1901: Jewish National Fund starts buying land


The Jewish Agency Buys Land, Evicts Palestinian Farmers, and Prepares For Ethnic Cleansing of Palestinians

The Jewish National Fund was the principal Zionist tool for the colonialism of Palestine. Jews started buying Arab land and evicting the Palestinian tenant farmers.¬†Much of the land was held by the JNF as ‘custodian’ on behalf of the Jewish people. The land was then used to settle Jewish immigrants.

During the Mandatory years through the Nakba, Yossef Weitz headed the settlement department. The Jewish Agency bought most of their land from absentee landlords who existed due to an 1858 Ottoman law that required all land to be registered rather than farmed as communal farmland, passed down from peasant farmer to his heirs, a right that had been considered unalienable. Under this new 1858 law, peasants who forgot to register their land ended up losing the title to it to various rich guys who registered the land out from under them. They then sold that land to the Jewish Agency, who would promptly evict the farmers who had lived on that land for hundred if not thousands of years.

Sometimes, these evictions were forcible. Forced to abandon their traditional way of life, displaced peasant farmers moved to urban areas, where economic opportunities were limited. This influx of dispossessed farmers into cities created a sense of anger and frustration among them, contributing to social and political tensions that played a significant role in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

By 1948, the JNF owned 5.6% of the land of Palestine.

In anticipation of the coming Nakba – the ethnic cleansing of Palestine to clear way for European Jews – the Jewish Agency embarked on a new project: cataloguing every village in Palestine, mapping them using aerial photography, noting prices topographical details of each village, access to roads, quality of land, water springs, main sources of income, population, socio-politucal composition, religious affiliation, and an index of hostility towards the Zionist project. They even created a list of “wanted persons” in each village who would need to be arrested, killed, or otherwise removed from the picture in order to conquer each village and turn its residents into refugees. When the Nakba came in 1948, those men were usually rounded up, sacks placed over their heads, and executed immediately.

The registry of villages was essential for a quick and successful ethnic cleansing.


  1. Ilan Pappé, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2006), 20 - 23
  2. Ron David, Arabs and Israel for Beginners (For Beginners, 2001), 98-99