British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies The Negev - The Graduate

British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies The Negev - The Graduate

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The Negev: Land, Settlement, the Bedouin and Ottoman and British Policy 1871–1948 Ruth Kark & Seth J. Frantzman Published online: 03 May 2012.

To cite this article: Ruth Kark & Seth J. Frantzman (2012) The Negev: Land, Settlement, the Bedouin and Ottoman and British Policy 1871–1948, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 39:1, 53-77, DOI: 10.1080/13530194.2012.659448 To link to this article:

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British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, April 2012 39(1), 53–77

The Negev: Land, Settlement, the Bedouin and Ottoman and British Policy 1871 – 1948

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ABSTRACT Focusing on the sub-district of Beersheba in British Mandatory Palestine, we examine issues of colonial administration, land use, relations between the government and indigenous nomads and extension of government control over marginal regions. Based on archival primary written sources and maps, we assess British Mandatory policy in the Negev, in the contexts of land ownership, settlement and the Bedouin population. The British Mandatory administration inherited a Southern Palestine Negev region that had been affected by a robust Ottoman policy of increasing administrative intervention, policing, land settlement and overall projection of government power. During 30 years of Mandatory rule, the policy was markedly different. The Beersheba sub-district, which incorporated almost half the area of Mandatory Palestine, was a unique administrative unit, populated almost entirely by nomadic Bedouins. Although the Mandatory authorities foresaw land settlement and sedenterisation as a goal in Palestine, they did not apply their administrative apparatus to fulfil this policy in the Negev, neglecting much of it.

Introduction Our study focuses on the British Mandatory sub-district of Beersheba in Palestine and examines it within the context of colonial administration, land use, relations between the government and indigenous nomads and extension of government control over marginal regions. Colonial governments frequently employ policies that either develop colonies for the colonial centre or neglect the portions of the colony that are not seen as integral or useful.1 We also examine the sub-district as *Department of Geography, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mount Scopus, Jerusalem 91905, Israel. E-mail: [email protected] **Department of Geography, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mount Scopus, Jerusalem 91905, Israel. E-mail: [email protected] 1 James A. Henretta, ‘Salutary Neglect’: Colonial Administration under the Duke of Newcastle (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1972); Monageng Mogalakwe, ‘How Britain Underdeveloped Bechuanaland Protectorate’, Africa Development, 31(1) (2006), pp. 66– 88; Michael Havinden and David Meredith, Colonialism and Development: Britain and Its Tropical Colonies, 1850–1960 (New York: Routledge, 1993); Cornelis Fasseur, The Politics of Colonial Exploitation: Java, the Dutch and the Cultivation System (New York: Cornell University Press, 1992). ISSN 1353-0194 print/ISSN 1469-3542 online/12/10053–25 q 2012 British Society for Middle Eastern Studies

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a case study as part of a larger project on colonial rule, nomads and land law and policy in the Middle East.2 The Mandatory era’s Beersheba sub-district, which included the majority of the Negev desert in Southern Palestine, contained almost half (12,577,000 dunams3) the area of Palestine (26,990,000 dunams).4 Yet it had few fixed settlements and was primarily inhabited by nomads. Studies of the Negev during the late Ottoman and Mandatory periods have thus generally focused on the classical period nomadic population or early Jewish settlements.5 Recent years have seen a growing interest in the history of the Negev and the Mandate’s Beersheba sub-district.6 In other literature there has been some interest in documenting the history of the Negev, especially regarding their history of land ownership and settlement.7 However the question of British Mandatory policy in the Negev, especially in terms of land ownership and the Bedouin, is in need of deeper study. Any examination of general studies of the British Mandate leaves the reader with sparse information on the history of the Negev and the Beersheba sub-district in that period.8 Similarly, maps from the period present us with a picture of the Negev as void of Mandatory policy and administration in regard to land ownership, with most Mandatory maps showing little detail on forests, state lands or land settlement in the Negev. A map entitled ‘Progress of Land Settlement, 1945’ is one example.9 While much of the coastal and northern portion of Palestine had been subjected to land settlement, there had been no such process in the Negev. Maps from the same year indicating the extent of Jewish land ownership and state domain show the same pattern. 2 Ruth Kark and Seth Frantzman, ‘From Nomadism to Jewish Settlement: Bedouin, Abdul Hamid, British Land Settlement and Zionism: The Baysan Valley and Sub-district 1831-1948’, Israel Studies, 15 (2) (2011), pp. 49–79; Warwick Tyler, ‘The Huleh Lands Issue in Mandatory Palestine, 1920-1934’, Middle Eastern Studies 27 (1991), pp. 46–54; Martin Bunton, ‘Demarcating the British Colonial State: Land Settlement in the Palestine Jiftlik Villages of Sajad and Qazaza’, in Roger Owen (ed.), New Perspectives on Property and Land in the Middle East (New Haven, CT: Harvard University Press, 2000), pp. 121– 160. 3 Four metric dunams (4000 m2) equals about one acre (4047 m2). A thousand dunams equals 1 km2. One Turkish dunam equals 919.3 m2. 4 Warwick Tyler, State Lands and Rural Development in Mandatory Palestine 1920–1948 (Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2001). 5 Ruth Kark, ‘The Agricultural Character of Jewish Settlement in the Negev: 1939–1947’, Jewish Social Studies, 45 (1983), pp. 157–174; Ruth Kark, ‘Jewish Frontier Settlement in the Negev, 1880–1948: Perception and Realization’, Middle Eastern Studies, 17 (1981), pp. 23–40; Ruth Kark, Frontier Jewish Settlement in the Negev, 1880–1948 (Jerusalem: Ariel, 2002) (Hebrew); Ruth Kark-Kleiner, The Pioneering Observation Posts in the Negev (Jerusalem: Ariel, 2002) (Hebrew); Kurt Goering, ‘Israel and the Bedouin of the Negev’, Journal of Palestine Studies, 9 (1979), pp. 3–20; Israel Finkelstein and Avi Perevolotsky, ‘Processes of Sedentarization and Nomadization in the History of Sinai and the Negev’, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 279 (1990), pp. 67–88; Joseph Ben-David, ‘The Negev Bedouin: From Nomadism to Agriculture’, in Ruth Kark (ed.), The Land that Became Israel (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989), pp. 121–134; M. Haiman, ‘Agriculture and Nomad-State Relations in the Byzantine and Early Islamic Periods’, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 297 (1995), pp. 29–53. 6 Noam Levin, Ruth Kark and Emir Galilee, ‘Historical Maps and GIS: Mapping of Southern Palestine 1799-1948, Issues of Scale and Accuracy and Possible Applications’, Journal of Historical Geography, 36 (2010), pp. 1–19. 7 Erez Tzfadia, ‘In the Name of Zionism’, Haaretz (19 September 2008); Shlomo Swirski and Yael Hasson, Invisible Citizens: Israeli Government Policy toward the Negev Bedouin (Tel Aviv: Adva, 2005). 8 Rosa el Eini, Mandate Landscape (London: Routledge, 2006); Kenneth Stein, The Land Question in Palestine (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1984); Dov Gavish, Survey of Palestine under the British Mandate (London: Routledge, 2005). See also Gideon Biger, The Role of the British Administration in Changing the Geography of Palestine 1918–1929 (London: University College, 1981), Occasional Papers no. 35; Gideon Biger, An Empire in the Holy Land: Historical Geography of the British Administration in Palestine, 1917–1929 (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1994); Yaacov Reuvani, Mandatory Government 1929–1948 (Ramat Gan: Bar Ilan University Press, 1993). 9 ‘Progress of Land Settlement’, Survey of Palestine, 1:250,000, 31 December 1945, Israel State Archive (ISA), map 295.


THE NEGEV 1871–1948

It is striking in terms of state domain that the Mandatory maps simply indicated that the land would ‘no doubt be found at land settlement to be public’.10 This begs the questions: what was the British land policy in the Negev? What was the British policy towards the Bedouin in particular and their settlement? Did the British craft an overall policy for the Negev and why was the Negev a unique region in Palestine, seemingly neglected both in terms of development and administration? Our study focuses on the Mandatory era’s Beersheba sub-district and while we reference villages established on the periphery, this study does not attempt to examine the Mandatory policy in areas of the Negev outside the Beersheba sub-district.

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Background: The Negev in the Late Ottoman Period 1800– 1900 Although there were several small villages in what would become the Beersheba sub-district in the sixteenth century, these had all ceased to exist by the nineteenth century.11 Warfare between Bedouin tribes and settled Arabs made for a generally lawless situation in the region.12 The British Palestine Exploration Fund Survey (1871– 1877) and other explorers provided ample evidence of this. In the nineteenth century the village of Edh Dhaheriyeh south of the town of Hebron in the Judean hills was the last inhabited place before the beginning of the Negev desert and was ‘deserted, in consequence of the encroachment of the Arabs [Bedouin] into the country of the fellahin’.13 The first Ottoman policy to effect the Negev in the nineteenth century was the registration of land in the name of private individuals. This process came under the Ottoman Land Code of 1858 which opened up the land of Palestine to speculation and after 1858 a total of 1 million dunams were purchased by private absentee investors (effendis) and an additional 800,000 dunams were accumulated privately by the Ottoman sultan.14 Efforts ‘to convince the bedouin to register their tenurial land rights and pay taxes were unsuccessful’.15 In addition, ‘the law of land registration was never effectively implemented’.16 The 1858 land law defined the lands in Bedouin areas of the Negev as Mewat, a form of state land legally defined as being outside of inhabited areas and uncultivated or ‘dead’.17 10

‘State Domains, 1945’, 1:250,000 State Domains Palestine Map, Government of Palestine, ISA, map 296. Including Idra, Juhaytin, Ajjur, Muharraqa and Barriyat, Ma’ain, Tel Abu Huria, Al Bacha, Al Atuina, Juhaytin, Menain, Baruta Al Hurdun, and Sikhan. David Grossman, Expansion and Desertion: The Arab Village and Its Offshoots in Ottoman Palestine (Jerusalem: Yad Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, 1994) (Hebrew), p. 266; Haggai Etkes, ‘Legalizing Extortion: Containing Armed Bedouin Tribes by State Regulated “Protection Payments” and Military Forces in Ottoman Gaza (1519–1582)’ (PhD thesis, The Hebrew University, 2007) (Hebrew). 12 Edward Robinson and Eli Smith, Biblical Researches in Palestine: A Journal of Travels in the Year 1838 (University of Michigan Library), p. 44, Section XI, pp. 301, 302; Claude R. Conder and Horatio Kitchener, The Survey of Western Palestine (London: Palestine Exploration Fund, 1882), Vol. III, Sheet XXIV, Section A, pp. 392, 396; Victor Guerin, Le Terre Sainte, Vol. II: Judee (Paris: Plon E, 1897), p. 287; Edward Henry Palmer, The Desert of the Exodus, Part II (New York: Harper Brother, 1871), p. 295; Alois Musil, Arabia Petreaa (Zurich: Olms, 1908), Vol. III. 13 Conder and Kitchener, The Survey of Western Palestine, III, p. 402; Levin et al., ‘Historical Maps and GIS’, p. 17. 14 Ruth Kark, ‘Consequences of the Ottoman Land Law: Agrarian and Privatization Processes in Palestine, 1858– 1918’, in David Kushner (ed.), The Application of the Tanzimat Reforms in Various Regions of the Ottoman Empire (in press), pp. 3, 6. 15 David Grossman, Rural Process-Pattern Relationships (New York: Praeger, 1992), p. 115. He provides no further reference for this assertion. 16 Grossman, Rural Process-Pattern Relationships, p. 116. See also Gideon Kressel, Joseph Ben-David and Khalil Abu Rabi’a, ‘Changes in the Land Usage by the Negev Bedouin Since the Mid 19th Century: The Intra Tribal Perspective’, Nomadic Peoples, 28 (1991), pp. 41– 53. 17 Kressel et al., ‘Changes in the Land Usage’, p. 10; Fredrick Goadby and Moses Doukhan, The Land Law of Palestine (Tel Aviv: Shoshany, 1935), p. 44. 11



The 1870s saw a great number of inter-tribal Bedouin wars over grazing territories and agricultural land or due to the tribes’ attempts to gain control over land in hopes of registering it.18 The 1870s also saw increased attempts by the Ottoman government to pacify the Bedouin and this resulted in the publication, in 1906, of a tribal map showing the ‘borders’ of the Bedouin tribes in the Negev. Six tribes were shown: the ‘Azazme, Ah’eiwat, Tarabin, Sa’idyin, Tayaha and Jabarat.19 Emanuel Marx has noted that ‘the authorities fixed the formerly fluid tribal boundaries, and these remained unchanged until 1949’ (see Figure 1).20

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The First New Settlements 1900 –1917 The settlement pattern of the Negev began changing in 1900 when the Ottoman government founded a new urban and administrative centre at Beersheba.21 The town was planned along modern lines in a grid pattern. Between 1902 and 1911, the number of residents in Beersheba grew from 300 to over 800.22 Two thousand dunams of land were purchased by the government from the Azazme tribe and given to the new municipality.23 A tribal court was established in the town which included 33 prominent sheikhs.24 Sheikhs could issue judgements and in the period before the establishment of tabu records of land transactions also issued bills of sale for properties.25 The creation of Beersheba also facilitated the government’s regular collection of taxes.26 Administratively, during the Ottoman era in 1906 –1908, the Negev came under the jurisdiction of the governor of Jerusalem, a number of whom, such as Ali Ekrem Bey, made visits to Beersheba after its establishment. Ekrem Bey also promoted a plan to survey, map and register the Beersheba area lands, as well as ‘gradually settling Muslim immigrants [to the Ottoman Empire] on the vast Beersheba lands’.27 Other planned villages and government sites were erected in the Negev as the Ottoman government sought to extend its authority over the area. Kaufakha and El Muharraqa were laid out in a grid pattern and founded on Jiftlik lands belonging to the Ottoman sultan Abdul Hamid II (r. 1876–1909).28 They represented the creation of villages on the border of the ‘desert and the sown’.29 They were populated by peasants from Gaza.30 In the central Negev, another administrative centre was planned, named 18

Grossman, Rural Process-Pattern Relationships, p. 116; Ben-David, ‘The Negev Bedouin’, p. 188. Ben-David, ‘The Negev Bedouin’, p. 189. 20 Emanuel Marx, Bedouin of the Negev (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1967), p. 9. 21 Yasemin Avci, ‘The Application of Tanzimat in the Desert: The Bedouins and the Creation of a New Town in Southern Palestine (1860–1914)’, Middle Eastern Studies, 45 (2009), pp. 969–983; David Kushner, A Governor in Jerusalem: The City and Province in the Eyes of Ali Ekrem Bey, 1906–1908 (Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi, 1995) (Hebrew), pp. 101–116; Ruth Kark and Haim Gerber, ‘Land Registry Maps in Palestine during the Ottoman Period’, The Cartographic Journal, 21 (1984), pp. 19–33; Ruth Kark, Jaffa: A City in Evolution, 1799– 1917 (Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi, 1990), pp. 38–39. 22 Mildred Berman, ‘The Evolution of Beersheba as an Urban Center’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 55 (1965), pp. 308–326. 23 Avci, ‘The Application of Tanzimat’. 24 Kressel et al., ‘Changes in the Land Usage’, p. 9. 25 Ibid., p. 10. 26 Avci, ‘The Application of Tanzimat’. 27 Ibid., p. 971; Ruth Kark, ‘Consequences of the Ottoman Land Law’; 14/5/1908 ISA RG83, nos. 22, 63, 244. 28 Roy S. Fischel and Ruth Kark, ‘Sultan Abdu¨lhamid II and Palestine: Private Lands and Imperial Policy’, New Perspectives on Turkey, 39 (2008), pp. 129–166. 29 Ben-David, ‘The Negev Bedouin’, p. 188; Avraham A. Reiffenberg, The War of the Sown and the Desert (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1950) (Hebrew). 30 Grossman, Rural Process-Pattern Relationships, p. 115. 19


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THE NEGEV 1871–1948

Figure 1. Negev Tribal Boundaries. Source: ‘Aref Al ‘Aref, Bedouin Love, Law and Legend (New York: AMS, 1974 [1934]). The map in the original book in Arabic is from 1934. The tent symbol indicates tribal boundaries.


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‘Auja al Hafir. It was also established around 1900 on the Egypt–Palestine border, precisely because the exact line of that border was in dispute until 1 October 1906, but it failed to attract settlers and existed primarily as a border post and military base.31 The last years of the Ottoman period coincided with the building of a few semipermanent structures in the Negev. Levin, Kark and Galilee have documented the increase in the number of inhabited structures in the Negev in the late Ottoman and Mandatory periods: ‘on the Ottoman 1:200,000 maps from 1919 only 42 houses are shown in the studied area in the northern Negev, whereas on the Survey of Egypt (1919) 1:40,000 maps 153 houses are shown’.32 The increase in the number of structures noted on maps may indicate the beginning of the sedenterisation process of the Bedouin. The nomads traditionally built adobe houses and storerooms known as Baika, in some cases using stones from historical ruins.33 Besides the Abdul Hamid villages, Grossman provides the names of three seasonal villages that developed in the northern Negev—Jamama, Hamame and Sukharit.34 Fischel and Kark have shown that ‘from the administrative perspective, the integration of the into the Ottoman system was successful. Representatives of the main tribes of the Negev were included in the town council (meclis) of Beersheba, and the revenues of the region were increasing following the establishment of the town, which served as a central marketplace for Bedouin products. Nevertheless, in the process of the settlement of the Negev, only marginal success was recorded’.35 The Ottoman period reveals a very robust policy on the part of the Ottoman government to gain firm control over the Negev and its nomadic population.36 Through registration of land, granting land to local sheikhs inside the municipality, establishing a trading centre and market place and establishing a permanent military presence and settled villages on the periphery, the Negev was changed dramatically. In addition, the seeds for Bedouin sedenterisation were sown. First Years of the British Mandate: The 1920s The Negev was incorporated into the British Mandatory government of Palestine and became its own district. Its borders were drawn in such a way that all settled villages recognised by the Mandatory administration on the fringes of the Negev were included in the Hebron and Gaza sub-districts. The Beersheba sub-district thus appears to represent, in its borders, the delineation of what the Mandatory administration saw as being between the ‘desert and the sown’. This is apparent in the gerrymandering of the sub-district’s northern boundary so that Kaufakha and El Muharraqa were included in the Gaza sub-district but their boundaries 31 E.B.H. Wade, ‘Report on the Delimitation of the Turko-Egyptian Boundary in the Sinai Peninsula, 1906’, Survey Department of Egypt, National Printing Department, Egypt, 1908. 32 See Levin et al., ‘Historical Maps and GIS’, p. 19. 33 Yoseph Braslavsky, Did you Know the Land, Part B: The Negev Land (Tel Aviv: HaKibutzhaMeuchad, 1946) (Hebrew); Emanuel Marx, ‘Land and Work: Negev Bedouin Struggle with Israeli Bureaucracies’, Nomadic Peoples, 4 (2000), pp. 106 –121. 34 Grossman, Expansion and Desertion, p. 266. 35 Fischel and Kark, ‘Sultan Abdu¨lhamid II and Palestine’, pp. 150–151. See also Haim Gerber, Ottoman Rule in Jerusalem, 1890–1914 (Berlin: K. Schwarz, 1985), p. 23; Iris Agmon, ‘The Bedouin Tribes of the Hula and Baysan Valleys at the End of the Ottoman Rule According to Wilayat Bayrut’, International Journal of Turkish Studies, 5 (1991), pp. 94–101; Ben-David, ‘The Negev Bedouin’, pp. 187–191. 36 Avci, ‘The Application of Tanzimat’.


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THE NEGEV 1871–1948

extended, like bite marks, into the Beersheba sub-district. Lands north of them that were populated by nomads, however, were included in the Beersheba district. A series of important laws propogated by the Mandatory authorities affected the Beersheba sub-district. The Mahlul Land Ordinance of 1920 related to ‘lands given over by the State for agricultural cultivation but which for reasons had not been cultivated for three years and which, according to Ottoman law, reverted to the State’.37 In February 1921 the Mewat Lands Ordinance was passed, which was ‘intended to prevent unauthorized occupation of waste lands outside village domain’.38 The Land Courts Ordinance of April 1921 called ‘for the courts to accompany the surveyors from district to district in order to clarify and determine all claims and disputes regarding boundariees of parcels’.39 A land court was established at Beersheba in 1921.40 The government also began collecting tithes on Bedouin crops.41 When the Mandatory authorities took over the sub-district they made reference to the ‘Werko’ property taxes of the Ottomans being extended to the district in 1900 and noted that the Mandate exempted some from these taxes.42 An important question confronting the British administration in the Negev was the classification of the land. On 16 April 1926, the district officer in Beersheba wrote to the Director of Lands that ‘this sub-district contains an enormous extent of land . . . [which] being uncultivated and virtually uncultivatable serves no other purpouse than that of providing the scantiest grazing for Bedu flocks and may therefore be considered as having been assigned to the tribes as Metruka for pasture by custom’.43 Metruka land was public land, such as roads, or in this case common pasture land.44 The officer furthermore noted that ‘it would be unprofitable and useless to consider such areas Mewat and bring action for trespess’,45 but instead that it was advisable to warn those grazing on such lands that ‘they do so without government sanction’.46 The district officer noted that ‘it is our interest to do nothing on the one hand to obstruct the spread of cultivation and on the other to prejudice the right of the government to dispose of the Mewat land for, say, colonization’.47 There proceeded some discussion over whether the land should be considered Mewat or Metruka, with the district officer noting that in 1922 sheikhs of the Tayaha tribe had been informed that they had no right to plough up lands previously uncultivated.48 This was in line with the 1921 Mewat Ordinance which sought to protect the government’s interest in such land. The district officer repeatedly petitioned ‘to have your ruling as to whether this, and the great extent of similar land in Beersheba sub-district should be considered as Metruka’.49 The Director of Lands requested of the Registrar of Lands, in 37

Gavish, Survey of Palestine under the British Mandate, p. 111. Ibid., p. 110. Ibid., p. 110. 40 Ben-David, ‘The Negev Bedouin’, p. 194. 41 Ibid. 42 Remission of House and Land Tax, 15 June 1922, Morris Ba, Governor of Beersheba, Beersheba Land Registry, ISA RG23/3604M/16. 43 Signature illegible, District officer to Director of Lands, 16 April 1926, Grazing Areas Beersheba, ISA RG23/3538/31. 44 Goadby and Doukhan, The Land Law of Palestine, pp. 52, 67. 45 Ibid., p. 46. 46 16/4/1926, ISA RG23/3538/31. 47 Ibid. 48 Ibid. 49 4/11/1926, ISA RG23/3538/31. 38 39


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October 1926, to ‘please proceed to Beersheba at once for the purpose of completing the registration of certain State domains and private transactions pending for a long time’.50 The reply from the registrar was unexpected: ‘it is not considered advisable at the present time to lay down a fixed ruling . . . until the land settlement starts and more fixed policy regarding land is decided . . . [individual claims may be made] before the land court and this department . . . a ruling that the land was Mertukeh [sic] would prevent the fulfillment of any desire to convert the Bedu into a settled landowning class as Mertukeh cannot be held in private ownership’.51 It is not clear if any decision was finally made by the authorities but this correspondence does show the degree to which it was Mandatory policy that the Bedouin be encouraged to cultivate and settle. There was simply no legal or political impetus to move forward with a scheme for doing anything substantial in the Beersheba sub-district. Mapping and settlement of title by the Torrens system was supposedly extended to the Negev. In 1920 the Cadastral Survey Ordinance and the Wood and Forest Ordinance were both intended to include Beersheba. The first Ordinance set out policies for protecting forests and state land and the second Ordinance laid out committees ‘for demarcating State land of mewat, mahlul and other categories’ but was never fully carried out in the Beersheba sub-district.52 High hopes for bringing land settlement to the Beersheba sub-district were also not fulfilled.53 Beersheba town was not mapped under the fiscal mapping of Palestine towns for assesment under the Urban Property Tax Ordinance (1927) until 1930.54 However, infrastructure improvements were begun in Beersheba, especially the refurbishing and establishment of a few police posts.55 The 1922 census was taken of the Negev’s nomads and Beersheba (see Table 1).56 J.B. Barron, superintendent of the census, noted that ‘the only section of the population from which census statistics were not obtained was the bedouin tribes of Beersheba . . . the information supplied by the principal sheikhs, together with the experience of administrative officials in the district, provided information in regard to the numbers of families in each tribe . . . the Beduin population of the Southern District [Beersheba sub-district57] was calculated at 72,898’.58 ‘Aref el-‘Aref later recalled that initial attempts to take an actual census were met with protest and that the British had even imprisoned several Bedouin sheikhs in order to compel the Bedouin to submit—a punishment that also did not succeed.59 The British administration sent experts to the Negev to investigate the possibilities of large-scale dry farming.60 Beginning in 1920, with the changeover 50

16/10/1926, ISA RG23/3395M. 18/12/1926, ISA RG23/3395M. 52 Gavish, Survey of Palestine under the British Mandate, p. 266. 53 Ibid., p. 124. 54 Ibid., p. 159, 1:1250 and 1:2,500 scale. 55 El Auja Hafir was built to ‘accommodate a new administrative Post’. Report by his Britannic Majesty’s Government to the League of Nations, 1926 (London: Government Printing Office, 1927), Colonial No. 26, 58-54-0-26, p. 53. 56 Eliahu Epstein, ‘Bedouin of the Negeb’, Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 71 (1939), p. 64; E. Mills, Census of Palestine 1931, Population of Villages, Towns and Administrative Areas (Jerusalem: Government of Palestine, Census of Palestine Office, 1931), Vol. I, pp. 7–12, 328–335. 57 The nomadic populations referred to here only applied to the tribal areas of Beersheba sub-district. 58 J.B. Barron, Report and General Abstracts of the Census of 1922 (Jerusalem: Government of Palestine, 1922), p. 4. 59 ‘Aref el-‘Aref, Bedouin Love, Law and Legend (Jerusalem: Cosmos, 1974), p. 203. 60 Diary of Captain Westrope and Captain Young, May 1918, CZA, RG 210/27. Kark-Kleiner, The Pioneering Observation Posts, p. 53. 51


THE NEGEV 1871–1948

Table 1. Population of the Negev 1922– 1947.

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The Population of the Beersheba Sub-district Based on Mandatory Government Censuses and Estimates 1946 Houses 1945 estimate Name 1922 1931 1931 Estimate for UN Settled Enumerations Auja al Hafir Beersheba El Auja, Police Jammameh Asluj Police Amara Police Hisib Police Ez-Zweira Police Sub-total settled Bedouin Tribes

0 2012* 0 0 0 0 0 0

9 545 13 1 3 2 4 11

29 2791 31 6 4 9 11 45

0 5570* 0 0 0 0 0 0

0 7000* 0 0 0 0 0 0




5570 Not listed individually

7000 Not listed individually



92000 Not listed individually

– – 51082

40 20 0 70 20 150 – 53550

Tarabin Azazme Taiyaha Hanajra Jabarat Es Sa’idiyin Kaabneh Saraia Jehalin Abu Suwaira Al Rimailat Qur’an Others Total Nomads Jewish Settlements

21955 10330 27460 5150 4820 0 290 340 613 290 200 50 1400 72898 –

16329 8661 14345 3756 4426 639

– – –

Beit Eshel Gevulot Jammama Rahama Tel Tsofim Total Jewish Population – Total Pop. Beersheba Sub-district

– – – – – 98 – 74910

– – – – – – – –

510 – 99,000


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of administration from military to civilian government, public works projects began in the Negev, such as the construction of roads. A police force of 140 men was established, which included Bedouin camel riders.61 The extension of security put an end to Bedouin raiding and illicit trades and occupations, such as the free sale of salt, that the Mandatory authorities prohibited and from which the Bedouin gained income.62 The economic activities on which they relied, such as camel, horse and sheep breeding, declined precipitously.63 Kressel, Ben-David and Abu Rabi’a have written that ‘sedenterization was not immediate. During the Mandate Bedouin took their livestock northwards for spring grazing and returned to their plots in the Negev at the end of summer’.64 Tribal courts known as the majlis el Asha’ir continued to function in Beersheba.65 This was a Mandatory replacement of the Mahkamat el’Ashair which had, since 1903, been composed of 33 sheikhs.66 While the Mandate pursued in theory a policy of settling Bedouin, and saw their settlement as beneficial to the land system in Palestine, they did not invest the time, resources or personnel in carrying out the policy. This is in stark contrast to the robust and active policy the Mandate pursued in the Baysan sub-district under the Ghor-Mudawarra Land Agreement of 1921, which settled Bedouin claims to some 381,000 dunams of government land.67 The Saga of the Land Registry and the District Office of Beersheba In July of 1920 Isaac Ben Jacob was dispatched with government registry books and documents to set up the land registry office in the sub-district.68 At the time the sub-district’s officials were complaining of overwork and requesting translators and clerks,69 but by January of 1921, ‘owing to lack of business’, the staff in Beersheba was reduced.70 In addition, the district governor recommended that registration cease until land settlement and survey could come to the sub-district. There was an attempt to encourage the tribal sheikhs to register lands claimed by them, enticing them through not charging them a fee to do so.71 The district officer of the Beersheba sub-district also pointed out in September of 1921 that ‘every endeavor should be made to avoid any delay or hardship to persons who wish or intend to register their lands, as you are fully aware there is a prejudice in this district [against] registration of land and unless we carry out work in an expeditious manner there is no hope of the registration becoming popular’.72 In April of 1922 a surveyor named Jawdat Effendi and a Mr Barkat were sent by the Director of Land Registration to Beersheba to survey and assist in registration.73 61 Kark-Kleiner, The Pioneering Observation Posts, p. 54; ‘Aref el-‘Aref, The History of Beersheba and Its Tribes (Tel Aviv: Shoshany, 1937) (Hebrew), p. 219; Edgar Asher, ‘A Cool Jewel in the Desert’, Jewish Independent (15 December 2006). 62 Kark-Kleiner, The Pioneering Observation Posts, p. 57. 63 Epstein, ‘Bedouin of the Negeb’, p. 68. 64 Kressel et al, ‘Changes in the Land Usage’, p. 31. 65 Ibid., p. 27. 66 Ibid., p. 29. 67 Kark and Frantzman, ‘From Nomadism to Jewish Settlement’. 68 16/7/1920, ISA RG23/3604M/16. 69 20/7/1920, ISA RG23/3604M/16. 70 2/1/1921, ISA RG23/3604M/16. 71 24/11/1921, ISA RG23/3604M/16. 72 28/9/1921, ISA RG23/3604M/16. 73 25/4/1922, ISA RG23/3604M/16.


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THE NEGEV 1871–1948

But by 9 May, Jawdat was still proceeeding to Gaza and his task was now to see if he was still required there. In 1925 ‘certain Arabs of Beersheba are complaining that their transactions are ready for registration and that the delay is due to [the Director of Lands]’.74 By 1928 ‘there did not remain any land registry officials in Beersheba’ and Mamoor Tabu Saleeba Eff. Konstandi was transferred to Gaza and tasked with coming every other week to Beersheba.75 Konstandi left in 1927 when ‘the work in the land registry of Beersheba is not sufficient to justify retaining a clerk . . . who spends most of his time doing nothing’.76 The key to the office was given to the district officer and the Registrar of Lands in Gaza was tasked with overseeing this registry at Beersheba. Between 1928 and 1932 the most important issue seems to have been the question of furniture being kept in the hallway of the government offices and whether the ‘Land Registry documents are adequately safeguarded’.77 The curious case of the Mandatory organs in the Beersheba district, the failure to adequately register tribal lands or encourage the sheikhs to do so and the lack of initiative seem to point to local personalities being to blame for the disfunction of the sub-district. Since much of the land was mewat, and with the lack of land settlement, there was also little for the registry officials to do. The 1930s During the 1930s the Mandatory authorities recorded 77 sub-tribes in the Negev.78 Some Bedouin tribes, such as the Jabarat and Hanajra, were ‘pushed out of the purely Bedouin occupied area and lived side by side with the fully settled peasants’.79 In contrast, some peasants ‘from the coastal area also found opportunities to acquire land, often settling permanently in the tribal area’.80 E. Mills, superintendent of the 1931 census, noted that ‘owing to the reluctance of Bedouin in certain areas to cooperate in the general census a special system of enumeration was devised in order that information might be obtained . . . it is the best that can be devised in the circumstances and the error involved in the consequential statistics will be practically neglible’.81 The census found 48,156 nomads in the Beersheba sub-district and 2926 settled people, mostly in Beersheba itself, a decrease of 20,000 nomads from 1922, illustrating the apparent flaws in the 1922 census estimate (see Table 1). The 1930 annual Report by His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the Council of the League of Nations on the Administration of Palestine and Trans-Jordan notes that the Commuted Tithes Ordinance of 1927, a ‘fixed aggregate amount paid annually’ by villages and extracted by the village heads (mukhtars) from the villagers, was applied to 32 ‘tribal areas’ in the Beersheba sub-district ‘so that all cultivators in Palestine, except the members of two sub-tribes, now pay the commuted tithe’.82 74

23/5/1925, ISA RG23/3604M/16. 20/2/1928, ISA RG23/3604M/16. 76 12/1/1927, ISA RG23/3604M/16. 77 4/10/1932, ISA RG23/3604M/16. 78 Epstein, ‘Bedouin of the Negeb’, p. 62. The number of 77 is based on the 1931 census. Yaakov Shimoni mentions 95 (‘Arvei Eretz-Israel (Tel Aviv: 1947), pp. 148– 150). 79 Marx, Bedouin of the Negev, p. 10; Ben-David, ‘The Negev Bedouin’, p. 188. 80 Marx, Bedouin of the Negev, p. 10; Ben-David, ‘The Negev Bedouin’, p. 187. 81 Mills, Census of Palestine 1931, p. 1. 82 1930 Report by His Majesty’s Government to the League of Nations on the Administration of Palestine and Trans-Jordan, items 8, 32. (London: Government Printing Office, 1930). 75


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In addition, ‘waste lands’ southeast of Beersheba where ‘Arabs have grazing rights’ were earmarked for an investigation into which lands ‘properly can be made available for close settlement by Jews under reference to the obligation imposed by the Mandatory by Article 6 of the Mandate’. The Jewish Agency had asked for 75– 100,000 dunams but it was ‘doubtful if any unoccupied cultivable tract of that magnitude is available’. However, the report noted that ‘it will, however, be some years before the programme of settlement and registration of title reaches that district; and investigations into the water supply have yet to be made’.83 The 1933 annual Report by His Majesty’s Government to the League of Nations on the Administration of Palestine and Trans-Jordan mentions the Negev only in the context of an experiment to conserve flood water in the Negev in the hopes that it would be a ‘forerunner of a series of undertakings which will bring vast stretches of waste land under cultivation’.84 A Palestine Order-in-Council no. 7 for 1935 published in the Palestine Gazette on 18 April 1935 (no. 505) noted that Lt. Gen. Sir Arthur Wauchope, with the approval of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, ordered that ‘all lands pertaining to the sub-district of Beersheba which lie to the West of the Palestine Railway line shall be transferred from the Beersheba sub-district to the Gaza Sub-district’.85 The land transferred was initially encouraged by the Commissioner of lands to be given the name ‘tribal area of____’, but he did not know what tribe inhabited it. He also noted that the Rural Property Tax and Land Settlement, ‘which are carried out in the subdistricts other than Beersheba’,86 should be exacted on this land. The 1937 Royal Commission Report was more frank and detailed. Its maps illustrate the lack of cultivation, survey, land settlement and registraton of state domain and forest reserves. However, it also notes that ‘the request is made that the government should facilitate the settlement of the Beersheba area by placing a large tract of land at the disposal of Jewish colonizing bodies . . . government should commence land settlement operations in the Negeb’ [sic].87 But this note was followed by the realisation that: at present the government cannot spare the staff for settlement operations in Beersheba . . . the Beersheba question is a very difficult problem which has not been fully examined and in regard to which we would, in view of the experience of the land settlement of the comparatively small area of Beisan, strongly deprecate haste. It appears to us that the first steps to be taken are to ascertain the attitude and desires of the Sheikhs of the various tribes, the rights enjoyed by the tribes, and their attitude towards changing a nomad life for one of settled cultivation. Haste has been a potent factor in creating troubles in Palestine, and no useful purpose would be served by introducing Jewish immigrants into the Beersheba area.88

Thus the attitude of the Mandatory authorities in 1937, in the midst of the Arab Revolt and after having done little for the sub-district in 20 years of governing it, was to not be too hasty in mapping out a strong active policy for the area. The comparison 83

Ibid. 1933 Report by His Majesty’s Government to the League of Nations on the Administration of Palestine and Trans-Jordan (London: GPO, 1933), item 28. 85 8/4/1935, ISA RG23/3559/7M. 86 6/9/1934, ISA RG23/3559/7M. 87 Palestine Royal Commission Report (London: Government Printing Office, July 1937), chapter IX, p. 247. 88 Ibid. 84


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THE NEGEV 1871–1948

with Baysan is interesting, for in this region the authorities had acted swiftly and with bold strokes to settle the lands and the Bedouin claims to them.89 The Royal Commission had received testimony from Izzat el Atawneh on behalf of the Beersheba sub-district. He complained of lack of water resources, roads and educational facilities and requested that the ‘government should not have registered in her name extensive grazing grounds adjoining the Dead Sea and Wadi Araba’. In addition, he requested that agricultural loans should be provided and land and animal taxes should be reduced or suspended. The government reply did not address the land and water issues but instead noted that there were only five tribal schools for the Bedouin, ‘owing to the indifference of the Bedu and the difficulty in finding competent teachers willing to live in the conditions prevailing in those areas . . . [agricultural] loans issued to them [ . . . ] in kind or cash are rarely recovered [and that] the Bedu of Palestine should be classed not separately, but with the fellahin [for higher elementary education].’90 In essence, while the Mandate had no interest in bringing Jews into the Negev, it took a decidedly dispassionate attitude to Bedouin complaints. A subsequent report shows that the commission had found that ‘it is possible that there may be private [Bedouin and effendi] land claims to over 2,000 square kilometers (2,000,000 dunams), which are cultivated from time to time’.91 Mapping of the Negev proceeded slowly. Not until 1934 had the Survey Department of Palestine ‘completed the mapping of all the area (13,555,667 dunams) included in the rural property tax project, in effect all of Palestine north of Beersheba’.92 Gavish notes that ‘they did not think it worthwhile to map the Negev south of Beersheba, for it was very sparsely inhabited and was poor in water sources and in cultivatable land’.93 In effect the Mandate followed in the footsteps of the nineteenth century British Palestine Exploration Fund’s map, which had also not extended south of Beersheba. In addition, in 1934 topocadastral mapping was carried out in the Beersheba sub-district through direct surveying in the field at the 1:20,000 scale instead of at 1:10,000, ‘which was considered too large for the “empty” expanses of the northern Negev’.94 Thus in March 1937 the government was still consulting Colonel Newcombe’s surveys of the Negev conducted in 1913 – 1914.95 The Survey of Palestine topographic 1:100,000 maps from 1936 to 1939 show only 159 houses in the Negev.96 The 1938 official Village Statistics excluded the Beersheba sub-district: ‘Since the rural property tax Ordinance has not been applied to the Beersheba sub-district and since the population of that sub-district is largely nomad, figures in respect of it have not been included in this volume’.97 One reason the rural property tax, intended to replace the Commuted Tithe, was not extended to the sub-district of Beersheba was the demand that all the taxable units have a territorial equivalent 89

Kark and Frantzman, ‘From Nomadism to Jewish Settlement’. 2 March 1937, Government of Palestine, testimony of Izzat el Atawneh to the Royal Commission, 733 –344, Public Record Office. 91 A Survey of Palestine, Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, Jerusalem, 1946, Vol. I, p. 257. 92 Gavish, Survey of Palestine under the British Mandate, p. 165. 93 Ibid., p. 201. 94 Ibid., p. 210. 95 Ibid., p. 222. 96 Levin et al., ‘Historical Maps and GIS’, pp. 18–19. 97 Village Statistics (Jerusalem: Government of Palestine, 1938), p. 3. 90


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that could be shown on a map. The tribes of Beersheba did not have territories indicated on maps, unlike tribal areas in other sub-districts.98 The Commisioner of Lands pointed out that there should be no barrier to creating boundaries for the Negev tribes, that ‘while all land in each sub-district must be included in the fiscal survey . . . [it does] not follow that because a parcel of land, such as sand dunes, is shown as within a particular “village” boundary that the sand dunes are neccesarily in the ownership of the village. They may be in the ownership of the State but are included for administrative purposes’.99 As for actual settlements in the Negev, the district officer of Beersheba, ‘Aref el‘Aref,100 stated in 1937 that apart from the inhabitants of Beersheba, all the population of the sub-district of Beersheba was comprised of nomadic or seminomadic. El-‘Aref noted in 1937 that under the British Mandate in addition to the hospital in Beersheba there were three outpatient clinics within the sub-district of Beersheba (El ‘Auja, El ‘Imara, and Jammama), and nine police stations, located in Beersheba, Bir ‘Asluj, El ‘Auja, Kurnub, Ras ez-Zuweira, El-Ghamar, Um-Rashash, El-‘Imara and Jammama (these stations are also noted on some editions of the 1:250,000 maps of the 1937 edition of the Survey of Palestine map).101 In 1939 Eliahu Epstein noted that in 1934 – 1935 some 2,109,234 dunams were under cultivation and ‘worked under the most primitive of agricultural systems’.102 Only 5133 of the 42,865 Bedouin were registered in 1931 as gaining a living entirely from herding, the rest being engaged in some sort of cultivation.103 In the 1946 Survey of Palestine, however, the cultivatable area of the Negev was given as 1640 square kilometres (1.64 million dunams).104 Epstein calls the ‘Bedouin problem’ ‘one of the gravest questions facing the Middle East today’.105 In 1934 ‘Aref el-‘Aref published in his book on the Negev Bedouin a map of the Negev as it appeared at the time. The map shows tribal borders, towns, villages and cisterns, among other details. It indicates settlement at Khalasa, Auja and Beersheba but does not show any other permanent settlements in the Negev.106 When one compares Epstein’s discussion of the ‘Bedouin problem’, el-‘Aref’s claim that the Bedouin were semi-nomadic or nomadic and the British Mandate’s policy towards the region in the 1930s, lack of mapping, lack of land settlement and the non-application of Mandatory laws to the sub-district, one is given the picture of an ineffective Mandatory policy. The 1937 Royal Commission Report and its determination that ‘haste’ would be unwise was the general rule of Mandate policy in the Negev in the 1930s. 98 31/2/1933, ISA RG23/3559/7M; Ghazi Falah, The Role of the British Administration in the Sedenterization of the Bedouin Tribes in Northern Palestine 1918–1948 (Durham: Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, University of Durham, 1983). 99 31/3/1933, ISA RG23/3559/7M. 100 ‘Aref el-‘Aref served as the district officer of Beersheba sub-district from 1928 to 1939. 101 Levin et al., ‘Historical Maps and GIS’, p. 19. 102 Epstein, ‘Bedouin of the Negeb’, p. 70. See also The Area of Cultivable Land in Palestine (Jewish Agency, 1936), p. 26. 103 Mills, Census of Palestine 1931, I, pp. 21, 328 –335; II, pp. 2–12. 104 Government of Palestine, Survey of Palestine (Jerusalem, 1946), p. 370. 105 Epstein, ‘Bedouin of the Negeb’, p. 69. 106 ‘Aref el-‘Aref, The History of Beersheba, map on endpage.


THE NEGEV 1871–1948

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Land Disputes in the Negev The question of absentee landlords in the Negev was a continuing issue. Tewfik Batato of Abu Tor in Jerusalem was one such owner of land registered during the Ottoman period, for which he had received a kushan (title deed, dated 11 Tishrin Tani 1327, or 11 November 1911).107 It was located just south of Beersheba on the railway line that ran towards what was once the Beer Turkia station.108 When the district officer of Beersheba approached him about auctioning the wells so they could be put to use for irrigation, he protested that they had, for some time, been changed without his knowledge. ‘These wells had been sunk by the Turkish Authorities without my knowledge or agreement and were bombarded by the same authorities . . . and rendered useless’.109 The local district officer, in the absence of a land survey, relied on the information of the local Mukhtar Sheikh Mustafa El Shurabassi, who provided him with an oral description of the borders of Batato’s property. The Registrar of Lands accepted the description as ‘convincing’.110 In another case involving a parcel of land called ‘Maukeh El Jisr’, Sulaiman El Suidany (Sueidani) of the Muhamedein (or Hamdin) Azazme dug a well in the Wadi of Beersheba. This parcel was, acccording to the government, ‘never revived or cultivated’. The land, some 30 dunams in the ‘the Sirr lands’111 disputed by the Tarabin and Azazme and taken over by the government, had been given by the Turkish government to Suidany (Sueidani) and then subsequently taken back and declared mahlul. In 1926 Ali el Far and Haj Mustafa Eff. Shurbasi (a local official) applied to purchase the land.112 In the land case Saliba Costandi represented the government’s view that it was mahlul (due to it being in the Wadi although the government admitted also that ‘the land is really Mewat but was called Mahlul’).113 According to Sueidani, his father had cultivated the land ‘before the district was formed’ and that while the Turkish government had planted trees on the property, they had since died.114 The government claimed that the land was ‘incapable of being ploughed’ and furthermore that Said Nashashibi of the Jerusalem family had attempted to purchase the land in 1906 and the land had been put up for auction and then returned to government ownership.115 In 1928, having lost at the magistrates court and at his appeal, he appealed to the High Commisioner to allow him to take the case to the land court and sue the government therein. In the 1930s a third plaintiff joined the case, Mahrus Baisaiso of Beersheba, owner of an adjacent plot. The case seems never to have been decided even though a sketch map was made by Saidani116 (see Figure 2). Government land was sometimes in dispute with land owners, including one parcel owned by Hussein el Sirhi measuring some 900 square metres (purchased in 1912 for which he received a kushan).117 In another case a certain Hajj Rabi el 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117

20/8/1930, ISA RG23/3523916-20. 22/11/1927, ISA RG23/3523/916-20/3523. 27/9/1930, ISA RG 23/3523/916-20. 22/11/1927, ISA RG23/3523/916-20. Sulaiman Suidany (Sueidani), March 1927, ISA RG23/3372/G180-10-7. 12/4/1926, ISA RG23/3372/G180-10-7. March 1927, ISA RG23/3372/G180-10-7. Ibid. Ibid. 9/11/1935, ISA RG23/3372/G180-10-7. 23/10/1935, ISA RG23/3323/LD51-14.


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Figure 2. Sketch Map of Budaiway Property in Beersheba, 11 July 1928. Source: Suleiman Salameh El Suidany (Sueidani), sketch map attached to letter to Director of Lands Dept, ISA, Encroachment of Mewat land by Sulaiman el Budaiway ISA RG23 G180/10/7/3372.

Burdeini118 applied to purchase state land (mewat in this case which he claimed to have revived) near the Wadi el Sabaa that bordered, or was within, the Beersheba municipality’s 2000 dunams of land. To determine the land’s status a committee was appointed, including Saleeba Eff. Costandi (also ‘Kustandi’—Mamour Tabu Beersheba), Ysufu Ramzi (Mayor of Beersheba), Mustafa El Shurabasi (Mukhtar), Moh. Abu Abdo (Mukhtar), Haj Eisa Baseeso (local notable) and Shakir el Beetar (local notable). The committee concluded that the site was state domain and part of 118


‘Border Control Post’, ISA RG23/3581.

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THE NEGEV 1871–1948

the municipality (since 1902).119 The case was later brought to the land court in 1930 but records of its final settlement are missing. Like many such cases, it took more than five years to weave its way through the Mandatory system, beginning with the Hajj’s first request to purchase the land in 1925. In a dispute over Tell el Milh, the Assistant District Commissioner of Beersheba suggested that ‘the development area (unassigned State domain) be registered in the names of the sheikhs and elders of the three tribes until such time as a village council is formed for them . . . nearly all the land at present is uncultivated’.120 No such development scheme seems to have been enacted but it was part of a pattern of attempts to survey various archeological sites in the sub-district at that time, including Khalasa which along with Tell el Milh was mapped in 1947 at a 1:2500 scale.121 This sampling of land disputes from the period shows that the courts of the Mandate worked to resolve land issues in the sub-district but that the disputes often dragged on for years in what must have seemed a frustratingly slow manner. In some cases final decisions by the courts were not made by the end of the Mandate. Furthermore, the cases reveal that many of the disputes harkened back to the Ottoman period with claims of people reviving the lands or wells being destroyed by retreating Turkish military units. Manpower, Land Registry Operations and State Land The Beersheba sub-district continually lacked manpower and historical documentation to carry out the most basic administrative needs. A 1920 note mentions that the Zabt Defter of 1318 –1321 (1902–1905) was missing, thus putting into question some registrations from the Ottoman perod.122 A letter dated 23 October 1920 notes that ‘all the books and town maps of the Beersheba Municipality’ had been seen at the Hughes Hotel in Jerusalem in 1918, and ‘Other Idara [Majlis Idara] registers and archives from Beersheba were taken by the Turks and deposited in Jerusalem’. Saliba Eff. Konstandi was dispatched to locate the books in 1920; it is not clear if he suceeded.123 In another case in 1927 the municipality agreed to hand over 100 dunams for an experimental dry farming station and there was discussion of the fact that the registration of the land, owned by the city, was missing.124 In one letter from 1941, pertaining to reconstructing lists of property owners destroyed in the Arab Revolt of 1936– 1939, the Director of Land Settlement noted that ‘it will be necessary for the district commissioner to provide the staff as I have no officer available for this type of work’.125 The reconstruction of tax registers that began in 1940 provides some evidence for the various taxes levied in the district, including the Animal Tax, Commuted Tithes, Urban Property Tax (first applied to Beersheba in 1931), House and Land Tax and Agricultural Loans. The Assistant District Commissioner and Director of Land Settlement were tasked with re-creating lists, a process completed in part in 1938– 1939, but one that had to rely at least in one case on the memories of the 119 120 121 122 123 124 125

ISA RG23/3542M/G623. 18/11/1945, ISA RG23/3495M. Ibid. 7/10/1920, ISA RG23/3527/14/M. 23/10/1920, ISA RG23/3527/14/M. 23/2/1927, ISA RG23/G493/3534. 18/2/1941, ISA RG23/3386N/Ld45-21-2.


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sheikhs of the tribes who had also destroyed some of their agricultural loan documents.126 It was a process that Sami Hadawi, a local Palestinian Arab expert on settlement and taxation during the Mandate period, participated in as well as F. Sa’ad, the Assistant District Commissioner of Beersheba. In 1941 the Director of Land Settlement, Maurice Bennet, realised that a more accurate general survey of state domain in Palestine had to be carried out. He posted a certain S. Kamleh to Gaza with the responsibility to oversee the Beersheba subdistrict as well. However, by 1943 it had become clear that the system was breaking down. ‘I had always realized that the District officers were unwilling and unable and in many cases both, adequately to carry out their duties under General Regulations 335 and 334’.127 Under these regulations the district officers were supposed to act on behalf of the Department of Land Settlement in defending state domain from encroachment. The sytem did not work and appears not to have worked up until the end of the Mandate, due partly to a lack of manpower at the district level. Beersheba, which had a great deal of unsurveyed state domain, was no exception. Land transactions were registered individually and sometimes without plans or with verbal descriptions of the property. In one case from 1943, Hanna Yacub Es Saya purchased 459 dunams of land occupied by the Farahin sub-tribe of the Azazme southwest of Beersheba. ‘The purchaser submitted a petition through me praying that he be exempted from preparing the plan . . . herewith for your favour’.128 In another case Sawakhna sub-tribal lands of the Azazme north of Beersheba were inspected by the local inspector of lands, Mr Deeby, and a request was made to exempt them from submitting plans on three plots being purchased.129 The Mandatory policy in the Negev might be seen today as an extreme case of a laissez faire government taking less and less of an interest in maintaining government-owned resources. The roots of this were in the first years of the Mandate. There was a continual disinterest among Mandatory officials in developing the Negev. In one case in 1932 a certain Richmond Brown of England took an interest in leasing the ruins at Qasr Umm Baguiq [the fort of Umm Bareq (Bokek)], an antiquity site on the shore of the Dead Sea, that had been noted by explorers in the nineteenth century and marked on maps since.130 Nothing was done with the site. Government resources were sold or abandoned. The Al Khalasa police post was sold in January of 1929, although years later a survey and map would be made of the archeological site.131 The frontier control post and its men were moved from ‘Auja to Beersheba, to a place purchased by the government in the Ard es Sir lands near Beersheba. The railway line to Rafah was torn up, and in a related case a dam called Abu Samara, previously controlled by a local sheikh named Abu Samara, was returned to the tribe after the railway line was demolished.132 An examination of Mandatory policy from a point of view of staffing, land registry and defence of state assets paints a dreary picture of destroyed lists of property owners, unwilling district officers, and abandoned government resources. Some of this was not the fault of the sub-district administrators and those sent to 126 127 128 129 130 131 132


12/2/1941, ISA RG23/3386N/Ld45-21-2. 4/5/1943, ISA RG23/3508M-SD-41. 30/11/1943, ISA RG23/3744. 2/9/1943, ISA RG23/3744. 21/9/1932, ISA RG23/3412M/LD4-5-G731. 5/6/1929, ISA RG23/3383/LD63-30-2. 18/12/1933, ISA RG23/3351/LD21-1.

THE NEGEV 1871–1948

assist them, many of whom were among the administration’s most competent individuals. Some of the problems could not have been predicted, such as the destruction of tax registers in the Arab Revolt, the inability of officers to carry out all the duties assigned to them and the apparent lack of interest by the nomads in land registration and settlement.

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The 1940s: Consolidation of Resources and Continued Inaction The lack of an up-to-date map of the Negev was a continued thorn in the side of any attempt to settle lands in the area. Therefore in 1942 it became clear that the army had ‘the need for a topographic map of the south of the country . . . for the central part of the Negev, for an area of 2,000 square kilometers, the British army had recourse to Newcombe’s old 1:125,000-scale map of pre-First World War vintage’.133 The one sugnificant acomplishment in mapping of the Negev was made in 1946 with the creation of a map of the distribution of the nomadic population (see below). In 1942 the Mandatory administration passed the Bedouin Control Ordinance which was intended to give District Commissioners the power to control the movements of Bedouin and punish them for engaging in raiding. It gave the District Commisioner power to ‘exercise general control and supervision over all or any nomadic tribes or tribesmen, superintend their movements and wherever he considers it neccesary direct them to go to, or not go to, or to remain in, any specified area for any specified period’.134 The law was broad and provided that the District Commisioner ‘may sieze so much of the movable property . . . and retain it for so long as he may consider it neccesary for the purpose of holding it as security for his [the Bedouin] or their good behavior’.135 The law appears to have been used by the Mandatory authorities primarily in the Northern District,136 but in the Beersheba sub-district, where its powers would have granted the government an extreme degree of control over the primarily nomadic population, the law does not seem to have been employed or used. Mandatory officials also seemed oblivious as to the status of lands in distant areas of the Negev, far away from their offices in Beersheba. A letter dated 7 February 1945 from Maurice Bennet, the Director of Land Settlement, noted that ‘as far as is known there is no privately owned land within the boundary of Palestine on the gulf of Aqaba’.137 The ‘as far as is known’ statement speaks for itself; the administration had taken little or no interest in the Palestinian portion of the Gulf of Aqaba. Mandatory Policy and Jewish Interest in the Negev 1934– 1948 Whereas the 1940s show a hands-off approach by the Mandatory authorities, Jewish individuals and groups began to show a greater interest in the area. Jewish interest in the Negev dated back to the turn of the century and the first attempts to settle Ruhama (next to Jamama) in 1912 (it was subsequently re-established and abandoned in the 1930s).138 Efforts were spearheaded by individuals and groups 133 134 135 136 137 138

Gavish, Survey of Palestine under the British Mandate, p. 227. Bedouin Control Ordinance, No. 18 of 1942, 4 June 1942, PRO, CO 765/10. Ibid. See Falah, The Role of the British Administration. 7/2/1945, ISA RG23/3395M. 16/6/1903, Central Zionist Archive, W124 I.


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such as the Palestine Land Development Company (PLDC) which purchased the land for Ruhama and some of the Es Sir lands.139 Land was purchased from tribal sheikhs, individuals and the Ottoman government, which offered large tracts of state land for sale in the Negev. Beginning in 1939, Kibbutz Negba was established in the northern Negev, just north of the boundary of the Beersheba sub-district. Ten more followed in the next six years. By 1947 there were 25 Jewish settlements in the Negev, including the 11 established over the course of one night in 1946.140 In light of the anti-Jewish political developments in Nazi Germany, the possibilities for Jewish settlement and development of the Negev were discussed, in a series of meetings between the High Commissioner and leading Zionist officials in 1934 and 1935. The High Commissioner noted that experimental wells and attempts to build a dam had failed to solve the problem of water. There was agreement between the High Commissioner and the Jewish officials that if water were found it could be divided between potential Jewish settlers and the local Bedouin.141 There was a general feeling that the local Bedouin and fellahin cultivators should be protected.142 Other studies have examined Jewish settlement in the Negev.143 It should suffice to provide a few examples of the types and methods of purchase made by Jews during the period under examination, insofar as they relate to several Bedouin sub-tribes in the sub-district. Jewish land purchases took the form of private investment and investments by the KKL (Jewish National Fund) and PLDC. Jewish land purchases are mentioned from the Nejmet es Sufi sub-tribe of the Tarabin, located near the border with the Gaza sub-district about 30 kilometres west of Beersheba, when in 1945 Haim Bermanis, Leopold Behrman and Max Kirschner purchased 727 dunams of miri land from the tribe. They later transferred the land to the KKL. In some cases effendis who lived outside the sub-district sold their lands to Jewish investors. In a deed executed in November 1933, Jurelia Eff. Abu el Hajj Rashid Shalum sold 2298 dunams to a man named Joseph Mierowitz for 1250 L.P. (Palestinian Pounds). The land’s boundaries were described in a written statement detailing the borders since no block or parcel number could be provided without a survey.144 At Ruhama in August of 1945 the district officer notified the settlement that ‘it has been found neccesary for every settlement in this district to prepare a detailed scheme’.145 The scheme should include irrigation, sewage, roads, zoning and buildings. The expectation of such a scheme from the Jewish settlement was in direct contrast to the lack of any such requests to the tribes, and points not only to the different treatment of each but also to the low expectations the officials had from the tribal leaders. In May of 1945 Samuel Alfred Feitelberger transferred ‘two plots of Miri land by way of lease and sale subject to lease in favor of HaYagev Irgun Poalim Lehityeshvut Shitufit Ltd. [the communal moshav of Beit Eshel] and KKL’.146 139 140 141 142 143 144 145 146


Kark-Kleiner, The Pioneering Observation Posts, pp. 44–47. Kark, ‘Jewish Frontier Settlement’, pp. 334 –356. 21/10/1934, CZA, RG/S25/3821; CZA RGS25/9946. 4/12/1935, CZA, RG/S25, File 9945; 19/7/1937, CZA, RGS25/9946. See footnote 5. 30/11/1935, ISA RG23/3865M. Scheme Ruhama, ISA RG23/5177/48M. 30/5/1945, RG23/3737M; ‘At Home in the Negev’, Palestine Post (18 October 1946).

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THE NEGEV 1871–1948

The purchase was approved with mention made of the 1940 Land Transfer Regulations. This law, which was part of the general Mandatory land policy following the Arab Revolt, divided Palestine into three areas, one of which included 5.4 million dunams where Jewish purchases were completely proscribed. Part of the Negev (6.8 million dunams), however, remained part of ‘Region C’, where Jewish land purchases were allowed with the special approval of the High Commisioner. The lands were in the area of the Farahin Azazme sub-tribe. In July 1946 Julius Abraham and Hyman Maurice purchased 467 dunams of Farahin Azazme land from Herman Kramer.147 Notes detailing such transfers by a variety of Jewish purchasers are similar and most of them are phrased the same way, with the land being passed to the KKL and HaYogev. The growth of Jewish land ownership in the Negev was sharp. In 1936 the KKL owned 8000 dunams in the Negev. By 1947 this had expanded to 65,000 dunams. Private Jewish land ownership amounted to an additional 25,216. The pattern of land ownership on a 1944 map shows lands around Beersheba and sporadic isolated blocks stretching south and west from the town to the border of the Gaza sub-district. There were other lands northwest of Beersheba stretching towards the coastal plain. The Woodhead Commission partition plan C (1938– 1939) envisioned the creation of a ‘Southern Mandated territory’ that would remain under British control after Arab and Jewish States in Palestine obtained independence. This territory’s borders coincided almost exactly with the Beersheba sub-district’s, except for a tiny corridor running to the sea around Rafah on the Palestine– Egypt border. The Woodhead Commission also envisioned the allocation of 75,000 pounds sterling for agricultural development over 10 years.148 The 1945 Village Statistics show a population of 47,980 for the nomads of the Beersheba sub-district, with an additional 5570 people residing in Beersheba and 150 in five Jewish settlements. A total of 1,934,849 cultivatable dunams are said to be periodically cultivated by Arabs and 65,151 by Jews who are thus responsible for taxes on their produce.149 An estimate made for the UN in 1947 includes an estimate created in 1946 that there were 7000 residents of Beersheba, of whom 510 were Jewish and 210 Christian, and 92,000 nomads (in contrast only 35,300 Bedouin were found in the rest of Palestine).150 The British tried to improve on the 1931 method of census taking of Bedouin. Officers of the Department of Statistics visited tribal chiefs, then sub-tribes and then heads of each hamula. It was calculated that this method would ‘give a greater degree of accuracy than either of the earlier enumerations’.151 The discrepancy between the 1922 figures, which were a bare estimate, the 1931 figures, which were based on what was thought to be a superior method, and the 1946 figures, which were a further improvement, cannot be fully explained. The use of aerial photographs along with visits to each individual clan and hamula was an innovative technique but fraught with the problem of estimating the number of people per tent (see below and footnote 169). 147

July 1946, RG23/3737M. Kark-Kleiner, The Pioneering Observation Posts, p. 62; El Eini, Mandate Landscape, Appendix; http://www. 149 Village Statistics 1945 (Jerusalem: Government of Palestine, 1945). 150 Palestine Government, Survey of Palestine: Supplement to a Survey of Palestine, (Jaffa: Government of Palestine, 1947) pp. 12–13. Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestine Question, UN General Assembly, 11 November 1947, A/Ac.14/32, p. 66. 151 Supplement to a Survey of Palestine, p. 66. 148



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Mandatory Bureacracy and the Tribes in the Last Years of the Mandate, 1944– 1948 Accurate lists of the tribal units in the sub-district were kept by the Director of Land Registration. In one note the officer requests, ‘please State who the Nu’amat Tarabin and Sukrieh are’.152 The Beersheba sub-district’s uniqueness, in being composed primarily of tribal units, was a constant headache to the Mandatory bureacracy. A letter dated 25 November 1944 notes that ‘the tribal units in Beersheba sub-district as at present defined are difficult to adapt to the framework of the Village Administration Ordinance’.153 They were too small and the predilection was to list fewer sub-tribes rather than the large numbers appearing in the 1931 census. A letter from 1944 noted that ‘our policy is to stop this fragmentation’.154 Another problem was that there were ‘no plans or territorial divisions between the tribes and sub-tribes of Beersheba sub-district in the list of villages now in force’.155 No list of villages in the Beersheba sub-district was made in 1946, but a report from Beersheba’s District Commisioner’s Office on 26 August notes that ‘Asluj, the site of a well and police post northeast of ‘Auja, is ‘developing into a little trading center’.156 In a separate report the Gaza District Commissioner noted that ‘add the following new Jewish colonies; Gevulot, Tell Tsofim [later Revivim], Beit Eshel, Ruhama, each occupies at least 1,000 dunams and, though, the numbers of settlers are not large and the settlement have only been established for about a year they have as good claims to declatation [sic] as El ‘Auja and Jammama. Their declatation [sic] will not cause fiscal difficulties as far as I can see’.157 Together these statements provide a great deal of information on how enumerations became recognised in the official gazetteer of Palestine as independent villages. An unsigned report of 26 August 1946 by the District Commissioner for Beersheba noted for the Jabarat tribe that ‘all the subdivisions of this tribe are confusing and unneccesary’. Other changes to sub-tribe names and deletions were made to ‘reduce the list to a minimum’ and were based on the recommendations of Abdul Razzak, the Assistant District Commissioner’s ‘long and detailed knowledge’.158 A ‘Constitution of Villages’ document from January 1947 shows the following settled areas in Beersheba sub-district: Asluj, El ‘Auja, Beersheba, and the five Jewish settlements of Beit Eshel, Gevulot, Jammama, Ruhama, and Tel Tsofim (Revivim).159 ‘Asluj was a recent addition to the list; it had not appeared in the Palestine Gazette in 1945 but did in 1947.160 The 1946 Map and the Nomadic Population of the Negev In 1947 the British Survey of Palestine produced an extraordinarily important 1:250,000 scale map of the Negev entitled ‘Distribution of the Nomad Population of the Beersheba Sub-district’, which has been largely neglected in research on the 152 153 154 155 156 157 158 159 160


October 1939, ISA RG23/3781/69M-1D 69/3. 25/11/1944, ISA RG23/3559/7M. 27/8/1944, ISA RG23/3559/7M. 4/11/1944, ISA RG23/3559/7M. 23/8/1946, ISA RG23/3559/7M. 27/8/1944, ISA RG23/3559/7M. 23/8/1946, ISA RG23/3559/7M. 30/1/1947, ISA RG23/3559/7M. 7/6/1945, ISA RG23/3559/7M.

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THE NEGEV 1871–1948

Figure 3. Distribution of Nomad Population of the Beersheba Sub-district, 1947, 1:250,000. Source: a section of map 298, ISA, 1947. Compiled from 1946 census and aerial photos January– June 1945. The grey circles scattered throughout the map are made up of collections of dots, each of which represents one tent.

Negev (see Figure 3).161 It was compiled from aerial photographs taken of Palestine in January – June 1945 and from a ‘census 1946’, which refers to a 1946 census made by the British that was a prelude to the 1946 general census that was never carried out (see above).162 The use of aerial photography to count Bedouin tents was an innovation. Each tent was displayed on the map with a red dot and H.V. Muhsam in his Bedouin of the Negev used these aerial photos to estimate the Bedouin population in 1946 at between 57,000 and 65,000.163 The vast majority of the dots appear to the north and northwest of Beersheba town. The map provides evidence not only for the dispersal of the Bedouin population of the Negev and the population of those nomads but also shows that the vast majority of them resided in tents; there were no settled Bedouin towns in the Negev except for Beersheba. The map also seems to be a final British attempt to solve the problem that plagued the census takers 161

Map 298, ISA, 1:250,000, Survey of Palestine, 1947. Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestine Question, p. 66. 163 H.V. Muhsam, Bedouin of the Negev (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Academic Press, 1966), p. 22. Norman Lewis used a factor of 5 to 10 per tent in Nomads and Settlers in Syria and Jordan (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987). 162



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during the Mandate—not one of the censuses claimed to have been able to count the Bedouin individually. The use of aerial photography was a way to rely on a more scientific method than the words of the tribal elders and tithe receipts. Unfortunately the map makers did not supplement the map with the total number of red dots placed on it. However, a 1946 document provided by the British to the UN notes that 3389 houses and 8722 tents were counted on aerial photographs of the sub-district. It is not entirely clear if this excludes Beersheba town, as the report states: ‘some idea has been obtained of the size of the Bedouin population from a plotting of the tents and houses that could be spotted on from aerial photographs taken by the R.A.F. over northern Beersheba about the same period of the year [as the population estimate]’.164 It may have been part of an attempt by the Mandate authorities to provide a new basis for future planning related to the Negev Bedouin, and maybe Jewish setttlement. Conclusion: A Unique Area of Mandatory Palestine The Ottoman administration was the first in over a millennium to attempt to resettle the Negev through the creation of planned administrative centres and villages on the periphery. It became part of Abdul Hamid II’s regional scheme to privately purchase and develop lands in the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman attempts at creating settlements left an imprint on the Negev. The administration also brought relative peace to the region through the erection of border posts and the use of the military against the Bedouin tribes. The late Ottoman period saw an early involvement by Bedouins in agriculture and the first settlement of several of their sheikhs in Beersheba.165 In contrast to the active role of the Turkish authorities in the waning days of their empire, the British Mandatory administration left the Negev in a state of neglect. The British regime in Mandatory Palestine pursued a robust policy of extending British norms of jurisprudence and law throughout the country, together with infrastructure and administrative improvements. The Beersheba sub-district’s experience, however, was a radical departure from this policy. The British did suceed in extending several improvements to the Beersheba sub-district. Effort was invested in transportation, water search, drilling and damming, health and education. The British authorities desired to bring land settlement, survey, mapping and standardised village boundaries to the Negev. However, these goals were unattainable because, at the same time, the manpower devoted to the sub-district was reduced. They retained several very competent individuals to deal with the sub-district, including the Arab Jerusalem official ‘Aref el-‘Aref. El-‘Aref proved a romantic when it came to the Bedouin, spending much of his time recording their lore and laws, and showed little interest in settling them or developing schemes for them.166 The Mandate showed flexibility with property registration in the Negev, allowing oral testimony on borders and claims. Despite good intentions, there was a lack of urgency in the sub-district. Land cases from the Negev worked their way through the court system very slowly, 164

Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestine Question, p. 67. See Kressel et al., ‘Changes in the Land Usage’, p. 46. 166 For another view, see Claude Scudamore Jarvis’s Back Garden of Allah (London: John Murray, 1939) and Yesterday and Today in Sinai (Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1931). 165


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THE NEGEV 1871–1948

perhaps with the realisation that the land in question was neither valuable nor essential to the state. Outside of the 2000 dunams of municipal land in Beersheba, the rest of the Negev lands were ignored unless there were disputes about ownership or transactions with Jewish buyers. The disappearance of Ottoman land registers and the destruction of documents in a fire in 1936 further impeded the process. A central policy of the British Mandate was the creation of a Jewish homeland. However, Jewish settlement came late to the Negev with only an estimated 150 Jews residing in settlements in 1945. By 1948 this population had expanded to 2665 people167 living in 25 Jewish settlements that had been established in the Negev, having acquired, through the JNF-KKL, a total of 77,521 dunams.168 The neglect of the Negev was partly due to its size and the unique character of its large number of nomadic inhabitants. By the end of the British Mandate there were seven Bedouin tribes that included some 95 sub-tribes.169 Their population size was estimated at between 73,000 (1922) and 49,000 (1945). The lack of Bedouin sedenterisation is in stark contrast to other Palestinian sub-districts, such as Baysan, where the majority of the Bedouin settled during the Mandate.170 In the Negev there was little progress towards settlement during the 30 years of British rule, despite British policy papers which argued in favour of settling the tribes and investing resources in their development. In its last years the Mandatory regime made an extraordinary attempt to map the largely unsettled Bedouin population but it lacked an application. What was the central reason for the neglect? The Negev may have proved too hard a challenge, being a relatively uninhabited desert whose inhabitants lived a way of life little understood by the authorities. The Bedouin were suspicious of interacting with and obeying the government. British attempts to improve the lives of the Bedouin in the neighbouring Sinai had met with frustration. The Negev was not a flashpoint of struggle over land between Jews and Arabs and thus did not attract a great deal of attention from this point of view. Land settlement tended to ignore places of homogenous Muslim Arab settlement, such as the Hebron hills and the central highlands of the country. The Negev was no exeption. The British administration recognised that much of the land in the Negev was state land, but did not see fit to survey, map or manage it. The Mandatory authorites not only recognised their shortcomings in internal memos but they also excluded the Negev from many of their laws and policies. For example, a Bedouin Control Ordinance was passed in 1942 and was applied in every part of Palestine except the Negev. Surveys and land settlement never reached the Negev and it was not parcelled into territorial or administrative units. The Negev was a geographical exception in Palestine. It was also a legal and administrative exception, a unique area where the laws of the Mandate seemingly stopped and disappeared in the sands, much like the railroad tracks that once stretched from Beersheba to Rafah.

167 168 169 170

Kark, ‘Jewish Frontier Settlement’, p. 352; Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestine Question, p. 64. Kark, Frontier Jewish Settlement, pp. 148–151. Marx, Bedouin of the Negev, p. 10. Falah, The Role of the British Administration.