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Land of ProgressPalestine in the Age of Colonial Development, 1905-1948$

Jacob Norris

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199669363

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199669363.001.0001

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Toxic Waters Contesting British Development at Haifa and the Dead Sea

Toxic Waters Contesting British Development at Haifa and the Dead Sea

(p.168) 5 Toxic Waters Contesting British Development at Haifa and the Dead Sea
Land of Progress

Jacob Norris

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Chapter Five addresses the backlash against Britain’s selective approach to colonial development, focusing on Haifa and the Dead Sea as important sites of Arab Palestinian contestation to British rule. In Haifa, the rapid emergence of an Arab proletarian underclass meant that the city became a focal point of unrest in the second half of the mandate years, especially during the national revolt of 1936–39. At the Dead Sea, meanwhile, a similar opposition existed which was expressed at various levels, ranging from an international legal challenge, to Arab nationalist protest, to the efforts of a locally based Arab entrepreneur, Ibrahim Hazboun, to be included in Britain’s Dead Sea development scheme. The final stages of the chapter complete this picture by detailing the violence that erupted at Haifa and the Dead Sea during the dying days of British rule, leaving these once exemplary imperial achievements mired in destruction by 1948—potent symbols of the failures of British development.

Keywords:   Palestine, British Mandate, Haifa, Dead Sea, colonial development, Arab Revolt, 1948, Arab-Israeli conflict

Ultimately, Britain's reliance on Jews as the middlemen of colonial development, to the exclusion of the Arab population, proved unsustainable in Palestine. In a region so gripped by the notion of national sovereignty it now appears naïve to believe the Arab population could be denied the fruits of development without serious repercussions. At the close of the First World War when this basic approach was first formulated, British policymakers inhabited a different world of values and assumptions. They paid lip service to the principle of national self-determination that was built into the new mandates system, but the belief that Europeans occupied a higher civilizational plane and therefore retained the right, if not the duty, to mould colonial societies in their own self-image remained the thrust behind policymaking. What the new imperialists in Whitehall fundamentally failed to grasp in the Middle East, as in many other areas of the world, were the seismic shifts in local politics that were already in motion before they wrestled the area from Ottoman control. In the Arab territories of the Ottoman Empire a new generation of politicians, intellectuals, and merchants increasingly asserted their right, especially after 1908, to play an active part in economic and political modernization. Whether this was framed in terms of ‘nationalism’ (a difficult concept to define in the pre-British era), greater Arab representation within the Ottoman polity, or simply local merchants demanding a role in urban development, the idea of local agency was firmly embedded in the region's political and economic landscape by 1917.

As Britain struggled to gain control of Palestine during the First World War, government ministers in Whitehall were keen to utilize the concept of Arab national self-determination as a propagandistic device designed to bolster the war effort.1 Once the mandate began in earnest, however, Arab political and economic aspirations were quickly frustrated and the increasingly vociferous opposition to British rule that ensued appears inevitable from today's vantage point. British policymakers did gradually grasp this point and consequently made efforts to backtrack as the mandate progressed, promising to place stricter limits on Jewish (p.169) immigration and pay closer attention to Arab poverty. But the fundamentals of British rule had been established and could not be challenged without undermining the basis of the mandate as laid down at the League of Nations. Aware that Britain desired neither to relinquish its control over Palestine nor to write off its commitment to establishing a ‘Jewish National Home’ in the country, popular Arab opposition reached unprecedented levels during the mid 1930s. The Arab revolt of 1936–9 shook British rule in Palestine to the core, provoking at first a brutal military response and later a more serious attempt to appease Arab public opinion both in Palestine and the wider region. The latter of these responses arrived in the form of the 1939 White Paper which reversed the previous recommendations of partition, restricted Jewish immigration to 75,000 over a five-year period, and gave a more concrete timetable for the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

From this moment, it could be argued that British policy was focused on how best to relinquish power without giving up the hard-won achievements of colonial development, above all the naval base in Haifa. In Transjordan this strategy was pursued from an earlier date and with much greater success with the assistance of the perennially British-friendly Hashemite monarchy. A similar picture emerged in Iraq, where the Middle East's first transition from a mandate territory to a nominally independent state took place in 1932 (also under Hashemite auspices), but not before Britain had secured lasting access to the country's oil reserves and use of the country's infrastructure for military purposes. But in Palestine a more complex situation had emerged by the late 1930s which rendered the protection of British colonial development far more difficult. Not surprisingly, the Zionist community vehemently opposed the White Paper of 1939 and by the time the truce imposed by the Second World War had passed, a full-scale Jewish rebellion was underway. Ultimately, this protracted campaign of violence and political non-cooperation proved the final breaking point for British rule in Palestine. In February of 1947 Britain publicly announced its intention to terminate the mandate, and by April it had formally requested that the United Nations (UN) take over the burden of deciding Palestine's future.

Rather than a knee-jerk reaction to the pressures of Zionist rebellion, Britain's decision to relinquish control over Palestine should be viewed as the product of its long-term policy failures. The gradual disempowerment of the Arab population had engendered opposition on such a scale that the mandatory power was eventually forced to retreat from its pro-Zionist stance at the end of the 1930s. This in turn elicited outrage and open rebellion among a Zionist community whose expectations had risen immeasurably in the two decades of British control over Palestine. In short, Britain's original commitment to supporting the creation of the Jewish National Home had produced a society so divided that governing the country as one unit was no longer tenable. This is not to say that the British government did not continue to work to ensure the best possible outcome for its imperial interests. Throughout the period 1946–9 the approach of Prime Minister Clement Attlee and his foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, to ‘decolonization’ in Palestine was based on the protection of British interests in Transjordan and Iraq, and on maintaining (p.170) the alliance with the United States—now viewed as indispensable to the continuation of British influence in the region.2 At the same time the British government worked hard both in the run-up to the 1948–9 Arab-Israeli War and during the war itself, to ensure any future state in Palestine was not overtly hostile to Britain. While the British Labour government has been widely vilified in Zionist historiography as attempting to prevent the emergence of an independent Israel, the reality is that Britain's principal objective was to maximize the territorial gains made by Transjordan during the war.3 Indeed, this was an objective that frequently complemented those of Israel during the war, as both sides worked to prevent the formation of an independent Arab Palestinian state under the leadership of Haj Amin al-Husseini—the Palestinians’ decidedly anti-British leader-in-exile.4

Within this wider context, this chapter discusses the specific ways in which the issue of colonial development stood at the centre of the struggle for Palestine that progressively intensified during the 1930s and 1940s. In particular, it examines the ways in which Britain's projects of imperial infrastructure and resource extraction became a focal point for Palestinian Arab resistance—both symbolically and physically. In the broad array of historical literature that describes the Arab Palestinian national movement in the mandate period, the great majority of the attention has focused on the movement's objections to Zionist colonization. In these descriptions Britain usually appears as a secondary target of Arab discontent, as it was seen to be providing the imperial protection for that colonization to be carried out. While this approach has shed a great deal of light on the Arab Palestinian struggle, it also misses some of its most salient characteristics.5 Arab Palestinians in the interwar years were not only engaged in a narrowly defined confrontation with the Zionist movement; they were also highly attuned to a broader narrative of anti-imperialist politics that was replicated all over the colonial world in the same period. Especially prominent in the Muslim world, this narrative placed a high degree of importance on the concept of national economic sovereignty, and in particular the right of a country's inhabitants to enjoy the economic benefits of its natural resources. While the resultant sense of disempowerment was often expressed within a Muslim discourse of jihād (religious struggle), the underlying issue at (p.171) stake was an politico-economic one. Increasingly, from the late 19th century onwards, European commercial interests had gained the concessionary rights to these resources as first Muslim imperial governments and then the newer European colonial regimes parcelled out the region's natural wealth to western companies. As has already been seen in previous chapters, the basic idea of implementing large-scale industries that could exploit nature for economic gain was usually whole-heartedly endorsed by intellectuals and activists who opposed such western influence. What they viewed as unacceptable was that executive control over these projects and access to the economic profits they produced was in the hands of foreign commercial interests.

Following the pattern established earlier in the book, this chapter uses Haifa and the Dead Sea as the two most salient examples of colonial development and the opposition it engendered. Alongside the natural resources themselves, a crucial part of Arab oppositional discourse centred on the lines of communication that made the extraction and export of raw materials possible. For this reason, the first section of the chapter focuses on Haifa and its centrality to the anti-British unrest that took hold among the Arab community throughout the 1930s and 1940s. As the spatial locale where Palestine's ‘natural treasures’ were physically exported out of the country, Haifa took on an important symbolic position in the Arab anti-colonial struggle. In addition, it was an obvious and frequent target for those people involved directly with the rebel movement. The network of British imperial infrastructure that radiated out from Haifa—the harbour, railways, roads, airports, and oil pipeline—were subjected to constant sabotage during the latter stages of the mandate and therefore much of this chapter focuses on such episodes. Following on from this, the second section looks at contestations to the British-Zionist development project at the Dead Sea. Unlike Haifa, virtually nothing has been written about the Dead Sea potash works from this point of view, meaning that this section provides the bulk of the chapter's analysis in order to give a more complete account of events there. In contrast to PPL's assertions of a peaceful and uncontested transition to industrial modernity at the Dead Sea, the company was in fact marred by constant attempts to undermine its authority. These came in three distinct forms, all of which are discussed here: a legal challenge based on the old Ottoman concession, opposition voiced through Arab nationalist discourse, and the thwarted attempts of a local Arab businessman to be included in the Dead Sea development project. Finally, the chapter concludes by looking at the vicious cycle of violence that engulfed Palestine in 1947–9, a period that saw Britain retreat in haste from the toxic waters of the Palestine Mandate, leaving both Haifa and the Dead Sea to become key battlegrounds in the ensuing rounds of Arab-Zionist conflict.

i. Haifa and the Arab struggle against British colonial development

All over Palestine, colonial development produced distinct winners and losers, but in Haifa the disparity was all the more visible due to the high concentration of British imperial activity. By the mid-1930s the city had become the epicentre of Palestinian resistance to British rule, as well as a frequent site of violence between (p.172) Arabs and Jews—a position it largely retained up to and during the long war for Palestine that unfolded between 1947 and 1949. A large part of the reason for Haifa's prominence as a site of contestation was its status as Palestine's largest port and therefore the hub of the country's immigration, weapons smuggling, and contact with the outside world at large. Also important, however, was the web of industry and infrastructure that had grown up around the port and stretched out into the surrounding countryside. Not only did this make the city and its hinterland a prime target in any attempt to subvert British control over the country, but it also meant that the numbers of poor, potentially restless, urban workers were far higher in Haifa than anywhere else in Palestine.

The creation of a new Committee on Development in 1940 followed by the appointment in 1943 of a ‘reconstruction commissioner’ suggests the Colonial Office was finally waking up to the danger of urban deprivation in Palestine. These initiatives, set against the backdrop of the empire-wide Colonial Development and Welfare Act of 1940, produced a number of urban development schemes aimed at improving housing conditions in towns and villages all over the country.6 The disruption caused by the Second World War and the hastily arranged British departure from Palestine soon after make it difficult to judge the effects of these schemes. More importantly, however, the alienation experienced by the Arab population towards colonial development had already produced irreparable damage to Palestinian society by 1940, particularly in a city like Haifa. Dissatisfied with the disparity between Jewish and Arab wages and working conditions, Arab workers were increasingly expressing their discontent by the early 1930s.7 One of the best-known cases of Arab industrial unrest in this period occurred at the Nesher cement quarries in 1932, when the Arab labour force went on strike in protest against their 12-hour working day and daily wage of between 8 and 12 piastres (as opposed to Jewish workers in the cement factory, who earned 30 to 35 piastres for an 8-hour day).8 Interestingly in this case, the connections between Haifa and Britain's other major colonial development project, the Dead Sea, were highlighted in the Arabic press, which described the support shown by Arab Dead Sea workers for the Nesher strikes. The Jaffa-based paper al-Jami‘a al-Islamiyya, for example, reported that ‘Arab workers employed in the Dead Sea Works have sent money to the strikers in the Nesher factory’.9

Putting the finer details of these protests to one side, the bigger picture indicates that the Jewish population fared considerably better than the Arab one at (p.173) every level of British colonial development, from manual labourers to the chief executives of concessionary companies. This was reflected in the Arab-Jewish competition over government-appointed jobs at the new harbour in Haifa. From the late 1920s onwards both sides attempted to maximize the jobs allocated to their respective communities, but it was Zionist lobbyists who achieved far greater success. In 1929, for example, the Young Men's Muslim Association (YMMA) and the Mohammedan Society of Haifa repeatedly probed government officials for Muslims to be given their ‘fair share’ of the newly created civil service jobs at the harbour, based on the fact that Muslims paid the largest share of government taxes.10 The chief secretary was quick to rebuff these demands, replying that ‘government officers are appointed without regard to their religion’.11 Yet the government's dealings with Zionist leaders regarding the port labour force suggest otherwise. On 13 August 1931, for example, the director of the Treasury in Palestine, W. J. Johnson, met with the head of the Jewish Agency, Haim Arlozoroff, to discuss the composition of the workforce at the Haifa port. Johnson informed Arlozoroff of his desire that more Jews be hired but warned him of the difficulties in firing the pre-existing Arab labourers there. As an alternative, Johnson noted that Jewish labour could be most easily hired in the nearby Atlit quarries, where building materials were mined for the new harbour. He went on to suggest in secret that new quarries be opened to allow the further employment of Jews.12 In this way the Histadrut was able to assign its workers hundreds of new jobs connected to the construction of the harbour, even though the majority of these jobs were not at the port itself. By the time the harbour was completed in 1933 the government had agreed to grant the Jewish community a guaranteed share of 30 to 33 per cent of the labour employed on public works, based on the very same rationale it had rejected in correspondence with the Mohammedan Society: although Jews made up only 18 per cent of the population, their contribution to public revenue was an estimated 37 per cent, and it was on this basis that they were promised roughly a third of government jobs.13

At the harbour itself the unequal treatment afforded to Jews and Arabs by the government was underlined by the disparity in their pay. On average the port authorities in Haifa paid Arab labourers 30–50 per cent less than their Jewish counterparts.14 Government agencies were prone to explain this in terms of differing standards of living between the two communities, but it was also the product of specific disadvantages in the Arab labour market. Through the Histadrut, trade union membership among the Jewish working class was almost universal, whereas (p.174) for Arabs it remained a rarity in most fields of work until the 1940s. The Histadrut itself frequently sought to represent Arab workers during the mandate period, and even established the Palestine Labour League (PLL) in 1932 as its auxiliary organization for Arab workers. But as Lockman has shown, the Histadrut remained defiantly opposed to the full incorporation of Arab workers into its ranks as equal members, and the creation of the PLL was in fact designed to forestall any such eventuality, as well as to pre-empt the efforts of Arab trade unions.15 Ultimately, the Histadrut remained a Zionist organization committed to the long-term goal of creating a Jewish state in Palestine and, in the short term, the principle of ‘Hebrew labour’, which involved the penetration of Jewish workers into all sectors of the economy. In this way, unskilled Arab labourers in Haifa received intermittent representation from the PLL, but this relationship, by its very nature, was fraught with contradictions and was incapable of challenging the basic disparity in working conditions between Arabs and Jews. At the same time the largest Arab trade union, the Palestine Arab Workers Society (PAWS), was centred in Haifa and frequently sought to represent the unskilled labour force at the docks and elsewhere. But the ineffectiveness of PAWS in securing improvements in the working conditions of its members has also been well documented and is demonstrated by the fact that many Arab workers preferred to press their claims through the Histadrut-controlled PLL.16 Meanwhile, the Arab labourers from the Hauran and Egypt—the silent majority of workers at the port for much of the mandate period—received no trade union representation whatsoever.

As a result of the very limited protection afforded to Arab workers in Palestine, there was often no safety net for blue-collar workers and their families. At the bottom end of the spectrum this produced a highly disenfranchised Arab underclass in Haifa in the 1920s and 1930s.17 Most of them were migrant workers escaping rising poverty and landlessness in rural areas and attracted by the city's mushrooming economy.18 Many of them were forced to return to the poverty of village life or live in the city's new slum areas such as Ard al-Raml, described in the 1937 Peel Commission report as ‘the collection of “shacks” on the outskirts of Haifa, opprobriously known as “Tin Town”’.19 Unsurprisingly, then, Haifa became a hotbed of Arab discontent in the 1930s in a manner different to the Jewish rebellion that emerged later in the 1940s. While Jewish opposition was the result of frustrated political demands (mostly relating to the shrinking immigration quotas imposed by Britain), Arabs in Haifa found themselves excluded from the fruits of colonial development in a way that the Jewish population never experienced. It is true that some Arab Palestinians were able to profit from colonial development in the city, and in some cases the exploitation of unskilled labour was carried out just as (p.175) ruthlessly by Arab contractors as it was by British or Jewish ones.20 But compared to the dense web of Jewish industry and enterprise that had grown up around the city, the benefits that colonial development brought to the Arab community appeared few and far between. ‘Curse the day that this prosperity arrived [in Haifa]’, bemoaned the Arabic language paper Filastin in 1930, injecting bitter irony into the ‘prosperity’ (rakhā ʾ ) of British rule.21 When Arabs in the city looked around them, they may well have been inclined to agree. At every level of the development process Jews were better paid and better represented compared to their Arab counterparts.

Scanning through the available sources, Arab Palestinian discontent over colonial development in Haifa seems to have cut across social hierarchies, and is found equally prominently in the political classes as it is among the poorer labouring classes. In intellectual circles the enthusiasm towards colonial development in the late Ottoman period quickly turned sour during the mandate when it became apparent that the principal motivation behind British policies was imperialistic rather than serving the needs of the local population. By the 1930s the enthusiasm of Ottoman-era reformists such as Ruhi al-Khalidi and Rashid Rida for new infrastructure and lines of communication had given way to deep-seated opposition to British- and French-led development in the region. At the international Islamic congress held in Jerusalem in 1931, for example, the call to restore the Hejaz Railway to Muslim control became a rallying cry of the conference after the French authorities had unexpectedly seized control of the train station in Damascus earlier the same week.22 Six years later the first pan-Arab conference on Palestine was convened in Bludan, Syria, in opposition to the British Peel Commission report, which had recommended the partition of the country. As part of this conference a Financial and Economic Committee was established that laid emphasis on the infrastructural advantages accrued by the Zionist movement under British protection, and the dangers of ‘a Jewish state occupying the sea coasts of the Mediterranean’. According to the Committee's report, there was a grave possibility that such a state would include ‘most important sea ports, which link the Arab countries to one another … These ports will thus enable the Jewish state to safeguard Jewish interests and satisfy the cupidity of the Jewish nation.’23

Against this backdrop it comes as little surprise that British imperial infrastructure in and around Haifa became a particular target of opposition for the Arab political classes. One of the most prominent attendees at both the 1931 Islamic congress and the 1937 Bludan congress was Shakib Arslan, a man who had taken on the role of Palestine and Syria's unofficial representative at the League of (p.176) Nations in Geneva following his enforced exile from the French Mandate in Syria. The journal Arslan co-edited, La Nation Arabe, frequently voiced its opposition to the development projects in Haifa. As one article declared in 1930: ‘The construction of the port in Haifa is nothing but an application of a general plan for the British colonization of the Arab countries, for which all the material and equipment must be ordered in England.’24 As has already been documented here, the frequent awarding of engineering contracts in Haifa to British companies shows that Arslan had a point. Historian Barbara Smith has also highlighted this aspect of British policy in Palestine, demonstrating, for example, that the 1926 loan for the Haifa harbour came with the stipulation that all equipment had to be purchased within the British Empire.25

Importantly for pan-Arab and pan-Islamic activists like Arslan, British profiteering from development in Haifa was placed within a much broader framework that emphasized the ‘confiscation’ of the region's key infrastructural routes by the French and British colonial powers. These included the electricity and tramway concessions in Aleppo, Homs, Hama, and Tripoli, as well as France's appropriation of the Ottoman-built Hejaz Railway.26 Likewise, Arabic newspaper editors within Palestine wrote scathing appraisals of the motives behind British development in Haifa, placing the city's modernization within a wider picture of imperialist expansion. Filastin warned its readers of the ‘crouching British lion’ (rabaḍa al-asad al-brīṭānī), which had so often in the past used ‘expeditionary pretexts before staying on to pursue its own financial interests … so that Haifa will become a centre of projects worth millions that will also yield millions’.27 In this light Filastin pointed to other examples as a harbinger for Haifa: ‘Today Yemen laments Aden, while the Suez Canal allows Britain to claim ownership over Sudan and maintain a military force in Egypt … will Haifa suffer the same fate as these lost cities that preceded it?’28

Coupled with the focus on Haifa in Arab political discourse was the city's importance as a site of more popular resistance against British policies. Again, the specific connections between colonial development and Arab Palestinian opposition are clearly visible in this field, particularly in areas of the city where an industrial yet highly disenfranchised Arab workforce had rapidly emerged. The proliferation of new nationalist societies at the end of the 1920s and beginning of the 1930s proved adept at recruiting this sector of Haifa's society to their ranks. In Haifa the newly formed young men's societies proved especially successful in this regard, profiting from the disillusionment felt towards the Arab political elites, as represented by the Arab Executive, which continued to espouse dialogue with the British authorities. The Mohammedan Society, for example, was quick to organize potential workers for the construction of the new harbour, publishing a notice (p.177) in 1929 that called upon those wishing to work on the project to register their names with the Society. In April of that year the Society informed the mandate government that nearly 2,000 Muslim young men had signed up to the scheme, many of them ‘in a desperate state and incapable of securing their living and that of their families’.29 Similarly, the Young Men's Muslim Association found the harbour workforce to be fertile ground for recruitment. Originally established in Egypt, the YMMA was active all over Palestine by 1928, but nowhere more so than in Haifa where it organized workers in the harbour expansion project from 1929 onwards.30 Most famously, Sheikh ‘Izz al-Din al-Qassam came to dominate the Haifa YMMA in the early 1930s, using the society as a platform for a new style of political activism that, unlike the Arab Executive, directed its opposition as much against British imperial rule as it did against Zionism. Al-Qassam, formerly a chaplain with the Ottoman army at the military school in Damascus, had been exiled by the French Mandate authorities in Syria following his involvement in the 1921 Syrian uprising. Settling in Haifa in the mid 1920s, his work at the YMMA was supplemented by his role as a preacher and registrar at the Istiqlal Mosque, where he combined an emphasis on Sufi mysticism with an increasingly militant stance towards British imperialism in Palestine.31

Al-Qassam's success in recruiting followers should be viewed within the specific conditions in and around Haifa in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Here Ted Swedenburg's parallel between al-Qassam's success in Haifa and Hasan al-Banna's early recruitment of Muslim Brotherhood followers in the Canal Zone in Egypt is instructive.32 It was precisely because Haifa had experienced the extremes of colonial development more intensely than any other city in Palestine that a more radicalized form of opposition to British rule emerged there. At no time was this connection between colonial development and Arab discontent more apparent than during the rebellion that swept the entire country from 1936 to 1939, which was largely initiated in and around Haifa. Yazbak is one of the few historians to have drawn a direct link between the economic downturn in Haifa's economy that occurred in 1935 and the subsequent outbreak of Arab insurrection and civil disobedience the following year.33 In particular, the end of the construction boom in Haifa in 1935, coupled with the consolidation of the Histadrut's ‘Hebrew labour’ programme, left thousands of Arab workers jobless, especially among the rural migrant population. It was in this context that the likes of al-Qassam were able (p.178) to recruit from the city's urban poor and the surrounding villages of the Galilee. As one British police officer, Edward Horne, described the rebel Arab army: ‘the quality of the volunteers was questionable. Some to be sure were ex-soldiers, but by far the majority were unemployed labourers.’34

In the events leading up to the outbreak of full-scale rebellion, the paramilitary activities of al-Qassam's ‘Black Hand’ group (al-Kaff al-Aswad) against Zionist and British targets in the Haifa district has been well documented.35 Equally documented is the importance of al-Qassam's widely attended funeral in Haifa, following his death at the hands of British forces in November 1935, as a rallying cry for further Arab resistance to British rule.36 Less emphasized in the historiography, however, is the specific targeting of British lines of communication during the Arab rebellion and the ways in which this reflects the centrality of natural resources and infrastructure in the struggle for Palestine. In the run-up to the revolt, the activities of the Black Hand frequently sought to damage the train lines around Haifa as a way of disrupting colonial development in the most imperially significant district of British Palestine. This trend quickly intensified once full-scale revolt against British rule broke out in April 1936. A consistent feature of the accounts of British policemen and military personnel serving in Palestine during the early stages of the revolt are the attempts of Arab rebels to derail trains and sabotage the IPC pipeline.37 As a result of this targeting of imperial infrastructure, security personnel were quickly stationed all along the pipeline as well as at several key rail junctions, placing great strain on British resources in Palestine.38 Meanwhile in Haifa itself, the disruption caused by Arab strikes at the harbour was a cause of grave concern to the mandate government. Despite the efforts of the Histadrut to provide replacement Jewish labour at the docks, trade at the port decreased during the revolt, provoking much discussion between government departments.39

In October 1936 a combination of political concessions, international diplomacy, and the threat of martial law succeeded in calling off the strikes and imposing an uneasy calm across the country.40 But tensions had flared up again by autumn of the following year, especially after the publication of the Peel Commission report, whose recommendation that Palestine be divided into separate Jewish (p.179) and Arab states was widely rejected in the Arab community. As with most British proposals for a political solution to the Palestine problem, the Peel Commission partition plan included the stipulation that ‘the Holy Places of Jerusalem and Bethlehem with the port of Haifa would be retained in enclaves under direct Mandatory administration’.41 The stated reason for this was the mixed Arab-Jewish demographics of these areas, but the report also pointed out that Haifa was the site of the country's principal harbour, which had cost £1.25 million to build and was also the ‘seaward terminus’ of the IPC pipeline.42 Furthermore, the specific inclusion of other vital strategic sites in the envisaged British-controlled zone, such as the airport at Lydda and the Gulf of Aqaba, suggests the motivations behind the Peel Commission's recommendations were not entirely born of demographic considerations. While the government in Whitehall now sought a way out of the logistical nightmare of governing Palestine, the message behind the Peel plan was clear: the most important zones of colonial development would remain firmly under British command.

In this escalating struggle over the key sites of colonial development, the infrastructure around Haifa was targeted as never before during the second phase of the Arab Revolt, the beginning of which was signalled by the assassination of the Galilee district commissioner, Lewis Andrews, on 26 September 1937. From his headquarters in Haifa, the British district commissioner for northern Palestine, Edward Keith-Roach, witnessed the aftermath of the Andrews assassination first-hand: ‘there was a lull for some days. Then the airport at Lydda was attacked, and trains were mined and many people killed.’43 He goes on to catalogue dozens of rebel attacks on the infrastructure surrounding Haifa (see Figure 6) and the increasingly brutal responses meted out by the British authorities. In one description of rebel activities in 1938 he summarizes: ‘The telephone lines were sabotaged on 700 occasions and the railway and roads on 340. The Iraq Petroleum Company pipeline was damaged at an average rate of twice a week.’44 In response, the British government in London dispatched record numbers of military personnel to Palestine (around 20,000 troops by the end of 1938) in order to protect the great arteries of empire that criss-crossed their way through the country. In the brutal counter-insurgency campaign that followed, the widespread resort to collective punishment, torture, and mass arrests was supplemented by greater protection of the country's infrastructure than ever before.45 Most notoriously, Arab prisoners were frequently placed in small, open-air wagons attached to the front of trains in order to ‘take the blow’ should any acts of sabotage be encountered on the railways.46 As one British private recollected: ‘If there was any land mines it was them [the Arab prisoner] that hit them. Rather a dirty trick, but we enjoyed it.’47 By the end of the revolt the country had been placed in military lock-down, with thousands (p.180)

                     Figure 6. Overturned locomotive on Lydda–Jerusalem railroad, 20 December 1938

Figure 6. Overturned locomotive on Lydda–Jerusalem railroad, 20 December 1938

Source: Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

of Arabs imprisoned without trial and hundreds sentenced to execution by the military courts.48

At stake in this asymmetrical warfare were not just the competing Zionist-Arab claims to national sovereignty; rather, it was also a conflict over the continued implementation of British colonial development in Palestine. The rebel attacks on the airport in Lydda, mentioned in Keith-Roach's previous description, were a case in point. Given the airport's importance as a regional centre of British communications, it seems almost inevitable it would be targeted. Tellingly, when rebel fighters penetrated the site in October 1937, they took care to burn down the Customs and Passport Offices as well as the wireless installation.49 Equally as revealing was the determination of British authorities that colonial development would ‘not be deterred by such incidents’.50 In the wake of the airport attack, the colonial secretary, Ormbsy-Gore, quickly dismissed suggestions in Parliament that a new location should be found for an airport, reminding MPs that ‘the present site was selected after the most careful consideration of all the circumstances’.51 Placed on 24-hour military guard after this point, the Lydda airport was quickly rebuilt, emerging once more as Britain's aviation capital of the region.

(p.181) ii. Contesting British development at the Dead Sea

Alongside Haifa, the Dead Sea represented the pinnacle of British colonial development in Palestine, celebrated as ‘an oasis of civilised life, set in a vast, barren landscape’.52 Behind this façade of British-Zionist achievement, however, the Dead Sea development was fraught with tension from start to finish. As the project took shape in the late 1920s and early 1930s a wide range of oppositional voices emerged, some of which constituted serious challenges to the project's very existence. During the interwar years the issue of natural resources and their appropriation at the hands of westerners became a major feature of political debate in the new ‘Middle East’, where the mining of petroleum resources had intensified considerably since the first discovery of oil at Abadan in 1908. The Dead Sea development, and the opposition it elicited, should be viewed firmly within this context. The area around the lake was initially seen as a promising potential source of petroleum, and multiple prospecting missions were dispatched there during the mandate years. While none of these bore fruit, the realization that other types of minerals contained in the lake's waters could be extracted and sold on a highly profitable basis sparked a great rush to gain the commercial rights to the Dead Sea.

It comes as little surprise, therefore, that once the Dead Sea concession was awarded to a Zionist-run company, objections were quickly articulated against the decision through a series of channels. Collectively, the protests elevated the lake's status in Arab Palestinian consciousness to that of Palestine's principal source of natural wealth, which was now being expropriated at the hands of British imperialism. This section of the chapter describes these protests in detail as a means of further demonstrating the highly contested nature of British colonial development and its centrality to oppositional discourse in Arab Palestine. Three separate strands of the opposition are discussed here: the international legal challenge based around the original Ottoman Dead Sea concession, the outcry among Arab political elites, and the aspiration of local actors to play a role in the Dead Sea development. Together, these contestations provide an important corrective to the claim that only westerners were interested in transforming the lake into a site of industrial modernity.

The ‘Ottoman’ challenge

In Chapter One the rising Ottoman interest in commercially exploiting the waters of the Dead Sea was described. Once Britain took over administration of Palestine this Ottoman legacy was wilfully ignored as both British government bodies and the British media propagated the idea that an entirely new age of development was being embarked upon. This was especially the case at the Dead Sea, where, according to The Manchester Guardian, British-Zionist development was ‘defying the tradition of the ages’.53 When it came to putting the government's Dead Sea plans into (p.182) action, however, officials in Palestine and politicians in London quickly discovered that Ottoman-era interest in the Dead Sea could not be so easily overlooked.

As with some of the other public works concessions in Palestine, most notably the Rutenburg electricity concessions, claimants to a previous Ottoman contract quickly stepped forward to press their rights in the newly internationalized legal arena. In the case of the Dead Sea, it was the firman issued by Sultan Mehmed V in 1911 that formed the basis of a major legal challenge to Britain's authority over the commercial exploitation of the lake. Under this agreement, three Ottoman subjects, Djindjöz Bey, Zuad Bey, and Djenab Chehabeddin Bey were granted permission to extract bromine from the lake under the condition that their work begin within two years. When they failed to meet this condition, Mehmed issued an irade (imperial command) annulling the concession on 19 January 1915. Despite this, the original concession holders succeeded in selling their rights some seven years later to the former private secretary to the Ottoman minister of finance, Nissim Russo. Ironically, as a prominent Jewish member of the Ottoman government, Russo had been courted in 1910 by British and Jewish speculators in their efforts to win the Jerusalem public works concession. Now in the 1920s Russo became an opponent of Zionist development as he initiated the process by which the British Dead Sea concession was challenged. After purchasing the rights to the Ottoman irade, Russo followed the pattern witnessed during the late Ottoman Empire by which locally based entrepreneurs sought to attract foreign investors to purchase public works concessions. In this task he was quickly able to sell a controlling share of his concession to a British businessman, William Maitland Edwards, who promptly embarked on a long struggle to have the Ottoman firman recognized by the Colonial Office.54

In much the same way that Martin Bunton has argued that British land policy in Palestine had to be constantly ‘negotiated’, the challenge mounted by the inheritors of the Ottoman Dead Sea concession demonstrates that colonial development could not simply be imposed at will.55 In 1925 Edwards’ campaign against the Colonial Office was boosted by the news that one of the original concession holders, Djindjöz Bey, had obtained recognition from the Turkish Department of Mining that the cancellation of the concession in 1915 was invalid due to wartime restrictions on carrying out work at the Dead Sea.56 Unsure of its obligations in the face of previous Ottoman concessions, the Colonial Office sought to counter this challenge from a legal standpoint rather than dismiss the claims outright. The argument constructed was that under the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne signed with the new Turkish regime in 1923, such claims did not survive the surrender of Turkish sovereignty in Palestine.57 The Colonial Office insisted that the all-important Protocol XII of the (p.183) Treaty only covered the rights of Allied nationals who had been granted concessions during the Ottoman period. Although the Ottoman concession was now partly in the hands of British nationals, government officials pointed out that the original concession had been awarded to non-Allied, Ottoman nationals. A series of complex debates ensued, revolving around the date by which Ottoman concessions had to have passed into the hands of Allied nationals for them to claim protection under Protocol XII. In essence, the legal advisors to the Colonial Office maintained that the mandate regimes in the former Ottoman territories had no obligation to honour any concession that had not passed into the hands of Allied nationals by 30 October 1918, thus excluding the Edwards–Russo group.58

What stands out most from the discussions is the uncertainty of the Colonial Office and the Palestine government. The existence of similar cases in Palestine only seemed to confirm the need for caution when dealing with previous concessions given by the Ottomans. Firstly, in the case of the Rutenberg electricity concessions, the PCIJ had in 1925 ruled in favour of Mavrommatis, a Greek national (but former Ottoman citizen) whose rights to an older Ottoman electricity concession in Jerusalem had been obstructed by the Rutenberg deal.59 The Palestine government subsequently did everything in its power to frustrate Mavrommatis’ commercial ambitions in Palestine, and when his financial backers withdrew he was forced to sell his electricity rights to a Jewish-backed group, which later established the Jerusalem Electrical Company.60 Nevertheless, the PCIJ ruling had set a dangerous and embarrassing legal precedent, and the Colonial Office was henceforth eager to avoid any repeat performance. In a separate case, meanwhile, the Colonial Office had decided to prevent Rutenberg from operating in the Huleh swamplands in the north of Palestine on the basis that permission to develop these lands had been granted to Arab Palestinians under a previous Ottoman concession in 1914.61 In its decision to uphold this earlier concession, the Palestine government seemed to have established a worrying example for the claims to an Ottoman Dead Sea concession.62 These two precedents led the Colonial Office into a state of paralysis, aware that Ottoman claims could not be easily dismissed, but simultaneously unwilling to allow its own ambitions at the Dead Sea to be compromised. As Ormsby-Gore informed his colleagues in the Colonial Office: ‘if we want to avoid another Rutenberg–Mavrommatis business we must make very sure of our procedure.’63

In the meantime, Edwards had managed to attract further financial support from a businessman in the City of London, Khusroo Dorad Vacha, who was a British subject of Madagascan origin.64 Vacha then utilized his own business (p.184) connections to secure the participation of a consortium of powerful French industrialists, including Paul-André Kiener, a director of the well-known Alsace textile manufacturers, Kiener Brothers. On 14 May 1930, the new French grouping formed the Syndicat Français des Potasses de la Mer Morte (SFPMM), with the major French (formerly German) potash company, the Société Commerciale des Potasses d’Alsace (SCPA), rumoured to be supporting the enterprise. Meanwhile, Vacha established a sister company in London, the Madagascar Mining Syndicate Ltd, to enable the group to press its claims against the Colonial Office in Britain.65

Suddenly Britain's ability to secure an independent source of potash in the empire was being threatened as the claims to an Ottoman concession were now supported by the world's second-largest potash industry. No longer a local colonial concern, the Dead Sea now became submerged in wider European imperial rivalry over natural resources in the former Ottoman Middle East—a rivalry that was simultaneously manifesting itself in the dispute over the Iraqi oil pipeline. In the spring of 1930 the Quai d’Orsay began to ratchet up the tension by voicing its support for the SFPMM and suggesting that, as a member state of the League of Nations, France might take the case to the PCIJ in The Hague.66 The Colonial Office now faced its worse-case scenario: a repeat performance of the defeat at The Hague over the Rutenberg concessions, and the possibility of losing control over Dead Sea mineral extraction to the French potash industry and the wider European potash cartel.

In response to these developments, the British Foreign Office made an offer of arbitration to the French government as a means of resolving the dispute.67 When this offer was rejected in Paris, PPL and the Colonial Office began to mobilize themselves for a court battle. The dozens of files marked ‘French Dead Sea Claim’ in the records of the Colonial Office and the mandate administration in Jerusalem chronicle the seriousness with which the matter was now being viewed by British officials.68 As speculation grew over the possibility of a legal showdown at The Hague, Franco-British rivalry over the Dead Sea reached its peak in 1931.69 The German trade journal, Industrie und Handels Zeitung, reported in December that year that the French government had imposed an embargo on the export of chlorine to Palestine.70 PPL was at this time reliant on French chlorine for its extraction processes, and the article stated the embargo had forced the company to stop producing bromine for over two weeks.71

(p.185) But despite the confrontational stance adopted by the Quai d’Orsay, French government support for the Syndicat Français operated within certain boundaries. As Fitzgerald has noted in the case of the Mosul oil fields, French relations with Britain in the Middle East were guided by Etienne Clémentel's principle of ‘cooperationism’.72 While Britain and France strove to maximize their respective spheres of influence, both sides acknowledged that a base level of peaceful coexistence was necessary if they were to gain access to the natural resources and strategic advantages offered by the territories formerly under Ottoman control in the Middle East. Above all, mutual opposition to Arab nationalist demands and the threat of German and Russian encroachment into the region defined the limits of Franco-British antagonism. In the case of the Dead Sea, the legal doubts surrounding the applicability of the Lausanne Treaty to Ottoman concessions made the French foreign ministry reluctant to risk open conflict at The Hague. In addition, bringing a claim to the PCIJ required the consent of both states involved in the dispute, meaning a preliminary case would first have to be prepared by the French in order to enforce Britain's attendance.73

When it became clear that both PPL and the Colonial Office were galvanizing themselves for a protracted legal battle and would not accept any offers of financial settlement, the French foreign ministry backed away from a stand-off in front of the League of Nations at the Hague.74 Unsure of its legal standing, the Quai d’Orsay instead preferred to let the Syndicat Français pursue the matter in the British courts. In 1933 the French grouping utilized its sister company in Britain, Vacha's Madagascar Mining Syndicate, to force a hearing at the High Court of Justice in London. A flurry of activity ensued on the part of PPL, the Colonial Office, and the Foreign Office, as legal teams were dispatched to Turkey to collect evidence that might counteract the claims to a valid Ottoman concession.75 When the case opened in London in July 1934, however, the British attorney general acting on behalf of PPL, Sir William Jowett, chose first to raise the issue of whether the High Court had any jurisdiction to hear the French claim. After much deliberation, the Court decided the matter was beyond its competence. In theory this ruling left the door open for the case to be heard in the Palestine courts, but with no Palestinian subjects on board, the French team was unlikely to receive a hearing. Meanwhile, the High Court in London ordered the Madagascar Mining Syndicate to pay damages of £4,924 to PPL. When Vacha refused to pay, PPL pursued him back to the courts and he was duly sued and bankrupted as a result.76

The so-called ‘French claim’ had ended in a damp squib. Although protests continued as far as 1947 in the form of parliamentary questions and further letters to the Colonial Office, legal means for challenging the legitimacy of PPL were no (p.186) longer available.77 Nevertheless, the affair had consumed a great deal of government time and resources. The lake's transformation was not, as imperial enthusiasts had first imagined it, a story of uncontested British success in an area where notions of colonial development had previously been non-existent. Rather, Britain had been forced to ‘fight’ for control over the Dead Sea, in every sense of the word. The area had initially been won through the force of arms in 1918, and for the next sixteen years Britain had fought an arduous legal battle to retain its control over the lake. The painstakingly slow progress was a reflection of British weakness in Palestine as well as the presence of rival colonial ambitions, both in Istanbul before the First World War and in Europe during the post-war period. In 1923 the road had seemed clear for a flagship development project to be swiftly implemented that would symbolize the modernity and industrial prosperity that Britain was bringing to Palestine. Instead, it was not until 1934 that PPL could proceed with its work, free from the threat of court action.

The Dead Sea in Arab nationalist discourse

Reading through the increasingly anxious British responses to the Ottoman concession claim, it might be assumed that the only opposition to the Dead Sea development came from western financiers backed by rival imperial governments. Certainly, government records held in Jerusalem and London give little indication that any Arab opposition to the Dead Sea project was ever registered. But a reading of some of the leading Arabic newspapers and journals of the time indicates that the Dead Sea assumed great symbolic importance in the 1920s and 1930s in the wider Arab struggle against British rule in Palestine.

As noted earlier, the issue of ownership over natural resources, and particularly minerals, had come to occupy a central position in a wider struggle against European colonialism that existed on both a pan-Arab and a pan-Islamic level of discourse. Typifying this approach was Arslan and his co-editor of La Nation Arabe, Ihsan al-Jabri, both of whom seized upon the announcement of the Dead Sea concession in 1930 as a rallying cry against European hegemony in the Middle East. True to form, the articles they published on the Dead Sea never opposed the notion of commercially exploiting natural resources. Instead, they embraced the idea of the Dead Sea as an economic commodity, while simultaneously berating the British government for its decision to give the potash rights to the minority Jewish population. ‘Britain is putting her hand on the resources of Palestine’, wrote al-Jabri, adding that the concession was a contradiction of Britain's obligations under the mandate.78 Above all, al-Jabri stressed the central importance of the Dead Sea for the future development of the Palestinian economy: ‘The Dead Sea, which is one of the great treasures of the Orient, will be either the source of prosperity and life, (p.187) or the cause of the enslavement and death of Arab Palestine, depending on whether this great source of wealth passes definitively into the hands of Jews or remains the property of Arabs.’79

For the likes of Arslan and al-Jabri, the Palestinian Arabs were ready and willing to play a lead role in the development of natural resources if only they could be given the chance. A reading of Arab sources from the same period suggests this view was widely shared among the political and merchant classes of Arab Palestine. When speculation was growing in 1927 over Zionist involvement in the concession, Jamal al-Husseini, one of the leading political figures in mandate Palestine, wrote to the high commissioner in Jerusalem and the colonial secretary in London. He claimed that the first applicant to the concession had been a member of his family and the former mayor of Jerusalem (1918–20), Musa al-Husseini, who had applied to the government of  Transjordan in 1923. It had been Musa's brother Hussein al-Husseini (himself the mayor between 1909 and 1917) who had originally established the Dead Sea transportation business in 1899. Now, Jamal al-Husseini demanded that this longstanding Husseini connection to the Dead Sea be recognized and rewarded by the Colonial Office. As well as demonstrating the ongoing interest of Arab Palestinian elites in the Dead Sea as a commercial resource, these letters also indicate the great political symbolism attached to the Dead Sea concession. As Jamal al-Husseini emphasized to the high commissioner in 1927: ‘The granting of the Rutenberg Concession sunk deep in the hearts of the people and needs a real counter-grant to neutralise its very unwholesome effect rather than the granting of another concession of this dimension to another Zionist.’80

Reinforcing these assertions were the dozens of articles published in the Arabic press on the Dead Sea during the mandate years. Some of these articles highlighted the dispossession of land and resources previously used by local Arab communities. In February 1937, for example, the Jerusalem-based daily, al-Liwa’, drew attention to the loss of Bedouin land in the Beersheba district as a result of the Dead Sea development, reporting that the secretary of the Arab National Council in Beersheba, Rashid Aska, had made a speech denouncing PPL's removal of the Azlam tribe from its land.81 Meanwhile, in 1940 al-Iqdam drew attention to the ongoing dispute over access to water at Ghor al-Safi on the Transjordanian side of the Dead Sea. Under an agreement signed the previous year, PPL was authorized to derive water from the Umm al-Hashim channel, provided that the farmers of Ghor al-Safi were left with adequate supplies for their agriculture. According to al-Iqdam, ‘the water of the channel is not sufficient anymore for the requirements of the farmers’, leading them to lodge a complaint to the Land Department in Amman.82

This type of article projected a defensive kind of opposition to the Dead Sea development. They reported the struggle of local Arabs, usually Bedouin, to remain on land they had inhabited for centuries, thus opposing PPL's industrialization of the landscape. At the same time, a second type of article voiced opposition to the (p.188) Dead Sea development from a different perspective. In these articles the main focus was on the exclusion of Arabs from any executive participation in the project. They did not oppose the idea of establishing an industrial plant on an area of great natural beauty that had long provided resources for local communities. Rather, they lamented the loss of an economic asset, potentially so valuable to a future Arab Palestinian state, to the interests of Zionism and British imperialism.83 They described the Dead Sea as a mawrid (resource or source of income), and extolled the virtues of taqaddum (progress) and taḥdīth (modernization). This was especially evident in the numerous articles appearing in the late 1930s and early 1940s on the possibility of large petroleum reserves being discovered at the Dead Sea. According to the Jaffa-based national daily, al-Difa ↑, there was ‘great interest in the possibility of finding petroleum in Palestine’, but it first had to be ascertained ‘whether there are oil springs in the Dead Sea region which are worth the exploitation’.84 Similarly, a correspondent for the Egyptian newspaper al-Muqattam, Amin Said, was greatly impressed by the burgeoning sense of modernity at the Dead Sea: ‘The cars role up from Jericho to Jerusalem. The road is asphalted in the best way and there is a great deal of movement on this road. Autocars go and return between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, while on the coast of the Dead Sea hotels, restaurants and bars have been erected.’85 Meanwhile, another Egyptian paper, al-Ahram, reported in 1935 on the dispatch of Egyptian mining experts to Transjordan to assess the feasibility of extracting phosphates from rock deposits in the Dead Sea area on a commercial scale.86

When it came to discussing the potash concession of 1930, journalists mixed their enthusiasm for development with biting criticism of Arab exclusion. For example, Tatot Tatot, another journalist with al-Muqattam, lambasted the British concession in a 1934 article titled ‘They took the treasures of the Dead Sea against our will’.87 Meanwhile, Palestinian Arabic newspapers like al-Difa ↑ ran headlines such as ‘Robbery of sixty thousand dunams of land by a Jewish company’.88 All of the numerous articles on the Dead Sea appearing in the Arabic press in the early 1930s displayed the distinctive language of colonial development, transposed into a nationalist, anti-imperialist key. As Suhil Zakhar summed up in a 1930 article in the Haifa-based journal, al-Nafir: ‘Palestine is at present a poor country. The Dead Sea salts give it the potential to be one of the richest countries. But these riches—the Dead Sea salts—are not yet in its own hands.’89

The Jaffa-based newspaper Filastin adopted the Dead Sea cause with particular gusto, constantly framing its protests within a distinctly Palestinian national struggle against Zionism and British imperialism. When the fifteenth anniversary of the Balfour Declaration came around in November 1932, the paper included the Dead Sea project in its front-page cartoon depicting ‘Balfour and the woes inflicted on Palestine by his fateful declaration’. This cartoon, reproduced in Figure 7, caricatured (p.189)

                     Figure 7. Filastin front page cartoon, 2 November 1932

Figure 7. Filastin front page cartoon, 2 November 1932

(p.190) on a map of Palestine the ten greatest ‘woes’ (waīlāt) caused by Britain's support for Zionism, including the ‘Rutenberg electricity project’ (top left), the ‘Jewish factories of Haifa’ (bottom left), and a colonial official representing ‘the British king and emperor of India who watches over this tragedy’ (middle left). Clearly marked at number six in the top right-hand corner of the map was the Dead Sea project, which, as stated in the explanation beneath it, was ‘run by Tulloch and the Jewish Novomeysky who have taken the concession for the extraction of salt and minerals and the treasures contained within them!’ This front-page feature perfectly encapsulates in pictorial form the central position now assigned to mineral resources in the Arab Palestinian struggle against the British Mandate. As Jewish immigrants plunder the country's resources under the supervision of British tanks, canons, and warships, the Arab fellaḥīn can be seen in a state of poverty and misery, while the fez-clad a ↑yan (Arab notables) argue among themselves in the bottom right of the picture.

Eight days later Filastin continued these themes in a long front-page article in which the notion of indigenous rights to natural resources was expanded upon in a more systematic and philosophical fashion. Again, the intensive exploitation of these resources was embraced as a ‘route to development’ and more specifically as a way of ‘lightening the load of taxation on the people’.90 Interestingly, the article did not object, in theory, to foreign companies running such concessions, as long as the wider population saw economic benefit. The mineral industries in England and Iraq were used as contrasting examples that had nonetheless both produced, in the opinion of Filastin, similar public benefit: ‘Oil in Iraq is exploited by foreign companies but they pay the government treasury tens of thousands of pounds which is spent in the national interest [fī maṣlaḥa al-ahliyya].’91

In this way, opposition to the Dead Sea project was adapted to the specifically Palestinian national struggle against Zionism, meaning that even the Euro-American exploitation of Iraqi oil was deemed acceptable in comparison. In truth, PPL paid taxes and royalties to the Palestine government in much the same way as the IPC did to the government in Iraq. While the 1931 Iraqi agreement stipulated that the IPC would pay a tonnage royalty of four shillings (gold), PPL was required to pay a flat-rate royalty of 5 per cent of the bulk value of its produce, as well as to divide an incremental share of its earnings with the Palestine government.92 By 1947 PPL estimated it had paid a total of £1,065,000 in royalties, £604,000 of which had gone to the governments of Palestine and Transjordan, and the rest to the British government.93 It was not royalties, therefore, that lay at the heart of Arab protests; rather, it was the fact that the Palestine government was still a British government (p.191) (as opposed to Faisal's Arab government in Iraq), seen to be supporting Zionist colonization of the country. As Jamal al-Husseini had similarly demanded in his correspondence with the colonial secretary in 1927: ‘the Dead Sea undertaking and all other such undertakings that involve the natural wealth of the country should be nationalized … under such conditions fit to gain the endorsement and support of the inhabitants who are the natural owners of that wealth.’94

What is striking about these protests is the extent to which they fell on deaf ears in British government circles.95 There is not a single instance in which any Arab involvement in the management of the Dead Sea development is contemplated by a government official. As the requests of Musa al-Husseini and Ibrahim Hazboun (later described) for a concession demonstrate, this was not due to a lack of interest from the Arab community in running the concession. Rather, it demonstrates the general British disregard for the Arab population as potential middlemen in colonial development projects, as well as the specific disadvantages suffered by Arabs when it came to the lobbying of government. It is significant, for example, that Musa al-Husseini applied for a concession in 1923 to the government of Transjordan. Unlike in Palestine, the Transjordanian government in Amman was an Arab one, albeit under British supervision, and a Palestinian notable such as al-Husseini would thus have considered it in his best interests to use his personal acquaintance with the Emir ↑Abdullah to push for a deal. The reality, however, was that, despite the fact that half the lake's shoreline fell in Transjordanian territory, the Dead Sea development was considered in Whitehall as a Palestinian project. The Amman government was excluded from any knowledge of the Dead Sea plans until after a decision had been reached in London and Jerusalem to establish a Zionist-run company.96 When PPL was established in 1930 as a public limited company, shares were offered to Arabs in Transjordan, but they were never permitted any executive involvement in the company.97 The sole Arab who sat on the company's board of directors was ↑Abdul Rahman al-Taji, a wealthy businessman who sent his son to study at Cambridge University and belonged to that ‘moderate’ faction of Palestinian politics termed the mu ʿāraḍa (opposition), which opposed the Husseini family's leadership of national politics.98 By Novomeysky's own admission, it was al-Taji's willingness to ‘stay out of politics’ that secured his appointment as PPL liaison officer to ↑Abdullah's government in Transjordan.99

In contrast to the difficulties experienced by Arab applicants for a concession, Zionist entrepreneurs, scientists, and political leaders had firmly established (p.192) themselves as the preferred agents of development in British policymaking circles. As Novomeysky wrote in May 1929 to John Shuckburgh in the Middle East division of the Colonial Office:

I thank you for the courtesy and kindness which you have always shown from the time when I first had the privilege of meeting you at the Colonial Office and during the whole hard period of negotiations. I may be permitted to add that all the officials of your Department with whom I came into contact regarding the matter … have at all times given me the assistance I called for.100

It was Palestine, not Transjordan, that was seen by the government in London as the centre of development in the region with its expanding community of European Jews, eager to introduce modern technologies for the exploitation of natural resources. This meant that Arabs were never seriously considered as agents of development at the Dead Sea, despite the repeated interest they showed in running the concession. This Arab interest was not confined to elite political circles; it was also reflected on the ground in Palestine by entrepreneurs attempting to profit from the country's natural resources. At the Dead Sea itself a human tale of ambition and subsequent disappointment was unfolding for one particular Arab Palestinian.

Local ambition: Ibrahim Hazboun and the struggle for Arab participation

The focus of this chapter now turns to Ibrahim Hazboun, a Christian Arab merchant from Bethlehem who was introduced in Chapter Two for his interest in the Dead Sea during the late Ottoman period. Through a combination of interviews conducted with Hazboun's descendants still residing in Bethlehem today, and his correspondence with the mandate government in Jerusalem, it is possible to retrace a story of Dead Sea development that differs markedly from the narrative established by the British Colonial Office and its chosen agent of development, Novomeysky. Contrasting with Churchill's claim that the Arabs of Palestine ‘would have been quite content to dwell … in the wasted sun-scorched plains, letting the waters of the Jordan continue to flow unbridled and unharnessed into the Dead Sea’,101 Hazboun's story is one of Arab aspiration to play a lead role in Dead Sea development. By piecing together the fragmented source material, this section of the chapter gives a close-up perspective on how British development was experienced by local Arab actors wishing to play a role in its implementation.

In the uncertainty of the transition from Ottoman to British rule, it initially seemed as if Hazboun's ambitions might be fulfilled. After Britain gained control of the area in 1917–18, the Dead Sea represented the only direct route from the grain fields of Kerak (in Transjordan) into Palestine. As food shortages reached alarming levels in the aftermath of the war, the government's chief administrator encouraged Hazboun to continue the motor boat business he ran to and fro across (p.193) the Dead Sea. To this end he was sold two of the military's boats stationed at Jaffa for 6,000 Egyptian pounds (LE) and leased a plot of land at the northern end of the lake.102 By 1920, however, a reduction in wheat traffic between Transjordan and Palestine meant that Hazboun was struggling to meet the repayments on loans he had been encouraged to take out with the Anglo-Egyptian Bank to purchase the boats. Initially, the newly established civilian government in Jerusalem supported Hazboun in order to prevent the closure of his transport business. In subsequent correspondence Hazboun claimed that in this period the government director of commerce and industry, Ralph Harari, promised he would be awarded a concession for the extraction of salts from the Dead Sea as soon as the mandate was formally ratified by international treaty. While the government later denied this, it was acknowledged that Harari had nevertheless arranged for the Anglo-Egyptian Bank to loan Hazboun a further LE 3,500, which was backed by a government guarantee. Hazboun therefore continued his work at the lake, buying from the government a further LE 5,600 of equipment in order to keep the business running.103

The motivation behind the government's decision to support Hazboun's business is not stated explicitly in government sources. What is certain, however, is that Novomeysky was at this stage already discussing his own plans for the Dead Sea with the high commissioner, Samuel, and the chief secretary, Deedes, in Palestine; and he saw the acquisition of Hazboun's business as ‘the way to establish myself legally on the Dead Sea’.104 In the summer of 1921 the government's interest in Novomeyksy's project became clear when it instructed Hazboun to accept the Siberian's offer to purchase his business. Eager to clear his rising debts, Hazboun signed an initial agreement with Novomeysky on 12 July, by which he would be paid an initial fee of LE 1,600 and have his debts to the Anglo-Egyptian Bank transferred to Novomeysky. The agreement also stipulated that Hazboun would continue his involvement at the Dead Sea, assuming a managerial position in the transport company with a monthly salary of LE 80. For Novomeysky the most important benefit was that he could now take over the lease of land at the Dead Sea, allowing him to begin conducting his solar evaporation experiments there.105

But from Hazboun's perspective the matter was far from settled, as Novomeysky delayed on the initial payment of LE 1,600 and subsequently sought to lower the overall price of purchase. A long and bitter dispute ensued with the government assuring both sides they would be granted rights to extract salts from the lake as soon as the mandate was confirmed. By April 1923 Novomeysky had reduced his offer to LE 11,500, of which only LE 1,500 would be paid in cash, with the remaining sum (p.194) to be paid in shares that were, according to Hazboun, no longer worth the value assigned to them by Novomeysky.106 In reality, Novomeysky was an evasive figure during this period, spending most of his time in Europe, seemingly content to let the matter drag on in the hope that Hazboun would be declared bankrupt.107 According to Hazboun's attorney, Novomeysky twice took action against Hazboun for bankruptcy in 1923, both times unsuccessfully, while at the same time avoiding Hazboun's requests to conclude a final agreement.108 Nowhere are these claims contradicted by the Jerusalem government or Novomeysky, whose memoirs mention the affair only very briefly, describing an agreeable transaction that resulted in ‘three satisfied parties’—the government, Hazboun, and Novomeysky.109

For Hazboun, however, the reality was far from satisfactory. As the Anglo-Egyptian Bank applied increasing pressure in 1924 and 1925 for the repayment of his debts, the administration in Jerusalem reneged on its verbal promises of protection for Hazboun. In the summer of 1924, an Arab construction company from Bethlehem, Kattan and Sons, intervened on Hazboun's behalf, offering to repay his debts in exchange for the right to extract salts from the Dead Sea. Despite the enthusiasm of the attorney general in Palestine for this offer, a telegram from the colonial secretary in London instructed the Jerusalem government to reject the Kattan approach on the grounds that it would ‘involve alienation of ground which might be of importance to a chemical enterprise on the Dead Sea’.110 This insistence on the part of the Colonial Office that the Dead Sea's importance to the wider imperial economy must be protected at all costs was replicated at later stages of the mandate. In 1934, for example, the Department of Customs Excise and Trade rejected a scheme to establish a salt factory in Bethlehem using Dead Sea salts on the grounds that it would violate PPL's concessionary rights, as well as those of the Palestine Salt Company—a much smaller enterprise extracting salt from the Atlit mines under the directorship of Arab businessman Shukri Dib. The Bethlehem scheme had been put forward by the district commissioner of Jerusalem, Major Campbell, with the aim ‘both to provide employment in Bethlehem and to provide Bedouin with remunerative occupation’.111 Despite this, the central Palestine government dismissed the proposals after consulting with the Colonial Office, deciding that ‘it would react most unfavourably on the two companies at present licensed and on the Revenue’.112

Back in 1925, meanwhile, Hazboun found himself in an increasingly desperate struggle to ward off his creditors, and consequently arranged a series of interviews with the assistant governor of Jerusalem in which he attempted to obtain government (p.195) support for his loan repayments.113 The government, however, rejected these requests, leading Hazboun to demand the dispute be referred to a board of arbitration. When this was also turned down, his attorney announced he was suing the government for LE 16,000 of damages incurred since he was first sold the boats by the government in 1917.114 Hazboun's debtors were closing in, however, and on 19 October 1925, the Anglo-Egyptian Bank informed the chief secretary in Jerusalem it was ‘taking steps to liquidate the assets of Hazboun existing at the Dead Sea’, and asked the government if it had any objections to such actions.115 This is the last mention of Hazboun to be found in the government records. His relatives, meanwhile, recount the story of his subsequent journey to Europe, where he attempted to have his case heard at the High Court in London and the PCIJ in The Hague.116 Both attempts ended in failure and it must be assumed his property at the Dead Sea was liquidated, allowing Novomeysky to acquire the lease of Dead Sea land, along with the transport business, at his reduced offer.117 By the late 1930s Hazboun had regrouped his finances sufficiently to be able to rent a plot of land near the Jewish settlement of Kfar Etzion, a short distance to the south-west of Bethlehem, where he cultivated a vineyard. But his dreams of achieving entrepreneurial success in Palestine had evaporated, and he made a modest living from this point, producing wine and arak from the grapes he grew.118

The Palestine government's cynical treatment of Hazboun is another marker of the wider British disinterest in giving Arab enterprise a lead role in colonial development in Palestine. But it also serves as a reminder that parallel ambitions of developing Palestine's natural resources had taken hold among the Arab population before the government in London drew up its plans for the Dead Sea. On both the eastern and western sides of the lake, local Arabs had persistently requested concessions from the Ottoman government before and during the First World War for the extraction of mineral salts for commercial purposes. In Hazboun's correspondence with the Palestine government, he continually framed his transport business within his longer-term project of extracting salts from the Dead Sea. He also outlined his plans for a number of other commercial schemes, employing the same language of development so often found in British and Zionist correspondence: namely, the importance of utilizing modern science to render the natural world more productive. These included ‘an agricultural scheme to develop 60,000 dunams of land in the plains between Kerak and Amman’. Hazboun claimed the Transjordanian government had already agreed to sell him this land, and he confidently asserted his (p.196) intentions: ‘I am prepared to introduce modern agricultural machinery … and cultivate a great part of the said land which shall yield plentifully.’119 Hazboun belonged to that merchant class of Arab Palestinians who had foreseen great economic opportunity under British rule, only to find that it was European Jews who had been earmarked by the government as Palestine's international tradesmen and operators of public works concessions. According to British government thinking, it was westerners who had ‘discovered’ the Dead Sea in the 19th century, and it would be westerners who developed it in the 20th century.

iii. Poison in the water: 1948 and the end of British colonial development

Between 1947 and 1949 Palestine became immersed in a bloody conflict that eventually resulted in the removal of British power, the establishment of the state of Israel, and the exodus of roughly 700,000 Arab Palestinians from their ancestral homeland. In both popular memory and academic analysis, ‘1948’ has become the key chronological marker to denote these seismic shifts in the region's history. In truth, this masks a more gradual and complex process of transition to a post-mandate political landscape that began with Britain's decision to relinquish the mandate in February 1947. By the end of that year the country was already becoming immersed in a violent conflict to determine its future, particularly in the aftermath of the General Assembly's formal endorsement of the UN Partition Plan in November—a decision widely rejected by Palestine's Arab population. From this point until the official termination of the British Mandate on 14 May 1948, an intermittent civil war was waged in Palestine, nominally between Arabs and Jews but often directed as much against British forces in the country. Once the last British soldiers were evacuated from Haifa, the country quickly became embroiled in a wider regional conflict that saw the involvement of all the surrounding Arab states and did not in fact reach its conclusion until July 1949. In light of their importance to both British imperial interests and the local economy, it is hardly surprising that Haifa and the Dead Sea became major focal points in this protracted war for Palestine.

Haifa and the war for Palestine

Haifa in particular became a key site of contestation as the termination of the British Mandate approached, both in terms of military battles and the more mundane, day-to-day tensions that were never far from the surface during this period. As with 1936–9, historical literature already exists on the proliferation of industrial strikes, inter-ethnic violence, and anti-colonial subversion that engulfed Haifa from early 1947 onwards.120 But as with the unrest of the 1930s, it is worth emphasizing the (p.197) extent to which this activity was focused in and around the major sites of colonial development in Haifa. This was most tragically witnessed at the oil refinery, where 80 per cent of the workforce was Arab but nearly half of the clerical jobs were held by Jews. On Tuesday 30 December 1947, members of the Zionist paramilitary group, the Irgun, claiming to be acting in retaliation against previous attacks on Jews, threw grenades into a crowd of Arab labourers who had gathered in search of work outside the refinery. Almost immediately, word of the attack had spread to the Arab workers inside the refinery, many of whom launched a brutal counter-attack on their Jewish co-workers, using any makeshift weapons—metal bars, knives, hammers—they could find. Previously, the refinery had been notable for the degree of cooperation between Arab and Jewish workers’ demands,121 and in the violence of 30 December some Arab employees tried to protect their Jewish colleagues, such as when the head of human resources, Yousef Matanas, hid several members of the refinery management in closets.122 But their efforts could not prevent the killing of forty-five people that day—six Arabs outside the refinery and thirty-nine Jews inside.123

Among those killed was Zvi Richter—the Polish Jewish engineer discussed in Chapter Three who had been posted to Abadan in 1942 and later returned to Haifa to take up a managerial position at the refinery. Richter and the 38 other Jews killed in the refinery are still commemorated every year in Haifa on 30 December in a ceremony that was initially held within the refinery but currently takes place in a nearby Jewish cemetery. In this way ‘Black Tuesday’ has become memorialized in Haifa as a specifically Jewish trauma at the hands of ‘Arab terrorism’—the Haifa Labour Council has written and published several anniversary publications to mark the killings, providing detailed biographies of the Jewish workers and how they died, without mentioning those Arabs who lost their lives that day.124 This is also reflected in the long campaign waged by the relatives of the Jewish victims to achieve official recognition from the state of Israel as ‘victims of terror’ (nifga‘ei pe‘ulot ha-eivah).125 The eventual success of this campaign in 1998 has helped place the refinery attacks within an ongoing story of national conflict, with a special memorial service for the Jewish victims held in 2008 to coincide with the sixtieth anniversary celebrations of the birth of the state of Israel.

The degree to which the refinery killings have become immersed in mutually exclusive Israeli and Palestinian national narratives is also reinforced by contemporary (p.198) Arab accounts of the events. The Haifan Istiqlal Party leader, Rashid al-Hajj, Ibrahim, for example, refers to the event as ‘The Horrific Battle of the Oil Refinery Company’ in his memoirs, providing as explanation a long list of Jewish provocations in the days and weeks preceding the violence. At this time, explains Ibrahim, it was Jewish policy in Haifa ‘to force the Arab workers away from their work in these refineries so they could be replaced by Jewish workers’.126 Given that the Transjordanian army, the Arab Legion, was stationed around the facility during this period, removing the Arab workers by force was impossible, and so, according to Ibrahim, the Jewish community instead initiated a ‘war of nerves’ [ḥarb al-a‘ṣāb]. These tactics included Jewish bus companies refusing to make their usual stops in Arab neighbourhoods, and Jewish supervisors ceasing to issue important information in Arabic and treating their Arab workers with ‘contempt’ [iḥtiqār].127 While Ibrahim maintains that Arab workers showed ‘utmost dignity’ in the face of these provocations, it is nonetheless unsurprising, he argues, that the Irgun's grenade attack ‘set off the hatred in them towards those cowards’.128

These highly contrasting ways of explaining and remembering the events of 30 December 1947 are one of many indications of the distance that had opened between Haifa's two communities by the end of Britain's period of rule. Rather than lead the country towards a universally enjoyed prosperity, British colonial development had created a society so fractured that outright civil war was already a reality before the last British officials had departed. Controlling the port of Haifa and incorporating it within future state boundaries was of vital importance to both sides. According to the UN Partition Plan, the city was to fall within the future Jewish state, but given that nearly half of its population was Arab at this time, it inevitably became one of the major fronts of the civil war. As the fighting intensified during the early months of 1948 British troops established a buffer zone between the city's Jewish and Arab populations while maintaining the bulk of their forces around the port zone in order to safely evacuate the remaining British officials and servicemen. By mid April the rising danger posed to British troops led the commanding officer for Northern Palestine, Hugh Stockwell, to abandon plans for a gradual withdrawal, and on 21 April he began the immediate evacuation of all remaining British forces from Haifa and the surrounding areas.129 Into this void stepped the Carmeli Brigade of the Haganah, who pre-empted the Arab garrison by attacking the principal centres of Arab population—Wadi Salib, Wadi Nisnas, and Khalisa.

By 22 April the ‘Battle for Haifa’ was already over: a resounding Haganah victory had brought virtually the entire city under Jewish control. With the national Arab leadership, represented by the Higher Arab Committee, failing to provide (p.199) assistance or guidance, the local Arab Emergency Committee in Haifa decided to begin the evacuation of Arab civilian communities, who now came under increasing threat from Jewish military actions.130 In reality, thousands of Arabs had already fled the city, travelling to the relative safety of Acre or further north to Lebanon. Many of them had lost their jobs at the abandoned British military camps and sites of colonial development, while others simply fled in fear of Jewish recriminations—fear that was being encouraged by a Haganah command only too keen to see the city depopulated of its Arab residents.131 All of them were escaping a city ravaged by war that was fast becoming an exclusively Zionist domain. When Haifa was incorporated into the new state of Israel on 14 May, less than 5,000 of the city's 61,000 Arab inhabitants remained to face life in the Jewish state, ensuring Haifa's future status as one of the most potent symbols of the wider Palestinian nakba (catastrophe) of 1948.132 Haifa was now a Jewish Israeli city—a fact that proved to be of crucial importance in the wider Arab-Israeli war as the port became a vital point of entry for shipments of weapons and supplies. As with the Arab Revolt of 1936–9, the Salonikan stevedores played their role at the port during the war of 1948–9, helping to smuggle in arms supplies while the city was still under British rule and later providing the majority of the workforce at the docks after Haifa officially became an Israeli city. In popular memory the Salonikan community remembers today how, during the dying days of British rule, the shipments of weapons smuggled into Haifa in grain containers would lie precariously dormant each Saturday while the stevedores took their cherished day off on the Sabbath.133

Britain for its part continued to be guided by the logic of colonial development as it withdrew from Palestine. What stands out most from Britain's surrender of control over Haifa is the total renouncement of any responsibility in the humanitarian disaster that unfolded there during 1948. Where once the mandate administration had imposed its imperial authority over the city, British troops now rushed to board the ships home in the fateful days between 18 and 22 April, refusing to intervene to protect the civilian population despite pleas from the Arab Emergency Committee.134 From this point HMG's interest in Haifa was solely concerned with its value to Britain's wider strategic and commercial interests in the region. Despite the termination of the mandate, the city was still viewed as a key piece in the British imperial jigsaw in the Eastern Mediterranean, providing the outlet for the IPC pipeline and the most important refuelling station for the Royal Navy. As late as the summer of 1949, long after the armistice agreements between Israel and the Arab states had been signed, the foreign minister, Ernest Bevin, sought to galvanize (p.200) diplomatic support for the creation of a ‘free port’ in Haifa that could be used by the Royal Navy to resupply its warships.135 Since the provisional Anglo-Egyptian agreement of 1946, which had foreseen the future withdrawal of the Royal Navy from Alexandria, Bevin and his prime minister, Attlee, had been acutely aware that Haifa might become Britain's last major naval base in the region.136 In hindsight, the idea that Britain could maintain its principal interests there after 1949 seems like wishful thinking given the deterioration in British-Israeli relations and the Iraqi government's refusal to pump oil through the IPC pipeline. But at the time, Bevin was merely pursuing the best outcome for British colonial development in a rapidly changing regional picture.

Conflict at the Dead Sea

While the Colonial Office was able to overcome the challenges posed by the old Ottoman concession and the claims of local entrepreneur Hazboun, the Dead Sea development was never far from controversy. PPL's operations continued to attract vehement criticism in Palestine's Arabic press, and eventually the Dead Sea became one of the battlegrounds in the escalating violence between Arabs and Jews that culminated in the war of 1948–9. Despite Novomeysky's best efforts to describe his business as a model of Jewish-Arab coexistence, the reality was that PPL had been conceived by British and Zionist leaders in the corridors of Whitehall and the boardrooms of the City of London. As such, it would never achieve legitimacy among the majority of the Arab population in Palestine and Transjordan.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, much of the criticism directed at PPL concerned its treatment of workers. Written into the terms of the original concession agreement was the condition that the Dead Sea enterprise would employ a ‘reasonable proportion’ of its labour force from the Arab population of Palestine and Transjordan.137 Although Novomeysky was a committed Zionist, PPL would not, therefore, form part of the Zionist quest to create an autonomous sphere of ‘Hebrew labour’. This proved to be a source of great irritation to the Jewish trade union federation, the Histadrut, but it also gave PPL access to a large pool of cheap, local Arab labour. These were the manual workers who numbered around 300 during peak seasonal demands for casual labour, making up around half of the total PPL workforce at these times.138 They were drawn largely from the towns and villages surrounding the Dead Sea, especially Ariha (Jericho) in the north and the Transjordanian village of al-Safia at the southern plant.

In his memoirs Novomeysky paints an idyllic picture of life for these employees, describing the ‘friendly spirit’ between Arabs and Jews, and the loyalty of the Arab (p.201) workers, even during the rebellion of 1936–9.139 A particular source of pride to PPL was the accommodation it provided to its employees under the management of a subsidiary company, the Palestine Potash Housing Corporation (PPHC). The company literature on these facilities sketches a vision of modernist functionality, describing the different types of accommodation for married and unmarried, skilled and unskilled workers, with separate ‘dwelling houses’ for unmarried Arab workers. The PPL site also provided facilities for health care and education, as well as ‘recreative and cultural activities’, which included twice-weekly film screenings and a children's play area.140 This utopian vision was in keeping with the style of purpose-built workers’ accommodation that proliferated around the colonial world in the 1920s and was influenced by the European ‘garden villages’ designed by the likes of Lord Leverhulme for his employees at Port Sunlight, Merseyside, in 1889.141 In Palestine Novomeysky's friend and director of the PEC, Rutenberg, was a particularly proud advocate of workers’ welfare. The employees’ facilities at his ‘Haifa A’ power plant and the hydroelectric station at Naharayim were modelled on the Well Hall Estate in Eltham, London, built in 1915 to house the workers of the Woolwich Arsenal.142

Whether Novomeysky's partner, Tulloch, was himself influenced by the Well Hall Estate from his time as an engineer at the Woolwich Arsenal is unclear, but the reality of life as an employee of PPL fell some way short of the company's claims. The Dead Sea ‘workers’ villages’ were organized along a strictly enforced principle of segregation. In this system the Arab labourers lived in a separate ‘camp’ in units that were smaller and of lower quality than the Jewish accommodation. These were described in a company report as ‘primitively timbered huts’ consisting of ‘wooden planks which have been covered with tin sheets from petrol tins’.143 The systemic separation was reinforced through diet, with Arab labourers fed ‘meals prepared in the oriental fashion in a separate kitchen’.144 Meanwhile, Arab wages were consistently around half of those received by Jewish manual labourers, and Arabs were excluded from the cultural activities as these were all in Hebrew.145 When protesting the disparity in wages at the Dead Sea in December 1930, the (p.202) Arabic newspaper Mirat al-Sharq posed the question: ‘to whom can the Arab labourer complain?’146 Until 1947 the answer to this question was nobody. After years of resisting any attempts to organize PPL's Arab workforce, the Histadrut eventually recruited them in 1944 in an effort to pre-empt its rival, the PAWS. But when PPL responded by firing some of those Arab workers who enrolled, the Histadrut found itself in a paradoxical position. Rather than contradicting its wider goal of ‘Hebrew labour’, the Histadrut withdrew its support for the fired workers, and it was not until 1947 that Arab trade unions organized any representation for the Arab employees of PPL, just one year before the company's termination.147 For the vast majority of PPL's existence, therefore, Arabs had no trade union support at the Dead Sea, ensuring their wages and working conditions remained well below those of Jewish workers.

In 1946, meanwhile, Jewish workers at PPL organized a major strike, following years of dissatisfaction over the standard of their own accommodation. Their grievances on this point, as well as over their rates of pay, had been repeatedly ignored by the PPL management, undermining Novomeysky's depictions of a company highly attentive to the welfare of its employees.148 While Jewish living quarters were of a higher standard than in the Arab camp, they were nonetheless described by the Dead Sea Workers’ Council in 1940 as resembling ‘chicken coops’. The Jewish ‘class B barracks’ at the southern plant were particularly uncomfortable: ‘it is possible to breathe there only during the winter months. Doctors forbid anyone to inhabit that place during the summer because of its suffocating air. In this barrack live 26 people.’149 Revealingly, one of the main complaints was that some Jewish workers at the southern plant were being temporarily housed in ‘barracks that were brought over from the Arab camp’. These huts were ‘unpainted, without panels and ceilings, and extremely low built’. It is only through these incidental snippets of information provided by Jewish trade union protests that we gain glimpses of the conditions experienced by the unrepresented Arab workers at the Dead Sea. The reality was that Novomeysky viewed these employees as less civilized than the Jewish workers, and therefore not in need of the same welfare provisions. As he remarked when describing Arabs’ use of the cooperative store at the northern plant: ‘one may be surprised to see them buying even such articles as would conform to a much higher standard of civilisation than their own.’150

Given PPL's relegation of its Arab workers to second-class status, the potential for unrest in this section of the labour force was considerable, as reflected in the heavy security measures taken by PPL to protect its Jewish workers, particularly at (p.203) the more isolated southern plant.151 A sense of danger is evoked in the PPL correspondence whenever the Arab workforce is mentioned, and, despite Novomeysky's claims to the contrary, Arab employees at PPL supported and aided the rebel bands operating in the area during the rebellion of 1936 to 1939. In January 1939 the Jewish workers at the southern plant wrote a highly concerned letter to Novomeysky, stating that ‘the Arab workers … speak frankly of their sympathy with the bands’, going on to give evidence of their support to local rebels. The letter also listed a series of potentially disastrous scenarios, including the possibility of Arabs poisoning the local spring water and an attack on the isolated factory at the southern works: ‘The Arabs working in the factory would, in such a moment, certainly be a serious danger from inside.’152

In this atmosphere of fear and suspicion, PPL's geographic position in the east of Palestine near the Transjordanian border was a cause of great concern for its Jewish management as the Arab-Israeli War of 1948–9 approached. In a memo written to the UN in 1947 Novomeysky beseeched the General Assembly to consider altering the boundaries of its proposed partition of Palestine so that the PPL headquarters at Kalia on the northern shore of the Dead Sea would be included in the proposed Jewish state. Given that the General Assembly was due to vote on the partition plan just one month later, Novomeysky wrote with some urgency, stressing the superior ability of Jews to run such a technical operation: ‘It is feared that a newly constituted Arab state, with a primitive economy, whose political objectives would not necessarily be the full development of the country's resources, might hamper and restrict the Company's operations to the damage of the interests of Palestine as a whole.’153

But in the new Middle East that was emerging from the wreckage of the British Mandate, Zionists like Novomeysky could no longer rely on a colonial power to enforce their role as agents of development. When full-scale war broke out in May 1948, PPL found itself on the wrong side of the new border dividing the Israeli and Jordanian armies. In April the mandate government had ceased providing armed escorts to the PPL convoys travelling the Jerusalem–Jericho road, as British troops and policemen began to be evacuated from Palestine. Now exposed to attack on all sides, Novomeysky frantically attempted to use his good relations with King ↑Abdullah to negotiate the creation of a neutral zone around the Dead Sea. However, his efforts were in vain, and on 19 and 20 May Kalia and the neighbouring kibbutzim were evacuated by a special fleet of small boats commanded by the Palmach (the elite Zionist military unit), under the orders of David Ben-Gurion. As a parting shot, the fleeing Jewish population made sure to sabotage the factory's (p.204) equipment to render it unusable by any future Arab enterprise.154 When the Arab Legion arrived at the site on 22 May they found a deserted wasteland, already vandalized by the local Arab population, that would barely have resembled Novomeysky's prized ‘oasis of civilized life’.155

The war of 1948–9 signalled the definitive end of Britain's colonial experiment in Palestine and the dawn of a new era of hardened national borders. The Dead Sea was now cartographically dissected, with the southern half under Israeli control and the northern half inside the state of Jordan, leaving no space for a shared Jewish-Arab story of post-colonial development. The lake would be re-divided several times in the following decades, but the British dream that Jews would lead a pan-Middle Eastern march towards modernity and prosperity lay in ruins among the rubble of the PPL buildings at Kalia.

Many other dreams also lay in ruins as the result of Britain's refusal to consider Arab participation in its development projects. Among the thousands of Palestinians, both Jewish and Arab, who lost their lives in the fighting of 1948–9 was Hazboun, killed at Kfar Etzion along with his sister and two nephews sometime between May and July, 1948.156 The exact circumstances of his death remain shrouded in mystery. It is possible he had joined the Arab Legion's attack on the nearby kibbutz, which resulted in heavy casualties among both Arab and Jewish forces, and ended with the infamous events of 13 May when between 120 and 160 Jews were killed.157 Or perhaps he was merely caught in the crossfire of that most brutal of wars, trying to protect the vineyards he had planted there since being evicted from the Dead Sea. Hazboun was survived by a single daughter, Olga ↑Abdrabbu, whom he had raised alone after the death of his wife, Marie Luciani, in 1932. Members of the Hazboun family living today in Bethlehem and the United States tell the story of how ↑Abdrabbu tried for many years after 1948 to gain ownership of Hazboun's old boats at the Dead Sea from the Israeli authorities, but to no avail.158 To all intents and purposes, traces of her father's business at the Dead Sea had disappeared from the Israeli records, save for a handful of the letters he wrote to the mandate government in the 1920s, now buried among the files of the State Archives in Jerusalem—an awkward footnote in a new story of Jewish national development at the Dead Sea.


(1) James Renton, ‘The Age of Nationality and the Origins of the Zionist-Palestinian Conflict’, paper given at the Cambridge Middle East History Seminar, Cambridge, 24 May 2011.

(2) The primary importance of maintaining American support has been widely documented in the existing historical literature. See, for example, Ritchie Ovendale, Britain, the United States, and the End of the Palestine Mandate, 1942–1948 (Woodbridge, U.K.: Boydell Press, 1989), esp. 154–62. See also Wm Roger Louis, The British Empire in the Middle East, 1945–1951: Arab Nationalism, the United States, and Postwar Imperialism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986).

(3) As argued in Ilan Pappé, Britain and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1948–51 (Basingstoke, U.K.: Macmillan, 1988).

(4) See Avi Shlaim, Collusion across the Jordan: King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement and the Partition of Palestine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988).

(5) A notable exception to this trend is in Weldon Matthews’ study of the Palestinian Istiqlal Party. This does not, however, frame Arab opposition within the process of colonial development, but rather focuses on the ways in which colonial systems of control and co-option fostered the rise of new forms of Arab opposition in the 1930s. See Weldon C. Matthews, Confronting an Empire, Constructing a Nation: Arab Nationalists and Popular Politics in Mandate Palestine (London: I. B. Tauris, 2006). See also Zeina Ghandour's groundbreaking recent study, A Discourse on Domination in Mandate Palestine: Imperialism, Property, Insurgency (London: Routledge, 2009).

(6) See Roza El-Eini, Mandated Landscape: British Imperial Rule in Palestine, 1929–1948 (London: Frank Cass, 2005), 99–103. See also the applications made by the Palestine government to the Colonial Development Fund from 1944 onwards in Israel State Archives (ISA), Jerusalem, RG 12/M/5138/3. It is interesting to note that discussion of these schemes now came under the title of ‘development and welfare’ (my italics).

(7) The disparity in wages and working conditions is well covered in Deborah Bernstein, Constructing Boundaries: Jewish and Arab Workers in Mandatory Palestine (Albany, N.Y. State University of New York Press, 2000), esp. 29–32; and Zachary Lockman, Comrades and Enemies: Arab and Jewish Workers in Palestine, 1906–1948 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).

(8) See Lockman, Comrades and Enemies, 207–10; and Bernstein, Constructing Boundaries, 134–6.

(9) al-Jami‘a al-Islamiyya, 14 October 1932.

(10) See, for example, ISA RG2/M/294/1, Mohammedan Society of Haifa to high commissioner, 12 April 1929.

(11) ISA RG2/M/294/1, chief secretary to the secretary of the Mohammedan Society of Haifa, 2 May 1929.

(12) Related in the Haifa Port Authority's official history of the harbour (in Hebrew), Namal Haifa (p.26), held in Haifa City Archives (HCA) 47105.

(13) Detailed in Palestine Royal Commission Report Presented by the Secretary of State for the Colonies to Parliament by Command of His Majesty, July 1937, Cmd. 5479 (London, 1937), 320.

(14) Mahmoud Yazbak, ‘From Poverty to Revolt: Economic Factors in the Outbreak of the 1936 Rebellion in Palestine’, Middle Eastern Studies 36, no. 3 (July 2000), 107.

(15) See Lockman, Comrades and Enemies, 196–8.

(16) Lockman, Comrades and Enemies, 145–7.

(17) See David De Vries, ‘Proletarianization and National Segregation: Haifa in the 1920s’, Middle Eastern Studies 30, no. 4 (October 1994), 860–82.

(18) For a detailed explanation of this trend see Yazbak, ‘From Poverty to Revolt’.

(19) Palestine Royal Commission Report, 127.

(20) The 1932 strikes at the Nesher cement quarries, for example, were largely directed against the working conditions imposed by Mushah al-Shaqifi, the Arab Palestinian contractor who ran the concession for the cement quarry. See Lockman, Comrades and Enemies, 207–9.

(21) Filastin, 31 December 1930.

(22) Martin S. Kramer, Islam Assembled: The Advent of the Muslim Congresses (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), 125.

(23) ‘Translation of the Report of the Financial and Economic Committee’, cited in Elie Kedourie, ‘The Bludan Congress on Palestine, September 1937’, Middle Eastern Studies 17, no. 1 (January 1981), 121.

(24) ‘Égalité économique’, La Nation Arabe, no. 8 (October 1930), 20.

(25) Barbara Smith, The Roots of Separatism in Palestine: British Economic Policy, 1920–1929 (Syracuse, N.Y. Syracuse University Press 1993), 24.

(26) ‘Égalité économique’, La Nation Arabe, no. 8 (October 1930), 20.

(27) Filastin, 31 December 1930.   

(28) Filastin, 31 December 1930.

(29) ISA RG2/M/294/1, The Mohammedan Society of Haifa, to high commissioner, 12 April 1929.

(30) See Weldon C. Matthews, ‘Pan-Islam or Arab Nationalism? The Meaning of the 1931 Jerusalem Islamic Congress Reconsidered’, International Journal of Middle East Studies 35, no. 1 (February 2003), 5–6.

(31) For more on al-Qassam see Shai Lachman, ‘Arab Rebellion and Terrorism in Palestine 1929–39: The Case of Sheikh Izz al-Din al-Qassam and His Movement’, in Elie Kedourie and Sylvia G. Haim (eds.), Zionism and Arabism in Palestine and Israel (London: Frank Cass, 1982), 52–99.

(32) Ted Swedenburg, ‘The Role of the Palestinian Peasantry in the Great Revolt (1936–1939)’, in Albert Hourani, Philip Khoury and Mary Wilson (eds), The Modern Middle East: A Reader (London: I. B. Tauris, 2004), 488. Swedenburg also makes an important distinction between al-Banna's attraction of the Egyptian bourgeoisie and al-Qassam's focus entirely on the peasantry and urban proletariat.

(33) Yazbak, ‘From Poverty to Revolt’, 93–113.

(34) Edward Horne, A Job Well Done: A History of the Palestine Police Force, 1920–1948 (Leigh-on-Sea, U.K.: Palestine Police Old Comrades Benevolent Association, 1982), 223.

(35) See Swedenburg, ‘The Role of the Palestinian Peasantry’, 487–9.

(36) Abdullah Schleifer, ‘Izz al-Din al-Qassam: Preacher and Mujahid’, in Edmond Burke III and David N. Yaghoubian (eds), Struggle and Survival in the Modern Middle East (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 137–51.

(37) Examples of the sabotaging of the oil pipeline are given in the testimonies of aircraftman Samuel Wentworth who was stationed on the IPC pipeline during the revolt. See Jacob Norris, ‘Repression and Rebellion: Britain's Response to the Arab Revolt in Palestine of 1936–1939’, The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 36, no. 1 (March 2008), 31–2. Examples of train derailments from this period are described in Horne, A Job Well Done, 223–7.

(38) Horne, A Job Well Done, 213.

(39) For the decrease in trade see May Seikaly, Haifa: Transformation of an Arab Palestinian Population, 1918–1939 (London: Tauris, 1995), 218. For the anxiety of the government in Jerusalem see the collection of press extracts on Haifa's underperforming harbour and the accompanying comments by government officials in ISA RG12/M/5243/26.

(40) See Michael J. Cohen, Palestine: Retreat from the Mandate: The Making of British Policy, 1936–45 (London: Elek, 1978), 26–31.

(41) Palestine Royal Commission Report, 377.   

(42) Palestine Royal Commission Report, 170.

(43) Edward Keith-Roach, Pasha of Jerusalem: Memoirs of a District Commissioner under the British Mandate. (London: The Radcliffe Press, 1994), 191.

(44) Keith-Roach, Pasha of Jerusalem, 193.

(45) For the use of these tactics in the British counter-insurgency see Norris, ‘Repression and Rebellion’.

(46) Described in Keith-Roach, Pasha of Jerusalem, 196.

(47) Interview with Private James Bellows, Imperial War Museum Sound Archive (IWMSA), 12913/17/2.

(48) See Norris, ‘Repression and Rebellion’, 40.

(49) This incident was described to the House of Commons by the colonial secretary, William Ormsby-Gore. See House of Commons Debate (H. C. Deb.), 3 November 1937, vol. 328, col. 899–900.

(50) H. C. Deb., vol. 328, col. 899–900.   

(51) H. C. Deb., vol. 328, col. 899–900.

(52) Novomeysky, Given to Salt, 281.   

(53) The Manchester Guardian, 6 May 1932.

(54) The process by which the concession rights were acquired and sold on in this period is recorded in ISA RG127/C/979. See also Novomeysky, Given to Salt, 225.

(55) Martin Bunton, Colonial Land Policies in Palestine, 1917–1936 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 22–9.

(56) Novomeysky, Given to Salt, 224–6.

(57) The National Archives (TNA), London, Colonial Office (CO) 733/455/7, Maitland-Edwards memo concerning the Dead Sea salts concession.

(58) ISA RG127/C/979/1, ‘Opinion of Mr Leonard Stein on Palestine Potash vs Paul Berloty and others’.

(59) Edwin M. Borchard, ‘The Mavrommatis Concessions Cases’, The American Journal of International Law 19, no. 4 (October 1925), 736.

(60) Described in Smith, The Roots of Separatism, 123–4.

(61) See W. P. N. Tyler, ‘The Huleh Lands Issue in Mandatory Palestine, 1920–34’, Middle Eastern Studies 27, no. 3 (July 1991), 343.

(62) As argued by the PPL legal team. See ISA RG127/C/979/1, ‘Opinion of Mr Leonard Stein’ (p.10).

(63) TNA CO 733/132/3, Ormsby-Gore, handwritten memo, 28 February 1927.

(64) Novomeysky, Given to Salt, 226.

(65) ISA RG127/C/979/2, Oppenheimer, Nathan and Vandyk to Novomeysky, 15 February 1933.

(66) Novomeysky, Given to Salt, 267–8.

(67) For discussions of the offer of arbitration and its rejection by the French see ISA RG127/C/979/3, Foreign Office to Lord Lytton, 20 April 1931. The Quai d’Orsay's interest in taking the matter to the Hague is recorded in ISA RG127/C/979/13, memo 24 June 1946. Novomeysky, meanwhile, states Vacha had gained the backing of the French foreign minister, Aristide Briand, as early as 1927. See Novomeysky, Given to Salt, 267–8.

(68) Contained in ISA RG127/C/979.

(69) For the speculation in British parliament, see the questions raised by Mander in the House of Commons, e.g. H. C. Deb., 12 March 1930, vol. 236, col. 1352.

(70) ISA RG127/C/979/3, translation from Industrie und Handels Zeitung, 17 December 1931.

(71) ISA RG127/C/979/3, extract from Chemical Trade Journal, 1 January 1932. The claims were denied by PPL.

(72) See Edward P. Fitzgerald, ‘France's Middle Eastern Ambitions, the Sykes–Picot Negotiations and the Oilfields of Mosul, 1915–1918’, The Journal of Modern History 66, no. 4 (December 1994), 724.

(73) As happened in the Mavrommatis case with the Greek government. See Borchard, ‘The Mavrommatis Concessions Cases’, 729–30.

(74) ISA RG127/C/979/3, Russo to PPL legal team, 20 May 1932.

(75) Detailed in ISA RG127/C/979/2.

(76) Novomeysky, Given to Salt, 275–6.

(77) The continuation of protests against PPL's right to extract bromine can be found in ISA RG127/C/979/13. These protests included further letters from Maitland-Edwards. See, for example, Maitland-Edwards to George Hicks, 15 July 1941.

(78) Al-Jabri, ‘La Mer Morte et les mandats illégaux’, La Nation Arabe, no. 2 (April 1930), 58 and 60.

(79) Al-Jabri, ‘La Mer Morte’, 57.

(80) TNA CO 733/132/4, al-Husseini to high commissioner, 31 August 1937.

(81) Al-Liwa’, 28 February 1937.   

(82) Al-Iqdam, 25 August 1940.

(83) This type of article was particularly prominent in al-Difa’. See, for example, 4 June 1937; 15 September 1938; and 26 May 1941.

(84) See al-Difa’, 17 October 1941 and 9 November 1939.

(85) Al-Muqattam, 20 December 1933.

(86) Al-Ahram, 10 November 1935.   

(87) Al-Muqattam, 1 February 1934.

(88) Al-Difa‘, 12 April 1937.   

(89) Al-Nafir, 15 December 1930.

(90) Filastin, 10 November 1932.   

(91) Filastin, 10 November 1932.

(92) The incremental share of PPL's earnings was 10 per cent until the company's costs had been recuperated, followed by 20 per cent on the first 5 per cent of profits and finally 40 per cent of any further profits. See concessionary agreement in ISA RG127/C/983/2. The terms of the 1931 Iraqi oil agreement are outlined in Peter Sluglett, Britain in Iraq: Contriving King and Country, 1914–1932 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 139.

(93) ISA RG127/C/984/20, draft PPL report describing events at the company up to 1949, titled ‘Palestine Potash Ltd’ (p.11).

(94) TNA CO 733/132/4, al-Husseini to colonial secretary (date not given, but among other letters from 1927).

(95) A collection of Arab media cuttings in the PPL archives indicate the awareness of Arab opposition to the Dead Sea project. See ISA RG127/C/983/21.

(96) See ISA RG16/M/8/9, high commissioner to secretary of state for the colonies, 24 June 1927.

(97) ISA RG16/M/8/9, director of Palestine Department of Commerce and Industry to high commissioner, 12 February 1930.

(98) Al-Taji's involvement with the muʿāraḍa is mentioned in H. Hassassian, Palestine: Factionalisms in the National Movement, 1919–1939 (Jerusalem: Passia, 1990), 111.

(99) Novomeysky, Given to Salt, 279–80.

(100) TNA CO 733/455/7, Novomeysky to Shuckburgh, 22 May 1929.

(101) H. C. Deb., 4 July 1922, vol. 156, col. 335.

(102) Mike Salman, ‘Ibrahim ↑Abdullah Hanna Hazboun Sahib imtiyaz istikhraj al-milh min al-bahr al-miyyet fi al-↑asr al-‘uthmaani’, Beit Lahm (1997–1998), 100.

(103) ISA RG16/M/8/8, president of Chamber of Commerce (Jerusalem) to high commissioner, 13 June 1924; and memo titled ‘Hazboun vs. Palestine Government’ (p.3), attached to letter from Hazboun's attorney, O. I. Murr, to chief secretary, 2 July 1925.

(104) See Novomeysky, Given to Salt, 20.

(105) The full agreement is included in ISA RG16/M/8/9. Novomeysky describes his activities at the Dead Sea shore starting from this point in Given to Salt, 21–2.

(106) ISA RG16/M/8/9, Richmond (for chief secretary) to British representative in Amman, 18 September 1922.

(107) Novomeysky's memoirs describe his long stays in Europe at this time. See Given to Salt, 34–53.

(108) ISA RG16/M/8/8, ‘Hazboun vs. Palestine Government’ (p.8).

(109) Novomeysky, Given to Salt, 21.

(110) ISA RG16/M/8/8, telegram from Colonial Office to high commissioner, 20 August 1924. For the opposite view held by the attorney general see ISA RG16/M/8/8, attorney general to chief secretary, 6 July 1924.

(111) ISA RG 2/M/32/20, memo 13 August 1934.

(112) ISA RG 2/M/32/20, chief secretary memo, 24 August 1934.

(113) ISA RG16/M/8/8, Hazboun to chief secretary, 1 July 1924.

(114) The deliberations of the chief secretary and the Palestine attorney general over Hazboun's legal challenge can be found in ISA RG16/M/8/8, minutes dated 27 July 1925.

(115) ISA RG16/M/8/8, Anglo-Egyptian Bank manager to chief secretary, 19 October 1925.

(116) Interviews conducted with Yousef Hazboun, 23 and 24 June 2010. The same story is also recounted by other relatives of Ibrahim Hazboun in Salman, ‘Ibrahim ↑Abdullah Hanna Hazboun’, 100.

(117) The figure paid by Novomeysky may have been even lower, as the Anglo-Egyptian Bank was recommending in October 1925 that ‘the best course to adopt is to sell [Hazboun's assets] at public auction’. ISA RG16/M/8/8, Anglo-Egyptian Bank to the Palestine government director of commerce and industry, 19 October 1925.

(118) Interview with Yousef Hazboun, 24 June 2010.

(119) ISA RG16/M/8/8, memo (not dated) signed by Hazboun (p.8).

(120) In particular, see Bernstein, Constructing Boundaries, 197–203; and Lockman, Comrades and Enemies, 351–5.

(121) Lockman, Comrades and Enemies, 330–2.

(122) Information related by Dorit Manor, daughter of former refinery employee, Zvi Richter. Matanas has since given speeches at Jewish remembrances of the refinery killings.

(123) Detailed in Zachary Lockman, ‘Railway Workers and Relational History: Arabs and Jews in British-Ruled Palestine’, in Ilan Pappé (ed.), The Israel/Palestine Question (London: Routledge, 1999), 104–5.

(124) My thanks to Dorit Manor, daughter of Zvi Richter, for showing me her personal collection of these publications.

(125) In 1998 the Victims of Acts of Terror Memorial was erected on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, inscribed with the names of those who lost their lives to ‘terror’ in Israel from 1851 to the present, including the Jews killed at the refinery in 1947. The opening of the memorial signals the wider shift to have such victims remembered alongside the country's soldiers killed in battle. In the same year the memorial was erected, Israel's ‘Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers’ was renamed ‘Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror’.

(126) Rashid al-Hajj Ibrahim, Al-difa‘ ‘an Haifa wa-qadiyat Filastin: mudhakkirat Rashid al-Hajj Ibrahim (Beirut: Mu↑assasat al-Dirasat al-Filastiniyya, 2005), 63.

(127) Ibrahim, Al-Difa‘ ‘an Haifa wa-qadiyat Filastin, 63.

(128) Ibrahim, Al-Difa‘ ‘an Haifa wa-qadiyat Filastin, 64.

(129) See Benny Morris, 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2008), 140.

(130) See Yfaat Weiss, A Confiscated Memory: Wadi Salib and Haifa's Lost Heritage (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), 20–5; and Walid Khalidi, ‘The Fall of Haifa Revisited’, Journal of Palestine Studies 37, no. 3 (Spring 2008), 30–58.

(131) Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 191–2. For a more general discussion of this tactic, see Ilan Pappé, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oxford: One World, 2006), 86–178.

(132) See Morris, 1948, 26.

(133) Interview with Yacov Yehuda, 18 April 2011.

(134) See Weiss, A Confiscated Memory, 26.

(135) Louis, The British Empire in the Middle East, 578.

(136) Discussed in Haim Levenberg, Military Preparations of the Arab Community in Palestine, 1945–1948 (London: Routledge, 1993).

(137) ISA RG127/C/983/2, PPL Articles of Association.

(138) ISA RG127/C/984/23, ‘Life of the employees at the potash works’ (p.51); and Novomeysky, Given to Salt, 276.

(139) Novomeysky, Given to Salt, 276–8. For Novomeysky's claim that the Arab workers stayed loyal during the rebellion see ISA RG127/C/984/23, ‘Life of the employees at the potash works’ (p.51).

(140) ISA RG127/C/983/4, Raczkowksi (writing for PPL company brochure), ‘The Dead Sea chemical industry’, 21–5.

(141) For the establishment of new workers’ accommodation along these lines in French West Africa and North Africa in the 1920s see Martin Thomas, The French Empire between the Wars: Imperialism, Politics and Society (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005), 130 and 142. For the story of Port Sunlight see Adam Macqueen. The King of Sunlight: How William Lever Cleaned Up the World (London: Bantam, 2004).

(142) Rutenberg's large collection of designs, photographs and press cuttings of Well Hall Estate are still held today in the IECA. I am grateful to Moshe Feintuch for showing me the collection.

(143) See ISA RG127/C/984/23, PPL company report, section titled ‘Life of the employees at the potash works’ (p.51).

(144) ISA RG127/C/984/23, ‘Life of the employees’ (p.51).

(145) For the rates of pay see ‘The Dead Sea’, Mirat al-Sharq, 24 December 1930; and Lockman, Comrades and Enemies, 414 (fn. 85). For the exclusively Hebrew cultural activities see ISA RG127/C/984/23, ‘Life of the employees at the potash works’ (p.50).

(146) Mirat al-Sharq, 24 December 1930.

(147) ISA RG127/C/982/6. This episode is also explained in a footnote in Lockman, Comrades and Enemies, 414 (fn. 85).

(148) See ISA RG127/C/982/6-7 for the dozens of complaint letters written to the PPL management by the Jewish Workers’ Council in the early 1940s.

(149) ISA RG127/C/982/6, letter translated from the Dead Sea Workers’ Council South to the Dead Sea Works manager (translated from the Hebrew), 10 December 1940.

(150) ISA RG127/C/984/23, ‘Life of the employees at the potash works’ (p.49).

(151) Jewish workers complained in 1939 about the lack of protection they were given. PPL responded by employing a permanent security force at the southern plant in 1939. See ISA RG127/C/982/8, Dead Sea South to Novomeysky, 9 January 1939.

(152) ISA RG127/C/982/8, translation of letter in Hebrew from Dead Sea South to Novomeysky, 9 January 1939.

(153) ISA RG127/C/984/23, ‘Memorandum submitted to the ad hoc committee on the Palestinian question of the General Assembly of the United Nations on behalf of Palestine Potash Limited’, 28 October 1947 (p.6).

(154) ISA RG127/C/984/20, ‘Palestine Potash Ltd’ (p.1).

(155) Novomeysky quote from Given to Salt, 281.

(156) Related in interviews with Yousef, Nasri, and Raphael Hazboun.

(157) The events at Kfar Etzion are described in Benny Morris, The Road to Jerusalem: Glubb Pasha, Palestine and the Jews (London: I. B. Tauris, 2003), 135–8.

(158) Interviews with Nasri and Raphael Hazboun.