The Immigration of Egyptian Workers to the land of Israel during the British Mandate/ DR.Rivka Shpak Lissak

Prof.Moshe Baver of the Geography Faculty in Tel Aviv University, 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) conducded during the Mndate period. Because most of the Arabic villages along the southern 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 Mndate-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 southern 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 contiued until the mid- 1940's(i.e.,the end of Second World War. Egyptian workers who were employed to service the British army in Egypt followed it ino 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 southern coastal plains.

Village population growth in the southern and 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 contributions to this growth.Prof.Braver concludted that at least 1/3 of these villeges' population increase was due to immigrants from Egypt.

Between 1922- 1944, the population of Bet-Dajan grew by 127%, that of Yazour grew by 214%,Salame's population grew by 476%, Yavne's population grew by 203%, the population of Kubeiba(near Rehovot) grew by 211%, in Fajjah the increase reached 630%, while Sawalme held the record of population growth:1040%. Similar figures were recordedfor the rest of the Arabic villages in the southern and central plains.

The Mandate government conducted another survey in several villages in 1941 which Prof.Braver prticipated in. The researchers interviewedthe villages' Mukhtars(leaders)who confirmed that villegers who did not own land in the village were Egyptian immigrants who settled in thir villages. Ybne's former Mukhtar,who fled to Gaza in 1948 testified in an interview held in Gaza after Israel conquered Gaza in 1976, 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 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, whivh was completely Arabic(the Western Bank today).Between 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 of 70% rather than 119% -1040% rate along the coastal plains.The results were further copared to the population growth data in the areas of Nablus and Ramallah(Western Bank today)and data for natural growth in Syria and Lebanon.The rates were like those in the Jennin district.

The study examined also the possibility that the villages in the coastal plains grew as a result of internal immigration of Arabs from villages in the Galilee and Samaria for 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 Jeruslam, Haifa, and Jaffa, but only few moved to the southern plain villages.

Erlier immigration from Egypt into the Land of Israel was researched by Prof.Moshe Sharon, from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who specialized in Bedouin history(he published, among others "The Bedouins of the Land of Israel under Islam,1988)and Yussuf Suwa'ed, a bedouin himself, who published in 1995 an article on "The rule of Bedouin Sheiks in the northern part of the Land of Israel".According to their studies, the Naddi tribe immigrated to the Gaza area from Egypt in 1814, and this immigration contributed to the population composition of the villges and towns along the coastal plains, during the Ottman period.Akkal and his tribesmen served the Ottman government and fought it alternately, taking ober 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 Psha.During those years immigrants from Egypt, mostly peasants, settled in 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 was mostly of Egyptian origin. The Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip are those Egyptians and their children and grandchildren.

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