November 10, 1946
Source Record Group, KKL5, Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, Israel
Established in 1901, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) became a premier land purchasing organization in creating blocks of land for building Jewish villages and securing urban areas in fulfilling Zionism’s key need to link immigrating Jews to Eretz Yisrael. Arabs living in the area of Palestine and across the new borders established after WWI sold land to Jewish buyers directly and through Arab and Jewish land brokers. Jews too sold land to the JNF in the 1930s, fearing their individual investments would go awry. From the early 1920s, monthly and sometimes weekly, through the 1940s, the JNF Directorate met to discuss land needs and decide what lands to purchase. According to these minutes, there never was a dearth of Arab offers to sell land. Decisions to purchase land areas were based on numerous factors: cost, location, strategic need, numbers of Arabs working the land that required compensation, access to water, land quality, and the changing politics of the moment. Where possible the JNF sought to coordinate its actions with the Political Department of the Jewish Agency, that body in Palestine that made key decisions about the needs of the Jewish community at that moment with considerations that included the direction of local politics. In this meeting, one year prior to the UN suggesting the partition of Palestine into two states, one Arab and one Jewish, while there was deep worry about rising land costs, increased Arab intimidation of land sellers, the JNF leadership judged that there were still large segments of land that could be purchased. The minutes of this November 1946 JNF meeting represent the various strategic concerns of the JNF management at the time. Building a geographic nucleus or footprint for a Jewish state was one of several elements that continued in Palestine while the horrendous consequences of the holocaust unfolded in Europe.
Ken Stein, November 10, 2021
Present: Dr. Abraham Granovsky, Yosef Weitz, Y. Zuckerman, Y. Nachmani, Israel Tiber, Gad Machnes, Ch. Danin, A. Danin, M. Magnes, Y. Strumza, Tzvi Wolf,
Pinhas Margalit, Yechiel Tiber, and the legal advisor, Mr. Aharon Ben-Shemesh.
Dr. Granovsky: Opened the meeting and noted that the council always meets when the purchase of land becomes most difficult. Three years ago, when a similar council met, the tightening of our ability to purchase lands was strongly felt. Now the tightening is becoming even more severe. This meeting should work to find and investigate ways in which we can go on and function in the future. This investigation is important to the members of the Jewish Fund that will head out to Basle in the near future and will have to present the message of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) before the leading Zionist Councils. It must be admitted with great satisfaction that since the meeting of the last Congress, the JNF has become the only major factor in land redemption. It made a tremendous effort that has reaped great results these past years, but everyone admits that this effort is not enough. In order to determine the path for the future we must examine our actions in the past few years and draw conclusions as to how to remove the obstacles that stand in our way.
It is true that in order to enforce the conclusions it would be necessary to invite a representative of the Political Department of the Jewish Agency. But before the Political Department is invited it would be better to clarify the issues and problems amongst our specialists.
There is no doubt that the bleak political circumstances has left its impression on land purchasing but we must not fool ourselves—even if the political situation improves it is doubtful that the opportunities for land purchases will improve. Even if the existing Lands Law is repealed there is the fear that a new law will be instituted that will be no better than the first. This condition may continue even if there is a mild improvement. But our grip has not weakened even in the toughest hours, and it will not weaken in the future.
Mr. Weitz: It is proper to review, numerically, the past few years since the publication of the Land Law. 46% of the JNF’s land property has been purchased in the past seven bad years. The JNF purchased the land from two sources: One which falls into the category of land redemption has been the purchase from Arabs. The other source purchased lands was from Jews. Numerically the issue will be expressed as following: The total amount of purchases during these years was 390,000 dunams (a dunam equals ¼ of an acre) of which 152,000 dunams were purchased from Jews and 238,000 dunams from Arabs. The land bought from Jews can be divided into two types: the first type is Jewish land that has been redeemed and returned to us. It was controlled by strangers and its legal Jewish owners did not fully control it. Such were the cases of extensive tracts in the Negev that were given to strangers and there was a serious fear that the tracts would slip from under Jewish hands. These tracts of land that the JNF redeemed constitute 100,000 dunams. The second type is Jewish land that was bought without complications in order to complete the land quota allocated to settlements and other pressing needs. To our delight this type was smaller than the first and totaled 50,000 dunams.
The land redeemed from Arabs, 238,000 dunams in all, was also composed of two types: One was land that was bought directly whose total was 155,000 dunams. The other was land that came with burdens attached as far back as 1943. There were 82,500 dunams of this type of land. This is an example of the direction of our work at a time when we can’t transfer land immediately so we transfer the land in indirect ways. It must be noted with great dissatisfaction, that at this time the burdened real estate is lessening and stands today at 48,000 dunams. We have successfully transferred 36,000 dunams that were previously not free for transactions. This past transaction has all taken place in 1946 and it is worth noting that in this important transaction Mr. Tzukerman’s office took a substantial role in completing this action.
Out of the 48,000 dunams that had previous ties or obligations 32,000 dunams were in the Negev and it is currently difficult to “bring them to a safe shore” because no settlement action has taken place there.
In the past four years there have been fluctuations and crises in the process of purchasing lands. Up till 1942 the only hindrance in the way of the land redemption was the Land Law. But since 1943 two major obstacles were added: The Arab “Nation Fund” and the rise in the price of land. The Arab “Nation Fund” is the tougher obstacle of the two. But in spite of the obstacles 43,000 dunams were liberated in 1943 from the Arabs. Out of which 28,000 dunams were liberated by direct purchases and about 22,000 were redeemed by way of establishing initial steps. In 1944 there was a large decline and the amount of land that was purchased in that year totaled only 22,000 dunams, out of which 8,000 were redeemed in the direct (mainly from the “permitted” areas in the North and in the Sharon) and 14,000 dunams in the roundabout way.
At the end of 1945 the quantity increased to 45,000 dunams of which only 9,000 were transferred directly and the remaining 36,000 dunams through initial contracts.
So far in 1946—the total of the redeemed land was only 24,870 dunams, 17,000 of which with initial steps and 8,000 through direct purchases.
It is this decline that prompted this meeting in order to find a way to increase the amount of redeemed lands. It is clear that the situation is getting increasingly worse and we are about to confront circumstances that will require thorough deliberations and an acceptance of responsibility.
The main difficulty derives from the militant national Arab factor. Up till 1946 their resistance to selling lands to Jews was restricted to threats, oral and written, legal procedures and other such incidents whose main purpose was to disturb and distract the potential sellers. In 1946 the Arab resistance has taken on more serious tones and threats were being carried out. Some of our loyal Arab assistants were killed by Arab activists. Such actions frighten those parties that need, and may even possibly want to work with us.
For several years now we have practiced the custom of projecting the possibilities of land purchases at the beginning of each year. From the totals of the past years we can conclude that the potential for land purchases has not decreased. The potential remains each year at 200-250 thousands of dunams.It can clearly be determined that the source of land in the country has not dried out. Since we have purchased extensive tracts of land from the Arabs these past years and the possibility of more purchases still exists, it can be concluded that the will to sell in the Arab camp hasn’t decreased. If there were no obstacles set up in our way we could purchase land without restraint. But here is where we must reiterate the obstacles before us.
While the land purchase law was the main obstacle a few years ago, today the main obstacles are the Arab “Nation Fund”, the rise in prices, the terror that erupted by the Arabs. Take for example, the Sharon area in which the transfer of land to Jews is permissible. In this area the “Nation Fund” has strengthened its hold and is substantially delaying the activities of the people that are working for us.
The second noted obstacle is the rise in prices. It is a fact that there is a substantial difference between the price of land in 1945 and 1946. In the North for example, there was a 20% rise, and in the Haifa region there was a 50% rise. If in 1945 the price of a dunam was 24 Palestine Pounds (PP), then in 1946 the price rose to 36 PP. There wasn’t as large a rise in the South, except for the Negev where prices rose substantially. The price doubled (in 1945 there was already a rise of 300% in the price in comparison to the price before the War). In the Sharon the price of a dunam in 1945 was 41 PP but in 1946 it was PP. The rise in price cannot be ignored because the increase in price is disproportionate to the income of the JN that did not increase in the same proportions.
In light of these circumstances we must resolve the question of how to overcome the obstacles and increase the overall holdings of the JNF.
The problem is worsening because the needs of the settlement communities have increased while the reserves of the JNF are decreasing. We all hope that the immigration will continue and reach record numbers as we have witnessed in the past few months. It is proper to mention here that since the beginning of November of last year and up till November of this year, 30 new settlements have been established. There is fear that the settlements will demand land and that we will have none to provide for them. We must not permit these circumstances to arise.
The point of our meeting therefore is to discuss the methods that we must adopt so that our efforts are more, rather than less, successful. We must determine the cause and the solution of the crisis, and whether it is a solution that involves only money or whether there are other methods that we must undertake. Our fear must be shared by the leading institutions and especially by the Political Department of the Jewish Agency, which should make the utmost efforts to help us.
Dr. Granovsky: Turns to all those present and asks them to express their opinion on the three questions in discussion: 1. How to continue and intensify the liberation of land in a legal context? 2. How to overcome the Arab obstacle? 3. What can be done about the rise in the price of land?
A. Ben-Shemesh: describes the legal and final confirmation he has just given to the actions we have undertaken to this point. Namely, the situation that allowed to purchase land from an Arab in the forbidden area on the condition that he still owed money, and the sale was not made public by the court’s officer. The legality of this action was in dispute but has just been upheld by the Supreme Court as a legal transaction. He comments that the loopholes in the law provide a way to get around it, though the character of the loopholes that they can be corrected as soon as they are discovered. People who abide by the law do not miss the opportunity to find permissive circumstances within the context of the law.
Mr. Nachmani: Reviews the two councils that preceded this one:
The first council met immediately after the publication of the Land Purchase Law and its goal was to find loopholes with which to bypass it.
The second council discussed the delay that the “Nation Fund” created as a competitor to the JNF in its acquisitions. The Political Department was present at this meeting but they did not come to our aid even after we expressed our position. The situation is getting worse, although the Nation Fund is not a serious competing purchasing force because its resources are few. But as part of the financial competition came death threats that have been carried out. Our claims, that we had a great deal of time, and that the defense of Arabs that worked with us was their own interest and business, are baseless and mistaken claims. The camp of the Arabs who oppose us is getting stronger and better organized. It has established the “Najada” (a paramilitary organization that set its goals to promote of Arab nationalism and Islam) which has branches in every village and it is constantly gaining support in the Arab community. The lives of those who work with us are threatened and they have no savior. The government is not doing anything to defend their lives, the murders have not been solved and the murderers have not been caught. An Arab that works with us claims that he will not continue to do so unless we provide him with adequate security. This also explains the rise in the price of land. The Arabs that work with us, whose life is on the line, demand a monetary compensation which they use in part for their own ineffective self-defense. Mr. Nachmani believes that the rise in price is also due to the involvement of our settlements in the purchasing deals. The settlements fervently want to expand their borders, they want to fill their allotted quotas, and on top of that they want to acquire even more land. Subsequently, they cause the price of land in their vicinity to rise unreasonably.
Mr. Nachmani summarizes his statement and proposes that every Arab who sides with us should be entitled to our protection. Their protection is not only their business but also ours since they endanger their lives for us. We must choose between abandoning people who work with us and decrease the scope of land redemption or provide for their safety. If we do not provide protection the situation will get worse.
Mr. Gad Machnes: He also examines the previous meetings and notes that the same questions are being discussed again.
In the previous ones the “Nation Fund” was related to as a disrupting obstacle in land redemption. However, the Fund as a land purchasing institution is no longer an obstacle.
At the time the question of “risk” was also an issue. Should risky transactions be undertaken despite financial risks? The answer to this question was affirmative. Risks were taken and the outcome turned out to be successful.
The issue of Arab terror was also brought up but was not resolved and here it is before us again. We did not do a thing for the protection of the Arabs that are working with us and whose lives are constantly on the line. If we do not find ways to protect the Arabs that are working with us we may be facing a disaster.
Mr. Machnes supports Mr. Nachmani’s views on Arab terror and notes that the details of the solution should be worked out by a different organization. But it must be inherit in our work that we are obligated to be responsible for the defense of the Arabs that are cooperating with us.
In regards to the rise in price, it must always be remembered that many of the Arabs that cooperated with us have lost their social and economic status. In return they demand compensation, and this compensation that we give them is not enough.
Mr. Machnes points to one obstacle that causes the rise in land prices and that is the eagerness we display when we purchase urban land or land that is near a city. An Arab that sells land near Tel Aviv, or one of the other cities, gets in return for his land legendary sums of money some of which he reinvests in rural land. The reinvestment disrupts the JNF’s work. When an Arab selling his land is faced with an Arab buyer and a Jewish buyer, and the sale entails the loss of life and social status, the Arab seller will sell to another Arab. Mr. Machnes claims that these Arabs that reinvest part of their money in rural land do not pay much more that the JNF. The difference in his opinion does not exceed 5-10 L.I. per dunam. He criticized the JNF for having strict rules when it comes to its dealing with a sale offer. In his opinion it’s preferable to pay the price because land is currently expensive.
Dr. Granovsky: Asks Mr. Machnes if in his opinion the prices that the JNF is paying now are too high.
Mr. Machnes: Answers negatively. It is possible that we are losing sales and we are missing opportunities. The JNF must pay a higher price than the Arabs do for agricultural land. He summarizes and says that two things need to be done now:
- To make the adjustment for paying higher prices.
- To organize an efficient organization to carry out our political work by training of people that will work with us and providing them with protection. We must take an effective political action or else, the terror will spread in the future and may even threaten our own people.
Mr. Strumza: He says opinions are similar to those of Mr. Nachmani and adds that it is hard to argue that the Land Law will not disturb our work. The Land Purchase Law is indirectly responsible for the creation of the Arab Nation Fund and is assisting the Arabs to create other obstacles.
The land issue has been treated as secondary among other important settlement issues while all along it should have been treated as a primary concern. The Nation Fund was considered in the past to be a mere demonstrative operation (as was the case with the Musa El-Alami enterprise) that its practical value will soon be diminished. But while it is true that the practical value of the Nation Fund as a purchasing entity is small, it has a substantial power in threats and terror. In response to these terror actions we stood with no response and did nothing. Consequently, the terror is increasing.
The Arabs are demanding high prices for their lands, and we must make every effort not to pay the requested high prices. We must establish a limit and not cross it. Since the JNF has become the main purchasing force in the country it will be easier for us to set limits on the prices. The Arab sells not only because he is forced to do so but also because of family and business reasons, so it should not be difficult to set limits on prices.
Mr. Wolf: The terror in the Arab camp is extensive. It paralyzes the sale of land. The advertisement of our success in redeeming land in the face of the Land Law was a detriment because it led the government to open an investigation on that issue. This investigation led to the creation of the Arab Nation Fund. Mr. Wolf supports the idea that something must be done about the terror. But the actions to be taken should be discussed elsewhere and by other authorized people.
He disagrees with Mr. Weitz and believes that the rise in the land prices in Haifa and the surrounding area is normal and justified because of the terror and the dangers facing the sellers. He thinks that in the near future the bid in land will increase and due to economic conditions that are about to get worse the price of lands will surely decline.
Mr. T. Zuckerman: In his opinion, a strong Arab opposition should be established (to confront the Arab terror). The opposition will be supported by us and strengthened with money. As a result of these efforts the opposition will gain power and influence. The prices that we are paying for land are not exaggerated at all, especially in comparison to the prices of other economic products.
Mr. Israel Tiber: points out that about 15% of the increase in land prices should be attributed to terrorism. But they should be ignored when normal price increase is discussed. In his opinion there are three reasons for the rise in prices:
First, is the issue of urban lands. The Arab property owners around the city get millions for their land. And part of the money is either reinvested in agricultural land, thereby acting as a competing force to the JNF, or that the land owners that sell a part of their land by the city become extremely wealthy and refuse to sell their rural land unless they receive a similar fortune.
Second, is the good economic position attained by the Arab in the market that became wealthy during WWII. The economic wealth allows him to demand higher prices for his land and there are those among the Arabs that can now afford to invest their savings in purchasing even more land.
Third, our settlements are a significant factor in the rise in prices. Every additional settlement of ours causes a rise in prices around the area. In his opinion, it is necessary and advisable to pay high prices for land in locations that are important to us and therefore we must pay higher prices also in other places. Because it is people’s way to point and say: “if you paid such a high price in location X you should pay such a price here too.” The JNF, therefore, has no alternative since it is the main purchaser of land and must pay the prices that are being demanded.
He suggests that the JNF should participate and put pressure on the parties that are supposed to provide adequate protection for the Arabs that work with us. In the Middle Eastern countries friends are bought only with money and the JNF must make an investment that will bring results, because the Fund can create a proper environment in which the Arabs that cooperate with us can find shelter.
Mr. Tiber mentions that he would welcome a greater cooperation between the different departments that serve the JNF. These departments, whose functions are well defined, should help each other out more often. If one department gets a suggestion that is within the functional domain of another they should cooperate in order to carry out the proposal.
Mr. Margalit: He suggests that the dealings with the Nation Fund be carried out in a concentrated effort and not, as is the custom now, by separate and different approaches that are devised independently by each department.
The authorized institutions must realize that more Jewish clerks/officials must be added to the Government institutions that deal with land purchases.
In regards to the rise in the land prices, we must not take into account the rise in prices. We must buy at the requested price or else we may lose the opportunity to buy now and we will have to pay much higher prices in the future. He also requests protection to the Arabs who cooperate with us.
Mr. Gad Machnes: He adds onto his previous statement: The agricultural development amongst the Arabs that was caused in large part as a consequence of the Jewish agricultural development is also a factor in the rise in the cost of land. The Arabs’ land has been improved and started to render much better harvests. Therefore its price is getting more expensive.
Mr. Machnes draws a political line of action:
- Getting the sympathy and support of Government officials, clerks of the Lands Department, the Security Department personnel, the districts’ officers and the like.
- Recruiting important Arabs with standing in their respective districts that will be able to help us openly.
- To protect these people their lives. He also demands better cooperation between the different departments that serve the objectives of the JNF even though a certain amount of fair competition is welcome.
Dr. Granovsky: Summarizes the procedures up to this point. One of the questions that particularly interest him has to do with the rise in cost of land. He has deliberated the issue for some time, but the solution has eluded him. The explanations mentioned at this meeting are true and acceptable but they apply to one region of the country or another and are not universal. The issue remains: what causes the rise in the cost of land to such an extent that even in America it has not been acknowledged.
In his opinion the reason is based on our demand and necessity in acquiring land. But we will not be able to change things. There is only one possible answer and that is stopping all the purchases for a certain period of time and in that way put an end to the steady rise in prices. But this solution is not possible. The redemption of land is an important political goal and it is unthinkable to stop buying land at this point.
He is happy that the “Nation Fund” is no longer a serious competitor as a purchaser of land, but the fact that the terror has spread and is uncontrollable is causing anxiety. He agrees that we need a political policy concerning land and a political policy concerning the Arabs.
Dr. Granovsky summarizes the difficulties that were brought up in the meeting: The loop-holes in the (1940) Land Law may be closed, the response in the Arab camp is causing delay but we must increase our efforts. With regard to the prices he is willing to accept the formulation expressed by some of the speakers that the prices should not be a delaying factor. However, there must also be some economic, commercial, or rational limit.
The JNF cannot make independent political policy concerning the Arabs and it cannot undertake such a role. This must be undertaken by a different authorized body. It is possible that in the future, after the next Zionist Congress, there will be changes in the policy, and the next Political Department will permit more action. It is certain that the Management will bring up the issue, while at the Congress, at the proper places.
He finishes with the suggestion that the council should meet often and that such meetings take place once a year.
Mr. Weitz: Concludes the procedures: We see the most disturbing factor in the Arab camp. The Land Law is limited and creates difficulties but we feel its weight primarily because it comes in addition to the Arab factor.
Mr. Weitz does not accept any of the explanations given for the rise in the price of land. The price of land when bought from Arabs was never the basis for a general rise in price of land. There is no justification for the rise in prices. The only factor that can be pointed to as a difficulty and a reason for the rise in cost is the political opposition posed by the Arabs that is accompanied with threats and terror.
There are Arabs offering to sell land but the fear (of being found out) limits the sales. If the fear continues we will not be able to increase our work. It is very important to recognize that this is the main factor delaying our work, but the way in which we deal with the terror must be dealt with by another body.
The first indicators of this year’s trends raise some concern. There is fear that this year our activities will be crippled, it is already half way through November and the figures on the land purchases are not encouraging.
Mr. Weitz requests the different department to increase the aid and cooperation among them and he expresses his wish that we will find a way to increase the JNF’s land property by tens of thousands of dunams so that we can discuss our work with more satisfaction in the future.
Biographies of Some Participants in the meeting/council on November 10, 1946:
Aharon Ben-Shemesh- Legal Affairs adviser and lawyer for the Jewish National Fund.
Abraham Granovsky (1890-1962) He begins working for the JNF in 1919 at the Hague and then in Jerusalem. A prolific writer on land affairs and land policy in Palestine, he became the Director General of the JNF and a key researcher and guide in land acquisition matters at the JNF for more than a quarter century. He was a signatory of Israel’s Declaration of Independence and elected to Israel’s first Knesset in 1949. In 1960, he was elected chairman of the JNF Board of Governors.
Gad Machnes (1893-1954) Arab specialist in the Arab Affairs Department of the Jewish Agency in Palestine. He became the Director General of the Israeli Minority Affairs Ministry in 1949.
Yosef Weitz (1890-1972) From the 1930s forward became a key figure in Jewish land purchases in Palestine, making along with Abraham Granovsky and Menachem Ussishkin key decisions about land purchases.