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The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918

Land Settlement in Palestine

Land Settlement in Palestine.

A great many enquiries are being made by members of all Units in the E. E.F. regarding the prospects of settlement in Palestine after the war. In all campaigns this same desire for settlement has been apparent—the desire is as old as war itself. After the Boer war, a large number of Britishers remained behind in Natal, Transvaal and the Free State; but with few exceptions, the venture, instead of proving lucrative, ended by the settlers returning to their own country, poorer but wiser men. The same desire will lead to the same results in Palestine, unless the principle of

settlement by colonies is adopted. The Jewish system has much to commend it, but it also has its bad points. Before any more comments are made, it will be wise to state that, up to the present time, the ultimate fate of Palestine regarding ownership is unknown. It is a political matter that concerns the Government; and until the disposal of it is finally decided, it is of no use dreaming schemes of settlement. According to the laws and usages of war, the occupation of Enemy territory does not give the invader the right of ownership. As far as possible, the inhabitants of the country are to be allowed to administer their own civic affairs. The form of Government should not be changed, except in cases of Military necessity. The financial administration, although taken over by the invader, is to be carried out under the existing methods. All rates and taxes collected are to be spent on the people and country as previously. The invader has no right to impose extra taxation. This principle we are carrying out in Palestine at present, Roughly, the land in Palestine is divided into the following classes:—

1. Meeri land, i.e. Government land for which the occupier (we will not call him tenant) pays one eighth of his crop in tithes. Sometimes this occupant is shown in Government books as being the holder of Meeri land, but the extent or location is seldom registered. In principle, this land can be seized by the Government at any time, as the occupant has no legal claim; in practice, he is allowed to occupy the land and even hand it down by heritage. The tithes' receipt is accepted as sufficient evidence of "ownership." This land is subject to forfeiture if the tithes are not paid on it for three years. Most of the Palestine land comes under the Meeri heading.
2.Shiflik land is Meeri land that has been forfeited, the owner having failed to cultivate it or pay tithes for three years. The occupier has to pay one fifth of his crop to the Government for this land.
3.Mulk land is freehold which is only acquired by lengthy legal process. This definition applies only to house and garden land, and not to agricultural land.

In addition to tithes, the occupants of Meeri land pay a "wergo" or land tax which runs from a half per cent to one per cent. Approximately the land is taxed as follows: Mulk, 1/2 to I per cent; Meeri, 12 1/2 per cent; Shiflik, 22 1/2 per cent. There is no doubt that the Turkish administration of land is one of the worst systems that could be adopted. In principle, it is wrong, and in practice, the extra burden of ''backsheesh" which permeates the whole of the system makes matters considerably worse. This maladministration has had the effect of greatly depressing the capital value of the land. It has also been responsible for the lack of improvements. Wise agricultural administration should aim at an increased capital value of the land. A complete survey and. sound title, with a central land office where all sales, transfers and mortgages must be registered, is the only way to achieve this object. The result would be homesteads, while improvements would appear and. intense culture be the order of the day. The pernicious system of tithes must disappear and an equitable land tax, based on capital value, be enforced. The Palestine plain should be one big garden, with a capital value of £150 per acre. The Jewish settlements, which exist mainly from sentimental reasons, are examples of what the land will produce. Proximity of the European market, the great demand for fruit and vegetables at Port Said in peace time, and the railway facilities that will be available at the end of the war make the prospects in Southern, Palestine-most favourable. A co-operative colony run on the same lines as Renmark and' Mildura would be a splendid paying proposition, if good Government were instituted. A colony, with each member owning and cultivating his ground, with a co-operative distillery, winery, and flour mill, packing and export sheds, would be a flourishing concern. There is no question, about the fertility of the land. We have seen most excellent crops grown without manure, and with the most primitive cultivation imaginable. Wheat, barley and. millet are the staple crops of Southern Palestine. Barley predominates and yields more in proportion than wheat. Vines, almonds, figs and apricots should: all grow with a maximum yield, The rainfall last year in the Gaza district was 16 inches, and this gradually increases the farther you go North.