Sunday, March 22, 2015

From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Palestine (Part 1 - 6)

From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the

Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Palestine (Part

1 of 6)

In 1984 Joan Peters’ book From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine appeared to much critical acclaim. The book won the National Jewish Book Award; the New Republic said it would “change the mind of our generation.” The jacket contains praise from Barbara Tuchman, Theodore H. White and other notables. Today, the book continues to be recommended on numerous websites including that of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Soon after the book’s appearance, however, attacks appeared in the pages of left-wing journals such as In These Times and the Nation, characterizing the book as a fraud. Some of the criticisms were later repeated by scholars in the pages of such publications as the London Observer and the New York Review of Books.
The following series of articles investigates charges that Joan Peters’ book From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Palestine is dishonest propaganda. As the purpose is primarily to determine the truth of certain reviewers’ accusations, I did not originate most of the criticisms of the book. Likewise, I have not sought to check every one of Peters’ footnotes, which are voluminous; I have focused on the critics’ claims. Where relevant I have included scanned images of the original so that readers may see the evidence for themselves; hyperlinks in the text open these images in a new window so that the reader’s place is not lost.
The accusations of dishonesty originated with radical-left figures who would naturally seek to discredit a book like Peters'; still, it would be easy enough to determine the truth of their claims with limited research. Such an investigation is all the more worthwhile owing to the fact that scholars who had initially defended the book later indicated that the charges had some merit. Ronald Sanders and Daniel Pipes had both favorably reviewed Peters’ book, Sanders in the New Republic [1] and Pipes in Commentary [2] , both publications with a decidedly pro-Israel editorial policy. In responding to an unfavorable review of the book, however, both conceded its poor scholarship. [3] Sanders writes:
Mrs. Peters has brought this upon herself to a large extent, for, as I wrote in my review of the book in The New Republic of April 23, 1984, “many of its valuable points are buried in passages of furious argumentative overkill,” and too much of its more than 600 pages is given over to very conventional polemics. Since then, some patient researchers have found numerous examples of sloppiness in her scholarship and an occasional tendency not to grasp the correct meaning of a context from which she has extracted a quotation. All in all, her book is marked–and marred–by an over-eagerness to score a huge and definitive polemical triumph, which has caused her too often to leave prudence and responsibility behind. []
According to Pipes,
Most early reviewers, including myself, focused on the substance of Miss Peters’s central thesis; the later reviewers, in contrast, emphasized the faults–technical, historical, and literary–in Miss Peters’s book.
I would not dispute the existence of those faults. From Time Immemorial quotes carelessly, uses statistics sloppily, and ignores inconvenient facts. Much of the book is irrelevant to Miss Peters’s central thesis. The author’s linguistic and scholarly abilities are open to question. Excessive use of quotation marks, eccentric footnotes, and a polemical, somewhat hysterical undertone mar the book. In short, From Time Immemorial stands out as an appallingly crafted book. []
Such embarrassing concessions by the book’s prominent defenders raise valid doubts about its integrity. On the other hand, both Sanders and Pipes still defend Peters’ central thesis. Besides verifying the critics’ claims, then, these pages will also weigh their significance relative to the book as a whole.
Whatever the findings, Israel’s right to exist does not hinge on Peters’ claims that the land was empty when the Jews arrived and that the Palestinians are recent arrivals. The right of a country to exist depends on its recognition of individual rights. By this criterion, Israel–with all its imperfections–stands head and shoulders above the Arab dictatorships of the region (including Arafat’s) as far as legitimacy is concerned.
1 New Republic, April 23, 1984.
2 Commentary, July 1984.
3 The two were responding to the review of the book by Yehoshua Porath in the New York Review of Books on January 16, 1986, online at <>. The responses, with a rejoinder from Porath, appeared in the New York Review of Books on March 27, 1986 and are online at <>.

From Time Immemorial – Palestine on the Eve of Zionist Settlement: An Empty Land? (Part 2 of 6)

In 1901, Israel Zangwill wrote, “Palestine is a country without a people; the Jews are a people without a country.”1 Joan Peters takes up this view, claiming a “profusion of evidence of an uninhabited Palestine [p.170],” and citing many travelers through Palestine to show that by the last half of the nineteenth century, the land was deserted and desolate.
Critics contend that Peters neglects accounts by early Zionist settlers who, in the words of one of her sources, “were genuinely taken aback to find Palestine inhabited by so many Arabs.”2 As Porath notes, when Peters makes reference to Asher Druyanov’s collection of early Zionist settlers’ writings, she does not mention “the many passages in his two volumes referring to the presence of Arabs living in the areas where Jews had settled.”3 Other critics cite the Jewish writer Ahad Ha’am, who visited the area and related his experiences in an 1891 essay called “Truth from Palestine”:
We abroad are used to believing that Palestine is now almost totally desolate, a desert that is not sowed, and that anyone who wishes to purchase land there may come and do so to his heart’s content. But in truth this is not the case. Throughout the country it is difficult to find fields that are not sowed. Only sand dunes and stony mountains that are not fit to grow anything but fruit trees–and this only after hard labor and great expense of clearing and reclamation–only these are not cultivated, because the Arabs do not like to exert themselves in the present for a distant future. For this reason the opportunity to purchase good soil does not always exist. Both the farmers and the large landholders are reluctant to sell good, productive land. Many of our brothers who came to Palestine to buy land wait for months, have criss-crossed the land and have not yet found what they seek. 4
While the evidence of Zionist settlers is no doubt more pertinent than the descriptions of those who were just passing through, Peters’ omission is not as significant as it seems. In Palestine under Ottoman rule, land left uncultivated reverted to the state.5 But Ottoman restrictions prevented Jews from purchasing state lands, which made up a significant proportion of the available land.6 Thus Jews would have been allowed to purchase only land already under cultivation, even if large areas of the country were deserted.
Jewish Settlements as a Magnet for Arab Immigration
When Jewish colonization began, Palestine may have been sparsely populated but it was not entirely uninhabited. Peters discusses how the law recognized land titles; her population figures show how many people lived in the country. Yet by her account the population was a mix of nationalities, largely nomadic, having no distinct national “identity.” She adds that many more Arabs were attracted by the early Jewish economic development, and that the Jews rapidly became the largest religious group in the areas they settled.
Peters sets Palestine’s population when Jewish settlement began at between 300,000 and 400,000, a figure that had been stable for two centuries [p. 223, p. 244].7 She then argues that natural increase could not have accounted for growth in the settled Muslim population between 1882 and 1895, so that Jewish development must have attracted 82,000 foreign Muslims into Palestine [p. 245]. But her argument depends on taking the low figure for settled Arabs in 1882 and ignoring the high end of the range she had established earlier.8 Since her population estimates vary by as much as 100,000, her conclusion is tenuous at best.9
Peters goes so far as to defend her low-end figure of 300,000 for 1882 as “not incompatible” with another population estimate of 475,000 for 1875 [note 38]. In other words, she maintains that just before its putative 1882-1895 increase at a “hardly possible” rate, the population of Palestine diminished by 175,000 in only seven years, a fall of almost 37 per cent. In percentage terms, this exceeds the loss of one-third of Europe’s population in the Black Death between 1347 and 1352, yet Peters makes this assertion based on nothing other than Colonel Conder’s statement that the population had “diminished sadly,” hardly evidence for a decrease of this magnitude. In other words, Peters’ claim of massive Arab population increase and immigration from 1882 to 1895 rests on wildly unrealistic assumptions.
According to Peters, the impetus for this alleged Arab immigration was Jewish development, yet no evidence supports her claim.10 In the last half of the nineteenth century, most Jews lived in the four “holy cities” of Jerusalem, Safed, Hebron and Tiberias, where a large proportion lived off charity.11 Peters counts only fifteen Jewish settlements by 1893, with a total Jewish population that grew to reach 1100 [p. 253].12 Thus there is no reason to suppose Jewish development was extensive enough to have lured eighty thousand Arabs into the country.
Speculative Excess
A bit later, Peters erects another tower of speculation on the same theme: According to a report from the Rishon l’Tsion settlement, by 1889 the forty Jewish families there “had attracted ‘more than four hundred Arab families,’ most of them ‘Bedouin and Egyptian’ [p. 252].” On the basis of this one-to-ten ratio, Peters speculates that by 1893 the 900 Jews in the other settlements might have attracted 9,000 more Arabs [p. 253]. She then wonders whether the settlements may have continued to attract Arabs by at least a rate of immigration similar to the Jews’, so that by 1914 the 7,700 Jews on settlements would have been surrounded by 77,000 Arabs. Thus she concludes that her own study may have “counted many thousands–anywhere from 45,000 to 350,000–of Arabs as long-time ‘settled’ population of 1893-and-their-descendants present in 1947, when in reality that group may have followed the Jewish settlers into Jewish-settled areas of Palestine [p. 254].”
Peters does not indicate how many of the Arabs near Rishon l’Tsion were former peasants who had farmed the area before the Jews had bought the land.13Indeed, she misrepresents her source, which does not say that most of the families were Bedouin and Egyptian, only that many of them were [p. 201].
Even if most of the Arabs near Rishon l’Tsion came from elsewhere, Peters’ own citations do not support speculating on the basis of a one-to-ten ratio of Jews to Arabs. Earlier she had provided examples of two other settlements where the ratio of Jews to Arabs was closer to one-to-one [p. 200].14 Clearly the one-to-ten ratio of Rishon l’Tsion is not generally applicable, and Peters herself knows better.
In sum, Peters has no basis for supposing that the Jewish settlements had attracted even 11,000 Arab immigrants by 1893, let alone the 82,000 she had argued for earlier.
Peters compounds the distortion with her claim that by 1947, the descendants of these alleged immigrants would have numbered between 45,000 and 350,000. Based on the rate of natural increase from her own population study, the descendants of 11,000 Arabs in 1893 would have numbered only 30,700 in 1947.15 Peters is grossly exaggerating her numbers; her claim that early Jewish settlement attracted significant numbers of Arab immigrants is unfounded.16
A Jewish Majority?
Now consider Peters’ claim that “Jews were perhaps a marginal majority of the population” in the Jewish-settled areas of Western Palestine in 1893 [p. 251]. (By “marginal majority” Peters means a plurality, as her numbers show.) Ten pages later, the “perhaps” is gone: “Jews were actually the largest religious group in the areas that they settled near the end of the nineteenth century [p. 261].” But Peters’ support for this claim does not come from the official Ottoman census figures; instead, she uses a source that she knows undercounts Muslims significantly.17
One might be forgiven for understanding Peters as arguing that Jews formed a plurality in the area that became Israel. But Peters’ claim applies only to an area within Palestine she calls “Area I,” whereas 1948 Israel also included her Areas II and IV. If the Arab populations of those areas are added in, the Jews remain a minority [p. 425]. And even within Area I, the Jewish population was mainly concentrated in four cities, with only a small number on agricultural settlements–around which the number of Arabs was roughly the same as, if not greater than, the number of Jews.
In sum, Peters has gerrymandered Palestine so as to be able to point to a geographical area where Jews may have constituted a plurality, but the area is geographically insignificant and has nothing to do with the region that later became Israel.18
The issues mentioned in this section are not central to Peters’ thesis; it makes little difference to her overall point whether or not Jewish development in the late nineteenth century attracted Arab immigration, or whether or not Jews constituted the largest religious group in the areas where they settled. Yet the way she handles these issues shows how tendentious she can be in her use of evidence. We have seen her:
  • choose only the number that suits her thesis out of a range of figures for the 1882 Arab population
  • maintain in passing that Palestine’s population declined by over a third in seven years, on the strength of a single vague quote and the desire to accept two conflicting population estimates
  • entertain wildly exaggerated speculation about the number of Arabs attracted by Jewish settlements, disregarding evidence she herself had cited earlier
  • suggest a number for the descendants of those immigrants inflated far beyond what even her speculative premises would allow
  • support her reference to a Jewish majority using a source she knew to undercount Muslims
  • exaggerate the proportion of Jews in the region that became Israel by considering only the small area where Jews were most concentrated
If these were the book’s only flaws, they would be relatively minor. However, as we will see, they form part of a larger pattern that includes the book’s principal contentions.
1 Israel Zangwill, “The Return to Palestine,” New Liberal Review 2 (Dec. 1901) p. 627.
2 Neville Mandel, The Arabs and Zionism Before World War I (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), p. 31 . Peters refers to Mandel several times in chapters 8 and 9 and throughout chapter 10, but never cites this passage.
3 Yehoshua Porath, “Mrs. Peters’s Palestine: An Exchange,” New York Review of Books, March 27, 1986 (online at <>). I have been unable to verify Porath’s claim about the passages in Druyanov’s work referring to the presence of Arabs, as the letters in the book are mainly in Hebrew, with some in Russian and German. Peters cites Druyanov’s book several times: see her note 53 for p. 201p. 503 note 74note 81 for p. 204, andnote 64 for p. 252.
4 The essay has apparently not been translated into English, but besides the Hebrew (in Kol Kitve Ahad Ha-am) there is a German translation, on which the translation above was based. Achad Haam, Am Scheidewege: Gesammelte Aufs

From Time Immemorial – The British Mandate (Part 3 of 6)

The British assumed control of Palestine as a result of World War I; their administration of the territory was later recognized by League of Nations mandate. Peters persistently interprets the Mandate as having the goal of developing a Jewish state in Palestine: “according to the Mandate’s implications and the United States’ declaration in 1919, [free Jewish immigration] would have resulted in ‘a Jewish State as soon as it is in fact a Jewish State’–in other words,when there was a Jewish majority [p. 350].” In fact, neither the British nor the League of Nations had accepted any such goal.
The League of Nations Mandate was granted not only for the establishment of a Jewish National Home, but also simply for the administration of the territory.1Winston Churchill set out the obligations the British had agreed to undertake in his “Statement of British Policy” of June 1922 (before the League of Nations confirmed the text of the Mandate on July 24, 1922):
Unauthorized statements have been made to the effect that the purpose in view is to create a wholly Jewish Palestine. Phrases have been used such that Palestine is to become “as Jewish as England is English.” His Majesty’s Government regard any such expectation as impracticable and have no such aim in view. Nor have they at any time contemplated, as appears to be feared by the Arab Delegation, the disappearance or the subordination of the Arabic population, language, or culture in Palestine…
When it is asked what is meant by the development of the Jewish National Home in Palestine, it may be answered that it is not the imposition of a Jewish nationality upon the inhabitants of Palestine as a whole, but the further development of the existing Jewish community, with the assistance of Jews in other parts of the world, in order that it may become a centre in which the Jewish people as a whole may take, on grounds of religion and race, an interest and a pride. But in order that this community should have the best prospect of free development and provide a full opportunity for the Jewish people to display its capacities, it is essential that it should know that it is in Palestine as of right and not on sufferance. That is the reason why it is necessary that the existence of a Jewish National Home in Palestine should be internationally guaranteed, and that it should be formally recognized to rest upon ancient historic connection.2
Peters is aware of this document, but chooses to disregard its implications [p. 344]. She complains, for example, that while the Mandate instructed the British to “facilitate Jewish immigration,” the British had immediately set up quotas to limit the immigration of Jews [p. 275]. Peters should be arguing that these quotas had no valid basis in justice or economics; instead she contends that they violate the Mandate. She fails to mention that the Mandate states: “The Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions…” The word “position” is important: in effect, Jews were to be allowed to immigrate as long as no Arab’s trade was threatened by the competition.3 Thus the Mandate would limit Jewish immigration in accordance with the Divine Right of Stagnation. The British immigration restrictions were designed to implement this provision of the Mandate, and were accepted by the Mandates Commission. The problem with the quotas is not that they violated the Mandate, but that the Mandate’s conditions were impossible and unjust.
Since Peters holds that the League of Nations had designated Palestine as a future Jewish state, she accuses the British of violating the Mandate by creating the Transjordan from the territory east of the Jordan River: “Britain nevertheless quietly gouged out roughly three-fourths of the Palestine territory mandated for the Jewish homeland into an Arab emirate, Transjordan, while the Mandate ostensibly remained in force but in violation of its terms [p. 239].” Had this move been illegal the League of Nations ought to have protested, but Peters presents no evidence of any such protest. Yet the League did resist other illegalities, such as the British attempt to transfer the administration of Transjordan, as Peters notes [pp. 521-522 note 19].
In fact, the separation of Transjordan did not violate the Mandate. Both the original statement of British intentions in Balfour Declaration and the Mandate say that the Jewish National Home is to be established “in Palestine,” not “throughout Palestine,” as Peters would have it [p. 330]. Churchill’s statement of policy underscores that the British government had no intention of making the entire territory into a Jewish National Home; he writes that the government “would draw attention to the fact that the terms of the Declaration referred to do not contemplate that Palestine as a whole should be converted into a Jewish National Home, but that such a home should be founded in Palestine.4 This was the openly stated policy of the British Government when the League of Nations assigned it the Mandate.
Consider further that the Mandate specifically allows the British to exclude Transjordan from the provisions dealing with a Jewish National Home:
In the territories lying between the Jordan and the eastern boundary of Palestine as ultimately determined, the Mandatory shall be entitled, with the consent of the Council of the League of Nations, to postpone or withhold application of such provisions of this mandate as he may consider inapplicable to the existing local conditions, and to make such provision for the administration of the territories as he may consider suitable to those conditions, and to make such provision for the administration of the territories as he may consider suitable to those conditions, provided that no action shall be taken which is inconsistent with the provisions of Articles 15, 16 and 18.5
The British reported to the League of Nations in 1924 how they had put this provision into effect:
His Britannic Majesty is the Mandatory for Transjordan to which the terms of the mandate for Palestine, with the exception of the provisions dealing with the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people, are applicable.6
As disappointing as the separation of the Transjordan may have been to Zionist aspirations, it violated neither the terms of the Mandate or its spirit.7 Peters’ accusations of bad faith are based on a manufactured injustice. Overall, her book seriously distorts the Mandate’s intent and British responsibilities thereunder; given Peters’ knowledge of the relevant documents it is hard to believe this distortion is inadvertent.

Looking the Other Way

Since the official British reports of the Mandatory period contended that Arab immigration into Palestine was insignificant, Peters’ case depends on showing that these reports are wrong. She does so by repeated attacks on their trustworthiness, claiming that official British policy with regard to Arab immigration was to wink and look the other way.
There is evidence that the British condoned a certain amount of illegal Arab immigration, partly because of the difficulty in controlling Palestine’s borders8and partly because the British regarded Arab illegal immigration as temporary, seasonal, and minor.9 (In the mid-1930s this temporary migration turned out to be relatively large, as significant numbers of Hauranis entered the country from Syria, later leaving in 1937.10) There is also evidence that after the 1936 “Arab revolt,” appeasement of the Arabs became a significant element of British policy. However, Peters’ attacks on the British reports are less than creditable.
Consider Peters’ reference to the Hope Simpson Report to support her contention that the British only deported Arabs when their illegal status was “flagrant.” For example, she writes: “The pivotal Hope Simpson Report literally admitted not only that it was the ‘present practice’ of British officials to blink at all but the most ‘flagrant’ of the thousands of Arabs immigrating into Western Palestine, but also acknowledged that the illegal Arab immigration was an ‘injustice’ that was displacing the prospective Jewish immigrants [p. 296].”
Now consider the original passage from the report. Note that no reference is made specifically to Arab immigrants:
Discouragement of illicit entry. As to the treatment of such [illegal] immigrants, when they are discovered, it should be the rule that they are at once returned to the country whence they came. The rule may possibly work harshly in individual cases, but unless it is understood that detection is invariably followed by expulsion the practice will not cease. It is probable that it will cease entirely as soon as it is discovered that the rule is actually in force.
The case of the ‘pseudo-traveller’ who comes in with permission for a limited time and continues in Palestine after the term of his permission has expired is more difficult. Where the case is flagrant, recourse should certainly be had to expulsion. In case of no special flagrancy, and where there is no special objection to the individual, it is probably sufficient to maintain the present practice, under which he is counted against the Labor Schedule, though this method does a certain injustice to the Jewish immigrant outside the country, whose place is taken by the traveller concerned [Hope Simpson, p. 126].
As Finkelstein explains, this passage says nothing like what Peters would have it say:
1) the Report evidently urges that illegal immigrants be deported ‘at once'; 2) a single exception is made in the case of the ‘pseudo-traveller’ of ‘no special flagrancy’–he may be reclassified as a legal immigrant; 3)Jews were by far the main beneficiaries of the latter special provision; 4) the British included, in the total figure for recorded Arab immigration, all Arab ‘travellers’ reclassified as legal immigrants. The special case of the reclassified ‘pseudo-traveller’ is thus, for the purposes of Peters’s argument, completely irrelevant.11
In other words, if a traveler (usually a Jew) remained in Palestine and the case was not especially flagrant, the person would be reclassified as a legal immigrant, officially recorded as such, and allowed to stay, displacing a prospective Jewish immigrant by filling one of the places allotted by the labor quota. This is far from a policy of turning a blind eye to illegal Arab immigration, as Peters would have it.
Peters cites this passage from the Hope Simpson Report repeatedly to underscore the untrustworthiness of British immigration figures. According to Finkelstein, “She refers to it nineteen times, implicitly or explicitly, saying it ‘says’ or ‘admits’ or ‘acknowledges’ the force of her thesis about Arab illegal immigration.”12 Yet the passage does nothing of the kind.
Peters’ error is not simply an isolated case:
  1. On p. 250, Peters writes, “As another report would underscore, for the Arab population movements, ‘different considerations from those relevant to Jewish immigration’ had been applied.” And on p. 275, she cites the same source, the Anglo-American Survey of Palestine: “From [1920,] the preoccupation of Palestine’s administration would be concentrated solely upon limiting the immigration of the Jews. As a British report attested, for ‘Arab immigration’ a ‘different’ set of rules applied.” The Survey thus apparently reveals a British double-standard on immigration matters.
    Yet, as Finkelstein points out, her citation from the Survey is from a chapter on housing construction.13 The chapter discusses the number of housing units needed for Jewish immigrants, calculating the size of the typical immigrant family, etc. [Survey, pp. 788-789]. Peters’ citation comes from the subsequent discussion of housing for Arab immigrants; the full context is: “Although different considerations apply to Arab immigration, special consideration need not be given to the latter as, out of a total number of 360,822 immigrants who entered Palestine between 1920 and 1942, only 27,981 or 7.8% were Arabs. The number of room units to house Arab immigrants has, therefore, been calculated on the same basis as Jewish immigrants…[p. 795].” The “different considerations” refer to the basis for estimating the number of housing units for Arab immigrants as opposed to Jewish immigrants, not to any British policy of ignoring Arab immigration.
  2. On p. 298, Peters purports to find more evidence of a double-standard in the Hope Simpson Report: “The Report protected the so-called ‘existing’ indigenous Arab population, the same community that the Report had proved was largely composed either of immigrants or Arab in-migrants, who were not in fact indigenous or ‘existing’ in Western Palestine’s Jewish-settled areas–but it was Jewish immigration that, according to the Hope Simpson Report, should be reduced or ‘if necessary, suspend(ed).'”
    Leave aside the fact that nowhere in the Hope Simpson Report is there any proof that the existing Arab community was largely composed of immigrants (or in-migrants).14 Hope Simpson explicitly rejects the double standard Peters ascribes to him, and recommends that the British do more to prohibitArab immigration:
    Importation of other than Jewish labour.–Further, it is clear that if unemployment is a valid reason for preventing Jewish immigration, it is also a reason for preventing the importation of other nationalities. At the time of writing, even with marked unemployment among Arabs, Egyptian labour is being employed in certain individual cases, and its ingress has been the subject of adverse comment in the Press.

    Prevention of illicit immigration.–Finally, in closing the front door, steps should be taken to ensure that the backdoor should not be kept open for would-be immigrants into Palestine. The Chief Immigration Officer has brought to notice that illicit immigration through Syria and across the northern frontier of Palestine is material… It may be a difficult matter to ensure against this illicit immigration, but steps to this end must be taken if the suggested policy is adopted, and also to prevent unemployment lists being swollen by immigrants from Trans-Jordania. [Hope Simpson, p. 138].
    Peters is not unfamiliar with this passage, as she cites it several times.15 She can be expected to know, then, that the point she is making is false.
  3. On p. 346, Peters finds a contradiction in the British annual report to the League of Nations: “One 1933 report, in self-contradiction, noted that of ‘illicit and unrecorded immigration into Palestine, mostly of Jews’ (totaling 2,000 by official account) only half were ‘Jewish.'” In the footnote we find her evidence for the contradiction:
    On page 35: “There was a considerable increase of illicit immigration, mostly of Jews, entering as transit travellers or tourists…” And on page 180, separated from the “immigration” material by 145 pages, was the report that “The extent of illicit and unrecorded immigration into Palestine from or through Syria and Trans-Jordan has been estimated at about 2,000 and Jewish as to fifty percent.” From “mostly Jews,” the estimate had dropped to fifty percent. [p. 548, note 26]
    But Peters ignores that the lower estimate pertains only to immigration from Syria and Trans-Jordan. Whereas most Arab immigrants entered Palestine overland, Jewish immigrants were far more likely to enter by sea; thus, the proportion of Jews among overland immigrants would naturally be lower than their proportion in immigration overall. The alleged self-contradiction is entirely Peters’ invention.
  4. On p. 310, Peters goes after the 1937 Peel Commission report: “The ‘Arab immigrants,’ particularly ‘Hauranis’ from Syria, the Report stated, ‘probably remain permanently in Palestine.’ But although the number of Hauranis who illegally immigrated was ‘authoritatively estimated’ at 10,000-11,000 during a ‘bad’ year in the Hauran, only the unrealistically, perhaps disingenuously low Government estimate of 2,500 were concluded to be ‘in the country at the present time.'”
    Here is the original passage from the Report:
    A large proportion of Arab immigrants into Palestine come from the Hauran. These people go in considerable numbers to Haifa, where they work in the port. It is, however, important to realize that the extent of the yearly exodus from the Hauran depends mainly on the state of the crops there. In a good year the amount of illegal immigration into Palestine is negligible and confined to the younger members of large families whose presence is not required in the fields. Most persons in this category probably remain permanently in Palestine, wages there being considerably higher than in Syria. According to an authoritative estimate as many as ten or eleven thousand Hauranis go to Palestine temporarily in search of work in a really bad year. The Deputy Inspector-General of the Criminal Investigation Department has recently estimated that the number of Hauranis illegally in the country at the present time is roughly 2,500. [Report, pp. 291-292]16
    Peters here omits the fact that the immigration of 10,000-11,000 in a bad year is explicitly listed as temporary; i.e., most of the immigrants in the “yearly exodus” return to the Hauran. Only the younger members of large families “probably remain permanently in Palestine.” Thus nothing is obviously disingenuous or unrealistic about the report’s figure of 2,500 illegal Hauranis in the country.
Peters goes so far as to claim that the British kept no records of Arab immigration at all, yet as Finkelstein notes, the figures are available in the very sources she claims to have consulted. He writes:
To document the British Mandatory Government’s indifference to Arab infiltration of Palestine, Peters cites the 1935 annual Report to the League of Nations in which, she asserts, “only ‘Jewish Immigration into Palestine’ was catalogued; that was the only heading…” (p. 275). In fact, the British report in question meticulously and exhaustively tabulates every conceivable aspect of Arab immigration on nine consecutive pages. Peters could hardly have overlooked these tabulations since the comparable statistics for Jewish immigration appear on the very same pages in parallel columns. Every annual British report on Palestine–and Peters purports to have scrutinized thirteen of them–contains identical exhaustive tabulations of Arab immigration under the same chapter heading, “Immigration and Emigration.”17
That this is not just a slip is confirmed by a story Peters tells elsewhere, one she can’t help but know to convey a falsehood. As Finkelstein writes:
Peters and her reviewers make much of the alleged remarks of an anonymous “thirty-year archivist–a specialist in the Foreign Office and Colonial Office records on the Middle East for the Public Record Office” in London. He purportedly told her that Arab immigration into Palestine “did not exist. There was no such thing. No one ever kept track of that” (p. 270; Peters’s emphasis). Yet, every British annual report to the League of Nations and every major official British study of the period includes an exhaustive tabulation and detailed commentary on Arab immigration.18
Peters knows the standard reports discussed Arab immigration. Her abovementioned citation of the Peel Commission report comes from a section labeled “Arab Illegal Immigration” [Report, p. 291]. Or again, on pages 378-379, Peters thoroughly discusses passages in the Anglo-American Survey, also from a section titled “Arab Illegal Immigration” [Survey, p. 210]. These are standard sources. Furthermore, British concern with Arab immigration was not unusual as the Jews had made an issue of it [Report, p. 297]. Peters is misleading her reader here, albeit through the words of another.


The British were not blameless in their conduct in Palestine. Their role in preventing Jews from entering Palestine during the Holocaust, even while Arab labor was being imported as an “emergency measure,” was a crime. Nevertheless, British policy in the 20s and early 30s does not deserve Peters’ accusations of bad faith. Her claim, for example, that the emirate of Transjordan was created in violation of the League of Nations Mandate goes against the historical record, not to mention the fact that without British good intentions no “Jewish National Home” would have existed in the first place.
In seeking to discredit the British, time after time Peters finds what she is looking for only by distorting her sources:
  • She uses the Hope Simpson Report to support the idea that British officials neglected illegal Arab immigration, when in fact her quote concerns a case in which illegal Jewish immigrants were allowed to remain in Palestine.
  • She cites an official report claiming that “different considerations” applied to Arab immigration, but these turn out to be considerations of how many housing units Arab immigrants would require as opposed to Jewish immigrants.
  • She claims falsely that Hope Simpson had proved the existing Arab community to consist of immigrants and in-migrants.
  • She accuses Hope Simpson of seeking to limit Jewish and not Arab immigration, when in fact he sought to limit both.
  • She claims a British report buried evidence that it had exaggerated the proportion of Jewish immigrants, whereas this evidence in fact pertained only to immigrants coming overland, among whom there were fewer Jewish immigrants.
  • She accuses a British report of disingenuousness for its low estimate of illegal immigrants from the Hauran by ignoring its qualification that large numbers of illegals remained only temporarily.
  • She falsely claims that the British kept no records of Arab immigration into Palestine, when her own sources contain this very information.
Here we have a consistent pattern of falsification, all with the same tendency, and with clear evidence that Peters knew what she was saying was false, in at least some cases. Moreover, these distortions relate to significant issues in her book. The charge of dishonesty thus appears warranted.
1 The relevant parts of the text of the Mandate, confirmed by the League of Nations, read
Whereas the Principal Allied Powers have agreed, for the purpose of giving effect to the provisions of Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, to entrust to a Mandatory selected by the said Powers the administration of the territory of Palestine, which formerly belonged to the Turkish Empire, within such boundaries as may be fixed by them; and
Whereas the Principal Allied Powers have also agreed that the Mandatory should be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2nd, 1917, by the Government of His Britannic Majesty, and adopted by the said Powers, in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country; and
Whereas recognition has thereby been given to the historical connexion of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country…
The Mandatory shall be responsible for placing the country under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home, as laid down in the preamble…
The Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in co-operation with the Jewish agency referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land…
2 “Statement of British Policy in Palestine Issued by Mr. Churchill in June, 1922,” reproduced in Walter Laqueur, ed., The Israel-Arab Reader: A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict (New York: Citadel Press, 1969) pp. 45-50. Citation from pp. 46-47.
3 See Article 6 of the Mandate in note 1 above. The Balfour Declaration, the original statement of British intentions to establish a Jewish National Home, does not overreach in this way: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people… it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country [Balfour Declaration, reproduced in Laqueur, ed., p. 18].” By the time of the Mandate, “civil and religous rights” had changed to the “rights and position” of other sections of the population.
On Peters’ interpretation, “within the Balfour Declaration was the asessment that the establishment of a home for the Jews would not ‘prejudice the civil and reigious rights of existing non-Jewish communities’ [p. 339].” But the provision is clearly not an assessment, but an injunction establishing British obligations to Arabs, something Peters would apparently prefer to avoid mentioning.
4 Statement of British Policy in Palestine Issued by Mr. Churchill in June, 1922,” in Walter ed., p. 46. Cf. Balfour DeclarationLeague of Nations Mandate for Palestine.
5 Article 15 guarantees “complete freedom of conscience and the free exercise of all forms of worship,” and prohibits discrimination based on race, religion or language. Article 16 allows the Mandatory to exercise “such supervision over religious or eleemosynary bodies of all faiths in Palestine as may be required for the maintenance of public order and good government.” And Article 18 prohibits discrimination against nationals of or goods from any State Member of the League of Nations, guarantees free transit across the mandated area, and allows for the imposition of taxes and customs duties. See the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine.
7 The idea that Jordan is Arab Palestine has been criticized by Daniel Pipes, who along with Adam Garfinkle published an article on this subject in Commentary,October 1988 (the original pre-publication version is available on the web at <>). Pipes and Garfinkle provide the historical context that Peters leaves out:
Along with the rest of the Middle East, the modern political history of Palestine and Jordan began with the First World War. At the center of this transformation was the British effort to build alliances for its war effort against Germany. London gave vaguely-defined promises of Ottoman territory in the Levant to three different parties. In the Husayn-McMahon Correspondence, ten letters exchanged between July 1915 and March 1916, it promised portions of geographic Syria to the Ottoman governor of Mecca, the Sharif al-Husayn ibn ‘Ali, but exact boundaries were not specified. The secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of May 1916 divided the same area (and more) between Britain and France. The Balfour Declaration of November 1917 endorsed “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”
Britain’s three alliances served its wartime purposes fairly well; in a two-year campaign that ended in October 1918, British forces took control of the area stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to Iran. But after the war, the apparent mutual exclusivity of these agreements caused considerable trouble. In an initial effort to balance commitments to Arabs, Frenchmen, and Zionists, the British divided the Levant into three military administrations in October 1918. London administered a zone roughly equivalent to what later became Israel and opened Jewish immigration to it. The French assumed control of the coastal region between Israel and Turkey. The sharif’s son, Prince Faysal, received what became known as Transjordan, as well as everything away from the Mediterranean in today’s Lebanon and Syria. Damascus served as his capital.
In accord with the Sykes-Picot agreement, however, the French government aspired to control Damascus and the interior, so it expelled Faysal from Damascus in July 1920. But the French did not claim the southern part of Faysal’s territory, which now fell under British jurisdiction.
Here we arrive at a critical point for Jordan-is-Palestiners: the British now for the first time called their whole territory in the Levant the “Mandate for Palestine.” In other words, starting in July 1920, Jordan formed part of Palestine, as least as far as the British were concerned.
But it did not remain so for long. In March 1921 Winston Churchill, the colonial secretary, found it “necessary immediately to occupy militarily Trans-Jordania.” Rather than use British troops to do this, he decided to control it indirectly. Toward this end, Churchill divided the Palestine Mandate into two parts along the Jordan River, creating the Emirate of Transjordan on the east bank and excluding Jewish immigration there. Churchill offered this territory to Faysal’s older brother, ‘Abdallah, who after some hesitation accepted. The Hashemite dynasty of ‘Abdallah, his son Tallal, and his grandson Husayn have ruled Transjordan (or Jordan, as it was renamed in 1949) ever since. After March 1921, the east bank was no longer Palestine.
8 Cf. Hope Simpson’s claim in 1930 that “It is exceedingly difficult to maintain any effective control of the various frontiers of Palestine. At the present time such control as exists is carried out at police posts on the roads. The immigrant who wishes to evade the control naturally leaves the road before reaching the frontier and takes to the footpaths over the Hills [p. 126].” John Hope Simpson,Palestine. Report on Immigration, Land Settlement and Development, 1930, Command Paper #3686, p. 126.
9 Peters, p. 226: “According to all the reports of the period, Arab ‘recorded’ immigration to Palestine was minimal, casual and unquantifiable.” For original evidence, the Palestine Royal Commission Report states: “Arab illegal immigration is mainly casual, temporary and seasonal [p. 291]” and the Anglo-American Survey of Palestine: “Arab illegal immigration is mainly of the types described in the first paragraph of this memorandum as casual, temporary and seasonal [p. 210].” Finkelstein points out in a note:
She has evidently “erred” in two respects:
  1. the British assessments were explicitly not limited to “recorded” immigration; and
  2. no report ever stated that “recorded” immigration was “unquantifiable.”
See Norman G. Finkelstein, “Disinformation and the Palestine Question: The Not-So-Strange Case of Joan Peters’s From Time Immemorial” in Edward W. Said and Christopher Hitchens, eds., Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question (London: Verso, 2001), p. 64, note 9; Palestine Royal Commission, Report, (London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1937), p. 291; Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, A Survey of Palestine (London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1945-46) vol 1, p. 210.
10 See the citation from the Peel Commission Report later in this section and thecommentary by the Isaacs suggesting that the British had underestimated the number of Haurani immigrants.
11 Finkelstein, pp. 39-40. The annual British reports to the League of Nations show the number of travelers reclassified as legal immigrants in selected years, and indicate that the provision allowing “pseudo-travellers” to be reclassified as legal immigrants benefited Jews most of all:
The 1928 report was unavailable; the 1929 report does not record these figures. 1930 and 1931 figures are “those who had entered without permission but were allowed to remain.” Cf. Finkelstein, note 11, p.65.
12 Finkelstein, p. 40. Cf. Peters, pp. 229232-3296-7326375376378379394,402. In their article defending Peters, Erich and Rael Jean Isaac agree that Peters is wrong here, but claim that her error is understandable:
The chapter of the report in which this passage appears is devoted to a discussion of the procedures used by the British Palestine government in issuing immigration certificates to Jews. But illegal Arab immigration was also an awkward problem for Hope Simpson, and immediately before his discussion of (Jewish) pseudo-travelers, he inserts a paragraph on the failure of land border posts to control illegal crossings: “The immigrant who wishes to evade the control naturally leaves the road before reaching the frontier and takes to the footpaths over the Hills.” Actually, given the context, a reader might easily think he is speaking of Jews here as well; the only way one can be sure is that twelve pages on, in a passage explicitly concerning Arabs, Hope Simpson mentions their illicit immigration through Syria and across the northern frontiers and says, “This question has already been discussed.”
What presumably misled Miss Peters, then, was this paragraph on infiltration across the land border. She correctly inferred that Hope Simpson was speaking of Arabs here, but then incorrectly concluded that the following section on pseudo-travelers referred to Arabs as well. [“Whose Palestine?” Commentary, July 1986, p. 33]
Given the number of times Peters cites sources out of context, however, it is rather much to believe that she had tried to establish context by referring to Hope Simpson’s reference twelve pages later, while missing all the other indications that the passage primarily concerned Jews.
13 Finkelstein, p. 41. Cf. the preceding pages in the Anglo-American Survey, pp. 786-787788-789.
14 Neither I nor Finkelstein [p. 63, note 3] nor the Isaacs have found any such claim in the Hope Simpson Report. As the Isaacs write, “Actually, even if Hope Simpson had indeed been referring to Arab pseudo-travelers, Miss Peters would have no justification for claiming that the report ‘proved’ the Arab population was composed ‘largely’ of immigrants or in-migrants. It does no such thing.” Erich and Rael Jean Isaac, “Whose Palestine?” Commentary, July 1986, p. 34.
15 For example, see Peters p. 297p. 374.
16 Palestine Royal Commission, Report, pp. 291-292.
17 Peters is evidently referring to the subsection “Jewish Immigration into Palestine” in the report’s introduction, but this subsection is not even listed in the table of contents. Chapter IV, “Immigration and Emigration,” is so listed and is hard to miss; it contains extensive statistics on Arab immigration.
Here are scans of the relevant sections in four of the reports across the period:192619311935 and 1937. The rest of the reports are similar. Note that the versions of the documents online at <> are truncated and do not generally contain the sections dealing with immigration.
18 Finkelstein, pp. 46-47.

From Time Immemorial- Natural Increase and the Growth of Palestine’s Arab Population (Part 4 of 6)

Peters’ main contention is that many of the Arabs living in the area that became Israel did not descend from Arabs who had been there “from time immemorial” but were relatively recent arrivals. One indication of this migration, she argues, is that the “natural increase” (i.e., births minus deaths) of the original 1893 population could not have accounted for all the Arabs present in pre-state Israel in 1947.
But Peters knows that the accepted view holds Arab population growth to have been the result of natural increase. In a section entitled “Immigration: Government Reports and Their Contradictions [pp. 223-5],” she cites many sources in support of the standard view, including the 1931 British census, various government bodies, and two Zionist historians.1
Peters counters this impressive array of sources with the argument that the official sources contradict themselves and only assume, but do not prove, that natural increase was the source of Arab population growth. She writes: “Occasionally the British administration, noting ‘disproportions’ and disparities in its data on Arab population growth, attempted to justify the conflicting assumptions in nonscientific terms, but the so-called ‘unprecedented’ rate of ‘natural increase’ among the non-Jews was never satisfactorily broken down or explained [p. 223].” Later, she continues: “the evidence which contradicted that assumption often was noted on other pages of the same official British Government report that had made the ‘natural increase’ assumption [p. 224].”
Peters never provides enough details about official figures to show that the claim of natural increase is an “assumption”; this is merely her assertion. At least one of her sources, Carr-Saunders’ World Population, explicitly bases its claims about natural increase on observed birth rates and death rates among the Arabs [Carr-Saunders, p. 308].2 If Carr-Saunders makes some assumption that would mask immigration, Peters does not show it.
What of Peters’ “disproportions” and contradictions? Peters uses the term “disproportion” in reference to the 1937 British report to the League of Nations:
A very great disproportion is evident between the Moslem and Jewish death-rates and has been accentuated by a steady decline in the Jewish death-rate over the period under review. [p. 223, note 14]
But there is nothing contradictory or surprising about a disproportion between Arab and Jewish death rates. Nor does the Muslims’ higher death rate contradict the idea that Arab natural increase was very rapid. The same report indicates that the Muslims have the highest birth rate of all the religions and establishes their high rate of natural increase [pp. 223-224, note 18].
Peters also cites a report that, whereas the Jewish death rate declined between 1922 and 1944, the Arab death rate was at its lowest in 1922: “According to demographic experts, that phenomenon would have been incredible [p. 223,note 11].” Yet the relevant table shows that the Arab death rate decreased steadily between 1923 and 1935.3 Furthermore, the anomalous figure for 1922 clearly has a different statistical basis, as no figure for “others” is cited in the rightmost column. There is nothing nefarious in this inconsistency, and Peters is wrong to make anything of it.
Peters finds another “contradiction” in the work of A.M. Carr-Saunders. She writes:
One source cited earlier–a population expert who assumed that a populous indigenous Arab community had been in Palestine for a millenium–noted elsewhere in the same chapter that, by the date of his book, 1936, well into that Mandatory period, “fall in the death-rate” was the “likely” cause of the Arabs’ population increase. And yet, he contradicted his own explanation by stating that in fact by 1936, fourteen years into the Mandatory period, “Medical and sanitary progress has made little headway among the Palestinian Arabs as yet, and cannot account for any considerable fall in the death rate.” After disqualifying all other excuses, that writer was left with one rather lame possibility: that perhaps the phenomenal rate of increase among Arabs in Palestine could be attributed solely to British “administrative measures” like “quarantine”!
In other words, the new “phenomenal” rise in the Arab population of Palestine, which had remained sparse and static for two hundred years despite constant replenishing, was attributed to a sudden, hyped natural increase of the “existing” long-settled indigenes. That phenomenon, or so went the rationalization, resulted from new conditions. Yet, it wasalso acknowledged that because of its recent timing, the introduction of those new conditions could not in fact have been responsible for the population increase in the period of time for which it was credited! [p. 224]
But consider what Carr-Saunders had actually written:
Medical and sanitary progress, so far as it affects the personal health and customs, has made little way among the Palestinian Arabs as yet, and cannot account for any considerable fall in the death rate. But general administrative measures, in the region of quarantine, for example, have been designed in the light of modern knowledge and have been adequately carried out. Measures of this kind can be enforced almost overnight… Therefore we can find in these administrative changes, brought about by the British occupation of Palestine, what is in any case a tenable explanation of the natural increase of population among the Arabs. [Carr-Saunders, pp. 310-311]
Peters’ quote omits Carr-Saunders’ crucial phrase “so far as it affects the personal health and customs” without even an ellipsis. The alleged contradiction is entirely of her own manufacture: Carr-Saunders does not claim that new conditions could not have explained the Arab population increase, merely that new conditions affecting personal health and customs could not have done so. He explains the population increase in terms of new conditions such as quarantine. Peters simply dismisses this explanation as an “excuse” and a “lame possibility” which in the next paragraph becomes a “rationalization.” She clearly wants to believe that Carr-Saunders has invented this explanation out of a desire to evade the possibility that Arab population increase resulted largely from immigration, but offers no evidence to support this attitude.
The last “contradiction” Peters finds is in the report of the 1938 Palestine Partition Commission, cited above, “which tried to reconcile contradictory facts”; i.e., the high birth rate of a peasant community and a death rate that “could only be brought about under an enlightened modern administration [p. 224].” But there is nothing necessarily contradictory in a population exhibiting these two tendencies, nor does Peters explain further. She merely points without comment to the report’s claims that these circumstances were “unique in modern history” and “possibly unprecedented [p. 225].”
The thesis that high Arab population growth came from hidden immigration rather than natural increase is not original to Peters; it was explicitly considered and rejected during the Mandatory period. According to the Anglo-AmericanSurvey of Palestine:
That each [temporary migration into Palestine] may lead to a residue of illegal permanent settlers is possible, but, if the residue were of significant size, it would be reflected in systematic disturbances of the rates of Arab vital occurrences. No such systematic disturbances are observed. It is sometimes alleged that the high rate of Arab natural increase is due to a large concealed immigration from the neighbouring countries. This is an erroneous inference. Researches reveal that the high rate of fertility of the Moslem Arab woman has remained unchanged for half a century. The low rate of Arab natural increase before 1914 was caused by
(a) the removal in significant numbers of men in the early nubile years for military service in other parts of the Ottoman Empire, many of whom never returned and others of whom returned in the late years of life; and
(b) the lack of effective control of endemic and epidemic diseases that in those years led to high mortality rates. [Survey, p. 211]4
All Peters has to offer in dispute of such findings is a series of invented contradictions in the official British sources. As will be seen in the next section, her allegations of massive undocumented immigration rest on similar distortions and misinterpretations.
Peters’ method for dealing with inconvenient evidence is becoming clear: she tries to discredit the source by inventing inconsistencies while insinuating dishonesty. The standard view that rapid Arab population growth resulted from natural increase stands is an obstacle to Peters’ thesis of massive Arab immigration. Thus, we see her
  • argue without ground that official reports “assume” that high Arab population growth resulted from natural increase
  • insinuate baselessly that a “disproportion” between Jewish and Muslim death rates in a British report is a sign of “conflicting assumptions”
  • find another “contradiction” in an obvious change in statistical reporting methods
  • omit a crucial qualifying phrase in a quotation in order to create the appearance of self-contradiction
  • dismiss without evidence (but with plenty of scorn) an expert’s assessment that public health measures had accounted for rapid Arab population growth
  • insinuate groundlessly that the official sources evaded the possibility of Arab immigration
  • imagine a contradiction in a report’s claim of high birth rates accompanying lowered death rates
What Peters does not do is offer any valid evidence that birth and death data were misreported, or show why evidence of immigration did not appear in Arab vital statistics. Instead, she modifies or misinterprets evidence to fit her thesis.

1 She cites:
  • The British census of 1931 as saying that “not quite two percent of the Moslem population are immigrants [p. 222, note 7].”
  • The Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry as remarking on the expansion of the Arab population by natural increase and the remarkable “speed with which the Moslems have followed Western patterns in the reduction of mortality [p. 223, p. 224, notes 8,9, 20].”
  • The Palestine Royal Commission Report as calling the rate of natural increase among the Muslims “unprecedented” and as crediting the fact to the higher health standards brought by Jews [p. 223, notes 13, 10]. Later, the report raises the possibility of immigration as accounting for some of the population increase: “No accurate estimate can be made of the numbers of Arabs who have come into Palestine from neighboring Arab lands and settled there, but it may be reckoned that roughly nine-tenths of growth has been due to natural increase… [p. 225, note 26].”
  • The 1937 British report to the League of Nations claiming that the Muslim birth rate is the highest of all the religions and that “the growth in their numbers has been largely due to the health services, combating malaria, reducing the infant deathrate, improving water supply and sanitation.” Further, the report sets the Moslem rate of natural increase at 2.5 per cent per year between 1931 and 1935 [pp. 223-224, note 18].
  • Zionist historian Rony Gabbay: “The increase in the Moslem and Christian populations is to be attributed mostly to their higher rate of natural increase, due not only to the very high birth rate, but also to the fall in the death rate of infants, as well as a considerable increase in the life span… [p. 513, note 19].”
  • Zionist historian A. Granovsky: “The rate of natural increase of the Arab population of Palestine is… among the highest in the world, in fact [p. 513, note 19].”
  • Population expert A.M. Carr-Saunders as claiming that the “fall in the death rate” was the “likely” cause of the Arabs’ population increase [p. 224, note 21]. Later, Carr-Saunders is quoted saying that “the Arabs have also received some reinforcement” from immigration [p. 225, note 27].
  • The 1938 Palestine Partition Commission (relying on Carr-Saunders) claiming that the Arab population reflected “simultaneously two widely different tendencies–a birthrate characteristic of a peasant community in which the unrestricted family is normal, and a death-rate which could only be brought about under an enlightened modern administration… [p. 224, note 22].” Among the Arabs this led to “an abnormally high (and possibly unprecedented) rate of natural increase in the existing indigenous population [p. 225, note 24].”
2 A.M. Carr-Saunders, World Population (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1936), p. 308.
3 Statistical Abstract of Palestine (Jerusalem: Office of Statistics), 1936 p. 17, table 18.
4 Peters is surely aware of this reference, as it occurs one paragraph after a passage she cites [p. 517 note 49] and is clearly relevant to it.

From Time Immemorial – Evidence of Unrecorded Arab Immigration (Part 5 of 6)

The central thesis of Peters’ book is that a significant proportion of Arabs living in the area that became Israel were actually immigrants or migrants from other parts of Palestine, who made up a large proportion of the 590,000 Palestinian refugees in 1948. Peters’ population study claims to show that 170,000 Arabs had migrated inside Palestine into the Jewish-settled areas by 1948 [p. 257]. Some additional number had immigrated from outside Palestine, but Peters regards the official count as inaccurate. On p. 381 she estimates at least 200,000 immigrants by 1939, while on p. 275 she had argued that the “incidence of Arab illegal immigration during the British mandatory period… was evidently an immigration movement great enough to compare with admittedly immigration-based increase of the Jews,” a figure of roughly 370,000.1 Thus Peters’ total from internal migration and immigration would lie between 370,000 and 540,000, a figure that would make most of the refugees recent arrivals.2
Others have also argued that significant undocumented Arab immigration occurred, but put the figure far lower.3 Arieh Avneri, in Claim of Dispossession,estimates 100,000 legal and illegal immigrants and their offspring.4 Moshe Braver, whom Peters cites, also would put the number at around 100,000, and gives some indication that internal migration was relatively minor.5 Peters’ immigration estimates run twice to four times as high.
No Hidden Immigration?
Finkelstein argues that Peters’ own population study refutes all such estimates, showing no net Arab immigration into Palestine.6 The study calculates how many Arabs would have been living in different parts of Palestine in 1947, had population growth been the result of natural increase alone. Peters compares these results with the actual 1947 population to show that Arab population growth in the Jewish-settled areas had to have been supplemented by arrivals from elsewhere.
Peters’ study rests on figures from the 1893 Ottoman census and a factor for the Arab natural increase between 1893 and 1947. Recall that Peters believes the official figures for Arab natural increase were exaggerated and masked hidden immigration. Instead, she uses a figure she believes is more representative of the true rate: that of the Arab population in non-Jewish areas, where population growth would not be influenced by hidden immigration [p. 428]. Yet that rate of natural increase turns out to match the overall rate of Arab population growth in Palestine.7 In other words, taking the Arab population in Palestine as a whole, Peters’ own figures would show that practically the entire growth in Arab population in Palestine from 1893 to 1947 came from natural increase.
The explanation for this anomaly lies in Peters’ figures for 1947, which come from “British census data [p. 428].”8 But there was no census in 1947. As Gottheil explains,
Census data for Palestine is available only for the years 1922 and 1931…. Since 1931, population estimates were derived by applying natural rates of growth and registered immigration to the 1931 numbers. Because these population estimates make no attempt to measure unrecorded immigration, the reliability of these numbers is considerably less than those of the census years.9
In other words, the data Peters used for 1947 already assumes no unrecorded immigration occurred; her population study can only indicate a pattern of relative migration within Palestine (which she calls “in-migration”) and has nothing to say about immigration. Finkelstein’s criticism, then, is without merit.
In-migration and Peters’ Population Study
Peters’ study is only as good as her initial 1893 population figures. As was seen earlier, her apportionment of the 1893 Arab population to various geographical regions cannot be verified because she does not specify her procedure. Given the tendentiousness with which she handles evidence, there is reason to be skeptical about her results.10
Finkelstein wrongly accuses Peters of falsifying the numbers in her study because he errs in deriving the figure she uses for the rate of natural increase.11Nevertheless, he is correct that she misuses her figures in estimating the number of 1948 Arab refugees originally from outside Israeli territory. Peters’ Areas I, II and IV are the ones that became Israel; according to her study, this area experienced a net in-migration of 99,100 Arabs [p. 425]. Yet in her table “Actual Numbers of Arab Refugees–1948″ on p. 257, she lists an in-migration of 170,300.
Peters conveniently forgets to account for about 71,000 out-migrants from Area IV, though she remembers to include Area IV in each of the other columns in her table. Thus, according to her study, some of her “in-migrants” actually came from inside pre-state Israel; fewer than 100,000 came from elsewhere in Palestine.12
Peters’ strange labeling of the various areas within Palestine lends credence to the idea that she is trying to put something over on the reader here. Why are the regions that eventually made up Israel labeled I, II and IV and the rest of Palestine III and V? As Finkelstein writes,
[I]n the chart on p. 425, Areas I, II and II are boxed off from Areas IV and V. It is very easy to forget that the first of the latter two regions (IV)–from which, as we have seen, there was very significant out-migration–became part of Israel. Why did Peters section off Area III, and not Area IV, with Areas I and II? Another example: in the legend to Peters’s Appendix V (p. 424), Areas I, II and III are bracketed off and labeled “contained most of Jewish population”; Areas IV and V are similarly bracketed off and labeled “contained very little Jewish population.” But… Area III contained no Jews.13 By grouping the five regions in this highly misleading and altogether erroneous fashion, the distinct impression is again left that the first three areas became Israel while the remaining two fell within the jurisdiction of the Arabs in 1948: Area IV easily gets lost in the shuffle.[Finkelstein, p. 52]
Documenting Illegal Arab Immigration
Peters never indicates how she arrives at her estimate of at least 200,000 Arab immigrants entering Jewish-settled areas of Palestine between 1893 and 1947; this figure is just a guess. Yet the evidence she provides to document the existence of unrecorded immigration is often misrepresented :
  1. Peters’ “smoking gun” is the Permanent Mandates Commission’s reference to 30,000-36,000 Hauranis entering Palestine during a few months in 1934. As Finkelstein writes:

    Peters cites the Mandates Commission reference to the report in La Syrie on seven different occasions (pp. 230231272275297319,431). She classifies this reference in the Commission minutes as “hard evidence” (p. 297) and lists this reported entry of 30,000-36,000 Hauranis into Palestine flat out as a fact in her chronology of significant events in the history of the British mandate (p. 319; see also p. 272, where this item is again presented, without qualification, as fact)… [she] states that the Mandates Commission “verified” (p. 231) and “recognized” (p. 319) the influx, in the space of just a few months, of 30,000 to 36,000 Hauranis, and that the Commission “took special ‘note’… that the Hauranese, not merely passing through, had indeed settled” (p. 230).14
    Yet here is what the Commission’s minutes actually say:
    Lord LUGARD said that La Syrie had published, on August 12th, 1934, an interview with Tewfik Bey El-Huriani, Governor of the Hauran, who said that in the last few months from 30,000 to 36,000 Hauranese had entered Palestine and settled there. The accredited representative would note the Governor’s statement that these Hauranese had actually “settled”.
    …Mr. MOODY expressed the view that the statement of the Governor of the Hauran was a gross exaggeration.
    M. ORTS did not know how much value could be attached to the statement, but the statement itself was quite definite. The Governor even referred to the large sums remitted by these immigrants to their families, who remained in the Hauran.
    Mr. MOODY said he had read the article in question. As he had said, he thought that the figures must be grossly exaggerated, because the Palestine Government had taken special measures on the eastern and north-eastern frontier with a view to keeping out undesirable people.15
    Peters never notes that the figure was disputed nor does she supply any other references to support it. Her claims that the Commission “verified” or “recognized” the number are false.16
    We have already seen the Peel Commission reporting that Haurani migration was largely temporary and that approximately 2,500 illegal Hauranis remained in Palestine as of 1937. And Peters herself documents the “hasty leavetaking” of the Hauranis in 1936 [p. 272].17 In a definitive gesture, the British bulldozed the Haurani encampment after the Hauranis’ departure.18
    The Isaacs, in their article defending Peters, mention that she has provided “very soft evidence indeed, for… there was no way El-Hurani [sic] could know three months after the exodus whether it was permanent or not.
    Actually, Miss Peters has much better evidence on this point which she ignores. In the testimony given before the Palestine Royal Commission by the Jewish Agency’s Eliahu Epstein and Moshe Shertok, and on the very pages from which she elsewhere quotes effectively and extensively, there is a lengthy discussion of the immigrants who came from the Hauran in 1934. Epstein complained to the Commission about this Haurani influx; his estimate was that 20,000-25,000 had entered, of whom 6,000 to 8,000 had settled in Palestine. Epstein had done genuine research on the issue, visiting 30 villages in the Hauran to determine how many migrants had been seasonal and how many had left permanently. (He published some of his findings in the Journal of the Royal Asian Society in 1935.) One can only speculate that Miss Peters felt El-Hurani’s numbers–30,000 to 36,000–made her case more dramatically than Epstein’s better documented account of 6,000 to 8,000. But a serious scholar obviously does not operate in this way.19
  2. The same Haurani immigration is discussed by the Anglo-American Survey of Palestine. Peters writes, “Under the heading ‘Arab illegal immigration,’ a 1945-46 report noted that ‘…the “boom” conditions in Palestine in the years 1934-36 led to an inward movement into Palestine particularly from Syria.’ [p. 517 note 49]” But the complete context is as follows:

    Arab illegal immigration is mainly of the types described in the first paragraph of this memorandum as casual, temporary and seasonal…. For example, a crop failure in the Hauran may lead to a movement into Palestine, almost entirely masculine in character, so that the migrants may acquire funds with which to recoup their losses and, on return to their own villages, invest in their normal agricultural pursuits…. Similarly, the “boom” conditions in Palestine in the years 1934-36 led to an inward movement in Palestine particularly from Syria. The depression due to the state of public disorder during 1936-39 led to the return of these people and also a substantial outward movement of Palestinian Arabs who thought it prudent to live for a time in Lebanon and Syria.[Survey, p. 210-211]20
    In other words, the Survey states that all the Haurani immigrants eventually left Palestine. Even had Peters provided evidence to the contrary, her use of the citation would still be misleading and incomplete.
  3. In another location, Peters again cites the Survey in support of her claim of massive undocumented Arab immigration:

    What the official Anglo-American Survey of 1945-6 definitively disclosed… is that those tens of thousands of “Arab illegal immigrants” recorded as having been “brought” into Palestine were reported by an administration that was reluctant to record Arab immigration at all. In addition, other unestimated “considerable” numbers immigrated “unofficially” or as “individuals” during the war, according to the report. Of the combined masses of Arab illegal immigrants only a small number were repatriated, and only near the end of the war (“October 1944″) was there a token effort to “put the law into force and deport to their countries of origin the Syrian, Lebanese, Egyptian and other foreign labourers found to be illegally in Palestine. Since the Palestine authorities, as documented earlier, were under orders not to deport Arab illegal immigrants unless they were embarrassingly noticeable, the number deported was predictably minimal. [p. 379]
    Now look at the Survey. The document records official arrangements made to bring in 3,800 laborers from Syria and Lebanon for the Army:
    Of this number it is known that 713 deserted; 828 were officially repatriated; and 178 remained in employment at 31st December, 1945. The balance (2081) must be presumed to have been discharged in Palestine and either returned to their countries of origin of their own volition or remained in Palestine illegally.

    In addition to these Syrian and Lebanese labourers who were brought to Palestine under official arrangements, inhabitants of neighbouring countries, attracted by the high rates of wages offered for employment on military works, entered Palestine illegally in considerable numbers during the War…. No estimates are available of the numbers of foreign labourers who were so brought into the country by contractors or who entered individually in search of employment on military works. [Surveypp. 212-213]
    So the unestimated “considerable” numbers who emigrated “unofficially” or as “individuals” were in addition to 3,800 legal immigrants, not to Peters’ “tens of thousands” of illegals. Further on, the Survey catalogs the additional illegal immigrants, yielding a total of about 14,000.21 The Survey later provides a table of the number of non-Jews deported from Palestine, which shows that almost 13,000 had been deported [p. 221].22 Thus out of roughly 18,000 immigrants–3,800 “official” ones and about 14,000 illegals by best estimate–all but 5,000 or so had been deported. This is far from Peters’ “tens of thousands” of recorded immigrants and additional “considerable numbers” of whom the number deported was “predictably minimal.”23
  4. Referring to the Hope Simpson Report, Peters writes, “[A]ccording to that Report, evidence of Arab immigration abounded: ‘Egyptian labour is being employed.’ [p. 297]” Yet Hope Simpson had actually written: “At the time of writing, even with marked unemployment among Arabs, Egyptian labour is being employed in certain individual cases, and its ingress has been the subject of adverse comment in the press. [Hope Simpson, p. 138]”24 The omission of the qualifier “in certain individual cases” exaggerates the significance of the use of Egyptian labor.
  5. In various places, Peters cites Hope Simpson’s claim that the Arab peasant “goes to any spot where he thinks he can find work [p. 201].” For example, she writes, “it has been possible to determine the surge of Arab in-migrants into the Jewish-settled area of Western Palestine, in the continuation of a traditional pattern–moving into “any spot where he thinks he can find work [p. 254].” Yet she never gives the full context of the quote, in which Hope Simpson was speaking of peasants who were emigrating from Palestine. He writes, “He is always migrating, even at the present time. He goes to any spot where he thinks he can find work. Many have left the country altogether [Hope Simpson, pp. 146-147].”
The Lure of Jewish Development
Peters’ case appears to have common sense on its side: If the Jews had created economic opportunity for Arabs in Palestine, and if the borders were porous, one would naturally expect massive illegal Arab immigration. But this account omits several crucial aspects of the situation. First, Jewish employers resisted employing Arabs. Hope Simpson notes that “[t]he General Federation of Jewish Labour has adopted… the principle of self-labour. Where self-labour is impossible, it insists on the employment of Jewish labour exclusively, by all Jewish employers. It has been sufficiently powerful to impose the policy on the Zionist Organization… [Hope Simpson, p. 128].” Thus Peters’ constant refrain that Arab immigrants were “filling the places that the Jews were clearing for other Jews [p. 175]” is untrue.25
Peters never discusses the economic opportunities Jewish development offered Arabs after this principle of “self-labor” was adopted. Hope Simpson contended that, although Jewish development had provided additional employment opportunities for Arabs, significant Arab unemployment nevertheless existed. He wrote:
At the same time there can be no doubt that there is at the present time serious unemployment among Arab craftsmen and among Arab labourers. For this unemployment there are several causes. Motor transport, largely in the hands of the Jews, is driving the camel and the donkey off the roads, and with them the Arab camel-driver and the Arab donkey-man. The motor car, again largely owned and driven by Jews, is displacing the horse-drawn vehicle and its Arab driver. The increased use of cement, reinforced concrete and silicate brick, all manufactured by Jews, is replacing dressed stone for constructional purposes, and so displacing a large number of stone-dressers and stonemasons, nearly all of whom are Arabs. The Arab quarrymen are also being displaced.
But probably the most serious cause of additional unemployment is the cessation of conscription for the army, prevalent under the Turkish Government. The young men now remain in the villages. Formerly they were dispatched to the Yemen or to Anatolia, and many, indeed the majority, of them, failed to return. [Hope Simpson, p. 133]
Hope Simpson goes on for two pages [p. 134135] listing the evidence for Arab unemployment, including the volume of applications for various low-paying jobs as testified by various officials, and the decline in wage rates among the artisans. One would expect this unemployment to have tempered, if not deterred, Arab immigration.
This was the picture in 1930; we have already seen that the economic “boom” several years later attracted large numbers of Hauranis from Syria, who later left during the 1936 “Arab revolt.” The attractiveness of immigration into Palestine, then, would have depended on general economic conditions, the state of public order, and the trade of the prospective immigrant. The mere fact that Palestine had a porous border is not enough to conclude that significant numbers of Arabs were continually pouring into the country in search of work. While some illegal immigration did occur, the question is how much.
Peters uses the Hope Simpson Report to support the idea that Arab claims of unemployment were bogus: “The Report had strongly indicated…that the condition of Arab ‘unemployment’ was being blown out of all semblance to reality by the Arab leaders who had indeed found the ‘method of blocking that [Jewish] immigration to which they are radically averse’ [p. 298].” Or again: “The illicit Arab immigration from ‘Syria and Transjordan’…had ‘swollen unemployment lists’ and was ‘used as a political pawn’ toward ‘blocking immigration to which they are radically averse’… [p. 374].”
Yet Peters herself cites enough from the Report at the top of p. 298 to show that Hope Simpson is speaking of a hypothetical situation, one that would be easily defeated:
Arab unemployment is liable to be used as a political pawn. Arab politicians are sufficiently astute to realise at once what may appear an easy method of blocking that [Jewish] immigration to which they are radically averse, and attempts may and probably will be made to swell the list of Arabs unemployed with names which should not be there, or perhaps to ensure the registration of an unemployed man in the books of more than one exchange. It should not prove difficult to defeat this manoeuvre. [Hope Simpson, p. 138]
When Hope Simpson was writing, the Jewish immigration schedule took into account only Jewish, not Arab, unemployment [Hope Simpson, pp. 122-123]. Thus the Arab unemployment rate was irrelevant in determining the number of Jews to be allowed into Palestine; indeed, one of Hope Simpson’s recommendations was that the policy be changed to account for Arab unemployment as well [Hope Simpson, p. 136]. Hope Simpson’s reference to unemployment being used as a political pawn concerned the possible consequences of his proposal, not current conditions.
In fact, at the time of the Report no “unemployment lists” even existed to be artificially swollen, nor were there any employment exchanges. Creating such exchanges was another of Hope Simpson’s proposals: “[S]teps should be taken to create a machinery for the registration of Arab unemployment. Government Employment Exchanges should be created, without which determination of the number of Arab unemployed is not possible [Hope Simpson, p. 152].” Thus Peters’ reference provides no evidence that Arab unemployment was simply an invention intended to limit Jewish immigration.
Peters argues that the vast majority of the Arabs who became refugees in 1948 were leaving an area where they had only recently arrived. Her argument, however, rests on inflated numbers. Her estimate for immigration is pulled out of the air and at least double that of others who have studied the question. Her study of migration within Palestine fails to include a figure that would diminish her results by over forty percent, without explanation. Given Peters’ overall pattern of distortion and tendentiousness, it is hard to take this as a simple oversight.
Peters’ evidence of undocumented illegal immigration is full of distortions:
  • Her key evidence is the immigration of 30,000-36,000 Hauranis as verified by the Mandates Commission–which in fact did not verify it, and before whom it was disputed.
  • She claims the Commission verified the Hauranis’ settlement in Palestine, when it could not possibly have done so.
  • Her own evidence that the Hauranis left Palestine two years later is minimized.
  • She cites the Anglo-American Survey regarding the entry of the Hauranis, but omits the sentence documenting their departure.
  • She inflates the number of immigrants documented by the Anglo-AmericanSurvey by counting the same groups several times over.
  • While the Survey documented the deportation of over two thirds of the immigrants, she claims that it found only a minimal number deported.
  • She exaggerates the use of Egyptian labor by truncating the quote she cites as evidence
Peters simply assumes that Jewish development acted as a lure for Arab immigration. She does not take into account Jewish policies to hire only Jewish workers, nor observed unemployment among the Arabs. Her claim that Arab unemployment was a fiction intended to block Jewish immigration rests on a misrepresentation of conditions in Palestine at the time, as well as of the report she uses as evidence.
The true total for immigration plus in-migration probably lies between 100,000 and 200,000. This figure is not insignificant, but it does not rise to the level that justifies Peters’ thesis that most of the 1948 Arab population–or of the refugees–were recent arrivals.
1 Peters’ table in Appendix VII [p. 432] shows a figure of about 368,000 Jewish immigrants over the entire mandatory period.
2 This total is supported by other passages in Peters’ text. On pp. 262-263 she says that “illegal Arab immigrants could account for a very substantial number among the Arabs included in the 343,00 refugee figure” from which in-migration and recorded immigration had already been deducted. On p. 264 Peters claims the number of immigrants was at least as high as that of in-migrants. Later, on p. 337 she says that Arab population increase by in-migration and illegal immigration “matched or possibly even exceeded the Jews’ immigration,” which would be about 370,000. And on p. 298 she claims that Hope Simpson had proved that the “so-called ‘existing’ indigenous Arab population…was largely composed either of immigrants or Arab in-migrants,” or nearly 450,000 by 1930. (Peters provides no 1930 figures, but Hope Simpson records almost 700,000 Moslems and over 82,000 Christians in Palestine [Report, p. 160]. Peters’ table puts 57 percent of the Arab population of Palestine in Areas I, II and IV in 1944 [p. 425]; applying this proportion to the 1930 figures gives almost 450,000.)
Peters’ claim that the indigenous Arab population was largely from elsewhere is not to be found in the Hope Simpson Report. See note 14 in the “British Mandate” section above.
3 “While there are no precise totals on the extent of Arab immigration between the two World Wars, estimates vary between 60,000 and 100,000.” Moshe Aumann, “Land Ownership in Palestine 1880-1948,” in Michael Curtis, Joseph Neyer, Chaim I. Waxman and Allen Pollack, eds., The Palestinians (New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1975), p. 27.
4 Arieh L. Avneri, The Claim of Dispossession: Jewish Land-Settlement and the Arabs 1878-1948 (New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1984), p. 282.
5 Braver claims that during 1922-1945, 20 per cent of Muslim and at least 28 per cent of the Christian population growth came from immigration [Braver, p. 14]. If roughly ten percent of the non-Jewish population of Palestine was Christian [“Palestine on the Eve,” note 8], then about 21 per cent of non-Jewish population growth resulted from immigration. Applying this proportion to Peters’ numbers for Areas I, II and IV from 1893 (218,600) and 1947 (746,900) would give a result of about 110,900. This estimate is probably too high, for it assumes the same rate of Arab immigration all the way back to 1893, and also that Peters’ 1893 figures are accurate (see note 10 below).
With regard to internal migration, Braver writes:
It was found that there had been some migration from the Hebron area to Jerusalem and a bit to Jaffa, but not to the coastal plain villages. From Beth-Lehem, Bet Jalla and several neighboring villages there had been some migration abroad, to Jerusalem, Jaffa and Haifa, but not to other villages elsewhere…. In conversations with the heads of the clans, the above assumption was verified, namely, that coastal plain villages (and those in the eastern foothills) received many “new residents”, most of them from neighboring countries and only a few from other regions in the land. [Braver, pp. 19-20]
Moshe Braver, “Immigration as a Factor in the Growth of the Arab Village in Eretz-Israel,” Economic Review: Problems of Aliya and Absorption (Tel Aviv) 28 (July-September 1975) pp. 10-21.
6 Norman G. Finkelstein, “Disinformation and the Palestine Question: The Not-So-Strange Case of Joan Peters’s From Time Immemorial,” in Edward W. Said and Christopher Hitchens, eds., Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question (London: Verso, 2001), p. 38.
7 Peters’ study uses a factor of 2.795 for the natural increase of Arab population between 1893 and 1947. Her value for the Arab population of Palestine in 1893 was 466,400 [Appendix V, p. 425]–a figure that, multiplied by 2.795, would yield an Arab population of 1,303,588 in 1947. But Peters’ figure for the actual Palestinian Arab population in 1947 (from the same tables) is 1,303,800. This would mean that only 212 Arabs immigrated into Palestine over those fifty-four years.
Peters argues that the rate of natural increase she uses is conservative and overestimates growth due to natural increase:
The rate of natural increase applied to the Arabs in the Jewish-settled area of Western Palestine was the total reported increase of all the Arabs throughout the rest of Western Palestine. Thus the study assumed all population increase among Arabs outside the Jewish-settled area was natural. Since some immigration into those areas from other lands also took place, a number of newcomers were counted as “native” population who only increased by reproduction; consequently, that rate of “natural” increase which was applied probably is higher than the one that actually obtained. [pp. 259-260]
Yet according to the demographer’s note, the study does nothing of the sort; it derives the rate of natural increase directly from birth and death rates:
The first procedure [involved]…applying the percentages of actual births and deaths as obtained from the British government censuses and reports. Natural increase was calculated from birth and death data…. The second procedure involved the following: A) using data for Arab births and deaths available from the Statistical Abstract of Palestine–1941 for the period of 1922 to 1927… [pp. 428-429]
Thus the rate of natural increase is not based on the total increase of the Arab population including immigrants, but on observed birth and death rates. If the demographer is telling the truth, Peters is misrepresenting her study as conservative.
8 Edward Said claims that Peters demographics are done in ignorance of the 1931 British census. He writes: “What neither [Farrell nor Finkelstein] noted, however, is that the last census for Palestine was done under British mandate in 1931. No population estimates of twentieth-century Palestine can avoid its findings, which show a vast native Arab majority. Peters totally ignores that census…” Edward Said, “Conspiracy of Praise,” in Said and Hitchens, eds., p. 26.
Yet Peters refers to that census, for example, on p. 222: “While the ‘Jewish population’ of Palestine was ‘predominantly immigrant in character,’ according to the 1931 census of Palestine the Muslims were assumed to be ‘the natural population’…” She mentions it again on p. 226 and uses it for the tables on the pages that follow (“Birthplaces of Inhabitants of Jerusalem District” and “Languages in Habitual Use in Palestine”). The census is cited on p. 242 (see note 33) as stating that in 1918 there had been less than 100,000 Jews and over half a million Arabs in Palestine. It appears in the notes in several other places. True, the 1931 census is not referred to in Peters’ population study (she uses data for 1922, 1944 and 1947 [p. 428]). This omission may be questionable, but Said’s claim that she entirely ignores the 1931 census is not true.
Said also claims that Peters ignores Justin McCarthy’s work, which is true insofar as his study of the population of Ottoman Syria and Iraq is concerned. She does, however, cite McCarthy’s earlier article on Egyptian population in the 19th century–e.g., on p. 529 note 79. This article is also cited in Peters’ bibliography.
9 Fred M. Gottheil, “Arab Immigration into Pre-State Israel: 1922-1931″ in Curtis et al. eds., The Palestinians, p. 31.
To be precise, Peters’ study assumes all population increase after 1931 comes from natural increase. Between 1893 and 1931, her numbers show no net immigration. Both Gottheil and Avneri use census data from 1922 and 1931 to estimate illegal immigration during that period. Gottheil puts the figure at about 55,000 [Gottheil, p. 32], while Avneri estimates 44,500 of whom many may simply have been uncounted in the 1922 census [Avneri, pp. 31-32]. From 1893 to 1922, Avneri documents both immigration and emigration, as well as banishments, desertions, famine and epidemics that caused significant population fluctuations [Avneri, pp. 21-30].
10 Aside from questions about how she collated the Ottoman census figures, there is reason to believe that the raw Ottoman figures are too low. A study of the Ottoman census data by demographer Justin McCarthy of the University of Louisville, published by the University of Haifa in 1981, used statistical methods to establish an undercount of 7.51 per cent in the district of Jerusalem and of 18.77 per cent in the Beyrut province (which contained the other two districts that became part of Palestine). Farrell applies these figures to the Ottoman census data to show that Peters’ 1893 numbers were short by 47,300 Muslims across Palestine; their descendants in 1947 would number over 132,000 at Peters’ rate of natural increase. (Christians were similarly undercounted, though exact figures were not available.) Thus Arab migration within Palestine is likely to be far smaller than Peters contends.
See Justin McCarthy, “The Population of Ottoman Syria and Iraq,” Asian and African Studies 15 (1981), p. 10, 25 and Bill Farrell, “Joan Peters and the Perversion of History,” Journal of Palestine Studies XIV no. 1 (Fall 1984), pp. 127-128.
Finkelstein notes that Peters’ treatment of “in-migration” does not inspire confidence in her abilities:
Peters reserves the term “in-migration” for the movement of indigenous Palestinian Arabs from any other part of Palestine into the Jewish-settled area. Her handling of this–not terribly complex–concept is remarkably inept. See, inter alia,p. 245 (the same page on which her definition appears!), where Peters attributes the (alleged) aberrant growth in Palestine’s overall Arab population between 1882 and 1895 to Arab immigration and in-migrationp. 376, where she condemns Britain’s supposedly “cynical policy” in Palestine, by which “illegal Arab immigrants entered unheeded along with Arab in-migrants, and all were counted as ‘natives’ unless they were ‘flagrant'”; and p. 157, where she surmises that, given the “acute decline” Palestine’s population suffered before modern Jewish settlement, “[a]n enormous swell of Arab population could only have resulted from immigration and in-migration.” [Finkelstein’s emphases. Finkelstein, p. 66, note 21]
11 Finkelstein, p.51. As mentioned earlier, Finkelstein’s erroneous figure is based on overlooking the fact that nomads were included in Peters’ 1893 population figures but listed separately for 1947. When the correct figure of 2.795 is used, the table comes out as Peters would have it [cf. p. 425]:
AreaActual 1893Projected 1947
(1893 x 2.795)
Actual 1947DifferenceNotes
Actual 1947:
legal immigrants27,300
illegal immigrants9,500
Actual 1947:
Actual 1947:
Peters’ table is not easy to understand as the actual population of Area I equals the sum of the settled Arabs, nomads, immigrants and in-migrants whereas the actual population of Area V equals only the sum of the settled Arabs and nomads (the out-migrants, not being present, do not comprise a part of the actual population). Yet in both areas, the projected population equals the sum of the settled Arabs and nomads; this is how the remaining figures for migration are ascertained.
12 In their response to Finkelstein, the Isaacs argue that Peters is correct to exclude the out-migrants from Area IV:
Area IV, which comprised chiefly the Negev and western and central Galilee, had a large number of Bedouin (mainly in the Negev). Even if 70,000 Arabs had migrated from Area IV to Area I and then become refugees, her case would not have been “trivial.”
In practice it is most unlikely that this happened. The nomads of the Negev did not become sedentary dwellers in the Mandatory period and thus did not become out-migrants to Area I. There were peasant villages in the northern Negev but these were largely settled by Egyptian fellahin. The area experienced little natural growth, in part because of its misfortune in serving as a frontier zone between the feuding Qaisi and Yamani factions. The Galilee had an important Christian population component, which meant that in practice its natural growth rate was lower than that of purely Muslim areas. Thus it is unlikely that there would have been even 70,000 in-migrants to account for. [Erich and Rael Jean Isaac, Commentary, October 1986, p. 15]
While this may be true, it is a possibility Peters never raises or deals with, nor does it make her presentation any more objective; she simply ignores the inconvenient figures. Furthermore, if the Isaacs are correct, Peters’ crucial assumption of a uniform rate of natural increase across Palestine yields results significantly at variance with reality. If so, her study is worthless.
13Finkelstein points to Peters’ map on p. 246 as evidence for this claim, but as he mentions on the next page, the map was revised after the seventh printing of the book to read “some Jewish settlement.” Yet confirmation that there were few Jews in Area III comes on p. 254: When Peters refers to “those regions that had little Jewish development” she lists in her note 69 Areas III, IV and V. On the next page, in Table G, Areas III and IV are listed as “Intermediate” (in between “some Jews, mainly Arab” and “Main Areas of Arab settlement–no Jewish settlement”). And in the table on p. 425, we see no 1947 figures for Jews in Area III.
As Finkelstein notes (pp. 54-56), Peters’ areas undergo remarkable changes. For example, Area V is labeled consistently as having had little or no Jewish development, but in the table on p. 425 more Jews are listed for Area V than for Area IV. Or again, on p. 254 Area II is taken to be heavily or mainly settled by Jews. On p. 255, Table G, the region corresponding to Area II is listed as “some Jews, mainly Arab,” but in the table on p. 425, there are no 1947 figures for Jews in Area II.
That the regions in Table G correspond to Peters’ five areas is verified by the fact that the population figures match exactly, cf. p. 425.
14 Finkelstein, p. 48. Note that Finkelstein’s page references after p. 425 are off by one with respect to the edition that was used for this article, because of the inclusion of the map in the appendix in later editions.
15 Lord Lugard and Mr. Orts were Commission members; Mr. Moody was Assistant Chief Secretary to the Government of Palestine. League of Nations Permanent Mandates Commission, Minutes of the Thirty-Fourth Session, June 18, 1935 (search for “Syrie”). Online in the UN documents site at <>.
16 Ernst Frankenstein (a pro-Zionist writer on whom Peters relies heavily, as will be seen in the next section) cites the same source, but makes no such claims: “The Mandates Commission discussed in 1935 a declaration of the governor of the (Syrian) Hauran district that in 1934, in a few months, 30,000 Hauranese had entered Palestine and settled there.” Ernst Frankenstein, Justice for My People(New York: Dial Press, 1944), pp. 128-9.
17 She says that a smaller number left than had entered, but provides no evidence to prove it. Cf. Finkelstein, p. 48.
18 Jesse Zel Lurie, editor of the Long Island Jewish World, writes in a letter toCommentary:
I witnessed the invasion of Haifa by the Hauranis in the 1930’s, which, as Miss Peters points out, was condoned by the British authorities…. The Hauranis squatted in tin shacks without water, sanitation, or municipal services on public land on the outskirts of Haifa…. The British finally bulldozed the smelly Haurani encampment as a health hazard, but only after the Syrian drought ended and most of the Hauranis went home to plow their fields. [Commentary, October 1986, pp. 12-14]
Avneri records that the government built a housing project that lodged about a thousand Hauranis, who remained until at least 1948 [Avneri, p. 33].
19 Erich and Rael Jean Isaac, “Whose Palestine?” p. 34.
20 Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, A Survey of Palestine (London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1945-46), vol. 1, p. 211.
21 Of the illegals, less than 4,000 were employed by the War Department and 380 by the R.A.F. Of these not all could be replaced, so 2,000 had been retained and the rest repatriated. On p. 214 the survey claims to have no precise figures of the number employed by private contractors, but gives a police estimate as to 9,687. This group–those “working for contractors engaged on military or R.A.F. construction or in other civil employment”–is the same as the group for whom “no estimates are available”–those brought in “by contractors or who entered individually in search of employment on military works.” Thus the context makes clear that by “no estimates” is meant “no precise figures.”
Peters apparently adds to the 4,000 employed by the War Department another 3,000 employed by the Army, but from context it is clear these are one and the same group: “(a) Those employed directly by the War Department and the Royal Air Force. Recent surveys undertaken by these authorities give a total of less than 4,000 employed by the War Department at 31st December, 1945, and about 380 employed by the R.A.F. at the same date. Over 3000 of those employed by the Army and about 300 of those employed by the R.A.F. were Egyptians… [Survey,p. 213].”
22 The table does not include those “repatriated under the official emergency arrangement [applying to the 3,800 brought in from Syria and Lebanon].” The total number so deported is listed as 12,165, to which must be added the 828 repatriated under the emergency arrangement.
23 Peters inflates the Survey’s figures wildly by counting the same groups several times over [p. 378-379]. She starts with the 3,800 officially admitted, then a bit later lists the 9,687 from the police estimate. After that she refers to the paragraph concerning the roughly 4,380 illegal immigrants working for the War Department and the R.A.F. as “one group of nearly ten thousand” and says that most of them “deserted” or “remained in Palestine illegally” (though the Surveyin fact says this about the first group of 3,800, not this one).
Next she produces “another group of immigrants,” referring to the “considerable numbers” who entered “in addition to these Syrian and Lebanese labourers who were brought to Palestine under official arrangements”–but this is the already-mentioned group of 9,687 from the police estimate plus the 4,380 working for the military. “Still another group” is adduced, one for whom the authorities cannot find replacements, yet this too is the same as the 4,380 working for the military. Thus, by the end of the page, she is referring to “tens of thousands” of immigrants and additional unestimated “considerable numbers.”
24 John Hope Simpson, Palestine. Report on Immigration, Land Settlement and Development, 1930, Command Paper #3686, p. 138. To be fair, Peters does provide the full citation in her note 3, but her main text is nevertheless misleading.
25 Cf. Peters, pp. 211, 213, 233, 259, 295, 297, 326, 381. Some Jewish employers did not follow the policy, however. According to Jesse Zel Lurie:
I was a reporter on the Palestine Post from 1934 to 1937 and I have some knowledge of how Jewish employers acted then. There were pockets of Jewish unemployment. The Histadrut [General Federation of Jewish Labor] tried to find jobs for unemployed Jewish labor by carrying on a struggle for avodah Ivrit, the employment of Jews, and not Arabs, in Jewish enterprises. This campaign was sometimes violent and largely unsuccessful. Those Jewish employers… preferred to hire lower-paid Arabs in order to save a pound or two…[Commentary, October 1986, p. 12]
If Jewish employers chose to hire Arab labor, however, there is no basis for asserting that the Arabs were usurping “places” that the Jewish employers had “cleared” for Jews.
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