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Jews of the Diaspora

By the end of the 19th century, Jews of the Diaspora began seriously agitating for a “home in Palestine secured by public law,” in the words of Theodor Herzl, founder of the World Zionist Organization.  A second impetus for Jewish immigration to the region was Russian pogroms.  The Second Aliya, as it was called, lasted from 1903 to 1914, and brought some 30,000 Jews to Palestine .

In 1900, there were about 50,000 Jews living in Palestine, concentrated in 18 settlements of Hovevei Zion.  By the outbreak of the First World War, Palestine was home to between 40 and 50 agricultural settlements, with an estimated Jewish population of 80,000 to 90,000, approximately 14% of the total population of Palestine.  Jews of the DiasporaThe greatest demographic impact of Palestine before WWI was in the city of Jerusalem, where Jews achieved a majority of the population by 1914, numbering some 45,0000 out of a total of 80,000.  Most of the Zionist-sponsored settlements were on the coast and in lower Galilee, and not in Zion itself.

One of the most remarkable aspects of Jewish immigration to Palestine during this period was formal Ottoman opposition.  Officially, Jews were welcome to emigrate to any part of the Ottoman Empire except Palestine.  Most Jews entered into Palestine on pilgrim visas, and then disappeared into the agricultural settlements once their visas ran out.  These settlements agitated many of their Arab neighbors by ignoring traditional Arab agricultural practices, such as fencing off areas, thus curtailing free grazing by Arab-owned animals.

Jewish impact on the rural areas was most profound.  The accomplishments of the settlers alarmed the Arabs.  Jews were able to raise and spend large amounts of money in order to purchase land, as well as establish schools, hospitals, and banks .

Between 1921 and 1925, the Jewish National Fund bought 200,000 dunums (18,000 hectares) of fertile land near Nazareth.  In 1929, an additional 400,000 dunums (36,000 hectares) were purchased in the Besian area of the Jordan Valley.  The total amount of land purchased between 1920 and 1939 was more than 846,000 dunums (76,150 hectares).  Together with the amount of land owned before World War I, the total amount of Jewish land owned in Palestine by 1939 was 1,496,000 dunums (134,775 hectares) .

Under the British Mandate, Jewish wealth poured into Palestine, and estimated 80 million Palestinian pounds between 1920 and 1935.  From this, Jewish settlers moved out of the agricultural sector and into the labor market, affecting the industrial base of Palestine.

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