In the first of two articles, Mr. Meltzer discusses some of the major problems that confront the British authorities in Palestine in the “New Deal” they propose giving the Arab farm population, and urges recognition of the Mandatory Power’s obligations toward the Jews.
Mr. Meltzer is an Anglo-Jewish journalist who has lived in Palestine for the past thirteen years.
The New Deal for the Arab peasantry of Palestine that is being gradually carried into force under the personal direction of General Sir Arthur Wauchope, High Commissioner, is necessarily a slow process. Economic recovery in the rural areas, where the bulk of the population resides, has to contend with the neglect and indifference of centuries as well as with the effects of postwar depression touching this country. Unlike America, the farm slump here is not a passing phase, generated by factors arising within the past few years. It has been a perpetual and age-old, inescapable condition, moulded into a tradition, that requires fundamental study and amelioration.
oppressed by huge indebtedness, ridden by usurious money-lenders and landlords, eking out a miserable livelihood as tenant-cultivators, depending upon the whims and caprices of the big effendies, the Arab fellaheen have lived in this pastoral country in a sloth and misery the tangible evidences of which include shockingly primitive housing, a less than semi-civilized standard of living, and an utter servitude to the vagaries of Nature. It will take generations before these mediaeval conditions are corrected.
What is the New Deal that the present High Commissioner, benefitting from the experience of his predecessors, proposes to give the Arab peasantry?
General Wauchope has admitted frankly, on more than one occasion, that the alleviation of hardships reigning among the Arab villagers is his primary concern as an administrator, and that this overshadows, although it does not exclude, the interests of other activities, such as industrial and commercial development. The majority of the native farmers of Palestine is shackled to the wheat-growing cycle of crops, a thoroughly unlucrative type of agriculture. The old makeshift agrarian methods â€” scratching the soil with one-toothed ploughs and reaping with hand scythes â€” have made any other kind of cultivation impossible in the past, and have robbed the earth of its goodness. At that, even modern machinery has not made grain cultivation more remuncrative. The heavy soil of central and northern Palestine, rendered sterile by centuries of neglect, has ruled out any major crops other than cereals.
The repair the havoc caused this country’s agricultural system during a protracted period of almost barbaric tillage, a radical overhaul rather than partial mitigation is necessary. Water â€” or the lack of it â€” has remained the prime problem of the Palestinian countryside. The provision of water supplies for drinking and irrigational purposes is a task of such magnitude, if it is to serve advantageously the entire rural population, that the bravest administrator might well quail before it.
Even the quarter of a million pounds that are proposed for expenditure upon the settlement of “landless” Arabs out of the contemplated Palestine Loan of Â£2,000,000, will only suffice some six hundred or, at the utmost, seven hundred families. Theirs is the more pressing plight. There remain something like 80,000 or 90,000 peasant families the majority of whom may be said to need a thorough economic metamorphosis.
One of the main objects of British policy here nowadays is to bring about a betterment of the economic status of the Arab peasantry and thus help in the slow process of their rehabilitation. The function of lifting a large section of people from their pauperdom to a higher plane of life is a humanitarian one, it can hardly be denied, but it involves aspects of administration that in Palestine are of great importance.
Under the Palestine Mandate, Great Britain has, it is true, assumed a dual obligation to two racesâ€”the Jewish and the Arab. This fact has been constantly dinned into the ears of the world whenever Jewish grievances have been aired to the British Government or at the League of Nations. None among the Jewish people has attempted to whittle down the justness of that obligation.
But under Article 6 of the Mandate, Great Britain undertook to facilitate the close settlement of Jews “upon State and waste lands.” Practically every document submitted by the Zionist Organization and Jewish Agency to the Whitehall authorities and to the League at Geneva has pointed out the continued non-fulfil-ment of that constitutional duty. But arguments and protests have not availed. Premier MacDonald, in writing to Dr. Weizmann in the winter of 1931, agreed in essence that compliance with that provision in the Mandate was not incompatible with the general functions assumed by England in Palestine. And yet nothing has ever been done about it.
If promises are made to be broken, then the path of Jewish history in Palestine is strewn with such discarded assurances. Commissions have come and gone, and some of their recommendations have been translated into permanent legislation. The entire output of laws since 1931, it might almost seem, has been an integral part of the New Deal which Great Britain is achieving for the Arabs. An almost infinitesimal part of that officially-sponsored development has been vouchsafed to the Jews.