Palestinian Society and Politics

Palestinian Society and Politics

by Joel Migdal


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Palestinian Society and Politics by Joel Migdal

Initially published in Moscow in 1950 following the author's death, this book contains the first chapters of a large monograph Krylov planned entitled The foundations of physical statistics," his doctoral thesis on "The processes of relaxation of statistical systems and the criterion of mechanical instability," and a small paper entitled "On the description of exhaustively complete experiments."

Originally published in 1980.

The Princeton Legacy Library uses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback and hardcover editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691021935
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 02/21/1980
Series: Center for International Affairs, Harvard University Series
Pages: 312
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)

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Palestinian Society and Politics

By Joel S. Migdal


Copyright © 1980 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-07615-7


The Two Faces of Ottoman Rule: Palestinian Society before World War I

The First Face of Ottoman Rule

By the early decades of the nineteenth century, conditions in the provinces of the Ottoman Empire that constituted historic Palestine had deteriorated badly. The effects of all three governmental policies — security, investment, and alliances — were to make life precarious and to drive communities to be inward oriented. The security policy of the Empire, resulting from its low level of capabilities, was to provide as few police and military forces as possible while still maintaining Ottoman suzerainty. The small number of billeted soldiers did not (and probably could not) control the wanton violence that permeated the area.

One old Arab proverb states, "Four are the ravages of the land: mice, locusts, Kurds and Bedouins." The Kurds may no longer have been a problem, but the Bedouins certainly continued to make the life of the fellahin (peasants) extremely difficult through raids and plunder. A vicious cycle of desertion of the land by the peasants and infiltration by Bedouins from the desert existed. The result was the depopulation of the central plains and valleys by the peasantry. Some relief from the physical insecurity came after the Egyptian-based conquest of the provinces by the forces of Muhammad 'Ali (1832-1840), but conditions again worsened after the Ottomans reestablished their rule. Settled agriculture in the most fertile parts of the country became almost an impossibility given the Ottoman policy of providing insufficient local security forces.

There was a lack of integration of Arabs due to the administrative divisions of the Empire. In fact, there was no administrative unit known as Palestine. This lack of integration was compounded by the effects of Ottoman security policy. Inhabitants of Palestine tended to cluster in inward-oriented villages located in the mountains and hills of what is today called the West Bank. There they gained some measure of refuge not available in the low-lying areas and planted a variety of crops that would not be subjected to repeated plunder. Others sought security behind the walls of the towns, trekking long distances each day to reach their fields. Caprice entered their lives not only through the raids of the Bedouins but through the rapaciousness of tax-farmers and through largely uncontrolled, intermittent village feuding. Shifting cleavages and coalitions among the Arabs formed and re-formed in response to the ongoing feuds and internecine warfare. There was almost no governmental intervention to stem the ravages of outside raids by Bedouins, strong-arm tactics by the private armies of tax-farmers, and the pathology of intervillage warfare.

Just as the security furnished by government forces was minimal, so too was any investment in an economic or political infrastructure in the area. On the contrary, port facilities, for example, deteriorated badly in the latter centuries of Ottoman rule. Also, to offset the weak outside economic infrastructure, small communities utilized a number of cooperative economic and social measures. Lands, for example, were not registered to individuals but to communities that were considered the basic administrative units. Within these communities, modes of mutual aid and communal interaction developed to offer some limited means of protection to the individual.

Ottoman neglect forced the fellahin to use their own communal devices in order to survive. By no means did this type of insulation make village life idyllic. The Ottoman policy of alliances in the province was a major factor leading to internally harsh conditions on a local basis. Rural shaykhs (chieftains who usually inherited their positions) formed alliances with the Ottoman rulers in order to gain authorization to collect taxes within the village. Such an authorization enabled resourceful shaykhs to wield considerable power in the Palestinian countryside, often with private armies.

The Second Face of Ottoman Rule

By the latter half of the nineteenth century, significant changes began to occur. Now outside forces exposed peasants to new risks and troubles. The protection of shaykhs and village institutions was insufficient. Ottoman rulers began shifting their alliances, leaving the village shaykhs and joining with more powerful city dwellers. Tax-farming, with collection rights now going to the highest bidders instead of automatically to the shaykh, was increasingly in the hands of urban forces, and war powers and judicial powers were also passing from the hands of the shaykhs. The new position of mukhtar (village leader) was mandated, creating weaker and more accountable village chiefs.

New patterns of political alliance by Ottoman rulers with town notables (a'yan) and local mukhtars resulted in subtle but critical changes in stratification patterns in Palestine. These changes included the predominance of a single, more cohesive leadership group (urban notables displacing rural shaykhs); more interdependence among different elements of the society; and greater social gaps between the layers of society. Most obvious was the accrual of broad, autonomous powers throughout the countryside by the rising, tax-farming townsmen.

Slowly, there was a drift away from a pattern characterized by wanton intervillage warfare, by nonclass and nonideological cleavages (such as the split between the camps of Qays and Yaman), and by the autonomous power of rural strongmen who had few ties to one another. The new tendency was marked by less fragmentation and a more comprehensive pattern of stratification. The new town notables were developing into a self-conscious social class. Villagers came to be dependent, not on leaders whose power extended over only one or several villages, but on these urban leaders, whose power reached out from the cities to whole networks of villages.

These changes in Arab society were accelerated in the last four decades of the nineteenth century. Ottoman authorities renewed their attempts to strengthen the Empire internally by adopting the successful techniques of the West. There were efforts at political centralization that could lead to increased production and extraction of surplus from the provinces. The aim was to develop strong, centralized political institutions capable of fostering capitalist economic growth, and, in turn, drawing further political and military strength from that economic growth. Reform was not an isolated ploy by the Ottomans, but was almost identical in nature to reform programs undertaken in numerous other countries at the time, such as Mexico, Bolivia, Colombia, and in the colonies of India and Indonesia.

The goal was to increase production without direct investments by the regime. The authorities hoped to use to their advantage new and renewed alliances with those thought to be able to help increase central administrative control of rural areas and able to effect greater economies of scale. In different places these people were called effendis, hacendados, or zamindars. In almost all cases, one of the most critical components in dealing with the perceived threat of the West's capitalism was a change to more so-called "liberal" land tenure laws — laws that greatly aided the regime's new political allies in establishing their predominance.

The Change in Land Tenure

Whether called the ley de desamortización, as in Mexico, or the Tapu Law, as in the Ottoman Empire, the statute had the ultimate effect of undermining the peasants' ability to maintain relatively autarchic, inward-oriented communities. In Palestine, peasants were given the option to demand a permanent division of the village-held land that had previously been redivided every few years (musha'a). Also, the law forbade the periodic redivision of state land (miri), which instead would be held in permanent tenure by the individual. The central aspect of the law was the call for all lands to be officially registered.

What is so interesting about this law is what it reveals about the changing relationship between peasants and government and the ability of new elites to establish themselves between the two. Peasants traditionally had received very little in services from the government and nevertheless had been made to pay a significant share of their incomes as a tithe to the tax-farmers appointed by the Ottoman authorities. Even the minimal service of defense came only intermittently, as we have seen. When the peasants heard of the new Tapu Law, they had two reactions. The first was fear — fear that it was a means to erase their anonymity within the village. They saw the law as an attempt by the government to extract higher taxes from individual households and to draft them into the imperial army.

Their second reaction was that it was possible to maneuver around the law given the usually limited administrative capabilities of the central institutions. In some cases, they continued to work the land jointly but registered it under one or several names such as that of a village elder or a head of a clan (hamula). Frequently, peasants sought the protection of a powerful figure and sold their land or handed it free to a tax-farmer, some other strongman, or a religious foundation (waqf) in return for the right to continue working it. In other cases, they simply neglected to register the lands they were working.

The maneuverings of the fellahin turned out disastrously for them. Unregistered lands were reclaimed by Ottoman authorities, who auctioned them off at incredibly low prices to the urban notables. Where peasants had jointly registered their lands under the name of a single elder, they often found that the elder's heirs later claimed full ownership, thus changing the peasants into mere tenants. Powerful notables also turned peasants into tenants, and religious foundations absorbed lands into their other holdings.

Other techniques were also adopted by the Ottomans in an effort to copy the West's successful formula. Attempts were made, for example, to increase tax rates, to reform tax collection, and to expand the base upon which taxes were levied. It was not overlooked that the British and French used their colonial presence in other parts of the world to increase greatly the amount of collected taxes. One goal was to shift from collection of taxes in kind to collection of money taxes. According to Granott, the tax was fixed on the basis of the average yield for the five previous years. Yearly fluctuations in prices for crops, however, put tremendous economic pressure on the peasants in particular years.

The Changing Structure of Palestinian Society

Ironically, it was not the Ottoman authorities who benefited most from the reforms. Unlike the Western regimes they were trying to imitate, the Empire lacked the capability to achieve significant centralization and administrative penetration. It was characterized by an endemic weakness in administrative control. What it did succeed in doing, however, was changing the social structure in the provinces. Peasants increasingly found the basis of their self-subsistence and autarchic communities slipping from under them. Power was not accruing to officials in Constantinople but increasingly was in the hands of Constantinople's local political allies, the provincial urban leaders.

Demands for taxes in cash, for example, forced peasants to put their produce on the market and often to deal with powerful moneylenders (none other than urban notables, often Christians). There were perfunctory efforts to control the effects of such moneylending through an 1887 law that fixed the maximum rate of interest at 9 percent and that prohibited the amount of interest from exceeding the amount of principal. The Ottoman Agricultural Bank also lent money at an interest rate of 6 percent. In practice, however, interest rates were much higher, and the Ottoman Agricultural Bank could sell the farmer's land to the top bidder if a payment was missed.

In short, through the middle and latter parts of the nineteenth century, the Ottoman authorities shifted the emphasis of their policies in Palestine. Political alliances were forged with a less localistic, urban-based Palestinian elite. Local councils established as part of the reforms came to be dominated by these urban notables. Preeminent families consolidated their influence, controlling critical municipal offices in the towns and gaining control of huge tracts of land in the countryside.

Although the Ottoman policy was not to promote government investment, there was a new emphasis on generating local investment by creating the conditions for greater economies of scale. In some instances, local investment began to be achieved with growing export-oriented agricultural ventures such as large citrus groves. In other cases, the new policies resulted only in the dispossession of the peasants and their change to tenancy status. By the end of Ottoman rule, about one-half the landowning population was short of land and about one-third of all lands were leased to tenants.

Another investment policy was to permit and/or encourage investment by limited numbers of German and Jewish settlers. Some economic growth did result from these investments, and the economic expansion probably did begin to affect the Arab population.

Also important to the structure of Palestinian society was a change in Ottoman security policy in the course of the nineteenth century. Slowly, violence began to be curbed. Efforts were made to prevent Bedouin raids against the settled population. A number of campaigns were launched against private, local armies. Intervillage warfare subsided.

The results of improved security were manifested most explicitly in population issues. First, there was resettlement of the plains and valleys in the center of the country. In fact, a long-term trend of westward shift of population began around i860. New settlements, khirbes, were established in areas that had previously been used only as village security outposts. Dyadic ties were established between original villages and their khirbes in the western, low-lying areas. An increase in missionaries, active foreign consuls, and tourists and travelers also lent security to the country.

Second, the number of Arabs in Palestine began to grow, inaugurating a lasting trend of relatively rapid natural increase. From a low point of about 200,000 Arabs west of the Jordan River in 1800, the numbers grew to about a half million at the turn of the twentieth century. One major outcome of this population growth was a change from labor shortages to land shortages. Especially in the refuges of the rocky hill country, village agriculture was increasingly becoming insufficient to meet the population's needs.

Population growth undermined villages as corporate units. Villages found it more and more difficult to maintain their institutions as there were many more peasants living on much less peasant-owned land. The crucial point is the terrible bind in which poor peasants found themselves. They had viewed the world outside as basically exploitative, extracting much and giving little. The community, located on rocky Palestinian soil, had shielded and protected them from facing that world alone. They had lived under the umbrella of the village organization with the tacit consent of weak governments and powerful notables. The changes emanating from Europe, however, now made the village an inadequate framework. Self-sufficiency was no longer a viable strategy. Their choice was between a now inadequate inward-oriented village or greater ties with the perceived exploitative world outside.

The demographic character of the country was changing significantly, as the population grew, as people migrated from country to city, and as the center of population gravity shifted from east to west. Ottoman reforms did not create political centralization. Instead these policies led to an increase in power of local notables living in the cities. By World War I, they owned great tracts of land in the plains and valleys of Palestine.

The dynamic relationships between politics and society — between the Empire's policies and patterns of stratification and population — are summarized in Table 2.


Excerpted from Palestinian Society and Politics by Joel S. Migdal. Copyright © 1980 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents

  • FrontMatter, pg. i
  • Contents, pg. vii
  • Maps, Figures, and Tables, pg. ix
  • Preface, pg. xi
  • Contributors, pg. xv
  • Introduction, pg. 3
  • Chapter 1. The Two Faces of Ottoman Rule: Palestinian Society before World War I, pg. 9
  • Chapter 2. Direct Contact with the West: The British Mandate, pg. 19
  • Chapter 3. Dispersal and Annexation: Jordanian Rule, pg. 33
  • Chapter 4. Israeli Military Rule: Continuity at the Macro-Level, pg. 45
  • Chapter 5. The Impact on Stratification of Employment in Israel: Change at the Micro-Level, pg. 54
  • Conclusion, pg. 78
  • Appendix. Field Research in an Occupied Territory, pg. 88
  • Introduction, pg. 99
  • Chapter 1. The Office and Functions of the Village Mukhtar, pg. 103
  • Chapter 2. Administrative Policy in Rural Palestine: The Impact of British Norms on Arab Community Life, 1920–1948, pg. 124
  • Chapter 3. West Bank Refugees—Between Camp and Society, pg. 146
  • Chapter 4. Conflictual Pressures and Cooperative Interests: Observations on West Bank-Amman Political Relations, 1949–1967, pg. 169
  • Chapter 5. Politics and Social Change in the West Bank Since 1967, pg. 185
  • Chapter 6. The Dialectics of Palestinian Politics, pg. 212
  • Chapter 7. Legal Protection and Circumvention of Rights for Cultivators in Mandatory Palestine, pg. 233
  • Chapter 8. Peasants into Workmen: Internal Labor Migration and the Arab Village Community under the Mandate, pg. 261
  • Index, pg. 287

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