Jerusalem (Nov. 3)
The Arab-Jewish front in the motor-car strike in Palestine against the Government’s enforcement of licence fees, which started at midnight on Monday, is unbroken, Hassan Sidki el Dejani, one of the Palestine Arab leaders, said to the J.T.A. here to-day.
The strike is complete throughout the country, he stated, except for one small Arab firm in Jerusalem. No incidents have occurred anywhere. The Union has sufficient money, Mr. Dejani declared, to carry on the strike for three months even, until the Government accepts the recommendation of its own Enquiry Board with regard to licence fees and other motor-car taxation.
The stoppage in the country is so complete, that Mr. Cecil de Mille, the famous film producer, who made the notorious “King of Kings” picture, against which Jewish opinion made repeated protests, on arriving in Palestine to-day with his wife and party, was compelled to take a horse carriage in order to visit Bethelehem to see the Church of the Nativity.
Hassan Sidki el Dejani was one of the leaders also of the united Arab-Jewish front which was established last December by the Palestine shoemakers, both employers and workers, against the menacing of their livelihoods by the heavy imports of foreign shoes.
Moslems, Jews and Christians joined together on that occasion and tags written in Hebrew and Arabic reading “Down with foreign goods Long live local products”, were worn by the demonstrators. At a big joint meeting held to demand that the Government should increase the customs duties on foreign-made shoes and decrease the customs on raw materials required by shoemakers, it was Hassan Sidki el Dejani who moved the resolution which was seconded by Mr. Finkelstein, one of the leaders of the Jewish Labour Federation in Palestine.
The Hebrew Labour daily “Davar” complained at the time that an Arab District Officer had threatened Arabs that united Arab action with the Jews would be followed by a reduction of the Government’s financial assistance to the Arabs.
“PALESTINE ADMINISTRATION HAS BEEN ACTUALLY HINDERING MOTOR-TRAFFIC INDUSTRY INSTEAD OF ASSISTING AND ENCOURAGING IT”
The attitude of the Government towards the motor traffic industry has been a source of constant irritation both to drivers and the public, the Palestine Labour daily “Devar” has written on the present conflict. In a hilly country of short distances, where new settlements keep cropping up, it is the motor car and not the railway, it said, that is destined to be the main instrument of transport for men and goods, and a cheap and efficient instrument at that. In fact, the growth of the motor car service since the Occupation has been truly stupendous. Its growing importance in the country’s economic life has become one of the salient features of Palestine’s post-War development. On the Jewish side the progress of motor traffic has been characterised by the growth of drivers’ co-operation and the rise of labour-owned omnibus services, as well as by the headway made in garaging and in the local manufacture of automobile bodies.
Yet all the while the efforts of the Administration have been bent towards – let alone assistance and encouragement – the actual hindrance of the industry. It has found it possible to dissociate its fiscal policy from the trend of economic development and to let the short-run interests of the Exchequer militate against the duty of government as the custodian of the country’s weal. In its double capacity as a Government whose revenue is mainly derived from custom dues, and as the owner of the country’s railway system, it set out to penalise the motor trade by bringing the crushing weight of taxation down upon it.
When the figures were published at the beginning of the present campaign, they startled the public, the paper states. A specific duty of Â£P. 1,350 is levied on every 100 kgs of benzine imported into Palestine. This is practically five times as much as in Egypt, where the duty is 280 milliemes per 100 kgs. The Palestinian duty on benzine raises the price to the consumer by fully 100 per cent. and more, amounting as it does to 200 mils per tin, the price of which fluctuates roughly between 470 and 340 mils. Next comes the duty on tyres – again a specific duty of 60 mils per kilogramme. When imposed in this amount a few years ago it made out 15 per cent. of the value. Since then, however, the price of tyres has gone down sixty per cent., so that now the duty is 37 per cent. Ad valorem. A third channel through which the Government exploits the industry is licences. Before the present concessions were wrested, a car seating five persons (driver included) paid Â£P.12 a year, while one seating seven persons was charged Â£P.18. Lorries were liable to an annual licence fee of Â£P.20 if carrying up to 1 ton, to a fee of Â£P.30 if up to 1Â½ tons and Â£P.20 if of a higher capacity. In Syria the fee for a lorry up to 1Â½ tons is 31 Syrian pounds which is just over Â£P.5 (one-quarter to one-sixth of the Palestinian fee), while in Egypt lorries with a capacity not exceeding 5 tons pay Â£E.5.250 (one-fifth to one-ninth of the corresponding fee in Palestine).
In the memorandum presented to the Government by the Drivers and Motor-car Owners’ Union the demands were put forward for a 50 per cent. reduction of duty on benzine and tyres, the complete abolition of licence fees and certain amendments in the Road Ordinance. During the past year the Government had repeatedly been approached with similar demands by an Arab Union of drivers and car-owners which was formed in Jerusalem. All these representations remained fruitless, the authorities not even having vouchsafed a reply. Then the movement became country-wide and embraced both Arab and Jewish sections of the trade. The new union found an energetic president in the per- son of Mr. Hassan Sicki el Dejani. When the stoppage became imminent, the General Federation of Jewish Labour intervened to constitutionalise what might otherwise easily have degenerated into a disorderly and futile outburst.
It is in the interests of the public as well as of the drivers that these should be paid a living wage and not made to work beyond the limit of their normal endurance, the “Davar” declared. As for the conditions governing the benzine trade in this country, why should a tin the normal world price of which is 120 mils sell here at 470 mils, a riddle to which the 200 mils duty does not provide a complete solution. The Shell and Vacuum Oil Companies, it said, having concluded an alliance to exploit a helpless body of consumers, simply know no limits, while the Government keeps the ring. Some time ago the Jewish drivers’ co-operatives clubbed together to purchase a consignment of benzine from Roumania at 400 mils per tin. The two giant oil concerns promptly brought their price down to 380, whereupon their Roumanian competitor began selling at 340 (still making an extra profit of 20 mils per tin over the world price, after the duty has been deducted). But such battles cannot last long, for the two allies are known to have bought off many a competitor in the past and again recaptured the market for their monopolist enjoyment. To hold them effectively at bay the consumers must be prepared regularly to purchase whole shipments of benzine. For this the resources of Jewish co-operative societies alone are inadequate.
The co-operation of the Jewish and Arab sections of the industry in the campaign, the “Davar” concluded, may lead to more lasting forms of common endeavour.