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Arab Witness Admits Jews Took Malaria and Swamp Lands and Made Them Livable but Says They Gobble Up

December 9, 1929
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Agreeing that the Jewish settlers take malaria infested swamps, drain them and make them fertile and livable, Mohammed Ragheb, an inspector in the government department of agriculture, a Moslem, and said to have some agricultural experience in Egypt, Austria and Roumania, in his testimony for the Arab side at yesterday’s session of the Commission of Inquiry, charged that not only were the Jews gobbling up the lands most suitable for orange cultivation, but that of the nearly 60,000 acres that can be used for this purpose along the coastal plain from Gaza to Haifa, the Jews have recently acquired about 25,000 acres.

From the figures presented by the witness, Auni Abdul Hadi, of the Arab counsel, moralized in an attempt to prove the well-known complaint against the Jews that they were gradually penetrating the best lands and dispossessing the Arabs. Ragheb’s evidence was similar to that of other Arab witnesses, only he stressed the coastal plain.


Ragheb explained that Palestine’s future from an agricultural point of view depends on the coastal plain which, he said, was passing into the possession of the Jews who are already cultivating 40 percent of the land for citrus growing, and the Arabs are cultivating the remaining 60 percent.

From this evidence, Commissioner Snell deduced that the Arab grievance was that the Jews cultivated citrus fruits where the Arabs formerly grew melons, but the Arab counsel insisted that large Jewish companies, including one backed by Lord Melchett, were buying up large stretches from “small owners.” The Commission got from the witness an admission that the so-called small-land holders owned from 300 to 5,000 dunams of land each. He also admitted that the Wadi Hawareth land, which the Jewish National Fund had bought for a million dollars raised by Canadian Zionists, had belonged to two families, both of them absentee landlords living in Beirut and Jaffa.

The witness declared that Arab ploughmen were obliged to move on to other villages or towns when the Jews bought lands from the Arabs because the new Jewish colonies did not employ Arabs. The fact that the Wadi Hawareth land belonged to a family named Taman came as a distinct surprise to the Commissioners who had been under the impression that it was the property of a number of small owners.


Ragheb lumped the orange lands in the 40-year old colony of Hederah together with newly acquired Jewish land to produce the effect that the Jews had purchased from six to eight thousands of acres suitable for orange growing in the Haifa district from small owners, but he admitted that some of it had been bought from large owners.

Auni, the Arab counsel, caused laughter at the session, by asking the witness if the Jews, whom he claimed already possessed 40,000 dunams in Haifa and Tulkarem districts, which is three-quarters of the total available for citrus cultivation, had not bought half again as much. At this Chairman Shaw smilingly remarked “what would be left to the Arabs.” Ragheb agreed that the Arabs had been most active in the last five or six years in orange cultivation but he mentioned nothing about Jewish influence.

Eight Arab witnesses who preceded Ragheb were quickly disposed of with Maughanem, Arab counsel examining and Viscount Erleigh, Jewish counsel cross-examining. A resident of Lifta testified that he had been wounded by Jews on Saturday, August 17, near the football field, where Mizrachi had been

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stabbed. Maughanem shocked the court by referring to the alleged manhandling of this Arab as “crucified.”


The next witness was a fellah from Ab-duls, near Jerusalem, who declared that the Jews had stabbed him, cursed him and his religion and that, he had only been rescued by a mounted policeman. Erleight’s only question to him was whether the attack on him was at the same time as the one at the football field, where Mizrachi had been stabbed. Another resident of Lifta next took the stand and charged that Jews had attacked him and shouted you Moslems demonstrated at our Wall yesterday.” He testified that Corporal Parker, now acting as an usher at the Commission hearings, had saved him. An example of the witness’s accuracy was presented when he declared that there were 5,000 Jews on the football field.

The fourth witness hailed from Beitsa Afafa opposite Mekor Haim, a Jewish suburb of Jerusalem. This witness claimed that he was stoned by Jews while en route to Jerusalem on Friday, August 23. Erleigh asked him whether he and other Arabs were aimed with knives, swords, and clubs, especially turned out by carpenters at full speed. While the witness denied knowledge of this the Commission already had evidence to the contrary from every police officer.

Miss Lulu Kurban, a Christian nurse, declared that Jews stopped the car in which she was riding as it passed the Italian hospital. A sheik from Ainkarem claimed that the Jews spit on him while passing Bait Vegan on Friday but he made no mention of the attack on this Jewish quarter, where Best the British officer who tried to aid the Jews during the first days of the riots, had been killed.

Another fellah testified that he had spent all of August 23 in a cafe and that all he had heard was that at five o’clock in the afternoon the Jews had attacked the residents of Lifta. The last witness charged that the Jews had invaded his fig grove and that when he reproved them the Jews said “we will break your head, take your lands and curse your religion.”

Merriman in his opening address characterized Aref Elarei as a “dolorous Arab agitator.” The latter was a witness Friday afternoon, and stated he took no part in inciting Arabs to riot in Hebron. Merriman showed the Commission that he had been charged with the Mufti with instigation of riots in Jerusalem in 1920 and was not included in the general amnesty that followed the riots. He was specially pardoned three months later. Since then he has been in the service of the government and is at present district officer of Beershebz. Silicy asked the witness. “Were you in Hebron on August 16?”

“Yes.” replied the witness.

Merriman charged that Aref told the Arabs there not to touch the Jews but to wait for instructions which would be given the following Friday.

He said he had been in Hebron that day to see about a dispute which had arisen between the Arabs of Hebron and Beersheba. Merriman thereupon read to the witness the Quigly diary which reported that speakers at the mosque directed their audience to proceed to the offices of the district officer to protest the Balfour Declaration. Aref admitted he had been at the mosque. Merriman stated hundreds of Arabs followed instructions, again referring to the diary. Aref denied all knowledge of this procession. He said he did not see Taleb Marka at the mosque. Preedy led Aref to tell his rise from school teacher and journalist up to his entrance into government service in 1920.

He related that he had been promoted many times. Aref said, “I have many clippings from Jewish papers thanking me for my effort in their behalf.” Preedy then asked, “Did you know that Zionists have attacked you in the English press?” The witness said he did not. He admitted being in Jerusalem on August 15 but said he was there on banking business and offered bank records as proof. He also admitted he saw the district officer of Hebron a half hour before he went into the mosque but not afterward. Smiling astutely, he denied being a notorious agitator.

Ragheb continued his instructing of the commission in elementary agriculture and tried to prove that the Jewish settlers were unsuccessful grain cultivators. They were good horticulturists, he said. He produced reports showing the output of grain fell when they took over Plain lands. Betterton drew attention in the same report to the rise, two years later, when Jews got to know the land. Ragheb stated. “The Arab fellah does not use expensive machinery or chemical fertilizers, but he can do well and better with grain land than Jews.” Merriman pointed out that the use of the machinery was justifiable since Jewish output from the land became larger.

Ragheb agreed that Auni had cited the Arab objections when he said they were afraid the government would give vast forest lands free to Jews. He never heard that Jews had asked for these, he admitted.

The testimony continued on semi-economic grounds, Arabs failing to prove their contentions that the Jews were a liability to the land but were rapidly acquiring most of it.

After more than a fortnight of taking the testimony of the Arab side the Jewish side will be heard beginning today. Two officials, Arabs were heard in secret on Saturday. They are Moslems vowing allegiance to the Grand Mufti. Hassan Shoulkri, Mayor of Haifa and Sheik Aswarshkeri of Acre, authority on Moslem law.

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