The sore point of Arab labor in Jewish enterprises, the source of many discrepancies in Palestine, has found a wide echo at the Jewish farmers’ convention now taking place at Tel Aviv.
The Jewish farmer in Palestine today is more affected than anybody else by the shortage of labor. Not only does he find it difficult to attract new farmhands from among the incoming Jewish immigrants, but even the old Jewish farmhands are deserting the land and streaming into the city. The high wages paid to a city worker prove distracting to the Jewish laborer on the field and attract him to the city.
It is, therefore, no cause for wonder that the Jewish farmer and orange planter are employing Arab labor. Faced with a situation where the Jewish laborer is deserting agriculture, the farmer cannot help but employ Arabs, though he himself would like to see Jews working on his farm rather than Moslems.
FACTS AND FIGURES
This situation, whereby the Jewish farmer, due to the egotistic interest of the Jewish laborer, is forced to employ Arab farmhands, has led to the fact that today two-thirds of the workers on Jewish land are Arabs. It is estimated that there are today not less than 15,000 Arab workers in Jewish enterprises in Palestine. 13,000 of them in agriculture and 2,000 in industry.
Up to the time when the Palestine economic boom started, Jewish agricultural laborers forced over sixteen per cent of the entire number of Jewish workers in the country. Today their proportion has decreased to less than nine per cent. This, despite the fact that 90,000 additional dunams of land have been cultivated during the last three years. The cultivation of these 90.000 dunams should have added 7,000 Jewish farm laborers to the number already employed.
What happened, however, was that not only were new Jewish laborers not employed on the farms, but even great percentage of the old ones moved to the cities. The Jewish labor unions were helpless in checking this mass desertion from the land, because the deserters, though union members, would not submit anyway to the demand of their leaders. They would not agree to remain in the colonies, where the maximum wage is a dollar a day, when in the city they are paid a minimum of five dollars.
The question as to who is responsible for the growth of Arab labor in Jewish agricultural enterprises in Palestine therefore cannot be answered easily. The Jewish farmers cannot be blamed for employing Arab labor because no farmer likes to see his land lying idle. The Jewish laborers also cannot be blamed, because, after all, it is but natural that workers go where they get paid best. If anybody is to blame, it is the Palestine government, for restricting Jewish immigration to a point where there is a shortage of labor which is felt acutely both in agriculture and in industry.
THE AGENCY’S AUTHORITY
Several months ago Mr. Smilansky, head of the Jewish Farmers’ Association, directly negotiated with the Palestine government to obtain visas for a number of trained Jewish farm laborers whom he wanted to bring from Galicia, Wolhynia and Bukovina. The government was willing to grant Mr. Smilan-sky’s demand on condition that the number of visas issued be subtracted from the total issued to the Jewish Agency under the labor schedule.
Such a procedure would, however, mean the breaking up of the authority of the Jewish Agency. It would mean that individual institutions, whether agricultural or industrial, could get immigration certificates over the head of the Executive of the Jewish Agency. This was not intended by Mr. Smilansky and his followers, despite their outspoken opposition to the present Executive of the Agency.
An agreement therefore was reached recently between Mr. Smilansky and the Jewish Agency, whereby several hundred of the immigration certificates received by the Agency were allotted specially for the purpose of bringing over some of the farmhands Mr. Smilansky wanted. This agreement does not, however, solve the problem of the shortage of labor in the Jewish colonies. The thirst for Jewish labor hands on the farms and the plantations will not be quenched with merely a few hundred additional laborers, when thousands are needed. This is why the convention of the Jewish Farmers’ Association, now taking place in Tel Aviv, has taken up openly the question of Arab laborers in Jewish enterprises.