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One has heard the Jews stole the home of the Palestinian people. Is there any truth to this? We take a look at this in a three-part series. If you have missed the other two, please click on the banners below. They will take you to the earlier articles. 

Click on Banner to be taken to part 1
Click on Banner to be taken to part 2

As I said in Part 2, I am not interested in arguing over faith-based arguments; I will stick to historical records, archaeological finds, a census taken, or total lack thereof. They are the only thing you can present tangible proof to make a point. 

Did Israel Steal the Ancestral Home of the Palestinians? Part 3

Land ownership.

We have dealt with the lack of historical documentation for the Palestinians, more specifically the total absence of documentation from either Ottoman, Islamic or Western sources before 1900 – the fact that census does not support the claim, nor is there any eyewitness accounts or archaeological finds, but what about claims of deeds to land?

To deal with this, we need first to understand the Ottoman system of land ownership, carried over by the British, the Jordanians, and now the Israelis. 

At the time of the Ottoman Empire’s dissolution, little of the land was under private ownership. The Peel commissions found this number to be at 13%. The Jews were able to show ownership of over 7% of this, or over 60% of the privately-owned land was under Jewish ownership. They had legal proof of this ownership through bills of sale and transfers of deeds [1]

But to deal with deeds or lack thereof, we need to go back to 1858. The Ottoman Empire introduced The Ottoman Land Code of 1858. Claims of ownership outside of this system are nonsense; the Ottomans had forced everyone to update their claims when it was put in motion.

During this time, the land was broken into five types; you had private ownership. First, there was the Mulk. Under this, all owners of this land were obligated to serve in service of the Ottoman Army [2], as we found out in the Peel Commission, this made up about 13% of the land in what later became Palestine, of that the Jews could produce both bills of sale and deeds for about 7% of the total land, that comes out to over 60% ownership of privately held land [1].

There was another type of land; this was called Miri; this was land the Arabs lived on, worked, they were obligated to give a percentage of the crops from the land to the Ottoman Authorities, it was set up much like the Feudal lands in medieval Europe, the land was under ownership not of the people living there, but of the Ottoman empire. 

Of the land in question, most of the claims of theft of the land deal with this land, the reality is this land was never under private ownership, the British upon taking over Sovereignty of the land from the League of Nations, started to sell deeds to this land, the Jordanians did the same in the West Bank, almost all of this land was under this or what was known as Mewat (I will get to this shortly), the reason there are no deeds to this land is there were none, the Jordanians gave out deeds after they had illegally occupied the land in 1948. After moving in hundreds of thousands of Arabs, they then annexed the land in 1950 and started to pass out land deeds.

There was also a subgroup under Miri; this was the Mahlul [3]. This was land passed back to the empire when there were no heirs for the land. Most of the deeds that were missing were from Miri land. This was never privately owned; thus, the claim it was stolen was never technically correct.

There were also Waqf lands. These were held for pious holdings; they were held by the state but were in place for religious reasons. At no time was there any ownership of this other than by the Empire. You still see this with the Jordanian Waqf agents on the temple mount; they were given authority over the site due to the Jordanian Israeli treaty of 1994. The problem has come out of this that Islamic thought teaches one land is designated Waqf. It is held in that state in perpetuity. Thus you have groups like Hamas who teach all the land is held under Waqf; no one has a right to give any part of it away. It is seen as Islamic holy land. [4]

There was also Matruka[5], this was publicly held land, village land, where a whole village could work the land; while no individual held any ownership, the village dictated how the land was divided and worked.

Last, there was land called Mewat [5], in Israel. Most of the land was Mewat land; it was considered dead or undeveloped. Claims are never had of this land; there is a reason there have never been deeds produced, no one had them it was never owned, the simple fact is it took irrigation and modern equipment to make some of this land productive, something that was not practiced under the Ottoman Empire, most of the settlements we see built today in the West Bank, they are building on this land, land that in most cases occupies the top of hills or other strategic spots.

When you look at land ownership, there are claims deeds were lost, the Ottomans had outstanding records, this was never the case, in most cases where land was taken was when Jews had gone to land that was privately owned, most cases by rich leaders in either what then was British Palestine or in Lebanon, they would purchase the land, Arabs lived on that land, the Jews out of their own pockets would pay to move them, then brought in irrigation and modern fertilizer techniques, you can still see this if you looked at some of the borders with Israel and Arab nations when the Jews did this they caused a need for laborer’s, the Arabs migrated as economic migrants to fill the need.

So we come back to the question, did the Jews steal the ancestral land of the Palestinians? The simple fact is just because you live someplace does not mean you ever have exercised sovereignty over the land, in no time in history has there ever been a nation called Palestine, in fact, much of the Palestinian identity is a very recent creation, if you had gone to an Arab in 1950 and called them a Palestinian they would have attacked you, I think Arafat’s comrade in arms said it best:

“Why is it that on June 4th, 1967, I went to bed as a Jordanian and woke up as a Palestinian? We considered ourselves Jordanian until the Jews returned to Jerusalem. Then, all of a sudden, we were Palestinians.” Walid Shoebatt [6]

But there is more that backs this up:

-Professor Azmi Bishara(Arabic: عزمي بشارة)– a “Palestinian Arab,”
There is no “Palestinian nation,” The word “Palestine” itself is a colonial invention used by the Romans to erase the Jewish identity of Judea and Israel! [7]

-Zuheir Mohsen (Arabic: زهير محسن)- top PLO member responsible for Damur massacre.
The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct “Palestinian people” to oppose Zionism. For tactical reasons, Jordan, which is a sovereign state with defined borders, cannot raise claims to Haifa and Jaffa, while as a Palestinian, I can undoubtedly demand Haifa, Jaffa, Beer-Sheva, and Jerusalem. However, the moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will not wait even a minute to unite Palestine and Jordan.“[8]

This fact was admitted by Professor Philip Hitti, an Arab historian who declared, “There is no such thing as Palestine in history, absolutely not.” The Saudi Arabia Representative further confirms this at the United Nations. “It is common knowledge that Palestine is nothing but Southern Syria.” [9]

Fathi Hammad, minister of the interior and national security for Hamas, a recognized terror group, confirmed that “half of the Palestinians are Egyptians and the other half are Saudis.” [10]

Syrian dictator Hafez Assad (father of the present dictator) told PLO leader Yasser Arafat, “You do not represent Palestine as much as we do. Never forget this one point: There is no such thing as a Palestinian people, there is no Palestinian entity, there is only Syria.”

We have to take what is stated as fact, the claims that land was taken, it is dubious at best, an outright lie at the worst. If you look at the Israeli courts, in any case where an Arab has been able to produce land deeds, the land has been handed back. However, there is a time that for strategic purposes, the land was used for military purposes, then when it was done, the courts have forced the land to be handed back.  So did the Jews steal the land?

The more significant question is when did the Palestinians ever have possession of it. Ownership of a deed does not give you sovereignty; sovereignty has been legally passed to the Jews in the Mandate of Palestine, this was after the Ottomans had signed the treaty of Serves, they surrendered their sovereign holdings in the Middle East to the League of Nations, they then were the sovereign holders. 

They, in turn, set up three major mandates, the Mandate of Mesopotamia, Syria, and Palestine (funny how you never hear a thing about these two other mandates). The Mandate of Palestine gave one people the legal right to set up a nation, that would be Israel [11]. Israel has made the Arabs that live in their borders part of the nation; they have full citizenship rights. The problem has always been the hundreds of thousands of Arabs Jordan moved into the land they had no legal right to. What is more, the Arabs themselves openly stated they had no desire for the land until Israel took possession. If one looks to the 1964 Palestinian Authority (was called PLO), article 24 states:

Article 24. This Organization does not exercise any regional sovereignty over the West Bank in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, on the Gaza Strip or the Himmah Area. Its activities will be on the popular national level in the liberational, organizational, political and financial fields.[12]

Interesting how a claim to the land was never made so long as Jordan held control of it. As soon as Israel expelled the Jordanians who had illegally occupied the land, the Arabs living in the land then quickly changed their charter to make claims to this land. The question has to be, how can a historic claim change like this? Or could this be a lie?

“There are no differences between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians, and Lebanese. We are all part of one nation. It is only for political reasons that we carefully underline our Palestinian identity… yes, the existence of a separate Palestinian identity serves only tactical purposes. The founding of a Palestinian state is a new tool in the continuing battle against Israel.” Zuhair Muhsin, military commander of the PLO and member of the PLO Executive Council

Can a people that never held sovereignty of land have the sovereignty taken from them? Remember, if you claim something was stolen in any court of law, you have to show ownership before you can accuse. This then begs the question, “How can someone claim theft of land they never held any sovereignty over?”

  2. The Survey of Palestine under the British Mandate: 1920–1948, British Mandate government printing office, Jerusalem 1946, vol. 1, p. 226–227, of chapter 8, section 1, paragraph 6 (Reprinted in 1991 by the Institute for Palestine Studies).
  3. The Survey of Palestine under the British Mandate: 1920–1948, British Mandate government printing office, Jerusalem 1946, vol. 1, pp. 226 – ff., of chapter 8, section 1, paragraphs 6 & 16(Reprinted in 1991 by the Institute for Palestine Studies). There, it states, “…The ‘owners’ who hold land by Miri tenure (i.e. conditional usufruct tenure of land held by grant from the State) can only exercise such rights as can be shown to have been accorded to them by the State, and these rights are laid down in the Ottoman law… Failure of successors brings the grant to an end, and the land becomes mahlul (option land) and returns to the State.”
  4. Max Abrahms, Why Terrorism Does Not Work, International Security, Vol. 31, No. 2 (Fall 2006), pg. 74
  5. The Survey of Palestine under the British Mandate: 1920–1948, British Mandate government printing office, Jerusalem 1946, vol. 1, p. 226–227, of chapter 8, section 1, paragraph 6 (Reprinted in 1991 by the Institute for Palestine Studies).
  8. James Dorsey, “Wij zijn alleen Palestijn om politieke reden”, Trouw, 31 March 1977.
  12. Harkabi, Y. The Palestinian Covenant and Its Meaning. London: Vallentine, Mitchell, 1979.

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About The Author

Timothy Benton

Student of history, a journalist for the last 2 years. Specialize in Middle East History, more specifically modern history with the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Also, a political commentator has been a lifetime fan of politics.


  1. squirts

    Hi, Followed a link from a Yahoo discussion referencing the use of force against Palestinian protesters and just finished reading this article. I appreciate the absence of religion and emotion in looking at historical Israel through objective eyes based only on what can be proven (as opposed to what is believed). I found the content intriguing. I have wavered in my support of Israel/Palestine over the years and have been researching, when time allows, the historical background for the current issue faced by those living in that area. The information you have provided correlates to my own research (severely lacking as it is), and I appreciate your taking the time to present the information in a manner that a layperson such as myself can find useful. Thanks again. =) Tom

    • David

      Thank you, I try to present articles with as little of emotional or religious argument as possible, we need to stick with the facts, that should be it.


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