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1920 Syria and Palestine

Map of Palestine and Syria 1915“It is impossible to speak of any common national sentiment in Syria, since its population consists of so many diverse elements, often with conflicting interests and ideals. It may, however, be roughly divided for the present purpose into (i) Moslem, (ii) Christian (including Orthodox and Catholic), and (iii) Jewish. Each of these must be considered separately.

The majority of the population of Syria is Moslem; but it is by no means homogeneous in race, mentality, or organization, even in Palestine. Some West Syrians, who advocate the doctrine of “la Syrie intégrale,” preach that Palestine is part of Syria, and that all the land from Alexandretta to Jaffa and from Aleppo to Ma’an is one country that can become a homogeneous state or nation. But such a policy could hardly be realized, even if there were no such things as the Arab and Zionist movements; and the existence of these movements makes it impossible. THE PEOPLE WEST OF THE JORDAN ARE NOT ARABS, BUT ONLY ARAB-SPEAKING. THE BULK OF THE POPULATION ARE FELLAHIN; THAT IS TO SAY, AGRICULTURAL WORKERS OWNING LAND AS A VILLAGE COMMUNITY OR WORKING LAND FOR THE SYRIAN EFFENDI. IN THE GAZA DISTRICT THEY ARE MOSTLY OF EGYPTIAN ORIGIN; ELSEWHERE THEY ARE OF THE MOST MIXED RACE. THEY HAVE FOR CENTURIES BEEN GROUND DOWN, OVERTAXED, AND BULLIED BY THE TURK, AND STILL MORE BY THE ARAB-SPEAKING TURKISH MINOR OFFICIALS AND BY THE SYRIAN AND LEVANTINE LANDOWNER. They have little, if any, national sentiment, and would probably welcome any stable form of government which would guarantee to them reasonable security and enjoyment of the fruits of their labour.

The existing land-register, which was drawn up fifty years ago, is very inexact with regard both to measurements and boundaries, and enjoys no public confidence. A proper survey and valuation was decreed in 1913, but has not yet been begun in Syria.

A primitive system of collective tenure still prevails at many villages, though individual indebtedness has of late not infrequently led to partition. Under this system the land is apportioned among the families of the village every two years, a practice resulting in stereotyped cultivation, and leading the temporary holders to minimize their outlay of both capital and labour.

Apart from communal land, much is concentrated in a few hands. Vakuf accounts for a good deal (Religious or charitable Holidays). Another large section, including the greater part of the Jordan valley, consists of domains belonging to the late Sultan, which have lapsed to the State and are commonly leased in small plots in return for one-fifth of the produce paid in kind. Moreover, the old miri land has to an increasing extent passed into the hands of large proprietors, who, as a rule, do not farm it themselves, but let it on similar terms to small cultivators. The plain of Esdraelon, for instance, is now entirely owned by a few town landlords. These large proprietors are apt to regard their estates merely as an investment, and the fellahin, or peasant cultivators, are always liable to be evicted when a favorable opportunity for realization offers. It is also customary, in order to obviate any prescriptive rights to change tenants at intervals. A frequent cause of land passing into capitalist hands is the oppression of the tax collector, from which the fellah seeks relief, either by disposing of his holding to a local effendi, or by turning it into vakuf. In turkey the burden of direct taxation falls mainly upon the land (cf. p. 138), and is aggravated by the tax-farming system, which involves extortion and oppression.

A large proportion of the fellahin, therefore, are in no sense proprietors, but merely cultivators with a limited, and often highly precarious, tenure. In 1907 it was estimated that in Judaea 50 per cent., in north Syria 20-30 per cent., in Galilee 20 per cent and in the Hauran 15 per cent. Only of the land was the property of the actual occupiers.”

Source: Syria and Palestine (p. 56-57), (p. 105-107)

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