Issa Fahel   Vancouver Sun   06-May-1998   Making the desert bloom
Whether the territories presently occupied by Israel had been largely settled by, and were largely under cultivation by, Palestinians and other Arabs, or whether Jews encountered a largely unpopulated desert which they made bloom (and to which the Palestinians then became attracted to and illegally immigrated to) is a topic discussed in detail by Norman G. Finkelstein in his Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict.  Finkelstein's discussion centers around Joan Peters's book From Time Immemorial, which argues the latter that is, which argues that Palestinian lands had been largely a wilderness, a land without a people.  Concerning Joan Peters's book, I reproduce a passage from Finkelstein's introductory comment which precedes his detailed refutation:

That a scholarly work meets with critical acclaim would hardly be news, were it not for the fact that From Time Immemorial is among the most spectacular frauds every published on the Arab-Israeli conflict.  In a field littered with crass propaganda, forgeries, and fakes, this is no mean distinction.  But Peters's book has thoroughly earned it.

The fraud in Peters's book is so pervasive and systematic that it is hard to pluck out a single thread without getting entangled in the whole unravelling fabric.  To begin with, the fraud falls into two basic categories.  First, the evidence that Peters adduces to document massive illegal Arab immigration into Palestine is almost entirely falsified.  Second, the conclusions that Peters draws from her demographic study of Palestine's indigenous Arab population are not borne out by the data she presents.  To confound the reader further, Peters resorts to plagiarism.
Normal G. Finkelstein, Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, Verso, London and New York, 1995, p. 22

Letter to the Editor

The Desert Bloomed in Palestinian Hands

The assertion in the April 30 editorial, "At 50, Israel flourishes despite its divisions," that Israel's early settlers found a desert which they and their successors made bloom reflects a popular myth refuted in the writings of European Jews who settled in Palestine.  While in Palestine in 1891, when Jews owned less than one per cent of the land, the Jewish moralist and philosopher Ahad Ha'am observed that "throughout the country it is difficult to find fields that are not sowed."  In 1930, when Jews owned about four per cent of the land, Zionist official Arthur Ruppin wrote that displacement of Arab farmers was inevitable "since there are hardly any more arable unsettled lands in Palestine."

By 1944, when Jews owned about 5.5 per cent, the area of the Negev alone (Palestine's only "desert") under cultivation by Palestinians was three times the area cultivated by the Jewish community in all of Palestine after more than 60 years of loudly trumpeted "pioneering."  In short, the Palestinians made the desert bloom and they had been doing so for centuries.

Israel's much-touted expansion of cultivated land since 1948 was more apparent than real as it involved mainly the "reclamation" of farmland belonging to Palestinian refugees.

Port Coquitlam