Scarcity of Population before Jewish Immigration
Not entirely. A good part of the northern half of the country was arable or semi-arable land after swamps were cleared and rocks had been removed from fields. The southern half was mostly desert.
Israel’s climate has a range of varieties from north to south. It was only when the National Water Carrier was completed (1964) that mass irrigation of desert areas was feasible.
There are a number of quotes by travelers to the Holy Land over several centuries that testify to the general emptiness and bareness of the land:
In 1738 Thomas Shaw observed a land of “barrenness…. from want of inhabitants.”
In 1785 Constantine Francois de Volney recorded the population of the three main cities: Jerusalem had a population of 12,000 to 14,000; Bethlehem had about 600 able-bodied men; and Hebron had 800 to 900 men.
In 1835 Alphonse de Lamartine wrote, "Outside the city of Jerusalem, we saw no living object, heard no living sound. . .a complete eternal silence reigns in the town, in the highways, in the country . . . The tomb of a whole people."
In 1857, the British consul in Palestine, James Finn, reported, "The country is in a considerable degree empty of inhabitants and therefore its greatest need is that of a body of population."
The most popular quote on the desolation of the land is from Mark Twain's “The Innocents Abroad” (1867), “Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes. Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies… Palestine is desolate and unlovely… It is a hopeless, dreary, heartbroken land.”
For many centuries, Israel was a sparsely populated, poorly cultivated and widely neglected expanse of eroded hills, sandy deserts and malarial marshes.
Another quote from Mark Twain, who visited Israel in 1867, described it in “Innocents Abroad” as: “...[a] desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds – a silent mournful expanse... A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action... We never saw a human being on the whole route... There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of the worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.”
As late as 1880, the American consul in Jerusalem reported the area was continuing its historic decline. “The population and wealth of Palestine has not increased during the last forty years,” he said.
These quotes from various travelers give the lie to Arafat’s claim of Palestine being a “verdant area”. In addition, the Ottoman census of 1845 shows that the majority of the Jerusalem administrative district population were not Arabs, but Jews.
The report of the Palestine Royal Commission quotes an account of the Maritime Plan in 1913:
“The road leading from Gaza to the north was only a summer track suitable for transport by camels and carts...no orange groves, orchards, or vineyards were to be seen until one reached [the Jewish village of] Yabna [Yavne]... Houses were all of mud. No windows were anywhere to be seen... The ploughs used were of wood... The yields were very poor... The sanitary conditions in the village were horrible. Schools did not exist... The western part, towards the sea, was almost a desert... The villages in this area were few and thinly populated. Many ruins of villages were scattered over the area, as owing to the prevalence of malaria and many villages were deserted by their inhabitants.” [Note: Many of the villages deserted at this time have been included in the Palestinian list of villages supposedly destroyed by the “Israeli expulsion”—another Palestinian lie. MD]
In 1931, Lewis French, the British Director of Development wrote of Israel: “We found it inhabited by fellahin who lived in mud hovels and suffered severely from the prevalent malaria... Large areas... were uncultivated... The fellahin, if not themselves cattle thieves, were always ready to harbor these and other criminals. The individual plots...changed hands annually. There was little public security, and the fellahin's lot was an alternation of pillage and blackmail by their neighbors, the Bedouin.”
What became the Mandate for Palestine was, under the Ottomans, a group of backward, inconsequential and poor districts, mostly administered by the Province of Syria, except for the Jerusalem district, which was directly under the authority of Constantinople.