding that during this period the new Development Scheme will be announced, making more serious provisions in regard to land sales.

The directors of the Jewish National Fund are aware that the Fund is in for a hard struggle. It has hitherto progressed in its work in spite of the administrative and legal difficulties and even earned the grudging admission of the Shaw Commission and Sir John Hope-Simpson that it has acted equitably and even generously toward the Arab tenants.

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