Ottomans Introduce Title Deeds for Arab Lands
Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem, during Ottoman rule in Palestine, 1907. Photo: National Photo Collection of Israel

December 14, 1858

The Ottoman Empire enacts the Tapu Law, which introduces title deed registration in the empire’s Arab provinces. An effort to apply the principles of the Ottoman Land Code of 1858, the land registration law enhances Arab nobles’ ability to rent out their land and make money and thus the empire’s ability to collect taxes.

Arab peasant farmers often choose not to try to register ownership of the land they work, sometimes because a distrust of the Ottoman government and other times because of a desire to avoid taxes, registration fees and military conscription. The land registration does not stop the peasants from farming, so Arab nobles are able to obtain title deeds with little opposition. Land collectively owned by villages becomes the legal property of a few people or even a single owner, and merchants and Ottoman administrators take the opportunity to register unclaimed swaths of land in their names.

The concentration of land ownership in Palestine among the nobility, however, later creates disputes arising from the loss of power among peasants, who are forced to rent land or to work as tenant farmers with few rights.

The title deed law later proves beneficial to the Jewish Agency by enabling purchases of large amounts of land from members of the Arab nobility who hold legal title, often as absentee landowners, regardless of the interests of peasant farmers working the land. Jewish communities built on the legally purchased land thus sometimes displace Arab tenant farmers