A Report from the Israel Land Development Company from 1920 proves that around 2.6 million dunams were documented as belonging to the Negev Bedouin
For public review: a historical report from the Israel Land Development Company from 1920: around 2.6 million dunams under Bedouin ownership. See link below.
READ: the original Israel Land Development Company’s report (Hebrew and English)
Background information to understanding the report:
The Israel Land Development Company (known as the Palestine Land Development Company – PLDC – prior to Israel’s establishment), a major Zionist body at the time, organized the first comprehensive Zionist survey of land in the Negev. The report of the survey was published in 1920 [and can be found at the link below and in the Central Zionist Archive, open to public access]. It documented around 2.6 million dunams under Bedouin ownership [occasionally the Turkish unit of measurement "hevel"\"rope" appears – 1 rope= 1.75 dunams].
The survey is signed by Dr. Ya’akov Tahon, who was the organization’s director and before that served as the director of the Palestine office of the World Zionist Organization and was a member of its executive. In this important survey, the company’s researchers review the condition of the tribes, agricultural cultivation and land ownership.
The results of the survey are clear – large tracts of the Negev are settled, cultivated, and under Bedouin ownership, even if they are not registered with the British Mandate or with the Ottoman regime before that. A close reading reveals that the report of the land survey does not “go easy” on the Bedouin, and often disputes their testimony. It is thus a meticulous report, independent in its sources and containing minimal estimations.
The report notes that in the areas surrounding Be’er Sheva there are around 2,660,000 dunams of land under Bedouin ownership, according to the traditional Bedouin land ownership system, and that some 35 percent of the land is cultivated (cultivation might confer private ownership even according to Ottoman law which is recognized by Israel, and not only according to the traditional Bedouin land ownership system which Israel does not recognize). That is:
In total, some 2.6 million dunams are under Bedouin ownership, of them 1.09 million dunams are also cultivated. Today, the Bedouin demand 650,000 dunams.
The survey’s report even details land ownership and cultivation at the tribal level while recording the names of more than 90 clans, united under the following tribes:
The Azazma tribe owns 770,000 dunams of land, of which 140,000 (20 percent) are cultivated.
The Tiyaha tribe owns 1,120,000 dunams, of which 640,000 (40 percent) are cultivated.
Of special interest to us, the report notes the Beni Okba, (i.e. the al-Aqabi tribe from al-Araqib), owns 26,250 dunams and cultivates 40 percent of its land.
The Jabarat tribe own 66,000 dunams, of which 38,000 (60 percent) are cultivated.
The Tarabin tribe owns 778,750 dunams, of which 272,000 (35 percent) are cultivated.
The report of the Israel Land Development Company’s survey even goes into precise details about the clans’ differing ways of life. For instance, the report notes that the Tiyaha tribe controlled the south of the Land of Israel for several centuries. The tribe mainly cultivated wheat, barley and sorghum, but also grew watermelons, which were used as camel feed. The chapter that deals with the living conditions indicates that the Tiyaha tribe “are primarily workers of the land, and they are on their way to becoming agriculturalists…they live on their land and leave it only for grazing purposes.” These descriptions lead to the understanding that a significant proportion of the Bedouin were farmers or led somewhat agrarian lives, and were not only shepherds.
[The report was brought courtesy of Prof. Oren Yiftachel, Dr. Ahmad Amara and Dr. Sandy Kedar, who photocopied it from the Central Zionist Archive in the framework of their research – Re-Examining the ‘Dead Negev Doctrine’: Property Rights in the Bedouin-Arab Space. We are deeply grateful to them.]