Arab Illegal Immigration to Palestine Under British Mandate:Part Two / Dr.Rivka Shpak Lissak

The Immigration of Egyptian Workers into the Land of Israel during the British Mandate Period

Prof. Moshe Braver of the Geography Faculty in the University of Tel Aviv, who is a world-renowned geographer, based his study, titled "Immigration as a factor in the Growth of the Arab village in Israel" (Economic Review,1975) on a Mandate Government survey of Arabic villages which he participated in and which included interviews with village Mukhtars (leaders) conducted during the Mandate period. Because most of the Arabic villages along the coast were destroyed during the War of Independence, a second survey was conducted between 1968—1978 in villages that were not destroyed during the war. The study looked at the immigration of workers and poor farmers from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Trans-Jordan into Mandate-ruled Israel.

One of the topics of his research was the immigration of Egyptian workers during the Mandate period and their settlement mainly in the coastal plains. Although immigrants from other countries also settled along the coastal plains, this article focuses on those from Egypt.

According to Braver’s study, an immigration wave from Egypt into Israel accompanied the British army as it conquered the land from the Turks in 1917-1918, and continued until the mid-1940’s (i.e., the end of World War II). Egyptian workers who were employed to service the British army in Egypt followed it into Israel. Egyptian immigration was also greatly influenced by the growth in the Jewish citrus agro-industry which expanded 10-fold in the 1920’s and 1930’s and required many workers. The British military camps which were set up in the area, the Jewish construction works, and public works initiated by the Mandate Government and the Jewish Agency required workers as well. Egyptian workers made good of the extensive employment opportunities these offered and settled in the Land of Israel on the coastal plains.

Village population growth in the southern and central coastal plains cannot be explained by natural growth alone, when considering infant mortality rates, life expectancy, and the level of health care services available in the Arabic villages. Egyptian immigrants were significant contributors to this growth. Prof. Braver concluded that at least one-third of these villages’ population increase was due to immigrants from Egypt.

Between the years 1922—1944, the population of Bet Dajan grew by 127%, that of Yazour grew by 214%, Salame’s population grew by 476%, Yabne’s population grew by 203%, the population of Kubeiba (near Rehovot) grew by 211%, in Fajjah the increase reached 630%, while Sawalme holds the record population growth: 1040%. Similar figures were recorded for the rest of the Arabic villages in the southern and central coastal plains.

The Mandate Government conducted a survey in several villages in 1941 which Prof. Braver participated in. The researchers interviewed the villages’ Mukhtars (leaders) who confirmed that villagers who did not own land in the village were Egyptian immigrants who settled in their villages. Yabne’s former Mukhtar, who fled to Gaza in 1948, testified in an interview held in Gaza that “in his village there were many Egyptians who settled in Yabne in the time of the British”.

The Egyptian workers, who, as mentioned, were land-less, used to live in their own separate housing blocks, and effectively established immigrants’ neighborhoods in those villages.

Prof. Braver refuted the claim that population growth in villages along the coastal plains was the result of natural increase, by comparing it with data on the natural population increase in villages in the Jennin district, which was completely Arabic(Western Bank today). Between the years 1922—1944, population growth there ranged from 50% to 80%, population movements were few and the number of leavers was similar to the number of arriving immigrants. This led to the conclusion that in the Jennin district, population growth was the result of natural increase at an average rate of 70% rather than 119% - 1040% (the rate along the coastal plains). The results were further compared to the population growth data in the areas of Nablus and Ramallah (Western Bank today) and the data for natural increase in Syria and Lebanon.

The study examined also the possibility that the villages in the coastal plains grew as a result of internal immigration of Arabs who left their villages in the Galilee and Samaria for the better employment prospects available in the coastal plains, and settled there. It was found that people from Samaria left to go abroad, or to the cities of Jerusalem, Haifa, and Jaffa, but only few moved to the coastal plain villages.

Earlier immigration from Egypt into the Land of Israel was researched by Prof. Moshe Sharon, who specialized in Bedouin history in Israel, and Youssuf Suwa’ed, who researched the rule of Bedouin Sheiks. According to their studies, the Naddi Tribe immigrated to the area of Gaza from Egypt in 1814, and this immigration contributed to the population composition of the Arabic villages and towns in the southern coastal plains during the Ottoman period. Akkal and his tribesmen served the Ottoman government and fought it alternately, taking over the Galilee for a certain period. From 1832 to 1840 the Land of Israel was ruled by Muhammad Ali, ruler of Egypt, and his son Ibrahim Pasha. During those years there was immigration from Egypt into various areas of Israel, including the coastal plains and the cities of Gaza and Jaffa.

In conclusion, based on these findings it is reasonable to say that the Arabic population along the coastal plains of Israel is mostly of Egyptian origin.

Sharon, Moshe,The Bedouins of the Land of Israel under Islam, 1988.
Suaad, Yusoph, "The rule of Bedouin Sheiks in the Northren part of the land of Israel", 1995.

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